Published on March 16th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Suguru from SeeK
— Interview by The Beige Baron and Yoshi
I first met SeeK’s lead singer Suguru in the parking lot of a 7-11. He’s in a group, friends, dudes in other bands, everyone is drinking cans of beer and laughing and mucking around. One huge bald dude is necking wine straight out of a bottle. He’s pretty tough for a while but later, at the end of the night, I see him spewing in a phone booth. Numbnuts.
Suguru is small, long-haired and dancing on the balls of his feet like a boxer, the center of attention. The guy is wired. Pumped. Infectious grin and friendly. I stick out my hand and introduce myself.
“Nice to meet you,” he says. “Please see my band SeeK. Very heavy.”
About an hour later, underground, in a seismic wall of sound, Suguru is screaming, thrashing, spasming like a guy struck with 40,000 Volts. To his right is a guy on a six-string bass, leaning back and strumming chords casually like it’s a ukelele; behind him the drummer is smashing it, Christ that guy hits hard; look left into the shadows, and there’s a mang playing an extremely low-slung four-string, pumping that low-end. It’s loud and aggressive and angry but there is something different about this band: they are reaching, shifting, changing, not standing still. They are reaching out. They are rock climbers trying to find the next foothold, you can feel it in the music and you can feel it in this song, a demo from their forthcoming album, which Brown Noise Unit is proud to present exclusively:
You see? Right? Fuck! Now imagine that shit six feet from your face. That’s only a demo. This new record is going to be MASSIVE. Suguru tells us some more.
BNU: So when did you first start getting into punk and hardcore? Was there a particular band that turned you on to this style of music?
Um, I think it was when I was about 16 or so? One of my friends was a DJ and he played a lot of hardcore, and I used to go hang out at his parties. Then I found out about this Japanese hardcore band called Edge of Spirit. And I started listening to Slipknot, Korn, and System of a Down. I was really into them at the time. Especially Korn. I was shocked by their expression because I had only really listened to Japanese pop before then.
I have never really felt like an outsider
Our bassist Yama was really into Tool. To be honest, our band was very inspired by them when we were first starting out.
I was talking to Itaru from [Tokyo black/hardcore band] COHOL and he said that high school was a difficult time for him, and that Japanese society is not very accepting of people that go outside of what is “normal and accepted” socially—for example, listening to extreme music. How was high school for you, and do you feel like an outsider in your own culture? Was forming SeeK part of expressing how you feel about living in Japan?
I didn’t really feel that when I was in high school, partly because I hadn’t started our band at the time. I mean, I understand that in this country there’s a feeling of unity among ordinary people, particularly about music, daily life, and things like that. But I have never really felt like an outsider or anything. I haven’t ever wanted to become “different” from others. I just believe I’m me.
The reason for forming SeeK was very simple: for us, it wasn’t enough to just listen to music. We needed to create songs. Of course the reasons grow and change as time passes.
How did you end up with two bass players? Was that intentional or did it happen by accident?
It happened mainly by accident. We’ve had a few different lineups over the years, but for a long time we couldn’t find a new guitarist, and Nogu’s [six-string] bass sound was starting to cover the guitar part anyway. So after Yama [bass] joined five years ago we just decided to continue with that and not worry about it anymore. In short, our band’s twin-bass style happened because we couldn’t find the right guitarist. We started out imagining SeeK with guitar, and we didn’t have strong preference for using two basses, it just turned out as a means to solve the problem of lacking a guitarist. Otherwise, we would never play a gig! But now we are pretty happy with the twin-bass sound.
When did you find out you could sing? The screaming Cookie Monster vocals must not be easy to practice at home, right?
Yeah, my parents must have been worried about my brain when I started screaming in my house! [Laughs] When I was a little kid, I would never have imagined I would end up singing in front of a crowd of people because I was so shy. I started getting interested in singing when I was a junior high school student. When I formed the band, I couldn’t imagine playing any other instrument, I just wanted to do vocals. I’ve been really into bands since I was 18, and it was then I started trying to learn how to scream and shout in the rehearsal studio and found I could do it better than I expected.
Japan has a hierarchical society, and this sense of ranking or position extends even to music. It seems to be important that bands who have been playing for a long time are seen as “seniors” and treated with more respect, and the bands that invented a certain style or unique sound are recognized as “owning” that sound. Can you comment on this? Have you experienced it?
I believe that age is not important when it comes to music, and I respect any band that has been trying to do their own music and fighting to overcome many problems. That respect isn’t just for “seniors”; I also respect young bands if they are trying to do their own music. It’s very natural for me to respect someone who is determined and doesn’t give up.
Do you think that to be a successful band in Japan, you first have to be recognized as “good” overseas? In some countries it’s difficult to get a recording contract on a major label until you “break through” in the US, even if you are a really good band. And there are so many great bands in this country that nobody really knows about because they are not on TV. Do you think this is true?
Ah, I don’t know. If you’re talking about the major-label scene, I think it’s not necessary to break through abroad because of the size and scale of the local mainstream, and it’s not difficult to be picked up by TV if the band has an interesting background story, eye-catching looks, and a sense of poppiness.
But we’re in different scene from that. We determine our band’s concept, compose songs with our own hands, and try to expand our fan base ourselves. So it’s important for our kind of band to go to play gigs abroad. To be honest, there are not so many listeners [of independent hardcore] in Japan. To overcome the stress, it’s probably necessary to go abroad. We can’t know what might happen there before going there. Have to have hope!
Most Japanese indie bands don’t really seem to care about being commercially successful. It’s almost like they just accept that to be “well known” and make a career of music, they have to change their style to one with commercial appeal, and nobody wants to do that. What is SeeK’s ambition? Are there examples of Japanese bands that have not compromised artistically but is now a major success?
Our first goal is to find and play the music that we can be truly satisfied with. So I’ve never really cared about what ordinary people think and never thought of changing our songs for them, and also I don’t think it would be successful if we did. I’d rather think about how to find and deliver our best music. SeeK has been together and playing for 13 years, and I’m starting to think that maybe our activity was too closed, our aim was too narrow. Now I feel stronger than ever. As for bands that have built a profile, probably bands like Envy and Mono have a strong ambition for their music and have had a lot of success both abroad and in Japan as well. I very much admire their approach.
There are not so many listeners of independent hardcore in Japan
Is there any difference musically between hardcore bands from Osaka and hardcore bands from Tokyo? Because there are big cultural differences in terms of how people from these cities behave, talk, and dress. I was wondering if that extends to music as well?
I’ve been organizing a series of events called 孔鴉-koua- with Stubborn Father in Osaka, and we try to invite emotional hardcore, chaotic hardcore, and grindcore bands that we think might be inspired by each other’s music. Last time Shige-san of Stubborn Father and I were discussing who to invite for the next event, we realized most of bands we picked were from Tokyo. I guess there are just more chaotic and emotional hardcore bands in Tokyo than in Osaka.
Your last album 崇高な手 was released in July 2013. Have you been working on the new one since then? What can we expect? Is there a change in direction? What did you want to achieve with the new record?
We’re working on the new album right now, but still haven’t settled on an actual schedule of recording yet. To be honest, we planned to release it last year, but things weren’t going well. The new one is our very first “full length” album, so we’re really focusing on everything we can do to bring out more emotion and intensity. It will also be our first album with two basses, so I’m pretty much just looking forward to finishing it and listening to it. And a larger Japanese label will also release it, so I’m really hoping we can attract a few more listeners.
I like playing live the best. Not only do I like it the best, but also it’s the most important for me because I can feel the true reaction of the audience to our original songs right through my skin there. Everything starts there and returns back there. You know, recording is also interesting and I like to see what we imagined as a finished product with concrete sound. I especially love the exciting moments during recording when we exceed what we imagined what we could do.
What else do you listen to besides hardcore? Do any other styles of music influence SeeK’s sound?
I also like to listen to dark ambient. Nogu likes post-rock and Yama likes acid jazz. Wakkie likes The Stooges, Neurosis, King Crimson, nadja, Sword, that kind of stuff.
Are you guys planning a tour to support the new record, and where are you going? Do you have plans to go overseas?
We’re planning to go out on tour as soon our new record is finished. As a first step, I’d like to tour all around Japan as much as possible. The more frequently we play live, the higher our voltage goes up. We actually planned to go abroad previously, but because of some issues it ended up being cancelled. We don’t have any immediate plans to go abroad, but we’ll try to make it.
Scientific studies have proven that buying and downloading and enjoying a SeeK album improves your general happiness by 12.3%, your coolness levels by 56%, and your tolerance for bullshit by 0.3%. Buy the existing albums and prepare yourselves for the next. It is … coming.