Published on March 7th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
— Story by Beige Baron. Translation by Yasutomo
As well as furnishing the world with a happy abundance of porn, cat videos, and free medical advice (it’s cancer, always it’s cancer), the internet also opens the door to a world of sound that would otherwise remain hidden behind the barrier of language and culture.
Like a record-store ’zine with infinite pages that not only lets you read about a band, but to simultaneously hear them, watch them play, and have their music shipped to wherever you are… it’s miraculous.
And it’s to the internet which psychedelic rock lovers outside Japan—and its tiny subterranean clubs and record stores—owe for first putting the music of Hamamatsu-based Up-Tight out there for less exclusive consumption.
The biggest influence that came out of listening to Rallizes was deciding to buy a tape echo
Or, to be more precise, it was European labels 8mm Records and Sloow Tapes that first picked up some of the band’s early catalog (such as Lucrezia, originally released on the legendary Japanese label Alchemy Records) who made it easier for non-Japanese-speaking listeners to dig these exotic sounds.
Arriving in time for (or perhaps helping to drive) the international boom in psychedelic folk, drone, and noise—in particular, the “Japanese sound” exposed by P.S.F. Records’ “Tokyo Underground” series—Up-Tight’s Five Psychedelic Pieces (2004), The Beginning of the End (2009), and The Night is Yours (2011) planted their fuzzy fists into the minds of psych heads all over the world, and so became golden threads in a broader tapestry of psychedelic rock.
Perhaps it’s the enigmatic presence of guitarist/vocalist Tomoyuki Aoki—a slight, black-clad figure in sunglasses slinging a fire-red Gibson SG—that adds to band’s mystique, and impresses more than a few international bands. His plaintive echo-drenched imprecations and love of bitter-sweet folk and blissfully nihilistic guitar noise reminded many of Les Rallizes Denudes’ Takeshi Mizutani.
Yet ironically, as Aoki tells BNU, the impetus for the creation of Up-Tight in 1992 came not from the Japanese noise- and art-rock tradition, but from a fascination with New York—and, specifically, Lou Reed.
Aoki tells us more about the band’s journey, the difficult-to-define concept of wabi-sabi, and of progress on a new Up-Tight album—that will hopefully arrive later this year.
BNU: One thing that music writers always seem to comment on when reviewing your music is the similarity to Les Rallizes Denudes, so let’s start with that: was Les Rallizes Denude’s music a motivation to form a band and to express yourself in a similar way? Did you ever see them perform live or meet Mr. Mizutani? How did your band start out?
Yeah, naturally I’d been in a few bands before [Up-Tight]. Back in the spring of 1991, I moved to Hamamatsu. Around then I posted on a notice board, basically saying: “I want to form a band that’s like The Velvet Underground.” And so we formed a new band from that.
We had a few changes to the lineup and eventually we became Up-Tight. The origin of the band name comes from the Velvet Underground biography by Victor Bockris.
I had heard by word of mouth that Les Rallizes Denudes was like “the Japanese Velvet Underground”, but at the time I had never listened to them. I first heard their music when they released the album ’77 Live and I was able to experience their show at Club Citta in 1993.
Their song The Last One was so loud it actually felt like we were in danger. I remember my ears were ringing for a few days after the show.
Of course, I’ve never met Mr. Mizutani. But the biggest influence that came out of listening to Rallizes was deciding to buy a tape echo [Laughs]. It sounds like a joke, but I’m dead serious. The biggest thing I learned from Rallizes was that a deep echo sound helps to create an intoxicating drone effect.
But the rest of the band is not interested at all in Rallizes [laughs].
BNU: How has your taste in music changed since you were a teenager? Do you think your teenage self would be surprised at what music you listen to now?
When I was in elementary school, I was more interested in movies than music. I liked American new-wave cinema and watched it a lot. In those days, TV stations often broadcast those kinds of American new-wave films.
I was fascinated by a Taxi Driver poster I saw on my way to school and went to see it at a theater. I can’t say I understood the plot correctly, but I was overwhelmed, and I longed for the New York that I saw in the movie.
When I was junior high school, my interest changed to rock music. I started listening to Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen because of the New York thing.
And finally I found Lou Reed. It was just around the time Blue Mask was released, I think I was around 15 years old. Ever since then, Lou Reed has been my one star, living or dead.
BNU: Being next to the ocean, Hamamatsu has a lot of beautiful scenery, the beach, mountains, but it is also pretty close to Tokyo. Do you feel most comfortable in a natural environment or in the city surrounded by people?
Sometimes actual nature is relaxing, but sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes the city is exciting, but sometimes it’s uncomfortable. It depends on my condition, how I’m feeling, so I can’t generalize.
I can say that I feel most comfortable in my room by myself [laughs].
BNU: When you first started out, did you ever imagine that people outside of Japan would listen to your music? I guess people everywhere put special value on the exotic, and most of your records are issued on foreign labels. What are your thoughts on this?
In 1999, we made the band’s website and built our overseas network little by little. I can’t say that I agree nowadays [with everything concerning] internet culture, we are a mere band, but thanks to internet, we were able to send our music overseas. So I guess I can say that we got a lot of benefit from the internet.
BNU: You have collaborated for recordings with many musicians over the years including Kawabata Makoto and most recently the band Niwa [Garden]. But I’m wondering what you like most about [regular members] Mr. Shirahata and Mr. Ogata’s playing? Why do you think you’ve had such a long career together?
Well actually Mr. Ogata is our fourth bassist, he joined our band in 2000, but even so, that’s like 15 years. It’s long enough [laughs].
We don’t get along with each other ordinarily. Sometimes we have arguments in the studio, and there’s a bad atmosphere. But we have played in Up-Tight as a band for so many years, that when we have a gig, I can feel a sense of unity. That feeling is irreplaceable. It’s like coming home.
The question I’d like to ask of the other members is, “How have you played with me for such a long time?”
BNU: Do you think traditional Japanese music and performing art has in any way influenced modern Japanese psychedelic or experimental music, such as Up-Tight, in any way?
When I was younger, I wanted to keep “distance”, which is kind of a Japanese emotion: “I don’t have to say anything, but you can understand.”
I personally am not well read about Japanese traditional music or performing art. And I don’t actively listen to it. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese emotion—I want to keep a “distance”. But I can’t deny the influence of Japanese traditional art. We are naturally influenced. Probably that aesthetic appears in our music here and there.
When I listen to different kinds of music from overseas, I can feel the differences in how the melody is ridden and how the musicians ride the rhythm, depending on the country. So if people from overseas listen to Japanese music, they’ll have same feeling, I think.
BNU: What do you mean by “wabi-sabi”?
It is difficult to answer what wabi and sabi are! [laughs] Everybody, every Japanese, has a different interpretation, so it is an ambiguous concept. I don’t think I can explain my wabi and sabi. Like, if everybody described their wabi and sabi, everybody would use different words. But I think that the basis is connected. So it’s like, “If you are Japanese, you can understand.” [laughs]
I guess I mean, when I was younger, I wanted to keep “distance”, which is kind of a Japanese emotion: “I don’t have to say anything, but you can understand.”
So I use the words wabi and sabi as a typical example of a Japanese emotion. I wanted to keep a distance, like a typically vague expression of Japanese emotion (such as wabi and sabi), on purpose.
BNU: So have you toured overseas at much? What is your favorite country to perform in?
We’ve been to the USA and Europe—Scotland, Germany, and Belgium and other countries. When we set out on our second America tour, we were deported because of a visa problem [laughs].
I also like touring in Japan to get break from the “usual”, not just overseas.
BNU: Do you collect and experiment with different guitars and equipment, or have you already found the sounds and tones that you like?
I’m not interested in collecting new gear as much. I guess that means I’ve become conservative
Yeah, absolutely, I used to be interested in gear, especially effectors. I collected many kinds of different pedals, especially distortion effectors. But in recent years, as you suggested, I found “my best” tone and sound, so I’m not interested in collecting new gear as much. I guess that means I’ve become conservative [laughs].
BNU: I know you like to improvise during your live performances, but when recording an album, do you rehearse and prepare songs as a band? Who writes most of the material for the band?
With recording, we have many different ways of writing songs. For example, I might write a song in advance, or we improvise 100% of the song, or use improvisation as a motif. We edit a lot of what we record. So I can’t generalize, it depends.
BNU: How have you seen the underground rock scene in Tokyo change since you first started out? What local bands are worth checking out?
I don’t really know how to answer this, I’ve never been conscious of a “scene”, so I don’t know what to say, I’m sorry! But I support some young local bands that are worth checking out. For example, The Piqnic just had a lot of success on their UK tour last year, and 透湖 (Bokugo), who are also a teenage band with a really talented female soloist.
In the past 20 years, I’ve seen so many cool bands appear and disappear. I wish some of them had kept going longer.
BNU: It’s been a couple of years since your last LP, and your last couple of albums have been collaborations. Can your fans expect some new Up-Tight material soon? Have you been working on anything?
We had some offers to release a new album, we had planned to releases it by the end of 2015. But it’s still a work in progress. Maybe we won’t finish until the end of this year.
We’re also in the process of releasing one of our older records, The Beginning of the End, which was released on vinyl in 2009. We’ll be releasing that as a CD Box with an added live version on Essence Music.
And [saxophonist] Harutaka Mochizuki and formed a duo and we will release a new single on An’archives. So I’m working on that with him.