Bands from other Lands: It's a Hidari!
This interview was done in August 2008 by Charlie Daugherty aka Zagaduba. Enjoy!
In a downtown city sprawl, lies a coastal city of Kobe, Japan. Across the street from a convenient store and up a spiral staircase is a lounge where the sounds of something unique lingers. Sometimes these resonances can be heard on the street in ill-shaped stone-covered parks. Wherever heard the band Hidari is sure to follow.
Some of their songs, although seemingly shallow, have a deep and rich soundscape that pulls the listener in with its smooth lyrics and atmospheric tunes. There is a bite and a punch to the songs driven by the rock music foundation that doesn't falter even on top of the synths and catchy sound effects.
The band consists of its three members Hiroshi Ohta, guitarist and vocalist, Daisuke Kozuki, the bassist, and Justin Bacon, known in Japanese as the Mecha or producer of beats and sounds. Having formerly lived in Olympia, Justin is the band’s newest member with his foreignness occasionally exploited as one of the selling points or novelties of the band. Although most of this is contrived you can find Justin ejecting random gibberish in English as onlookers stare in fascination. Justin is also the pioneering individual introducing the band to an international audience. They can be found stomping Internet playgrounds like MySpace, Last.FM, and The Sixty One. You can also find them at there website hidaridesu.com. Recently I had a chance to do an email interview with the band highlighted as follows (some of the responses have been translated from their original Japanese):
Charlie: So, Justin, compared to music you’ve done in the past what’s unique about being in the band Hidari? And what does being the Mega mean?
Justin Bacon: First of all, it's actually 'Mecha', and it is proficiency in building, using and repairing machines of all shapes and sizes. It is augmented by my intelligence score.
Before joining Hidari, I've always been a solo artist focused on recording and never played my own music live. Now I am doing shows on a weekly basis, and all across the country. In terms of recording, I am focusing more on composition and sequencing since I don't have to worry about trying to play guitar or bass with my hamfingers or getting a decent and in-tune take for a lead vocal with my wobbly vocal cords. Which is nice.
C: My bad... Before I ask this next one is it correct of me to say that people call your music Japanese pop rock right?
J: You can call it whatever you like. Nobody ever knows what to call it.
C: Given that problem what do you yourself call it? What kind of walls do you run up against when compared to other music in Japan?
J: Oh, I don't know. Not to be too pedantic, but I always resist classifying music unless it's clearly idiomatic and the musicians seem to be intentionally trying to replicate something else or create something that fits into a particular genre. Our music is definitely rock, it's got a certain retro bent to it, it's catchy, so I think power pop is pretty accurate. But there are also elements of chiptunes and classical music (mostly from me). The other day we were called Techno Pop, our label calls us Shibuya-kei and Japanese New Wave. Which is fine - they all have elements of truth, I suppose–but one consequence of not being easily categorizable is that the label doesn't seem to be quite sure how to market us, and we get booked for extremely odd shows. We play with everything from prog and punk bands (generally our friends who we play with locally are more on this side of the spectrum) to cutesy pop groups and generic J-Rock outfits. The oddest show we've played would have to be the time we opened for the insipid girl pop group Perfume, who have since taken over the airwaves in Japan. We sold a lot of CDs and t-shirts at that show, though, so apparently there's some crossover.
C: What kind of exposure have you gotten overseas? Do you think a Hidari avalanche is possible?
J: Sure, we tend to attract foreigners when we play downtown, and I think our music is quite accessible... excepting the lyrics, of course. All of our exposure outside of Japan thus far has pretty much been through websites like thesixtyone.com and to a lesser degree, MySpace and their ilk, and we've had a decent response. One barrier in the U.S. is that people generally seem put off by things that aren't in English. How else do you explain Hollywood spending millions of dollars to remake Japanese films almost shot for shot just so audiences don't have to strain their eyeballs reading subtitles. Personally, I think we have a better shot in Europe.
C: Do you ever have communication issues how do you get along outside of doing sets?
Daisuke Kozuki: There aren’t really any big communication issues. It's a matter of perspective I guess. Justin is serious about music and friendly so I would have to say no.
Compared to way back when we were young we don’t hang out nearly as much but rather then being due to bad relations its just become less of a necessity to be together all the time I think. When we’ve already been together for a long time and know each other real well for example. We like taking advantage of meeting new people and trying new things. However, even now we’ll occasionally go out partying or end up doing birthday parties which is always fun. It’s definitely one of our specialties.
C: Daisuke, you’re always the one with the highest energy at shows where does it come from?
D: Originally I was never the type to show off on stage, I didn’t really like that. But I can remember seeing ourselves on TV without any movement. It gave too much of a visual like we were detached and unfocused. I thought this was a problem seeing as when we played on the street not very many people stopped to listen. So I thought, lets stop some people, and that's when the crazy movements started.
C: This ones for Hiroshi, as the vocalist what was it that pushed you to join a band and sing? If you weren’t in a band what would be taking up your time?
Hiroshi: It wasn’t about wanting to join a band and singing. Casually, I tried writing some songs and since they turned out pretty well that started me in music. As for becoming the vocalist there wasn’t any other singers in the band. If I weren’t in a band I’d be leading a more serious life I believe.
C: Ok well finally is there any cryptic news about the release of a new album?
D: Naturally our music now compared with our previous albums is a little different. Justin is included in the new album for one. This time around challenging ourselves with something different has been important and interesting I think. Just producing art that's been well crafted has always been our one vision.
C: Alright, that's all for the interview thanks for your time.