Posted May 12, 2007

YURA YURA TEIKOKU:
FANS AND THE ART OF DEVOTION TO
AVANT GARDE POP-PSYCH

Eclectic is a term thrown around liberally in musical circles.  Unfortunately it’s frequently a misnomer for art that’s about as diverse as including some steamed cabbage with your meat and three veg dinner, or a euphemism for tunes that have the direction and focus of a oversexed cat suffering the effects of a two day bender after consuming the remains of the 1950s chemical deposits stuck at the back of the garden shed. 

But in the case of Japanese psychedelic-pop band Yura Yura Teikoku, eclectic is the only adjective that’s even vaguely appropriate to describe the band’s diverse selection of musical styles.  From heavy duty bouts of psychotic fuzz, to bruising rock guitar, to flowery pop better suited to the synthetic pop environs of Las Vegas, Yura Yura Teikoku has got it all.  From its humble beginnings in 1989, Yura Yura Teikoku has evolved to become one of Japan’s most popular underground bands – so popular, in fact, that the band’s shows sell out regularly in a matter of minutes. 

Led by vocalist, guitarist and band auteur Shintaro Sakamoto, Yura Yura Teikoku has a legion of fans whose devotion to the band borders on manic.   And now it’s Australia’s turn to witness the Yura Yura Teikoku show in its full psychedelic glory.  Yura Yura Teikoku arrives on Australian shores in mid May for shows in Sydney and Melbourne.  To coincide with the tour, Yura Yura’s live album “na.ma.shi.bi.re.na.ma.me.ma.” will be released on Toshi Maeda’s Bop! Records.

PATRICK EMERY spoke to SHINTARO SAKAMOTO about the weird and wonderful world of Yura Yura Teikoku.


What does Yura Yura Teikoku mean?

‘Yura Yura’ means the way of "floating slowly" or "hanging in the air" in Japanese. ‘Teikoku’ means "Empire". It’s kind of an image of "Empire of non  realisty" .. However, if we put those two words together in Japanese, it sounds nothing serious and even sounds a bit fool.. So I guess you should imagine something like the Devil’s World in a kid comic or kid’s TV show.

When you started in 1989 were you only a psychedelic band?

I don't know exactly the border of psychedelic bands, but I remember there were a lot of interesting bands who were sounding like the mixture of  psychedelic & avant-garde music. In particular, the bands around PSF Label in Tokyo or Alchemy Records in Osaka.

Has your vision for the band changed much since you first started playing together?

Nothing changed basically.

Was there a big psychedelic sound in Japan at the time you started playing?

Only some people were digging the 60's psychedelic music that time, but in general, psychedelic music was not a big thing in Japan.

What was the reaction to your music when you first starting playing?

I remember we had a lot of sombre people in our early audience. Even, we played very energetically or did some strange performances, no one was dancing or shouting with us and the whole venue stayed very quiet.. There were a lot of people recording our live shows by their walkman.

Do you have a definition or description of psychedelia that you like?

I don't adhere to the word of "psychedelic" but the sound I am aiming at is the music to break up the ordinary life, the music to make everything worthless and the music not arriving in anywhere.

Your first album “333” received very favourable reviews in Japan.  Given how unusual it is for underground bands in Japan to receive much attention in Japan, were you surprised at how well the album was received?

I believed from the beginning that people would love our music once they listen to it because our music has the super pop elements and the very easy understanding side too. However, I was very shocked and puzzled when the very quiet live show like a funeral has suddenly turned into a big party with people shouting and even diving from the stage.

I understand you had a lot of drummers early in your career.  Was it hard  to find (and keep) a drummer who understood what you were trying to do?

It was very difficult.

Some of the members of your audience have copied your appearance (especially the shaved eyebrows and parted hair).  Did this ever worry you?

No, I didn't get worried.

There's an amazing range of sounds and styles in your music.  Do the styles reflect the interests of the different members of the band, or do you all share the same music tastes?

We all listen to a lot of different music such as rock to pop to noise. So naturally the essence of our favourite music should reflect to our music style, I think.


In your live show do you aim to change quickly between wild psychedelic fuzz and pop to keep the audience guessing about what's going to happen next?

We only think the song positions in a set to consider people not getting bored in our two hour live show.

When you start a concert, do you know what's going to happen during the show, or do you let it evolve as it goes on?

I can't say which is. I can almost see what’s going to happen to our live show but also I am expecting there would be something I can't control might happen at the same time.

Is every a show supposed to be a 'concept' show? That is, is there a story you're trying to tell in your live shows?

There is no particular concept in our show.

Occasionally (in the quieter moments) it sounds like the band is singing Las Vegas pop songs ? do you like that soft pop style?  Or do you just like the strong contrast with the wild psychedelic fuzz?

I like the pop songs. I really like the 60s girls chorus groups, pops and soft rock around A&M label, French pop, Japanese old pop and even 70s disco music. On the other hand, I really like the German rock, noise and minimus electric music too. I don't feel any contradiction for it and I can enjoy both very naturally.

Who are your favourite psychedelic bands?

Peter Ivers, Mayo Thompson,T-Rex,13th Floor Elevators, Suicide, Velvet Underground, Blue Cheer, Shaggs, Captain Beefheart, etc.

Who are your favourite pop bands?

Serge Gainsbourg,the Shangri-las,the Ronettes, the Teen Queens, The Raindrops, the Paris Sisters, Claudine Longet, Carpenters, Chris Montez, Nick Decaro, Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, etc.

I understand your concerts often sell-out in minutes.  Do you have fans that follow you everywhere you play?

We had fans came to our New York shows from Japan. But I don't think we saw any on our Taiwan live shows.

Despite being able to sell-out shows very quickly, you've also played some free shows.  Why did you decide to do that?

When we moved to the new record label, the manager that time suggested to do it.

In 2003 you released two completely different albums on the same day, a psychedelic horror album (Shibire) and a pop album (Memai).  Which album was most successful?

I can't compare and say which one is better. One of them means nothing itself. They have to be together to become successful.

What are the major cultural influences (for example, traditional Japanese stories, films, books etc) on your music and live show?

There are a lot of different influences but I suppose the biggest one might be the manga books I read when I was a little kid. For example, Shigeru Mizuki (Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro), Kazuo Umezu (Hyoryu Kyoushitsu), Leiji Matsumoto (GalaxyTrain 999), Go Nagai (Devil Man) etc.

Is it possible to describe your music?

It’s simple rock, but I am aiming at the music can be understood in various ways.

You played your first concerts outside of Japan in 2005 (I think it was in New York City).  How did the audience respond to your live show?

It was awesome. At the first, I worried about the fact that all our lyrics are in Japanese, but once we started playing then the audience loved it. I have recognised again that the music can be understood without knowledge of the language.

Do you have any projects planned for the next few years?

At the moment, we have been recording the new album. We are going to release the single in July and the album in this autumn then we will tour Japan.


YURA YURA AUSTRALIAN TOUR
May 2007
Wednesday 16 May at Hopetoun Hotel, Sydney
w/ Ground Components + Jack Nasty Face + DJ Jay Katz
Tickets are available at the venue, red-eye records (king st, city), faster
pussycat (newtown) and online at www.custommade.com.au (ph: 1300 762 545)

Friday 18 May at East Brunswick Club, East Brunswick
w/The Basics & Little Red
Tickets are available at the venue (03 9388 9794) www.eastbrunswickclub.com

Saturday 19 May at The Tote, Collingwood
w/ Ground Components + Souls On Board

Tickets are available at the venues and (for the Melbourne shows) Missing Link & Polyester


READ THE ALBUM REVIEW

BACK TO THE INTERVIEWS PORTAL

LET'S GO BACK TO THE BAR