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INTERVIEW: NYAI talk about their new album, Japan's music scene and why it's hard to break the US and UK

Laura  Barnes
INTERVIEW: NYAI talk about their new album, Japan's music scene and why it's hard to break the US and UK

MI Pro editor Laura Barnes chats to NYAI frontman Takuchan about the band’s Western influences, what gear they use and why many Japanese bands find it difficult to crack the UK and US markets…

Japan loves music. Trust me. I’ve been over there.

You think central London’s tourist hotspots are full of music, gigs and street performers? It’s nothing compared to a busy Tokyo street.

Not only is every tourist and fashion store blaring out music, but there are adverts on huge screens playing music, there are cars and vans driving about with speakers attached to the top of them, playing music. Pretty much every different machine inside every arcade is playing it’s own jingle. And there's a lot of arcades. There are even screens on trains playing adverts and jingles.
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The stereotype of modern day Japanese music is that it’s sickly sweet, hyperactive, and sung by children and/or cartoon characters.

While there’s certainly a lot of that type of stuff around, Japan’s music scene is much more rich and diverse than what first meets the eye, or ear.

There’s a reason why there’s a running joke that unknown and obscure indie bands are ‘big in Japan’. Japanese music fans have long had a love affair with Western rock music and that influence has steeped into the alternative Japanese scene.

The result is an ever-expanding group of bands making music that sounds like all your favourite UK and US indie bands mixed with a blend of structures, vocal styles and experimentation that comes from the long and incredibly interesting history of Japanese music throughout the years.

One of these is NYAI, a five-piece indie band who have just released their debut album.

The band has been together for five years and consists of Takuchan (vocals/guitar), Abe (vocals/keyboards), Show Hey (guitar), Riku (bass) and Ayano Inti Raymi (drums).

When asked what he thinks of Western music Takuchan tells MI Pro that the band is influenced by “a lot of musicians” from the UK and US and reels off Oasis, Blur, Weezer, The Breeders, Pavement and Supercar to name but a few.

“We like UK and US music and have received a profound amount of good influences from Western bands.”

Talking about the Japanese rock scene, Takuchan describes it as “very tolerant with lots of charming and cool bands”.

“I love Japanese indie music culture and I want everyone to know about Japanese indie bands,” he tells MI Pro.

His own band, NYAI, is currently promoting their debut album Old Age Systematic. This solid offering took three years in the making and will satisfy the ears of anyone riding the indie/surfer waves still going strong in Western rock music.

Takuchan plays a Fender USA Jazzmaster through various pedals include a Boss BD-2, Human Gear Hot Cake and TC Electronic Hall of Fame. Guitarist Show Hey uses a Tokai Telecaster with a VOX Satchurator, while Abe tinkles about on a micro Korg.

Bassist Riku uses an Edwards E-T-125BZ, while Ayano Inti Raymi’s Ludwig LS401XX1Q snare provides a cracking backbeat for NYAI’s summery tunes.

The result of all of this is an album full of cool indie beats, jangly guitars and hooky choruses.

Takuchan admits that the band has yet to play outside of Japan, but wants to come to the UK to perform some day.

“It is difficult for a Japanese band to succeed abroad. It is hard for many Japanese people to sing in English,” reveals Takuchan.

He makes a very interesting point. Not only is it a very rare occasion that a band who does not sing in English makes much of an impact in Western music markets, but despite the Japanese having a pretty good grasp of English in general, the building blocks of the Japanese language make it very difficult for natives to pronounces English words.

For example, in Japanese there is no ‘l’ or ‘r’ but rather a sound that’s like a combination of the two. There’s no ‘th’ sound and no plurals – so it’s very rare to get a word ending in ‘s’.

I could go on, but as you can see there are plenty of words that are difficult for Japanese singers to authentically pronounce, and Western ears seem to have difficulty relating to music that they can’t easily sing along to.

Just because it’s not filled with easy Adele-style sing-along ballads, it’s worth making the effort to expand your horizons and listen to Japanese music. There’s lots of it out there, so why not start with some NYAI?

Check out the video for the band’s track Life Is Demo below:

NYAI’s debut album Old Age Systematic is out now on iTunes. Find out more about the band over at the official NYAI website.

Tags: Interviews , NYAI , japanese bands

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