off tuesday interview
I applied to teach English in Japan for a year once. I didn't get the job; maybe it's my Black Country accent (think of loads of Japanese kids waving and shouting "orlroight mayte!" hahaha), or perhaps the fact that I can't speak a word of Japanese beyond "gaijin" and "anjin" (thank you, "Shogun") or possibly the fact that I have no teaching qualifications whatsoever. I spent that year putting tents up in France and serving food to spoilt American children instead. It's strange how these things turn out isn't it? One, ahem, unlucky rejection leaves me, 7 years down the line, having to conduct an interview with Japanese experimental/soothing popsters Pop Off Tuesday in English...and it's not going well. (Thanks anyway, to Nigel, Gary and Jonathan for additional questions, information and fax assistance.)
Pop Off Tuesday were formed in 1995 while Hiroki ("machines") and Minori ("guitar/vocal") were classmates studying English in London---"We had been to go to English school and enjoyed a moratorium. We played gigs twice." Where did the name come from? "We really don't remember how we named it." Have you ever seen Rentaghost on TV? "Rentaghost?"
They recorded a single for Origin Music, "This old lady", which Peel heard and liked but, by the time he tried to book them for a session, they'd been forced to return home to Osaka as their work permits had expired. (How did the single on Origin come about? "Origin just came and exterminated itself. John Peel liked our single.") Undeterred, Peel managed to track them down in Osaka where they recorded the sesssion which was broadcast in July 1997 ("Unworldly", "Mad tea party", "It was a strangely emotional moment for me" and "Mamma awaker").
Nigel Turner was listening: "I was totally knocked out by these tracks. It was just so different to anything else I'd heard recently. I'd taped the show and just kept going back to this session." On the back of the session, and Peel's ringing endorsement of the band, he started trying to get in touch with the band for a release on his fledgling Pickled Egg label. After about 4 months he found "This old lady" on 7" and got a message from Peel: "...I still have a copy of this e-mail pinned on my wall. He gave me the Origin contact address, and finished his short message off by adding, `this is the first e-mail I have ever sent'!!! I felt so honoured!". He wrote to the band who sent back a tape of their album and agreed to release "Unworldly" as a single (their alternative choices being "Mad tea party" and "Field of blue clover".)
The single sold well (in Robots.. #3, we said "...sounds not of this planet...an ethereal and windy drone/whine with Cocteau vox that suddenly bursts into slave galley rhythmic life, layers of extra noise and scrapings thickening the sound up") and prepared the way for the self-titled LP, licenced for the UK from Nanophonica in Japan. Complicated contracts were exchanged and large amounts of time filled with the minutiae that goes with releasing a record passed. But it's here now, on CD and lovingly prepared gatefold vinyl and it sounds like nothing else on Earth. Literally. Who do they see as their contemporaries? "Mazonna, Tei Towa, Nobukaz Takemur." Did they know Towa Tei released a single over here with Kylie Minogue? "Yes." Are there any celebrities they'd like to record with? "Reonardo Dicaprio?" (sic). What are Pop Off Tuesday trying to do? Is there a method in their madness? Or a message? "????(Negative)"
In the shops from January 1999, we give you a track-by-track preview...
Benefit of J.S A shimmering undulation introduction, underwater church organ tones played at funereal pace and livened up by the rattlesnake percussion that scuttles off into the distance only to return, like Chinese whispers, subtlely altered in the journey.
Mad tea party That's a tea party at The Grand. English lyrics ("I'm comfortable when neither English speakers nor Japanese understand my words") over classically-trained light jazzily-picked guitar of the duo-in-the-corner-of-the-room variety. Madness courtesy of an injection of stringed noise that overwhelms in place of a middle-8. Gentle and beautiful.
It was a strangely emotional moment for me A 3-note motif and slide guitar create the emotion---thoughtfulness---and a crackly breakbeat provides the hook. Simplicity itself.
Unworldly The Pickled Egg single, "Unworldly" is a track with ancestors that evolved from alien material carried to Earth on a meteor and mated with Liz Fraser somewhere between then and now. It eases along, lightly riding a cymbal, exploring musical side avenues and losing fragments of song as it goes before dissolving into a mighty Oriental drone.
Dual nature Given the personality disorders of the preceding tracks it'd be a relief if there were only two beasts inside "Dual nature". As it is, we get house music synth progressions, Asian horns, a Moroder melody and another noise insert break.
This old lady ...is an android Sheryl Crow/Alanis Morrisette clone---exaggerated precision in enunciation and disconcerting tonal fluctuation with a sharply artificial edge. Behind her the BBC Radiophonic Workshop play with the effects deemed to weird for Dr. Who and a few from the box marked "Twang". Subliminal bass and another cymbal ride restrict the meandering as an excruciating metal solo time-warped in from the 80's is manipulated and Ivor the Engine pops up on the outro.
The sea and poison Aquatic washes form a bed in which the acid twiddles of Mu-Ziq wriggle briefly, introducing a beat, some twittering and a drone which then die off in the same order. It's like a Jacques Cousteau film in which our hero meets a mermaid, chases her playfully around a coral reef, falls in love and is taken, heart pumping, to her cave only to find that her mer-husband is Jaws' big brother. He makes his excuses and leaves.
As evil dance Overtly Cocteau vocals laze in the warm glow cast by a couple of smooth loops. The minimal effects are motes of dust engaged in their endless Brownian motion and occasionally catching the light.
Daisy mirror Gossamer thin spun sugar, slow-paced, melancholy. Beautiful and uncomplicated.
Toilettes imagination Sheet metal bashing resolves into bass scratching as Star Trek FX whine away and a million sub-atomic noises make fleeting cameo appearances but are merely grafitti on the plain backing which consists of a picked-guitar and bass duet.
A field of blue clover The clatter of hooved feet on cobbles and the return of the restaurant band from earlier.
A fiction worth repeating Incredible---a kind of mutant trip hop that wraps from 60's avant jazz trumpet several millenia into the future aboard a beat-powered rocket ship to land in a time dominated by relaxed South Bank Show fuzz violin and electro.
We're sometimes led to believe that in Japan the top 40 is made up entirely of lunatic young men bashing car doors with old bones, or creating vast electronic dissonance from a daisy chain of effects pedals. Is Japanese noise music this popular? "Maybe No. We dare say we are not a part of it. Hiroki says No fabulous." Erm, so how popular are Pop Off Tuesday? "My mother knows (Minori). Hiroki's parents don't know Pop-Off Tuesday. (Obviously we need to do something to fall back on for living.)"
Luckily for us, while they're making a living, they're also making some gloriously schiziod, kitchen-sink slow-frenzy, futuristic nearly-pop (TM) that'll turn your ears inside-out. Imagine a Jekyll and Hyde opposition where both characters are beautiful in different ways. As the band say, Pop Off Tuesday are "...pop music at the end"---if this was a weekly mag we'd be talking about the end of the millenium but in fact, things are much more serious than that. Pop Off Tuesday are the end of pop music: nothing can follow this and measure up.
A truly magnificent record then, which a brooding sense of mystery serves only to enhance. Two types of mystery: how can they possibly weld polar opposites together in such a beautiful way? and how come the longest sentence in their faxes wasn't even an answer to one of the questions, but somehow summed the whole thing up so succinctly: "We like your fanzine's name Robots and Electronic Brains. It's ...it's...what?"
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