I love finding stuff. I love scouring flickr for images and youtube for obscure and interesting musical finds. I first found The Routes from finding a video of Chris doing a one-man band song. I really loved the guitar sound and just the fact there was this English guy in Japan playing the music he loved in a band called The Routes. A great stripped back garage sound with a real knack for a catchy tune. I had to become a fan.
Anyway, I got in touch and Chris was kind enough to answer some questions.
After reading so say hello HERE
Okay, maybe we can start by giving us a quick history of the band?
I came to Japan in 2000, having married a girl called Yoko Ono (not joking). I was doing an office job in London at the time, living in Herne Hill. I couldn't see any future for myself, and I was tired of living in UK. Once I met Yoko, I decided to just give up everything and leave for a new life.
I wanted to form a band ever since I arrived in Japan, but didn't know anybody and couldn't speak Japanese. After about two years of living in Japan, a foreign friend introduced me to Masao (the original drummer), and we started a punk band called The Facials. We weren't very good. We did it for a few years, with the owner of a local venue doing bass duties for us. It became increasingly difficult to play because the bass player would work most evenings. One evening we did play, we played with a Japanese blues guitarist called Sano Masaru. It totally changed my approach to music. I think in England we don't aspire to play well because it's "not cool". I decided to lose my English cool, and change the direction of the band. We wrote totally new material (taking huge influence from Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Pretty Things, and Downliners Sect), and went through numerous bass players... I tried to approach music from in the way that bands did in the 60s, and aspired to play like those musicians. The lineup finally settled, and I recorded the first album using a giant Tascam MKII 4 track cassette recorder that Masao gave me. I put the tracks online and Andy McGibbon (Motorsounds Records/Bonnevilles) got in touch with us offering to release our album.
You seem to have a sweet selection of guitars. You have a favourite?
I really love vintage guitars. I remember as a kid always being fascinated by guitars, and I have a really vivid memory of standing in a guitar shop aged about 12, staring at a Vox Organ Guitar in amazement. When I came to Japan I didn't have a guitar. Upon arriving here and looking in a guitar magazine, I was shocked to see the amount of vintage guitars for sale in Japan. There are 1000s! I guess when the economy was good, the Japanese went to US/UK and went crazy importing guitars. I spoke to one guy that was importing about ten to fifteen 1960s Fender Jaguars a week! So yeah, I've accumulated a lot of guitars. My favourite guitar is my 1967 Vox Starstream. When I was a kid I saw the video for Spacemen 3's Revolution and was totally fascinated by the guitar Sonic Boom was using (a Starstream XII). Ever since that it was my dream guitar. Amongst other stuff I have is a 1967 Vox Aristocrat, a 1968 Vox Astro Bass, a 1967 Vox Constellation bass, a 1967 Vox Apollo, a 1966 Vox Phantom, a 2005 Gibson ES335, and a 1967 Yamaha SG3. I'm always selling and buying stuff. It's a bit of an addiction.
What got me into garage was the rawness of the music. What got you into garage punk?
For me personally, nothing sounds as good as just a guitar, a drum kit, a bass and vocals (organ optional)... The simple format has the most impact for me... You can be as witty or fancy as you want with your lyrics, and use crazy chords or fancy time signatures, but compare it to someone playing 3 chords... You can douse everything in crazy effects, use the latest synths, vocoders, sequencers and crap, but put it next to a raw live band with 3 chords... There's a reason this basic format has thrived through the decades whether it be rockabilly, garage, blues, punk, whatever... It's a full proof formula. It doesn't age poorly, it's far from self-indulgent, it doesn't lose energy... With the same three chords you can make any kind of song you want. It's all you need. It's timeless.
I also love the imperfections in old recordings, like the hiss and distortion. It gives the music atmosphere and personality as opposed to the dry sterile perfect sounds that we hear today. You can hear the real sound that was happening in that room.
Why do you think the 60's was such a great time for music?
I think that people's approach to making music was different. People aspired to be and took influence from something great. Look at Rolling Stones, Animals, and Yardbirds taking influence from Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters etc... Then look at the hordes of one hit wonder teenagers in America that took influence from the British invasion. They were not quite as good as what they aspired to be, the product was always interesting and original in itself. I don't think there was as much to aspire to in the 80s, 90s, 00s. Unfortunately these days people aspire to be cool or fashionable, as opposed to aspiring to be great.
If you could arrange a live bill of your favourite groups (dead or alive), who'd be on the list?
Would they be brought by time machine? If so, Beggars Banquet era Rolling Stones, early 60s Bo Diddley, 13th Floor Elevators, Wailers, Seeds, and '66 Elvis, and Hound Dog Taylor. How bizarre would that be?
You do quite a few covers live. How do you go about choosing them - is it about choosing what you like or choosing something the crowd might know?
It's down to circumstances. We disbanded for a while in late 2007-2008, when Masao had to leave the band because of his job. When Shinchan came, we started to play purely for fun at first, so we all played covers, slowly introducing original material as time went by. We chose the songs that we liked playing/hearing. A lot of the stuff you can see on youtube is from the year or so we played all covers. Nowadays our live set consists of 80% plus original material.
From what I've seen, Japan has quite a lot of great garage rock bands. Is there a good scene there?
Haha, where we live there are 3 garage bands. Us, The Paralyze and La-La Lee's. There are quite a few mountains between us and the other two bands, but we are all extremely close friends. What with there being only 3 bands, I can't even call it a scene. In Tokyo there is a big scene of course, but we're not really involved with it. We just do our own little thing oblivious to whatever else is going on. I think that's actually helped us a lot.
I've seen you doing that one man band thing. I remember reading that Hasil Adkins started doing the one man band thing as when he heard songs on the radio he didn't realise that there was more than one person on the record. Is it something you enjoy doing?
The one man band thing was just down to circumstances. When the original drummer Masao left, I couldn't find a worthy replacement for a long time. I was really frustrated. It was the only option at the time, if I wanted to continue to play music. The promoters who were asking for The Routes totally loved it, as did many of the people coming to watch. They obviously didn't know about Hasil Adkins... On a good night I'd be really good, but on a bad night I'd just want to curl up behind the bass drum and die of embarrassment. It was pretty lonely too. Much more fun playing with my mates. The first gig was shockingly bad. I could barely finish one song. That was the night I met our current drummer Shinchan . I saw him play live, and he was like the perfect potential band member. Once I got the band up and running again, I decided to knock the one man band on the head.
Tell us about the new album you have coming out?
We have a new album called "Alligator" coming out on Dirty Water Records in April 2011. The album contains 11 original songs, and will be available as a CD, LP or download. In comparison to our first album, there is a lot more of a US garage influence present, and less UK rhythm and blues. I think there is a lot more variation this time. You can hear a preview on our Reverb Nation page (sorry, we gave up on myspace and deleted it completely). We recorded the album ourselves as usual.
What places have been the most receptive to your music?
We're going to Europe for the first time in April. We're very excited.
We played in Shanghai last year. Shanghai is amazing. There is a huge international community, snd people go wild! I'm looking forward to going back there next week.
As far as Japan goes, I like Osaka. We played there for the first time a few weeks ago, and the atmosphere was great.
How do you go about choosing album and flier art? Are you into art at all?
I studied fine art at college about 18 years ago. I used to like art until I had to study and write about comtemporary art in the early 90s. I enjoyed looking at art a lot more when I was totally ignorant. Thankfully 18 years have passed, and I have forgotten everything I learned, and I'm happily ignorant once again. The only art I've looked at since then has been record covers and flyers. I've always been fascinated with record covers. For me record covers can bring back so many memories.
Up until recently I've been quite lazy in choosing album and flyer art, and generally relied on photography. Last year I picked up a copy of Bananas magazine. I really liked the simple often humorous illustrations. It's illustrated by a French guy called Christophe Lopez-Huici, based in New York. He also does stuff for Shindig magazine, as well as posters for events. We approached Christophe to come up with something for our new album, and a Europe Tour poster. We are very happy with the results. I can't think of another record cover that looks like ours.
Anything coming up (singles, gigs etc) that you want to mention?
As well as the new album "Alligator" coming out on Dirty Water Records, we have a 7" single coming out on Portugal's Groovie Records. It's a cover of the song "Stormy" by Jesters of Newport. The B side is a cover of "Willie The Wild One" by William The Wild One. It's limited to 500 copies, and the first 100 copies are in blue vinyl. We recorded a bunch covers at the same time as the album.
We also have a very limited split single coming out on New York label Go Ape Records, featuring ourselves, The Paralyze, and Los Wakamonos. The single contains three songs (an original instrumental track from each band). The single was mastered by Tim Warren (Crypt Records). It should be out around April 2011.
Finally, what for you is GOOD (something you enjoy and like) and what is EVIL ?(something you hate or think is fucked up)
Ah, that's a difficult one. I have to be careful what I say in case my mum ever sees this. Something I enjoy and like?
Japan! First thing that comes to mind.
Evil? Fucked up? Something I hate?