Sex Faces, Booze, and Rock n’ Roll With The Mootekkis
Nishi-Ogikubo, located west of Shinjuku in Tokyo, is something of a suburban desolation on a Sunday evening. Navigating my way through the streets from the station, I come across few people. Cosy house lights pop out of the darkness, cars whirr quietly past, but there’s little except the peace and quiet to enamour you to the place. I come bearing a six-pack of beer, a camera and a notebook, with the purpose of interviewing one of Tokyo’s favourite live bands. When I finally arrive at the Tuppence Studio, I find a house set away from the street, it’s verdant exterior a welcome prequel to the equally grand design of the house and studio within.
Opening the door then presents a dichotomy between the sleepy weekend dormancy outside and the rock ‘n roll scene with which I am met. From the studio I can hear the thump of drums and a clamour of guitar from where the Mootekkis are setting up in the basement, every so often re-surfacing for beer and cigarettes. While the band come and go, Mootekkis singer Mike and I sit upstairs across from each other at a table littered with an ever-accruing collection of beer cans and ashtrays, discussing the purpose behind this evening’s recording session. Having just recently started working with a Korea-based record label they share with label-mates Magna Fall (last seen in Tokyo during Japan Music Week), the Mootekkis are planning to tour the US East Coast in August. As such, much of tonight’s work is marked for future single and EP releases.
This new direction for the band follows on from playing the Tokyo live circuit since their formation in 2008. Perhaps the highlight of the past few of years was winning Japanzine’s 2010 Battle of the Gaijin Bands and appearing on the front cover of the same magazine – something that caught my attention, back when the Mootekkis were a niggling name I kept hearing being bandied about in conversation. The coverage cemented them as one of the main attractions of the Tokyo ex-pat live scene, and was consolidated with the release of their self-titled 2011 EP – a sweaty and sexily sleazy release that brilliantly captured their live vibe.
Previous interviews with the Mootekkis have covered the backgrounds of this band, however It’s worth pointing out that the members of the band each bring something a little their own, be it attitude, experience, or influence. Guitarist and band “firecracker” Koji’s blues background; seiju (“sex-beast”) guitarist Jude’s upbringing on surf rock and heavy metal, and impressively-coiffed bassist Yocchan’s love of punk all dissolve into a grimy, groovy vibe so thick you could run a finger through it like steam on a window. Perhaps those influences could seem at odds, but Yocchan argues otherwise: “We all love music, we respect each other. This is the most important thing,” he says about how all those influences come together in the in the band. And the Mootekkis do demonstrate a keen awareness of their musical differences and how they compromise in order to maintain their sound.
“There have been some songs that we’ve discarded because they were outside what we wanted to do,” says Mike. “Everybody in the band has different influences, and they don’t always fit into what we’re trying to get out there.”
“For writing the parts we come together with ideas,” Jude adds. “It’s good because we want to stick to our roots. It’s easy to get off track and make some pussy rock. We wanna keep that rawness to it. Someone comes up with an idea and we try to come together to keep the Mootekkis sound. That’s quite important.”
Once everything is ready in the studio below, we move downstairs to a beautifully wood-panelled recording studio where drummer Masa, Jude, Koji and Yocchan sit in the studio itself, whilst Mike and myself view proceedings from the sound booth. As the guys start recording the lyrically lascivious The Milky Way, Mike accompanies on vocals from the booth:
“Lock all the doors like I got u under house arrest
I’ll leave my pearly signature all over yours…”
My thoughts listening to the tracks this evening are that the recording demonstrates a more polished sound than the Mootekkis’ eponymous EP, whilst still maintaining all that made the release so good – the dirty, live quality still remains, but the music and attitude feels tighter and more assured. It’s the kind of music girls take their clothes off to.
In between takes the band come together in the sound booth to discuss the tracks during play back. Reviewing the tracks, it seems that drummer Masa (described by Yocchan as “serious”) is looked to for the final word on whether or not a track needs to be done again. Tasked as he is with holding his shit together throughout a whole recording, and with his depth of experience, it’s appreciable that the otherwise reticent and somewhat elusive drummer has the deciding vote.
Watching this process take place, it’s quite a change to watch the quieter, more business-like attitude of the band in comparison to the frenetic on-stage energy they exhibited the previous evening at a packed-out show in Shibuya’s Ruby Room. Comparing this show to the previous one I had seen at The Crawfish in Akasaka, I asked the band what made the difference to them in terms of live energy and performance.
“Some of it comes down to the level of drunkenness,” replies Mike, who is famed for removing his shirt halfway through shows – quite possibly at the same time the whiskey starts to take full effect.
“We feed off of the audience a lot,” says Jude. “If the audience are into it, we feed off of that energy…Recently, the crowd we’ve been pulling is really energetic. It’s a good time in Tokyo.”
It seems every time I go to a Mootekkis show there are more and more people packed into the venues. I ask the boys about recent favourite moments from their live shows, and Mike points out something I had been noticing more and more of:
“Recently we’ve been getting a lot of girls up the front supporting us in a big way – really getting into it. That always makes us very happy, because we’re guys…and we like girls.”
Having been guilty of ardent groupie-dom in my younger years, I’m not totally ignorant of why a girl might be hanging around at the front of a gig – a combination of having the hots for one of the band, being vertically disadvantaged, or wielding a camera were my main reasons, but I brought the question up with one of the Mootekkis’ regular supporters, Mana. Her response was two fold – the Mootekkis are a good-time, non-threatening band that appeal to a female audience as equally as to the male. Mike’s penchant for removing clothing was also mentioned as another reason. Clearly the ladies of Tokyo go in for hairy nipples.
“About two months ago at the Crawfish it was really cool coz everyone came on stage and people were actually jumping off the stage”, says Jude of his favourite recent moment. “I really liked that because the energy was just amazing.”
“Something that has to be said is that when we play with Icon Girl Pistols, we always get some crowd surfing,” continues Mike. “It doesn’t matter how big the place is: they come up on stage and it explodes. We have a good chemistry.”
The Mootekkis are part of a web of expat/Japanese bands currently playing in Tokyo, and the aforementioned Icon Girl Pistols are another band whose live shows truly do rival the Mootekkis in terms of energy and boisterous crowds. Getting the two bands in the same place can be incendiary. As such then, I asked the band what their thoughts were on the current live scene in Tokyo, in a country where music sales are the second largest in the world, but where overseas talent accounts for less than one fifth of domestic sales.
“The underground live scene in Tokyo is really good. There’re a lot of really good quality bands playing at the moment,” says Mike. “ But the closer you get to commercial stuff, the shitter it gets. Basically, you have to be shit and eat corporate cock to make money off music in Japan.”
When I ask how they think things could be improved in Tokyo, Mike and Jude are quick to point out the main point of contention.
“It’s a good time in Tokyo. The vibe is great,” begins Jude. “But the venues? Sometimes they don’t like to pay you. In the States we often made a $100 a piece, and it didn’t matter about the customers – you were like an employee almost. In Tokyo live places make you pay. It’s a little off-putting.”
“We made a song called Norma and it’s about the shit system of having to pay to entertain people rather than being paid,” says Mike.
Norma, in fact, is one of the tracks the band are laying down this evening, and the lyrics are a biting criticism of the のるま (noruma – appearance) system which obliges bands performing at a venue to pay for any unsold tickets:
“I’ve heard them call you master
Your surname must be Bates
Get your hands out of our pockets
Pay us to entertain”
Two years ago, The Mootekkis decided not to play at live houses in reaction to these “rock ‘n roll dictators”, as Mike explained:
“We depend on our fans to pay ¥1500, ¥2500, sometimes up to ¥3000 just to see us play for half an hour. It shouldn’t be that way. So what we’ve been doing is basically playing at places where they respect the musicians more. We very rarely set a door charge because we want people to come in and spend money that they wouldn’t be spending on entry on alcohol, and getting juiced up and enjoying themselves.”
And alcohol is one aspect of the rock ’n roll lifestyle which is key to the Mootekkis’ ethos. The band cite new track “The Whiskey”, a grungy number full of rangy guitar and Hendrix swagger, as their current favourite song.
“Yocchan came up with the original riff,” Mike says of the writing process. “And when I listened to it I felt myself in a dark Jim Morrison-esque state, and so instantly my mind went to whiskey, all about getting drunk and totally vulnerable…”
“That’s a big part of our band,” adds Jude. “We always drink. That’s quintessential rock and roll to us.”
And beer is where the evening takes us. By the time the guys have finished recording and interviewing any chance of catching the last train home has disappeared. So, I find myself in an izakaya with Mike, Jude and Masa for the rest of the night. Some things are best left unrecorded, but I have to say I’ve not enjoyed being bullied into having another beer (or considerably more) for some time. We talk music, TV; and the faces musicians (but mostly Jude) pull on stage – what I term the “sex-face”, which is pretty much expected when you play guitar like you might play a certain bodily appendage.
When the izakaya kicks us out at 4.30am we stumble blearily to the station. It’s that weird deepest shade of early-morning blue in the sky as I say goodnight to the Mootekkis, and as I walk home in that awkward half-light with birds beginning to chatter and other drunken stop-outs weaving their weary ways home, the lyrics to new track “Shit Out of Luck” go round and round in my head. Over the course of one evening, I feel that I’ve got somewhat closer to what the Mootekkis are all about, but mostly I’ve hung out with a great, hard-working band of dedicated brothers who love their beer, their music and their rock n roll. As Masa signs off on the Mootekkis’ blog: “No beer, no Mootekkis”.
A-men to that.
The Mootekkis next play: What the Dickens in Ebisu on May 19th 2012, from 9pm and Tribal Rock Vol.6 at the Akasaka Crawfish on May 27th 2012, from 7pm.