Interview: Umez

An interview I did with Sachiko from Umez is up on The Japan Times site. I reviewed the compilation that we discuss in this interview a few weeks ago and enjoyed it. The song they did for the compilation album, Rainbow, is a great piece of devastatingly simple scuzzy garage pop with weird bits and well worth checking out.

To be honest, I could do with a bit less of the J-pop covers from them, although I realise that’s a bit hypocritical considering how many pop covers my band have done over the years. I think no more than one cover per 30-minute live set should be kind of the limit though, especially now they’re back in Japan where everyone’s going to recognise all the songs they’re playing. They don’t want to get a reputation as, “Oh, they’re that covers band.”

That said, I think their cover of Aitakatta is interesting because it reveals AKB48 at their best and worst. One thing it demonstrates is that AKB48’s songwriting isn’t the seething mire of evil it sometimes seems. At heart, a lot of AKB48 songs are basically simplified versions of the sort of thing Judy And Mary used to do, just with the baroque edges filed off, and in the hands of a different band, it’s apparent that there is a fairly solid punk-pop songwriting core to it.

Which brings me to the next thing it reveals: that in the hands of AKB48, pretty mnuch anything sounds shite because AKB48’s whole setup is incapable of anything else. The nasty production and massed vocals just stomp any beauty or fun a song might have into oblivion. Umez’ version with its garage-punk guitar and Lush-esque vocals doesn’t exactly turn it into a masterpiece, but at least it helps the song breathe again and comes out really rather nice.

But noise-pop includes noise, and Umez can be fucking noisy when they choose to be, and the way they pinball between those extremes is part of what makes them so much fun.

Given that the band are split between Tokyo and Kobe, it’s heartening to see them getting invited to Tokyo pretty often, so hopefully things will start to take off for them. The London music scene is much more concentrated than Tokyo’s so it can take a long time to adapt to the various subcultures. Their next show at Koiwa Bushbash should be interesting because Bushbash is a decent venue run by proper music people, and the bands they’re playing with are the sort of people who could dig the sort of thing they do. Hopefully it’ll lead to more and bigger things.

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