In The Japan Times a couple of weeks back I interviewed Osaka indie trio Jesus Weekend in advance of the release party for their mini-album/EP Agleam in Tokyo. The album actually came out towards the end of 2013, but the article in the end took longer to put together than I’d anticipated so we decided to use the release party as the event to hang the article off instead of the CD’s release.
That’s actually one of the things I always find a bit awkward about writing about music. The Japan Times is very good at taking music seriously, and it doesn’t take part in the Japanese music press practice of taking money from labels in return for coverage. It’s also a a big no-no to have me writing about bands I personally have on my label, although it’s got to the point now where I’ve released so many bands that it’s also deeply unfair to ban my acts from appearing in the paper at all, so sometimes other writers write about them (and I stay out of their way). In any case, ethics are important and foremost among those is maintaining the distinction between journalism and PR. The thing is, however, that because music journalism is journalism, it basically has to be writing about something new or in some way tied to events that are happening now, i.e. bands who have a new release or a big event or festival appearance to promote. This means that basically everything we do kind of is PR whether we like it or not, because we will only write about bands who are currently trying to sell something.
Of course with interviews, I don’t think there’s necessarily much of a conflict there, since your interest in making the article interesting for readers and the band’s interest in making themselves seem interesting to a potential audience are closely aligned. As a writer, you want to find the story in what they say, and to tease out something from their comments that sheds light on their music. I do wonder sometimes whether by focussing on releases, we miss something important sometimes, denying coverage to bands who’ve simply chosen not to release anything and focus on developing their sound live, while bands like Jesus Weekend who have taken the equally admirable approach of developing their sound out in public in the recorded medium are fair game.
Anyway, Jesus Weekend are an odd band. The bit about animal suicides and my subsequent discovery that contrary to the band’s claims, suicide is apparently a well-observed occurrence in the animal kingdom was a fascinating discovery for me and honestly, callous bastard that I am, made me laugh out loud in some instances. Personally I feel the song in question, Animal Suicides, is more eerie than sad, but then the article’s about them, not me.
I mention in the article about the album sounding like fragments of a picture, but it was recorded last summer and when I went to the release party in late February and saw them live, you could see that there was this coherence that was far better developed than on the album. Puberty Bell sticks out as a particular oddity in the album, but live it became apparent that they now have other songs that place it in more of a context. There’s also a confidence and assurance in how they play that gives you a sense up close that while the sounds may be diverse, they are all aspects of the same group of people.
It was a very short set, although a bit longer than when I saw them in Tokyo last year, and this underscores just how early Jesus Weekend have been picked up and hyped (not least by me). The gap between a cool new band appearing and everyone on the scene scrambling to get a piece of them is getting shorter and shorter, especially among the indie or crowd (as opposed to the slightly more traditional alternative crowd — I’m not going to go into the differences here) and while at the moment I don’t see too much of a problem given how small that scene is to begin with, there is the danger that when a band becomes cool too early, it can stymie their creativity, subtly influencing them towards just making more of what people already like and unconsciously holding back their own development. I don’t see that happening with Jesus Weekend, who seem very serious about what they’re doing and appear to be quite earnestly exploring how to express themselves. They’re in a musical adolescence, which is exciting and interesting in the possibilities it presents, but it would be a waste if they were to become trapped there.