Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2014
Depending on your musical frame of reference, the idea of a band all living together in the same house is either a recipe for madcap capers (The Monkees) or total carnage (Led Zeppelin), but in Japan where rents are high, space is limited and studio time expensive it makes sense for the band who play together, to stay together.
Two years ago Mothercoat took over the lease of a house in rural Saitama and, after having to replace their guitarist, they are making communal life work for them and their music. Dubbed “Bonjin House” after their record label, Bonjin Records (bonjin means “ordinary people”) the lack of neighbors within two hundred meters not only means they have space to grow their own fruit, but when it’s time to jam, they can turn it up to eleven.
“We share the residential space and studio space,” says bassist Tokirock, “but we don’t often see each other because our part-time shifts differ. We meet up two days a week for rehearsals. We wake up at the same time, practice, create new stuff. Typically, when someone is recording, the rest are doing administrative things such as handling emails, updating the website and social media.
“Our neighbors let us use their land for free and advise us on planting because they are professional farmers. We’ve planted potatoes, radishes, pumpkins, the famous Fukaya leeks and herbs like basil and dill. This year we planted three times more than last year, so maybe we can start selling our produce at gigs alongside our merch and CDs.”
It all sounds idyllic and hippy, and certainly a far cry from the rock and roll fantasy, though there is a long tradition in rock of recording in houses—Exile on Main Street, Led Zeppelin IV, OK Computer to name but three. The Downward Spiral was famously recorded in the house where Charles Manson’s “family” murdered Sharon Tate. It’s hard to think of Trent Reznor or Keith Richards planting broccoli and harvesting dill.
There has been some drama. Guitarist So refused to join his bandmates in the house. He’d previously lived with another band and they hadn’t survived the experience. Ironically, he then quit Mothercoat. One of the conditions new guitarist Fuku had to agree to when he joined the band was living in Bonjin House.
The freedom Bonjin House gives the band has come at just the right time and may even have contributed to their recent upturn in fortune. In March this year they took part in the South By Southwest festival, headlining the renowned Japan Nite showcase as well as playing a mini-tour of Texas, garnering rave reviews and much deserved international exposure. New track “Trickster” was streamed by The Guardian newspaper in the UK and they made connections in the U.S. that they can build on for a future large-scale tour. “We would like to tour in as many places as possible, particularly outside Japan,” said Tokirock. In preparation for that, they have begun work on a new album.
Does living and working in the same space change the writing and recording process?
“Sharing studio and living space cuts two ways and requires us to draw a line between public and private. As for rehearsing, actually we haven’t had enough time to experiment too much because we’ve been touring. But for recording and mixing, we do experiment and seek a new approach so the sound will evolve in some way. We tend to slack off without the pressure of having to pay per hour for studio time, but we can dig deep when arranging songs without worrying about time. However we sometimes have to interrupt the recording because quite a few cars come and go on the street despite it being a small country road. We have to care more about acoustic isolation for recording.”
If recent EP 5-1+1= is anything to go by, both Bonjin House and Fuku have changed the dynamic within Mothercoat. For a band always searching for a new sound, for a new twist, the freedom of being outside the rigid Japanese music industry and physically separated from many of the obstacles and distractions that often blight other bands is invaluable. Few artists are lucky enough to build a studio of their own, let alone make it partially self-sufficient. Holed up in Bonjin House, Mothercoat are preparing the ground for a new musical onslaught and the future looks bountiful. Put me down for a copy of the new album, a t-shirt and a bag of peppers.
Basement Bar. May 27.