Although Eastern Youth only sings in Japanese, few things are lost in translation to American audiences.
The esteemed Tokyo-based band has concocted a skillful harmony of indie rock aggression and emotional anthems that feel right at home alongside tour mates Cursive and The Blood Brothers.
But the trio is no mere copycat of American artists. Eastern Youth extols traditional Japanese culture at a time when many of their musical peers are rebelling against it. On the band's current record, "What Can You See From Your Place," vocalist/guitarist Hisashi Yoshino unleashes powerful lyrical themes of generational alienation and industry vs. nature that read like Shinto poetry.
After 13 years of performing together, the members (Yoshino, drummer Atsuya Tamori and bassist Tomokazu Ninomiya) have forged an unshakably punk rock attitude, characterized by refusing to sing in English as a ploy to expand their fanbase.
Now in the midst of a lengthy U.S. excursion that will bring the group to Kansas for the first time, vocalist/guitarist Hisashi Yoshino speaks through his touring interpreter about an Eastern band's life on Western roads.
What is your least favorite thing about touring America?
What irritates me most is that I can not actually communicate in English. I really want to be friends with all the members of the bands. I'm trying so hard, but it's really hard to communicate. At the same time if you can not talk in English they kind of tend to feel awkward. Like, "Why can't you speak in English?" That makes me very uneasy.
In America, rock music has been replaced somewhat by styles like hip-hop and country music. How popular is rock music still in Japan?
In general, hip-hop is "overground" in Japan. It's one of the biggest forces in Japanese music scene. But I really don't care about those music things. What is important is if the music is good or not.
Part of the essence of punk rock is rebelling against tradition. Yet Eastern Youth seems to embrace traditional Japanese culture rather than rebel against it. Is that a very punk rock thing to do?
I am influenced by punk rock in terms of musical form, but also the attitude that is against who is strong or who has the power. I am totally influenced by those two things. But what I am doing in the band is not that I'm (becoming) punk; I'm making punk rock music. I'm trying to express what I'd like to express from inside to outside. It's kind of self expression. The motivation that drives me to keep making music is the same as one by Van Gogh, the famous painter. It doesn't really have to be punk rock. I'm just trying to be an artist. Coincidentally, it had to be music and had to be a band.
Eastern Youth has been together for over a decade. How have the working relationships changed within the band since your first tour together?
At first we were doing simplest things. We took some time to figure out how three personnel can do the music we are trying to create. As time goes and each member expands their technique and knowledge, that gives the band a broadness to our music. In terms of music, the band is expanding and can do what we could not do before.
You've gone on tour with many well-known American bands. Do you keep in contact with any of these people?
The band toured with At the Drive In and Jimmy Eat World. Then they supported tours of ours in Japan. Through the band we have those kinds of connection. But for myself, there is no person I often (phone or send mail).
When it comes to guitar playing, can you tell many differences between Japanese and American musicians?
I don't actually see any difference. As long as I'm concerned, I'm just trying to be original.
What is your favorite type of Japanese food that you can't find in America?
I miss what we call Natto and Umeboshi. First one is beans, and you put that with soy sauce and put that under rice. It kind of smells quite weird. Even some Japanese hate it. Umeboshi is a kind of plum that is very sour. Those two things I like but I can't find here anywhere."