It’s an utter cliché that has been said millions of times to cheaply describe millions of things. In this case it is completely appropriate. So fasten your seat-belts, ’cause abingdon boys school is going to take you for a wild ride. Born out of the talent from some of Japan’s most skilled musicians, abingdon boys school (a.b.s.) has taken the art of epic rock to a new level. The band first debuted in 2006, introduced to audiences in Japan and overseas alike through anime. But anyone who dismisses them as yet another anime theme song spewing, pre-fab band is sorely misinformed. Before heading off to Europe for their first overseas tour starting in November, the band put on a special event at Ebisu Liquidroom. On October 21 I was lucky enough to attend the third concert of the seven they were performing at the legendary venue. The room smelled like a high school boys locker room. Sweaty and overheated, the fans packed in to the moderately sized venue (with a possibly broken air conditioner). But they all seemed to forget the muggy smell of B.O. once the band took the stage.
While the screams of the fans were deafening, nothing compared to the sound that came out of the instruments of those four men. As I felt my internal organs getting knocked around by the vibrations, a.b.s. attacked the ears of their audience with the decibels of a fighter jet. And that fighter jet was taking off right in front of their faces. Groups of fans made fists in the air, as if trying to harness the raw energy, which could be used to solve the global energy crisis. It wasn’t so much the volume that literally shook the hearts of their fans, but the sheer charisma. Each member is a natural on stage, moving with the confidence and power of men who don’t need to make any special effort to look cool. There was no air of cockiness from anyone. They were just four genuine geniuses giving it their all.
But you can’t mention a.b.s. without bringing up the voice of the band. Nishikawa has possibly the most solid voice in popular music (and note that I’m not restricting this to Japan). The technical training matched with a natural gift allows Nishikawa to perform pieces most rock musicians would find vocally impossible. Even with much of a.b.s. melodies featuring legato notes at a fairly high range, Nishikawa’s voice didn’t putter out for a second, building up energy as the concert progressed.
Despite the heat and smell comparable to old gym socks, I didn’t want the relatively short set of fourteen songs to end. a.b.s. is one of the best bands from Japan touring Europe this year. European fans will kick themselves if they miss a.b.s. when they come around. And those that do see them might find themselves overdosing on this pure adrenaline rush.
Luckily, I sat down with a.b.s. for a quick chat before their jet-propelled live show blew out my eardrums and any ability I might have to form coherent thoughts.
pSKY: I’d like to start by having you introduce yourselves and the band.
Nishikawa Takanori: First of all, I’m abingdon boys school’s vocalist Nishikawa. And next?
Sunao: Sunao on guitar.
Shibasaki Hiroshi: Shibasaki on guitar.
Kishi Toshiyuki: Keyboard and programming. I’m Kishi.
Psky: I’d like to ask you about the name of your band: abingdon boys schools. Have you ever been to the real Abingdon School?
All: No, no, no.
Kishi: Just in our imaginations.
Psky: What was it like in your imagination?
Nishikawa: Well, there’s a big reason for doing the live here today. This is the town where we first met. We met in Ebisu. “Ebisu” can be represented as A.B.S. Sound it out “Ebisu.” So if we used the acronym A, B, and S, we wondered what one word we could make out of it. Also, I like sports cars, so I thought of “anti-lock breaking system.” ABS. It was a little, what’s it called? I couldn’t make a single, interesting word out of it. After researching a bit, I found Abingdon School. I thought it was interesting. And after looking into it, I found that the members of Radiohead went there. Each of us has come to know each other since we’re all about the same age. With that in mind, I wanted to make a band again. After coming across these guys, I thought that it would be nice to make a band with them, so we became abingdon boys school or a.b.s..
pSKY: That’s great! So you will be going to Europe very soon, right?
Nishiwaka: Oh, yeah.
Kishi: In..two weeks?
Nishikawa: About two weeks.
Kishi: It’s my first time.
pSKY: Oh? Have the rest of you been to Europe before?
Shibasaki: Not me.
Sunao: Not one time.
Nishikawa: I’ve been to Italy and London.
Kishi: For me, Italy and Paris and Spain…
Shibasaki: Oh cool!
Kishi: …London. But just on vacation and recording.
pSKY: Vacation and recording? Cool! So when you go to the UK, are you going to go to the real abingdon school?
Nishikawa: Um, yeah, hm, maybe. We’re going to be really busy, so… I really want to go. And lately, I’ve been looking things up on the internet on youtube and such.When I search “abingdon boys school,” I’ll see us and some stuff like scenes from the classrooms there.
pSKY: Actually, when I went on Google…
Nishikawa: Yeah yeah!
pSKY: I typed in “abingdon boys school.” The first five links are for your band. So, congratulations!
Nishikawa: I’m really glad!
pSKY: So that’s really great. You’re more famous than the school.
Nishikawa: Only four people!
pSKY: Yeah, only four people in the whole school. Now I’d like to ask a little bit about how you’ve prepared for your tour of Europe.
Shibasaki: We can’t really bring the same kinds of instruments we use in Japan. We have to limit what we can bring.
Sunao: Some of our systems are pretty big, so we can’t exactly go on the plane with them. We have to put everything in sort of one compact system.
Nishikawa: Of course in Japan, we’ve already been doing activities here, but in Europe, it’s our first release. This is our debut in Europe, so it’s like we’re starting again. We’re playing on a smaller scale. We’re thinking of it as restarting our debut, so it’s going to be very compact, so to speak.
pSKY: Will we hear a difference in the music?
Nishikawa: Hm, a difference?
Shibasaki: How will it be different? Hm…
Nishikawa: But really, since this is our first time in that kind of space, we’re going to do it carefully. When the audience hears each individual sound, it has to be done carefully. It’s our long-awaited European debut, so we feel that we really want to have a good time.
pSKY: What will your European fans have to look forward to? What can we expect? Well, not “we,” but…
pSKY: I’m American.
Nishikawa: Yeah, yeah.
pSKY: What should the Europeans expect?
Kishi: Well, Nishikawa, you’ve done lives in the US several times.
Nishikawa: Yeah, as TMR [T.M. Revolution].
Kishi: The Americans had a certain type of reaction. They had a big reaction to the music. Europeans might have something closer to the Japanese in terms of their reaction. But I’m not quite sure. Still, it’ll be a lot of fun.
pSKY: So that brings me to my next question. Obviously, you think the European and the Japanese fans are similar, but why do you think Japanese rock has become so popular in Europe?
pSKY: Compared to North America.
Nishikawa: Well, it’s not quite there yet. It’s basically a niche. It’s at the level of subculture. If you say it’s popular, I’m happy to hear that, but there’s still a big wall in the way and that’s “Japanese” and “minority.” That’s the major issue. But as for music and melody, that part allows for ease of communication. I have high hopes, but it’s still not quite there.
Kishi: I’ve heard that some of my friends have had success there, but they don’t really have the time. I wonder if we’ll have the time on this tour.
Nishikawa: The reality is that it still needs to gain success. If you compare the situation to before people had access to music from as far as Japan with just one click thanks to the internet. Before, things like CDs had taxes on them, so people who wanted to listen to Japanese music discovered that it was really hard to get a hold of. But little by little, things like animation [anime] made it over there, and I’m really glad for that. I’m really glad our music’s heard over there.
pSKY: And also, probably the biggest form of flattery is people emulating your style of music. People overseas are creating bands that look very “Japanese rock.” Do you know about these kinds of artists in Europe?
Nishikawa: Well, not really.
pSKY: Maybe Tokio Hotel? Cinema Bizarre? It seems like they were really inspired by Japanese rock.
Nishikawa: Oh, yeah! I guess it’s not quite like the 80’s Japanesque style, but what’s it called? Wa… something. Japanese melody. Oh, what’s it called? Stuff like kabuki, instruments like taiko, shamisen, Japanese traditional music. They’re doing that type of image and borrowing from it. But it’s really different music, I think.
Shibasaki: They’re interested in finding what part of it is Japanese music and trying to make it original. People who create Japanese pop and rock have to look at how it was all inspired by European and American music.
pSKY: It’s like an echo.
Shibasaki: Yeah, it’s more or less a reinterpretation. So what part of it is Japanese rock? They have to ask.
Nishikawa: It’s like this. Looking at our style of music and… is it this week? The VRock Festival. That kind of concert has those artists that are a little gothic and decorative. They have the overseas approach to their style and performance. Likewise, R&B and hip hop have come to Japan. When Japanese people hear it, they think of it as very American style, but from Japan. It’s a mystery, isn’t it? Animation’s in there too. In Japan, there’s a little bit of a prejudice. For example, all of our singles are involved in animation. Japanese fans of Western music might think… ugh. There’s resistance to it. But thinking practically, people who hear us overseas can listen to our music freely. Without really fitting in that genre or category, we want to make music without thinking of such terms. Without thinking about it too much, the things we do are really important. That’s originality. But I’m really glad our overseas fans can hear us.
pSKY: So you’ll be going to a lot of different countries. Germany, Sweden, Finland…
Nishikawa: Yeah, a lot.
pSKY: Are you learning any of the languages from those countries?
pSKY: At least the greetings?
Kishi: English is ok, right?
pSKY: Yes, but maybe not in France.
Nishikawa: France! No, not in France. My friend told me that the French don’t really appreciate that.
pSKY: Be careful. Just speak to them in Japanese. Then they’ll be like, “You’re from Japan. That’s ok.”
Nishikawa: Yeah, but I really want things to be right, so maybe a little bit at a time. But thanks for the “be careful” point.
pSKY: But you know, most of the Japanese bands that go to Europe always try to say something in the native language. So try to choose a phrase or a sentence that is really cool.
Nishikawa: Yeah yeah yeah!
Kishi: (pointing to Nishikawa) That’s his job!
Nishikawa: It’s very important. I really want to do that.
pSKY: Do you have any messages for your overseas fans?
Nishikawa: Yeah, of course. This is the first time as a band that we’re able to do a release and tour in Europe. We really don’t want to make this the only time. We want to do it two, three times or more. This time we’re starting out in small clubs, but next time we want to do it at larger venues or join in on festivals. We want to do a lot of tours. And we’re really glad to have people come see us. And after the European tour, we want to do a tour of the entire US.