“If I were the devil/I wouldn’t have made the world like this/We can’t count the time of our life/Because nobody knows how long we’ve got,”
Eriko Hashimoto sings plaintively on “Sekai ga Owaru Yoru ni.” It’s pretty heavy stuff for a top 10 hit, but that’s precisely why Chatmonchy is so popular. Like Yutaka Ozaki and Mr. Children, the three-piece band uses rock ‘n’ roll as a platform for expressing honest feelings and observations about life, and they don’t shy away from showing discontent. Despite the importance of lyrics to their music, Chatmonchy’s melodic and heartfelt music appeals to American J-rock fans, many of who were introduced to the girls by the song “Daidai” featured in the anime Bleach. Chatmonchy made their American debut on the 2010 Japan Nite tour, kicking off at South by Southwest and hitting New York City on Mar. 21 and 22.
Chatmonchy had fairly typical origins. Hashimoto formed the group in 2000, while she was still a high school student in Tokushima. The lineup changed a few times due to academic and other obligations but reached stability in 2004 with Hashimoto on lead vocals and guitar, Akiko Fukuoka on bass and Kumiko Takahashi on drums. The trio released an independent record and sold it themselves. A year later, they were signed to Ki/oon Records and released the album Chatmonchy Has Come, produced by Junji Ishiwatari of Supercar. By November 2006, they had their first top 10 hit single, Shangri-La. To date, they’ve released five major albums, including the B-side collection Expression from this March.
At the time of the interview, Chatmonchy was preparing for their New York shows. They spent their free time at SxSW checking out other bands, such as Takahashi’s favorite The XX. Fukuoka remarked that the festival was unlike anything in Japan, but Hashimoto found it too crowded. Takahashi had food on the brain, describing how she ate a hamburger in Texas and a bagel and donuts in New York.
Though they’d dreamed of performing in America as far back as two years ago, the girls didn’t try to make it a reality until after they’d completed a satisfying album, 2009’s Kokuhaku. Following a successful tour, the three decided to do whatever they wanted from that moment, and transformed their SxSW offer into a longer tour. “Regardless of the lyrics being in Japanese, we wanted to play in the U.S. without the boundary of lyrics,” Takahashi says. “We want to reach the audience here purely with our music.”
Hashimoto’s cute vocals, reminiscent of Yuki from Judy and Mary, contrast much of the frustration, longing and confusion in the lyrics. The band members write the lyrics individually, then create music to fit them. The inspiration for lyrics ranges from love to general life experiences to random experiences. Takahashi’s “Catwalk” is about a time a wandering cat ignored her. Fukuoka wrote “Sekai ga Owaru Yoru ni” after someone fell in front of the subway she was riding and died. “I was upset that passengers were disappointed about being late to work,” she explains. “It was my first weird experience in Tokyo.”
Chatmonchy’s emotional style is a product of the members’ similar musical tastes. “We have the same goal of what’s cool musically,” Fukuoka says. They also share a similar sense of humor, with Takahashi and Fukuoka teasing the easily startled Hashimoto by reminding her that her shirt said “Fear” in English.
In an interview with J-pop World, Hashimoto expressed wanting to be seen as a rock band first and foremost and not seeing their sex as a meaningful descriptor. Yet even in 2010, there’s that pesky double standard where people point out that a rock band is composed of all women but don’t, say, describe Nickelback as an “all-male rock band.” Although Chatmonchy struggled between the rock band and female rock bands in the beginning, they feel more confident and successful now, Takahashi says,
Chatmonchy released Expression in March as a reason to do a B-sides tour. Takahashi explains the band doesn’t have many opportunities to play those songs and wants to give them exposure.
Though they’re touring for old music, Chatmonchy are already hard at work on new songs. “It’s something fresh every time,” Fukuoka says.
Chatmonchy’s albums are available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and other digital stores. Fans who missed the Japan Nite tour, don’t despair—they’re planning to tour the U.S. again.
Translation by Ryu Takahashi