The Sweet Thereafter

Galvanic punks Sweet J.A.P. split up last year, but their members have remained friends and found love in a handful of new bands

In their slimmed-down form, Mute Era recorded a three-song self-titled disc. The lo-fi recording is a great DIY sample of sparse post-punk with only a little layering supplementing Nikaido and Driscoll's handiwork. Whereas the Birthday Suits build a wall of sound around and over the vocals, Mute Era puts Nikaido's bilingual singing front and center.

"Sweet J.A.P. was so loud and I don't even know if people could hear my voice or not," says Nikaido. "But with this band if I make a mistake, people can hear it."

"There's more emphasis on the vocals as an instrument. It makes it a 3D sound," says Driscoll.

The family that plays together stays together: (bottom row from left) Sho Nikaido, Jessica Driscoll, Ben Crew, Matthew Kazama; (top row) Ollie Stench, Bobo Berlien, Hideo Takahashi
Nathan Grumdahl
The family that plays together stays together: (bottom row from left) Sho Nikaido, Jessica Driscoll, Ben Crew, Matthew Kazama; (top row) Ollie Stench, Bobo Berlien, Hideo Takahashi

"Sweet J.A.P. was very 2D, very linear, so easy," says Nikaido.

Having anticipated a question about their influences, both members pull out scraps of paper crammed with the names of their favorite groups. Bands they can agree on: Gang of Four, ESG, Liars, and Blonde Redhead. And when performing as a pair seems tough, they look to their friends and fellow duos Clipd Beaks and Chromatics for inspiration.

"I think it's hard to be in a two-piece. It takes a lot of guts," says Driscoll.

"It's more naked," says Nikaido. "That vulnerability is more than Sweet J.A.P.'s violence."

Like his friends in the Birthday Suits, the guitarist has fond memories of his old band's fierce sets. Still, Nikaido, who moved to the U.S. in 1992 to attend the University of Minnesota, admits his former group's rehearsals must have been a little difficult for Sweet J.A.P.'s sole pale-skinned member.

"We felt bad that we speak Japanese, but sometimes things get heated up and [it just happens]. He was so patient," says Nikaido.

"Poor Ben," Driscoll says with a smile.

 

The Divebomb Honey are playing the Triple Rock's Halloween show as the Toxic Avengers, in which they play songs by San Francisco punk band the Avengers while screening the classic Troma flick The Toxic Avenger. Very high concept and very loud. Crew, dressed as Toxie, starts the set by launching a mop, javelin-style, into the audience. Meanwhile, Sheela Namakkal, former Goochers vocalist and Crew's wife, mixes up the original punks' three-chord songs, sings the wrong words ("They all kind of sound the same," she says. "Let's be honest."), and threatens anyone who hasn't bought her a birthday shot yet. At the end of the set, Crew pulls off chunks of his mask and flings them into the audience. He still has flakes of fake skin clinging to his face when he and Namakkal hang out in her Volkswagen Beetle, talking about their beginnings as a band and a couple.

"I'm not a very traditional dude," says Crew. "I don't believe that much in the institution of marriage. I thought it'd be more exciting to start a band together."

But after collaborating with his girlfriend on their first 7-inch, Crew changed his mind about conventional coupling. He soon had big plans for the Divebomb Honey's third-ever public performance. "I was going to propose and have [Divebomb Honey keyboardist Ollie Stench] marry us," he says. "I was going to invite all our friends and relatives--without letting her know."

"But I found out," says Namakkal. "And before I found out, I kind of knew."

The couple were married last year at the Turf Club, the same venue where they'd first met at a Sweet J.A.P. show. Refreshments at the reception consisted of cupcakes and tacos.

Crew's role as the self-proclaimed "white boy in the Japanese band" began after seeing Takahashi play a Real Estate Fraud show near St. Olaf College. After Crew acted as that group's replacement bassist, Takahashi invited him to join his new band, Sweet J.A.P. With the Divebomb Honey, Crew has switched over to guitar but still plays punk, this time with some stylish new-wave flair, like predecessors Devo and X-Ray Spex. (The band considered masquerading as the B-52s for Halloween, before realizing just how difficult "Rock Lobster" is to play.) The four songs on the group's vinyl debut pit Crew's distorted snarls against Namakkal's gutsy alto pipes. The 7-inch is the group's only output so far, but they're currently readying another single, to be released on their own Exploding Toe Records, a label named in honor of the time their bassist dropped a computer monitor on her foot.

Despite the pressures of his new role as bandleader, Crew says that communication has been easier since starting a group where everyone speaks the same language. When asked why Sweet J.A.P. broke up, he says, "I don't know. It was all in Japanese." Still, the Land of the Rising Sun continues to have an influence on his latest band.

"I was driving to work one day listening to [Japanese punk band] Guitar Wolf," says Crew, "and I don't know what he was saying but it sounded like, "It's the Divebomb Honey!"

"People say it's a great name," says Namakkal. "But it's really just more random Japanese craziness."

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