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The frenetic and infectious live energy of Birthday Suits is the stuff of local lore. Just ask Arzu Gokcen (of Selby Tigers and Staraoke fame), who is a guest vocalist on the band's sophomore album, The Minnesota: Mouth to Mouth. "I once saw Hideo do four high kicks in a row. Hideo has stood on tables, the bar, the railing that runs the length of the room at the Turf. Once he kicked the air conditioner, which is about six feet off the ground!"
Fellow guest vocalist Christy Hunt (of the Von Bondies and Ouija Radio) chimes in about drummer Matthew Kazama: "He is in some other dimension. He is the closest drummer I've seen to Animal from the Muppets."
A clear evolution from their debut, Cherry Blue, The Minnesota: Mouth to Mouth brings candy-coated melodies to the monkey-man punk-rock party. As Birthday Suits prepare to release their new album this weekend, City Pages talked to Hideo Takahashi and Kazama about their hyper rock stylings, feeling like rock stars, and how they always give the fans their all.
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City Pages: Four high kicks in a row—that must be a world record.
Hideo Takahashi: Yeah, I did that. I don't exercise; I play music, so that is my workout. I get paid to work out.
CP: And then you can drink while you work and work out. I know you also like to rock while standing on top of your amp, and somehow neither you or the amp falls over.
Takahashi: I don't break amps but I do break guitars here and there. My goal is not to break anything, including myself—fixing stuff and going to the hospital is expensive.
CP: Even when there are just a few people at your shows, you are known for always bringing full-on rock.
Takahashi: On tour our crowd might be one person, plus the bartender and the door person. But they will tell their friends to come to the next show. When we come to town the next time the show will be better and we will be happier.
CP: Matthew, I heard from some friends—they called you the wild-man drummer—that you let their eight-year-old son come on stage and play your drums.
Matthew Kazama: Oh wow, that was a while ago, that's right.
CP: How many wild-man drummers are going to do that?
Kazama: I am a wild man onstage and offstage I am a gentleman!
CP: So you went from being in a five-piece (in Sweet JAP) to a two-piece. I heard Hideo say that Matthew now gets more attention because no one is blocking him.
Takahashi: In our old band there were four people blocking him!
CP: And one day the two of you said, "Lets forget those other guys, it's just me and you, baby!"
Takahashi and Kazama: Yeah!
CP: Are you two best buddies?
Takahashi: He doesn't know where I work or where I live.
Kazama: No, he doesn't know my phone number.
Takahashi: We spend so much time touring together, it would just be weird for us to go to the movies or drink coffee together.
CP: How old were you when you discovered punk rock?
Takahashi: In Japan (where both Takahashi and Kazama grew up), there is mostly pop culture; there is not really an underground scene. It was hard to find.
Kazama: I was really into Japanese hardcore. I went to shows when I was in high school and I thought it was so cool, finding these really small places.
CP: Did you play an instrument as a kid?
Kazama: I always wanted to play drums but I never had a chance.
Takahashi: In school there were two things I wasn't good at: English and music.
CP: How was your recording experience this time around?
Takahashi:We like being in the studio, making a record. It feels like you're a rock star!
CP: What are some of your non-music inspirations?
Kazama: [after much thought] Cute girls.
CP: They get you going?
Kazama: Cute girls get me going.
CP: Do you play extra hard when cute girls are watching?
Kazama: Yes, even if cute girls are not at the shows, they are in my mind.
BIRTHDAY SUITS play a CD-release show with Chooglin', the Dynamiters, and Leisure Birds on SATURDAY, MARCH 27, at the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486