Birthday Suits on short songs, live shows, and their "Wonderland America" 7"
Birthday Suits' Hideo Takahashi and Matthew Kazama
Hideo Takahashi isn't much for words. Sure, part of that has to do with the fact that English is his second language, and communicating isn't always easy. But, as anyone who's seen his band, Birthday Suits, play live should know, he also just isn't wired that way.
Onstage, of course, Birthday Suits are the stuff of local legend: shouting, kicking, and rolling around, climbing on amps and scaling up walls. Drummer Matthew Kazama even wraps a ribbon around his head in order to blow furiously on a harmonica. It's almost impossible to come away from a Birthday Suits show without getting your money's worth.
On the phone, Takahashi -- who actually first came to Minnesota from Japan as a high school exchange student -- is polite and considered, but with a deadpan sense of humor that always seems to circle back to playing music. "I don't listen to much music, but I still go to shows often," he admits. "Sometimes I sing along to music, but I don't get much from words. Words is just words. Live, I can feel energy. I guess energy wins over words."
Birthday Suits are gearing up to release a new 7" this Friday at the Triple Rock, titled "Wonderland America," their first release since 2010's The Minnesota--Mouth to Mouth. In typical fashion, "Wonderland" features three songs that last a grand total of five minutes. Gimme Noise caught up with Takahashi over the phone in advance of the show.
Gimme Noise: The title of the new 7" is "Wonderland America," and America gets mentioned in two of the songs. Was there any particular idea you had in mind with those references?
Takahashi: Not a deep one. It was just one of the song titles, and we thought it might be good for the A-side. There's so many weird things in the U.S., so many cultures and so many different people. It's not really deep, but it's that idea. Just so many questionable things.
Is that something you've experienced through touring, like maybe seeing some "weird things?"
I think so. Touring the U.S., there's so many people, so many regions that have different types of people -- East Coast, West Coast, California, Mexican... And there's, like, so many voting things, with the blue state or the red state.
You guys do spend a lot of time touring. Does that have an impact on the music -- like, maybe it's important to keep moving rather than staying in one place all the time?
I just enjoy playing for a different audience every night instead of having the same friends come to see me play every month. It's kind of like cheating if your friend comes, hangs out, and sees your show, rather than if you come to a different town and you don't know nobody. Then, if they like your music, that means they really like your music.
What makes a good show for you, then?
If I don't have to tune my guitar [laughs].
Fair enough. Birthday Suits doesn't really release new music all that often. Do you guys write music very often?
We try to, but the problem is we tour so often. So once we stay home to write songs, then it's like, "Oh, we have a show coming up. We have to practice for the show." Or, "Oh, we have a tour coming up; let's not write songs we'll forget when we come home." Liking the touring too much can effect spending the time for writing songs... I like writing songs, but I think I like playing shows more.
The songs you write are all pretty short. Is there a reason behind that, or are short songs just more fun to play?
I personally hate long songs. I feel most long songs have too much showing off. You don't need to put a guitar solo in every song to prove how well you can play guitar. Or [else] you can't think of something interesting and you end up repeating the same thing over and over. If you cut those boring parts, most songs would be under three minutes.
You mentioned the title not being very "deep" earlier. Are lyrics a secondary concern for you when you're writing?
I think so. I know some people think singing is more important. But sometimes people can't hear my vocals, but if they can hear the drum and guitar, [then] I think that energy goes through. And since English is my second language, I don't mind if people understand what I'm saying or not.
You and Matthew also did a little work recently on a side project, didn't you?
We did a quick recording with Paddy Costello and Mike Park of Asian Man Records... We talked about it for a while--like a year and a half--and nothing happened, but finally Mike came here, he had a song, showed us, we played it, and recorded that day. It's all like 30-second songs. I don't know how many we recorded, but it's all short.
Does the band have a name?
Maguma Taishi. That's the name of a cartoon from, I can't remember, the '60s or '70s, from Japan. Mike really likes old Japanese stuff; I never watched the cartoon, but I've heard the name.
Your release show this weekend is actually a combined party with a book by Hiro Tanaka. How did that come about?
Hiro's, like, a random Japanese guy I met here a long time ago. He'd come here and tour with so many different random bands, and created networks with so many bands you never heard of, through the bands that everybody knows. He moved to L.A. a couple years ago, and since then, every time we tour, he comes along with us. He's become our tour guy [laughs].
So Birthday Suits are included in the book, too.
I think we have a couple pictures, yeah... It's pretty cool; instead of live shots of bands, it's also like pictures of guys hanging out in hotel rooms or walking the street--kind of like a documentary of his life... So when we found out his book was coming out, it was like, even though he lives in L.A., why not have the release show together?
BIRTHDAY SUITS play a release show for "Wonderland America" at the Triple Rock Social Club on Friday, November 30, with Pink Mink, Teenage Moods, Jim and the French Vanilla, and DJ Paddy Costello. $8. 18+. 9 pm. 612.333.7399.
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