Guitar Riffs, Instant Ramen and Ditching Music Labels with Japanese Rock Group Tricot
To see more of Tricot guitarist Ikkyu Nakajima and her band’s adventures, follow @ikkyu193 on Instagram.
(This interview was conducted in Japanese)
There are certain situations that hammer home the unglamorous realities of a rock band’s lifestyle. Watching three girls drop off their instruments and then promptly tuck into a cup of instant ramen in a poorly illuminated basement on an otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon in central Japan –– when the rest of the country is enjoying the first weekend of hanami season by getting drunk underneath freshly blossoming cherry trees –– is very much one of those times.
The three girls are part of the Japanese rock group Tricot (pronounced “tree-ko,” after the French word for a type of knitting), who are killing time ahead of their scheduled soundcheck at the intimate Club Sonic in Mito, the capital city of Ibaraki prefecture, where they will later perform to a capacity crowd of around 150 lively fans. The backstage room’s heavy-duty soundproofing results in an oppressive, muted silence that begs for an interruption, but the members –– Ikkyu Nakajima (@ ikkyu193) on guitar, Motoko “Motifour” Kida, also on guitar, and Hiromi “Hirohiro” Sagane on bass (the three share vocal duties) –– sit quietly for long spells, comfortably silent around each other in the way that only the closest of friends can be.
Guitarists Nakajima and Kida have known each other since their school days in Shiga prefecture, while bassist Sagane studied not far away in Kyoto. “Kida and I were in the same band club at school, although we weren’t in the same band at that time,” explains Nakajima. “About three years after graduating, when we were 21, we got together and finished the bands we were playing in and formed our own.” Since that moment, in 2010, Tricot have gone on to release two full-length albums, 2013’s T H E, and A N D, released this past March.
Both records showcase a distinctive style that is surprisingly difficult to pin down. Tricot pair emotional vocals with complex, layered guitar riffs, which result in a pleasantly unpredictable sound. Kida name-checks Japanese pop musicians Shiina Ringo and Bonnie Pink as influences, alongside funk-soul legends Earth, Wind & Fire, whilst Nakajima nostalgically talks about covering mainstream rock and metal acts like System of a Down and Fall Out Boy during high school.
The new album A N D, as its conjunctive title suggests, arrives at a time of transition for the band. Although the group originally started out drummer-less, they were later joined by percussionist Komaki, who went on to become a regular member. His recent departure has meant they’ve had to re-adapt to being a three-piece. “Since our drummer left, we’ve been composing the percussion ourselves,” says Nakajima. “We plug the guitar and bass lines into a computer on GarageBand and then come up with a drum rhythm on there.” In the studio and on stage, the drums are then left to whichever guest member has been tasked with percussion duties –– and there’s no shortage of them. A N D features no fewer than six different guest drummers. “When we went back to being a trio, we realized we had the freedom to work with whichever drummers we wanted to. We had certain people in mind for certain tracks,” says bassist Sagane.
On this occasion, it was Miyoko Yamaguchi, formerly of Detroit7, joining the band live. Yamaguchi is also featured on the album, as are drummers Toshiki Hata and Kousuke Wakiyama, who, between them, have worked with well-renowned Japanese rock band Zazen Boys and singer-songwriter Miyavi. The members of Tricot are keen not to downplay their contributions. “The title A N D was to convey the idea that this album wasn’t just about us,” explains Nakajima. “Likewise, with the cover design, it’s not just our hair depicted –– there’s extra artificial hair mixed in that spells out ‘A N D’.”
The playful inventiveness behind the album’s artwork is something that has been ever-present in Tricot’s music videos over the years. The video for “Oyasumi” makes use of an empty baseball field, whilst “Pool” depicts an intimidating crowd of smartphone-wielding bodies encroaching on the band’s performance. The video for fan-favorite “Break” is especially memorable, packing just about the same cathartic wallop as a particularly tear-jerking “Humans of New York” update. The video, created shortly after drummer Komaki left the band, shows a collage of clips sent by the band’s fans, in which they symbolically tear up words that represent the troubles they want to break through in their lives, be it “gender,” “self-loathing” or “apathy.” As memorable as the concept is, it’s the band’s deeply sympathetic relationship with their fanbase –– without which, such a video could never be possible –– that impresses the most.
“We had a lot of comments on social media and YouTube from fans all over the world, so we were aware that we had a big fanbase overseas,” Nakajima explains.
Their unmediated, honest approach to social media channels is just part of a wider DIY aesthetic that is far from the norm in Japan –– and, in this case, makes up a large part of Tricot’s charm. All of their records have been self-released domestically through their own label, Bakuretsu Records, and all of their videos and other promotional material have been self-funded. “When we first started Tricot we thought that we wanted to be signed to a big record label but we don’t think it’s cool at all,” says Nakajima. “The way we’re doing things at the moment, we have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next — and that’s precisely why we want to do it this way.”