On an average night in a Fukuoka live house, it’s not common to see many foreigners in the crowd, let alone on the bill. You do get the odd member here and there – but a band composed entirely of gaikokujin? Surely not? Enter Sinnocular. The Kumamoto-based outfit have been playing all over Kyushu for over a year now and their anthemic brand of alt-rock is starting to attract attention both in Japan and overseas. Fukuoka Now caught up with the four-piece before a recent gig at Beat Station in Yakuin.
First thing’s first: gaijin credentials. Drummer/producer Edwin Huits hails from the Netherlands and has been involved in the professional music industry since his first gig as a session musician at the tender age of 14. Front man Anthony Coronado is a native of San Antonio, Texas, who first took to musical tinkering as a teenager, when he was left at home with plenty of free time, recovering from a major operation. Bassist Lander Sims comes from Montana in the States and, in true punk-rock fashion, had never even picked up a bass before joining the band last year (happily, though, you’d never guess it). Finally, New Yorker Walter Scarborough plays 7-string guitar and, after honing his skills in a number of jazz and rock bands over the years, is more than capable of unleashing some truly epic solos.
Although they all came here initially to teach English, they don’t like to discuss their day jobs. Walter elaborates: “We all came to Japan for different reasons, we all do different things on the side, but the one thing that we have in common is that we do the band. This is how I like to present myself – I play in this band and I’m really proud of what I do. So we try not to let our personal day jobs or activities enter into that.”
His reticence on the subject betrays the quiet intensity and sharp focus that drives the band. And, so far, their efforts have paid off well: an EP released, a full-length album due shortly, regular gigs, an online distribution deal and air-play in Japan, the States and Europe. Not bad for just over a year’s work.
What’s it like, then, for a group of Westerners attempting to navigate the scene in Japan? According to Walter, “the biggest thing is that expectations are different. In America, I would never have to go a pre-show meeting with the technical staff or bow to the sound guy or politely request that he raise the level on my monitor. So it really changes things.” “A good way to say it,” Lander adds offers, “would be, with the language barrier and everything, you have to constantly hit the ground running. Whatever happens, you have to think ‘OK, just go with it.’”
Of course, the band’s foreignness has its advantages too, according to the bassist. “Wherever we go, people are like ‘kakkoii, something new!’” “They want to hear what we sound like,” Anthony agrees and, with a self-effacing grin, adds “even if we don’t sound great on the night.”
As far as Edwin is concerned, their cultural and musical diversity gives Sinnocular a distinct edge on the competition. “One of the things that the owner of our distribution label said was that they liked us because we don’t sound Dutch, we don’t sound American – they couldn’t put us in a pigeonhole. So, they liked the fact that we sound completely different from anyone else and I think that’s an advantage we have here over Japanese bands.”
He’s certainly not wrong in his assessment of their sound. Anthony’s moody tenor brings to mind British indie-rockers Doves, while the rest of the band deliver songs that span a wide spectrum from atmospheric post-punk to ballsy stadium rock. On their debut EP, they veer from Elbow-esque, radio-friendly prog to snarling art rock (à la A Perfect Circle) to snappy, Police-indebted new wave in the space of about 25 minutes. Importantly, though, they establish and maintain their own unique sound throughout, despite the eclecticism on display.
On stage, all four members adopt wildly different, but complimentary, roles. Anthony is the sensitive, no-nonsense frontman. Lander is the light-hearted foil on bass, who reaches out to and engages the crowd. Walter is the self-assured lead guitarist, whose joyous fret-work is reflected in his various, ecstatic “guitar-solo faces” (worth the admission price alone – John Frusciante watch out). Finally, Edwin on drums is the rhythmic powerhouse that drives everything forwards.
Although it makes for great tunes, the band’s wide range of musical approaches and influences can have its downsides – as illustrated when they make long car journeys together. “We have to take turns playing music because we all listen to different things,” reveals Walter, who personally has a soft spot for a divisive combo of Megadeth and “really girly” J-pop.
Time on the road has certainly led to a few scrapes, although not necessarily always for Sinnocular. “There was one weird situation that didn’t really concern us but involved a different foreign band that we were meant to play with, Four Minutes Til Midnight,” begins Edwin. “We watched them get arrested in front of us,” picks up Walter, looking like he’s still slightly shocked. “We don’t know exactly why. We were really excited to play with them because they were a big band. We don’t know what they did, but we watched their car get searched, we watched them get taken into a van and I assume strip-searched.” To helpfully evoke a more vivid scene, Anthony adds that he definitely saw police officers donning gloves. “And then they were all put in a car and taken away. We haven’t heard from them since.” Scary stuff, but at the end of the day, Sinnocular still got to play the gig, so it wasn’t all bad news.
Beyond avoiding trouble on the road, the band have been putting together a solid body of recorded material. Their self-titled EP is available on iTunes and they are currently busy with the final recording sessions for their debut album, due in the early spring.
At the end of the day, though, regardless of how much hard work they put in, can a band so completely outside of the mainstream really hope to make it in Japan? On hearing this question, Walter straightens up and that look of quiet confidence and resolve returns. “When you get down to it, I think it’s very difficult to be a foreign band in Japan because it’s really the untreated path. People don’t really do it – but we do it. Sometimes it’s tough and I wonder ‘is this the end?’ but here we are now and we’re always moving forward. I think it’s a really good thing how far we’ve come and I’m just so excited to see what will come next.”
If you’d like to get a taster of what’s coming next for yourself, check out the extended online version of this interview for a sneak preview of new material from Sinnocular’s soon-to-be-released debut LP.
Sinnocular Online: For up to date concert dates and band info, check out www.sinnocular.com
Sinnocular’s New Song – Exclusive!
Sinnocular’s New Song “Cliche Love Song” – hear it now exclusively here
Sinnocular Trailer Spring 2011
Fukuoka Now Cover Shoot
Anthony of Sinnocular – Interview
Edwin of Sinnocular – Interview
Lander of Sinnocular – Interview
Walter of Sinnocular – Interview
GETTING GIGS IN JAPAN
Is your band ready to rock out at your first concert in Japan? Walter from Sinnocular guides you through the at times arduous process.
Step 1: Decide whether you would like to play cover songs or original songs.
This will determine what kind of venues you can play in. Regular sized concert venues will be willing to book your band either way, but some smaller venues will insist on cover songs.
Step 2: Submit a press kit to the concert venue that you want to play at.
Your press kit should contain the following three things:
1) a band demo CD (either a pressed commercial CD or a CD-R will be fine as long as the recordings are high quality)
2) a band photo (get a good photographer with a quality camera to take this photo)
3) a band biography and/or profile in Japanese (make sure to have it double checked for translation mistakes!)
If the venue likes your press kit, then they will go ahead and book your band to play a concert. If this is your first show at this venue, then you will probably be asked to play either during a weekday or on a Sunday.
Step 3: Start selling tickets.
You will receive a bundle of tickets from the concert venue. Your job is to sell the minimum quota, which can vary from about 15 to 25 tickets depending on the venue. Prices can also fluctuate from 1,500 to 2,000 yen depending on the date and the venue.
Step 4: Sound check.
On the day of the show, you will need to arrive at the venue in the early afternoon for sound check. You’ll likely be playing with a few other bands, who have to sound check too. In Japan, venues will almost never inform you in advance as to when your specific time slot for this will start, so make sure to get to the venue early and on time.
Also, don’t expect the venue to tell you in advance as to what time you will go onstage. This is usually decided on the day of the concert, and sometimes even by rock-paper-scissors amongst the bands. In Japan, the order of the bands playing is not necessarily as important as it might be in your home country.
Step 5: Paperwork.
You will have to fill out some paperwork concerning how many songs you will play and what kind of lighting requests you have for the lighting crew. If you’re not sure what to do about the lighting, then at least try to leave some hints for the lighting crew as to what kind of song you’re playing (e.g. a love song, a dance song, a sad song, fast/slow etc.).
Step 6: Rock out!
Congratulations, you’ve earned it! Make sure to keep your show within the time limit that the venue decides. There is a limited amount of time and other bands will also be eager to start their show.
Step 7: The aftermath.
After the last band finishes playing, it is time to submit your leftover tickets and ticket money that you collected to the venue’s business office. If you did not sell the minimum ticket quota then you will have to pay for the remaining unsold tickets until the quota is met. If you are prompt, courteous and polite when you submit your tickets and money to the venue, then they will probably try to book your band for another show on the spot. Great!
LIVE HOUSES IN FUKUOKA
3F, 3-6-14 Tenjin, Chuo-ku
1F Hirako Bldg., 2-4-31 Daimyo, Chuo-ku
Chuo-ku, Watanabe-dori 4-11-4
3F Garelly Nakasu Bldg., 3-7-15 Nakasu, Hakata-ku
1-8-29 Maizuru, Chuo-ku
3F Hadashi Bldg. 1-21 Imaizumi, Chuo-ku
1-8-25 Maizuru, Chuo-ku
1-8-29 Maizuru, Chuo-ku
3-5-19 Tenjin, Chuo-ku
2F, 2-2-14 Moritsune-honmachi, Kokuraminami-ku, Kitakyushu-shi
7F gate’s Bldg., 3-7-24 Nakasu, Hakata-ku
B1 With Tenjin Building, Chuo-ku, Tenjin 3-4-19
Jazz In New Combo
5-1-22 Watanabedori, Chuo-ku
Jazz Spot River Side
2F, 3-7-34 Nakasu, Hakata-ku
1,2F Magic Square Bldg., 1-8-28 Maizuru, Chuo-ku
Live House CB
3-1-13 Nagahama, Chuo-ku
Live House Ja-Ja
2F Nishijin Bldg., 4-7-21 Nishijin, Sawara-ku
Public Space Yojigen
2F Shingo Building, Chuo-ku, Tenjin 4-4-30
3F Daimyo Ono Bldg., 2-1-50 Daimyo, Chuo-ku
7F Viento 336, 1-12-26 Daimyo, Chuo-ku
2F Daisan Tsukasa Bldg., 5-3-21 Nakasu, Hakata-ku
2-2-1 Jigyohama, Chuo-ku
REHEARSAL SPACES IN FUKUOKA
Ai Music Studio
2-23-26 Sharyo, Higashi-ku
1-16-36 Takagi, Minami-ku
Tel: 092- 412-7733
2-12-8 Mukaino, Minami-kiu
Birdland Guitar Shop
Sawara-ku, Sohara 5-1
532-2 Kamisue, Sue-machi, Kasuya-gun
Chuo-ku, Imaizumi 2-3-21, 1F Matsunaga Building
1F, 6-3-12 Saburomaru, Munakata-shi
MI Rehearsal Studio
3-11-24 Tenjin, Chuo-ku
MRT Music Studio
5F Tensan Bldg., 3-5-29 Tenjin, Chuo-ku
Music Studio Be Bop
698-1 Kaminofu, Shingu-machi, Kasuya-gun
Music Studio Cube
2F, 4-3-18 Shiobaru, Minami-ku
Nice Beam Studio
1-5-2 Nanotsu, Higashi-ku
850-7 Kitadani, Dazaifu-shi
the sound track
2-3-46 Watanabedori, Chuo-ku
Kitakyushu-shi Yahatanishi-ku Oura 2-4-1
7-1-6 Hiigawa, Jyonan-ku
Text by Hugh McCafferty
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn146, Feb. 2011)