Earth VS Alien: An Interview With Seiji of Guitar Wolf

guitar wolf

With their garage punk leanings and rockabilly aesthetic, It’s easy to want to start by talking about and focusing on, how “rock and roll awesomeTokyo‘s Guitar Wolf are and how they’re carrying the flame, and all that.  But the real impact of it all is lost when thinking merely in terms of whether “they’re aping a cultural movement” or not.  At second-glance, I can’t imagine Japanese kids wearing traditional rock costumes and striking traditional rock poses (a movement that started in the wake of Beatlemania), to be anything less than a “fuck you” to a culture that famously cherishes its old-guard.  Especially, when a chunk of that old guard was nuked and fire-bombed to high-heaven, by the very culture that they’re appropriating.

But it’s not.
And it’s not imitation either.  And therein lies the adventure and mystery that is the cultural bridge called “Guitar Wolf“.

Originally formed in Harajuku by Seiji (Guitar Wolf), Billy (Bass Wolf), and Narita (Drum Wolf) back in 1987, Guitar Wolf has always pushed forward, beyond the boundaries of any one-dimensional rock trio.  They made their debut in ’91 on a Tokuma Japan Records compilation with a number of other bands, including The 5,6,7,8’s.  That same year, Narita was replaced by Toru, and all three members would go on to be cast as the “mysterious strangers” in John Michael McCarthy‘s 1997 kitschy, sci-fi, grindhouse flick, The Sore LosersTwo years later, they took on starring roles for the film Wild Zero, which remains one the silliest fun-rides of a story ever committed to b-movie glory.  [To quote one reviewer on Amazon, “Then, a handful of zombies, exploding heads, laser beam eyes, guitar-swords, fire-spurting microphones and shouts of “ROCK AND ROLL!” later, the movie ends.”]  A soundtrack for Wild Zero was also recorded by the group.  They coined the term “Jet Rock n Roll,” to represent the brand of rock that they’ve pioneered over their 2 1/2 decade existence.  In 2005, Billy passed away from heart failure, resulting in 19-year-old, UG being hired as the new “Bass Wolf.”  Earlier this year, the trio released their 11th full-length studio release, Beast Vibrator, which they continue to promote on what they are calling Tour Magma 2013.

Now about that flame…

The only band that I could honestly compare them to is the similarly-influenced, New York outfit Jon Spenser Blues Explosion, whom Seiji once joined on stage.  Which means their priorities are remarkably different from what we’ve been inundated with, particularly in this day and age.  It’s “looks” first, “music” second and “technique” last, even if that axiom is just a way to undermine the importance of “technique,” for the student of their particular craft.  Carrying on with the show is a holy war, an antidote to navel-gazing.  A noisy antidote.  It’s an old idea and one that supposedly saw it’s last spurt in the ’90s (when it comes to guitars) and yet, one so basic, that there is no doubt that it’ll always find its way through the cracks and crevices of pop-culture being churned and regurgitated.  But shamans like Guitar Wolf do it old school: full-body-experience-centered.  They’ve been doing it for a long time and the doubtlessness of the formula has driven a rich and long catalogue.  These guys shine with an AC/DC, or early Woody Allen-like consistency, whereas JXBX has consistently (and successfully) rearranged their bones within every decade that they’ve released an album in.  Woody Allen does his own thing with film; he’s got his formula down.  Well, Imagine finding a Russian Woody Allen.  In the ’80s.  Because that’s the level 5 anomaly that these guys are.  And they should be appreciated for it; they clearly understand your basic human need to let loose.  It would behoove you to understand them some… and party with them even more.

In preparation for their upcoming show at Seattle‘s Chop Suey club this upcoming Tuesday, October 8th, I had an opportunity to communicate with Guitar Wolf guitarist/vocalist, Seiji.  I did my best to ask the frontman the kind of questions that I would, If I were 25 and drunk at an after party with them, sometime in the 90’s.

It’s fun to play pretend, and even more fun to be dead serious about doing it right.  Just ask Seiji.


seiji army knife

Monster Fresh:
The words from your liner notes to the song Beast Vibrator that keep repeating in my mind are “Fuck ‘healing’!”  Have you felt this way before?  By contrast, have you ever felt “healed” before you were ready to rock or record an album?  What, if anything, have you ever felt the need to heal from?

Seiji:
(癒しは大事だ。しかし最近、人間は癒し、癒し、癒されたい、ばかりだ。音楽もそんな音楽ばかりでうんざりだ。そうじゃなく、もっと激しい物を求めて、野獣のように身体を震わせるんだ!といきなり思ったんだ。そして、いつも携帯ばかり見てうつむいている連中に、いきなり腹が立ったんだ。下ばかり見てないで、もっと前を見ろ、野性の勘を取り戻せと思ったとき、このタイトルが頭に浮かんだよ。)
Healing is important, but recently it seems I’m hearing way too much of  “I want to be healed. I need healing.”  Too much “healing music” sucks me.  People are always looking down at the mobile phones.  One day, I suddenly became angry. No, no, no.  Don’t keep looking down.  Look up and forward.  I thought we needed to look for something fierce.  Shake your body like a wild beast!  When realized what I wanted to say was “Get your wild instinct back!”, this title “Beast Vibrator” came up in my head.

In a previous interview, it mentioned that you have a “Meditation Room” with a shrine to Joan Jett.  Do you actually have a meditation practice?  If so, do you have a teacher?

(あれは20年前のジョークだ。黙想をする事はないが、夜空を見上げる事はよくあるよ。
もし師事しているとしたら、狼惑星とUFOだ。)
It’s a joke I told 20 years ago.  I don’t meditate but I often look up at the night sky.
If I had teachers, The planet of the wolves and UFO would be the ones.

You mix Japanese mythological imagery with classic rock n roll imagery.  To me, this represents an idea of purity, or the lack of purity.  Your liner notes for “Ghost You” seem to touch on this too, and the rockin’ song and video also seem to reflect that concept to me.  Could you tell us more about that track?

(GhostYouは何かにとらわれて、自分の美しさを曇らせている女性に対して歌っているんだ。この人もっと明るくなればもっと美しくなれるのになとか、心の中の迷いや心配を身体から出せばもっときれいになれるのになと思ったとき、この曲ができたんだ。
“Ghost You” is the song I wrote about women who didn’t know how to appreciate her original beauty.  I thought of women who could be more beautiful only if they opened up to dump insecurity and worries, and let themselves allow to shine.

Was there a reason that the character in the video was in brownface makeup and wearing a turban?  I apologize for not understanding the lyrics; I don’t speak Japanese.

ビデオは監督が面白く作っただけだ、実際にあれでいい)
The video was directed to make it comical by the director.  Either the makeup or turban has nothing to do with the song.

I think it’s fine as it is.

Here is the English translation of the lyrics.

You’ve been dead for a while now
There’s no light in your eyes
“That’s right, you’re like a ghost (ghost), ghost (ghost)

Such a waste of a beautiful face
So hideous is a heart possessed
“That’s right, you’re like a ghost (ghost), ghost (ghost)
You, you, you, you, you’re a ghost, you

Hauled in by ghost trains
The city’s full of ghosts

Ghostly fireballs, fly up high
Toward the graveyard in the monnlit skies
“That’s right, you’re like a ghost (ghost), ghost (ghost)
You, you, you, you, you’re a ghost, you

Gotta save you from netherworld
‘Cause I am the exorcist

*English translation of all songs of “Beast Vibrator” is inserted in the vinyl album.

What inspired you to bring back the great “Guitar Sword” (originally used in the movie Wild Zero)?

(よくわかったね、そうだよ、Wild Zeroで使ったやつだよ。
オレが刀を持つとしたら、あれしかないだろう。あの刀は時代を斬る刀だ。)
You’ve found it right.  It’s the one I used in Wild Zero. That’s the only sword I carry with me.  No other sword suits me.  That sword cuts the time.

What motivated you to rebuild and keep going after the great loss of Billy/bass Wolf?

(周りでは、オレがギターウルフをやめるんじゃないかと思った人もいるみたいだ。
オレに到底その気はなかったし、その事を一番わかっているのがビリーだった。
ビリーの死に顔をみながら、「ビリー、ギターウルフはやめないからな」「わかってるよ、あんたがやめるわけないだろう」そんな会話があったんだ。
There were people who thought I would quit the band, but I had no such an idea at all.  Billy understood me the best.  When I was looking at Billy’s face for the last time at the funeral, there was a conversation between us, I told him “You know, Billy, I’m not gonna quit.”  And I heard “I know, I know you too well. You are not going to quit.

Some bands famously have an “initiation process” for a new band member.  Did UG have one?  What was it?

(特にはないが、UGは全くの初心者だったから、練習をたくさんしたね。)
There was no special initiation.  UG was completely a beginner as musician.  We practiced a lot.

Japan has a great history of 60’s garage rock bands, since Beatlemania hit the States.  Some even have iconoclastic, raucous guitar sounds, like The Spiders, The Out Cast, etc.  Do you have any favorite bands or tunes from that era?
[Side note: There’s a great compilation out there called GS I Love You]

(スパイダース!メラメラ、バンバンバン、GoGoGoが好きだ。)
The Spiders!  Mela Mela Mela, Bang Bang, Bang, Go Go Go are my favorite.

Have you ever had family members try to steer you onto a different career path?

(母親が、オレが小さい頃、名前占いをしたようだ。そしたらオレの人生は一か八かの人生だってでたから、そのいい方にかけてみたようだ。まだどうなるのかはわからないけどね。)
When I was a kid, my mother did a fortune telling on my name, It said my life would be
all or nothing.”  It’s too early to tell how my life would be like.

black and white wolves

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion seem to share a similar zeal and mission as Guitar Wolf.  Would you agree with that?

(Jonはとてもいいやつだ。そしてかっこいいよ。オレも君と同じように彼に対して思っているさ。)
I agree with you.  Jon is a nice guy and cool.

Is there any chance that you guys will record, tour together, or join forces with them again in some way?

(どうかな?チャンスがあればあるかもね)
Who knows?  Maybe if there’s any chance in future.

What do you love about touring the States?

(NASAが秘密にしている宇宙人の研究が知りたいとか、夜のハイウェイを走っていて、宇宙人に出会わないかとか、ハリウッドからスカウトされないかなとか、いろんなバカげたことを想像できる、広いアメリカが好きだ。
それともちろん、USツアーをやりだして20年だ。たくさん友達もできた。その友達に会えるのと、待ってくれているファンに会えるのが一番の楽しみだ。)
The US is a huge country.  We drive a lot for long hours.  It’s a kind of fun to play around with your silly imagination while driving, like “What would I do if I encountered an alien?  if Hollywood asked me to star the film? “ etc. etc.
Most of all, seeing my long time friends (we’ve been touring the US over 20 years now) and meeting our fans who are always waiting for us are what I love most about the tour.

Is there anything that you hate about touring the States, these days?

(いやな事なんて思った事はないね、そう言えば。大変な事はあってもいやだと思った事はないよ)
No.  There are things that don’t work out as we want, but I never hate anything about touring the US.

Is there another country that’s your favorite to tour and, if so, why?

(アフリカだね。ライブatエジプトが録りたいんだ。
そのジャケはもう決まっている、ピラミッドの前で三人が革ジャン革パンでらくだに乗っているんだ。らくだにKawasakiのエンブレムをつけてね。)
Africa. I want to record an album “Live in Egypt”. I’ve already decided the cover photo.
Three of us are riding the camels in front of the pyramid. We are wearing the black leather jackets and pants as always, and the camels are wearing the emblem of KAWASAKI.

Do you see yourself ever stopping?  Retiring?  If so, what does it look like?

(オレはリンクレイにあこがれている、彼のように死ぬまでやるつもりだ。)
I want to be like Link Wray.  I’d be playing until I die like him.

Why are you guys so awesome?
(これは生まれつきでしょうがないことなんだ、神様が決めた事だからどうしようもないんだ、わるいけど)
We were born this way. God has decided to make us as we are. Sorry, we can’t do anything about it.


*We feel that it’s important to note the cultural differences regarding the use of “brownface” and how much our personal history as a Nation directly informs how we interpret “brownface” in this country.  According to our resident export on Japanese culture, “In Japan, brownface is kind of common and not thought of as offensive.


beast vibrator

Beast Vibrator is out now on Okami Records

Pick it up directly at one of their following live dates…

 

TOUR MAGMA 2013 US/CAN!!


DATE CITY VENUE TIX AGE
Oct-06-Sun Denver Marquis Theatre $13/$15 AA
Oct-08-Tue Seattle Chop Suey $13/$15 21+
Oct-09-Wed Vancouver Rickshaw Theatre $15/$20 19+
Oct-10-Thu Portland Dante’s $12/$15 21+
Oct-12-Sat San Francisco Bottom of the Hill $13/$15 AA
Oct-13-Sun Los Angeles The Satellite $13/$15 21+
Oct-14-Mon San Diego Soda Bar $12/$14 21+
Oct-16-Wed Austin Red 7 (inside) $13/$15
Oct-17-Thu Houston Walter’s $12 AA
Oct-18-Fri New Orleans Siberia $13/$15
Oct-19-Sat Atlanta Drunken Unicorn $15/$17 18+
Oct-20-Sun Memphis HiTone $13/$15 AA