If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see Guitar Vader play live, you’ll know that they are one of Japan’s best kept secrets. They’ve recently released a brand new album, Happy East, (see our review here), which joins their previous albums Dawn, From Dusk, Remixes GVR, Wild at Honey and Die Happy.
The band first got noticed in the West thanks to some choice tunes on the Jet Set Radio game soundtrack and have subsequently built up a devoted following, addicted to their quirky mix of Japanese and English lyrics and strong melodies. Since our last interview with Guitar Vader, they’ve picked up a new member, Steve Laity, who fleshes out their live sound by playing keyboards. We managed to grab a chat with members, Ujuan Shozo (vocals and bass), Miki Tanabe (vocals and guitar), Suzuki Yoshifumi (drums) and Steve (Keyboards)…
PIXELSURGEON: When we last interviewed you, Guitar Vader were on Berry Records; what happened?
UJUAN : After From Dusk Berry Records wasn’t doing anything for us. We waited for two years after the album. We wanted to get our new music out quicker, at our own pace, so we decided to make our own label, Plugs House.
What have been some of the difficulties in setting up your own record label?
UJUAN: Well, working with labels in general has been difficult so we started our own. The main difficulty has been that we are doing everything by ourselves. We are looking for new managment or a label now.
You managed to play some dates in the UK last year; what are your recollections of playing in England?
UJUAN: It was awesome! We Loved it! We couldn’t believe that everyone was singing along to Super Brothers.
MIKI: We have fans in the UK buying our CDs and we were very happy to meet them. It was great!
Your UK fans will want to know if you have any plans to return and your US and European fans are no doubt begging you to play in their countries, too…
UJUAN: Of course, we really want to play a lot of shows in the UK and the US but unfortunatly we still have no money! We are trying our best. We plan on playing again in the UK and playing in the US.
You must be pleased with the Hexstatic remix of Perfect Bird taken from your From Dusk album?
MIKI: We are very happy with the Hexstatic remix of Perfect Bird. We love the video. We have been fans of Astro Boy since we were kids!
You had some problems with some of your other remixes; have those problems been sorted yet?
UJUAN: Lots of people do remixes of our music, sometimes it is good and sometimes it isn’t, but either way we are really happy that someone wants to do a remix of Guitar Vader. We are looking forward to more people making remixes of our music.
Recent albums have experimented more with synths than previous albums; why is that?
UJUAN: Well, previously we never had a keyboard player for our live shows so there wasn’t much inspiration for synth parts because we couldn’t do them live. Now we have a keyboard player so we are able to add more to the albums and duplicate it live.
Does new guy Steve Laity play on the record or just live?
UJUAN: We always wanted a keyboard player but never really had a chance to add one. It’s difficult to search for a new band member because there has to be a certain chemistry, you can’t just bring in anyone. Steve really wanted to do it, so we had some sessions and everything has worked out great so far. We think it makes the band stronger live. For now, Steve is only playing live shows.
Steve, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in Tokyo from Las Vegas?
STEVE: First of all I can’t believe that I am actually playing with Guitar Vader. It’s really a dream come true. I was born in Las Vegas and spent alot of my years involved with music in high school and college. My brother and I have been Guitar Vader fans since the first Jet Set Radio. I came to Tokyo after College to work on building japanfiles.com with my good friend George. Guitar Vader has been a huge part of that effort. I am so happy to be in the band.
Had you been to Japan before? What are your impressions of Japan and Tokyo?
STEVE: Actually this is my fourth time coming to Japan. My brother (also a big Guitar Vader fan) was a living as a professional musician in Tokyo so I always had a free place to stay. From the first time I ever came to Japan I loved it and I still love it. I’d say a huge part of my life now revolves around Japan.
What have fans made of Steve’s introduction to the band?
UJUAN: They seem to be excited by it. We have never had a live keyboard player before and everything is working out nicely.
I love the new album, Happy East. Age is my favourite track, and possibly the best thing you guys have ever done. What are your favourite tracks on Happy East and why?
UJUAN: Happy East – I love the lyrics.
MIKI: Happy East and Daybreak. I can’t describe why I like them.
SUZUKI: Ape Sound
STEVE: Sister Devil, Ape Sound, Age – these are vintage Guitar Vader. Ape Sound really rocks.
It seems that you are writing more of your songs in Japanese; is that my imagination?
UJUAN: We are doing it on purpose because we would like to appeal more to our Japanese fans and we can express ourselves better in Japanese. We love our foreign fans, too, though!
Thanks to YesJapan.com fans in the West can now easily order your records; how did this relationship come about?
STEVE: Originally George (yesJapan) and I decided that we want to try selling Japanese underground music in the states online. One thing led to another and we decided that the best band out there was Guitar Vader. After lots of emails and talking with Ujuan and Miki we were able to start selling Guitar Vader in the West. Please check out the site!
What are Guitar Vader’s plans for the future?
UJUAN: We want to sell lots of CDs, tour in the UK and America and release a new album as soon as possible.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
UJUAN: The Streets, Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, Brian Wilson’s Smile
MIKI: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
SUZUKI: Greg Davis, FolkTronic, Famicom, Nintendo and Namco Allstars soundtracks.
STEVE: Limited Express, Yes, 311, and tons of Japanese indie bands.
Does Miki get lots of admiring male fans, as everyone who’s met her, myself included, thinks that she’s very kawaii!
MIKI: I’m only popular with cats and foriegners!
Do you have any really obsessive fans?
MIKI: Steve, because he joined us – he is crazy. So is Suzuki.