That is, the four-piece band from Vancouver, who signed to Light Organ Records earlier this year and released their hard-hitting The Sharkweek EP back in June. Their namesake was inspired by the energy and stage presence of a post-rock Japanese band, all girls, called Mass of the Fermenting Dregs – in case you were wondering. Those two very words, energy and presence, could interchangeably be used to describe Japanese Girls and their live shows.
Japanese Girls consists of lead singer Charlie Kerr, guitarist Oliver Mann, bassist Chris McClelland, and drummer Graham Serl. The band’s chemistry is quite evident, in their music, in their live performances, and in conversation. I had the chance to chat with Japanese Girls about their humble beginnings, their upcoming record, and their musical tastes.
asapmusicblog.ca: Japanese Girls is playing at Safefest tonight. I was wondering what your first all-ages show was, and what your first legal age show was, that you played as a band?
Charlie Kerr: If we’re talking about when Graham was actually in the band, our first all-ages show was at the Vogue for Supernova. We won a contest – do you know what Supernova is?
Charlie: It was this thing – it was an evil corporation, basically. If you couldn’t get gigs as a band that’s just started off, you get what was called a Supernova gig, which were battle of the bands, and how it worked was if you sold a certain amount of tickets, you got the best time slot for that evening and then the judges judged the bands and whoever won got a prize that they usually didn’t come through with. We got second place, and we won one, and then we got the opportunity to play the Vogue Theatre.
Graham Serl: They also keep all the money from all the ticket sales.
Oliver Mann: They charge a lot of money for their tickets, they keep all the sales – your only intent is to sell is for the place, right? Then if you win, they always have these great prizes but they never come through. We just played Supernova in the end for the venues, because it was a really cool show to play the Vogue.
Charlie: I remember stepping on stage and being like, ‘You gotta remember this, you really gotta take a serious fucking lap around the stage”… because like god willing, it’ll happen again, but that was huge. Our first all-ages show with Graham was an awesome one.
a: And what was the first 19+ show?
Oliver: The Roxy.
Chris McClelland: That was with no Graham and no me, though.
Oliver: Wouldn’t have been… not the Fanclub, but the…
Charlie: The Media Club?
Oliver: No, you know that one – there was that guy that got really angry at us and blackballed us.
Charlie: Oh yeah, it was a sports bar.
Graham: Oh, Forum! We were The Capsules that night. We were still figuring out the name. We did The Capsules, and then Rock Paper Machete, and then…
Charlie: We decided on Japanese Girls!
a: So on a personal level, what was the first all-ages show that you guys attended as fans?
Oliver: The first show I ever attended was Velvet Revolver, because I was a huge Slash fan. Slash was my favourite guitar player for several years in high school.
Charlie: I saw Prozzäk – that was my first concert. Do you remember that band? (starts singing ‘www.nevergetoveryou’) And then I was hooked on concerts.
Graham: My first show was Radiohead – I beat all you guys. My next door neighbour won tickets, I didn’t even know who they were – I was really young. I went to the show at Thunderbird Stadium. They played ‘Just’, and I was like, “Oh, Radiohead, I know who you guys are!”
Chris: My first show, I think was seeing Sum 41 in Quebec City, in the old fort of Quebec City for some 150 year old festival or something.
Oliver: I think all-ages shows is where Charlie and I developed as musicians and as a band, because definitely when we started off, that’s all we could get and people hated us for the first year. People just hated us. I remember one time we played at my high school, and people wanted to beat Charlie up after the set – that’s how much people hated us. It was about a year of that, and finally, I don’t know what happened but…
Charlie: We found our niche. There was this awesome, I guess, couple of years where I was about to graduate high school and we would play all-ages show along Main, like at The Purple Crab, Heritage Hall and stuff – it was really cool. Instead of going to house parties, kids would come see our shows, and then we would go to a party afterwards or something. Absolute strangers would show up. I love playing all-ages show, but this is our first one basically, since I was in high school.
Oliver: I think a lot of too was after one year, we became really comfortable and that’s kind of when we started having our energy as a band, and our shows started to be known as the rowdiest all-ages shows that you could go to.
Chris: Once we got this energy and got a little more comfortable – we sort of got this reputation for… our fans would show up, they would flash mob right when we’d be coming on stage. The room would be empty, and we’d be like, “Man, this might be a shitty show tonight, there might not be anyone here.”
Oliver: We still do that. (laughs)
Chris: We’re plugging in our cables, and people are piling through the doors, the whole room fills up. So we were playing all these all-ages shows up and down Main, and the other bands that we were playing with kept experimenting, like “Ok, maybe if we get these guys to open the show, their fans will stay.” And no, that didn’t work, because our fans just left.
They’re like, “Ok, maybe if we get the guys to play in the middle of the show, the fans will come a little bit before, come a little bit after, there’ll be fans.” That didn’t work, so then they just started not telling anyone what set list we’d play. We wouldn’t know until we showed up.
Graham: That’s genius.
Chris: Still, the same problem would happen.
a: Yeah, they would just leave after!
Chris: I kind of felt bad for the other bands, like, sorry guys!
Charlie: I’ve never understood that.
a: So you’ve mentioned that Charlie met Oliver in high school, but how did Graham and Chris get involved with the band?
Charlie: Oliver and I met – we were in different high schools, but we both met when we were in high school. Chris basically got word that we needed a new bassist.
Oliver: We met you at a show.
Chris: I was going to go to one of their shows one night – one of my friends dragged me out. I grew up in South Burnaby, and these guys are Vancouver guys. I met their old drummer at a house party at my cousin’s house before, and he was like, “Come out to this show!” and before I went to show, I was like, “You know what, I’m going to listen to some of their music.”
I went onto their MySpace, and they had a big header saying – BASSIST NEEDED. I was playing in a band at the time, it was a cheesy high school band, and the rest of the people in it weren’t very serious. I knew that it wasn’t going to go very far.
Charlie: It was called Scarlet something, right?
Chris: It was called The Scarlets, actually.
Charlie: It’s a good name.
Chris: I came to the show, Oli used to have a big afro, so I recognized him immediately. I walked right up to him and I said, “You guys looking for a bass player? I got studio ready gear, I’ve been in the studio before, I’ve played on stage a bunch of times – I’m your guy.” Basically, I came in two days later for an audition, and played with them for an hour.
They had another guy show up on the same day for an audition, and I was a little worried, I was like fuck, this guy looks legit. I got in my car and started driving away, maybe got five minutes away, and I get a call from them being like, “This guy is so bad. Do you want to be in this band? You got the spot. Do you want to come back and keep practicing?” And that was in early 2009.
Graham: I filled in a couple of times, I’m friends with Charlie’s older brother – we knew each other back in high school, and that’s kind of how we had the connection, and their drummer couldn’t make it to a couple of shows, I was playing in a couple of bands – The Unsung Heroes, Life In A Box, and The Perks. I just filled in for a couple of shows, and then their drummer moved to Montreal to go to school, so I just hopped right in there.
a: So I had the chance to see you guys play at the Biltmore last month, and I was really impressed by the energy that the band had onstage. Charlie has mentioned previously in interviews about translating that live show into the studio. Is there difficulty in doing that?
Chris: The first record was the first time we had gone in and tried to do it professionally, and we hadn’t really figured out how to capture the energy. We just did our last record…
Graham: I think we did though, we did a good job.
Chris: On the first record? We recorded it in pieces, whereas this last record, what we’d do for the drum tracks and pretty much all the bass tracks and a lot of the rhythm guitar tracks is that we’d have the drums in the main room of the studio, Oli’s guitar amp isolated in the isolation chamber, my bass amp isolated in the isolation chamber, and Charlie in the upper room.
So we’re all playing live together, and me, Oli, and Graham are in the same room and Charlie’s just upstairs looking down at us – we could still communicate through the headphones and everything. Sometimes you go in the studio and just play a scratch track, like guitar and bass DI’d and just get the drums and you layer it after that, whereas we were really trying to get the rhythm guitar, the bass tracks, and the drum tracks all live off the floor.
Graham: Without a metronome.
Chris: Without a metronome, in the same take.
Graham: We just played through the song a few times until we got a deadly drum take, a deadly bass, and very minimal editing, and we’d just try to get a full take of everything and that kind of gives it the live-est feel that we could possibly come up with.
Oliver: I think a big part of it is how limited our time is. The first time we went in for the second album, we had basically two days to record six songs. You just have to bang them out super quick, so you don’t even have time to think about how you’d build on that – you only play it how you play it live, because you have five other songs that you gotta finish. I think that helped a lot…
Chris: We recorded the first album – we started doing that two and a half years ago, so we’ve been chomping at the bit, ready to back into the studio.
Oliver: I think our producer too, Steve Bays from Hot Hot Heat, just the way he mixes it too is very live sounding, raw. He knows how we sound live, and he’s really good at having that energy come through the mix. I think he’s really good at that.
a: You guys are in the process of making your full-length debut album through Light Organ Records, what’s the process been like, and what’s the progress?
Graham: The process was two separate studio sessions, three days the first time and four days the second time, which was just two weeks ago. We did six songs the first time, and were considering releasing that as an EP, and then decided we just wanted to book time again and go in and record the rest of our studio ready songs and release a full-length.
It felt like it was going to be more of a milestone. I feel like until you have a full album, people don’t take you seriously. You can release a bunch of EP’s, but they kind of get passed by a lot of people, so we felt like the full-length was the right way to go. We’re all done our recording, and we’re just waiting on the first round of mixes right now.
Oliver: Well, six songs are completely done.
Charlie: We’re waiting for the mixes and masters for the second six, and I have no idea when it’s coming out. Next year, probably.
Oliver: Basically what’s happening is that the record label is really impressed by the progress of Sharkweek, even beyond our expectations – it was very well received. The label is going to reissue it as a vinyl in January, so we’re just going to do a bit of publicity there.
a: If someone hasn’t listened to Japanese Girls, how would you describe your music to them?
Graham: Youthful, energetic, rock-n-roll?
Charlie: Like a nun getting punched in the face?
Chris: Like a nun punching you in the face.
Charlie: Like a nun punching you in the face is way better! It undeniably has energy. If we were just speaking about the Sharkweek EP, I think the strength of it is how every song is so different –describing the sound would be really difficult to do.
Chris: It’s eclectic. There’s from punk-rock to a touch of shoegaze in it. We have one song on there that’s like a studio song that’s got electronics in it.
Charlie: Our goal is to have a bit of something for everyone, I would say, at least on the first record. But a nun punching you in the face is way more memorable than any of those other answers.
The band will be playing Industry Night next Monday at The Media Club, and will also be supporting July Talk next month. Details are here.
For more information on Japanese Girls, head over to: http://jpnsgrls.com.