Chūbu region, Honshū, Japan (img credit= Matt Mondanile)
By Jenn Pelly
Long a breeding ground for J-Pop and hi-fi noise, Japan would seem, at first glance, an unlikely destination for lo-fi pop bands from the American Northeast. But that’s where Real Estate and Woods went last month, following an invitation by Tokyo promotion group Contrarede and indie label Plancha. In addition to eating udon and gazing at Mount Fuji, the bands played 300-capacity rock clubs in Tokyo and Osaka, visited records stores that had Underwater Peoples releases on display, and stumbled into a bar where a DJ was spinning Matrix Metals at 2 a.m. Intrigued by Tokyo’s indie culture, AZ caught up with Real Estate drummer Etienne Duguay at his home, Brooklyn DIY space Market Hotel, to talk Japan and time travel. Then we dialed guitarist Matt Mondanile-- a few hours before he moved to Greenpoint from Ridgewood, NJ-- for more on the trip, and some words about his forthcoming Ducktails record on Woodsist.
AZ: What prompted the trip, and how did you hook up with your tour guides?
Matt: This small label in Japan called Plancha, a division of a bigger label called Art Union, offered to put out the Real Estate and Woods records over there, and they asked us to tour there together. This guy Oshi put them out. He did a couple of other things too, like a record by Dustin Wong from Ponytail. This guy Tak runs a promotional company called Contrarede; he drove us around and organized the shows.
Etienne: Oshi was the man. A lot of bands come through with Tak. Right after us was the Bon Iver band. They’re also bringing Deerhunter, Ariel Pink and Blonde Redhead over.
AZ: What was it like playing in Japan?
Matt: It’s a way smaller country, but we played in Tokyo, which is the New York of Japan. They were smaller shows, 250 or 300 people, but pretty sold-out. People knew the songs and seemed excited. The shows there start early, at like 7:30 or 8, and are over by 9:30 or 10. The venues are interesting but weird. You take these little elevator complexes up.
Etienne: The venue on the first night was the seventh floor of a ten-story building.
Real Estate in Osaka
AZ: What surprised you the most?
Matt: Japan is so jam-packed; there are always people everywhere. People kept giving peace signs and smiling, and making us sign autographs, which never happens in America. The shows were really well organized.
Etienne: Coming back home from Nagoya, we left at 11:30 a.m. on the 15th, and we got back at 9:30 a.m. on the 15th. We did a twelve-and-a-half-hour journey, and got back two hours before we left... I have this theory about the relation of touring to time and space. When you move, versus stand, you experience time slowed down or sped up. You grow older, or stay younger. So, I think touring is time travel. Also, the architecture of Tokyo is like Blade Runner. So modern.
AZ: What’s the main avenue of discovery for bands like Real Estate?
Matt: I think there are a lot of blogs there. This magazine Hard to Explain took us to the Tokyo Tower, like the Empire State Building of Tokyo. They took us to the top and brought us on a tour, and then brought us to a little temple where there was this fair going on, and we ate fried Octopus balls. [There was also] one guy who worked for KiKi magazine. They took me to McDonald’s, and bought me coffee and interviewed me about Ducktails. The dude did his homework, and they had a translator because he only spoke Japanese.
Etienne: There was a really amazing record store in Japan where Bleeker played a Freaks show.
Matt: Escalator Records. They had so much Underwater Peoples, Mexican Summer, Olde English Spelling Bee, Not Not Fun, Woodsist Records, and Captured Tracks Records-- vinyl from our friends’ bands, hanging on the walls. It seemed they really knew what’s on the tip of the current in indie culture and independent record culture in America.
Tokyo (img credit= Matt Mondanile)
AZ: Did you experience any culture shock?
Etienne: There were a lot of zones reminiscent of Times Square. English is pretty widely spoken, and we always had a Japanese speaker with us. We went to the fish market in Tokyo at 5 in the morning and it was incredible. One day, we all went to Kyoto, to this awesome temple. I met these ultimate fighters at the hostel. We rented a boat, and bikes. We went to a traditional Japanese bathhouse, and took a train to the bamboo forest.
AZ: Matt, what were the Ducktails shows you played like?
Matt: I did a Ducktails show with Nonhorse, who is Lucas from Woods. It was a smaller show at a tiny bar, more of DIY thing. Everyone was smoking inside. There was another band that opened called AAPS, they were this weird, '80s-sounding disco-y band. The DJs were DJing really new Olde English Spelling Bee releases from our friends, like Matrix Metals and Autre Ne Veut. And James Ferraro, and random 7-inches from American bands. That blew my mind. I played at 2 in the morning and it sounded terrible, but people were into it. We also met a guy named Rhino, in this band called Topping Bottoms, who did a tape on Not Not Fun. He had an art show for Jeremy from Woods, at a gallery in this fashionable neighborhood in Tokyo. I did a solo Ducktails set and played with Woods a little bit, and Topping Bottoms played. They were like a band you would see in America, guys improvising with weird guitars.
Mount Fuji (img credit= Matt Mondanile)
AZ: There’s a new Ducktails record coming out in January. Want to tell us a bit about it?
Matt: The new record is out January 5th on Woodsist. I recorded it on and off tour with Real Estate this past summer, in my parents’ house, and did some recording at Rear House in Brooklyn with Jarvis from Woods. There are a lot more vocals and lyric-centric songs, but still six instrumental tracks. Sam Franklin from Big Troubles played drums on a song.
AZ: Why did you decide to go vocal-heavy this time around?
Matt: Ducktails started before Real Estate-- I was making music that sounds like a foreign pop band, all fucked-up and distorted, in my basement and at this tool-shed where I was living in Massachusetts. Touring with Real Estate, I’ve encountered tons of bands that make straight-up indie-pop. I think that influenced me to write some pop songs. But that doesn’t mean I’m taking a pop direction-- it’s kind of its own thing. I think of my Ducktails records as postcards you send to people in the mail. It’s really personal to me. I always want it to sound like a private, home-recorded thing.
AZ: Any particular tracks that you think are especially different from stuff you’ve done before?
Matt: Some are more folky. There’s a lot more acoustic guitar. There’s one track, called “Killin’ the Vibe,” where I got Dent May from Mississippi to sing on it, and Jarvis. I got Panda Bear to sing on it too. That song is vocal heavy, but it’s like a mantra, with the same verse repeating the whole time. It’s kind of the most involved track I’ve done. I spent a lot of time mixing it. I’m in my basement right now, where I've recorded all my records, looking at all my things and they’re all packed up in boxes, trying to figure out how to like, pack these Ikea cups that I just got...
AZ: Can you tell me about Panda Bear’s appearance on the record?
Matt: Real Estate was touring Europe this summer, and I did a Ducktails tour afterwards. I flew to Lisbon, Portugal and had a couple of days off. I found out Atlas Sound was playing, and [Bradford Cox] had asked Real Estate to tour a few days before. I went to his soundcheck, and he was like, you should come out to dinner with us. So I came out to dinner, and Noah Lennox came, and Bradford introduced us. Noah and I hung at the show, and he walked me back to where I was staying; Noah Lennox is the sweetest guy ever. Then I wrote this track in Lisbon while I was there. I emailed him and was like, “it was nice to meet you. It would be cool if you sang on this, I really like your voice.” It was an email collaboration.
Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics is out January 5th via Woodsist