Do you remember that weird girl from the Breakfast Club – not Molly Ringwald’s character, but the pale skinned girl who dressed in black and ate Cap’n Crunch and sugar sandwiches?
K…well if she were a band she might be Japanese to English. The McAllen, TX based band and its music has the allure of the forever young Allison Sheedy: weird and dark upon first impression yet deep and awkwardly attractive after disregarding that initial judgment. The band has been called shoe-gaze, indie, Unknown Pleasures meets My Blood Valentine’s Loveless reverb soup / dark cave of my soul bro-gasm pop. But whatever. If you’re a self-proclaimed music connoisseur who has remained in the dark with Japanese to English, explore it. Here’s the problem with trying to hear this band, though: they don’t have shit for recordings. You can try and youtube them and get some smokey videos with fuzzy audio which doesn’t translate their live talent too well[sorry for lame pun, yall]. So you need to see them live, especially now that they’ve got a very strong line-up. I had the choice opportunity to catch them at a packed show this past Thursday and hated myself for some reason. I wanted to be in the band, wanted to be with them and know that the other attendees, especially the musicians, were watching and also ‘losing themselves,’ in the show, forgetting about everything and everyone else in the room except their own band because, well, whenever a good band watches another good band play, a sense of friendly approval and jealous territorial pride swells up, together, in a warm feeling. It’s a good thing. Anyways, there’s hope for those who have yet to check out the band: they’re playing in McAllen TX on September 25 at Havok Records. “Like” them on Facebook to get more updates on live performances here.
But wait! I also got to interview them, which you can read below :looks down:
Omar Rodriguez: vocals / guitar
Joseph Lopez: bass
Francis Wells: drums / synth
Andie Figueroa: vocals / keys
Javier Guerra: guitar
INTERVIEW STARTS HERE
Y’all have been called “shoe gaze” quite a bit. Do you agree with the staple? If not, please articulate your style.
Javi- Please. Chankla-gaze is more appropriate.
Andie- To stick with cliché musician answers: “no…I don’t like labels”. We kind of just go to practice and play whatever and most of the time it comes out sounding like 90s music. We just have fun playing whatever comes into our heads, not really trying to sound like anything.
Omar- We have two songs that could be shoe gaze but are more apt to be
dreampop. I don’t care much about labels and I enjoy not being able to
mention one band that we sound like.
Many people feel as if you’re doing something different ‘for the valley’. Is this true, or do you think this has been done before?
Andie- In reality there are hundreds maybe thousands of people in the Valley who pick up guitars, play drums and have a garage band hoping to play the local venue. This has been done before many times. Essentially all of us want to get our voices heard or contribute to the evolution of music. With this band though I’d like to think people just like to drink a beer and chill out to us, nothing complicated at all. We just are.
Omar- Firstly, we are doing this for ourselves and then as band mates.
I’ve always been an advocate of “lead by example.”
Do ya’ll feel having two women in the band adds an appeal to valley bros?
Andie- I never really thought Frances and I added like a sexual vibe or appeal. She and I are always praying bar tenders don’t mistake us for 18-year-olds, since we are the only ones in the group who get carded. I hope people who watch us just appreciate Frances’ intensity and skills while playing and my efforts to not sound Goth, because Goth chicks don’t bag bros.
Javi- Listen, I’m going to set the record straight for once. Joseph and I are GUYS. Seriously, that joke is getting kind of old. The real ladies in the band are great musicians and I love playing with ’em. I’m with Andy on this one.
Omar- You mean, two educated/hot/talented women. It probably has an
appeal to bros and lesbians, but Frances and Andie are in the band for
their contributions. It’s a pretty even playing field once practice
starts. Some ppl may come to see them thinking its a gimmick but soon
realize that they have musicianship.
How did the line-up materialize?
Omar- I saw Joseph at a wedding and told him we should start playing
together. I think he forgot that exchange and will probably take
credit for talking to me about it first. 🙂 I had seen Frances a few
times but had no idea she was a drummer. Some how we ended up in her
spare room writing new songs in October 2009. I asked my good friend
Israel Perez to join as guitarist but he lived too far away and had
scheduling conflicts. Andie was asked to join by Joseph. Javi joined
and has impressed me with his knowledge and skill. I don’t know
anything about guitar or singing.
I’ve heard Joseph never plays the same bass line twice when rehearsing and performing live. Is that an artistic sentiment the rest of the band practices?
Andie- I love Joseph but he changes up the songs all the time! If he wasn’t so funny it would probably bother me more. We record ourselves at every practice and somehow Joseph forgets the bass lines by the following practice. In all honesty, the guy is gifted because he always manages to save the day when we perform. I am beginning to think it is his plan to throw me off…bastard.
Javi- So long as he’s in key and in time I don’t mind so much either. I have a tendency to change up what I play here and there also. My job is to keep it as goth as possible. And wait, who told you that? That’s kind of personal.
Omar- This is a half truth, but yes, he does have a tendency to
improvise. I think he either gets bored or just wants to improve upon
his bass lines. Maybe he’s sleepy. We are pretty lazy and lax.
There’s lots of chitchat during practice, but somehow we construct
songs that are at least interesting to us.
On that note, please describe your song writing process.
Andie- Well we turn off all the lights, and sit in a circle. Javi then starts playing Pearl Jam songs while we all sing like Eddie Vedder…
Omar- Joseph and Frances lay down a beat and I add garnishment. Javi
and I pretty much trade rhythm and solo roles while andie fills in on
vocals and/or keyboard. I mostly concentrate on creating a mood and
finding words that express anti-fun/happy. Sometimes someone will
bring a few chords and we try it out. Mostly we just listen to Pearl
Jam and steal their ideas.
What’s been your worst show and why?
Andie- I think I speak for the whole band when I say Fun Day. We enjoyed all of the bands that played, and Goodbar was great to us. After our performance it was only a hunch that it was bad. But after checking our Twitter accounts and a certain someone put ‘Awkward Silence’ as we went on, we knew we were right.
Do you guys (individually) have a favorite piece of musical gear?
Andie- My affection has grown towards the keyboard I play, because we have to plug it into Omar’s Mac laptop for it to actually play. It causes some trouble at shows and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. It’s kind of like your first car, it sucks so bad but that only makes you love it more.
Omar- I like my pedals, but I kinda have a crush on my Arbor
Strat-style guitar that I call “renard”. It’s a low budget guitar,
but it gets the “gel like” tones I like. I used to have a big fox
sticker on it but has since been scraped and burned off. Now it has a
Tara Mcpherson bunny sticker on it. I’ve ‘accented’ it as a metaphor
for my heart which is rather beat up and used. I like foxes and
How did you guys come up with Japanese to English as a band name?
Omar- My favorite band in the whole world is Red House Painters. They
have a song called “Japanese to English”. It’s about not understanding
how to have a healthy relationship. It took us several months to
figure out a name.
Do you think the valley ‘scene’ is welcoming for your brand of music? Why or why not?
Andie- I like to think people have an open range in music. People can listen to Beyonce and Metallica, there is no need to stick to one genre. I guess I am an optimist in saying that the ‘scene’ is accepting of any type of music. As long as people will have us, we will be playing. If not we will just have to get used to Omar’s living room, where his cat Scampy is my number one fan.
Omar- It’s nice to be liked, but if you’re going to stop doing what
you like because no one likes/welcomes you, then I think you have a