Two Daniels & Two Days in Japan: A Pregnant Tour
Editor’s Note: Daniel Trudeau was kind enough to spend a while emailing with me about Pregnant‘s recent performances in Tokyo. Bear in mind, Pregnant is currently two Daniels; Trudeau and Ramirez, and they’ve got a new album, Pottery Mill, out now on Mush. The above picture is of the two recording its follow-up — Pregnant’s a keeper.
“Okay Dwight, I’m just going to recall what happened here.”
Thanks Daniel, where should we start?
“The night before entering Japan we had been taken to a (Jim-jil-bong) which is basically a bath house in South Korea. You strip naked locker room style…”
Of course, a Korean a bath house! How did I not see that coming?
“…and the front desk gives you these little elastic bands with electronic readers on them. The electronics in the wrist band allow you to make purchases inside the bathhouse. You can buy cute little carbonated drinks, ice creams, etc. with one swipe of your wristband. We entered the bathhouse via an elevator from street level, before being ushered into a locker room to strip for the sauna and hot tub area.”
“I quickly jumped into one of the large bathtubs to find that it was at least 20 degrees hotter than I was accustomed to, at least with hot tubs I’d used in California…”
I only lived in the Bay, but I can’t actually remember ever seeing a hot tub in California. Than again, I wasn’t invited into too many homes…
“…this place was for purification. After talking with my bandmate Daniel about how we should have brought the camera into the bath house and whether or not that was a bad or good idea…”
“…we went into the sauna room with my good friend Sean Maylone, coordinator of Super Color Super, who had brought out acts like Blonde Redhead and Grimes to Seoul. The sauna air was heavy with some strange salts. I had to breathe a bit slower to get accustomed to the room. Detoxifying from chain-smoking and drinking Hite (the Korean equivalent of Budweiser), I see two muscular Korean dudes with full-body tattoos coming, so obviously we deduce that they were Yakuza gangsters…”
“…so we go a story up and sit in the cooler tub. We left for Japan the next day, planning to meet up with Dela Toru (coordinator of CMFLG booking) at the Narita Airport, where we found him waiting for us with a neatly printed sign: ‘Hello Pregnant, welcome to Tokyo.’ From the moment we met Dela, he was extremely respectful, reserved and dead-set on getting us to the venue on time. We took the bullet train from Narita to Shibuya, Tokyo and arrived at a hustling and bustling station near the venue. Dela would not let Daniel carry his own bag! It was so nice but so outside of our Western idea of being respectful and polite. We kept asking/stating ‘Ooooh, arigato, but…..,’ but Dela would not let us carry the bag. At that point, I started feeling the culture for what it was. The ego was left up to dry over here. People were doing what they needed to do with their days. No time was wasted. Everything was obligatory with a pinch of reservation… solitude. It didn’t make any sense! How could this solitude and everyone’s private social characteristics co-exist? I had never made this observation about people in Brooklyn or LA. There was always so much angst in their faces and body language. They gave their secrets away at first sight, but not in Japan.”
“We arrived in town via train and had to power-walk through crosswalks, into and out of alleys, up and down escalators, sometimes siphoning into broom closets that would turn into elevators to sub-basements of skyscrapers before expelling us back onto the street again. The labrynthine urban navigation continues for 20 minutes, Daniel and I of course think it’s all fun.”
What about the venue?
“The venues in Japan, as far as our trip was concerned, were air- and sound-tight. When I opened and closed the door of the first venue (appropriately named ‘Home’), I heard a noise that I can only say was exactly like a submarine hatching open and a room pressurizing. Though tired, we were late for our sound check and we got right to business, immediately blowing up Dela’s convertor (Japan has a different voltage than the US… I think 20 volts less than most places). Having set everything up, we finally got to sit on our asses and have a drink. Everyone else that was playing that night was a solo act. Shindo Shohei was the first; melodic, disruptive songwriting… loop-based, detuned, vibrant and lucid.
“His music drove home a lot of what we’d expect[ed] for Japan. I instantly began noticing differences between Japanese and American uses of sound. There was just no angst in this music… it almost felt like watching a prolonged, exquisitely planned sneeze. The attention to production and live sound was surprising, too. Shohei had his shit in order; I believe he used a loop pedal that held samples… he would play guitars and trigger samples of kids playing in parks, or fresh rain, or wind against his window. During Shohei’s set, I got to meet Yuji Mruyama, an artist who recently designed packaging for my new album, Pottery Mill. He was a jovial guy, seemed very decent and nice. He brought us screen-printed shirts adorned with the same little illustrations he made for the album. He’d taken a plane out from where he lived an hour away and apologized that his wife couldn’t come. He said he was killing two birds with one stone because his parents lived in Tokyo and now he had an excuse to go and visit them.”
I’d like to think of Mruyama as an artist with a plane… there must be hope for us all.
“By the end of the show we were ready to do the standard American after-show, ‘sit around the bar and drink until the morning’ routine, but Dela got us out the door in a hurry. He had made reservations for us at a hotel near Ikebukuro station, so we quickly gathered our things and jammed back into the insanity of downtown Tokyo. Regardless of the quick departure, we only arrived at the hotel by like three in the morning, and we could tell that Dela was tired but it seemed important to go grab a meal.”
“So Dela takes us to this bar/eatery nearby. It’s horrible bar food but we order via this almost iPad looking device, no waiter. Nothing. Just type in what you want they keep bringing it to you. We got pretty tipsy with Dela that night and things became more lighthearted. I started inquiring about who the popular bands were in Japan and I remember vaguely talking about Deerhoof and Nisennenmondai, a cool instrumental post-rock trio.”
“We left Dela on a positive and profoundly tired note. The hotel was small, as expected, but very cozy, very Western style (I think Dela planned it to be, but I can’t be sure not having seen any other living spaces the entire trip).
“The next day, we had until early that afternoon to wander in the adjacent parts of Tokyo, and wander we did! We got lost in the shadows of skyscrapers, and eventually breezed through a few arcades to check out the skill of the locals. One guy was playing this game where you touch a large circular screen to the beat and notation of the music the gamer hears. He wore mountain climbing gloves and chain-smoked cigarettes in between each power up. Didn’t seem bothered by us filming him either, it just seemed to fuel his fire and make him better at the game. We walked past endless ‘massage’ parlors with eager, well-groomed men in the streets trying to usher us in with haphazard English greetings. By about 1:30, we realized Dela would be arriving at the hotel for us soon, so we hurried back and waited (scanned the murder of crows outside the window eight stories up and watched a bit of Japanese television).”
I guess I have to assume we’re missing something about that video game, but the massage parlors seem straightforward.
“We left for the second venue, called ‘Bullet’s’, after the attendant at the hotel let us know Dela had arrived. It was again sober, respectful Dela, with an iPhone full of cat pictures he’d taken while waiting in the. We arrived at the stop for Bullet’s and I realized the true extent of how tired I was. I leaned toward Dela and said, with my hand gesturing towards my mouth, ‘Copy?’ I had learned that ‘copy’ was how Korean’s said coffee in Seoul, but in Japan it’s pronounced the same as English. Dela replied, ‘Oh! Coffee?’ He pointed towards a vending machine with Tommy Lee Jones’ face on the cover where I deposited my yen and received a sweet little hot coffee in what appeared to be a soda can.”
I hope Tommy was smiling.
“The vibe in the venue was serene; low bean bag couches and dimmed lights, like some kind of karaoke hang out center. We arrived a few hours early, so we got drunk while the bartender, Yuunosuke Senoh, taught us as much English as he could, never showing any sign of stress or fatigue. He was happy to teach us all that he could. After that we met the owner, Harry… Harry is a woman, so I suppose that was her nick name. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I showed the guy doing lights cloaque.org - a digital art site that I was introduced to a month earlier via my friend Simi Sohota. I might be able to find his name here if I knew Japanese, but he showed me his own videography site, Yumelight. We asked if he would help with an upcoming music video and he seemed stoked! Here’s some of his filming…”
“It was Yuunosuke’s last night working as a bartender at Bullet’s and after our set (which was well recieved) we were asked to say ‘kung pai’ or ‘cheers’ in Japanese for Yuuno. He played a Radiohead song on the house piano and we were all shitfaced and happy. We mostly played with a bunch of trancey/ambient DJs at the Bullet’s show. Many of them were cold at first meeting and warmed up intensely over the [course of] night. The DJ’s were as follows: Echo in May, Dabit, Buna (TrenchWarfare), Auto (TENT/Other Side Soudn System), and Sugai Ken (Freed Records).”
“All in all, most of the music was intensely relaxing and great for just talking and easing your mind while having a few drinks and trying to learn Japanese. I’d have to say the morale of this show was a lot like a chilled out house show in Portland.”
They don’t have those where I live.
“After the DJ sets, we swung back to the hotel with Dela. Before hitting the sack we had some chats and pats on the back for how appreciative we were for the trip to Tokyo. Many friends were made and we honestly did not want to leave, but still, off we went the next day, all on our lonesome, courageously through the streets and alleys and subways knowing the place a bit better and feeling just confident enough to make it through the city to our light train back to Narita Airport. We made it just on time. As we were flying back with the sun, moving towards the US, I think I shed a li’l invisible tear without any angst or occidentalism. Just a little water color tear for Japan. A tear with a li’l smile on it and hands with white gloves to boot. I recommend that all those who haven’t visited the happy ecstasy land of Japan do so as soon as possible. <3″
I taught Daniel the word “occidental” for this piece. But wait, Daniel, haven’t you left out some details about Korea?
Party buses are so great.
“Also, not only does the font of the label looks like ‘Sprite’ and sound like ‘Sprite’ when said aloud, but the ads have the same overblown feel, making one feel as if they’re in a parallel dimension. But in the spirit of Seoul, known for making most of its money off of K-POP boy-band advertisements like the aforementioned Hite, we simply had to have the Hite.”
“We went out for Korean BBQ and enjoyed the motherly hospitality of the often over-50 native Korean women who run the Korean BBQ joints. Korean BBQ is amazing and it actually broke me on my seven year vegetarian kick. It just looked that good and nurturing.”
“We had just enough time after eating to get our stuff packed and head over to the venue called Mullae Moon. It was a large basement sort of place in a mellow art district. What I gathered from Katrin Baumgaertner (A local half-German, half-Korean who helped run the place) was that the part of town we were playing in was more known for its punk/indie shows. This surprised me because the last trip I had made to Seoul was more music-centralized around the thriving and suffocating K- POP genre. So it was refreshing to hear that there was more going on. We played with a bunch of acts, mostly foreigners to Korea and very often English teachers from somewhere overseas.
“The first act was a solo delay pedal instrumentalist named Victor View. He was the only native Korean on the bill. His music wasn’t obscure or artsy, ya know… it almost reminded me of the music you hear on Raley’s and Bel-Air Commercials here in California. You know the ones, where the local ‘grocer’ is telling you how juicy the ham is or how tender the beef is? His music sounded like that, cliché inspirational. But it felt so appropriate. Korean culture is so appropriate in that way and it almost mirrored the place we were experiencing, and for that reason I attached quite a bit significance to it.
“The second band was a bunch of bros from the States called The Killer Drones. It kind of reminded me of a fun pop-rock band you might encounter in Davis, CA (Pavement-esque and meaningfully premature). The guys in that band were super nice and eager to talk about the States because some of them had been in Seoul or the surrounding area for years.”They were followed by none other than Sean Maylone himself. His project was the most nostalgic and enjoyable of the three acts. I had heard Sean’s electronic music back in high school or thereabouts. It was four dudes (including Sean) and the project’s name was Cricket Engine back then. Then the ‘band’ disbanded and Sean carried some of the tunes into 2013. In any case, Sean’s project was called Sighborg and he covered some of the songs I had so often listened to in high school. He also had some really inventive jammers he had made himself that surprised me to no end.”