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Friday, Jan. 11, 2008
Damon & Naomi
Nearly two decades of playing in intimate clubs as part of seminal American indie act Galaxie 500 and now as pop-folk duo Damon & Naomi has allowed Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang to unearth many talented, like-minded musicians unknown to your average English-speaking music fan. They shared their favorite finds on 2006's "International Sad Hits, Volume One."
Issued through their own 20-20-20 label, the compilation showcased singer-songwriters from Japan (such as outsider-folk artist Kan Mikami and acid-blues singer Kazuki Tomokawa), South Korea and Turkey, all singing in their native tongues.
For volume two, currently being compiled for a future release, Damon & Naomi took inspiration from the Iberian Peninsula, where they toured late last year.
"It didn't matter if we were in Portugal or Prague, all the local opening bands sang in English," complains Krukowski from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "I fear there is much lost for popular song if artists feel they cannot sing in their own languages.
"Singers like Kazuki Tomokawa or Kan Mikami are so powerfully emotional that Naomi and I feel we understand their songs, even if we don't understand the words," says Krukowski. "It's great when people appreciate our lyrics, but we are happier when people understand the feeling behind them. Maybe that's the reason we enjoy performing in Japan so much."
Touring here regularly since forming Damon & Naomi in 1992, the duo are avid supporters of Japan's underground music scene. They recorded a self-titled album with Tokyo psychedelic band Ghost in 2000, and that band's guitarist Michio Kurihara — described by the New York Times as "the Jimmy Page" of the Tokyo psychedelic scene — has played on their last three records, including their most recent, 2007's "Within These Walls," which, with its sumptuous arrangements, borders on chamber pop.
Kurihara and Tokyo's distortion-heavy stoner rock band Boris were invited to coheadline the fall U.S. tour for "Within These Walls," even though Boris' sound is the polar opposite of Krukowski's own dreamy compositions.
"There are many great underground Japanese bands from the '60s to today. (Tokyo's) P.S.F. Records continues to release amazing music. We love the singer-songwriters but also appreciate the noise and improvisation artists they've fostered, and of course the psychedelic bands like Ghost, White Heaven and Overhang Party."
Their ties to the country are more than just musical, though.
"Japan runs deep in my family," Krukowski says. "For my father, Japan was the refuge to which he escaped during the war in Europe. He was born in Poland, but his family ended up in Kobe to escape the Nazis. His family emigrated to the U.S. before the Pacific War, but he always kept very deep, happy memories of Japan.
"Recently, at my urging, he finally revisited Japan. He had been nervous to see it so changed but loved it just as I thought he would."
On their forthcoming tour, Damon & Naomi's second of two Tokyo shows will be a rare opportunity to experience material from their back catalog.
"Since we have many long-term fans in Japan, we thought it might be nice to also play an evening of older songs. We don't usually do that. It's a bit of an experiment."
Damon & Naomi play Jan. 19 at Knave, Osaka (tel.  6535-0691); Jan. 21 (with Hideki Ishima [ex-Flower Travellin' Band] and Ghost), Jan. 22 at Shibuya O-Nest, (tel.  3462-4420). Tickets ¥4,000 in advance (all shows 7 p.m. start). For more information, visit www.damonandnaomi.com