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Friday, Nov. 6, 2009

Vola & The Oriental's record-making Machine

Special to The Japan Times

"Once you're on a major label, you have to crank albums out fast!" says Ahito Inazawa, the frontman for Vola & The Oriental Machine.

News photo
Voila: Vola & The Oriental Machine are comprised of (from left): Eisuke Narahara, Ahito Inazawa, Daiki Nakahata and Arie Yoshinori. DANIEL ROBSON

"Our new one came out in July, and already the label are thinking about when we should start writing the next one."

In the four years since their inception, Vola have blazed an inspiring trail. Within four albums and one international tour, they've gone from being darlings of the underground scene to festival fixtures, their electronically enhanced new-wave music filling dance floors across the nation.

Then again, they did have a head start. Inazawa was the drummer in influential 1990s rock band Number Girl, and also briefly in acclaimed math-rock outfit Zazen Boys. But early in 2005, he quit to form his own band, stepping out from behind the drums and into the spotlight.

"The first thing I noticed was that the scenery was different," he laughs. "I used to only be able to see the vocalist's back when I played; being the leader of the band put me right in front of the crowd, which felt totally different."

Inazawa called in accomplished bassist Arie Yoshinori, with whom he'd played long ago, and acquaintances Daiki Nakahata (drums) and Aoki Yutaka (guitar, replaced last year by Eisuke Narahara). Later that year, Vola staggered blinking into the light.

"The first time we all got together, none of us were sure what kind of music we were going to make," admits Inazawa. "I think somewhere inside we did know what we wanted to do, but it took about a year to figure out how to express it musically. And just at that time, the new-wave revival was kicking off, especially among U.K. bands. Hearing bands like Klaxons and Late Of The Pier sent us back to the originators, the old '80s sound, and that really spoke to us."

"We didn't exactly have anything set in stone, but we had a loose understanding with (Tokyo label) UK Project that they'd put something out if we recorded it," says Nakahata.

The result was 2006's mini album "Waiting For My Food," which spawned the anthemic "A Communication Refusal Desire" and built them a solid fan base.

Vola's appeal lies in their fusion of the organic and the mechanical. Rhythm is as essential as you'd expect of a band formed by an ex-drummer, and indeed Inazawa often takes on percussion duties as he howls his peculiarly androgynous vocal melodies. The band's sound is also marked by manic guitar and funk bass lines, though with each album it has shifted subtly toward more of an electronic flourish into what they describe as "neo-wave". Their latest release, "Sakana Electric Device," features synthesizers galore, making for their most danceable set to date.

"A lot of the music we like also uses electronic components," explains Yoshinori, "so we thought we'd like to add that to the mix."

"It seems like just as we've had enough of one particular style, it's time to make a new album, so we take the opportunity to change a little every time," adds Inazawa.

The album was written and recorded in just two months at the start of 2009, and is their second release on major label Universal Japan. "When we went into the studio, I was still writing the lyrics and melodies!" says Inazawa of the speed at which they worked. "I really like this album a lot, but then again, with each album we've thought it was the best yet. We just want to make sure we never get bored of playing together, which means we'll probably keep evolving."

The album's standout track is "No Dream," a rhythmic beast whose percussive heartbeat and whooshing synths make standing still an impossibility. "That song is so theatrical," says Narahara. "It has many different faces."

"It's the most characteristic song on the album," agrees Nakahata. "The rhythm and melody, and the way we've developed . . . it really sounds special to me."

The band are aching to return to the U.K., where they played four shows in May 2008, including a spot at The Great Escape festival. "I think our musical roots are more based in the U.K. than Japan or America, so we wanted to go there at least once," says Inazawa. "To be honest, it was a bit scary. I had no idea what kind of reaction we'd get. I want to go back again with our current sound, though. I think it would go over much better.

"But it would be a dream come true to record in England. The studio sound is different there, as well as the atmosphere, the engineers and the equipment too. We did a radio session in England, and all the equipment and drums and amps were stuff I'd never heard of, but the sound was amazing. England and America have a history of rock music, so it just seems to come naturally to them."

"Sakana Electric Device" is out now. Vola & The Oriental Machine are midway through a Japan tour; see www.volafc.com for dates.

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