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Friday, Jan. 21, 2011

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Some velvet mornings: The Mornings' Junya Kishino plays guitar at a Tokyo concert venue with vocalist Shinpei "Ponta" Watanabe in the back. MISAKI ICHIMURA

The Mornings reveal new depths on debut

Art-punk band's album shows intricacies in sonic assault


Special to The Japan Times

"I was in a mosh pit at (Tokyo concert venue) Koiwa Bushbash when Shingo landed on top of me and dislocated my shoulder."

Shinpei "Ponta" Watanabe, the vocalist, synth player and occasional guitarist of mutant posthardcore art-rockers The Mornings is explaining the injury that put his arm in a sling for a month at the beginning of last year. The Mornings, however, don't do things by halves, and within days of Watanabe's accident, guitarist and co-vocalist Junya Kishino had put himself out of action in another unfortunate incident.

"I was stage diving and gave myself a hernia," explains Kishino, although with their intense schedule and furious live performances, frequently culminating in bouts of destructive rockrabatics, what's more surprising is that injuries aren't more frequent.

"Ponta and Junya are always right up there moshing and crowd-surfing during gigs," adds bassist Shingo "Rally" Nakagawa, temporarily forgetting his own role in Watanabe's injury. "Me not so much, but those two are crazy."

The Mornings started up in 2003, when Watanabe, Kishino and Nakagawa decided to form a band in college. "We sort of decided that Keika was going to be our drummer without even asking her," says Nakagawa of how they recruited fourth member, drummer Keika Iida.

The band set out with the deceptively simple aim of being, as Kishino puts it, "completely different from everyone else" although, as Watanabe chips in, "We wanted to, yeah, but listening back to our early songs, we totally weren't."

Watanabe cites posthardcore band At The Drive-In and emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate as key influences at the time, and it took The Mornings a while before their own sound began to gel.

Coming a mere eight years after the band formed, Watanabe admits that the Jan. 19 release of the band's debut album "Save The Mornings!" is "Way too late!" Nevertheless, the album's long genesis allowed the band to refine their musical philosophy and songwriting to a point where they could claim with some justification to have achieved their original aim of making truly original music.

Kicking off with the frenetic "Opening Act," which features a guest appearance by sax player Nobuyuki Ideriha from avant-garde jazz band Roletta Secohan, the album races through 10 tracks in just over 25 minutes, including a delightfully mangled cover of The Dead Kennedys' "Drug Me" and a closing remix/mashup by experimental electronic producer Fragment. Throughout, there is a chaotic dynamic between the members, with vocals ricocheting back and forth between Watanabe's hyperkinetic rapping, Iida's sweet, naive-sounding bedroom-pop singing, and Kishino's tortured screeching. At times each member seems to be playing an entirely different song, and then everything just falls into beautiful clarity, like gazing at a stereogram.

"It's all about making sure the song has layers," explains Kishino of The Mornings' approach to song construction, "In the past, Ponta used to play a lot of guitar, but he hardly plays any now, but by using all the members' different voices, we can create new layers of sound. In that way, arranging a song is like architecture, constructing the song one level at a time."

When it came to bringing a sound honed over years of week-in, week-out gigs to CD, there were challenges. "We wanted to make sure we kept the same feeling as in our live performances," says Watanabe, "so we recorded it on analog tape and recorded all the instruments together, just with the amps in different rooms."

"On the other hand, we had to do things differently," adds Kishino, singling out engineer / producer Yoshiaki Kondo for particular praise in helping them realize their sound, "Something like a pure live recording might sound too chaotic, so we had to make everything clearer, to allow listeners to be able to separate out all the different sounds."

Looking to the future, the band are trying to be realistic about their chances of making it big, with members seeming to share a disdain for the grasping commercialism that underlies a lot of nominally alternative-music culture, Kishino states: "If we were concerned about making money, we wouldn't be making this kind of music."

Nevertheless, the band's Tokyo release party is sure to be packed, and they will be hitting venues around Japan through till April. "Yeah, we get tired," admits Nakagawa. "So tired. But we always put all our energy into our performances. Sooner or later it's going to kill us."

"Save The Mornings!" is released by Take A Shower Records and is in stores now. The Mornings play at Shindaita Fever in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Jan. 21; Klub Counter Action in Sapporo on Jan. 22; an in-store free show at Shimokitazawa Diskunion in Tokyo on Jan. 30; Shinjuku Marz in Tokyo on Feb. 20; Shinjuku Motion in Tokyo on Feb. 26; at CLUB NAME in Nagoya on March 5; at Club Goodman in Akihabara, Tokyo, on March 12; at Sonic in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture on March 13; at 20,000 Den-atsu in Higashi Koenji, Tokyo, on March 20; at UFO Club in Koenji, Tokyo, on April 2; and Helluva Lounge in Kobe on April 9. For more information, visit www.themornings.biz.

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