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Friday, Jan. 21, 2011

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All the young dudes: Okamoto's take their band name and surnames from avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto. From left to right: Hama, Reiji, Sho and Koki Okamoto.

Okamoto's plot new album release before summer


Special to The Japan Times

After being courted by record labels while still in high school in Tokyo, inking a deal with Sony subsidiary Ariola Japan was an easy decision for Okamoto's.

"We signed with Ariola because we thought their logo looked cool," says vocalist Sho Okamoto.

While an emblem's design is unlikely to sway more seasoned players, the members of the garage-rock quartet, who are now 19 and 20 years old, seem to have made the right choice.

The group first performed together in 2007. Their motivation for starting a band was simple — they wanted to play some songs at their high school's bunkasai (cultural festival). Excited by the positive response to their set, they tried their luck at proper live venues and were soon gigging regularly in clubs around Tokyo.

Fans of avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto, and inspired by U.S. punk icons the Ramones, the four friends all swapped their own surnames for Okamoto's, becoming known on stage as Sho Okamoto, Koki Okamoto (guitar), Hama Okamoto (bass) and Reiji Okamoto (drummer). This also made Okamoto's the most logical choice for a band name, with the possessive "s" paying homage to the surname's proper owner.

"How Taro lived his life was really inspirational, so we thought it would be cool to use that name," says Sho. "Some people in Japan and other places were able to recognize our name when we began because of Taro Okamoto."

Performing an impressive 100 concerts in 2009 prepared Okamoto's for a hectic 2010 that saw the group releasing two full-lengths and showcasing their 1960s and '70s throwback anthems internationally in the United States, Australia and Hong Kong. They learned early on the importance of a "go with the flow" mindset when touring abroad.

"Our first U.S. show was at a place in Texas that had a goat pen with an actual goat in it next to the stage," says Sho about a gig at prestigious industry showcase South By Southwest. "We all grew up in the city, so we were pretty surprised. Then we laughed and said, 'Wow, we really are in Texas!' I think the goat liked our music because it was bleating along."

Okamoto's issued their "10's" major-label debut in May and "Okamoto's ni Muchu" ("Crazy About Okamoto's") sophomore effort in November. Both offer solid helpings of upbeat bluesy, psych-tinged original tracks along with covers of classic cuts from the likes of The Who and Aerosmith. The band intend to release another new disc before the summer.

"Our plan from the beginning was to put out three albums in the span of one year," says Sho. "Acts in the 1960s put out music quickly, so we wanted to try it, too. Also, because we are getting so much experience, we don't want to wait so long between making albums."

With Sho, Koki and Hama currently enrolled in university, finding time for writing and recording while performing regularly has been a challenge. Their abundant supply of youthful energy, which Sho admits some older bands envy, helps Okamoto's somehow squeeze everything into their busy schedules.

"Our goal is to be the best band in the world," says Sho. "First we've got to become the best in Japan, though. We're trying to do everything that we can now to make this happen."

Okamoto's play at Heaven's Rock in Saitama on Jan. 22; at Drum Be-9 in Kumamoto on Feb. 5; at Drum Be-1 in Fukuoka on Feb. 6; at Drum Be-0 in Oita on Feb. 8; at Drum Be-7 in Nagasaki on Feb. 9; at Namiki Junction in Hiroshima on Feb. 11; at Star Club in Kobe on Feb. 13; at Macana in Sendai on Feb. 18; at Bessie Hall in Sapporo on Feb. 20; at Live house J in Nagano on March 5; at Dime in Takamatsu on March 11; at X-pt. in Kochi on March 12; at Club Upset in Nagoya on April 16; at Shangri-La in Osaka on April 17; at Liquidroom in Ebisu, Tokyo, on April 22. Tickets for all shows cost ¥2,500 in advance. For more information, visit www.okamotos.net.

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