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Friday, April 15, 2011
Meet a smoking new rock band
Special to The Japan Times
Formed in Fukuoka in 2005, The Cigavettes knew it would only be a matter of time before they relocated to Japan's capital. After years of discussing it, the melodic rockers finally packed up their instruments, along with their Beatles- and Rolling Stones-inspired catalogue of catchy, radio-friendly pop-rock, and made the move in February 2010.
"We had to come to Tokyo because our record company threatened us," says guitarist Kanji Yamamoto. He is joking, of course, since The Cigavettes issue music through their own KT Records label.
"Actually, it was kind of a natural decision for us. We knew that Tokyo is the center of Japanese music and that it has the most venues in the country. Our families, friends and Fukuoka fans all supported our decision."
Chums since grade school, the quintet, which also includes Kanji's brother Masayuki on vocals, drummer Ryota Todaka, bassist Mitsunori Shinozaki and guitarist Junnosuke Oda, were prepared to settle in Tokyo much sooner. Kanji was the one holding them back, though.
"I was living with my girlfriend in Fukuoka and didn't want to separate from her," he says. "(But) during one of our Japan tours I met an even better girl at a show in Tokyo, so moving became a very easy choice. I'm now dating the girl from the Tokyo concert."
While seemingly enjoying the musical and romantic opportunities presented by their new home base, there are things that the members miss about life in Fukuoka.
"Fukuoka has fresh air," says Kanji, "and lots of great food. There are so many people in Tokyo; it's not as clean as Fukuoka."
Having worked with Globule Records for their 2007 EP "Taste of the Sun" and Reservotion Records for 2009's "Out of the Race EP," The Cigavettes opted to create KT Records shortly after coming to Tokyo.
The imprint is named after Kanji's favorite food, kanitama, a crab-meat omelet topped with sweet and sour sauce. Considering they called themselves The Cigavettes simply because a drunken Fukuoka barkeeper handed them a scrap of paper with "The Cigavettes" scrawled across it one night, it appears much more thought went into the naming of their label.
"We've learned that it's hard to accomplish everything that we want to do if we work with someone else, so we decided to make KT Records," Kanji says. "It's been a bit tough, because we have to come up with the money to make records now, but we love the freedom. We don't have to listen to what others say and can do anything we want."
Their previous recordings were released as EPs at their former labels' insistence; Kanji admits that The Cigavettes actually would have preferred to issue full-length albums instead. Solidifying that they are now in complete control, The Cigavettes finally released their self-titled full-length debut through KT Records on April 13.
The new album was written after the musicians moved to Tokyo and was recorded last August. Their recording engineer kept The Cigavettes entertained during studio sessions.
"We used a 24-track analog recorder for this album and it broke while recording, but our engineer hit it really hard and fixed it," says Kanji. "We were really surprised. He said he was good at repairing things, but then he ended up just beating on it. We were all laughing so hard from watching him."
For a short time one of the disc's tracks was even titled in his honor. It was later changed, though, with "Tales of Long Summer" being adopted for the punchy, sunny cut in place of the working name "Snooze In, Snooze Out."
"We were recording for 12 to 14 hours a day and the engineer often fell asleep during the recording sessions," Kanji says. "When we saw him sleeping, we'd ask, 'How was the last take?' He always smiled and replied, 'That was the best one yet.'"
Flaunting the band's definite knack for writing catchy melodies and sing-along choruses, any one of the 13 tracks on "The Cigavettes" could be a potential single. A pair of numbers from each of the act's EPs were rerecorded and included on the full-length.
"We wanted to add those four songs because we can play them much better than before," Kanji says. "We (also) picked those four because we felt they fit the vibe of the new record."
The Cigavettes will tour Japan this spring and summer in support of their eponymous effort. Sets will be drawn from the band's releases along with occasional covers from their musical heroes.
Does Kanji's current sweetheart have any worries about history repeating itself and the guitarist falling for another woman while out on the road?
"Yeah, I think so," he laughs.
The Cigavettes' self-titled debut is out now. They play Shangri-La in Osaka on April 16 (11:30 p.m.; 2,000 in advance;  6343-8601). The Cigavettes' "There'll be No 'Penpengusa' After They Passed" CD release tour begins at Keith Flack in Fukuoka on April 23 (7:30 p.m.; 2,000 in advance;  762-7733) and ends on June 24 at O-Nest in Tokyo (2,000 in advance;  3462-4420). For more information, visit www.cigavettes.com.