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Thursday, July 7, 2011

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Speaking volumes: She Talks Silence's Ami Kawai (left) and Minami Yamaguchi take a break from affixing feathers to copies of their new mini-CD, "Some Small Gifts."

She Talks Silence aim for live experience on new mini-album

Special to The Japan Times

When a band kicks off an interview with a statement like "We don't do gigs, we do performances," you could be forgiven for thinking you're in the presence of a group of uncompromising, postindustrial noise punks. However, for indie-pop group She Talks Silence, this attitude is all about intimacy.

"At a lot of live shows, it's just people getting crazy and energized just for an instant, but then they forget about it," explains singer and guitarist Minami Yamaguchi. "With us, even if the room's really quiet, we want that moment to remain with people long after they've left."

Yamaguchi started the band in 2009 as a solo project. She moved to Tokyo from Kagoshima in Kyushu at the age of 19, attracted by the city's music scene. She met drummer Ami Kawai, a former photography student, while working at the same Shinjuku clothes shop where the two bonded over their shared tastes in music and art.

And music and art go hand in hand for She Talks Silence. They have no time for pretensions like the indie musician's perennial claim of caring about music at the expense of image. She Talks Silence care hugely about image, as evidenced by the care they lavish on their album art.

"I took a hundred photos that were individually packaged with the first batch of (2010 debut album) 'Noise & Novels,' " explains Kawai, while with new mini-album "Some Small Gifts," the group individually attached feathers to the front of each CD jacket using masking tape onto which they stamped the band's logo. When I ask how many, a look of tremendous weariness passes across both their faces, and they reply in unison, "A thousand."

The group took charge of every aspect of production with the exception of mastering (handled by former Yura Yura Teikoku engineer Soichiro Nakamura), and it's an attitude that situates She Talks Silence in independent music's noble do-it-yourself tradition. They even made a commemorative fanzine about themselves — 16 photocopied pages, spotted with handwritten titles, pieces of surreal collage art, and a Twin Peaks character "correlation map" featuring Yamaguchi as Dale Cooper.

The music is soft, distant and lonely sounding, with Yamaguchi's half-whispered, half-sung vocals sometimes barely audible and the gentle strumming of minor chords occasionally giving way to bursts of fuzz and feedback. Upon listening for the first time, Nakamura claimed to have never heard anything like it, although the music contains some elements in common with The Jesus and Mary Chain and postrock band Movietone.

The way tracks like the lurching, clattering opening instrumental "Not Hearing" and drone-rock lullabye "Vanished Vacances" leave in small mistakes and mistimed notes gives the album a fragile, raw feel.

"Both those tracks were recorded in a single take," Yamaguchi admits, while Kawai explains, "We didn't want to focus on making it perfect. We wanted to make the experience more like our performances."

Yamaguchi adds, "On the first album, I put lots of time into the recording and the sound was quite limited, quite compact. I think we did the whole album this time in eight hours. Everyone came together and put all their energy into a single, brief instant. It was a different experience and I think it has given us a wider, more spacious sound."

When talking about their favorite bands, Yamaguchi and Kawai seem to flit back and forth between discussing the music and the album art almost without making a distinction between the two. Hearing the suggestion that their music shares elements in common with British label 4AD (home of the Pixies, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins and, more recently, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti), Yamaguchi becomes excited.

"4AD! We'd give up all our D.I.Y. principles to be on 4AD," she laughs. "So many of our favorite bands were on that label, and they always had great cover art."

This leads onto a discussion about the group's favorite album covers, where they gush over the artwork of His Name is Alive and Sonic Youth. So, when the time came to redesign the "Noise & Novels" cover for its full release last autumn, the design they settled on was heavily influenced by 1980s 4AD records.

Where many indie musicians can come across taciturn and defensive on the subject of their favorite music, the enthusiastic and un-self-conscious way Yamaguchi and Kawai talk about it makes them sound more like fans than musicians.

"We're too bad at playing to be musicians!" says Kawai.

"(Support guitarist and bass player) Jungo gets mad at me because I can never remember the chords," Yamaguchi adds. "I just move my fingers and keep hitting the guitar until the sound I want comes out."

Ultimately, it is this tactile approach of discovering each sound for themselves that may be behind She Talks Silence's disarmingly catchy melodies. "Some Small Gifts" gives the impression of musicians stumbling across classic sounds as if for the first time. There's something undeniably familiar about the melodies and chords, yet even if She Talks Silence wanted to do a direct pastiche of one of their idols, you get the impression that their handmade approach would always leave them sounding just like themselves.

"Some Small Gifts" is in stores now. She Talks Silence play Vacant in Harajuku, Tokyo, on July 15 (6 p.m.; ¥2,500 in adv.; [03] 6459-2962). For more information, visit www.shetalkssilence-diary.blogspot.com.

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