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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Molice get upbeat with Replicant rock

Staff writer

Don't call them copycats. Yes, Tokyo four-piece Molice's tough guitar sound might seem instantly familiar to anyone who grew up with American alternative-rock acts such as Juliana Hatfield, the Pixies or Sonic Youth. But Molice's music carries a crackling atmosphere that's all its own. Queasy, uneasy songs with a fiery energy. Rumbling rhythms that hit you in the gut. The occasional explosion into a life-affirming chorus.

News photo
Alternagaze: Molice (from left: Rinko, Takashi Koyama, Yuzuru Takeda) has a sound reminiscent of U.S. alternative rock from the 1990s, but the band says its influences go back further, to 1982 to be precise — the year Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" was released.

And "Neugravity," the band's third album, focuses this energy like never before.

"This is the closest we've come to capturing our live sound in the studio," says tousle-haired guitarist Yuzuru Takeda, who founded Molice along with one-name guitarist-vocalist Rinko in 2007.

"The album is quite raw and direct," he continues, explaining how it was recorded at Studio Balloon in Kokubunji City, Tokyo. Balloon is not a recording studio but a rehearsal room, yet it is there that Molice has fashioned all three of its albums, somehow managing to capture a rich, full sound.

"The main reason we record there is that we don't have any money," says Rinko, fixing me with the same steely gaze that mesmerizes and menaces audiences in equal measure. "But the great thing about using the same studio each time is that we can always capture the same sound as before."

Of course, a lot of bands with no money record in rehearsal studios, and it usually sounds like it was, well, recorded in a rehearsal studio. How does Molice get such a good sound?

"It's because we're magicians," deadpans Rinko. "We have a knack for miracles."

"Neugravity" has mutated over the course of its two-year gestation. The band (which also includes drummer Takashi Koyama and stand-in bassist Kenji) had originally intended to make an album of deeply moody material, but in the aftermath of last year's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, it decided to scrap half the songs and start again.

"I decided I'd rather the album had more upbeat songs instead," says Rinko, who writes all Molice's music and who controls the band's image and strategy with careful precision. "After the earthquake, I wanted to become upbeat myself."

It's still quite dark, I tell her. Not in a gloomy way, but while the songs are propelled by dynamic rhythms that verge on rockabilly and kinetic guitar lines reminiscent of The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, they still carry a somewhat serious tone.

"I don't think the songs are dark at all," she disagrees. "If anything, perhaps you could say the album is permeated with a feeling of suspicion and of strangeness. I mean, do you think The Doors were dark?"

Yes, I say, of course they were — their sound was quite bright, but lyrically and in their personal lives they were terribly dark.

"It's probably something like that, then," she ponders. "On the surface it's not dark, but some people will probably hear it that way. I'm quite a dark person, I suppose."

While Molice's love for The Doors is well documented (the "Mo" part of their name comes from Jim Morrison, while "olice" comes from The Police), Rinko and Takeda have often said that the primary influence on their previous albums was not any band, but Ridley Scott's groundbreaking dystopian 1982 film "Blade Runner." "Neugravity" takes this obsession a step further.

"We have a couple of new songs that are about Rachael and Pris from 'Blade Runner,' " says Rinko, referring to the tragic female Replicants played by Sean Young and Daryl Hannah: android women implanted with false memories, artificially shortened lifespans and the deepest wells of sadness. " 'Blade Runner' is such a complex movie that I couldn't say everything I wanted to say about it on just one album, which is why we've revisited it this time. There's so much in there to draw influence from."

" 'Blade Runner' is a very quiet movie, in a way, but it has this intense energy," says Takeda. "Similarly, there were moments on 'Neugravity' when we considered adding an extra layer of guitar or something like that, but we decided to pull it back instead. 'Blade Runner' taught us that less can be more."

In 2010, Molice's second album, "Catalystrock," secured a North American release through Good Charamel Records, a Japan-centric New York label founded by Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls (whom Takeda describes as a "gentleman"). The label is also home to Shonen Knife, TsuShiMaMiRe, tricot and the soon-to-be-defunct LAZYgunsBRISKY.

While Good Charamel licensed "Catalystrock" after it was already recorded, the band knew while making "Neugravity" that it would see a Stateside release. Did that have some effect on the final product?

"It didn't have any effect at all," insists Rinko. "Making music is such a delicate process, and if you think too much about things like that, you can ruin everything in a heartbeat. If you're concentrating on aiming your music specifically at an overseas audience or at a Japanese audience, you won't make good music.

"I want to release music that I think is cool. And pursuing that is what keeps me making music, because it's so important for an artist to never quite feel satisfied. Art without ambition is ... nothing."

"Neugravity" is out now in Japan and North America. Molice will hold a launch party on May 19 at O-Nest in Shibuya, Tokyo. For more information, visit www.themolice.com.

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