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Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012

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Outside the box: Rock trio People in the Box count touring abroad as one of their great experiences, even though their first trip was a little rocky.

Rock trio People in the Box break past the borders

Special to The Japan Times

This past May, Tokyo-based alt-rock trio People in the Box traveled to England to play at Liverpool Sound City, a three-day event that boasted more than 300 acts from over 20 countries.

The trip marked their first time performing outside of Japan, and was not without problems. After flying from Narita to Heathrow, the group — which includes guitarist and vocalist Hirofumi Hatano, bassist Kenta Fukui, and drummer Daigo Yamaguchi — intended to bunk down in London for the night before heading to Liverpool. But an issue with their hotel reservations resulted in the band being sent to three different inns before they could find rooms.

"Now we can laugh about it, but that was an exhausting experience trying to get everything sorted because of communication issues," says Hatano.

They faced more difficulties when they arrived at the festival, too. The bass amp they rented didn't work and there was a minor squabble with the venue about the band's stage setup. And after all of that, when it was finally time for their show, the group ended up playing to a nearly empty room.

While some may consider this way-too-many headaches for a one-off overseas show, People in the Box felt the opposite.

"Playing in England was a great experience for us," says Hatano. "Our set time at Liverpool Sound City was early and our audience was small, but I felt the people that were there really liked our music. We got a lot of positive reactions from the staff at the venue and the other bands on the bill, too. I think no one could understand what we were singing, but I think everyone was able to enjoy the way the language and rhythms fit together."

The band's trip to Liverpool was made during a short break from working on their third album, "Ave Materia," which they started writing in April and recorded in August. The finished disc came out Nov. 7. It sold 4,000 plus copies in its first week of release and charted at No. 25 on the Oricon album charts — the group's highest ranking for a full-length effort to date.

Like their 2010 "Family Record" sophomore disc, "Ave Materia" sees People in the Box expanding their melodic, pop-driven rock songs with bits of math-rock, postrock, and even metal on the track "Sphere." The brief opening cut, "The Beginning," mixes barnyard sounds, marching-band music, and group chants, making it one of the act's stranger, more experimental offerings.

"We wanted to explore all of our musical desires on this album and 'The Beginning' is a good example of us making something just because we were interested in doing it — even if we aren't sure what the song means," Hatano laughs.

"We enjoy different styles of music so we try to find the most effective way to combine our interests and ideas naturally in our song writing. I'm influenced by modern classical music such as Claude Debussy and Darius Milhaud, alternative rock like Sonic Youth, and electronic acts like Autechre. Kenta likes more organic sounding acoustic music, and Daigo is open to pretty much everything."

People in the Box were taken aback by how quickly things progressed in the studio with Hatano commenting that the basic tracks for "Ave Materia" were captured twice as fast as initially expected.

Currently playing gigs in Japan, before starting their domestic tour People in the Box played a concert in Taiwan in late November. This year's brief international forays to Liverpool and Taipei have definitely whetted the band's appetite to seek out more global opportunities to promote their new album.

"Because our songs are all in Japanese, I believed our music would only work well here because people can understand the meaning of the lyrics," says Hatano. "But I've learned that people in other parts of the world can still understand the emotions behind the music even if they can't understand the meaning.

People in the Box play at Club Fleez in Takasaki on Dec. 6 (7 p.m.; [027] 345-7571); Darwin in Sendai on Dec. 8 (6:30 p.m.; [022] 714-6107); Club #9 in Koriyama on Dec. 9 (6 p.m.; [024] 934-1980); Club Quattro in Shibuya on Dec. 13 (7 p.m.; [03] 3477-8750); and Club Junk Box in Nagano on Dec. 15 (6:30 p.m.; [026] 267-9120). The band will also play at Makuhari Messe in Chiba on Dec. 31 as part of Countdown Japan (ticket prices vary). For more information, visit www.peopleinthebox.com.

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