When Knickerbocker, by Fujiya & Miyagi first broke on the scene in 2006, they briefly indulged the media’s assumption that this was the greatest indie Japanese band of all-time. In fact, the Brighton, UK band had been together since 2000 and Transparent Things was just the latest of their great releases. The hype was so immense that their absence since then led to fears that the band wouldn’t survive it. With the release of Ventriloquizzing today in the UK and next week in the U.S., they careen back into our consciousness with the first great album of 2011. Todd talked with David Best about the new record and how a band overcomes the hype monster.
TDOA: Love the YoYo video! Who came up with the concept and to what extent does the band get involved in the story-boarding and overall concepts of your videos?
DB: Great, thanks. Ewan and Casey made that video. What tends to happen is you get lots of treatments from various directors and you pick the one you like best. All the credit should go to them. I suppose us having made the dummies helped with this video and the one for Sixteen Shades of Black & Blue, but we aren’t video directors so its best to find people who know what they are doing.
TDOA: Perhaps I’m losing my mind, but I swear I had an interview scheduled with you for the beginning of 2010 to discuss the release of this album. Did you go back into the studio to work on this one?
DB: Steve returned to California in January while Thom mixed the record, then we decided we wanted to include Cat Got your Tongue on the LP, so there was a bit more work to do. The main reason why it has taken so long to come out is that Steve had a baby daughter in October and my son was born in November and we obviously didn’t want to be away touring whilst the babies were being born. It’s quite nice to have had it ready for so long before release as we’ve had time to live with it and decide what we think of it rather than have our views clouded by reviews or friends’ opinions, which can sometimes happen. We are really proud of this record.
TDOA: I’ve been fortunate to hear an advance of the new album and think it’s my favorite Fujiya & Miyagi album yet. How has the songwriting process for the band evolved over the years?
DB: Great, I’m glad you like it. I think the main difference with this record rather than our others is that Thom helped us record more as a group rather than everything getting chopped up in the computer. The songwriting has got better and I think it comes easier to us now, but it’s been more a case of finding new ways of writing songs rather than deliberately rejecting how we’ve done it in the past. Sounds-wise there are many more layers and tones on the record, which for me helps separate it from our previous stuff. It was time for the group to have a new lick of paint. It feels exciting again to make and play music.
TDOA: I remember seeing you at SXSW a couple of years ago and it was one of the highlights of the festival. Can you talk about that experience?
DB: SXSW is unlike any other festival I have been to, mainly because of how it’s laid out. It was a great feeling for there to be queues outside before we played. I know it was mainly out of curiousity but it still felt good. We knew Transparent Things seemed to be going down quite well but it wasn’t until we came to the States for the first time that the fact of people genuinely liking what we were doing sunk in. Before that first visit it felt like we were making music that instantly got sucked into a void. It gave us confidence to be in Austin, San Francisco or New York and to have an audience.
TDOA: There was a tremendous amount of hype about the band after the first album. Can you talk about your emotions and own expectations as you listened to the reaction of the critics?
DB: My expectations have always been pretty low, mainly due to the fact that Steve and I started the group in 1998 and didn’t finish our first song till 2001. I thought our first album wouldn’t come out until 2016. Any hype just seemed odd after such a slow beginning. I soon stopped reading reviews because if you are going to bask in the glory of a good one, you have to take it on the chin when someone writes something shit about you, so I decided to become oblivious to anybody else’s opinion. So to answer your question, I was oblivious, except for when I was on CNN. That was a little bit odd.
TDOA: Can you talk about the Dead of the Night series that you posted on your website?
DB: It’s a story about a ventriloquist who is driven to murder by his dummy. I thought it would be nice to post that as it has obvious connections with the dummies that we’ve had made of the group. Not that any of us has commited murder, mind you. Although the idea of a dummy taking over a person’s personality has been used numerous times in cinema, I thought it would be a good visual identity for this bunch of songs. Some people are spooked out by ventriloquists’ dummies and I think elements of the LP reflect that kind of discomfort.
TDOA: Collarbone was used in several ads which has become an accepted practice in the new millenium. There’s certainly no accusations of “selling out” towards bands that are just trying to survive in the new economy of the music industry. But do you have any hesitancy in attaching unintended meanings to your songs by having them used in commercials or television?
DB: I think I would have a problem if we wrote a song specifically for a commercial, but like you say its one of the main ways groups can survive nowadays. When our song Collarbone was used for the Jaguar ad it enabled us to leave our jobs and concentrate on the group full time, which was probably the best thing that’s happened. In terms of any hesitancy in agreeing for our songs to be used, it depends on if it is acceptable ethically, and also whether or not the ad and the product being advertising detracts from the song. Our songs exist for themselves so I’m not too worried about people hearing them out of context and connecting them with something else. Also, we aren’t the biggest group in the world and I want people to hear our songs, so a good way to do that is for it to be broadcast on an advert.