This past Sunday evening, I was in Yurakucho hanging out with one of the bartenders from the Ruby Room. She had the midnight shift, so we decided to drop by for a drink around 11:30PM.
When we walked into the dimly lit bar, the place was all but empty. The sole customer was a young blonde haired Japanese woman sitting at the bar table talking with Akko, Ruby's booking manager. Playing on the sound system was the new album by Chatmonchy, one of Japan's most popular rock bands. I said my hellos and took a seat.
Something felt out of place. As awesome as Chatmonchy is, it wasn't the type of music that Ruby typically spins. There was also something vaguely familiar about the blonde woman. I had heard rumors that members of Chatmonchy were known to drop by Ruby on occasion. Could it be? There was only one way to find out.
I introduced myself. The woman's name was also Akko. Easy to remember, I remarked. One bar, four people, two Akkos. She greeted me with passable English and I complimented her on her accent. She then told me that her band had recently been on tour in the States and she was trying to practice English more. "This is my group," she said, pointing to the speakers. My suspicions were confirmed. I was officially sitting next to the bassist from Chatmonchy, one of the hottest Japanese rock groups on the scene today. I've been following their music for over a year now and I've been dying to see them play live. But don't think for a second that the Werewolf was frozen with starry eyes; I was on my best behavior, trying hard to contain my excitement.
We actually struck up a good conversation. Akko was surprisingly friendly and candid about her band's story. Perhaps she was happy to meet a foreigner who was genuinely interested in her music. We talked about our favorite rock bands, the best Japanese musicians, and mutual friends in the Tokyo music scene. As it turns out, Akko is drinking buddies with Akko from GO!GO!7188 (I know, too many Akko's in this story.) That would be a party that I would love to crash sometime. Chatmonchy is also under the same division of Sony Records as Prague, so Akko also knew all of the people in their crew.
I was especially curious about the band's recent experience playing at Austin's South By Southwest. Chatmonchy's first American tour was also the first time that the girls in the group had been to the States. They managed to play shows in San Francisco, LA, New York, as well as other major stops. Akko seemed totally overwhelmed by the positive response they got from American audiences. I was genuinely happy to hear it. I always had a hunch that something about the band's unique character would be able to cross cultural and geographic barriers.
Akko then pulled out her iPhone and cycled through pictures of various venues, restaurants, and tourist spots the girls stopped at while on tour. Something inside me was happy to see that even the members of a well-respected band could be typical Japanese tourists at times.
Later in the night, a group of foreign guys came into the place, sat down, and ordered drinks. Bartender Akko pointed to Chatmonchy bassist Akko and mentioned that her band was the one playing on the speakers right now. The guys managed to show a bit of interest, but I could tell that they didn't know what was really going on.
My favorite bar, my favorite band, and my drink of choice in hand; could it have been a better night?
Here is a video of the band playing one of my favorite songs, 風吹けば恋 (roughly meaning, "Love in the Wind.") You can see Akko rocking the bass on the left side. I think this song does well to capture the band's essence. Essentially, Chatmonchy is able to tie together crunching guitars and hard rock with more feminine vocals and lyrics. To me, vocalist Eriko's high pitched voice seems to convey the emotions of the young girl deep inside every woman. Is that too lame a characterization? Why don't you just listen for yourself:
For more information, check out this recent posting from Spin Magazine.