The White Rabbit is the place to be Friday night for an incredible sonic art event. San Antonio’s power synthpop duo Hyperbubble will be on tap with the release of their new CD Candy Apple daydreams. They will be followed by Japan’s incomparable technicolor pogo punk masters POLYSICS. The band, named after the Korg Polysix synthesizer, creates a high-energy synthetic punk sound that harkens back to American new wave bands like DEVO and The Tubes and Japanese bands like P-Model and Yellow Magic Orchestra. POLYSICS members frequently wear matching jumpsuits and new wave glasses during their exuberant performances.
Legend has it that POLYSICS founder Hiroyuki Hayashi, while a high school student in 1997, saw a video of a DEVO live show and was inspired to form a band in a similar vein. While the band is on the road in the U.S., we put the questions to POLYSICS frontman Hayashi to find out what makes the band rock and why San Antonio SF/Fantasy fans need to be there.
I first heard about POLYSICS because I’m a big DEVO fan. Can you share with us what it was about DEVO that so inspired POLYSICS?
First of all, it was their looks. Well, not only looks; when I saw the quintet in yellow jumpsuits playing punk like broken robots, I thought this was it. I knew this was the music I wanted to do. Of course I had been a rock ‘n’ roll fan, but I hadn’t been able to find the style I wanted to do. But when I saw DEVO, I knew this was the style I wanted to do and went on to listen to a lot of their music. I learned from DEVO that rock ‘n’ roll is not just about the looks, but also about doing music that no one else does. So they have been a big influence to me.
What other music would you cite as influential to the POLYSICS sound?
Of course DEVO has had a tremendous influence on us and they taught us that being different matters the most. So they are our biggest influence, but besides them, these bands I’m naming are exceptional as well: Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, New Order, Gang Of four… and B-52’s… those are the new wave bands. And there are the Ramones, The Damned, and Yes… and noise bands such as Throbbing Gristle and Ministry. These bands go the high road in their respective fields, but they do the music only they can do, which influenced us a lot. I like one-of-a-kind music. I don’t want to categorize my favorite style, but we want to be a one-of-a-kind band as well.
One of the things about Devo that I like is their ability to take an old song and completely rework it into a Devo song. You guys certainly do that as well. One that I really like is your version of the horrible Styx song “Mr. Roboto”. What inspired this cover and how did you turn it from utter unlistenable garbage into a brilliant SciFi club thumper?
”Mr. Roboto” was my favorite song, but the only part I remember from the original version was the “Domo arigato” part. I heard that Styx was showing gratitude to Japan’s YMO – Yellow Magic Orchestra – by saying “Domo arigato” (thank you very much) in Japanese in this song. So I thought that a Japanese band like us covering this song 20 years later would make sense. I only remembered that vocoder hook line “Domo arigato”, so I thought about using that part to make another song. In a way, I wrote it as a Styx-POLYSICS collaboration, using that part as a hook. I was also aware of the four-beat club sound being a trend at that time. By the way, I think Styx members deserve to be in other parts of that song’s video clip, rather than just that hook part at the beginning. But I love that video anyway. I’ve seen it so many times.
Your new album Absolute POLYSICS is out now. I’m looking forward to getting a copy at the show. Tell us about the record.
We had so much fun at the recording session of this album. We recorded “Hypnotize Go” in the hallway of the studio. We were adding reverbs and echoes to obtain distinctive cold feelings in this song, but it didn’t really work out. So we thought, “Why don’t we record in the hallway?”, set the mic there and it worked brilliantly. Also, when we did “Wasabi”, I sang it as imagining everyone screaming with the wasabi stuck under his/her eyes or in his/her nostrils. We have many other episodes like that. We had so much fun at the recording session, experimenting more than usual.
Will the performance be mostly in Japanese or English or a combination of the two?
These days we use more Japanese, but it depends. We choose the language that we feel more fitting for the song. Perhaps we’ve been writing more Japanese songs recently, as we now think that language doesn’t really matter; as long as we can convey the fun part of the music, the audience can enjoy it. So we’re not that conscious about the language. But as for the MC, I want to work harder this time and try to incorporate local atmosphere, dialects, and languages in my words. For example, San Diego has this atmosphere only seen in San Diego, and the same goes with LA… Well, LA is a bit like Japan, but in Arizona, Ohio, or Chicago, I want to create a show in each city that is only possible there. That’s what I want to be conscious about when I perform. When we toured last time, I couldn’t speak much English so I used to have certain phrases that would be modestly sufficient for the MC, but that made all shows the same. Last year when we toured Japan, we incorporated local culture in each city and had a blast. So I want to incorporate a little bit of local elements in each show this time.
Most of the Japanese music we hear in the US is either J-Pop or part of an anime soundtrack. POLYSICS has an edgier sound. How do you fit in to the popular music scene in Japan? How much acceptance do you get in the US?
I don’t think we fit in the Japanese music scene, although we do fit in the label color (Ki/oon Records in Japan). I don’t think we fit in any scene in the world, which is not a bad thing. Maybe we fit in the atmosphere of music festivals in Japan, where you can have fun whether or not you know the band or the song. I am aware of that and I do feel that we’re fitting in the music festivals. I don’t know about the US… Perhaps we fit in well if people don’t consider us as Japanese music. I don’t listen to J-Pop nor anime soundtracks much, so I consider our music totally different from those kinds. But honestly, I don’t know.
Your music seems to have a lot of SciFi influence. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
SciFi? I love Japanese special effect films. Come to think of it, I don’t watch foreign ones very much; I mostly watch Japanese ones. What I like about Japanese special effect films such as Ultraman, Godzilla, and Gamera is that they are all something that only Japanese can create. Especially recently, I’ve come to appreciate the exquisite work of art on dioramas and monsters in those films. I like the meticulous craftsmanship seen there – it is so ingenious and embodies dream. In every episode, a monster comes out and beats Ultraman up. Those monsters are lovable. I mean, when you just see the monster alone it’s gross, but when it’s combined with the story of the episode it becomes very catchy. And I think it’s amazing that children watch the episode and then draw pictures or buy dolls of those gross monsters. Those monsters are not just scary; I like that mixture of characteristics. So I guess I’m influenced from those films. My favorite monster designer is Toru Narita; he combines unbelievable things together, such as a sting fish and a dinosaur, or a bat and a fish, to make into aliens and monsters – like I said, catchy monsters. I think his style is somehow similar to our music. I love new wave and our music has roots in it, but at the same time, we fuse totally different styles such as progressive rock, garage surf, heavy metal, or industrial rock, into a new style of music. I guess we are close to him in a sense that our music is an impossible combination of styles.
I’m into Ganbare!! Robokon (Japanese TV program in the 1970s). I recommend you to see it. The story is very dark, not pop at all, and even heavy. He is a clumsy screw-up and nothing goes right, like anyone else like me. No matter how much effort he makes, he is never rewarded because he always misses the point, and gets scolded by Gantz (teacher of the Robot Academy). How pathetic… It brings me to tears. And the weather (in the program) is so bad, always cloudy. It’s so tragic. You should definitely see it.
Kayo is leaving the band. We’ve been making music, performing and touring with her for about twelve years, so we’ll miss her when she graduates. But graduation is not only a sad thing; it’s also a starting point of something new, which is a happy thing. If Kayo wants to try at things other than POLYSICS, we’re going to support her. We’ve become very positive about it now. Well, to tell the truth, her departure is not an abrupt thing; she’s been thinking about it for two years now. And we were taking slow steps in discussing how to set the right way for her graduation. We see it in a positive attitude that both Kayo and the rest of us are going to kick off a new beginning. So we are doing our best towards the final concert with her at the Budokan, which is, of course, a big thing. Kayo has been such an iconic figure for POLYSICS so she will be sorely missed. However we can only strive for the new POLYSICS standard. We have already decided to move on. We have never thought of breaking up just because of Kayo is leaving. We will start new and reinvent POLYSICS.
Give us your Top Five SciFi-themed bands
- The Rezillos is definitely one of them. They perform in British spacesuits. POLYSICS has been influenced from them a lot. They put much emphasis on punk and new wave; it’s like, which are you, both? And I love their concept. Their musicality is something close to 50s or 60s rock ‘n’ roll, but their arrangements are insane and experimental, which I like very much.
- Having said that, #1 goes to the B-52’s. I love their neo-futuristic vibe. While rooted in 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll, they create new music by incorporating bass synthesizer, synthesizer, and electronic sounds. They’re the best. And at the same time they’re a party band, which I think is important.
I don’t really find much SciFi-ness in DEVO. Their music is more like an impulse of madness. So DEVO will not be on this list.
- Speaking of SciFi, I think Yes is one of them as well. That grandiose, symphonic feeling on the Close To The Edge album is total fantasy. I love that album very much; I wonder how they came up with such music. Every time I listen to this album, I’m blown away.
- Oh, and Kraftwerk may be one of them. Their The Man-Machine album is precisely robot-futuristic. There is a track called “Metropolis” and it has this neo-futuristic, SciFi-ish vibe. Kraftwerk predicted the coming of a computer-oriented society, and The Man-Machine shows that.
- And Man Or Astroman? – They’ve been a big influence to me. Their music is very much guitar-oriented – hard guitar-oriented garage surf. I also like that they perform in spacesuits, and their SciFi-ish album art.
But POLYSICS is not really SciFi-oriented; I just like special effects and I’m not really interested in the universe or NASA or something like that. I just like that predictive vibe of the SciFi. For example, SciFi movies that were made about 30 or 50 years ago predict about the future, about the world in the 21st century, which gives me excitement. I like the way they depict the dream world. But in reality, it’s 2010 but not much has changed since then. Of course we now have the Internet, iPhones and stuff and we also have videophones, but at the same time, we still have old buildings and culture, and the cars still have tires. Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, even when you see them today, they still give you the excitement of the anticipation of the neo-future or the future. I just like that excitement. It’s not that I’m into cosmic stuff or anything; I just like that excitement. That’s why I like bands that give me excitement. POLYSICS is definitely not a band from space.
How about your Top Five Science Fiction movies?
I don’t watch movies, but I can name the top five special effect movies.
- The current Ultraman movie is so much fun. The title is Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legend The Movie. I have seen all Ultraman movies, and I guess this one’s the best. The past series are basically under the same concept, with Ultraman’s father, old monsters, and actors who had played the old Ultramen’s roles, which made the fanatics grin with joy. But this movie has a totally different story. It has its settings in Nebula M78, with a new, evil Ultraman. The story is not restricted by traditional stories, and even today’s children can enjoy it from the beginning to the end. This is far and away the best.
- Gamera VS. Guiron: Guiron has a dreadful full name: Devil Monster Guiron, but his appearance is so coolly designed. Gamera movies are so not piquant, they’re always somehow depressing. The same goes with Gamera VS. Gyaos. It’s not amusing. But Gamera VS. Guiron has some fun elements, such as Gamera’s attack is going into a 360-degree roll with an iron bar, and his other comical moves.
- Godzilla VS. Hedorah: This comes at #2 on my list. This movie is crazy. It’s full of “What was that?” moments. Godzilla VS Hedorah is insane. Most powerfully crazy movie I should say.
- Godzilla VS. Megalon: This one is quite crazy as well. There’s this hero called Jet Jaguar, which is like an imitation of Ultraman. Megalon itself is very low-key, but the design of Jet Jaguar and this monster called Gigan are so cool. You should definitely take a look at this movie.
- Godzilla: The first of the Godzilla series made in 1954. It’s amazing. I saw it for the first time in a while the other day, and realized that this movie was made only ten years after World War II. That monster arrives ten years after the war, and the scene of people running away in panic seem so real. It’s amazing that Eiji Tsuburaya made such a movie ten years after the war, and the acting of those extras running around is so realistic. Isn’t that amazing? By the way, I heard that Godzilla was named as a combination of “gorilla” and “kujira (whale)”. That movie is amazing. You can see the young Akira Takarada (veteran actor) starring there.