Listening to Polysics is like doing a hit of acid in a vat of extra-sugar-coated Jujubes. Choose your album. Whether its 2008's We Ate the Machine, this year's Absolute Polysics, or any of the older albums in their catalog, the candy-sweet, frenetic energy that erupts from the Tokyo-based band will be just as intense.
Yet speaking with Polysics through their interpreter, Shin, on a recent phone interview, they seemed completely relaxed. Perhaps their metric ton of pre-show pixie sticks had not shown up yet.
"How much fun is it to be a member of Polysics," I asked after a few introductions and konnichiwas. The answer came from the band's lead singer, Hiroyuki "Hiro" Hayashi, as translated by Shin.
"The best! We get tremendous joy out of people responding from the music we create. We create the music we like to listen to. People all over the world appreciate the music and we get pumped up listening to the music.
Speaking of the music, how does Absolute Polysics differ from We Ate the Machine?
Again, the answer came from Hiro.
"The last album probably was more about creating something that is beyond the whole New Wave thing. He feels that they succeeded in doing that. This time, it is 'What is Polysics?' As a member in Polysics, what can they provide? This has more of a Polysics sound than the other albums they put out because there was more individual input from the members."
Fumi, the band's bassist, explains:
"The previous albums probably had more inputs from Hiro, and he had all the ideas for all the guys, as far as what to play. This one, they all kind of came up with their own parts and were involved in the writing process of it."
Are they satisfied with the result?
"We love it. Very satisfied with how it came out."
When Polysics aren't being Polysics, what music do they listen to?
Hiro: Devo, '80s, New Wave, and industrial.
Yano: New Age and very meditative music.
Kayo: Weezer and classical.
Fumi: '60s UK stuff, The Beatles, The Who, Small Faces, and Lulu.
(Obviously, Polysics and bands like Shonen Knife have been successful in breaking into the American music scene to some degree. Now bands like Mono and Dir En Grey are starting to do the same.)
Do you think it's hard for a Japanese band to find popularity in America?
"We don't really consider ourselves a success in that department. We do think that it could be a challenge."
That being the case, does the band have any advice on how Westerners might discover new Japanese music and bands?
"MySpace might be a good start. A lot of Japanese bands started having pages on MySpace and other Internet outlets. If you can kind of dig through these things they think that's agood start."
Are there any bands on the Polysics' radar that they would recommend themselves?
(Fumi thought about a description and eventually described Ogre You Asshole as "somewhat like Modest Mouse.")
I'm very surprised to hear a band that sounds like Modest Mouse would have a name that incorporates the word 'asshole.'
Fumi: "Supposedly, the name was given by a member of Modest Mouse. We met in Japan and asked Modest Mouse to name their band. One of the [Modest Mouse] members actually wrote down the name on their arms. So Modest Mouse is responsible for 'asshole.'"
Hiro has another recommendation.
"Yolz in the Sky. They're like a Japanese Public Image Limited."
(This brings up an interesting point. Often, Japanese bands take cues from their American counterparts, even going as far as to describe themselves as the Japanese version of some famous English-speaking band. Polysics are heavily influenced by Devo, but to think of them as simply the Japanese version of Mark Mothersbaugh's famous group would be inaccurate to say the least.)
Do Polysics support the idea of Japanese bands describing themselves as the Japanese version of someone else?
Hiro: "You could go either way. You could try to be the next Korn or Japanese System of a Down or whatever, but you would have to have some kind of message that comes from you. As long as you have that down you can go either way."
If one of our readers were fortunate enough to make their way to Japan, what music venues should they go to?
"Tokyo would be the best bet," the band agreed. "Shibuya is the best. Shibuya Quattro is one of those venues that hosts anyone from the newcomers to the bigger names. There's a lot of good diversity at that venue. [Polysics] like to play there too."
(This got me wondering about the venues Polysics frequent. Most of the band's songs are sung in Japanese.)
Had they noticed the language barrier being a problem with their American fans?
"We are not too comfortable with speaking English, either. There might be a language barrier there. But when you're performing and the audience is digging what you're doing there is some kind of connection that is beyond the language. Our choice of word tends to come from having strength on its own rather than people thinking of the meaning of it. I think that has been successful in communicating with the audience. In the performance, we are very aware of not being dependent on language."
In what ways is playing in America different to playing in Japan? Is the audience different? Is the reaction different?
"American audiences tend to be more individualistic compared to a Japanese audience, who like to do the same movement everybody else is doing all together. Sing along, clap your hands, do the dance moves, everybody likes that kind of oneness . . . That kind of togetherness where everybody does the same thing. Americans probably are a little more individualistic. They found the phoenix audience to be very enthusiastic and energetic."
(There certainly is no lack of energy at a Polysics show. I imagine tonight's soiree at Rhythm Room will be the same, but is "energy" all the band hopes to give to their audience?)
In these troubling times, marked by political struggles and economic recession, what is it that the Polysics have to say?
"Our objective is to make people happy and get people excited. We want the audience to have fun. If they can tap into the crazy world of Polysics and its music and they somehow get a kick out of it and have fun when they come to the show, that's really want we want for their audience."
(My final question was directed at Kayo-san, whose last show with the band will be at Japan's Budokan in March.)
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Kayo-san, what does being a member of Polysics mean to you?"
"Well, I've been doing polysics for 12 years now and it has very much become part of my personality. It is part of her. Even though I'm graduating from the band, it's never going to leave me. Part of me as a member of Polysics is going to remain in me for my whole life."
Anything you want to say to Phoenix before your show?
"Listen to the newest album. The more you familiarize with the material the more fun you have. So, get ready for it!"