Articles - Interviews - "The Kids Just Wanna Keen Reaction - An Interview With Firestarter"

In a perfect world Firestarter would require no introduction. Those in the know understand that for the past few years Firestarter has been putting out some of the most consistently amazing music on the planet. Unfortunately, outside of their native Japan they are perhaps best know as “the guys from Teengenerate’s new band.” While it’s impossible to understate how great and influential Teengenerate were, it’s truly a shame that more people haven’t been exposed to what an incredible band Firestarter is. By taking the frenzied hundred mile an hour attack that was Teengenerate’s trademark and tempering it with the considerably more melodic pop influenced approach of their subsequent bands the Tweezers and the Raydios, Firestarter have hit upon a formula that perfectly showcases their myriad strengths. There is absolutely no room for argument that Fifi is one of the best songwriters alive right now. He writes songs with melodies to rival those of all the power pop greats, yet he somehow manages to suffuse them with all of the raw energy and aggression of the craziest punk rock. Fink’s guitar playing is much more precise now, without sacrificing any of the ferocity he was known for in Teengenerate. His extra attention to detail only enables him to attack the listener with pinpoint accuracy. Like in Teengenerate, Sammy still lays down some totally frantic, bouncing bass lines that make your head spin if you try to keep up. Firestater’s secret weapon, however, is the fact that they actually have an incredibly skilled drummer. Jimbo hits as hard as Keith Moon, but is versatile enough to handle any type of song thrown at him with ease. He told me off tape that he started playing drums to kill traditional Japanese Enka music, and he might just succeed yet. Hopefully this interview will expose a lot of people outside of Japan to this amazing band. This interview was conducted at Fifi’s apartment last March. Since we were drinking, and this interview was originally conducted in English, there may be a few grammatical mistakes, and it does tend to stray off subject a lot. Because of this I didn’t cover a lot of ground that I probably should have. For instance I didn’t ask enough about their new album and masterpiece, “Living on the Heat,” or how their music will be featured in the upcoming Real Kids movie. Despite these omissions, thanks to Firestarter’s candid answers, this is still a very worthwhile read. I’d like to take this space to say thanks to Fifi, Fink, and Jimbo for taking a few hours out of their time last March to grant me an interview, and also to thank them for taking me along with them to Niigata in April. Thanks a lot guys, I’ll never forget it…

Firestarter are:
Fifi: Vocals/Guitar
Fink: Guitar/Vocals
Jimbo: Bass/Backups
Jimbo: Drums

You can order records from Firestarter including their new album, Living On the Heat, direct from the label at www.recordshopbase.com.
 
BG:  OK, so how did all of you become interested in punk rock?
 
Fifi:  Punk Rock?  When I was in junior high school, like around fourteen or fifteen, me and Fink, we are brothers and we lived in a very small town called Shizuoka prefecture. It’s maybe a two-hour drive from Tokyo.  We went to the same junior high school and there was nothing going on, because it was just a boring town.
 
BG:  And this was in the seventies?
 
Fifi:  Yes the seventies, because I am really old now.  Our classmates were really into fusion music.  Do you know fusion music?
 
BG:   Jazz-fusion? 
 
Fifi:   Yeah, jazz-fusion was really big in the seventies in Japan.  Very major.  Everyone was into fusion, but I hated it.  We used to be into bands like the Rolling Stones because it was simple rock n roll.  But when we first heard the Clash and Sex Pistols, my friends made me listen to those punk rock things, we were really touched, because they were more exciting than the Rolling Stones.  After that, Fink and I were really into punk rock and we bought as many records as we could. 
 
BG:  This was when all of these records were new right?
 
Fifi:  When we got into punk rock the Clash had just released Give Em Enough Rope, the second album.  And then they released London Calling.  We really liked it. 

BG:  So since you’ve been into punk rock for a long time; that’s why you have so many rare records? 
 
Fifi:  Yes.
 
BG:  This wasn’t very common in Japan at that time was it?
 
Fifi.  No.  Because the Ramones were kind of a cult band in Japan then…  Ramones…Buzzcocks…nobody knew about the Buzzcocks then. 
 
BG:  How did you find out about them?
 
Fifi:  From magazines…  We used to read Japanese magazines.  Japanese magazines that were very much like fanzines.  Nobody knew about the Ramones then.  They only knew about the Pistols and Clash, famous punk rock bands from England.  They didn’t know about American bands, except for really famous New York punk bands like Patti Smith and Television.
 
BG:  Television?
 
Fink:  At that time in Japan, they took punk rock as more artistic, not wild rock n roll. 
 
Fifi:  More Bohemian. We were into punk rock because it was real rock n roll. 
 
BG:  When did you start playing music?
 
Fifi:  My brother started first, when I was fifteen. 
 
Fink:  I played drums for my friends’ band.  We played the Stones and Aerosmith. 
 
Fifi:  (Laughs at the mention of Aerosmith).
 
BG:  Later when you were in the American Soul Spiders, your singer wanted you to play Aerosmith, right?
 
Fink:  I did many bands between that band and the American Soul Spiders.  After the Stones band, I played bass for a punk rock band.  We did Buzzcocks, Vibrators, Sex Pistols, Stranglers, and Stooges…
 
BG:  When did the rest of you start playing?
 
Fifi:  I had never played any instruments until I was twenty-two or twenty-three. 
 
Jimbo:  I first played very late.  When I was in college I had no friends.
 
BG:  Have any of the bands you where in before American Soul Spiders released any records? 
 
Fink:  Before American Soul Spiders, Fifi joined my band called West Side Jet Boys, because we were really into the New York Dolls, and he started playing guitar.  After high school, I decided to go to Tokyo to form a band.  So I did some auditions. I wanted to join a band, but they were all junk.  Then I asked Fifi to form the band that became West Side Jet Boys. 
 
BG:  When was this?
 
Fink:  ‘84 or ‘85.  Then we made a cassette to sell.
 
BG:  Do you still have it? 
 
Fink:  I think Fifi has it.  It’s very rare.  Sounds like New York Dolls and Hollywood Brats…
 
Fifi:  You like the Boys? Do you know the keyboard player of the Boys, Casino Steel?  He used to be in a band called Hollywood Brats.
 
Fink:  When we formed American Soul Spiders we were really into Detroit things like MC5 and the Stooges.  Before Fifi joined, American Soul Spiders was my band with Sammy.  First we did CCR, Stones, and some southern soul. 
 
BG:  Because Sammy loves soul?
 
Fifi:  High label.  Do you know the label called High?  Al Green, Doug Ryan.  [Fink] was sick of doing those things, he was looking for something new to him.  At that time I really liked Radio Birdman and Radio Birdman was much influenced by Detroit sounds, like MC5 and the Stooges.  I played my Radio Birdman records for him, and he came to like it.  Then both of us where really into Detroit things and we discovered MC5 and Stooges.  We wanted American Soul Spiders to tie into these Detroit bands, so we changed.
 
BG:  You told me before that at that time you didn’t think you knew how to sing?
 
Fink:  Actually, we did some auditions for a singer for American Soul Spiders…
 
Fifi:  We used to have a singer.
 
BG:  I know.  I’ve heard it.
 
Fifi:  Boring. 
 
Fink:  When American Soul Spiders toured the States, maybe in 1989, we played with the Devil Dogs.  Then I found what I should do!  After that I hated to keep the same band. 
 
Fifi:  The Devil Dogs were REALLY awesome!  So great…
 
Fink:  Luckily, after the last show of the tour our singer wanted to stay in the states.  So we broke up quickly.
 
Fifi:  It was ridiculous.
 
Fifi:  He wanted to join American metal bands.  Metal.  He really wanted to stay in the States.  I thought it was impossible.  We couldn’t understand what he was saying, so we just came back to Japan and formed a brand new band.  I came up with the name Teengenerate from the Dictators’ song. 
 
Fink:  Before Teengenerate we got an offer from an English hardcore label called In Your Face, I don’t know why a hardcore label gave us an offer, but we released a mini LP of me, Fifi and Sammy as American Soul Spiders. 
 
BG:  Really?  How is it?
 
Fink & Fifi:  Bad.  (Laughs all around). 
 
Jimbo:  But I love it. 
 
Fifi:  The label was really good to us, but the record was just really bad.  Very boring, but very rare.  Sounds like a cross between American Soul Spiders and Teengenerate.  We just tried to imitate Radio Birdman and Detroit things because we were still into that.  [But] after we saw the Devil Dogs we where really into more pure rock n roll, and more punk rock.  Freak Out Rock n Roll…
 
BG:  When you formed Teengenerate, Japanese garage bands were all very different from the kind of thing Teengenerate was doing, right?
 
Fink:  There was already a garage scene.  They were wearing sixties suits.  Those bands were really into stuff like Nazz, and they didn’t play any originals, just covers, but there was a lot of audience dancing because the music was very familiar.  They all listened to American sixties garage things.  The bands just played covers, or originals that very much resembled older songs. 
 
BG:  A lot of Japanese bands do that right? 
 
Fifi:   [They copy] music, sound, titles…everything!
 
BG:  I saw this band last night that you are playing with soon (name withheld cause I don’t want to be mean) who was likethat.  They ripped off so many verses of other songs.  They were so boring that I sat there wanting to go to sleep!
 
Fifi: (Laughs hardily, as though in agreement with my assessment).  Were they wearing suits last night? 
 
BG:  Yeah, but there was a lot of girls dancing so…
 
Fifi: Yeah, because their music is very fresh to them because they don’t know the originals. 
 
BG:  In the liner notes to Smash Hits they mention something called the Teengenerate-effect, where other Japanese bands were inspired by you…
 
Fifi:  No, I don’t think so.  I don’t WANT to think so.  We just wanted to play simple freak out rock n roll with dirty sounds.   We didn’t want to imitate…we were very impressed by the Devil Dogs, but we didn’t want to imitate them.
 
Fink:  I thought the Devil Dogs’ sound only involved rock n roll.  They played fifties or sixties based songs in their style very naturally.  I wanted to take that sound.  So my idea was to form my own style to play fifties or sixties or seventies style rock n roll. 
 
BG:  Fifi, you said you wanted the sound to be dirty.  Was the dirty production of Teengenerate’s records on purpose?
 
Fifi:  Kinda…
 
Fink:  Actually we recorded our album called Get Action from Crypt records.  Do you know the album?
 
BG:  Of course!  It’s my favorite album!
 
Fink:  Actually, we recorded it in Seattle at Egg Studios.  We recorded sixteen tracks and we sent the finished thing to Tim Warren and he hated it!  He said it wasn’t  Teengenerate because the sound was very clear.  So we rerecorded it again in Tokyo with four-track cassette.  Maybe thirty songs in six hours because we had no money to record. 
 
Fifi:  Everything in one take.  It only took 5000 yen (less than $50 American!).  Just to rent a practice studio. 
 
Fink:  But the label owner, Tim Warren, wanted us to sound dirtier so we just gave him that sound.  I didn’t care, because he sent us 5000 yen to pay for it.  Actually we were tired of recording because we did the same thing in Seattle in like forty-eight hours.  Then after the tour in the states we went back to Japan and did a fast recording.   We were kind of tired of recording, so we didn’t care. 
 
BG:  Are any of the songs from that session unreleased? 
 
Fink:  Uh, yeah there are a few more.  Fifi has them.  Some covers…and I think we did an Elvis song…DMZ…and uh…those kind of covers.  Between American Soul Spiders and Teengenerate there were six months or more…  During that time Fifi called me to start a new band.  I had tried to form a new band with other people.  We needed to put our sound in noise, because we were not good musicians. 
 
BG:  But now in Firestarter you are better musicians…?
 
Fink:  A little bit.  But we don’t need to record everything in one take now.  We can overdub now.  Better circumstances, I think…
 
BG:  I heard a story about how, I don’t remember which particular record it was, you recorded a record clean, but then you sent it to the label dirty. 
 
Fink:  Always. We recorded our material at our best.  Even though the equipment was cheap, we tried our best.  Foreign labels regarded us as more dirty, so we sent them a tape that was dirty.  As a result everything that was released was dirtier because that’s what they wanted at that time.  It was the trend.  Actually, Dave Crider chose the songs for Smash Hits, so you can hear a more clear and clean sound than on our seven inches.  It was a mastering problem.
 
Jimbo:  I think mastering is very important.  Mastering changes all of the sound.  If the mastering is bad the whole sound becomes shitty.
 
Fink:  I think every garage label at that time wanted a dirty sound. 
 
BG:  So now when you record bands you go for a cleaner sound right?
 
Fink:  I always want a good sound.  I have always wanted that sound.  So first they want me to be the engineer because they want that sound. 
 
BG:  Was Teengenerate popular in Japan when they were around?
 
Fifi:  Not at all. 
 
BG:  I saw a video from Shelter where there was a pretty big crowd…
 
Fifi:  That is because that was kind of like our last show.  Shelter can only hold an audience of three hundred maximum.  Always. 
 
Jimbo:   It’s a very small place.
 
BG:  But people who liked you liked you a lot right?
 
Fifi:  Yeah, I think so.
 
BG:  So why did you guys break up? 
 
Fink:  I thought we did too much. 
 
BG: Too much?
 
Fifi:  Yes, because we were kind of sick of being Teengenerate.  We did everything we could do as Teengenerate.  Teengenerate is a wild freak out rock n roll band to us, and as for that sound we did everything we could do at that point.  We didn’t want to repeat the same thing again. 

BG:  Do you think that nowadays people, like myself, get too hung up on Teengenerate? 
 
Fifi:  Yeah kinda.  No problem.  Make us legends!   Just kidding.  We just did what we could do as a freak out, hard, wild, easy rock n roll band.
 
BG:  What did you guys do after Teengenerate split?
 
Fink:  I formed the Raydios.  Fifi had already started the Tweezers while Teengenerate was going on.  Then after Teengenerate he kept the Tweezers.  I asked Sammy to form a new band, which became the Raydios.  I wrote like half of the Raydios songs when I was in Teengenerate.  The reason we didn’t release them was because Fifi hates the songs that I wrote. 
 
Fifi:  I used to hate them, because at that time, to me, his songs talked too much.  I still really love his songs from when we were doing Teengenerate because they were very simple.  Now, I love the Raydios too, but then I thought their songs just had too many chords.  They were too complex for me at that point. 
 
Jimbo:  The Tweezers were more complicated than the Raydios.
 
BG:  Yeah, I think so too.  My friend told me that the Raydios played with the Misfits.  How was that?
 
Fink:  Yeah, that was our first show. 
 
Fifi:  How many people?
 
Fink:  Two thousand.  (Laughs all around).  But we got booed.  (More laughs).  We got no money. 
 
Fifi:  We had the same experience when Teengenerate toured the states. 

Fink:  Europe too.
 
Fifi:  In Denver we played in front of an audience of three thousand.  We happened to play at a skateboard/snowboard festival in Denver.  There where a lot of ska bands.  Ska-core was really big in Denver so there was a really big crowd.  Except for us, all of the other bands were either ska-core bands or melodic bands like Green Day and Samiam.  Then we played and three thousand kids…silent.  (Fifi and Steve both laugh).  Because…
 
Fink:  We did well. 
 
Fifi:  You can imagine. 
 
BG:  Yeah, I can.  Maybe it’s for the best, though, if an audience like that doesn’t like you. 
 
Fifi:  Americans…  Most Americans don’t care about rock n roll.
 
Fink:  I think they take rock and roll as a joke…like Elvis. 
 
BG:  The fat Elvis.  But Japanese are the same, right?
 
Fifi:  It’s exactly the same in Japan.  Of course it’s worse. 
 
BG:  Japan is really trendy too.  Like now that hip-hop is the big style all you see are these hip hop guys.  You guys wrote a song called “Kill the Rappers,” right?
 
Fifi:  That’s a really bad song.
 
BG:  One more question about Teengenerate.  When you guys played America did anything crazy happen to you?
 
Fink: Yeah, Fifi shit…
 
Fifi:  No! 
 
BG: Yeah I heard. 
 
Fifi:  We went to the States as American Soul Spiders like twelve years ago.  I remember the day exactly because that was the day the Gulf War began. We went to see the Replacements that same night in San Francisco.  They did Sonic Reducer.  He broke his guitar.  It was a great show.  Also when we went to the States for the first time as American Soul Spiders, after the show it was after midnight.  In New York.  When we tried to cross the street, a car with lots of Americans inside stopped at the crossing, and threw bottles at us and said, “fuck Japs.”
 
BG:  In New York?  How did they know you were Japanese?  
 
Fifi:  I don’t know. 
 
Fink:  Because we were wearing leather jackets and carrying our instruments.  No Koreans or Chinese come with instruments like that.
 
BG:  (Asking the obvious) How’d you feel about that?
 
Fifi:  (Sarcastically) Great…  So Great…  And another time in Teengenerate we had an American tour with the New Bomb Turks, and in the south we went to a gas station and tried to buy some beer.  When we went to the register they didn’t want to sell to us.  We showed them our ID, but they still wouldn’t. 
 
Fink:  Because the guy at the store was very old.  He hates Asians.  I think he fought Japanese fifty years ago.
 
Fifi:  And Jim from New Bomb Turks was very pissed off.  He got very angry.  Later he shared his beer with us.  But when we left the gas station he threw a big six pack through their window!  It totally crashed.  (Laughs all around)  Anyway the older guy working there got very upset and called the police.  We saw it. 
 
BG:  The south is known for being really racist.
 
Fifi:  Yeah I know, but we didn’t care.  Because there are lots of great people, even in the south.  In every part of the world we met good people and we met people who weren’t good.  We don’t care. 
 
Fink:  At that time not so many Japanese bands came to America. 
 
BG:  But you did shit the bed in America with Eric from New Bomb Turks, right?
 
Fifi:  Yeah…  Too much drinking…  Do you know the guy called “Mike Lucas?”  (Laughs from Steve and Jimbo)  Americans are always doing Tequila in the bar.  I took seven shots with Mike Lucas.
 
Jimbo:  No, he did eleven.
 
Fifi:  And I tried to go for a twelfth but Mike Lucas said, “You won.” 
 
Jimbo:  He wanted to do more than a Mexican.  Mexicans stop at eight shots, but Fifi kept going.  Maybe he was stronger than a Mexican.  But he didn’t remember it because he got so crazy.
 
BG:  What did you guys think of American girls?
 
Fifi:  American girls?  Great!  Totally great.  Desperately great…  Give me your opinion about American girls. 
 
BG:  I think they’re terrible.
 
Fifi:  (Surprised) WHY? 
 
BG:  Too fat. 
 
Fifi:  (Even more surprised) FAT?!?!
 
Fink:  I like fat. 
 
BG:  You like fat? 
 
Jimbo:  Sammy likes fat girls.
 
Fifi:  Yeah he’s a big tits lover.  You don’t like big tits?
 
BG:  One of my ex-girlfriends had really big tits, actually.
 
Fifi:  Great!
 
BG:  Not really…I’m not too into that…  When I went to see a band one time, Mike Lucas was there and I was trying to talk to him about records, but he spent the whole time talking to my then girlfriend and staring at her tits. 
 
Fifi:  I know his taste, so I can understand.  Do you like him?
 
BG:   I can’t say, I only met him once and barely talked to him.  (Trying to get back on track) Fifi, while Teengenerate was going on you started the Tweezers. Why did you decide to go for such a change in sound?
 
Fifi:  Because you know the music called power pop?  I have been really into power pop for many years.  Stuff like the Raspberries and Cheap Trick…  Actually, in Japan there was no music called power pop.  In Japan people called Generation X and the Jam power pop. But since we were teenagers we have been into the Raspberries.  When we saw the Devil Dogs they covered the Raspberries songs and we where really surprised because we have been loving them for so long. 
 
Fink:  Actually, Andy from the Devil Dogs is younger than us, so I was surprised that such a young American played the Raspberries.  I thought nobody knew about them.
 
Fifi:  Nobody cared.  I used to have an American girlfriend, she was kind of a student, she was from Cleveland, Ohio.  And I asked her, “do you know the Raspberries,” and she just laughed.  Just laughed and asked me, “ How come you know a band like the Raspberries?  They are really not popular now.”  I tried to ask her about the song “I Wanna Be With You” and she just laughed.  She thought it was boring.  “Why don’t you listen to Elvis Costello instead,” she insisted.  “Elvis Costello is much cooler than the Raspberries.”  And I just hated her opinion…  Because she came from Cleveland… I just wanted information about the Raspberries from her.  When we were doing Teengenerate we went to Cleveland and tried to find traces of the Raspberries…nobody cared!  Nobody cared.  And I thought it was a shame, really a shame, because we still really loved the Raspberries.  Why such a great band and no one cared.  But when we met New Bomb Turks they all loved the Raspberries. They were really big fans.
 
BG:  Americans usually have pretty bad taste.
 
Fifi:  Currently.  Yeah, yeah, yeah I know.  Have you ever seen the picture from Bomp Magazine with Jimmy Zero from the Dead Boys holding a Raspberries album?  The Dead Boys were really influenced by the Raspberries.  They ripped off the Raspberries’ songs.
 
BG:  Really?  Which songs?
 
Fifi:  Do you know the song called “ All This And More?”  It was ripped off from the Raspberries.  And Stiv Bators first solo album…  He confessed that he ripped off songs from the Raspberries.  Do you know the song called “Tonight” by the Raspberries?   They ripped it off, but in a good way. 
 
BG:  They changed it?
 
Fifi:  Yeah, changed it.  That’s important.  Because they really loved the Raspberries songs. 

Fink:  Do you know the song called “Its Cold Outside?”  It’s ripped off from the Raspberries too. 
 
Fifi:  Here is Jimmy Zero holding the Raspberries.  (Shows Steve the picture from an old issue of Bomp!)

BG:  And that record is on the cover of the Tweezers album.  That, the Nerves, and I don’t remember what else…
 
Fink:  Flashcubes.
 
Fifi:  Actually, I brought many records for the sleeve.  That picture was taken in the park. 
 
Fink:  Anyway, he started the Tweezers, and I think something changed, because all the punk kids started to care about pop music like that.  Steve Baise heard the Tweezers album in my room.  He came to join a Japanese band for a while and he stayed at my apartment.  So I played the Tweezers single for him. 
 
BG:  There’s a Tweezers single?  I didn’t know that!
 
Fink:  Yeah.  Very expensive.
 
Fifi:  I only have one.  It’s boring.
 
Fink:  I think Steve Baise got an idea. Basically, he had it before, but after the Devil Dogs he didn’t know what he wanted to play and I think he got an idea from the Tweezers.
 
BG:  Fifi, why do you think that the Tweezers were so boring?
 
Fifi:  I don’t know but…just boring.  When we did shows it was really boring because the Tweezers were much less rock n roll than Teengenerate.  I just want rock n roll even if I am playing power pop.  Power pop is good melody with a real wild rock n roll heart.  To me power pop is rock n roll.  Now I think the Tweezers aren’t so rock n roll. 
 
Fink:  I think during the Tweezers years Fifi tried to assimilate the power pop style.
 
Fifi:  I just tried to imitate good seventies American power pop for fun.  I wasn’t so serious.

BG:  Ok, so then you quit the Tweezers and started Firestarter.  Who was in Firestarter at first? 
 
Fifi:  The same lineup.  But Fink quit to do the Raydios.  We were a three piece for awhile but I wanted another guitar player.  I know Fink’s guitar playing is so sloppy, but I just needed him.  I just needed him for music.  I didn’t need technique.  I still don’t.  Guitar technique is boring.  I just need the rock n roll spirit like Teengenerate.  That’s why… Firestarter is more poppy and maybe more clean than Teengenerate, but we are always trying to excite the same thing, and that’s rock n roll.  So we wanted Fink as a member.  At that point we needed a guitar player, so we invited him. 
 
Fink:  It depends on money.  (Laughs all around).
 
BG:  Fifi you said that the Tweezers where boring because there wasn’t enough rock n roll energy when you playedlive.  Firestarter seems more like a mix of the rock n roll energy of Teengenerate but with the melody of the Tweezers.
 
Fifi:  I hope so.  Firestarter is everything that we want to do. 
 
BG:  When you play live do you always do the same songs?
 
Fifi:  Always. Sometimes we play a couple new songs, but I don’t think a live show is about brand new songs, see what I mean?  I think shows, just satisfy our rock n roll spirit so old songs, new songs, we don’t care. 
 
BG:  Both times I saw you, you played the same encore.
 
Fifi:  Yeah, because actually we don’t care about our songs or our developments, we just want to play as a rock n roll band.  Yeah I know we always play the same songs because we just want satisfy our rock n roll lust.  See what I mean?
 
BG:  I see what you mean (drunken laughter all around).  Are you drunk?
 
Fifi:  A little bit. 
 
BG: Your new album is called “Living On The Heat.”  What does that mean?
 
Fifi:  You know that song called “Chinese Rocks” by Johnny Thunders?  “Living On Chinese Rocks” is about living on drugs.  We are just living on heat for music.  For rock n roll.  For great music.  We try to make good music.  I don’t know if we can, but we try.  We are still not a professional band, and probably never will be.  We just want to play in a band.  Anything else is impossible.  Totally impossible.  We all know that.  We just have a heat for music, like a fever.  That’s why we named our song “Living on the Heat.”
 
BG:  It’s a great song, I think.
 
Fifi:  Thank you.  (Drunken laughs all around) 
 
Fink:  Do you have MD?
 
BG:  No.
 
Fink:  Too American! 
 
BG:  (Changing the subject to a question provided verbatim by Joe Domino).  I know who Keith Richards is, but what is a “Keith Richards Man?”
 
Fifi:  You know very stereotyped boring people?  They don’t try to use their imagination.  If you like Keith Richards that’s ok, but just use your imagination.  They just try to imitate completely. 
 
BG:  I think a lot of Japanese bands are like that, trying to imitate whatever sound you guys are doing at the time.  Do you think so?
 
Fink:  I don’t think so. We are not so influential. Just old! 
 
BG:  (Laughs) What was Johnny Moped right about? 
 
Fifi:  Do you know the Johnny Moped story?  Johnny Moped was kinda, how do you say it…handicapped.
 
Fink:  Like Jonathan Richman.
 
BG:  (Laughs again) Jonathan Richman isn’t retarded!  He’s a little crazy, but not retarded!
 
Fink:  I saw him ten years ago and I thought he was handicapped.  Great music though. 
 
BG:  You guys don’t like drugs, right?
 
Fifi:  We are just alcoholics.  No money. 
 
BG:  How do you feel about playing shows in Japan now? 
 
Fifi:  It’s better.
 
Fink:  Compared to ten years ago everything has changed. 
 
BG:  It seems like before you cared more about foreign labels and touring outside Japan…
 
Fifi:  Since we were teenagers we really wanted to release records from foreign labels…
 
Fink:  Actually when I was in high school I tried to send a tape to a French label called Skydog because at that time Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders were on that label.  We really admired that label.  I thought everything was boring in America at that time, but there was a big rock n roll fever in France at that time.  Actually they had an Eddie Cochran fan club in France.  They payed attention to American rock n roll. 
 
Fifi: Only French guys payed attention to American rock n roll in the early eighties. 
 
BG:  But American rock n roll is very popular in Japan now…
 
Fink:  Mmmm…
 
Fifi:   Two ways.  You know Guitar Wolf?  Or a band called Catalog?  They were an early eighties Japanese band.   They played very typical Japanese rock n roll.  I don’t hate them, but to me when I was young they were a little bit boring.  Now I like them because I have aged, but when I was young I hated those bands because they seemed to me to be so anachronistic.  Now I like them, but then we just wanted to start a different kind of rock n roll. 
 
BG:  What bands do you like in Japan nowadays?
 
Fifi:  Many bands.  For example Registrators and, now they’re gone, but First Alert, and Radio Shanghai…
 
Fink:  Zymotics…
 
Fifi: Young Ones…so great. 
 
Jimbo:  I like Keen Monkey Work and the Treeberrys.
 
BG:  Me too!  I think the Treeberrys are great! 
 
Fifi:  You saw them last night?
 
BG:  Yeah.  I think in the states a lot of people don’t like the poppier Japanese stuff, like the new Registrators…
 
Fifi:  I know.  And Otsuki, he knows too (Otsuki, of course, meaning Hiroshi Otsuki of the Registrators). 
 
BG: Yeah he told me, but he said he doesn’t care.  What are your favorite songs that you’ve written? 
 
Fifi:  None. 
 
BG:  None? 
 
Fifi:  (Brief pause) “Johnny Moped Was Right.”  I like that.
 
Fink:  I hate all his songs.  I don’t care.  How much is left on the tape? 
 
BG:  Not much but I have another tape.
 
Fink  (Sounds surprised) It’s too much!  You made over fifty questions…why? We are nobody.
 
BG: Why?
 
Fink:  We have nothing.  We just breathe. 

BG:  So Johnny Moped was a retard, why was he right?
 
Fifi:  You know that song called “George Davis Is Innocent” by Sham 69?  I just tried to imitate that.  No meaning.  I just wanted to write a song trying to imitate Sham 69’s song title, but all I think about is music, so I called it “Johnny Moped Was Right” because Johnny Moped was one of my favorite punk rock musicians. 
 
BG:  So you don’t care about lyrics?
 
Fink:  I really don’t care at all.  I can sing anything. 
 
Fifi:  In Japan, everybody thinks we are singing in English, but it’s not real English.  To me it’s not real English.  It’s kind of my language...my rock n roll language.
 
BG:  I think the English is too perfect in Firestarter’s lyrics. 
 
Fifi:  Yeah!  (laughs)
 
Fink:  Steve told Shintaro that First Alert’s lyrics used a lot of vocabulary, but the grammar was bad. (Laughs all around)
 
Fifi:  Really?
 
BG:  But the Registrators’ English is the worst.  In Firestarter’s lyrics the English is too perfect. 
 
Jimbo:  I have a question.  Is grammar important to Americans? 
 
BG:  I don’t care. I don’t think most people care about Japanese bands having bad grammar. 
 
Fifi:  What do you think about Japanese singing in English?
 
BG:  What do I think about it?
 
Fifi: Yeah, I really want to hear.
 
BG:  I think…
 
Fink:  I don’t want to hear.
 
Fifi:  Is it ridiculous? 
 
BG:  No.
 
Fink:  It just fits the rock n roll rhythm better.
 
Fifi:  Actually I can’t make lyrics in Japanese. I tried it.
 
Fink:  It’s difficult.  When we play other music it might fit. 
 
BG:  When Firestarter started, did you have a big audience because of your past bands? 
 
Fifi & Fink:  No.
 
BG:  But now you do.
 
Fifi:  After Fink split and we were a three piece we had a few originals, but we tried to cover obscure American punk rock songs like the Dogs.  Do you know them?  At that time we were trying to be unpopular because we hated everything. 
 
BG: Why?
 
Fifi:  Because it was boring.  I have many bands now that I like [as friends], but I think their music is boring. Because they just try to imitate, as I did when I did the Tweezers, the feeling and the sound of American and British bands, and to me that’s boring. But for them that kind of music is very fresh because they are very young.  Everyone is younger than us.  So I think its ok because that kind of thing has just started for them. 
 
BG:  Fink, you told me before that you think a lot of young bands now are just learning?
 
Fink:  Yeah, maybe sometimes youngsters make a mistake.  But I think its good to help them learn. 
 
BG:  Do you think Japanese bands are better than American bands? 
 
Fifi:  Current bands?  The same.  America used to have great bands in the seventies, early eighties, or even later great bands like, my favorite, Young Fresh Fellows, but most bands are just boring.  It’s too sad.  I tried to kill.  I really wanted to kill boring music because Americans had many, many great bands in the late seventies.  America is where rock n roll was born.
 
Fink:  But people don’t care.
 
Fifi:  Do you know a band called the Reducers?  They are a Connecticut band.  They have been doing their thing for almost twenty years since the late seventies and are still playing now.  They are really old now like forty-four or forty-five, but they have kept playing great music for many years and Americans don’t care about the Reducers.  Only fucking Japanese care about the Reducers.  I know there are many reasons.  America is very wide so they have local scenes. 
 
BG:  Actually, I’ve never heard of the Reducers.
 
Fink: There are many Reducers in the world. 
 
Fifi:  But Americans don’t know about the Reducers and we do.  Why?  That’s the point.  Because we try to dig.  We managed to find them in Japan.  You [Americans] have many great bands; you just don’t care.  To me the Reducers are really great, but nobody cares in the States; and I want to know why.  They are so great.  They are still going since the late seventies.
 
Jimbo:  I think there are good bands still in America, but why haven’t you [Americans] discovered the good bands in your country?  They are still playing now.
 
Fifi:  Because they are old. 
 
Jimbo:  Ahhh…(as if to say “ I see”)
 
Fifi:  Maybe they are doing too major of a sound now.
 
BG:  Like Iggy Pop.
 
Fifi:  Yeah, Iggy Pop.  To me Iggy Pop is boring now.  Very boring.
 
BG:  But I read the Stooges are reforming…
 
Fifi:  Guitar player…who is it?
 
BG:  I don’t know.  I would think they’d get James Williamson (unfortunately I was wrong!)….but Mike Watt is playing bass. 
 
Fink:  Really?
 
Fifi:  I prefer Ron Ashton.  You know when we were really into the Stooges, like twenty years ago, nobody cared about the Stooges.  I had to pay a small fucking amount of money to buy Stooges albums in Tokyo. 
 
Fink:  In Shizuoka.  Actually what he bought was still sealed from the early seventies but no one had bought it yet.
 
BG:   Why do you think people in Japan care about all of these now obscure seventies bands?  I have met so many people in Japan who know more about obscure American bands than I do, and in America I know more than the average person.  In Japan the average punk rock fan knows as much as a complete rock n roll maniac in America. 
 
Fifi:  That’s a problem.  That’s a thing about priorities.  As for me, my priority is music. Music is part of my feeling every day.  In Japan many people think about music just for…just a small part of their soul.  Do you see what I mean?  They need it, but just a small part.
 
Fink: They listen to music like they wear clothes.
 
BG:  So like how fashion changes very fast in Japan, music does the same?
 
Fink:  But the same thing happens everywhere.  In England no one is taking care of Johnny Moped.  Just house music. 
 
Fifi: So, I just want to ask you, why do you like the Boys?  Because nobody knows them. No Americans know…
 
BG:  No, some Americans do.
 
Fifi:  Yeah, yeah I know because when Jim from New Bomb Turks came to Japan, this was in Tokyo, after the sound check he went shopping and he found the Boys CD, a two in one CD, and he was…he got crazy because he was so happy.  And he said to me, “ I can’t find this stuff in the states.”
 
Fink:  But I bought everything in America. 
 
Fifi:  So if you try you can find it.
 
Fink:  It was very hard to find. 
 
BG:  When I bought the Boys records I didn’t get the originals, I got them as reissues. 
 
Fink:  I win. You are the loser. 
 
BG:  (Incredulously) Loser?  (Laughs all around).  I’m young.  How old were you when you first heard the Boys?
 
Fink:  At first Sammy was really into the Boys.  He bought the first album when I was nineteen. 
 
BG:  I was twenty when I first heard them, so we were around the same age.  A few years ago there were no good new albums coming out in America, so a ton of reissues were coming out, and I first heard the Boys during that time.
 
Fink:  Do you have the Hollywood Brats?
 
BG:  No.
 
Jimbo:  That’s a problem. You can buy it everywhere. 

BG:  Fink, how did you get John Plain’s guitar?
 
Fink:  When they played in Tokyo, he just wanted to sell it because they didn’t get enough money for the show. 
 
BG:  And you play that guitar now?

 
Fink:  No Shintaro (from First Alert) has it.  He uses it for rehearsals. 
 
BG:   My friend told me that another one of your guitars came from the gomi (garbage) station, is that true?
 
Fink:  One of them.  Actually I used to work at a music school, I didn’t teach anything, I just worked there for repairing equipment.  Sometimes rich Japanese kids went there and they bought Gibson guitars.  One of them threw one away. 
 
BG:  Ok this question is for everyone.  Maybe this was more applicable when you were young, because now Fink is married and the rest of you have girlfriends…but if there is a girl you like, how do you approach them? 
 
Fifi:  Approach them?  I just wanna fuck.  No reason.  And think.  Fuck and think.  I just try to taste, and think about the future.  That’s my way.
 
Fink:  What about music?  I just want my family. 
 
BG:  Do you have any kids?
 
Fink:  No.  Actually I do have a kid.  Him (points to Fifi).
 
BG:  So which one of you has the biggest record collection?
 
Fink:  Maybe me. 
 
BG:  Bigger than this (gesturing to Fifi’s record collection which is so huge it looks like a library)?
 
Fifi:  Much bigger.  Because I sell records all the time, but he never sells them.
 
Fink:  I often sell them, but records are my baby. 
 
Fifi:  You better try to go to his apartment.
 
Fink:  Its nothing special. 
 
Fifi:  He has everything.
 
Fink:  I want you to listen to soul music.  (Fifi erupts in laughter)
 
Fifi:  Its something you should learn, soul music.  Sometimes it’s good.  Actually our next project is Sammy alone playing southern soul.
 
BG:  (Playing along) Can he sing?
 
Fink:  He has a deep Mississippi soul voice. 
 
BG:  Like a black man?
 
Fink:  He is a black man.  He is from Mississippi.  Actually we will record Sammy alone in May.
Fifi:  So I just want to ask you, Steve, do you have any favorite power pop song?  How do you know about power pop?  Give me some names.
 
BG:  Of course the Nerves…
 
Fifi:  Nerves…great…too great!
 
Fifi:   Do you know that guy from the New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain?  He named Nikki and the Corvettes. 
 
BG:  Really?
 
Fifi:  You are an American…why don’t you know that? 
 
BG:  Well you guys are like 15 years older than me.

 
Fink:  We played with Sylvain Sylvain in New York.
 
BG:  How was it?
 
Fifi:  Great.  So great.  The same as before.  (Empathically) The same!!!
 
Fink:  And we played with Walter Lure.
 
Fifi:  He was the front act for us!
 
Fink:  He was wearing the same suit and tie [from the L.A.M.F cover].
 
Fifi:  And backstage there was lots of marijuana.  It smelled really strong.  One month later, the drummer died. 
 
Fink:  But Walter was…
 
Fifi:  So great!  So good to us.
 
Fink:  (Continuing)…working in Wall Street.  He was a stockbroker.  Sometimes he would be a punk rocker.
 
BG:  Like you?
 
Fink:  Yes!
 
BG:  What do you do for a job?
 
Fink:  Administration of a software company. 
 
BG:  You’re rich?
 
Fink:  No, no, no.  I just started.   Fifi?
 
Fifi:  Child education, a fucking child education company…(trails off into laughter).
 
Fink:  He is working at McDonalds.
 
BG:  He does the birthday parties for the little kids?
 
Fink:  Yes.  His smile is free. 
 
Fifi:  So how about you?  Tell me about your plan as a human.
 
BG: As a human?
 
Fink:  As an American.
 
Fifi:  So what do you think about the current war?
 
BG:   I hate it.
 
Fifi:  Do you like Bush?
 
Fink:  He’s your father?
 
BG:  Of course, I love him! 
 
Fifi:  Actually I want to know, why do many Americans support Bush?  Because of the economy?
 
BG:  No the American economy is worse than it was before.
 
Fifi:  I read an article where they said that all US presidents had to take an IQ test.  And it said Clinton was at the top and Bush was the lowest. His father was the second lowest!
 
BG:  Bush’s English is about the same as yours, maybe worse.
 
Fifi:  Yeaah...
 
BG:  I can’t stand Bush.  Hell, I can’t stand America!
 
Fifi:  (Laughs)  Why?  As a nation?  You know, in America there are lots of great bands and lots of great people.  In Japan, of course, there are lots of great people and lots of boring people, but in this town it’s the same thing too, you know?  So I don’t admit a nation.  It’s a boring concept for me. 
 
BG:  I agree.  I don’t consider myself an American.
 
Fink and Jimbo:  (Laughs) Really?
 
Fifi:  Just a human!  Who loves music.
 
BG:  Why do so many great old bands come to Japan?  Like the Boys, Carpettes, Rubinoos, Fastcars…
 
Fink:  Because we want to pay to see them.  Japanese kids want to pay to see them.  Maybe most Americans can’t understand, but we want to do that because we want them to give us music and we want to see them.
 
BG:  Would you come to America if they where willing to do the same for you?
 
Fink:  They should pay more. 
 
Fifi:  We don’t need money.  Actually no one in the States needs music like us.  We went to America three times as Teengenerate, so it kind of satisfied our need…
 
Fink:  Four times.  We played your town.
 
BG:   I know.  I wanted to go but I was only fifteen and couldn’t get in because it was a bar show…
 
Fink:  You should’ve come. 
 
Fifi:  Last time we did a fifty days…tour all over America.  We got a lot of money.
 
BG:  So why don’t you go back there?
 
Fink:  We need advance money. 
 
Fifi:  Steve, when I asked you earlier you said your favorite Maximumrocknroll writer was Rev. Norb.  He is such a great guy.  Have you ever been to his house?
 
BG:  No.
 
Fifi:  We went there. Too many great records!  Too many CDs.  Everywhere. 
 
BG:  More than you?
 
Fifi:  More than me. He knows almost everything about music.  I really admire him. I really respect him because, when I asked him about obscure American music, he just answered and gave us information.  Real information.  True information.  He just knows everything about rock n roll. 
 
Fink:  Fifi asked American bands questions, but no one knew. 
 
Fifi:  He is so great.  We played a show together at a coffee house, and next to that there is a bar and we drank a lot.  Afterwards we went to Rev Norb’s place and I was really surprised to see his record collection. He has almost everything. 
 
Fink:  I remember it was too cold.
 
Fifi:  I slept on his stairs in the entrance…
 
Fink:  I just remember it was too cold, but Sammy was wearing short pants.
 
BG:  Wasn’t he always?
 
Fink:  Yes, although he used to be a mod. 
 
Fifi:  Steve, when did Rev Norb start writing for Maximumrocknroll?
 
BG:  Maybe nine or ten years ago?
 
Fifi:  I read his article then.  He was writing about making a tape for touring bands because he has lots of records.  He has a great record collection and he was actually ahead of his time because then he chose songs like Plimsouls, 20/20, and 999.  He said to me he was really into British punk rock things and actually when we called on him he had lots of lots of great punk rock records.
 
Fink:  I remember he was talking to Fifi about….who was it?
 
Fifi:  Dirty Looks.  Do you know the band called Dirty Looks?
 
BG:  They do “Let Go.”
 
Fifi:  He introduced them to me.  He said to me that he really loved 20/20.
 
Fink:  What I remember was Rev Norb and Fifi talking about Starjets.

BG:  On the back of the Firestarter album Sammy is wearing a 20/20 shirt…
 
Fifi & Fink:  We forced him to wear it! 
 
Fifi:  The dog collar too…  He hated it but we just forced him to.  You know on the sleeve I just wore aloha shirts?   To me that’s kinda punk rock.  Because we want to…
 
Jimbo:  Like the Gizmos. 
 
BG:  You want to look kind of strange as opposed to looking the same as everyone else?
 
Fifi:  Yeah.  Strange.
 
BG:  I think its so boring when everyone wears the same black converse and leather jackets…

 
Fifi:  I still wear converse or pro-keds because they are cheap.
 
Jimbo:  Clothes are not important.  They are boring. 
 
Fifi:  (Changing the subject) Steve, have you ever heard the Kids from Belgium?
 
BG:  Of course. 
 
Fink:  They are in my top ten. 

BG:  So what are your favorite three records?
 
Fink:  To bring to an island? 
 
Fifi:  “Singles Going Steady” by Buzzcocks.  When I bought that record I was still in junior high.  At my neighborhood record store they had very little in stock, because they where only selling domestic Japanese records.  There was only one corner for selling foreign bands.  I found the Buzzcocks there. 
 
Fink: Other two?
 
Fifi:  (Pause) Flamin Groovies! 
 
Fink:  Do you know the British 60s band called the Action?  They should be one of them.  The last one is always changing.  I can tell you the Stones first album is very important…
 
Fifi:  Raspberries greatest hits!
 
Jimbo:  That is maybe the best album for me. 
 
Fifi:  When I was eighteen this ruled  (holds up Raspberries “Greatest Hits”).  This will kill you!
 
Jimbo:  Maybe you can get this in America for less than three dollars.
 
Fink:  Ninety-nine cents.  Like Taco Bell.
 
BG:  (Surprised because I never saw a Taco Bell in Tokyo) Taco Bell?  Do you like Taco Bell?
 
Fink:  I love it!  There used to be one by Shelter.
 
BG:  Jimbo, what are your favorite three records?
 
Jimbo:  My favorite three records?  Raspberries “Newspaper Best.”  Another one is all of the Who’s records.  And…
 
Fink:  Devil Dogs, Dead Boys…that’s it.  (Changing the subject) Steve, how many Japanese girls have you fucked?
 
BG:  None.
 
Fifi:  (Laughs)
 
Fink:  Really?
 
Jimbo:  You lie! 
 
Fink:  Are you a homo?
 
BG:  No…I’m bad at picking up girls but…
 
Fink:  Too shy. 
 
Jimbo:  “Too Shy.”  Kajagoogoo.  Me too.

 

Firestarter Discography:
 
S/T 7” EP (Target Earth Records)
V/A “Ad Vice” CD/LP (Mangrove Records)
S/T CD/LP (Mangrove Records)
“Keen Reaction” 7” (Mangrove Records)
 
For more info on Firestarter visit their web site.

Article and photographs by Steven Strange.

 
 
© blankgeneration.com 2003