Articles - Interviews - "I Don’t Like Setting My Hair. I’m Not Bald! The Gimmies"

One of the sad truths in life is that the best music often remains unheard.  Case in point, Tokyo’s Gimmies.  Although they are one of the most exciting bands going right now, most Americans haven’t even heard of them.  What’s worse, their lone international release, a seven-inch on Screaming Apple, isn’t really indicative of what they are capable of due to a shoddy production job.  A better introduction would be provided by their first album, “Auto Shutoff…Any Questions,” which came in Japan last summer on the Havenot’s Matt Aoki’s tiny Starjets Records.  It’s a totally blistering assault of twelve top shelf songs that deftly combines elements of the Ramones, MC5, and Teengenerate, but despite their obvious influences, manages to sound totally exciting and original.  Although the album is essential listening, the only way to get the full Gimmies experience is at their jaw dropping live shows.  The music hits the audience like a firebombing; scorching riffs and heavy groves tempered with insanely catchy pop melodies leaves all but the stodgiest sticks in the mud with no choice but to shake their ass like a goon.  Amid all of the fury, each member stands out as playing an integral and individual role.  JJ lays the foundation by beating his drums with all the ferocity of a cave man, all the while managing to sink into a danceable groove that relies on more than the basic 4/4 beat.  In addition to providing said groove with all of it’s bounce and verve via his melodious bass playing, Kim also shakes and shimmies around the stage like a crazed version of a sixties soul singer.  Over on guitar, Kawabe not only lays down some of the most scathing, yet tasteful, leads this side of Radios Appear; he’s also responsible for writing some of the Gimmies’ most infectious songs.  Holding it all together is Sora Shitty.  His chunky power chords add that extra bit of oomph to the mix and he also shares the songwriting duties.  Perhaps his greatest contribution is his unforgettable voice.  Sora’s soulful, powerful vocals bring to mind greats like Iggy, Gerry Rosalie, and the dude from the Spaceshits, but like everything with the Gimmies, still sounds completely his own.  This interview was conducted last February in Tokyo.  Thanks to Hideo Takahashi for translating it from Japanese.

BG: How did you become interested in rock n roll living in Hokkaido?

Sora:  There were no stores selling rock n roll records on vinyl, but we saw CDs there.  Three of us went to the same high school and we started listening to American music together.
Kawabe:  Around seven years ago when we where juniors or seniors in high school there was a popular underground garage scene in Tokyo.  We started listening to bands like Teengenerate, Registrators, Devil Dogs, and Rip Offs.  We where getting these things by mail order. We used to order them together so the shipping was cheaper.  That was the beginning.  We were trying to get rare things we couldn’t buy in Hokkaido. We enjoyed listening to those records a lot at the time.  Now we listen to some of them and don’t think they are so good, but it was fun at the time.
Sora:  When we were starting out we liked things like the Ramones and Stooges. We thought they were really cool. We bought them because we had heard their names before. We started a band while we where in Hokkaido, but then we came to Tokyo to go to school.  Some of us went to university and others to art school.
Kawabe:  The only people in the band now that have been in it from the beginning are me and Sora. 
BG: Are you one of the youngest bands in Tokyo?
Sora:  We are the youngest band that actually plays shows and makes records.
BG: You told me earlier that rock n roll is for young people, why?
Sora:  It isn’t that old people can’t play rock n roll.  We think just think that rock should be more flexible, but it is becoming more for only rock n roll maniacs.  This is what the scene in Tokyo is like.  People are just interested in obscure Killed by Death type music.
BG:  Do you think it’s important to have a job outside your band?
Sora:  I don’t think so.  We just have to have jobs to live. If we don’t have money we can’t buy guitar strings and a practice space. It’s just that if you don’t have money you wont be able to do music.  It’s good to have some money.  I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make a living off of music, but it’s impossible in Japan.  Only a few bands like Guitar Wolf can play punk rock and do that here. 
BG:  Is it easy to play shows in Tokyo?

Kawabe:  It’s easy to get shows in Tokyo, but you need money.  In Tokyo clubs are more business first.  If you don’t mind paying the club owners money anyone can play shows in Tokyo. You have to be willing to lose money though.  It’s much harder to make good music here than it is to play a show.  Music venues in Tokyo are like a stepping-stone for major labels.  Lots of kids like those pre-major bands, but we don’t belong to that scene.  If more kids listen to more genuine music it might change the situation.  But that probably wont happen.  Maybe we can change it little by little.

BG:  Your seven inches where pretty good, but your album was amazing.  How did you improve so much so fast?
Sora:  When we released our singles we just wanted to be a cool garage punk band.  We weren’t seriously thinking about what we where doing.  When we were recording our first full length we weren’t thinking about trying to be punk or garage or anything like that.  We just wanted to be a good band.  Americans might think this is weird, but we started listening to not just punk rock, but stuff like Zeppelin. Recently we’ve been listening to lots of Queen.  I think there are more Japanese people who listen harder and more carefully to music than most Americans do.  Japanese don’t just listen to punk rock; they try to find the punk rock in rock music. 
BG:  A lot of bands who are influenced by the MC5 are really boring imitations.  You guys also show some MC5 influence, but you write great songs.  Describe your songwriting process.  Are lyrics important to you? 
Kawabe:  Definitely.  Including lyrics is music.  Music and lyrics together make a song. We want to make both of them good. We try to make whatever we create good, whether or not it will sell.
Sora:  Those bands that sound like MC5 only care about sounding like the MC5, but we look at them and many other bands as well.  Imitation bands only look at the MC5’s more garage rock stuff.   There are some MC5 songs they don’t like.  But we like all the songs by them.
Kawabe:   I don’t think any good bands focus on just riffs.  In addition to riffs you need a good melody line.  We think melody is very important.  Sora and I used to write all the songs individually, but now everyone makes comments on what we write, so we are moving to where everyone collaborates on our songs. 
BG:  Your song “Dirty Trick” is about a bad review.  When you read bad reviews do you actually get angry?
Sora:  Yeah, of course.  “Dirty Trick” is a song for a certain scumbag writer.  I don’t care about it now, but someone wrote that we where not a very good band, and I got angry with him.

BG:  Do you have more new songs?
Sora:  Of course, three or four.  We can’t speak English that well, but we write lyrics in English.  Even though we aren’t fluent we still want our lyrics to be good.  
BG: Your album is only out in here in Japan, right?
Sora:  Our label’s distribution is really bad, so it’s barely out here!  If there are any good distributors in America reading this, please get in touch with us!  We are going to be self-releasing a single or a ten-inch later this year. 
BG: Are you planning to put your first album out on an international label?
Sora:  We’ve talked to Screaming Apple, but our label’s boss said we need to sell more in Japan first.  When an imported version of an album comes to Japan, people will buy those rather than the Japanese version, because they are much cheaper.  If we could we would really like to release it on Screaming Apple.
BG: Do you think there is a difference between Japanese and American bands?
Sora:  I think they are different.  In the early Nineties there were many good bands in America, like the Devil Dogs and Rip Offs.  But now, it’s just my thinking, many American bands just copy good bands from the early nineties or late seventies.  I think it’s better here in Japan. I always want to make my own thing.  I don’t want to play just a seventies, eighties, or early nineties style. I just want our own style.

BG:  Do you want to play in America?
Sora:  Of course. If someone invites us we will go there.  Even though it would be really expensive we still want to go to the US.  We just can’t do it now because we are poor.
Kawabe:  Our dream is to play in the US or Australia.
BG:  In the collage in the CD booklet there is a guy with his pants down.  Who is it?
JJ:  Me.  I was drunk when the picture was taken.
BG: You guys like to drink?
All:  Yeah.
Sora: Except for Kim, he is the Gimmies most important driver.  
Kim: I’m the sober cab.
BG: What is the best show you’ve played?
Sora:  It hasn’t happened yet.  Probably our last show will be the best one.
BG:  If there is a girl who you have a crush on, how do you approach her and let her know?
Sora:  I make a phone call every night.
BG:  Like a stalker?
Sora:  Stalker is love.
All: (laughs)
Kawabe:  I love to drink so I will ask her to go drinking. I wouldn’t date a girl who doesn’t drink. I’m gonna see if we have fun drinking together first.
Kim:  First I talk to her a lot and then cool off for a while and leave here alone.  Then I will wait.  I approach and retreat until she figures it out. 
BG:  Does that work?
Kim:  Maybe.
JJ: I’ll sleep with her first then think about dating her.
BG:  What do you do next?
JJ:  Then if that works then I’ll sleep with her again.
BG:  If you had had to fight off an alien invasion, who would you choose to help you and who would you save?
JJ:  I wouldn’t help anyone.  I’d just run away!
Kawabe:  I would save my motorcycle.
Sora:  I’d save my girlfriend.

BG:  What are your hobbies?
Sora:  Cooking, masturbation, and sleep.
BG:  All at the same time?  Who ends up eating the food then?
Sora:  Myself.
Kawabe:  I love riding my motorcycle.  I love a rock n roll bike.
JJ: Eating, sleeping, fucking, and playing Playstation2.
BG:  If you found out there was one day till the end of the world what would you want to do?
Kawabe:  I’d want to have the last Gimmies show, but for no one. Just ourselves.
BG: Why do you play in a rock n roll band?
Kawabe:  It’s fun, cool and it’s our life.
BG:  Sora why do you always wear a hat?
Sora: I don’t like setting my hair.  I’m not bald!
BG:  If you could meet anyone and hang out with them for a day who would you choose?
Sora:  Joey Ramone
JJ:  Kim would choose Kim Jong!  (Laughs all around)
BG: Which one of you is the most popular with the girls?
Sora:  Kawabe and Kim. If you where a girl which one would you choose?
BG:  JJ. (Laughs all around)
JJ:  Really?
Sora:  Why?
BG:  Because he’s the coolest and the best looking.  (More laughs)
JJ:  Thanks!  You’re a cool guy too!
BG: If you where banished to the moon and could only take three records, what would you take?
Sora:  I was waiting for that question!
JJ: Chuck Berry, Ramones, and Radio Birdman.
Kim: Hmm, let’s see…MC5, Kiss, and James Brown.
BG:  James Brown?  Wow you’ve got good taste!
Sora:  “Radios Appear” by Radio Birdman, MC5’s “High Time”, and for the last one, the Ramones’ “Rocket to Russia.”  Or “LeaveHome.”  Or the first album.  Or “End of the Century.” 
BG: You’d really choose “End of the Century?”
Sora:  I love the Ramones so much that every album is my favorite.
Kawabe:  My first two would be the same as Sora’s first two.  For the third I’d choose “Beatles For Sale.”
BG:  If there was a fight between Fred Sonic Smith and Dee Dee Ramone who would win?
Sora:  Dee Dee Ramone.  He knew karate. Dee Dee also moved around more on stage because he had more energy.  He was sharper. If Fred Sonic Smith had a gun, then Dee Dee would use a machine gun.

BG:  Describe your shittiest day ever.
Sora:  One time when I was nineteen, I was really fucking drunk.  I was at my old home and I was peeping in the window of the house next door.  In the next house there lived this girl that I wanted to see. When I was peeping she was naked.  She noticed me peeping and then she called the police!  So then I drank more whiskey so I’d be really drunk and have a better excuse.  (Laughs all around)
Kawabe:  When we where recording the first album, I was taking my motorcycle to the studio and I had an accident.  I had to go to the hospital, and my motorcycle was destroyed.
Kim:  I got caught speeding and had to pay like 700 dollars.
BG: Do you think the Japanese police are bad?
Sora:  They work hard at pretending to be good people, but it isn’t always the case.
JJ:  My shittiest day was when my ex girlfriend, who I really liked, dumped me.  Not only that, but then I had to walk like 30 kilometers with out shoes on to get home from her house. All I had that day were sandals and I threw them away.
BG:  What makes for a good live show?
Sora:  Our soul. Our guts, maybe we understand each other. 
BG:  Do you think you will still be playing rock n roll when you are older?
Sora:  Of course!  I hope to keep playing, but I want to be like the Lazy Cowgirls, not the Rolling Stones. 
Kawabe:  I will love rock n roll until I die, but I don’t know if I will still be playing in twenty years.  When I get older I might be bald and fat, and I’d look silly playing rock n roll then.  Just like the Rolling Stones look now.

For more info on the Gimmies, go to their web site.

Interview by Steven Strange. Photos take without permission from the Gimmies web site.

© 2003