Sweet J.A.P.

Minneapolis' Sweet J.A.P are one of the hottest live acts going today. Every show is a blitzkrieg assault of flying bodies, slashing guitar, manic vocals, and broken equipment. They play with an energy level that's most bands are unable to muster and the result is a show that reaches out and grabs you like a visceral force of nature. Sweet J.A.P leave it all on the stage every time out, and if you get a chance to see them you're guaranteed to witness rock n roll at it's amped up and primal peak. Their recorded output, consisting of three singles on Hideo's Nice and Neat label, an album on Big Neck, and appearances on various compilations, is also required listening.

Terminal Boredom: How did you guys first meet each other?
Sho: I was friends with Hideo and Takashi and then Hideo had a band with Ben called Real Estate Fraud. Then the three of us were talking about making a band together and we made it with a different drummer. At that time Takashi was playing bass and then he started to play guitar so then we asked Ben to play bass for us, and then a year later Matthew came in.

TB: You guys are finished with school now right? So why are you still living in the US?
Sho: I got married.
Takashi: I got married too.
Hideo: We like it here. You can see better that bands come here and they're cheaper to see.
Takashi: I like the atmosphere. The Twin Cities atmosphere kind of reminds me of Japan. It's a little exotic.
Sho: I like it too. I was in New York, but I hated New York. It was too big. The city was like too superficial and pretentious, but more real thing was going on here I thought. So I like it here.

TB: Your new songs where a little bit catchier and pop than your older ones. Are you guys planning to go with the trend in Japan right now and go new wave?
All: No!
Ben: New wave does not exist. It's a redefinition of a music style that already existed. It's something the music industry used just to sell more records.
Sho: I don't understand the definition of new wave.

TB: In Japan now everyone is trying to sound more pop, adding keyboards and stuff. Many Japanese bands used to sound like Teengenerate or the Registrators but now they want to sound like Firestarter or the new Registrators. What do you think about this?
Takashi: If they are happy about it, I don't care, but it's not my style. But I really like Firestarter. They are kind of new wave but they still have a lot of seventies rock n roll influence. And their live stuff is really great. I checked their new website. They have a video on there, and I love it.

TB: Ok, one more boring question. For the uninitiated, describe how you sound.
Sho: No wave. (Laughs all around) But I love no wave. I think we are more like straight punk rock. 76, 77, 74, 75! (More laughs)

TB: How do you think the US scene and the Japanese scene compare?
Sho: I have no idea, but Takashi and Hideo might know.
Hideo: In Japan they have a scene but it's small. If like Teengenerate is big everyone has a Teengenerate sound. But now it's like everyone has a new wave sound and if you don't belong to that scene it's kind of like you're unknown. And here it's more like, especially in Minneapolis, it doesn't matter what kind of music you play. If we are friends we still play together. We have a variety of stuff but we can all still be friends. But in Japan if they don't know you or if you don't play the music they play, then they don't play together. I think that's good about here.

TB: On your album you have a song called "Punk Vibe." What is a "Punk Vibe?"
Takashi: That is exactly what a punk vibe is. We just want to express that attitude with the song. That's our passion.
Sho: Asian punk boys!
TB: Asian punk boys?
Sho: I like them. (Laughs all around)
TB: Does your wife know that? Anyway, how was your tour last winter?
Takashi: Great! Except New York.
TB: Why was that?
Sho: New York was bad. I think one major reason was it was a Japanese band showcase type of thing, so there where three or four other Japanese bands and we didn't fit with them. It was a different style and attitude or something.
Hideo: It was also because New York is like Tokyo. Like they get all the big good bands to go there, so if you are an unknown they don't care. They have so many good bands come so it's not like they're gonna check you out or anything. If you're unknown it's gonna be hard for you in New York.

TB: What injuries have you guys sustained during the course of the bands' history?
Hideo: On stage?
Ben: I broke my foot. I broke my hand. I always cut my fingers. You can still see where I scrape off my skin from playing.
Sho: One time Takashi jumped off the stage and landed on his back.
Takashi: Almost common. We played with the Riverboat Gamblers at the last Entry show I fell down on the ground and I couldn't remember anything. I kept playing but I couldn't breathe.
TB: Hideo your back was messed up right?
Hideo: But not from a show.
Sho: He was watching a world cup soccer game on a nice couch and his back went out. (Laughs all around) A total rock star! (More laughs). He couldn't walk.
Hideo: Yeah, for like two hours I was watching the soccer game.

TB: Matthew, were you born in America?
Matthew: Yeah I was born in Hawaii. When I was two years old I moved to Japan and I grew up there. Six years ago I came here.

TB: If there was a contest to win a dream date with a member of Sweet JAP, where would you take the winner?
Sho: I would bring the girl to Chin's.
Hideo: I don't know. Some show.
Matthew: I'd go to a Japanese restraint so I could get it cheaper.
Takashi: Chin's is the best Chinese restaurant.
Sho: Yeah, it's a totally fucked up ghetto style Chinese restaurant in St. Paul. It's super good. They only have like seven seats there. It's totally ghetto. There are kids playing inside and stuff.
TB: So you like ghetto things Sho?
Sho: Not much.

TB: Does anyone ever give you any trouble because they think your name is racist?
Matthew: My uncle did. He said "Matthew what are you doing?" And I said, "I play music." "Well what's the name of your band," he said. And I told him "Sweet JAP." My uncle saw Pearl Harbor right in front of his face in Hawaii and he had kind of a bad experience after that. So he was like, "Don't use that name." But I said, "Sorry but I think it's tremendous. And I wasn't even the one to name it and it's something I love to do."
Takashi: Why didn't you tell him the full name was "Sweet Japanese American Princesses?"
Matthew: Actually I explained that to him too.
Sho: Actually I have something to say about that. Sweet JAP stands for "Sweet Japanese American Princesses" right? Some Jewish people said something like "does that stand for Sweet Jewish American Princesses? Are you guys making fun of us?" And I read some review of our album on a Japanese website where they said maybe we just put together some words that we liked, but I said, "no that's not it. You need to know the history of the Jewish American Princess!" But Japanese people who don't know English or American culture don't know what it means so they think we just made the name up for fun or something. And that's not our intention.
TB: What is your intention?
Sho: It just sounds good. (Big laughs all around)

TB: What do you guys do for hobbies when you aren't playing punk rock?
Sho: My major thing is photo art.
TB: You take all the pictures right?
Sho: No.
TB: I mean for your albums…
Sho: Oh, yeah. But I was doing photos before we started Sweet JAP.
Takashi: I hang out with animals. (Laughs) Hedgehogs and rats. And my job is monitoring mice. I'm doing it every day.
TB: So you're into animals?
Takashi: Yeah, I'm into animals. (Big laughs all around) Why do you laugh? I'm into it!
Ben: I do zines. I used to do a zine called 'Starving Issues', which was about punk rock, independent music, politics, and social justice. And I did one called the 'Twin Cities Hardcore Journal.' I'm also into animals. I have two frogs, two turtles, and a salamander.
Hideo: Being a music geek and drinking beer. I'm not into animals.
Matthew: I like playing other kinds of music. Drumming wise I'm really into playing stuff like funk and rock.

TB: What kind of music are you guys into individually?
Ben: I'm into punk and hardcore. I have an appreciation for all different types of music but those are my main focus. I like folk music, bluegrass, and rock n roll.
Sho: Recently I've listened to dancehall types of things. Something where you can move your body. Some people might see what I like as new wave but I don't think so.
Takashi: I'm into John Cage.

TB: What do your families think about you living over here and playing in a band? You originally came here just as students…
Sho: They surrendered.
Takashi: They don't care. They just respect what I do.

TB: Do you guys plan to ever play in Japan?
Takashi: We want it. We really want to play over there but we don't know when we can.

TB: Do you actually write lyrics for your songs or do you do it Registrators style (only writing choruses)?
Sho: I used to be like that. But now I'm trying to make more lyrics. Then I can feel better. I can sing better. But a lot of the time when we do recordings I don't have lyrics like ten minutes before we start so sometimes I don't have any lyrics or any melody line either.

TB: Is there any certain show or band that changed the way you feel about music?
Takashi: Teengenerate and earlier Registrators.
Sho: Registrators. Bikini Kill. I love Bikini Kill.

TB: I know two of you are married, so this applies more to before for you. If you meet a girl that you really like how do you approach her and let her know you're interested?
Ben: Does it have to be a girl? (Laughs all around) Could it be an animal?
TB: In Takashi's case maybe.
Takashi: I'm a beast master. I talk to all the animals.
TB: You can probably make a lot of money with that.
Takashi: Money's not an issue.
TB: You should get a TV show.
Takashi: I will be able to if people will accept my ability. But that's my own thing you know. I just feel that way. I'm not that shallow.
TB: So when you like a beast, how do you approach it?
Takashi: Wow. That's more, I would have to say a biological perspective. I say something like, "Do you want to see our offspring?" (Laughs) It's all chemistry.
Sho: I don't know where he's going.
Ben: I'm pretty shy. I'm afraid to approach. I hide.
Hideo: Me too. I hide. But Matthew is the guy.
Takashi: Matthew is the guy who you have to talk to.

TB: What bands do you like playing with the most?
Hideo: Always the Marked Men, Kill-A-Watts, Tyrades, Riverboat Gamblers.

TB: You guys have gotten a lot more popular locally than you where even like a year and a half ago. Why do you think that is?
Sho: Because we have a lot of energy. We're a good live band I think.
Takashi: People don't get bored.
Hideo: It's never the same. We don't know what's going to happen next either.

TB: You guys have a pretty wild show. When you play are you worried at all about getting hurt or do you not care?
Sho: I care. I don't want to get hurt!
Hideo: But you've seen him out in the crowd!

TB: What's the shittiest day you've ever had?
Matthew: Yesterday. It's a long story, but my transmission broke and I had to pay $3000. It sounds kinda stupid, but I paid it. So I borrowed some money from my boss so I gotta bust my ass to pay it off. And I had a problem at work then I got into an argument with my friend, and everything's just kinda fucked up. Today I'm having kind of a bad day too.
Takashi: I'm all happy. Nothing bad.

TB: What makes you guys most embarrassed in life?
Takashi: I want to improve my English. But I do make mistakes all the time. But I shouldn't think that way. Fuck it, I have to communicate.
Hideo: If I have to be naked in front of people.
Ben: Once the mailman saw me naked. (Laughs all around) Today actually. He came to the front door and I was standing right by it, like right by the window, cause I had to go downstairs to answer the phone after I was in the shower, and he saw me.


Interview by Steven Strange
Pics by Rich Kroneiss
Check Sweet J.A.P./Nice-n-Neat out here: www.nice-neat.com