September 1, 2012
Aiha Higurashi Returns to New York—or—Uhnellys and THE GIRL Take a Trip to New York
Aiha Higurashi had been announcing a desire to play New York again since before the formation of her new band, THE GIRL. They arrived here with a Japanese duo called Uhnellys, who are made up of Midi, a female drummer, and Kim, a male guitarist/mini-trumpeter/rapper. Aiha had seen them play in Tokyo, been fascinated by their performance, and, when asked, they agreed to accompany THE GIRL on this short trip to New York. The two bands played three shows here, one in New York at Bowery Electric, and two in Brooklyn, at Trash Bar, and Spike Hill. THE GIRL are a female, Japanese trio, led by Aiha Higurashi who plays guitar, sings, and writes the songs. Aiha now has a long history in Japanese underground rock. She started off by leading a band called Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, who lasted roughly ten years, and firmly established a place for her in Japan’s underground rock scene. Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss her did several tours of the U.S., and Europe. When they broke up, Aiha Higurashi wrote and produced Yuki’s first solo hit (Yuki was the singer of Judy And Mary, a popular Japanese rock band). She then signed to Sony Records to begin a solo career. Aiha is continuing that solo career with independent labels, but she’s also released material with a DJ, which they call Ravolta, and done several recordings with a band called Loves! (also Aiha Higurashi & Loves!) Most recently she’s been leading this all-gal trio called THE GIRL.
It was through the band Loves! that Aiha met up with Tabasa Hayashi, her bass player in THE GIRL. Tabasa had been a fan of Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her. When Aiha asked her if she would be interested in forming a band together, it was Tabasa who suggested forming a “girl band”. They added Naoko Okamoto on drums, and Aiha got to work writing songs. She even built her new band a rehearsal/recording studio, and the eventual result was their first release, a full-length CD which they dubbed “Lost In Wonder”. Lost In Wonder is a bit of a return to the simplicity of the Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her sound. There are even a couple of songs where Aiha lets her guitar rage like in the old punk days, and THE GIRL is a trio like Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her was for the majority of its career. Sometimes Aiha seems more interested in the riff, just grabbing a phrase to base her lyrics on. ‘Say Something Better’ is based on derivations of the phrase, “You gonna tell me something”. At other times riffing on a simple phrase expands into a dialogue, sometimes with herself, sometimes with conflicting ideas. The CD starts out with ‘Inside You’ which seems to be a series of piano phrases with “Tell me everything you have inside you.” gently sung over it. The major difference between THE GIRL and Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her is that Aiha is calmer now, more mature. A song like Perfect Me, (which was co-written with Tabasa Hayashi) where she encourages herself to go out and get what she wants, seems as much an encouragement to her daughter, and all women, as it is to herself. ‘It’s Me, Myself’ adds a tabla drum, and when they play it live she encourages the audience to clap along at a quick pace, to take its place. ‘Idiots’ is a love song with a twist. The phrase, “He doesn’t know anything/How could I know everything” is resolved with the line, “If there’s no future, I’ll make it up for you.” ‘Hair’, a fascination with wavy hair, is sung over a psychedelic guitar line. ‘3 2 1 Out’ gives Aiha a chance to let loose on a rockin’ guitar riff. There’s a good range of songs, from soft pop to edgy rocking, and it’s an introduction to THE GIRL that they should be proud of. Whereas some of Aiha’s other projects seemed to be trying to either clean up, or soften her sound, THE GIRL allows her to comfortably express herself openly and honestly. We can thank Tabasa Hayashi and Naoko Okamoto for helping this to come to pass.
The two times I was able to see THE GIRL live were wonderful experiences. Hey, it was great to see Aiha Higurashi performing live again, as she hadn’t played in the U.S. in a good long time. She may very well have mellowed a bit since the days of Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, but her songs still rock, and she seems to have even more to say about her life experience these days, or perhaps she’s just more forthright and less antagonistic in expressing her emotions and views. The most impressive thing for me, as I watched them take the stage and perform their sets, was Aiha’s comfortable approach to being on the stage and to her audience. She had the audience rooting for her almost immediately at both the shows I witnessed, and she didn’t mind giving them orders when she wanted something from them. Her extensive experience has made her a consummate performer. She’s got a good band behind her, too. Tabasa Hayashi does a wonderful job on bass, coming up with intriguing and catchy lines that make use of the full length of the fretboard. She also moves with enthusiasm and helps out on vocals. Naoko Okamoto, meanwhile, keeps the drums pounding firmly and steadily behind her bandmates.
Uhnellys played ahead of THE GIRL at each of the shows. The duo has been playing around Tokyo for some six years now, and have released a number of CDs and recordings. What impressed me the most about Uhnellys was Kim’s ability, using samples he records there live in front of you, to set up the songs, often in a fraction of a minute, with his guitar, his mini-trumpet, and sometimes added vocals. Midi pounds out the beat behind him, occasionally adding back-up vocals, and Kim aggressively stalks the stage, rapping, and laying down leads and occasional trumpet squawkings over the tracks he has looped at the beginning of each song. I’m not much into rap, myself, but Kim spit out his vocals with authority, and the talented musicianship which he uses to almost effortlessly create those looped tracks for song after song was impressive. Watching Midi emphatically pound those drums behind him was fun, too.
In the second show I saw at Bowery Electric, after several songs Aiha told the audience to come up to the stage. They immediately obeyed and crowded around the front of the stage. Near the end of that set she stepped out into the crowd and into the middle of the audience, where she kneeled down and hammered away at a guitar crescendo. The band blasted away, the crowd was energized, the photographers scurried about trying to find the right angle to capture the moment, and the band rocked on. It’s a moment that will be preserved in my recollections of THE GIRL’s first U.S. tour. Aiha Higurashi once again had shown her stuff in New York City. Friends who had never had the chance to see Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, felt well rewarded to have been able to finally see Aiha Higurashi in action. After the set, the band took their places behind their merchandise table, and this time the crowd didn’t need to be told to gather around. THE GIRL and Uhnellys played one more show at Spike Hill, and from what I’ve heard, both bands proved themselves again. I was out of town and unable to attend that show, but when THE GIRL decides to visit us again, on what Aiha assures us will be a full U.S. tour, I will gladly do my best to see THE GIRL again, and you ought to make a point of seeing them, too. If you don’t mind being taught how to rock by a girl, you’ll be glad you did!
—Paul Wheeler (former webmaster, writer and photographer of RockOfJapan.com)