Kulu Kulu Garden is a band that mixes whimsical vocals with hard-hitting rock. Powerful, noisy, serene and soothing — The term “kulu kulu” means “crazy” and fittingly describes this duo’s amazing music.
“…Lately we’ve been doing these acoustic sets where we rearrange all our songs into these quiet versions. We also get to play songs we normally wouldn’t be able to play at our rock shows with the acoustic set. Just recently we played a show as the Kulu Kulu Garden Acoustic Orchestra, where we had acoustic guitar, violin, and melodicas and synthesizers. To us, both versions of the band are THE BAND, so you really need to hear both to see the complete picture.”
I recently talked to Ryotaro Aoki and Kotone Miyahara of Kulu Kulu Garden about the band’s evolving sound and the Next Music from Tokyo Tour, Canada.
First, please introduce yourself. What instruments and brands of instruments do you play?
Kotone Miyahara: I sing and play a Fender Jazz Bass.
Ryotaro Aoki: I play guitar and write the music. I play a Fender Stratocaster.
Could you tell me a little history of Kulu Kulu Garden and their musical background?
Kotone: When I was in high school, Aoking (guitarist Aoki) said to me; “let’s play music that’s like a mixture of Melt-Banana and Afrirampo!!!!” And I followed him fearfully.
Ryotaro: I wanted a girl who would be willing to scream her head off. I knew that she could play guitar and sing, so when I heard that she liked some of the same bands I liked, I just had to ask her to join. By the third year, our former drummer bailed on us, and so we hired Kyohei Takahashi of Far France to play drums for us, and he’s been with us ever since. The band sort of really started to come together after that. Lately we’ve been doing these acoustic sets where we rearrange all our songs into these quiet versions. We also get to play songs we normally wouldn’t be able to play at our rock shows with the acoustic set. Just recently we played a show as the Kulu Kulu Garden Acoustic Orchestra, where we had acoustic guitar, violin, and melodicas and synthesizers. To us, both versions of the band are THE BAND, so you really need to hear both to see the complete picture.
Who or what inspired you to pick up your first instrument and how old were you?
Kotone: I started to play the piano when I was 5. My name Kotone (琴音) means “the sound of the piano” in Chinese. So I can say that my parents first inspired me to play music. When I was 14, I got an electric guitar. At that time I was only listening to Shiina Ringo.
Ryotaro: I started playing guitar when I was 13. My father played guitar, so there was always a guitar lying around in my house. I always wanted to play guitar, but my mother told me I had to play piano for a while before I “switched” to guitar. This was when I was like in kindergarten. I ended up playing piano for about seven years. After a while, I asked my mother, “can I play guitar now?” And she was like “okaay.”.
Remembering back to your first time in front of a live audience, what comes to mind?
Kotone: Our sound is absolutely huge!!! Yeah!!!
What has been Kulu Kulu Garden’s biggest triumph as a band? Kulu Kulu Garden’s greatest challenge?
Ryotaro: Ask us again when we’re done with everything.
What artists have influenced you? Which still do?
Kotone: When I was a young, I was just listening to Shiina Ringo. She still inspires me. I love several kinds of music; Deerhoof, Hibari Misora, Melt-Banana, Serge Gainsbourg, Quruli, Merzbow, Judy And Mary, etc.
Ryotaro: I listened to bands like Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and At The Drive-In in late middle school and early high school. I started to really get into bands like Afrirampo, Melt-Banana, and Boredoms in high school. I think Sonic Youth is still a really big influence, in the way that they combine punk and noise with pop. Another band that I really love is the Smashing Pumpkins. The way that band can go from these quiet acoustic ballads to these heavy rock songs and then to these piano-based and electronic songs are really amazing. I really like heavy rock bands like Boris and Black Sabbath. I think that sort of sets us apart from the other Tokyo bands. But we listen to all kinds of things: Panicsmile, King Crimson, Portishead, Brigitte Fontaine, John Zorn, Perfume, etc.
What is your favorite Kulu Kulu Garden song to perform live? Why?
Kotone: I love “Merry-Go-Round”. It is our fastest song. This song includes all our good elements: fast, loud, and pop.
As your music has evolved, what do you think has been the most significant change and do you consider it a positive or a negative?
Kotone: The amount of my screaming has decreased. Instead, my singing has increased. I think this change is good for listeners’ ears. But our power is much increasing.
Ryotaro: Before it was just about how loud and how fast we could play. It was about being dense. Like, how much can I fit in a particular space. Listening back now, our older songs were a lot more repetitive and sloppy. We would just take a single riff and run with it. And Kotone didn’t really sing. Now it’s more about melody and atmosphere and how to make the songs sound fun. We really go out of our way to think about detail in our songs, with little changes throughout. And we’ve always wanted to be about melody. I think Kyohei has had a lot to do with that. Musically, sure, but more on an emotional and mental level than anything else. He’s really pushed us to do things we wouldn’t have really done before.
What do you want fans to get from your music?
Kotone: Happy, happy feelings!
Ryotaro: I hope our music brings eternal peace and happiness to the whole world, so that people will fall in love and make babies. And then those babies can come see our shows. Or something.
Tell me about Next Music from Tokyo Tour? What will we hear and see?
Ryotaro: “Next Music From Tokyo” is (hopefully) the first of a series of tours where bands from the Japanese indie scene are collectively exposed to audiences abroad. The idea is basically, to take a lineup of bands that you would basically see in Tokyo, and do it abroad. Hopefully the shows will have the same atmosphere as the shows we do here. Instead of people coming a long way to see and enjoy us and the scene here (like Steve), we come to them. The bands coming along with us are Owarikara, Goomi, mothercoat, and andymori. We all look and sound very different, but I think this batch of bands really showcases the diversity of styles in the Tokyo area.
Kotone: A chance to experience the power of the hottest Japanese indie musicians that you can’t get from CDs or youtube, that you can only get live. I think it will be a very valuable experience. A historical event!
If you could, is there a band or artist that you would recommend to readers. Who they may not know about, but you think they should?
Ryotaro: Far France. Definitely. They’re probably my favorite band here. And not just because we have their drummer.
Is there anything you would like to add, or say to anyone?
Ryotaro: We hope people both inside and outside of Japan take interest in us and listen to our music. Canada is just the beginning: just call us up and we’ll be there!
I would like to thank Kulu Kulu Garden‘s Ryotaro Aoki and Kotone Miyahara for their participation in this interview.
~Denise Smith (interview 2010.04.15)
鳥 (Tori) (live at Basement Bar)