Super awesome Funtastic Dracula pic from Dena Flows.
Note on names: Aniki is Fifi. Asayan is Sammy.
Teengenerate Interview by Masao Nakagami at Poor Cow, December 19th, 2013
I’ve interviewed Teengenerate lots of times but I wanted to interview them now and talk about the movie and the reunion. I talked to Fifi and Fink but due to some business he had to attend to, Fifi left in the middle.
Masao Nakagami: First, let’s talk about the reunion show. The tickets sold out super quick, right? It seems like people had been waiting to see that happen.
Fifi: Well, we’ve gotten together and played some since we broke up, so it’s not like we haven’t played in 20 years. But I guess people from back in the day wanna see us. I dunno, it’s not like we’re some really important band that does “reunions”, but with the movie and all…
MN: Is it like you became a legend in those 20 years?
Fifi: Well, it looks that way, right? Like all those bands from the 70s on Killed By Death comps who put out a 7-inch and then disappeared. We think those bands are amazing but they’ve pretty much forgotten about it.
MN: Are you proud that Teengenerate has become that kind of band?
Fink: No, of course not.
Fifi: There’s no pride involved. We just did whatever we wanted to do the way we wanted to do it.
MN: Weren’t there some people who came from really far away to see the reunion show? I heard some people came from overseas to Japan just to see it.
Fifi: I hope they weren’t disappointed. It’s been twenty years. We’re old farts.
Fink: (laughs) Yeah, I figured we’d have to prop up Fifi for the show. He’s about ready for Medicare.
MN: The crowd was really nuts at the reunion show. How do you feel about the reaction?
Fifi: That was good. It was fun. People came to the show ready to rock and that was great. There were, like, crazed desperate screams from the crowd before we started playing (laughs). It was like, let’s not fuck up.
Fink: That’s pretty much a given.
Fifi: It was the end of a marathon show so everybody was drunk. It was like, ‘Well, here we go.’
Fink: I don’t think Teengenerate has ever played a set that long.
Fifi: Yeah, but they made us do a long set in Europe that one time. We absolutely had to do a full hour.
Fink: Oh yeah. It was in the contract.
Fifi: Somewhere in Europe we played a 30 minute set and then they said “You have to play the full hour.” So we did. In Germany, I think.
Fink: They were pissed.
Fifi: The promoter. He called it breach of contract. We were like, “We don’t have any more songs.” So he said, “Play them all again.”
MN: What the hell kind of a contract is that??
Fink: Right. I dunno but the venue wasn’t like a regular rock club. They did all kinds of events there so it had that kind of contract. That’s why it was like that.
MN: I feel like the set list was really different from what you played back in the day.
Fink: You mean because we didn’t do “Right Now?”
MN: You did stuff like “Johnny and Dee Dee.”
Fink: Yeah “Johnny and Dee Dee” I guess. But that’s pretty much it, right?
MN: Well, I mean if you look at the set list, the songs tend to be ones you didn’t play back in the day I think.
Fink: That’s probably because when we reformed to play in New York and Australia and stuff like that, it wasn’t that long after we’d broken up, so it was a similar set list.
To be honest, we’ve forgotten lots of songs. It’s been 20 years. That, and Aniki’s finger being messed up (note: a rare condition that causes numbness in the fingers). So it was more a matter of, what can we do? I decided we should play songs that aren’t too demanding on guitar and some where Aniki can sing. But of the songs he sings, almost all of them are covers. When I asked him, he said he didn’t want to do a bunch of covers. I know he doesn’t want me to say it, but the condition of his hand had a lot to do with the song choices.
MN: Playing Teengenerate songs again after so many years, what’s your impression of them? You told me before that you like the simplicity. Do you feel like your songs have gotten more complicated with Raydios?
Fink: When we first started Teengenerate, it was kind of a reaction against our previous band, American Soul Spiders. We were like, let’s make each song 2 minutes or less. But even with that, our songs still had a bit of that ASS feel at first.
The first time we nailed it was probably with “Get Me Back.” But yeah, we were trying to make things simpler. So, playing Teengenerate songs after so long, yeah, it struck me that Raydios songs are complicated as hell. I’m sort of in a quandary about that now, kinda thinking I need to scale thing back maybe.
MN: How was Spain? Was the crowd crazy like in Tokyo?
Fink: Totally the same. They’ve been asking us to come for years. I never felt like getting Teengenerate back together so I always said no. It was really Asayan who pushed for it. I guess Aniki isn’t writing anything now and there’s his hand, which might be incurable, so Asayan was thinking something like it’s our last chance. Like, let’s go and kick out the jams one last time (laughs). Something like that. Then, there’s the movie and the fact that it’s our 20th anniversary. All of this stuff started happening around the band.
The show in Spain (Funtastic Dracula Carnival) is a big event and I knew lots of people would come but I was still blown away by the reaction. Just walking around the place, people were coming up to me and say hi or ask for my autograph and things like that. I was like, wow, this is what happens when you go away for twenty years and come back (laughs). It’s like, let’s make the best of it (laughs). If not for all the 20th anniversary stuff going on, I don’t think we would’ve gotten back together.
And then there was the Crypt record (ed: Crypt’s release of ‘Get More Action’ reissue of unreleased Seattle recording sessions). I wasn’t into putting that out but I ran into Tim Warren a few years ago in Berlin and he convinced me. He’d just been through a divorce and didn’t have any money. He hadn’t put anything out for a while on the label. He’d been off drinking for a while but he was like, fuck it, let’s drink (laughs). We were drinking and he was saying stuff like “I was at my peak in the 90s” and all of that and then he started talking about the unreleased Teengenerate stuff. He said he didn’t like it back in the day but listening to it now, it wasn’t half bad. He played it for me at his apartment and actually it sounded like crap (laughs). But I said, “If you’ll let us remix it, we’ll think about it.”
The record is the album we recorded on our first tour in Seattle. When we got back to Tokyo, we listened to it and somehow it just wasn’t right, so we recorded “Get Action” in Tokyo. For all those years that old recording has just been sitting there. Another problem with it was that we’d just written all of those songs.
MN: You mean they were too unpolished?
Fink: Right. I mean, we were like writing songs the whole time on the plane and in our hotel rooms, trying to write lyrics all the time, always thinking like, what do we do next? Working on kind of a deadline. From the start we weren’t the kind of band that just bashed out songs. But we had single after single coming out. They weren’t songs that were ready to put on an album. But Tim was saying we needed at least 20 songs for an album (laughs)… We couldn’t just bash out twenty songs, we weren’t Anal Cunt, so yeah, they were like you said, unpolished.
I kinda got off subject but, yeah, Tim’s doing Crypt now in Europe and the Spain show right around the release date, so I thought he’ll sell some records maybe.
MN: Did you aim for that timing?
Fink: No, it pretty much lined up that way at random. It was more like I thought let’s do it all at once.
I did the remix around June but with Spain and the movie coming, it was a rush job. I thought if it doesn’t get done now it’ll never get done, so I just did it. I tried to make it something Tim would like. I tried lots of different things and got to the point of, “It’s listenable. I’m done.” Tim wanted to include all the songs but there were some I tossed out.
MN: What did you think of the other bands in Spain? Were they kind of what you’d call modern garage?
Fifi: I didn’t get a chance to see him but the guy from Flat Duo Jets played.
Fink: Yeah, I saw him a long time ago. He’s quite a bit older now.
MN: I asked because back in the day when Teengenerate was playing, there were little garage scenes blowing up all over the world. I wonder about what’s going on now.
Fink: At the time Teengenerate was playing, that was right when garage was really happening. You know, bands were playing stuff like the original 60s and 70s garage bands. I kinda think bands playing today have different roots.
At the beginning of the 90s, there were a lot of surf bands that we played with. There were also the bands with the heavy organ sound, playing stuff like Question Mark & the Mysterians and Music Machine. Then there was stuff like Fuzztones and Cramps. There was just this whole hodgepodge of stuff going on. Then there was the more straight ahead rock and roll like I like. Things weren’t codified into styles but it was all kind of rolled up into “garage” and it was really blowing up.
But after about 95, garage became really huge and then there were a lot of bands that were like, I know the name but I’ve never heard them. I think a new culture came around, different from ours.
In Spain we were playing with bands from a younger generation than us. They already knew us and they were like asking for autographs and stuff (laughs), buying us beers, being really cool and friendly. Some of these bands had, like, dyed hair or suits or whatever. They were so young they coulda been like our kids or something.
When we were touring in America back in the day, there was always this issue about who would go last. We always said to the other bands, “We don’t care, go ahead.” Bands like Man Or Astro Man? and Rocket From The Crypt who were kind of professional, they really cared about that. But I feel like with bands today there’s none of that.
Another thing is, I think bands like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Oblivions had a huge influence on younger bands. Like, they all appreciate the blues and get that it’s the basis of everything. In the middle of the 90s, that raw, dirty sound became the standard for garage bands. You know, in the 80s they had all of that reverb and terrible 80s production. So in the 90s, they went back to that raw sound and rock and roll spirit. I think it’s still there today.
MN: Let’s talk about the movie. In the movie, there are lots of people sharing different viewpoints about the band. Was there any part where you felt like somebody in particular shared your point of view?
Fink: Well, it’s a movie about Teengenerate so everybody was nice and nobody said anything bad, right? I’m sure there were people around back then who had a totally different opinion. At the time, we were definitely not well received by everybody. I mean, there were a lot of people who hated us when we first started playing (laughs). But we thought that’s just the way it goes.
We were hicks from Shizuoka, so when we went to Tokyo, we thought there must be lots of bands and cool shit going on like in the UK or something. We were excited. This was in the 80s. We haunted record stores and rock clubs but there was hardly anything cool at all. So, the only person I could talk music with was Aniki. We were like, “Japan sucks. We gotta escape to New York or Paris or somewhere.” I went completely crazy (laughs).
So after we started Teengnerate, people who love rock and roll started to come around. We met people really into rock and roll who you could talk records with and stuff like that, so it was much more fun.
People we met, like fans at shows or after-parties, were always kinda apologetic, like, “I used to like rockabilly, but now I’m totally into punk.” We were always like, that doesn’t matter at all. We like rockabilly too. We were like these punk teachers or something and people thought if they liked B-grade punk we’d be snotty to them (laughs).
Especially from the time of Chloroform on, there was kind of this attitude that if you didn’t totally commit to early punk rock music and fashion, you couldn’t be part of the scene. So that drove a lot of people who just purely like whatever they like away. The people who didn’t fit into that or didn’t respect this kind of rock club hierarchy bullshit, those were the people who began to gather around us. I always hated all of that attitude. It was like going back to the 80s to me. That’s why I wanted to escape overseas.
But if I think of myself as some kind of exalted punk rock mentor, it makes me wanna cringe. I wanna quit the band. We just played whatever we wanted to play. That was the way we were naturally but also why our days as a band were numbered.
If you ask me about my point of view, I dunno, watching all of that stuff now I feel like I got some things wrong back then. We were such nerds (laughs). We were like, “Punk rock is life! Fuck you!!” (laughs) I’m sure a lot of people saw us that way too (laughs).
But I’m really grateful for all the people in the movie and the nice things they said about us. Thanks.
MN: What did you think about the Tokyo scene in the 90s?
Fink: I feel like things changed really fast from about the second half of the 80s. I think the impetus was grunge, without a doubt. Like rock magazines, which had covered nothing but UK hardcore until then, they did a sudden about face and now their favorite band was like the Germs. It’s hard to imagine now but in the 80s the Ramones were totally ignored by the media and then suddenly bam, “Nothing but Ramones for me. America all the way!” (laughs)
I’m not saying that’s a good or bad thing, but just that at like the rock magazine level, there was nothing. And then overnight Japanese mainstream rock shifted from the UK to the US. Everybody suddenly had long hair and the used clothing stores had leather jackets.
When punk was originally introduced in Japan, it was totally New York punk, right? Like, this is an intellectual, artsy thing. Then when they wrote about punk bands like the Pistols, they just focused on their crazy antics and funny stories, totally ignoring the music. They treated punk rockers like morons.
Japan’s funny like that. The way the media introduces bands isn’t through their music. They spoon-feed you these random bits of information. So at that time, the Japanese rock media didn’t cover what was going on in America at all. They were like, “Ooh, look what’s happening on King’s Road,” and all these wild-eyed kids ate it up because that’s all they got. They ignored everything great about punk rock and devoted all their space to lifestyle and fashion and the stupid things punks did, so that turned off lots of people, me included.
This isn’t just in Japan. In America it was like this too, I think. But in America there are all of these real scenes happening locally. So whatever stupid shit the mainstream papers or whatever is saying, the kids know there’s something real going on.
So, at the beginning of the 90s, all these bands that had toiled in the underground broke through to the mainstream and the grunge thing spread and had a big influence here in Japan too. So that made things much better for us in the 90s. The 90s kind of liquidated the 80s. The band boom people all disappeared and the cool, down-to-earth hardcore people finally got the spotlight.
MN: So, in that kind of environment, all you had to do was play and you’d fall in with like-minded people?
Fink: When I first came to Tokyo I thought it must be just jam-packed with cool music and awesome live shows and all of that. But there wasn’t much going on. I mean, there was stuff going on but it was sprinkled here and there. Aniki thought there must be some way to get all of these people who are really into rock and roll together.
But it wasn’t until we started American Soul Spiders that we started meeting people like Sekiguchi, Magari and Iijima. It was like, finally at after-show parties there were people we could talk music with. Before that, there wasn’t anybody. We made friends with our fans and many of them came to see us every time. Then, they invited us to play shows, like Ozaki from Samantha’s Favorite and you too (Masao Nakagami). It was like, yeah, there are people who love rock and roll here after all.
MN: Do you think growing up in Shizuoka had a big influence on you now as an adult?
Fink: That was in the movie too, with my juku teacher and all. To put it simply, it was all Aniki. There was nothing else.
We grew up in the sticks. When I was in junior high school, “rock and roll” was synonymous with stuff like Yokohama Ginbae. I didn’t have any problem with stuff like Ginbae, but in the 80s in Japan with Carol and all of that, it was like if you didn’t have a pompadour, you weren’t rock and roll. It was like, what about the Beatles or the Stones?
Especially in the country, it was the domain of yankees. If you wanted to be a yankee you had to be into rock and roll and idols. So if some guy in my class was like, “Let’s play rock and roll,” it was like, “Don’t say that, you’re embarrassing me.” Now you could be a guy in a suit with your hair parted to one side, like, “I love rock and roll,” with no shame whatsoever. But it was like that back then.
MN: What’s the thing from the movie that left the biggest impression on you?
Fink: The part at the end where it showed my mom and dad (laughs). My mom was really into ballet and tried her best for the Takarazuka. At Shimizu, there was that movie starring Yujiro Ishihara and my mom was scouted to be an extra in it. At that time, Yujiro stayed at our house. My mom told me, “He slept right here on this futon.” Actually, I think he just took a break and rested there. He didn’t spend the night. So, I’m glad that decades later she could finally make another appearance on the silver screen.
MN: Back to talking about the 90s, did you feel like there was a real movement happening with bands overseas and here in Japan? For me, I didn’t go on tour so I only got the impression from records, but it seemed like something was happening and there was this energy building.
Fink: That feeling you’re talking about, it came to me suddenly. When Sympathy For The Record Industry put out the American Soul Spiders Record, I was ecstatic. Me and Aniki had so many singles put out by Sympathy, it was like, can this really be happening?
ASS didn’t really fit in with other Japanese bands back then. When we started Teengenerate, bands started coming from overseas to play in Japan. During ASS, there wasn’t much of that, but we got to be friends with Devil Dogs and Raunch Hands and bands like that. Then, a little after that, with New Bomb Turks and Supercharger.
I mean, originally the people who really understood rock and roll and garage were the first punk rockers, and I think our music was close to that. This music where people were getting back to that was going on here and there, but in the 90s it all came together. Around then, there were bands like the Mummies in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and there was a lot going on in Seattle and other places, and we were lucky to visit those places. From the time we started ASS, that timing made us friends with all of those people.
MN: Did you make friends with Devil Dogs and then it kind of spread from there?
Fink: Not really. Before Devils Dogs, probably around 1990, Barnhomes brought Raunch Hands to Japan and ASS played with them. They brought Tim Warren and that’s when we met him. He bought a bunch of old Japanese movie posters at Hanazono Shrine that time and I think some of those were used on the “Get Action” jacket.
The first time we met Devil Dogs was when ASS went to New York and Barnhomes gave us the number of their friend (Devil Dogs bassist) Steve Baise and we called him up and went drinking with him. During the visit we got to see the Devil Dogs at the Continental and they were incredible. That was the most excited I’d ever been.
MN: What do you think about people like Steve Borchardt (Cozy) who were kids at that time and were influenced by Teengenerate?
Fink: Well, yeah, if you think about the age difference, it makes sense. I’ve heard that garage rock has gotten more mainstream since the time Teengenerate broke up in the mid-90s. At the time I definitely didn’t get the feeling we were influencing people. It was just a blur.
I said this before, but the kind of stuff we were playing, like New Bomb Turks and Devil Dogs and Rip-Offs, was like punk rock played by people who like garage. Like punk rock back when it was just sped-up sloppy rock and roll. Punk got to be something different later with the spiky hair, leather jackets and studs and all of that. Like how rockabilly has to be about pompadours, vintage cars and tattoos. But at the time we were playing, all of that was lumped together.
Now you can see bands from when Steve was a kid on TV and stuff, with garage being mainstream. And then there’s the internet making it easier to find bands. S, there are lots of chances to find out about Teengenerate for kids who wanna.
MN: Back to talking about Spain, do you think that era had an influence on today’s bands?
Fink: More than musical influence, like I said before, the younger generation doesn’t care about genres so much. Now garage people listen to “Killed By Death” type punk rock and it’s no big deal.
MN: There’s so much information now.
Fink: Yeah, because of the internet.
MN: Really, what I think is interesting about rock and roll is that chaotic nature, and I mean that in a good way. Back then, there was that sprinkling of local scenes, each with its own flavor. I feel like that was still going on when Teengenerate was playing.
Fink: You mean local scenes?
MN: Not just local, but what I mean is there was no internet, so going to record stores and going to shows, that’s how you got information. But now it’s like you can check out a band on YouTube before you go so it’s like, there’s no surprise anymore.
Fink: Yeah, but that’s the way the world’s going. It’s like the thing with DJs. People go to see DJs more than they go to see bands. That’s just the way the world’s going I guess. It can’t be helped.
When I was in high school, the first priority was music. Right when the bubble was happening, there were statistics about this broken down by country. They asked people in each country what their first priority was. In America, the top had things like music, job, etc. In Japan it was sex. I like sex too, but I mean from that time on, music was really low priority. Then, going into the 90s, the first priority for guys became fashion.
So, when you talk about the trends of the time, we can jaw about it all day but there’s nothing you can do. Music doesn’t have the cultural power it did like when the Beatles were playing. It’s also the internet era so you can pick and choose. You can check out a band and save yourself the trouble if you don’t like it. So now it’s only rock maniacs and old farts going out to buy records and see shows. But I think things will roll around again. People will never stop listening to music. Tim said that too. He said that in Europe, people still buy CDs but they don’t in the US. People are still buying vinyl there and it’s young people doing it. They can download music for free illegally but they’d rather buy the actual record. That makes me happy.
MN: You haven’t really stopped writing songs since you quite Teengenerate, right?
Fink: Yeah, I kind of fell off songwriting when I was in Firestarter, though.
MN: I like all the bands you’ve done, but Teengenerate gets talked about the most, doesn’t it? Even though you’ve moved on to bigger and better things with Raydios and Firestarter.
Fink: Well, worldwide, some people have heard Teengenerate. The next one down is Firestarter and nobody’s heard Raydios (laughs). We’re not young and as you probably expect, I’m not hungry for recognition. I just play what I want to play.
MN: Yeah, and you had a good run with Teengnerate anyway.
Fink: Right. Teengenerate had our records put out by overseas labels. At that time, records were coming out by those labels like every week and we were buying them up. And people who only buy foreign stuff were into us too. But that was totally by accident. If we started a band like Teengenerate today, I still don’t think people would get it. We’d just get buried under everything else. It was that kind of era. Once in a while an era like that comes around.
There are people who from the Teengenerate days who come to see Raydios now. We don’t have many fans, but many that we have are from the old days. So if Teengenerate were totally unknown…
MN: You wouldn’t have that.
MN: What kind of person do you think should see this movie most?
Fink: If I had to say, I’d say… nobody has to see this movie. But if you play in a band, I guess the message is that anything can happen. You don’t have to be an awesome player or really talented. You can just play. Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s music or art or whatever, keep trying to make something better than you made before and give it your best. At the very least, it’s fun, and maybe you’ll get rewarded for your efforts and something will happen. Maybe (laughs).
But for the people who come to see the movie, only a small number know our band, right? So, if it’s somebody who isn’t into music or somebody bringing their cousin or something, it’s like even if you don’t have the very basics of playing music down or even you’re some old fart nobody cares about, somebody might make a documentary about you (laughs). I mean, I hope people who are on the fence decide, yeah, I should pick up a guitar. That’s about it. There’s nothing difficult about it.
MN: Today, with too much information and everything, I think there are people playing in their room or garage or whatever for a long time who have never gotten in front of an audience yet.
Fink: Like they’re not ready? They think you can’t play until you’re ready?
MN: Yeah. So, like it’s fine to suck, just play.
Fink: Yeah, I think it doesn’t even matter if you just play covers. At least if you’re playing covers of songs by other people, you’re really playing songs. It’s better than hearing somebody just spin the record. I mean, DJs are okay (laughs). Even kids who go out to hear DJs play records, it’s still people getting together for music. I’m glad people are doing that. I mean, music has probably fallen to like the 100th priority or something like that all over the world. Right after Korean dramas maybe.
And if you’re gonna start a band, someday instead of covers or DJs, you can start writing the kind of songs you want to hear. It’s natural that if you really love music, you want to make your own music, so if you keep going with it, you’ll naturally start wanting to try to make a song that’s better than what you listen to yourself. I mean, you almost never make music that’s better than anything you’re listening to. But if everybody gives up trying, it’s fucking over. It’s like the rank of music falls to 500th priority.
Sometimes you go out drinking and there’s some old guy rehashing that old “there’ll never be anything better than the Beatles” argument. That kind of talk pisses me off. If you’re playing in a band, don’t cave in to that way of thinking. In the beginning, go ahead and rip off the Ramones or whatever. Whether you’re covering somebody or copying somebody, whatever, just play. I don’t hate Japanese music (laughs), but then when you’ve copied others long enough, you should naturally start to write something. Try to write something that’d get a pat on the back from the Ramones (laughs). It’s the enthusiasm that’s important. I mean, even an old crank like me talking all of this bullshit can crank out some shitty songs (laughs).