Stop Breaking My Heart – An Interview with Blockbusters

Here’s an interview with Blockbusters by Saga-young from August 2011, originally published here. Blockbusters are one of the hundreds of bands Inagaki plays in and in my humble opinion, the best. The interview is mostly about the band’s history but don’t worry, there are some philosophical ruminations on rock and roll as well.

Can the band members please introduce themselves?

Inagaki: I’m Inagaki on vocals and guitar. I’m also in Rockbottom. I’ll be doing one show with the Treeberrys.

Saboten: I’m Seiichi Takagi on bass.

Hagi: I’m Hagi. I do drums and backup vocals.

Ozaki: I’m gonna do it idol style…

I’m guitarist Koji Ozaki. My birthday is Friday, September 13, 1968. My blood type is AB and my favorite

food and drinks are Baby Star Ramen, yams, okra, natto, fried tofu, every kind of fish fish, soba and udon, Wilkinson’s Ginger Ale, and Japanese sake.

Why is the band called Blockbusters?

Inagaki: Because we love Sweet, we wanted to call the band something fun, and I want to be a blockbuster. That’s why.

Hagi: That’s right, it’s from a Sweet song.

When did you get together and why did it happen?

Inagaki: It was four years ago, I guess, in September. I wanted to play real explosive rock and roll in an upbeat, high-energy band. I met Hagi and we didn’t bother looking for other members. We just started playing shows and having a good time as a duo.

Hagi: We met when I started working at the same place as Inagaki. He was involved in part of the interview process and when I told him I played drums, he said let’s play some Cheap Trick covers, so the two of us went into the studio. When we went to the studio, he already had some originals prepared and those were the first Blockbusters songs. After that, Inagaki vetted me while hanging out and watching soccer games together. I guess I passed.

Saboten: I joined when a band I was filling in on bass with played with Blockbusters as a duo.

Then you guys were a trio and Ozaki came along later, right? I was surprised when Ozaki joined. How did that happen?

Hagi: At first we played as a duo and then Saboten, who played in a band we played with, joined and there were three of us.

Inagaki: That’s right. For about the first year we played as a duo. But there’s a limit to what you can do as a duo, so it got to the point where I felt like we couldn’t make the music I had in mind. At that time, Saboten said he wanted to join the band, so we gave it a try.

We played as a three-piece for about a month and it still seemed like something was missing, and straight off I thought of Ozaki. We were always talking about starting a band together and actually, and we did a Cheap Trick cover band where he took the part of Rick. We were doing a Rick Nielsen birthday show every year. Ozaki, Tomoko from Supersnazz, Sei-kun and Buchi-kun from Clandestine always joined the show and it was a good time.

Around that time Ozaki’s band Boyce was taking a break. I took the opportunity to ask him and he said yeah. Ozaki came to see us every time we played anyway and I felt like he was one of the few people who got what we were doing. So he was like the last piece of the puzzle.

Hagi: As a trio there was a time when we were trying to play the duo songs through trial and error. We felt like we should add another guitar to the mix. There were times when he’d join us on-stage, so it was pretty obvious.

Saboten: Shortly after I joined, Ozaki joined, so to me it was more like we went from a two-piece to a four-piece. The songs were written for just a guitar and drums, so we arranged them for a four-piece band, played them live, then rearranged them some more again… Sometimes it was a pain but then sometimes it really worked. I think we’re still doing some trial and error on the songs even now…

Ozaki: Ina and I both like a thicker backup vocal sound. I guess what makes it different than before is that there’s a higher vocal line that kind of busts through the melody.

Inagaki: With four members, the range of what we could do increased dramatically and it was fun but I feel like we’re still not realizing our potential. But that’s where we’re headed in the future.

What have you put out so far?

Inagaki: As a duo, we put out a bunch of CD-R singles and made two CD-R albums.

Hagi: We made a lot of demos when we were playing as a duo but in our present form we haven’t put out anything.

Was there some concept behind the band when you started? What kind of band did you want to start?

Inagaki: We just wanted to play upbeat, energetic rock and roll. We started writing and what came out wasn’t exactly like that though.

Hagi: Inagaki’s the voice of the band so we played the stuff he wanted to play with me on drums, so we could do pretty much any kind of music. That hasn’t changed from the beginning.

Listening to your music I hear a lot of Cheap Trick influence. What does Cheap Trick mean to Blockbuster?

Saboten: Of course we love Cheap Trick but personally I don’t think try to play like them or anything like that. Or maybe we just can’t.

Ozaki: Cheap Trick get pigeonholed into the category of power pop, but there’s so much of a greater band than that. They’ve had a long career and the pure rock and roll element is strong. Beyond just the music, they have a sense of humor which is another reason I like them.

Hagi: To tell the truth, I barely ever listened to them before we started Blockbusters. Now I think they’re one of the greatest bands and if there wasn’t Cheap Trick we never would’ve started the band. Personally, I think in terms of songwriting, there’s nobody quite like them.

Inagaki: I don’t want to speak for the whole band, but for me they’re like gurus. They’re the band that taught me how fun R&R is. It was through them that I learned about a whole lot of other great bands. Hello There!

Does Inagaki write the songs? And do you feel like they’re different from Rockbottom?

Hagi: I’ll leave the answer to this one to Inagaki.

Inagaki: It’s not a set thing but Blockbusters don’t play any songs that come from anger or rage. When a song comes out, I know it. This song is for Blockbusters.

What kinds of bands do you play live with in Tokyo?

Hagi: The band we play most with is Clandestine. We love them.

Inagaki: We also play a lot with the Gimmies and Phantom Rats.

Are there any bands you’ve played with in Tokyo that you especially thought were cool? Any that really inspired you?

Saboten: Once in a while there’s a band we play with where it’s like, “Wow, they really kicked our asses.” I guess that’s what you mean by ‘inspire?’ There are way too many to mention here. If I had to say one, maybe Novice from Mito.

Ozaki: The bands we love to play with (and not just in Tokyo) include the Choosers, the Last Numbers, Clandestine, the Gimmies, Hateman, BLPRS, Liquid Screen, the Sensitive Lips…

Hagi: What he said, and also Neon Group and Firestarter are great.

Inagaki: We get inspiration from everybody. There are a lot of great bands. Clandestine, the Gimmies, Baby Blue, the Stairs, 3MM, the Thunderroads, Firestarter, Borokichi, Hateman, Parachute, Phantom Rats, Rangsteen, Keen Monkey Work, Young Parisian, You Got A Radio… Really, there are a ton of them.

What do you think about Tokyo’s rock clubs? It seems like at the kind of shows we go to or the kind of shows you play there aren’t many young people there. I mean, it seems like rock and roll isn’t aimed so much at teens anymore but more like people our age.

Saboten: I think you’re right. I think it’s because young people today don’t feel the need for live music.

Hagi: I’m a little bit younger than everybody here but I feel like I see fewer people coming to see shows and the age range rising.

Inagaki: But, the people who come are really into the music. There are a lot of bands doing great stuff right now. We’re definitely getting older but even back in my 20s, I didn’t feel like the rock and roll scene was particularly young.

I’m kind of getting off track here, but the idea that R&R is teen music is nothing but a sound bite. The fact that there are more and more people raised by rock and roll who stand by it until they die is the reason why there’s so much great rock and roll. I understand the idea that if young people aren’t into it, it’s not going to keep going, but age or generation doesn’t matter. What matters is being into it.

I understand the idea of teenagers rebelling against the oppression of society, but for those of us in our twenties, thirties and older, there’s still plenty of oppression to rebel against.

Also because rock and roll is fun, it has the potential to cross generations and mean a lot to people regardless of age or anything else. I think it has the ability to do that. Life is full of lots of different things, but with rock and roll, it’s like, “Let’s overcome all of this boring shit and have a good time until we die!”

Ozaki: Even really great bands don’t have anybody in their teens listening to them. It’s like the kids are at club events maybe instead of live shows. So the only thing for us to do is ditch the ‘hit single’ mentality that ruled the rock scene 40 years ago and make something actually worth listening to.

Inagaki and Ozaki, you guys have been playing power pop from a long time ago. What kind of music does Blockbusters consider power pop?

Saboten: I’m embarrassed to say it, but I don’t really feel qualified to talk about power pop. The more I listen to and the more I know, the less I understand what it is. But I like it anyway. Sorry, I totally didn’t answer your question.

Ozaki: A pop melody line, catchy chorus, rock and roll energy, the kind of explosive energy we play with, and also some degree of that meticulous attention to detail that’s part of our Japanese nature.

Hagi: I’ll leave this one to Inagaki too.

Inagaki: First of all, I never decided I wanted to play the style power pop either back then or now. For me, what’s called “power pop” is just the ultimate form of rock and roll. It’s a kind of style, like what you hear on those Rhino comps and things like that, but for me what’s important is to communicate ideas and energy. That’s all. I just like simple pop and pop rock, like Badfinger. Power pop is something else entirely. Does that make sense?

What’s each member’s favorite band? Whatever comes to mind right now is okay.

Saboten: The Who.

Ozaki: The Small Faces, the Raspberries, the Replacements.

Hagi: Pennywise, Iron Maiden. I feel like I can live the next twenty years on those two alone.

Inagaki: The CDs in my bag right now are the Shoes, 20/20, Stage Dolls, Dwight Twilley, Big Star, Rockbottom. If you ask me what bands I’m into right now, inputting them all into your phone will give you tendonitis.

What is each member’s favorite records?

Saboten: Right now my record player is broken so I can’t listen to records, but you can’t go wrong with the Who “My Generation,” and the Jam “In the City.” More than records, they’re really just collections of great songs.

Ozaki: The Outlets “Best Friend,” the Leopards “Harlean’s House,” the Freshies “Dancing Doctor,” the Raspberries “I Don’t Know What I Want,” the Nazz “Open Your Eyes,” the Spongetones “Better Take It Easy,” the Replacements “Bastards of Young.”

Hagi: Iron Maiden “The Number of the Beast.”

Inagaki: Pete Ham “7 Park Avenue.”

What’s your favorite album lately?

Inagaki: Stage Dolls “Good Times,” their 2-disc best of.

Saboten: If I could listen to records, the Chiffons “Stop, Look and Listen” would be the first thing I’d listen to.

Ozaki: The Spencer Davis Group “Mojo Rhythm & Midnight Blues Vol. 2.”

Hagi: Same as above, “The Number of the Beast.”

Do you have any plans to put out a record or do anything else like that in the future?

Inagaki: We’re recording in the fall and we’ll put something else. We’re also playing shows.

Ozaki: I’d love to put out an album.

Do you have a message for our Osaka fans?

Ozaki: In the beginning we didn’t play anywhere but Tokyo but… Forget about power pop, punk, mod, garage or whatever and please just enjoy our music for what it is. Let’s just rock. Thanks for inviting us. We’ll play anywhere you want us to. Thank you!

Saboten: Please invite us again! Thanks!

Hagi: We hope you’ll like us and we’ll have more and more chances for all of us to play with each other.

Inagaki: This is our first show outside the Tokyo area. Thank you, Saga-young. We’ll give it our best so please enjoy. I’m looking forward to it. It’s hot as hell so bring your fans and cooler sheets.

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