Teenage Sensation – Tokyo’s power pop progenitors More Fun

“There’s more than enough power pop around these days. I mean, swing a skinny tie around anywhere in Tokyo and you’re going to knock somebody’s Rickenbacker 360 out of tune. But how many of these bands are out there playing the real shit?”… Okay, so I took a few liberties with the translation on this one (he todally didn’t say that). Here’s a translation of the liner notes for the More Fun collection coming out on Target Earth Records,  Teenage Sensation! The Best Of More Fun.

MoreFun

Where does a band get a name as playful and simple as “More Fun”? In the case of Tokyo band More Fun, which came out of the garage punk scene but then made a beeline for power pop, it came from a Radio Birdman song title. Now, twenty years later when we’re awash with power pop bands everywhere, it’s hard to understand what a ballsy move this was in the garage rock mid-90s.

Just like “punk,” “power pop” is another loaded term music geeks love to ruminate over. It’s not so easy to pin down because it’s open to interpretation depending on how you look at it. But what a can of worms to open here, on the pages of a CD’s liner notes.

We call alotta bands from the 70s and 80s power pop and you could just point to them and say, “That.” Even better, we could say that whatever Bomp!’s Greg Shaw would call power pop, that’s power pop. But no matter how you interpret this genre, More Fun definitely fits the bill.

At a high school somewhere in Saitama, three guys started a mess-around band for fun. These three guys were Inagaki, Matsuhashi and Sudo, and the band they started in high school was basically the beginning of More Fun.

To be honest, it wasn’t so much a “band” as a bunch of record dorks hanging out together all the time. Obsessed with the wild garage rock sounds bombarding Japan from overseas, they were regulars at record stores like Shinjuku’s Barnhomes.

Before the band More Fun, there was the zine More Fun, which was all about their vinyl obsessions. I remember I got a copy of it from Sudo. It was a thin little rag without much content, but among the content it had was a transcript of the writers’ correspondence with Canada’s brilliant BUM.

This was the tail-end of the hardcore era, where tapes were traded and letters were written to get obscure music into one’s hands. At this time, the Tokyo garage punkers were starting to make connections with garage freaks from overseas and it seemed like we were creating a huge network of likeminded bands and fans that stretched beyond the oceans or any geographic or language barrier. In other words, everything was blowing up in the garage rock scene.

Around this time, Sudo left the group and joined a band called Blew, but he stayed around in the scene playing melodic hardcore with them. I pretty much forgot about the zine he’d sent me. But zine writers Inagaki and Matsuhashi, along with college classmates Tomisawa and Hara, all of whom hung around at the old Red Cloth in Shinjuku where I was DJ’ing at Hiroshi Sekiguchi’s regular events, soon started the band More Fun. This was around 1993, smack dab in the middle of the budding scene spearheaded by Tokyo garage punk godfathers Teengenerate.

As I said, they got the name from Radio Birdman. It was also maybe a play on the Stooges’ “No Fun.” Maybe something like: It’s no fun, so let’s get out there and have more fun. I don’t know if they thought that or I just made it up, but anyhow, they were a full-on garage punk band, less like the 60s stuff and more of a balls-out rock band in the style of the 80s and 90s garage rock.

They made a demo tape and I didn’t think much of it. It sounded pretty much just like all the other garage rock that was coming out at the time. I wrote a bad review of it in my zine and I that caused a rift between us, although now I think they probably get what I was saying.

I have no idea what happened inside the band, but after the demo they made a shift to power pop. Looking back now, it was like a breakthrough. Today, Japan is flush with bands calling themselves power pop, but More Fun was the first. They were even ahead of the curve among bands overseas. I’m sure they had quite an influence on the big power pop bands that came later like the Tweezers and Samantha’s Favorite (by the way, I’m probably running this into the ground, but when I say “power pop” I don’t mean bands around at this time like Weezer or Jellyfish or bands they influenced, which people also call power pop).

Why did they go the power pop route? I’ve been asked this a lot and I’m not totally sure, but at this time, there was quite a bit of interest in the scene around Teengenerate in the genre. Fifi and Fink were both huge power pop fans, and people at this time were scouring record store discount bins looking for pop records that gave off the stink of true rock and roll.

If I had to characterize the sound of More Fun, I’d say it was akin to the bands on the Rhino 2-disc DIY series “American Power Pop.” The bands on those comps – The Flamin’ Grovies, the Plimsouls, the Romantics, the Shoes – were the staples of More Fun’s sonic diet. Unlike the obscure stuff everybody is digging up nowadays, they drew from these big, classic bands that were so important to the genre. Remember, this was before the internet made digging up obscure stuff so easy. The sounds of these core power pop bands weren’t just an influence but the very core of More Fun’s sound.

Around 1995, the band made another demo tape. It included “Teenage Sensation” which went on to become a single and made a pretty big splash in the underground music scene. I got ahold of it pretty soon after it came out and this time I took notice. I was so impressed I totally forgot about the earlier demo.

At that time, I’d just started Target Earth Records. I’d just put out the Evil Hoodoo record and then they broke up right after the release. I was having trouble figuring out what to do next. But hearing the demo solved that. I decided I had to put it out. Like me, the members of More Fun were all in their early 20s, all caught up in the 90s Tokyo garage scene, and all completely fucking crazy with no idea what they were doing with their lives. It was a good match.

We became fast friends and co-conspirators. We loved the same music and shared similar ideas. Fink and Warabi (from Wallabies Records) helped out with the recording. We recorded it Teengenerate-style, lugging all the gear into a practice studio and recording there in a desperate slapdash “it’ll do” manner. Wallabies was planning to put out a power pop compilation, so we recorded four songs. The comp never came out, but the song they recorded for it is here on this CD.

What we recorded would be their first single, “Teenage Sensation,” but the split they did with the Playmates on Little Finger Records ended up coming out first. These two 7-inches started gaining some traction and band started getting recognized. More Fun played gigs in Tokyo and even started making jaunts to other cities like Osaka and Nagoya.

A new style of pop exemplified by bands like the Playmates and Ron Ron Clou started to appear on the scene. Fifi started his power pop band the Tweezers, who took their cue from straight 70s power pop via pop punk like the Pushers, and Tweezers member Ozaki’s band Samantha’s Favourite made a major shift toward 70s power pop. A power pop scene was really starting to take shape.

But things started to go bad inside the band. There were lots of reasons and we’ll never know for sure because of the years and beers that have flushed the details down the toilet of rock and roll history, but let’s just say it was over creative differences.

Matsuhashi was the first to quit. His replacement was their old college classmate Iwase. Once she entered the band, there was a shift from the band being a bunch of wild kids messing around with this new cool thing called power pop, to a more polished guitar-pop direction. You can’t keep that original balance and naivete forever, and to their credit, they were reaching a new and probably bigger audience. The band appeared on a few comps but disintegrated as it was just on the cusp of starting a full-length.

Why’d they finally break up? Maybe the felt this upset of the balance and it just wasn’t “more fun” anymore. You can’t call yourself More Fun if it’s not.

After the breakup, Inagaki and Iwase went on to form the Treeberrys, who have since broken up. Inagaki and Tomisawa put together Rockbottom which Tomisawa later quit but Inagaki is still rocking with. Matsuhashi joined Beat Caravan and Hara played in Lover’s Beach and Lag and now doesn’t play in any bands.

There are probably folks wondering, why a More Fun reissue now? There’s more than enough power pop around these days. I mean, swing a skinny tie around anywhere in Tokyo and you’re going to knock somebody’s Rickenbacker 360 out of tune. But how many of these bands are out there playing the real shit?

The point is, there was a great band playing real power pop here in Tokyo in the 90s and here they are. There’s been some growing interest in More Fun and even people outside of Japan trying to find out about them. But this isn’t a “complete discography.” That’s all the rage these days. Pack everything a band ever did into one comp. I could’ve put their early demo, the one I thought was so ordinary and boring I was compelled to write a bad review of it. But why? Nah, instead, I’ve put together a “best of” to show the greatness the band was capable of, not every note they committed to tape.

So, listen to this best of comp and then keep going out and trying to find all the kickass power pop bands that are playing today.

2015.3

Masao Nakagami (Target Earth Records)

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s