Here’s an interview with Tappei (mostly) from Stairs that Nakagami-san gave me from the vaults. It’s from June 2009 and was recorded at an undisclosed Tokyo location that probably has cheap drinks. Here’s Nakagami-san’s intro…
It’s never really occurred to me to interview the Stairs because I was in their previous band and I know pretty much everything about them, and I went to high school with the ever-quirky Iizuka. So, what on earth could ask them about? But once we started talking, things started getting interesting. Stairs are starting to amass a pretty big following and they have a 7-inch coming out on Needle Records. In this interview, we mostly talk about the formation and history of the band.
Tappei There was a guy I used to work with, he was a real business type but he had some kind of connection with Kei Ogura*, and he said, “Hey, let’s go play on the street in Shin-Yokohama.” That was back when you didn’t see so many people doing that.
*From the Wikipedia: “Kei Ogura is a Japanese singer, songwriter and composer. He was also a bank clerk of Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, after graduation from the University of Tokyo. His musical career was in parallel with banking activity.”
Y’know, an old couple would sometimes give us 3,000 yen or something, and then it was like, “Yeah, maybe I could do this” (laughs). So, the other guy quit and then I was playing by myself and I met a guy who was always drinking and hanging out on the streets, and he said, “Let’s start a band.” Ever since high school, I loved punk, and I always thought you don’t have to be any good. So, we started this band and we sucked bad (laughs). Cuz we’re punk, you know. We wrote some originals and we called ourselves Vender of Flowers.
So, we’re playing our cruddy punk on the street and there were some other guys playing there, mostly hippies who were playing sitars and shit like that, and we got friendly with them and got into their drugs (laughs). Then, we moved it to Yokohama and that’s where I met Iizuka.
We were playing on the street just like always, and Iizuka comes along and says, “Hey, can I play with you guys?” He starts playing “First Time” by the Boys, which I didn’t know at that time, and I was like, “Isn’t that Special Duties?” He was like, “No, dumbfuck, it’s the Boys.” That’s how we met.
Iizuka At that time, I was playing in a Red Hot Chili Peppers-style rap-rock band and I was coming home from practice when I first met Tappei. We exchanged phone numbers and usually that would be the end of it there, but Tappei called me up and said, “Hey, our next gig is in Shin-Yokohama,” and I grabbed my guitar and headed down.
Tappei We were playing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and he ripped out this wild solo and I was like, “Whoah, he can actually play.” (laughs)
So, Iizuka turned me on to the Boys “Best” and Teengenerate “Smash Hits.” He let me borrow his records. When I heard Teengenerate, I thought, “Ah, sounds like New Bomb Turks.” I knew the Turks. I wasn’t that into it but I really got into the Boys.
Iizuka After that, I had to go to the hospital and we lost touch for about a year.
Tappei So then I was living in Shimokitazawa. Totally by accident I was living in the same apartment building as Fifi. Vender of Flowers was playing a style that was something like “hardcore / garage.” We really loved Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell and stuff like that. We didn’t set out to sound like them but that was what we were doing. I didn’t know a lot of the lesser-known punk rock stuff at that time.
Iizuka came to see us when we played at Yaneura (*a club in Shimokitazawa). I guess there were some industry types there and stuff. Iizuka was like, “You guys sound like Guitar Wolf. Not like in the same vein as Guitar Wolf, but like you’re trying to copy them.”
So, I just kept on doing the band and hanging out in Shimokitazawa. I fell in with some bad dudes, I guess, and got into drugs and drinking too much. I was getting banned from clubs and things like that, and I eventually ended up in the hospital.
After I got out, Iizuka was calling me up and going, “Hey, where are my records?” Then he was asking me if I’d play drums in a band he was rehearsing with and trying to get going. That band turned out to be Gateballs and that’s where I met Nakagami-san. I remember going to the rehearsal studio looking the way I usually do, and Nakagami-san was looking at me like, “Look at the riff-raff Iizuka dragged in this time” (laughs). This was around 2000.
The songs were good. Iizuka wrote them and we still play some of them. He and Nakagami-san started turning me on to power pop and I started getting really into it. The bassist Oishi-kun was also hip to all of that stuff. Until that time, I’d always been kind of fucking around and not serious about writing good songs and things like that, so it was really impressive for me (laughs). We never played live but we practice every week for about two years. That whole time was really important to the development of Stairs.
Iizuka would make tapes for me full of bands to check out and I’d get Fifi’s 120-minute tapes through Nakagami-san. There was one that was like the bible of power pop and it was called “Remember the Lightning.” It had everything you needed to know about power pop, all the basics.
Oishi-kun quit because of his work and basically the Gateballs kind of dissolved. So, Iizuka and I decided to start something else. He brought in Masaru on bass and I asked Matsuo, who I knew from work, to play drums. I switched to playing guitar and singing, and that was Stairs.
Around this time, Iizuka was telling me about all these bands I should go and see. He invited me to go and see Firestarter and Registrators at FAD but I didn’t go. Next time, he invited me to see Firestarter at Nishi-Ogikubo Watts. I went and that’s where I really realized how cool Teengenerate was. I met Fifi and that’s how we got involved with Firestarter. I knew that Nakagami-san was friends with them, but he’d never introduced me, so it was good that I went. From that time, I went to see a lot of shows. I guess it was like, I was learning how to make Stairs better by watching other bands.
Stairs played our first show in July 2002 at Hinodemachi Guppy but Iizuka was in the hospital so he wasn’t there… After that, Matsuo quit and Iizuka’s friend Momose filled in on drums. In 2004, Iizuka invited Joy Stax to play at Tennocho Orange County and then Masaru quit. We reformed in the summer of 2005 and Iizuka invited Trio, Rockbottom, Knocks and Fastcars from Fukushima to play at Shinjuku Jam and that was a pretty good show, but it didn’t turn out that well and I felt really bad, especially for Fastcars who came from a long ways away.
It ended up just the two of us then and we kept playing. What else were we gonna do? We played as a duo at Tennocho again with Borrows. I remember Fifi really encouraged us, saying, “Whatever happens with your band, it’s not a big deal.” He was playing our demo “Rock Tonight” at Poor Cow and that was getting some people to come see us. So then things began to turn around for us. Because of people hearing it at Poor Cow, “Rock Tonight” became sort of our flagship song. I guess your fans decide that, but for us, it’s like we have other good songs, y’know.
Iizuka We were practicing on the streets in Kannai* at that time, getting yelled at and stuff.
(*The Kabukicho-esque entertainment district of Yokohama).
Tappei Matsuo came to see us when we were playing as a duo and came back into the band as support at first and then as a member, and Koji from Rockbottom also filled in and we started playing as a band again.
In December 2007, we played at Orange County again and it was a really great show and I felt like Stairs had finally come into our own. The Choosers from Sapporo were at that show and they invited us to play in Sapporo and we started getting invited to play other shows around Tokyo. I really want to put on shows in Yokohama. Orange County is alright but the gear there isn’t very good and there are other problems so we stopped putting on shows there. We have been trying studio shows and other things like that, but it’d be good to do a proper club show. The Have-Nots put on shows here and that’s great, but we just feel like we have to do it too. We’re always playing at other people’s events, but we want to set up our own and pay it back and invite those bands to play at our shows. I’d love to have the Have-Nots play one of our shows.
To be honest, I’m surprised Needle is putting this record out for us. A band called F.A.K.E. arranged for Parachute, another band I play with, to put something out and with Masa-kun and Susumu-kun, so it came about through that. Needle is a label people pay attention to and talk about, so I’m pretty excited and we won’t let them down.