Japan’s Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai Explores Love of Murder Mysteries, Blends Samba & Rap-Rock With LatestSingles
Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai’s Atsushi Ohsawa on Band’s Metal Roots, Netflix Theme & More
The song “Shiboufuragu wo tatenaide (Don’t get marked for death)” is about people being “marked for death.” What led you write a song about that?
Ohsawa: I don’t even remember any more (laughs). But I do think the first stage was trying to link our YouTube show, “Tengoku Hosokyoku,” with our music videos. That led to the idea to make a music video that had a narrative, like a TV show. I’ve always loved murder mysteries, so I thought, “If we’re going to do something with a story, why not a murder mystery?”
Even in fiction other than murder mysteries, there are times when characters “mark themselves for death,” saying something that makes it clear they’re about to die, right?
Ohsawa: Right. There was a scene in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, maybe at the end of part 5, I can’t remember, where all of a sudden one of the main characters marks himself for death. It made a vivid impression on me.
In the lyrics to the song, you cover what I’d call the big three “marked for death” lines: “I’m going back to my room,” “I’ll stop him, you go on ahead,” and “If I make it back alive, I’m going to propose to my sweetheart.”
Ohsawa: It would actually be really surprising and fresh if someone said one of those lines and then didn’t die (laughs). But there are two patterns when it comes to “I’ll stop him.” In something like the Yakuza games, someone can say that and survive. I think in the games they want the protagonist to fight on his own, so they use scenarios like that.
From watching “Tengoku Hosokyoku,” I think you really communicate to your audience how much excitement you can generate through the choreography for “Shiboufuragu wo tatenaide (Don’t get marked for death)”. That choreography is really effective now, when people in the audience can’t really shout at shows.
Ohsawa: That’s right. It’s really hard to do songs that involve call-and-response now. Right before the pandemic, we happened to write a song, “Kinniku My Friend” (“My Friend Muscles”) which involves doing squats, so now it’s one of our main songs. It’s not like we made it because of the pandemic, though. When we released a video of our audience doing squats, it made a huge impression. People were like, “wow, that’s crazy.” Before that, we wrote “Toshitsu Seigen Diet o Yatte Mita” (“I Tried a Zero-carb Diet”), and zero-carb diets tie into weight training, so that’s what led to writing “Kinniku My Friend.” Also, playing in the Budokan in 2018 put me face-to-face with my physical limits, so in 2019 I planned a bicycle trip across Hokkaido and I joined the gym, thinking “It’s about time that I start working out.” All of that culminated in “Kinniku My Friend.”
When you think of something you want to do, you get straight at it and make it a reality. You’ve got so much power. When the first state of emergency was declared during the pandemic, you started streaming the “VR Music Club” in no time flat. You were also really quick to realize that Vimeo was the best platform for streaming your material.
Ohsawa: Yeah. At the time, everything went fine, but then shortly afterward Vimeo stopped supporting iPhone’s gyroscope… You can still see the videos, but the video viewpoint no longer changes automatically based on what direction you’re facing (laughs).
The pandemic led to the creation of a lot of different songs, right? “Shingata Coronavirus ga Nikui” (“I hate COVID-19”), “Gyunyu Suisho Gekkan” (“Milk Promotion Month”), “Ashi no Kinniku no Otoroe Yabai” (“My Legs Have Gotten Crazy Weak”), “Ninniku wa Seigi” (“Garlic Is the Way”), “Asu no Keikaku” (“Tomorrow’s Plans”), these are all songs that were written because of the pandemic, right?
Ohsawa: We play down-to-earth, everyday life nu-metal, so of course our daily lives are really reflected in our music. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I’m sure we would have written songs that reflected our lives in that COVID-free world.
“Jimi na seikatsu (low-key life)” is a song like that, right?
Ohsawa: To be honest, that song wasn’t really written as some sort of noble song, like “I know our lives may seem bland, but let’s keep our heads up.” We wrote it because I cracked up every time I pictured shouting “Jimi, Jimi” (“lowkey, lowkey”) over a samba rhythm. I thought it was funny, like, “this sound isn’t bland!” (laughs) I think of this song as being samba rap-rock.
You used Brazilian instruments in the recording, right?
Ohsawa: Right. I was talking to Natsuko Nisshoku, a singer-songwriter in the same music agency as us, saying that her percussionist had a really good reputation, and she told me that the percussionist’s specialty was samba. The percussionist’s name is Honami Kikawa. We got in touch with her about playing on the song and she agreed right away. The recording session was a lot of fun, too.
So the “Jimi na seikatsu – SAMBA MAX EDITION” brings out the most of Kikawa’s performance?
Ohsawa: Right. As soon as it hits the chorus, the number of sounds shoots up. Mixing it was hard. So hard. Personally, I would have loved to put the samba instruments front-and-center, but then all of the other instruments would have been overwhelmed, so I reluctantly lowered the levels.
Speaking of unique mixtures, “Kiwami meoto kaido (The Extreme Way of the Married Couple) ”, the ending theme of Way of the Househusband, has enka music blended into it, doesn’t it?
Ohsawa: Yeah, that’s right. I love mixing up genres. That’s one of the great things about Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai. Even if we do something that’s musically a little weird, everyone recognizes it as a Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai song because of the lyrics. That makes things very easy for us as musicians. In other words, even if we play jazz or blues, we can still be Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai. This is something that presents a dilemma to a lot of musicians, but nobody’s ever told us that we’re taking things too far. We really had a blast with “Jimi na seikatsu,” and I would love it if the music video got a lot of views in Brazil. Our previous song, “Natsu no Uta” (“Summer Song”) had elements of bossa nova, so a Brazilian bossa nova metal band got in touch with us.
Previously, your song “Futon no naka kara detakunai (I Don’t Wanna Get Out of Bed)” gained sudden popularity in China, and your music started getting played in other countries, right? I’m sure they’ll enjoy “Shiboufuragu wo tatenaide,” too.
Ohsawa: I hope so. I think they’ll understand that “marked for death” trope. They might be like, “Oh, Japanese people have the same trope?” Like, there was a scene like that in Predator. He says something like “I’ll stop him, you go ahead!”…and, of course, he gets killed.
(Laughs). We’ve just been talking about comedic aspects of the band, but Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai’s trajectory is one of keeping on creating music, pushing steadily into the future, while having fun the whole way, right?
Ohsawa: It’s nice of you to say that. Luckily, there have been several times where things have gone a lot better than we’d expected.
So moving on to another one of your activities, touring. You’ve been on your “We HATE COVID-19 Tour” since 2020, through 2021, and now into 2022, so that’s roughly three years of touring.
Ohsawa: Yes. I didn’t want the tour to last this long (laughs). We started the tour out in 2020, feeling our way as we went, and then the final show got cancelled, so we announced “We’ll pick up where we left off in 2021!” And then when we thought for sure that we’d finish in late 2021, our drummer had to take a bit of a break, so then we were working on things with kind of a low profile for about half a year, and, well, here we are.
When Kawamoto was told by her doctor that she had to avoid strenuous exercise because of the results of her physical, she took part in the shows as a singer, right? Drummers from various other bands came in to provide support. That was a really innovative approach.
Ohsawa: People in the industry really liked it. No band wants to have one of their members missing from the stage. We got a lot of praise for coming up with a way to avoid that.
Uchikubigokumon-doukoukai has a wellspring of power that lets you turn even terrible situations into positives.
Ohsawa: We want to keep going no matter what happens. However, we do want to deal with the problem we’re grappling with now. We want to be like, “Okay, now it’s time for the final show of this tour!” (laughs) I think, a few years from now, when we look back, we’re going to see this as a very unique time in our history. Our melodies, like those on “Shiboufuragu wo tatenaide” and “Jimi na seikatsu” are very cheery. Originally, we played a lot of music in minor keys, but we’ve been writing more and more songs in major keys without even intending to. So at some point, the pendulum will probably swing back. Two or three years from now we may be writing really hardcore music (laughs).
—This article by Dai Tanaka first appeared on Billboard Japan.