Comanechi have written the most playful and exciting punk album of 2009
“It’s not safe to play in the road, y’know?” mews a grumpy neighbour as she darts back into an east London pub. Comanechi scuttle to the curb once more, allowing a white van to pass without flattening them. And then it’s back to lying on tarmac and playing with the traffic.
Because our nosey onlooker is unaware of so many things where Akiko [drums & vocals] and Simon [guitar] are concerned. From her midday gin binge, she has no clue that this is a band 4 years in the making; that their survival skills reach far beyond fending off a Smart car or two; that their long-awaited debut album is far more violent and less safe than any hurtling metal contraption. “It’s not safe to play with Comanechi,” is what she should really be warning.
As she bounds into our Dalston meeting place, Akiko – Keex to her friends – is everything and nothing like I expect. Past photo shoots of Comanechi have her sexing the camera, pursed-lipped, like a give-a-fuck i-D model: the kind of girl who would probably smoke during sex and not talk to you after. In print, much like Alice Glass, she is cool past the point of awe, and into the realms of intimidation. In the flesh, she’s even more striking. Five feet of Cassette Playa fashion, a cross between Karen O and MIA, Akiko is a definite star. But she’s also far more approachable than her 2D self suggests. For one, she giggles, a lot. On introduction, she thanks us for playing new song ‘Rabbit Hole’ on our podcast before either of our arms are extended. Later we’re invited to her house for tea and sweets, and for the rest of our time together she happily throws her slight frame into any request our photo shoot asks of her, however “unsafe”.
Simon resembles a young Thurston Moore, and equally plays his guitar like the Sonic Youth main brain. When he’s not crunching out a sound beyond his one distorted instrument he contrasts Akiko’s excitable giggles with calm silence. He considers every question put to him before giving an answer and kindly offers to help distribute future issues of Loud And Quiet. In many ways – tall and tiny, patient and extroverted – Simon and Akiko are polar opposites, and yet they’ve managed to make one hell of a focussed, visceral grunge album.
‘Crime of Love’ – 12 tracks high by an offal-less 25 minutes wide – is only more fun than it is direct. A short, swift burr of distorted guitars and female J-Pop vocals recorded through shitty microphones, it’s a thrash metal audio diary extremely personal to the band. Too personal, even, for Akiko to describe in detail.
In her nearby home, over a cup of tea and under a giant house cat named GG (after the mad, stink-loving noise punk GG Allin, no less), Akiko is suddenly borderline shy. “The lyrics are all to do with love life – love to boys and girls, love to parties. I don’t want to go into personal stuff but… I dunno… I don’t know how to describe it,” she says in an unfamiliar hushed voice. “If you read the lyrics – buy the CD, it’ll come with lyrics – you’ll know.”
Yes, as that less-than-subtle segue from unwanted counselling session to album plug demands, do buy the CD, and do pay attention to Akiko’s viciously yelped lyrics. That way lays tales of lust, hatred, sex, anger and loss. Pretty much the subjects that festoon every great rock’n’roll record since the invention of recorded sound then, but coming from a Japanese born (and predominantly speaking) singer, Akiko’s shrieks in her second language are equally as important to her as the racket her drum kit makes.
“The whole album is autobiographical,” she says, lighting another cigarette as soon as the previous one burns out “because it’s true, it’s honesty and pure emotion that comes from your actual experiences. Before, my English wasn’t so good, so our earlier songs have really simple, repetitive lyrics, but I started to get more into the importance of the lyrics. I always knew the importance but I got more skilled. My English is still simple but I can give more of a message. I’ve started to spend more time on it, reading other peoples’ lyrics. It really reaches to my heart. And people like Comanechi because of the lyrics as well as the music.”
Time has been good to this duo. Since they first met at a mutual friend’s BBQ, exciting each other over a shared love (and they do mean love) for all things sausage and tongs (Akiko’s parents owned a BBQ restaurant back home in Japan), Akiko’s English has been able to steadily improve for our lyrical enjoyment, but time has also allowed for the band to perfect playing their instruments. Simon had played guitar in school but given up on leaving. Then, two weeks before meeting Akiko, he’d been told that his current employers were going under and so, as a treat to himself, spent his last paycheque on buying a new guitar. Talk of marinades over, the pair arranged to meet up to make noise together. That was 4 years ago, and was followed soon after by the band’s debut single, the White Heat released ‘Rude’: a relentless punk track based around a heavy, chugging ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’-esque riff. It was a confident and abrasive start that pointed to how good Comanechi could be if they could successfully carve some melodies into their thrashy tracks.
“Originally we thought we’d have 20 of those singles as an album,” says Simon “but however great those songs are you can’t listen to more than four or five of them in a row – having no variance was just too much. That’s what we learnt through demoing so much – to have some longer more psychedelic tracks. We realised we had to move on and grow into a band you could actually listen to.”
While ‘Crime of Love’’s hardcore ferocity will still rip a new spindle hole in any other record it comes into contact with, its pop melodies are key to its greatness. 20 ‘Rude’’s would have been fun, right up until Track 5 had you destroying your speakers with your bedroom window and the pavement below. Now, Simon continually cuts out over-driven shapes of noise, like Nick Zinner, while Akiko yells something your postman could whistle, if only he’d go to fucking work. It’s tall and tiny/patient and extroverted working in perfect unison. So yes, time really has been good to Comanechi, but 4 years? Isn’t that the average time it takes for a band to form, conquer SXSW, sponsor E4, fall short on expected album sales by 50,000, split up and start working in a second hand shop?
“It’s taken this long because this album is completely DIY,” reasons Simon. “It’s basically us making a record with our friends…”
“Merok actually offered us this album a year ago,” interjects Akiko “but it took a long time to finish mixing and adding more vocals and sounds. This guys called Jimmy Robertson – he’s our friend and he also did the Klaxons album, Mystery Jets, he also did The Big Pink, Late of The Pier, Long Blondes – he’s really good but he was always booked up with bands on big record labels with lots of money to pay him so we were always doing two days, three days month. Then we’d have to stop, and while we were recording like that we had more new songs that we wanted to put on the album.”
Simon: “I think, with us, that worked quite well, because putting us in a studio for a week with a producer wouldn’t have…” Simon pauses for thought. “…to develop it this way, it’s given us the album that we love and can move on with it.”
Simon and Akiko are planning on ‘moving on’ as soon as we leave them alone. I ask them what they’re doing for the rest of the day and matter-of-factly they respond with, “We’re going to write our new album.” ‘Crime of Love’ isn’t even released until December and already they’re eyeballing their second record. Presumably, we’ll not have to wait a further four years to hear it. Predicting how it might sound though, is a little trickier – Comanechi’s influences reach far and wide, from similar guitar and drum setups (in particular touring partners Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Gossip) to psychedelic doom metallers Electric Wizard, whom Simon and Akiko became so obsessed with, it nearly split them up.
“We both developed this really intense obsession with them,” remembers Simon. “For six months all we could write was Electric Wizard songs.”
“We lost lots of fans,” adds Akiko.
Simon: “We even tracked down the guy that recorded their album ‘Dopethrone’ and went to his studio in the New Forest and recorded these songs with him. It was insane – the level of obsession that we briefly went through, it almost destroyed us.”
“Yeah but it was really good,” insists Akiko. “We’d done ‘Rude’ and ‘Naked’, two singles on White Heat, which were really quite poppy and there were these indie kids into it, and then all of a sudden we got into Electric Wizard, which is like really heavy, and decided to make music like that.”
Simon: “So we were in the New Forest with this guy and it’s completely insane with his kids running around and animals everywhere, a studio in a shed. And we were just asking him about Electric Wizard, like two super fans…”
“Oh my God!” interrupts Akiko, suddenly remember something “that house is in the middle of nowhere! To go to a shitty corner shop it’s a 15-minute drive. And they do everything by themselves. They don’t have electricity and they didn’t cook for us or anything so we had to eat tins of soup. It was like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Outta Here. There was no heating and we were sleeping on the floor in a concrete shell, I was so miserable. Simon likes walking and mountains; I’m a city girl. I like having friends around the corner, a drink around the corner. That killed me, I was so depressed. We were like, ‘fuck it’, let’s make some more poppy songs.”
Two days. That’s how long the pair survived in The New Forest. It’s hardly The Beatles’ year in India but Comanechi had successfully managed to exorcise a majority of their doom metal demons. A few spectres did hang around mind, enabling the band to write ‘My Pussy’. A sludgy lament about how Akiko’s childhood pet was stolen and never returned, it’s something of ‘Crime of Love’’s epic retreat, clocking in at a massive 3 minutes 48 seconds. Everything else on the record is always sub-3-minutes, and often shy of 2. Not ‘My Pussy’ though. That slowly crunches on and on (well, kinda) as Akiko assaults a symbol and speaks of her first lesson in lost love, aged 5. Also in amongst the tearaway pop tracks like ‘Close Enough To Kiss’, ‘I Wish’ and ‘Rabbit Hole’ is the even more tearaway ‘Why?’, which is 45 seconds long and sounds like the beginning of Test-Icicles’ ‘What’s Your Damage?’, and two songs that particularly boast the band’s often unsung versatility.
‘On’n’On’ is a cross between ‘My Tornado’ by The Raveonettes and down-tempo Blood Red Shoes. And while that doesn’t sound all that impressive, it somehow is. It steadily prowls as Akiko’s vocal are allowed to sing and not scream. She sounds almost angelic as she gently coos to double-tracked “oooohs” and “aaahhhs”. It’s road movie music for America’s west coast rather than the gridlocked Dalston High Street that Akiko lives off. The psychedelic and sinister ‘Mesmerising Fingers’ is even better. It’s quite possibly the best track ‘Crime of Love’ has to offer. Proof once more that that Electric Wizard obsession wasn’t completely fruitless, Akiko’s voice is distorted once more but not as much as Simon’s guitar, which fuzzes a huge doomy riff. “I’m licking his fingers/I’m looking for his fingers,” Akiko aggressively spits, before complimenting the “mesmerising fingers” of her more than competent lover. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that it’s Comanechi at their most sexy, patient and hypnotic.
“Help yourself to those,” says Akiko, pointing at a bowl of suspicious looking sweets on her coffee table. No, ‘suspicious’ is the wrong word, ‘unfamiliar’ is more accurate, in the way that crisp packets look in Benidorm, or biscuits do in Italy. France is where these sweets are from. Paris to be exact; collected by Akiko when recently in the city of love to record a TV show with The Big Pink.
Longstanding friends – and Comanechi’s label boss in The BP’s Milo Cordell: the man behind Merok Records – Akiko is practically a fully-fledged member of the shoe-gazing band now. And when she’s not drumming for them (which she usually is, due to their continual climb from buzzing blog fodder to credible princes of Radio 1’s playlist) she’s screaming and collapsing as she fronts hardcore noise gang Pre and, occasionally, performing under her solo guise, Sperm Javelin. That’s four bands that Akiko is involved in, perhaps alluding to why just as many years have passed with no sign of a Comanechi album, and definitely leading me to ask how they manage to keep this, their main concern, going.
“At the moment it’s like having two other bands,” reasons the singer. “Pre just released an album and we toured that over America, and Jon’s in Male Bonding who’ve just signed to Sub Pop so they’re writing their album and Pre’s on a bit of a break. My other band, Sperm Javelin, I made that one up. I just do whatever, it’s just me, and I don’t even have any songs, I just turn up and improvise. I play guitar and scream, and have a different drummer each time.”
“I don’t think we’re the kind of band that would work if you put us in a tour bus for 11 months of the year together,” adds Simon.
“It’s actually better,” furthers Akiko. “If I had just one band I’d get so obsessed. It’s better that I have lots of projects.”
Of course, Akiko’s distractions being what they are and not a wet indie band, a dirge acoustic indulgence and Glasvegas, depending on your view, does her 2D image that’s now a distant memory either little or a lot of harm. She’s unquestionably cool, even more so once you meet her, and Simon is no dorky Hot Chip spare part (did I draw attention to the fact that he looks like Thurston Moore already?). But are Comanechi aware of all this?
“Why do you think that?” asks a puzzled-sounding Akiko, ultimately answering the question in the flash. “I don’t know,” she ponders. “I can’t really say. People might think that I always try to hang out in the scene but I don’t do that. Like, last night Loverman had their album launch and Adam the bassist plays bass in The Big Pink when Leo is in LA. He was like, ‘Hey Keex, you coming down,’ and I was like, ‘No.’” Akiko giggles the loudest giggle of the day. “Sometimes I’m just tired of seeing so many people at the same time and I knew so many friends that were going to be there. It’s not because I don’t want to see them – I want to see them – but sometimes I get a bit claustrophobic because I’m always out doing gigs. I’d rather stay home and write new songs sometimes.”
Like this afternoon, once we leave and Simon and Akiko begin writing their second album. Before we do leave though, I have one last question for Comanechi; a band that have been so patient and dedicated to making music together that they’ve already existed for a lifetime. Over the past 4 years, from barbequed burgers and doom rock addiction to touring with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and touring for other bands, what is the most important lesson that Simon and Akiko have learnt?
“Just keep doing it,” smiles Akiko. “Don’t give up until you’ve done what you want to do.”
Simon: “You get people in bands, putting nights on, releasing records and sharing ideas, and that’s art. Then some bands get signed and are taken out of that and they lose it. Just because you’re not given an advance and loads of money doesn’t mean that you should stop. Make your art and see if people like it.”
Trust me, this art you will like.
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