Kiku Kimonolisa - singer
(aka Petra Hanson)
Birthday: December 12th
Saiko Mikan - bass
(aka Sanford Santacroce)
Birthday: May 23
Birthplace: New York City
Gaijin a Go-Go 2008 Players
Coffee Beat song sample
Hello Copycat (2002)
Where to Buy
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Gaijin a Go-Go Interview
On October 31st, 2008 Kiku and Saiko, aka Petra Hanson and Sanford Santacroce, the masterminds behind Gaijin a Go-Go, were kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World.
Let's start from the beginning. Back in nostalgic 1999 Kiku put an ad in a New York newspaper looking for band members with the following sales pitch: "Fun, fantasy, not fame." What type of band were you originally hoping to form?
Originally it drew from a wider range of international influences - French, Italian, Brazilian as well as Japanese music from the 60s. But very early on we decided it was better to focus on one pop culture. At the time Japanese seemed to be the most cutting edge.
The old adage "When in Rome" certainly didn't apply to this Brooklyn musical art project. How did the idea of forming a Japanese styled 60's go-go group go over with the other members?
60s music was always the seminal influence. All the members were fans of the original music and also the Shibuya scene that drew so much from the same source. So we were all on the same page.
Making such an authentic imitation of one part of Japanese musical culture isn't something that comes easily. What would you like your fans to know about what you are doing?
We do really work quite seriously on all aspects: songwriting, performance, costume, dance, image etc. It's all us and it's all genuine. And - unlike what some people have accused us of over the years -- we aren't making fun of Japanese pop culture at all. We think we are honoring it because its unique vibe has inspired us since we were kids and continues to do so.
Can you describe what about Asian and Japanese culture captivated your imagination?
It was specifically Japan and not all of Asia that captivated me (Kiku). After living in Tokyo, I always felt a connection to the quirkiness of their pop culture. Saiko grew up on Godzilla movies and anime so he was on the same page.
Were their particular groups that inspired your music and costumes?
The Japanese "Group Sounds" bands from the 60s--The Spiders, The Tigers, The Carnabeats--were the big inspiration for both music and vibe. Pizzicato Five was also a huge influence for our look. But they were probably referencing the same images we were: Bedazzled, old issues of Vogue, all the usual sources.
Speaking of costumes, you don't exactly wear outfits you can get at the local clothing stores. Where do they come from?
All of the costumes are designed and manufactured by me. Saiko has a large vintage men's collection. He also combed Ebay for the matching white jackets that we sewed red circles on the back of to make Japanese flag jackets. We had a band craft day: all the guys sewed rising suns onto the backs of their jackets.
Kiku, you have a background as a fashion designer for DUMBO. Did that come in handy?
Yes, everything gets made in my studio. (DUMBO is the neighborhood of Brooklyn I live in.)
The band's first two albums were actually released in Japan through Sony Music. How did you get hooked up with them?
Our manager was based in Japan. She and a group of Sony execs flew in to see a gig on a Saturday night and on Monday they offered to sign us. That was in the days when the music biz could afford gas money to see bands!
Joe Blaney from The Clash and B-52s fame worked with you early on. What was it like working with him?
It was a humbling experience to go from a jo(k)e to Joe -- just remove the "k"! Not that we were a total joke, but we didn't take ourselves that seriously. It was an art project like you said. Working with Joe raised the bar and we all grew as musicians from the experience. He's a really nice guy and great to work with.
Tell us about the music from your 2003 release, Happy-55-Lucky. How had the music changed from your earlier works?
We learned to arrange our songs much better while making that album. For example, we went in as a 5-piece garage rock band and afterwards immediately wanted to expand with a horn section and back-up singers.
The video for your song Skebe, Baby is a classic. What memories stand out from making it?
By the time we picked a director, we already had the whole video scripted ourselves. We gave him the treatment sheets and basically said "Shoot this." It was based on one of our favorite b-movie "auteurs", Jess Franco. We knew what we wanted in terms of story, lighting and styling so the director had it easy.
Other people you've worked for include Yasuharu Konishi from the Pizzicato Five. What was it like working with someone from a group that was part of the cultural image you are tongue-in-cheek recreating?
It's a very surreal experience to love and admire an artist and then find out that he wants to work with you! A lot of people didn't know what to make of us, but he got it right away. Pizzicato Five were also always winking at their audience.
You've also toured with an actual Japanese group, Puffy AmiYumi. What was that like?
Again, a lot of people didn't know what to make of us -- they thought we were a prefab group created by the label. But we got a lot of exposure and hopefully won people over. We definitely learned that the bigger the venue/event, the easier it is for the musicians. We had fun.
Beavis and Butthead fans might be interested to know that its director Mike de Seve has co-written songs with you. Were there any Beavis and/or Butthead impressions done at the time?
There was some "Headbutting" with Mike and some band members while he produced the "Go-Go Boot Camp" album. Our other cartoon connection is the album version of "Coffee Beat" was produced by Kimson Albert, a director for "The Venture Brothers."
The size of your band has varied over the years, reaching the heights of groups like Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. What do you think the future holds?
12 was the maximum we ever had on stage. We opened up for TSPO once with 11 people so the sound guys had it easy that night! The future will be smaller than 7 people for sure as we go more electronic. Perhaps we'll change our name to "Gai Junior".
Your latest CD is called Go-Go Boot Camp. Tell us a little about writing and recording the music.
Carlos Alomar of David Bowie and Scissor Sisters fame helped us with arrangements and pre-production. The songs were written over the course of a year and a half. Musically we aiming for less of a garage rock sound and more of an eclectic pop experiment, both in terms or arrangements and production.
Looking back over your career, what songs do you think best epitomize your spirit of fun?
Coffee Beat (the download-only version), Go-Go #55, Go-Go Bootist, Ai Suru Tame Ni (which is a cover song that we wrote Japanese words for).
Let's learn a little more about your backgrounds. Where were you both born and raised?
I (Kiku) was born in Maryland but my family moved to New York when I was young. Saiko was born in New York. We both grew up in Manhattan.
Who actually speaks the best Japanese?
Kinki Pajamamoto (guitar) and Annie-May Smith, one of our Wink Ladies (back-up singer), spoke fluently. That's because they are both Japanese. After they left, it was me (Kiku). I studied Japanese years ago.
It goes without saying that you all assumed you'd be in a 60s style Japanese-ish go-go band while you were growing up... Other than that what type of things did you dream about?
I dreamed of Jeannies! Saiko was a DAYdream believer...
For those in the know... who did you root for in the old King Kong vs Godzilla movie?
It depends if we're in Tokyo or New York. Toho supposedly filmed two endings for just such an occasion.
If you were forced to pick a personal motto to go on your tombstone, what would it be?
For stalkers out there looking for dates amongst the group--who is married and whose available?
Stalkers out there? Is that some kind of smokescreen?
Do you do any non-Japanese related activities for fun in your spare time?
I'm learning to Tango. Saiko is learning to scuba dive. Classic mid-life crises. What can follow-up being in a Japanese go-go band???
What advice would you give other musicians aspiring to emulate, say, the Polish folk dancing scene of the early 1920?
Whatever you emulate, always put your own spin on it and never ever think that it might not work.
What plans do you all have for 2009?
We're working on new material and probably going even more electronic than we were in '08. It's a sign of the times - we're downsizing. "Fewer people, same big sound!"
Do you have a final message to all your fans?
Thanks for keeping us cool when the AC breaks!
For more info checkout Gaijin a Go-Go's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments