Yuko - Vocals, lyrics
Birthplace: Mie, Japan
Emi - Vocals, lyrics
Birthplace: Ibaraki, Japan
Dave - Music, production
Birthplace: Toronto, Canada
Mike - Guitars
Birthplace: Toronto, Canada
Shibuya Station song sample
We Are Ninja
Live at the Loop in Shibuya
1 Clap Your Hands
2 One, Two, Three, Four
3 Shibuya Station
4 See You Later Boy
5 Sunshine (Hey, Hey, Hey)
Where to Buy
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The Moist Towelettes Interview
Composed of Yuko, Emi, Dave and Mike the group formed in Tokyo to create their own unique fusion of Japanese and Western music. Their signature songs include "Clap Your Hands" and "Shibuya Station."
On May 1st, 2008 The Moist Towelettes were kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World.
You've been recording a new album. Can you give us a sneak peek of what will be on it?
Dave: Well, anyone who's been to our shows will recognize most of the songs. There will be a few new songs as well that we haven't yet played live -- we're excited about those. It's our first album, though, so we're not changing our sound or anything drastic. It'll be like the EP, but album-length.
What's the story behind the band getting together?
Dave: Mike, Emi, and Yuko all met and became friends in Toronto, where Yuko's husband Naoya was a DJ. When they all moved back to Japan they decided to start a DJ night in Tokyo. I met them here and they invited me to join them. I was working on some original stuff I wanted to play at our night, so I asked Emi and Yuko if they could write Japanese lyrics and if they knew anyone who wanted to do vocals. Emi said "Yea! Us!" I asked Mike to play guitar on the track, and I suppose the rest is history.
Where did the group's name come from?
Dave: That's was mine, actually. I wish it was a better story but I thought of it in high school and I always thought it would be an awesome name for a girl band. When I finally got one I insisted on using it. It's cute, funny, and a little bit scandalous - which fits.
How would you describe the group's musical style?
Emi: It's cute, happy, fun pop, but it's different from Japanese pop and it's different from usual Western pop. When a western guy writes music with lots of influences, including Japanese pop, and Japanese girls sing it in Japanese it turns into a new style.
Dave: Yeah - I think it works because we're not really trying to go for something specific. We're not trying to make J-pop or Shibuya-kei. I'm just writing music I like, and Emi is writing lyrics she likes, and there's nothing contrived about it. So it's just us - four friends making fun, catchy music.
What other groups have you each been in?
Emi: Gerbil, a punk jam band with Yuko, and Mikemi Tablets, with Mike, which was released on a compilation CD in New York.
Yuko: Gerbil. We're waiting for the Moist Towelettes to get big so that we can quit and reform Gerbil and take over. Haha.
Mike: I've been in The Mindset, The Reaction, Guitar Army, The Ultimate Most High, Mikemi Tablets, and Leon & Grover. Most of them were guitar rock bands, but none of them were famous, except for Mikemi Tablets and Leon & Grover, a Japanese rock band which released some stuff on Quruli's label. The Moist Towelettes cover a Leon & Grover song, Bye Bye Johnny, actually.
Dave: I had a band in high school called Pegasus and we had one song called Horny Unicorns. It was terrible. In Japan, I was in a folk/pop/country band called Missing Scene. I also remixed some Mikemi Tablets stuff.
Dave & Mike: How did you both end up in Japan?
Mike: I followed Emi to Japan seven years ago and then I married her.
Dave: I quit my job and came to spend a year abroad teaching English. That was a little over five years ago now.
Emi & Yuko, with so many musicians in Japan you ended up forming a group with two Canadians. What about them made you want to form a group?
Emi: We went to Dave's house after a Gerbil rehearsal and he gave us a song and told us to write lyrics.
Yuko: We thought we could use it for a Gerbil song -- we even made a dance for it that night.
Emi: Yeah, we had no idea we would turn into The Moist Towelettes.
You recorded and released your first song See You Later Boy in 2006. Tell us about that experience.
Dave: Well, we never really intended it to go past being played at our DJ night, but coincidentally, at the same time, this great pop-music website in England called Popjustice was looking for people to submit pop songs for their podcast. I submitted it, and they loved it and wrote a feature on us.
Mike: And then we had a connection who sent the track to Ryuichi Sakamoto who played it on his radio show, and it was heard nationwide in Japan.
Dave: Right after that we heard from a DJ in the states named Kid Whatever who wanted to remix it for us. It was a pretty good start. I think all of that really solidified the band. It was amazing.
Your second recording was your signature song Clap Your Hands. What's the story behind the song?
Emi: The recording of both of those songs were hilarious. We recorded them in Dave's closet! To read the lyrics we had to balance flashlights on our heads under our headphones. Clap Your Hands was when Mike and Dave started doing backing vocals in Japanese and we had to do our rap introductions in hybrid Japanese/English. It was so much fun.
Dave: Yeah, because we were singing now and Emi and Yuko did those "my name is..." parts it felt like a good introduction song. We really felt like a band for the first time.
You released "The Moist EP" at the end of 2006. Tell us about writing and recording the music.
Mike: We recorded it over the summer but our recording sessions took a lot longer than we planned - because for every one hour of recording there were always three hours of eating, drinking and playing Wii.
Dave: I guess that's the problem with having a home recording studio - but it was so much fun because it was just all of us hanging out and we got this great EP out of it.
Yuko: We started recording in another room too, so we didn't have to be in the closet.
Emi: I was sick when we did One, Two, Three, Four and Sunshine and I lost my voice. When I couldn't sing Dave made me a drink with whiskey, butter and lemon and it worked.
You've said the band's mantra is "Konya mo issho ni, utatte, odotte, get moist!" What does this mean?
Yuko: It means "Tonight, all together, let's sing, dance, and get moist!" We have an action to go with it, too.
Emi: Yeah I made it up because we needed a catch phrase, because we're idols. Haha. But really, we realized we were not punk anymore and we had to change our style to be cute.
Dave: No, but really, it just means that we're going to have fun together -- it's what we're all about.
Yuko: When all four of us are doing the actions and saying the same thing in unison it sets the tone for our show. It gets people excited and let's them know they're a part of it.
Besides Japan you have also played in Canada. What were some of your favorite memories of the tour?
Mike: The sold-out gig in Halifax at the Seahorse was great. The audience was so into it - clapping and dancing and screaming non-stop.
Yuko: Yeah, the audiences were so energetic! Also, going to Prince Edward Island - we only got to go to Anne's house (Green Gables) for half an hour before we had to leave, but it was great!
Emi: Eating beaver tails (a kind of doughnut)! And the Zoobombs bought our t-shirts! That was so cool!
Dave: My dad rented a van and drove us around. It was great spending time with him and the band together. And of course it was wonderful to have such a great reaction from the audiences. I might go so far as to say it was the best experience we've had as a band.
How would you describe the difference between Japanese and North American audiences?
Mike: Japanese audiences get really into it but they're really reserved compared to Canadian audiences. In Japan, between songs, they clap and then wait quietly for the next one to begin, whereas in Canada people hoot and whistle until the next song starts.
Emi: The Japanese are more like a proper audience, listening closely to the music and lyrics. But in Canada people come watch the show and talk to you after and they're more like friends. It's less formal. But the Moist audiences in Japan, while shy at first, get much more loose as the show goes on. They're all dancing by the end.
What are some of the challenges to being a group with both Japanese and Canadian musicians?
Dave: Administrative stuff is harder. Figuring out which country's organizations to register with, and so on. We're equal parts Japanese and Canadian.
Yuko: I don't understand English very well, so when we're on the radio and we're asked lots of questions really quickly, I don't know what anyone's talking about. I just repeat Emi's answers.
Emi: But there are lots of great things about being an international band. It's no problem, really.
Your music has been described as being in some ways similar to Puffy AmiYumi. Are you fans of their music?
Mike: We really like them.
Yuko: I loved them when they first came out. I had a Puffy picture book!
Emi: We all saw them in 2005 at Summer Sonic - we took notes.
Dave: We hear the comparison a lot although, of course, it's not intentional. But it's nice to be compared with a group that you like and that has a similar fun vibe. And we all really love Okuda Tamio.
Tell us a little more about your backgrounds. What were your favorite music groups growing up and your favorite classes in school?
Emi: I really wanted to be like Seiko-chan (Matsuda Seiko) and I used to stand at the top of the slide in the playground using a jump-rope handle as a microphone. She was my number one idol. In junior high I liked edgier pop like Rebecca (who had more of a Cyndi-Lauper-like style). In high school, though, I really got into the more fashionable Shibuya-kei scene with artists like Flipper's Guitar and Hideki Kaji.
My favorite class was Japanese literature. I liked learning beautiful old Japanese tales like the Tales of Genji (Genji-monogatari). I liked the way the old love stories were written, almost in a different language, but with themes that still make sense today.
Yuko: In high school I had a part-time job at a noodle shop and the owner always played the Beatles. I really liked them and I became interested in finding more music from overseas. I lived in a really small town with a tiny CD shop and I had no idea what to look for, so the only thing I could find was old stuff like Ray Charles and the Supremes. But later, I really got into Beck and around the same time I found Cornelius and Kahimi Karie and other Shibuya-kei artists.
Music was my favorite class. My music teacher was really funny - and a little strange. He smelled like cigarettes and always had a flask of liquor on his belt but he made the class so much fun!
Mike: When I was a little kid the first music I got into was the Ramones and the Who. Then I started liking the Beatles which led to catchier stuff like the Beach Boys and the Birds.
In school I liked art because I had a teacher in grade 4 in Florida who always told me I was good and should keep drawing - so that inspired me. But then I quit drawing when I started playing the guitar. Hahaha!
Dave: My first album was Janet Jackson and growing up I loved pop music of any kind (from Starship to the B-52's). In high school I was totally crazy about Pizzicato Five and I think that's when my interest in Japan started.
I went to an arts school - kind of like in Fame - so I liked all the artistic subjects like drama, music and visual arts. I remember drawing pictures all over my math exam and then having to go to summer school.
What other jobs has each person done?
Emi: I'm a family counselor and an illustrator now, as well as president of a company (whose only employee is my husband). I've been a kindergarten art teacher, a waitress and a movie extra before.
Yuko: I've been a waitress, a photographer's assistant, a doctor's receptionist, an office secretary, a call-center operator and staff at a gallery. I once worked at a flower shop - lots of different things.
Mike: Let's see, I worked at a gas station. I sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I worked at a go-kart track. I was a zoo keeper in London, England. I worked in a factory making cassette tapes. I was a dish washer at Pizza Hut. Oh, and I was the vice-president of an internet marketing company. And now I'm an elementary school teacher.
Dave: I worked at a video game store and then I delivered vegan food (which is funny because I'm a huge fan of meat - maybe they sensed it and that's why they tipped so poorly). After that I worked in movies as a production assistant and then became an editor for a TV show. I've been a teacher since I've been in Japan.
What type of favorite food and drinks would show up at the table of a Moist Towelettes feast?
Emi: Uni (sea urchin) - when I was growing up the man next door used to drive to the ocean and bring us fresh uni which we'd eat right out of the shell. I was surprised to see it come out of a plastic container in Tokyo! My favorite drink is bancha (a kind of twig tea).
Yuko: I like Genmai (brown rice) and miso soup. They're healthy and delicious. I also like bancha.
Mike: My favorite food is dorayaki, which is like a pancake sandwich with sweet red bean paste in the middle. Sometimes they put chestnuts inside. Those are good, man. And my favorite drink is bancha.
Dave: I guess I'm the only one whose favorite food isn't Japanese. I love Greek food, especially that flaming cheese. My favorite drink is a Caesar - it's the most popular cocktail in Canada but it's virtually unknown outside, probably because it has clam juice in it. I miss drinking Caesars.
What hopes and plans does the group have for 2008 and beyond?
Emi: We want to become celebrities! I'm kidding. I'm kidding.
Yuko: We want people around the world to hear The Moist Towelettes.
Mike: Yeah, we want to play in more countries.
Dave: We get such great feedback through MySpace and other websites from people who heard us on iTunes or something. We want to be able to play for them.
Emi: I'd like us to play with more musicians, too. I think we're heading to the next level, so stay tuned! We're coming!
Do you have a message for your fans?
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