It’s been a decade and a half since Japanese punk sensations Hi-Standard made their U.S. debut on Fat Wreck Chords and toured North America with NOFX. But as the band’s frontman—now a solo artist—prepares to head back out on tour at age 40, Akihiro Namba is still a bundle of raw energy.
“I haven’t really toured since Hi-Standard, so it will be interesting to see the reaction,” he says, leaning forward in a folding chair at a smoky practice studio in Sangenjaya. “Back with Hi-Standard, we used to sell out the countryside. They would go wild in a way that jaded Tokyoites didn’t. With this tour, I’m hoping to bring out the old Hi-Standard fans and create new ones as well.”
It’s hard to underestimate the impact that Namba’s old band had on the local music scene. While it’s common now for Japanese rock groups to write and release their own albums, in the ’90s Hi-Standard were one of only a few mainstream acts doing things for themselves.
The group’s DIY ethic extended from founding their own label, the still-influential Pizza of Death, to hosting their own punk festival (and live swansong). Air Jam 2000 drew some 30,000 moshers to a bayside Tokyo location, paving the way for the Punkspring event, as well as laying the groundwork for the likes of Asian Kung-Fu Generation and their Nano-Mugen Festival.
These days, Namba is the father of two children—and of a new solo career under his own name. After flirting with techno in his first post-Hi-Standard project, "Ultra Brain," he’s returned to a straight-ahead rock trio format and embraced his melocore roots. The just-released "Punk Rock Through the Night" mines a classic vein of confessional, self-help punk.
“In Japan these days, there’s a lot of pressure,” he says about the song “Mirai e ~It’s Your Future~.” “Young people don’t have hopes and dreams, so I wanted to write a song for them saying, make your own dreams, build your own future.
“It’s the rockers who can speak directly to young people, to encourage them to be more optimistic,” he continues. “It’s rock that has the ability to scream about what is wrong with the country, and what we can do about it. The rock scene is the most sincere about Japan’s problems.”
Another one of Namba’s dreams, both for himself and his fellow rockers, is to become overseas ambassadors of Japanese culture. “Japanese musicians need to go abroad more, and to try to appeal more to overseas audiences,” he says. “Especially rockers, who go over better in the West than J-pop artists. I want Japanese music to go overseas more, to provide a stronger message about Japan.”
Tying his country’s problems to the West’s, Namba says that by speaking directly to young people overseas, they can collectively change the world. “I love American culture, but I hate its government, and Japan’s too,” he says. “But it’s not the politicians I want to speak to, it’s the young people. All the great punk bands from Green Day to Rancid feel the same. That’s why I sing in English. Art and fashion are important, but music speaks the most directly—it’s a powerful tool for expression.”
Akihiro Namba will perform with The Telephones and others from 7 p.m. on March 4 at Club Quattro in Shibuya. 2,500 yen.
"Punk Rock Through the Night" is available on Tearbridge Records.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today