TOKYO (TR) – Following the break-up of influential indie band Galaxie 500 in 1991, the trio’s rhythm section — Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang — proceeded to strike out on their own as a duo. Not long after the dissolution, Damon & Naomi became exposed to Japan’s underground rock scene, which eventually resulted in a friendship with folk-rock act Ghost.
For their upcoming week-long tour of Japan, which kicks off in Osaka on November 6, the pair will reunite with Ghost to support “Everything Quieter Than Everything Else,” an album of live recordings released in September by Japanese label Disk Union.
“The way this live CD came about is that Disk Union launched a reissue program for all of Ghost’s albums,” said Krukowski during a recent interview by email. “Batoh-san from Ghost then told us they were interested in a live album of ours, with members of Ghost. And we had these very good tapes made by the late, very much missed sound engineer Satoru Fujii. This release is in part a tribute to him. Fujii-san worked with Ghost often, and because of that connection we became friends too.”
Guitarist Michio Kurihara, a one-time performer with Ghost, and Batoh both played on “Everything Quieter Than Everything Else,” which includes tracks recorded in Shibuya, Tokyo in 2005 and 2008. For the upcoming live shows, Damon & Naomi will by joined by Kurihara, with Batoh playing a solo set.
“Of course we will try and coax Batoh on stage with us for at least a song or two,” said Krukowski. “We have toured the world as a trio with Kurihara, but it has been some time since we have gotten to play together like this — we are looking forward to it very very much. He is a remarkable guitarist, so precise and yet always surprising. His control of tone is like no one else’s. And we have developed a musical sympathy that is special — the kind of communication that it takes a long time to develop. We have been so lucky to have him play on our albums, and we are honored to have him join us live.”
Hailing from Boston, Damon & Naomi have been making dream-pop records since their debut “More Sad Hits” in 1992. Their first substantial musical connection with Japan began a few years later, when they were introduced to Ghost via the Japanese label PSF, whose founder, Hideo Ikeezumi, passed away earlier this year.
“Ikeezumi-san influenced so many musicians around the world, even if they never made it to Tokyo, because of his unique taste and fantastic releases,” said Krukowski. “The label PSF was introduced to us by their U.S. distributor Forced Exposure, which is based in Boston. They played us the first PSF CDs they brought in, and we were so struck by Ghost in particular that we then went looking for a way we might one day meet them!”
The home of PSF is the record store Modern Music, located in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.
“Later, when we first came to Japan, we went to Modern Music to see the home of all this amazing underground music,” Krukowski remembered. “Ikeezumi-san was there, and very kind and patient with us. We don’t speak or read Japanese, and we must have asked some very ignorant questions. But I remember we had a warm exchange about [English musician and founding member of Soft Machine] Robert Wyatt. I was so glad to find that the spirit of PSF, translated into English, might include this hero of mine.”
In 1995, Damon & Naomi invited Ghost to tour with their band at the time, the psychedelic group Magic Hour, in the U.S. — and their relationship with Japan’s underground scene was just getting started.
“Some years later, we asked Ikeezumi-san permission to release a compilation CD on our own label, 20/20/20, with some songs by Kan Mikami and Kazuki Tomokawa, the great singer-songwriters he supported through PSF — and he generously said yes. And then we were delighted to learn that he so enjoyed songs we included on that comp by a musician he didn’t know, Korean singer-songwriter Kim Doo Soo, that he made him a PSF artist, too! It made me feel like we were able to contribute something back, in a small way, for all the many discoveries he had given us.”
The tour of Japan comes seven months after the release of “The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World,” Krukowski’s book about the changes people have experienced in their lives in transitioning from analog to digital media — and, as he said, “the way that connects to experiences we are all having now in the digital world of communications.”
For its part, Japan has not embraced digital media like other nations; for example, newspapers and publishers have not shied away from the print format. For Krukowski, this tour could will be something like a field trip.
“Japan has certainly kept more physical media for music, but on the other hand I think of Japan as having adopted aspects of digital communications — cell phone technology for example — faster than we did in the US.,” he said. “And of course we look to Japan for so many digital innovations that we adopt – emoji, for example! So I think the book could speak to the experience in Japan, too. Anyway, I would be very interested to find out!”
Note: Damon & Naomi play Namba Bears in Osaka on November 6; at Jittoku in Kyoto on November 7; at 7th Floor in Tokyo on November 10; and Mojo in Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture on November 11.