I saw Kero Kero Bonito perform at Iceland Airwaves almost exactly a year ago; despite having already been smitten with the band’s quirky, ultra-danceable tunes, the show (which delivered on both musical and theatrical fronts) solidified my convictions that they were (and are) a trio that should majorly be on your radar. They’re in Brooklyn at Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight for a show, and on Saturday they’ll be rolling through DC at U Street Music Hall, so depending on your geographical location, I’d highly suggest hitting up at least one gig while the Londoners’ touring schedule allows. In the meantime, feel free to internet-eavesdrop on a conversation I recently had to Sarah, Gus and Jamie via Skype in which we talked origin stories, ghost stories, posh Japanese dog magazine stories, perilous tortilla chip stories (ALL of the stories, really), and also be sure to grab a copy of Bonito Generation, which is out RIGHT NOW!
So I actually first saw you guys perform during Iceland Airwaves last year.
Gus: That was a fun show. People got pretty loose there.
Are you guys friends with QT? She was in the audience, too.
Gus: We may know QT.
Yeah she was clapping pretty hard!
What else did you guys get up to while you were there? Did you travel around at all?
Gus: No, we stayed a couple of nights and had some very good fish.
Sarah: Yeah, the seafood was so nice!
Gus: The fish there is amazing.
I definitely ate whale there, which was so delicious, but it made me feel like a horrible person! Now, you’ve got the album coming out on the 21st of October, yeah? Tell me all about that – how long have you been working on it, etc.?
Gus: There are tracks on there from even just after Intro Bonito. “Graduation” has been in the works since just after Intro Bonito.
Yeah, that was probably my favorite track from the Reykjavik show.
Gus: Right, it’s been a part of the set for a long time. The others mostly came together after our US tour last year, so from about November/December 2015 right up until June or July. Really, really late to put a record out, but in this day and age you can kind of get away with it. And there’s a couple of other things like “Picture This” which work on there. I mean, “Picture This” was probably the first song that ushered in this new era of Bonito Generation.
And so how do you usually divide up the creative roles?
Sarah: It depends on the track. Jamie and Gus do the beat, and lyrics-wise, the Japanese is all me, but the three of us come up with the themes of the songs while talking about some random thing, so honestly it’s quite mixed.
Gus: If you look at Bonito Generation, “Graduation” is sort of a combo; Sarah had this specific idea for a song about her graduation experience, and I had this idea about doing a song that was kind of a graduation anthem. And then “Big City” was an instrumental I’d made a long time ago, maybe even before Intro Bonito, and then Sarah suggested doing a song called “Big City” in response to small towns. We put the two things together, and they worked out. But it does depend.
So Sarah, have you ever tried to fuck with them and say that what you’re saying in Japanese means something totally different to what it actually does?
Gus: Yeah, she has.
Sarah: Gus and Jamie have actually been learning Japanese!
Oh wow! I’ve never tried to learn Japanese, but I feel like the speaking bit might be slightly easier than trying to learn the kanji.
Sarah: Yeah, kanji’s like another art form. I always think of it like Egyptian writing; I really like it, because each one is a drawing with a different meaning. Once you get into it, you can’t get out.
Exactly. Now, take me back to the start of this collaboration; I thought I read somewhere you’d put out an ad for someone who could speak Japanese, but I might be mistaken.
Gus: It was just a singer, actually. We put an ad out on Gumtree first, and it got some interesting responses, but then it was only after a bit that our half-Japanese friend told us about this site called MixB; he explained that the Japanese expats in London post things on there, and that they post crazy things, like, “Can you walk my dog?” or “I’ve got a room for rent, Japanese student preferred.” So we thought we could find someone pretty trippy on that, and that’s exactly what happened.
Sarah: Yeah, I’d seen some pretty trippy stuff there.
What’s the craziest ad you came across?
Sarah: Well I actually got the job! [Laughs] But it was with some dog magazine in Japan which was looking for someone to take pictures of dogs and their owners around London, but they had to look kind of fashionable. So I applied and I got it, and for like a week I was going around some posh areas of London looking for fashionable dog owners like, “Can I take a picture of you?” But it was quite insightful, because they had to answer this questionnaire which was like, “How much do you spend on your dog a month?” Some people put like £1000, which is more than my rent! It was a fun insight into the dog world.
That’s crazy! Okay, so after you guys got linked up finally, was it immediately a natural fit? Or did it take a bit of getting used to?
Sarah: I think we got along really well, actually.
Gus: Yeah, I think that’s why we did it; we hung out at the first rehearsal, and it was easy. It felt natural, and I think that’s why it ended up happening.
Well it definitely comes across on stage; the dynamic seems really nice between the three of you. Is there a new track off this upcoming record that you’re especially stoked to perform live?
Gus: Yeah! Well, I know what my favorite is.
Sarah: Hmm…I mean, I don’t know! I really enjoy performing “Graduation”. It’s always fun to sing that song.
Jamie: “Waking Up”. And we haven’t learnt it properly yet, but “Fish Bowl” when we do. That’s going to kill.
Gus: I like “Big City”. I think that’s maybe my favorite song on the record, actually.
And what goes into getting songs performance ready? Because they all seem so fun and lively on stage!
Gus: That’s a good question. I mean, me and Jamie will figure out how to actually play it live, because we do work in the studio. But that’s not strictly true, because “My Party” and “Graduation” were written more on the road, so there are elements of those songs that we only realized while playing them live. But normally we’ll figure out how to make it work live.
Sarah: Yeah, I think most of the time it feels like it just kind of grows; the more shows we do, the more ideas we get, and the more things we’ll add.
Gus: Yeah, it’s a bit of trial and error, actually.
Jamie: We come up with things on stage as well.
Sarah: Right, we do things at the moment.
Gus: Yeah, we improvise things that may end up staying in.
So was there anything that went completely wrong that you just said, “Nope, not doing that again!”?
Gus: Oh, definitely.
Jamie: Actually, in Seattle for the last show, I came on for the encore with a load of tortilla chips, and I started to eat them, and as I was dancing around I choked on one. So I can’t bring them on anymore. No crisps. No dry goods.
Probably wise. And now that we’re on the subject of food, how do you survive the whole tour life thing? Eating at fast food places gets old after a while.
Sarah: I wish we could say yes, but…
Gus: We’ve actually been eating pretty well this time around.
Sarah: Compared to last time, yes, but it’s not just salads. We’ve been trying to eat more fruit, but we love food. We love eating local cuisines.
Gus: Yeah, it’s one of the best things about it, actually, because when you’re on tour you’re always sort of waiting around, and your meals end up becoming the highlights of your day. So it’s either really boring, or kind of nice. We particularly like JapaDog in Vancouver. That’s a nice place. But yeah, it’s lots of fun. We’re not so off the walls on tour, though. Especially when you’re a little jet-lagged, it’s very much being in bed by eleven, watching TV a bit, maybe sending some emails around…I’m trying to work on some demos, which is a highlight, actually. It doesn’t really feel that weird anymore. I mean, I dunno about you guys…
Sarah: I’ve been reading a lot.
Gus: Yeah, we read a lot.
And so what does an average day look like for you guys when you’re not on tour, then?
Gus: It depends what’s happening. We usually rehearse in the evenings, and I normally wake up at half ten or so.
Sarah: Well Jamie is a morning person; he’s up bright and early.
Well that’s not very rock ‘n roll!
Sarah: And I’m an owl, so I go to sleep at three or four in the morning usually. Tour actually keeps me in check; I woke up at seven in the morning today, so I’m really impressed with myself.
That’s very impressive! Now, aside from touring and the record release, what else have you got coming up that you’re excited about?
Gus: We’ve got a video coming out for one of the bigger tracks, and we’ve also got a remix EP as a bit of a Christmas present. And we’re going to Indonesia as well.
Oh, wow! For a one-off show or something?
Gus: Well, sort of. It’s a collaboration with the British Council, and we’ll be playing at least one show, so that’ll be interesting.
Amazing! And since this interview will be coming out on Day of the Dead or thereabouts, I’ll go ahead and ask you if you’ve got any good ghost stories.
Sarah: I’ve never seen one, but I’ve been to areas where people have told me they’ve seen something. When I was in Japan, in summertime there’s this thing where people do kimodameshi, which is like a test of how strong you are or something, and people go to these ghost spots where people said they saw something. So you go there with your friends, and the person who gives in first is the loser, and you have to just get through it. So I remember going to this mountain where, I don’t know, samurais got killed and buried or something, and my friend was driving me there, and she’s a bit shady, so she had this thing that could sense when a police car was nearby. And so as soon as we entered the mountain, it started flashing, but we were in the mountain in the middle of the night. It started going crazier and crazier the closer we got to the area, so we got our torches and started exploring, and I didn’t see anything, but my friend was really scared. We went back and sprayed holy water on ourselves. So I’ve never seen anything, but that’s the closest I’ve gotten.
Gus: I don’t think I have anything like that.
Sarah: I wouldn’t recommend it. Oh, there was a ghost in my house, too!
Gus + Jamie: Oh yeah!
Sarah: I forgot about that! I don’t know if it was a he or she, but we had this mini cupboard that was the electrical meter, and it kept on opening every time my partner had a nightmare. Or, that’s what he said, so we duct taped the door of the mini cupboard, and the next day it was clean-cut opened. We’ve moved out now, and the ghost hasn’t followed us. I don’t think it was being mean, though; I just think it was trying to play with us.
Right, the afterlife probably gets a bit boring if you’re confined to a small space! Alright, the other big holiday you may be in the US for is Thanksgiving. Do British people feel (typically) jealous or indifferent that we celebrate it and they don’t?
Gus: I actually celebrated Thanksgiving once with a friend from university, and it was all this stuff I’d never had, like pumpkin pie, and then this casserole that had green beans and sort of flaky stuff on top? It was great! I’d never had any of it before, but it was great. It was a load of homesick American expats, and I just crashed the party.
The food of the Americas is truly a glorious thing. Alright, so finally, on that note, if you did have Thanksgiving in the UK, what would KKB be thankful for this year?
Gus: American fans.
Sarah: Yeah, American fans!