Ghost of Matsubara

Daniel Ostrander Interviews Nag’s Hottest Band

One of my favorite stories in the history of music is the Sex Pistols’ legendary concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, 1976. Many claim to have been there on the night that punk rock first gained notoriety, but of the around 40 actually in attendance were several who would go on to change the face of music for a generation, including Morrissey, Ian Curtis and Pete Shelley.

I had always wanted to be present at just such a moment, when the creative energy and potential of a community gets polarized by a commanding and inspiring performance. The only problem is that concerts like the one at Free Trade Hall in ‘76 don’t happen often, and no matter how desperately it needs it, the music scene isn’t torched and rebuilt in a day. So, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if the Ghost of Mastubara at Roxx 2012 will be the errantly tossed cigarette on a dry scene fit to burn.

If any musicians deserve to play the arsonists in this poorly constructed metaphor, Tom Fallon, Mike Bagley and Tak Kudo have definitely earned it. Before they even came together in Nagoya’s most well known indie/punk/alt band, the three guys of Matsubara have been shaping the local scene for longer than I’ve been writing about it.

To understand the history of GoM, you will have to travel across the ocean and back 15 years to New York, where a younger Tom Fallon is living in his car, presumably because that’s what all aspiring singer/songwriters have to do at some point. Tom’s music back then still held a keen edge between sincere poetry and pop sensibility, but slinging a guitar solo and bleeding your heart at coffee houses and bars can only get you so far, a lesson Tom wouldn’t learn until moving to Nagoya in 2005.

Around that time, Mike was drumming for the first local gaijin band to “make it”, Sushi Cabaret Club. I won’t bore my younger readers with a band they’ve probably never heard of (the next time you’re in Red Rock, find the oldest, most jaded foreigner in the place, tell Dave I said “hello”, and ask him to tell you about Sushi Cab). Seeing as I only have space to Behind The Music for one band, I’ll just say that SCC opened a lot of doors that were previously closed to foreign performers, and would not have gotten as far as they did without the experience and persistence of Mr. Bagley. Two characteristics that would finally convince Tom to start thinking bigger.

As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum in a sad attempt to claim “first!” for when Tom’s career inevitably skyrockets, I was there in 2005 when he debuted at MISFITS, his second show in Japan. His heartfelt crooning was a much needed salve to a homesick bumpkin, and I was smitten. I attended every show he did, bought all the demo CDs he had and was that weird guy mouthing the words to his songs in the front row. During this time he formed pop/rock band Iznit Obvious with Brian Cullen, joined the much-missed pub rockers, Fatblueman, and even started a short-lived electro side-project, The One20. But nothing stuck, and it always came back to just him and his guitar.

Mike left Sushi Cab in 2008, and they would finally call it quits about a year later. After that, Mike drummed for nearly every band in town. He and Tom crossed paths a lot, and even played together in local cover band The Rats. But Tom, perhaps having become jaded by his other group efforts, was still pursuing solo. Something was missing. They needed a “push”.

That push came on the heels of Keiko Tsuchiya, the leggiest guitarist to slap bass since Kim Gordon. The night her band opened for the Rats, Tom and Mike knew that she was what they were waiting for. It wasn’t long after that Ghost of Matsubara were playing their first shows, and garnering a strong online fan-base with their popular YouTube videos, including the hit “Live From A Coma”

Now, to say that GoM’s initial popularity had anything to do with Keiko’s looks belittles both the music and her talent. But there’s no denying that she was much-loved by their fans at home and abroad. However, after playing together for a little over a year, Keiko left GoM to pursue her career. Some believed that they would have a very hard time finding a replacement for Keiko’s endearing personality and obvious appeal…

Though far from leggy, Tak Kudo has been playing and producing since his uni days in Nashville. Upon returning to Nagoya, he injected himself into the local music scene as one third of the Sonicland Peace Makers. Tak helped to shape the electronic scene with their very popular monthly event, FEVER. This melding of live music and DJs inspired any number of the current party promoters these days. After SLPM went on indefinite hiatus, Tak waited for what was next.

He didn’t have to wait for long as a mutual friend introduced him to Tom Fallon a few months later, and he joined GoM soon after. It was not a smooth transition for either artist. For the few live appearances they played together the chemistry was off, and it showed. But all of that changed when they returned to the studio to record their first full-length album, From The Ashes Not Yet Cold.

Which bring us back to today and Ghost of Matsubara’s sold-out concert at Roxx, the Nagoya leg of their first ever multi-city tour. From the opening bands Snack Mama and Duck Face (sorry to the other bands, but I grabbed a beer when y’all were playing) to when Ghost of Matsubara took the stage and proceeded to invite everyone to join them up on it (much to the chagrin of the management), that night kicked ass. But that needn’t be the whole story.

Much like Free Trade Hall in ‘76, there was a lot of talent in Roxx that night. A quick glance around the room and you would have seen a number of local musicians, promoters and producers. So, it falls to them to take up the challenge that Ghost of Matsubara has thrown down with this much needed injection of live music on our stricken scene. Ian Curtis and his mates weren’t content to just say “I was there” after the Sex Pistols played. They bought guitars the very same week, and went on to form Joy Division.

Much like Ghost of Matsubara, here’s hoping that Nagoya music will also rise from the ashes.

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