Japanese Television think outside the box
Cult spacey surf-psych rock band reveal why they decided to ditch the frontman/lead singer convention
01 August, 2019 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Japanese Television: Tim David Jones, Ian Thorn, Al Brown and Alex Lawton
THERE’S a lot of boring bands out there, people are used to going out and seeing a mediocre three or four-piece pub rock band, and I think it’s quite refreshing to see a band doing something a little bit more out the box – although it’s not really out of the box at all.”
Alex Lawton, bassist for cult spacey surf-psych rock band Japanese Television, is musing on the appeal of his latest instrumental-only band.
The four-piece, known for their nostalgic 70s-sounding anthems, some redolent of TV theme tunes, were all members of different bands, coming together after repeatedly crossing paths on the circuit.
Their decision to ditch the convention of having a frontman/lead singer, has been the secret of their success, catching the eye of label Tip Top and leading to the release of two EPs, the second of which – EP 2 – is out now. They are celebrating with a daytime barbecue, DJ set and live evening set at Paperdress Vintage on Saturday (August 3).
Having not yet released their first album, the band still juggle their music with their day jobs. Alex works in an art gallery on the side, drummer Al Brown is in advertising and promotions, guitarist Tim David Jones is a carpenter, and keyboardist /multi-instrumentalist Ian Thorn works for a wine distribution company.
Despite this, they have lined up regular gigs across London and are soon off to play a festival in Rotterdam.
“Me, Al and Tim were all in different bands but we kept supporting each other – we were aware of each other’s bands,” says Alex. “We’d play a show and one month one band would be slightly higher up the bill. We kept playing together, became friends, then me and Al went on tour together in our own bands. Then on one tour I got asked to do a tour with Ian. We were kind of both in a way session musicians. We were into similar music – Circle, Neu!, Can, I guess instrumental bands, but some do have vocals as well. But we really got along.”
Events conspired and some time later the conditions were ripe for a new venture – and Japanese Television was formed.
“All the bands we were in – Al’s, Tim’s and mine, all fizzled out at the time.
“I was in Sunlight Service Group, Al was in a band called Love Buzzard, they were a two-piece Black Keys-type, and Tim was in The Night Jar.
“They all kind of ended at a similar period and I was somehow in contact with Tim and asked if he wanted to do music. I contacted Al, he took a bit more persuasion to start a new project.
“We continued as a three-piece with no keys for four or five months. Then I remembered that Ian was an amazing multi-instrumentalist – he can play trumpet and all manner of keyboards. He can play guitar as well, all really versatile.
“We weren’t going to have any vocals because not one of us could sing. We were all kind of bored of having a frontman and thought it would be interesting without a singer.
“Without Ian we sounded like a band without a singer.
“Ian added a keyboard to the mix and the band sounded complete. His versatility meant that instruments such as the Japanese keytar would also be added to the mic.
“We all play a lot of melodies which plug the gap. We started playing and it gathered momentum… people say you can’t have a song without lyrics but we had tunes and they were working really well, we were approaching with our melody and it worked really nicely… we all work a lot tighter together as instrumentalists and have more fun because, where you would normally have a vocal melody which would dictate specific parts, you can replace that with a guitar or keyboard melody or very instrumentational bass sections, which a lot of bands don’t usually do.
“We’ve had some comments from people saying ‘you’re really good but if you had a singer you would be amazing’, then others saying ‘you’re really good’.”
Their catchy name came from a stroke of inspiration.
“We were all trying to look for band names but every band name we came up with was taken. If you try and think of a cool band name, Google it and I can guarantee it has been taken – that’s why bands often use Zs instead of Ss,” says Alex.
“I was in my bedroom feeling deflated by not finding a band name and in my record collection was a Half Japanese album and a few records across was a Television record and I thought Japanese Television, that’s really catchy.”