Yokohama Peeps: Special Others
I was apprehensive as I watched Special Others live for the first time. I had been listening to their CDs almost like an addiction for the nearly two years since discovering their video for “Star” late one night, and I was keen to see them transform their clean studio sound into an even better live performance. Several songs into their set at Fukuoka’s 2009 Sunset Live festival they finally hit their groove and the packed crowd began to undulate. Shooting from a corner of the stage, I looked to my side to find Furuya Kenji and other members of Dragon Ash, visibly impressed by the spectacle. From what I’ve heard, their respect for Special Others is generally shared in the Japanese rock community.
The jazz-rock quartet’s recent sold-out tour culminated with an extra show at Bay Hall, so they could finish in their hometown of Yokohama where it all started for them. The first set charged the house. The second set? That word again: supernova. A week later, after a session at their studio (also in Yokohama), Miyahara Ryota (drums), Matayoshi Yuya (bass), Yanagashita Takeshi (guitar) and Serizawa Yuma (keyboards) sat down to relate their remarkable journey from scrappy high school band to legend in the making. Success came after much struggle and sacrifice. All four reminisce about the long, hard years, when they had to keep their day jobs but play gigs at night, getting little, if any, sleep. Serizawa worked at a pizza shop, Miyahara worked at a soba shop, Yanagashita was a construction worker, and Matayoshi was a fisherman. As Serizawa relates, “Around 2000 we all started to take ourselves more seriously. It was never explicitly spoken among us, just felt in spirit—let’s give this a go!” But it wasn’t until 2005, with the release of their 2nd EP Uncle John, that they were able to concentrate entirely on their music.
Their sound is typically bright and fast-paced. When asked about their influences, Miyahara notes, “All the various CDs that we listen to while recording bear on our music and we listen widely.” When pressed, they give a shout out to African pops and Big Frog. They are also kindred spirits with the likes of Soulive, Galactic, maybe even Charlie Hunter—jazz-funk-rock acts with a head-bobbing groove. A friend once complained that they are like a repetitive wall of sound. Maybe. But I think the looping motifs sound like American minimalism (as in Philip Glass) gone electric and happy.
Special Others is currently focusing on the next tour and CD release. Serizawa confesses that overseas gigs would be financially risky, but that they would go if invited under the right conditions. For now, though, they are happy to be where they are. “We love Yokohama, we can’t explain why—we just do.”
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