Zoobombs rock bridges the West and the Far East

“The situation is very different from where we play in Japan. It’s pretty hard to communicate and the people’s reaction is pretty different. I’m not an English speaker so that’s a challenge for us. I can play the music so I have to be good just playing the music. Sometimes a live show goes without speaking (between songs).”

- Dara Hakimzadeh

posted March 27, 2007

Zoobombs rock bridges the West and the Far East
     In the late 90s, Don Matsuo, the vocalist and guitarist for Japanese indie rock band the Zoobombs, had to be accompanied by a translator to interviews. But, after 13 years of touring including frequent trips to Canada and parts of the U.S., Matsuo seems to be getting comfortable with English.

     “The situation is very different from where we play in Japan. It’s pretty hard to communicate and the people’s reaction is pretty different,” he says. “I’m not an English speaker so that’s a challenge for us. I can play the music so I have to be good just playing the music. Sometimes a live show goes without speaking (between songs).”

     And, as his experiences would suggest, being a multilingual band has its challenges.

     “All of the Japanese are pretty easy to understand (for Japanese people) but it’s pretty hard (for them) to understand the English. But I can’t stop writing in the English because there is a reason,” says Matsuo. Inversely, he says a similar problem occurs when the band is in North America. “But I think they have fun when we play the music,” he says of the audience reaction.

     High energy seems to be Matsuo’s motto for his band, which has opened in the past for such acts as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Flaming Lips. The Zoobombs, described as “Japanese New Wave,” mixes Japanese with English, rock with jazz, hip-hop with punk, and – if that wasn’t enough – the band never hesitates to turn the show into an improvised jam session. But Matsuo suggests that the band’s unique style sometimes leads to the audience’s confusion.

     “No one wants to mix the sounds,” says Matsuo of the Tokyo music scene. “We’re a kind of very unusual band. We don’t write the melodies that are pretty popular for Japanese and we have lots of energy but sometimes it’s too much.

     “We’re making a song on stage every time with improvisation,” he adds.

     Much of Matsuo’s affinity to rock music can be traced to the Rolling Stones, so it’s of no surprise that they work “Sympathy For The Devil” into their set list sometimes.

     “For me, the first impression of the Rolling Stones was when I was 18 years old. I was not interested in music. I mean, I wanted to be a painter. I was not interested in all of the rock-and-roll and pop music. After one of my friends showed me a video from the MTV program I thought, ‘Maybe I can do that,’” he said with a smile. “So I ran into a guitar shop and bought a rock guitar.”

     Matsuo, who is also a fan of Public Enemy, says he finds the appeal of hip-hop interesting, but is still mostly drawn to rock music.

     “It’s pretty interesting for me why hip-hop has such a kind of power over the world. I mean, rock-and-roll couldn’t do it like that,” he says. “I think it’s good. But some hip-hop music’s lyrics are pretty hard to get into. They just sing about the life of fuck. It’s pretty hard to understand, and why they want to sing like this is just too real. Some musicians want to be like that, but that’s stupid.”

     In 2005, the Zoobombs gained modest media attention in Canada when they played Canadian Music Week and won second place in the best performance category. Matsuo says he really enjoys playing in Toronto.

     “I like Canada so much because I feel people in Canada have an open mind,” he says. He adds that he hopes the people at the band’s shows can share his level of appreciation for music.

     “I hope it releases the mind, releases their energy,” says Matsuo. “I want audiences to find their own energy inside them. That’s a very important thing. I have the same experience from the music.”