Interview: Akihito Morimoto, Kazuto Maekawa, Electric Eel Shock

Stories occasionally filter back about Japanese bands making a go of it abroad. Following the success of New York’s alternative hip-hop girl group Cibo Matto in the ’90s, the word was London-based heavy rock outfit Electric Eel Shock were having the best luck of any overseas Japanese band.

Except, it turns out, EES were never based in London—or anywhere else abroad, for that matter.
“We just wanted to play there, so the cheapest way was to keep touring,” explains shaggy frontman Akihito Morimoto over coffee at a noisy Shibuya café. “We’ve never had a proper home in Europe; we just toured and stayed at friends’ houses. For the last five years, we were basically homeless.”
Created by Osaka schoolmates Morimoto and bassist Kazuto Maekawa, Electric Eel Shock took their present form as a trio with drummer Tomoharu “Gian” Ito after relocating to Tokyo in the mid ’90s. The opportunity to perform abroad came on the back of their 1999 debut album Slayers Bay Blues.

When their first New York area gigs led to numerous invitations to return, EES set off again for America, this time with veteran tour manager Bob Slayer (Led Zeppelin, etc.) guiding their career. Nearly two years of constant touring in North America was followed by an invitation to perform in London in 2003, and for the past few years the three have spent most of their time in Europe.

Ito (drums), Morimoto (guitar,vocals), and Maekawa (bass)

They’ve now toured 30 countries and played 27 festivals (not to mention “a guy’s kitchen and a dog room”), notching an astounding 250 gigs in one year alone.
“At first, people seemed to want us to fulfill some sort of image as crazy Japanese,” Morimoto says. “But I don’t think people think of us as particularly ‘Japanese’ now. It used to stress me out, but now I welcome anyone who comes out to our shows for whatever reason.”

Just off a 40-date European tour that saw them headlining venues with 200-300 capacity, Electric Eel Shock are focusing on Japan for the first time in years. They’ve got a proper record deal here now and a full schedule of gigs through the winter.
“Of course, it’s important to be heard here because it’s our country,” insists Maekawa. “Sometimes I feel a bit frustrated. We get very good reactions in Europe and America, but Japanese people don’t know that. I want to know what the key is to reaching a Japanese audience."

“Yet audiences are quite similar all over the world,” counters Morimoto. “Japanese audiences are a bit shy but not so different, so we’ll just do the same thing. It’s not like we’re going to start doing pop songs here.”
Electric Eel Shock’s new album is named for a hit ’70s Japanese TV show, Transamerica Ultra Quiz, in which contestants tried to avoid elimination as they traveled from Tokyo to New York via Los Angeles.
“Our first US tour was exactly the same,” Morimoto explains. “We didn’t have a proper booking agent. We just called ahead to the next city and relied on our friends. It was survival because we couldn’t speak proper English.”
Created with producer Attie Bauw (Judas Priest, Scorpions), Transworld Ultra Rock for the first time saw them fine-tuning their production by recording each part separately.
“We started to hate each other,” Morimoto says with a laugh, “and didn’t want to be in the studio at the same time.”
The result is a sound that exchanges some of the looseness of their previous albums for a taut approach. Over the course of 14 songs, Transworld Ultra Rock trips with a knowing wink from hard rock stadium riffs to punk, and on to stoner-friendly psychedelia.

An inspiration for two of the songs, “Joe” and “Joe II,” was a character from a manga, anime program and movie in the ’70s.
“Joe was a kind of bible for our generation,” says Morimoto. “He’s a boxer, but not a perfect one. He’s strong, but also has weak points. Sometimes he pulls dirty tricks, but Joe is also trying to survive alone in a confusing society. Most of my songs are like a diary, describing things that are happening on tour or in my life. Joe and Transworld are things from my life.”
More than anything for Electric Eel Shock are the tours. So it’s no surprise when they close the interview, sling their guitars over their shoulders and head off to soundcheck for a gig. Road-tested rock warriors making a fresh start in their own country—one wishes them luck.

Dan Grunebaum
Metropolis Magazine
17th January, 2008

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