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Tune Glue 015: For Tracy Hyde
An interview with Japanese dream-pop band For Tracy Hyde
For Tracy Hyde
If the albums by For Tracy Hyde resemble films, the Japanese dream-pop band describes its latest album, Hotel Insomnia, as an omnibus. After laboring over the conceptual arc of each respective project, the four-piece comprised of eureka (vocals/guitars), Natsubot (guitars/vocals), Mav (bass) and soukou (drums) decides to loosen up on its creative approach and let songs stand on their own. The resulting record finds the band freely expanding its shoegaze-centric sound without sacrificing the larger-than-life feel that has defined the music of For Tracy Hyde. Ryo Miyauchi interviewed the members of For Tracy Hyde via e-mail throughout December, 2022 about the band’s origins, dream pop music, and the production process behind Hotel Insomnia.
The responses were translated from Japanese by Natsubot and Luka Uno.
Ryo Miyauchi: I read that some of you got to know each other back in 2009 through Twitter, but can you tell me more about how you all first met? How did you get to know each other? How did For Tracy Hyde eventually form?
eureka: When I was in elementary school, my parents knew Natsubot’s parents so he was like a brother I’d occasionally hang out with. We hadn’t met for a while, but he got in touch with me via Facebook after the band’s previous singer left, and I went to see them play with a guest vocalist, which eventually led to me joining. Back then, I didn’t know everyone else.
Natsubot: It’s crazy because while me and eureka were childhood friends, we hadn’t met for more than a decade after elementary school. My second oldest acquaintances in the band are Mav and our ex-guitarist U-1, who I met via Twitter around 2009. Both of them were playing in a band called Boyish in 2011, which a mutual friend of ours started. I was really inspired by Boyish’s DIY ethos and started home-recording dream pop-inspired music, leading to the formation of For Tracy Hyde in 2012. Back then, the band was a trio composed of me and U-1 with a university classmate of mine on bass. We played without a drummer, instead playing drum tracks from a Macbook, and it was abysmal. Since then, we’ve gone through so many lineup changes, including some people who were in the band for merely months!
Mav: Back in 2009, Twitter wasn’t as huge in Japan as it is now, so the shoegaze community was very small. I met Natsubot, and we both participated in a home-recording Twitter-user shoegaze compilation called Twitsgazer. I played bass when he started a band under his previous home-recording moniker, and while that band was short-lived, he called on me later when FTH’s first bassist became too busy with his job to continue playing with the band.
soukou: I went to the same university as Mav and met him in the university’s music club. We even had a band playing his original material at the school festival. Eventually I was asked to join Boyish, where I also met U-1. Natsubot was a friend of the other members of Boyish and that’s how I came to know him. After I left Boyish, I wasn’t playing in any bands, but Mav recruited me. I hadn’t really talked to eureka until joining.
What was the music community in Tokyo like when you first started For Tracy Hyde? What do you like about the community now?
eureka: I wasn’t actively listening to music until joining the band so I don’t really know how it was about back then.
Natsubot: When I started [For Tracy Hyde], the indie rock scene wasn’t as active as it is now, and we’d often end up getting booked with J-Rock-ish bands, so seldom did we come across like-minded spirits. Then I came to know a band called Teen Runnings (fka Friends) through Yoshiki from Boyish, which was a total eye-opener for me. Teen Runnings were part of a small community that was known as “Tokyo indie” along with bands such as Mitsume, Super VHS, and DYGL, and me and my friends really admired their DIY stance and cool aesthetic.
On the other hand, the shoegaze scene has always sort of been there, with many bands coming and going, but I have the impression that it’s only truly gained citizenship over the past 5 or 6 years. There were also some shoegaze-adjacent bands scattered outside the scene feeling small in totally different communities, but a lot of them have been integrated into the scene since then, coming together to form one big stream. What’s good about the current music community in Tokyo is the increase in the sheer number of bands. There are so many kids about a decade younger than me with so much talent across the board, and so many cool bands to discover. While I must admit I’m not attending gigs as much as I used to, if I tried I could find a good show almost every night.
Mav: Back then, I wasn’t following the Tokyo music scene in general, but I was into the broader shoegaze scene. I think when Shoegazer Disc Guide came out around 2010, it really invigorated the scene. The current music scene has a wider range of indie bands than before, and more bands pay respect to their influences by injecting the essence of their predecessors into their own music. I guess it has a lot to do with the spreading of streaming, which has made it easier to pick what you like from a wide range of music, and understand roots and scenes as areas rather than dots through playlists and recommendations.
soukou: I don’t really go to gigs, and I’m not interested in current local bands.
How did you all discover shoegaze and dream pop? What was it about shoegaze and dream pop that initially drew you in when you first heard it?
eureka: I didn’t listen to music by genre until joining the band, but looking back, my first encounter with shoegaze was Sigur Rós, who I heard in a hair salon and liked so much that I asked the hairdresser who it was. I was attracted to the music’s sense of nostalgia and translucence.
Natsubot: Around the end of junior high school, I came across Number Girl and their contemporaries in the so-called “’97 Generation.” Among them were Supercar, and I was immediately drawn to their simple appearance and their fusion of noisy sounds with sweet melodies. Searching for more music that sounded like them, I came across the word “shoegaze.” Among the big shoegaze bands, it was Ride that I first came to love, as they took the beautiful harmonies of rock from the ’60s such as The Beatles and The Byrds that I already loved and updated them with loud and dynamic playing. I was such a simple man back then, so nothing was cooler and better than loud and beautiful. Having Mark Gardener, the frontman of this special band, master our latest album is such a huge honor.
Mav: I first heard about a band called Kinniku Shojo Tai through the ending theme of the anime series Welcome to the N.H.K., and then I found that their singer was in another band called Tokusatsu along with a guitarist called NARASAKI, who also had his own band called Coaltar of the Deepers—they were my first contact with shoegaze and dream pop. It’s strange that my interest in metal is what eventually led me to shoegaze, but the abrasive noise, graceful reverb, and the sense of escapism that the wall of sound brings really started to draw me in. Personally speaking, I’m very fond of the Japanese shoegaze scene’s combination of J-Pop chord progressions, melodies, and song structures with dream-pop sounds, and my admiration of that was shaped by Coaltar of the Deepers, My Dead Girlfriend, Cruyff in The Bedroom, and Plastic Girl In Closet.
soukou: My parents listened to Ride (at least I think so), so I think that’s my starting point. But it wasn’t until I played Mav’s songs in his band that I properly recognized shoegaze and dream pop as genres, and after that, playing in various cover bands in my university’s music club deepened my knowledge.
What’s something you love about dream pop that you try to instill in your own music?
eureka: It’s quite literal, but I think that our works are immersed in dreamy sounds and lyrics. Sounds with deep reverb, delay, and modulation are perfect for embodying the world of dreams.
Natsubot: What inspires me the most is the colorful and synesthetic textures of the guitars. Nothing makes me happier than when I find tones and riffs that match and enhance the images in my head, the scenes depicted through the lyrics, or the overall mood of the song. And the multitude of choices brought by the heavy usage of effects definitely makes it one of the most adequate genres for creating synergy between the imagery of the lyrics and the sound.
Mav: Ever since learning about shoegaze back in high school, I’ve come to listen to so much reverb-drenched music that I tend to keep adding on reverb when mixing. I search for euphoria in music, and that’s what I want our listeners to feel too.
soukou: What interests me the most is since the backdrop is hazy and vague, the beat of the drums really stands out. So I try to keep my drumming as interesting as possible, and I think this demands a different approach from both pop music and other types of alternative rock.
Your past albums have taken a lot of inspiration from film when it comes to the presentation of the music, from the cover art to the listening experience. What inspired you to share your albums in this way?
eureka: Basically it’s Natsubot who comes up with the concepts, but I myself enjoy the sense of being immersed in a the world of fantasy, be it movies, novels, or anime. I’d like to have you listen to each album from front to back and feel the same.
Natsubot: I feel that many music fans, including myself, are looking for soundtracks to their lives. The Spotify playlist my life is a movie is a perfect example of this! The sense of joy and revelation you get when the music you’re listening to at a certain moment matches what you’re seeing or feeling is a unique and irreplaceable experience. That’s why I wanted to present stories that are relatable to everybody through songs and albums. Personally speaking, The 1975’s debut album has been a huge inspiration to me. It’s just unbelievably cinematic, spectacular, and cohesive.
Mav: I myself don’t watch movies that much, but feeling that an album has a cinematic story and dramatic quality really gives it a sense of worth and grabs your attention, so I do think I seek that in music. When discussing the tracklist for each album, I do keep that in mind.
soukou: I think that people like to have context in everything, so being able to strengthen musical experiences with that is a great strength.
Hotel Insomnia seems to get away from a film-inspired presentation in comparison to your previous releases, but what did you have in mind for the presentation of this new album?
eureka: I think that rather than being a feature film, our new record is a collection of short films, with each song having its own particular gravity.
Natsubot: To be honest, our previous modus operandi of creating conceptual works with one overall narrative arc really takes a lot of effort both physically and mentally, and oftentimes it was also very frustrating as I felt that I hadn’t expressed or conveyed everything thoroughly enough, so I just became tired of it. So this time we just forgot about it and opted to simply gather great songs to create a playlist rather than a story. But the cinematic quality is definitely still there: each song is cinematic in theme, motifs, and soundscape. I totally agree that if our previous three albums were feature films, this one’s an omnibus with the ethos of the current times being the common thread binding each film together.
Mav: Frankly speaking, the songs are all over the place, but since the title Hotel Insomnia is such a suggestive title, it makes the album come across as an omnibus.
soukou: Being overly constrained to a concept could lead to a uniform and dull experience, so there is a certain advantage in disposing of that approach. However, doing so also requires a sufficient strength in each song, so I think this album is proof of how much our songwriting has improved.
How was the production process for Hotel Insomnia? Was there anything new or unique to the process compared to your previous albums?
eureka: The production process for this album was unique in that it began with Natsubot making 20 or 30 short demos, after which we all voted to choose which songs he should complete. This was something we’d never done before.
Natsubot: Guitars are playing an increasingly prominent role in our sound. In the past, I tended to limit the number of guitar tracks on each song, instead filling in the blanks with other sounds such as percussion and synths, but this time I tried to work in a different manner. I’d often come up with something new while recording and just try it out to see if it worked, and as a result, “Milkshake,” “Undulate,” and “Estuary” have more layers of guitars than ever. “Lungs” and “Subway Station Revelation” also have some interesting layering going on. This maximalist approach also shows in the vocal harmonies, especially in the Beach Boys-ish “Natalie.”
Mav: While the process of voting was definitely different, the workflow that followed—Natsubot presenting a complete demo, then all of us gathering in the studio to brush things up—hasn’t really changed that much. But I do think soukou’s drumming is pretty unique on this album.
soukou: We had more time to work on each song than before, so I could work out the details. Also, Natsubot used to send in song references for each song (sometimes there would be an enormous list!), but that didn’t happen that much this time around, and instead I would ask for advice or directions only when I needed it. I think that’s contributed to the changes in my phrasing and approach towards drumming.
The title sums up the music very well: the album overall feels less involved in the sweet, escapist side of fantasy and instead takes a darker turn, like you’re stuck in between the waking and dream states. How would you describe the atmosphere of this album?
eureka: That’s a feeling I can relate to. Our past albums dealt with a sense of hope and praying, as well as being betrayed by that hope. This album is free of any hope and expectation towards others, and instead full of the determination to accept everything as it comes.
Natsubot: Your description perfectly matches the mood of the album. When you’re traveling, especially on your own, you often can’t sleep because of jet lag, vague worries about your future, sudden flashbacks and reminiscences of the past, and other random thoughts. To distract yourself from the stress of being unable to sleep, you listen to music in your hotel room mindlessly, or you go out and enter a restaurant or a convenience store and hear a song that either perfectly matches your mood or sounds so out of place that it just confuses your mind even more. That’s the feeling I went for with this album. If there was one thing that binds together all these songs that are so disparate in vibe, references, and lyrical content, it’s that.
Mav: “Milkshake” was the first song that Natsubot brought, and from that, I thought that it would become our heaviest album to date; with the balance between fantasy and reality ending up somewhere between our third and fourth albums, New Young City and Ethernity. Listening to the finished product, that’s still my impression. I feel that if you listen to it with the album title in mind, you can interpret it as a sidewise peek into a hotel where insomniacs are gathered.
soukou: While it’s something of an extension of Ethernity, it feels more mature. But while the sound has changed on the surface level, what’s at the base hasn’t changed, so this is an album that both our previous fans and new listeners will like. I think that the range of situations in everyday life in which you would want to listen to For Tracy Hyde has been expanded.
Your last album, Ethernity, dealt a lot with nostalgia and the past, and for this album, I read that Natsubot wanted to touch on post-COVID anxieties. What about the present time interested you going into this album?
eureka: I feel that the world hadn’t been changing at such a rapid speed until a few years ago, and talking about politics and ideologies was basically taboo. I guess it was easier to pretend to be indifferent. But now, there is so much division going on all over the world, and it feels as if we’re stuck in a completely different world. That sense of isolation fits the image of this record.
Natsubot: The clash between races and social classes in post-Trump America, the COVID-19 pandemic totally changing the world, the Russia-Ukraine war… It was utterly shocking to find that the everyday life we took for granted could crumble away so easily. And that sense of change, alienation, de-personalization, and lack of reality, which is so intense that you can’t even recognize your hometown anymore, overlapped with the feeling of sleepless nights in a foreign country that I mentioned before. Being an alien in your own country is a big theme of the album.
Mav: The social changes that COVID brought turned one of my acquaintances towards conspiracy theories and spiritual interests, changing him into a totally different man, which shocked me greatly. I don’t mean that he’s become abnormal or anything, but the way that people see the world has been completely split, and I often doubt my own perception of the world, which is just sensational. This experience made me sympathize with the concept that Natsubot brought in.
soukou: I guess that COVID really brought people’s thoughts to the surface. The world is constantly shifting, and there’s no such thing as a stable state.
I imagine dream pop to be better suited to express nostalgia and fantasy, but were there any challenges trying to write music about the current reality?
eureka: While dream pop does seem more apt to do so than other genres, we don’t really think that dream pop has to be a certain way.
Natsubot: I never thought of music as pure escapism, and while the music I love does have a sense of escapism, I think of it as a brief respite in which you’re able to prepare yourself for the reality of your everyday life. That’s why I’ve never felt that expressing real life through dream pop was strange; if anything, I feel that our strange juxtaposition of otherworldly sounds and real world motifs is one of the most interesting things about us.
Mav: I’ve never really thought about dream pop as music suited towards fantasy and nostalgia. I think Japanese dream pop bands are each expressing their own sense of reality by enveloping it in otherworldly sounds.
soukou: I think of it as one type of music, and one type of expression. There’s no use being confined to the conventions of genre.
Did you ever have any reservations while making this album? Were there any new ideas that you were unsure if it would be well-received?
eureka: We’ve always liked trying new things, and I think our fans enjoy that we always mix things up, so I think they’ll enjoy this album too! But I was concerned about my pronunciation of the English lyrics on “The First Time (Is the Last Time).” (laughs).
Natsubot: Rapping, homages to The Beach Boys, and city-pop-inspired songs are just some of the unusual aspects of this album, but with our history of incorporating sounds that might be foreign to dream pop, the fans that have stuck with us are used to it. I’m not going to start worrying about that now.
Mav: I wrote “House Of Mirrors” on this album, and because I used a lot of sounds that were new to me, I’m worried if people will like it (laughs). But I also trust our listeners, so I’m not too worried.
soukou: Our songs are as strong as usual, and nothing has changed in that we play, and eureka sings.
In another interview, eureka described the production process as being more democratic, but can you tell me more about how it felt more involved for everybody? Were there any specific inputs or ideas from a member that stick out in memory that helped a song get better than the demo?
eureka: We all chose songs that we wanted to do, so I feel like we’re more attached to the songs.
Natsubot: I only made “Undulate” because Mav told me he wanted to do a song that sounded like Radiohead. I’m not a big Radiohead fan, and only really started listening to them to make the song, and the song came about when I followed my own vision.
Mav: I don’t remember the context, but I remember saying “we need to make our own OK Computer” in the studio. Then Natsubot brought in the demo for “Undulate” and I remember thinking how amazing of an artist he was. Also, the 2-beat break before the final chorus in “Lungs,” and the chord progression for the final chorus are partially my ideas. But… my idea of including Madchester-esque pianos in “Leave The Planet” was left on the cutting-room floor (laughs).
soukou: As usual, I was allowed to mess with the drum patterns, and because I trust Natsubot and Mav to stop any of my bad ideas, I can mess around without having to worry. If they didn’t try to stop me with such fervor, I’m sure I’d be ignoring them (laughs).
What song are each of you most proud of? What about it do you love?
eureka: This is a hard one, and I’m sure my answer is going to change, but right now, it might be “Lungs.” This is just my own interpretation, but I’m attracted to the uncertainty in the chords calling to mind the story of an average girl being turned into a tragic heroine.
Natsubot: I probably like the first song that was completed for the album, “Milkshake.” The chords and melody are in the vein of the heavy shoegaze I was going for on Ethernity, and I think it’s simply a loud and cool song. The mastering from Mark Gardener is perfect. Around 2:49 in the song, I play an arpeggio on a 12-string guitar over a wall of fuzz; that was an idea that randomly came to me during recording and wasn’t in the original demo. It’s like a ray of light that shines in during a heavy storm.
Mav: It’s hard to choose, but if I had to, I’d say “The First Time (Is The Last Time).” The vocal harmonies could only have been written by somebody who had practically been driven mad by listening to The Beach Boys, and eureka’s interpretation of the written harmonies is perfect. The rhythm section, too, all thought “this is Cymbals, right?” and we played around with phrasing inspired by them.
soukou: “Subway Station Revelation.” I think the drum arrangements are perfect on that song. I loved going back to a simple floor tom pattern after the interlude. I personally think that most great songs have drum arrangements that fit well.
What about For Tracy Hyde do you love?
eureka: We’re a collection of people whose love for music is practically overflowing (i.e. we’re all music nerds). We can be honest with each other to make good music, and working together towards a common goal of making something good is a lot of fun.
Natsubot: This may seem obvious, but I love that we can make cool music in a cool way. We don’t feel as though we belong to any one scene, and so we’re able to take an experimental, nonconformist approach to music-making. And this may sound arrogant, but when other musicians from all over the world tell us that they’re fans or that they’ve been inspired by us, I feel like we’ve really become part of the scene and been able to influence the culture. If we’re able to leave a lasting positive influence on the scene, that would be amazing.
Mav: First, that we have a great songwriter, and a great singer who can complement those talents. I think that every song should be able to be stripped away of everything besides vocals and harmony; they’re the foundation. On top of that, the almost nerdy way each of us interprets the music of the musicians who came before us to create really interesting arrangements and sounds. It’s our contribution to urban guitar pop.
soukou: That we all hold ourselves to the highest standard. That we all live simply, and honestly. Even when we have our differences, we have the humility to see past those and work together.
For Tracy Hyde’s Hotel Insomnia is out now on P-Vine.
Thank you for reading the fifteenth issue of Tune Glue. Let’s live simply and honestly.
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