Retro is back baby! And this does not just apply to the latest disco-infused dance song or samples from TV shows of yesteryear that are slipped into hip-hop medleys. The recent success of The Strokes and the continuing fascination with The Beta Band proves that there is still a strong audience for the college rock song.
mister nobu is a band that has a rich history. The man behind the band, Nobu Adilman, once played in a rock band called Rick of the Skins that received a lot of attention here in Canada. The band went on to open for Sloan. Then, Nobu decided to turn his attention to his Macintosh G3 laptop and with the addition of keyboards, a few vocals and unique beats interspersed, the album c’mon wid your c’mon was born. Welcome to the millennium. A man and his computer equals fully-produced CD.
Organs play a very big part of this CD. Something that has given way to uber-keyboards and more and more, technology. It brings a very 1970s feel to the work. And paired with strumming guitars and simplistic lyrics, you suddenly feel shag carpet push under your feet and vinyl creeps under your butt.
The 13-song CD begins with “population won” which is sounds like Beck meets the Beatles, which incidentally are two of his influences. This song has the simplicity of the Beatles (singing with guitars) but there is a bigger feel to this one. Like it is too far and rich to simply understand in one listen. And this has to be said: There are car horns in this one. Really.
Guitars in today’s nu-metal and alternative scene are usually brashly toyed with and it seems audiences have forgotten what strumming sounds like. “rock” will take you there. Right there. Sounding like your college roommate who skips class to stay home and “work on his music”, “manhandle the great fruit” is thin in complexity and thick with organ mentality.
Japanese rock is usually offbeat compared to North American. And offbeat in the strictest sense. “c’mon wid your c’mon” is truly offbeat. The drums spin around your forehead and the melancholy organ seeps into your skin. The backing vocals are extremely good and suddenly you are transported to better and simpler days. Mmm . . . Samples with great beats. This is the stuff. “machine machine” is thickly layered and has a very urban feel. Industrial yet accessible. Simple and sweet, “see you again” is a nod to the slower rock song. Herman’s Hermits meets the Plastic Ono Band. And there’s a pinch of “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” sprinkled throughout. Thick with electronic and organs, layered vocals and the juxtaposition of millennium technology with the sparseness of 1950s lyrics gives “freak out” a uniqueness that is tangible only by feel and sound. No words suffice. Man with guitar. Girl sings chorus. Does it get any better than this? On “without a scratch” the organs were minimal, and the change was refreshing.
I had the chance to talk with Nobu about his work
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I co-founded Rick of the Skins in the winter of 1997 with Michael Leblanc (Thee Suddens, Slow Lover) and Victoria Kent (Pegasus Plus)—it later included Ian McGettigan and Rob Benvie of Thrush Hermit. We released one cd HERE COMES THE WEEKEND and played a lot until the spring of 2000 when it kind of fizzled. ROTS, as we came to be known, was a big part of my life and defined my last few years living in Halifax.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR MISTER NOBU? WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THIS GO?
I’ve never really set out a plan but as I’m currently getting ready to play a show in March as part of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival’s indie music showcase, I’m focusing on figuring out how to play the CD. I would like to continue to record as well as play shows with a full band.
WILL YOUR NEXT PROJECT BE JUST YOU AND YOUR MAC AGAIN?
It might be. I’m not sure. At this point recording at home is the easiest way for me to record musical thoughts. I should be using it as a way to record demo’s to then take elsewhere where it could be recorded professionally.
WAS THE PROCESS OF PUTTING THIS TOGETHER ENJOYABLE? WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE?
I was just fiddling around with instruments I had around my house and really low tech recording gear. It wasn’t a formal attempt at making a cd so there was no pressure at all. There weren’t huge obstacles except for my landlord who would come over to fix the roof while I was recording.
DO YOU PREFER RECORDING IN THE STUDIO OR PLAYING LIVE?
My experiences recording, though entertaining, have never equalled the rush of playing on stage. Playing live with my last band, Rick of the Skins, was some of the best times I’ve ever had.
WHAT IS YOUR FASCINATION AND/OR LOVE OF ORGANS? WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?
I am hardly an organ guru but everyone I play seems to have a new sound or beat. I like how you can construct sounds playing with different parameters. I like how one sound from a synthesizer can perfectly transport you back to you a specific era of music. I love all the buttons and knobs. I love the richness of the sounds. But really, I’m no aficionado though I look forward to owning many more in the future.
IS YOUR FAMILY MUSICAL?
My mother played the samisen, a traditional Japanese string instrument. It’s a cross between a banjo and a guitar usually accompanying a storyteller in Kabuki performances. My brother played violin and guitar. When we were really young, we’d play little performances at holiday get-togethers, classics like POP GOES THE WEASEL.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE CANADIAN MUSIC SCENE?
I can name a lot of Canadian bands I think are great. I think that’s a good indication that we’ve got a good thing going. It’s cool that some of them are getting or have record deals and tour the world. It would be even cooler if more of them had that kind of backing.
IN YOUR WILDEST FANTASY, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY ON STAGE WITH?
Nina Simone, Beck, Taj Mahal, DJ Krush, Jimmy Smith, Charles Mingus (on bass), with Pete Seeger to get the crowd singing along.
WHERE DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A FILM DIRECTOR COME INTO PLAY WHEN WRITING AND RECORDING MUSIC?
I’m not sure how one informs the other but my last two short films have been made very much like my CD—fairly off the cuff—if not improvisationally, using only the bare minimum of tools, not going for a slick or polished finished product and with an openness to accidents which somehow keep the project going.
Also, with music recording and film editing, my understanding of the importance of sharp transitions to punctuate an overall rhythm has really started to take shape.
YOU WRITE OTHER STUFF AS WELL, DON’T YOU?
I’ve written for Canadian episodic television: Emily of New Moon and Cold Squad. I’m working on a short film with my brother now about Asian guys with perms.
I HAVE STUDIED JAPAN FOR 10 YEARS BUT HAVE YET TO FIND OUT WHAT TERA TERA BOZU MEANS. CAN YOU HELP A GIRL OUT?
Growing up, whenever my brother or I had a school trip the next day or some other special event, my mother would summon Tera Tera Bozu to ensure that the weather would be favourable. Here’s the quick how-to: You take a piece of tissue paper and make its head with a cotton ball, tying it into place with a piece of string. With a marker you make a smiling face and then hang him from his head from the roof of your house. There he hangs all night doing whatever he does. I can’t tell you how but by morning it was always sunny or at the very least not raining. Before we’d head out for the day, we would dunk Tera Tera Bozu’s head with sake to thank him for his hard work then toss him in the trash.
IF YOU WERE ON A DESERT ISLAND, AND COULD ONLY TAKE 10 CD/LPS WITH YOU, WHAT WOULD YOU TAKE?
Led Zeppelin II
Miles Davis—Miles Smiles
Horace Andy—Prime Cuts
Roy Ayers—Everybody Loves the Sunshine
Nina Simone—The Essential Vol. One
DJ Krush—Code 4109
It will be interesting to see what happens next with mister nobu. It may be just him and his Mac. It may be him and his old bandmates putting a new twist on funk. But one thing is certain. It will be like no other. With a lot of keyboards.