|The Hi-Standard guitarist
puts it on the line in his solo debut
"I was a kid/All I wanted was something
called freedom," sings punk rocker Ken Yokoyama in
the opening lines of the title track for his debut solo album.
"I didn't know/That the glory also calls for
sacrifice/With the pleasure comes the pain/Now I know."
As guitarist for punk rock unit Hi-Standard, one of a few
Japanese punk bands to tour overseas, and honcho of marquee
punk-indie imprint Pizza of Death records, Yokoyama knows
the loneliness of trying to go against Japan's corporate
flow. For more than a decade, he's been expressing
anti-establishment themes and battling to make Pizza of Death
a viable concern.
The story of The Cost of My Freedom sounds like an equally
difficult battle. Around the time that Hi-Standard ceased
activity in 2000, Yokoyama remembers feeling stifled playing
only guitar. "I'm a guitarist and it's
my main instrument, but I'm not like an Al di Meola
or Joe Pass
There was something missing
was the 'song,'" he writes on the Pizza
of Death website.
Yokoyama had the desire, and had written some tunes on acoustic
guitar, but was not sure how to proceed with them, wondering
whether to go strictly acoustic or bring in a backing band.
And with Hi-Standard on hiatus, he was suddenly busy with
a number of projects, including playing with the highly rated
BBQ Chickens, guesting with 20-year punk veterans the Gembaku
Onanies ("Atomic Bomb Masturbators"), and producing
bands like last year's phenom Hawaiian6.
Before he knew it, Yokoyama says, the five-year deadline he'd
set himself for the project was drawing near. "I felt
if I didn't do it now I never would, so I booked a
studio for February," he writes. "I decided
first to record the five songs I'd already written,
but since this was for real, I had to think about finding
members." Calling on bassist Low IQ Ichi, drummer Jah-Rah,
and keyboardist Hirohisa Horie, Yokoyama says, "I invited
them over to my house and, over yakiniku, played them some
of my songs-we'd finished four new songs before
we knew it."
The resulting sound on The Cost of My Freedom is a contrast
between intimate acoustic and hardcore numbers. In the lead-off
track, an acoustic number with organ, for instance, Yokoyama
emotes, "In the end/I must make it on my own/Made my
choice so I go alone." And later he delivers a sweet,
Beatles-esque song, "I'm Not Afraid When I'm
With You," with the help of one of the members of girl
duo Puffy. But the album becomes progressively heavier, with
the backing band letting rip a fusillade of scorching melocore
and Husker Du-like thrash by the midway point of "Funny
Things" and "Popcorn Love."
While it's not unusual to hear Japanese vocalists sing
in English these days, Yokoyama does it with aplomb. A veteran
of US tours, his accent and vocabulary don't grate
on Western ears, and despite sometimes wearing his heart on
his sleeve a bit too obviously, he thankfully doesn't
mangle his English by attempting to blend it with Japanese.
Ken Yokoyama plays Magic Rock Out
alongside Iggy Pop and Primal Scream on March 20. See concert
listings for details.
Pizza of Death