SCAD Writing for the Arts
April 20, 2015
Whenever people ask me what kind of music I like, I always hesitate to answer. I’ve noticed sometimes people can be really dismissive of foreign music, thinking it’s too weird or exotic for their tastes. So when I tell people I love Japanese rock, their confused looks don’t particularly surprise me. They’ll scratch their heads and exclaim, “But you don’t even know what they’re saying!” No, most of the time I don’t, but that’s never stopped me from listening. In fact, there’s this one Japanese band I think you’d like, if you gave them a chance.
All the way back in 1998, four guys started a band named Ellegarden. Influenced by American groups like Weezer and Blink-182, Ellegarden brought a fresh style of pop punk to the East. Many of their songs are written and performed in English, a rare treat from a Japanese group. But it’s not the common language that drives me to them. It’s the sincerity of their sound that keeps me mesmerized. “Insane,” from their 2003 album Bring Your Board!!, is one such song.
“Insane” unfolds with a simple, rhythmic guitar melody. A second guitar joins in, the heavier notes pulling us like an undercurrent. There’s an intake of breath, and then vocalist Takeshi Hosomi, his voice light, sings the first verse in perfect English. “I don't want to see you cry/ I'm here next to you/ Though you don't see me,” he says, gently taking our hands. We trust him like an old friend and let him lead.
The rest of the band arrives. Bass and drums overlap, their steady beats echoing our footsteps, encouraging us to move forward. The instruments work in perfect harmony, their sound clean and rich. Cymbals crash and Hosomi is back, this time singing the next verse in Japanese. He’s unrestrained, at times overpowering the guitars. He hasn’t lost us though. “They are all insane,” he reminds us in English – for the last time – before entering the chorus.
All the instruments burst together, catching us in their familiar, uplifting melody. Hosomi is almost screaming – almost. The guitars match his cadence, rising in strength to meet his voice. It doesn’t matter if the lyrics are unfamiliar. We can feel the rawness of his conviction transcending the language: he understands us. He knows what it’s like to feel lonely, to lose confidence in ourselves, to be lost. And it’s okay to feel that way because he’ll always be there to find us.
The drums and bass bow out, letting the lone guitar play the same tune from the beginning. Hosomi, his voice rough but tender, sings the last few lines in his native language. His hands have never left ours, not for a second. The final note, the guitar and his voice reverberating together, are his goodbye, and with a nod and a smile, he fades away. We might not have known much of what he said, but his message is there in the music. He loves us, and we love him too.