Half Japanese: Jad Fair on 5 Albums That Changed His Life

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— If you want it to be fast, play fast. If you wanna go slow, go slow. That’s all there is to it, it’s that easy to play guitar. Some people worry about chords and stuff, and that’s all right too. There are all kinds of music in this world.
— Well, you do need chords in order to plug the guitar in, but that’s pretty much it.

Jad & David Fair on playing guitar,
Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (1993)

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half_japanese_lionsDiligently recording and releasing unique music since the mid ‘70s, Half Japanese is an American outsider music institution, one that represents the true embodiment of cult heroes.

With Hear the Lions Roar (Fire Records, 2017), their 16th full-length studio effort to date, the underground icons have once again garnered widespread critical acclaim, celebrated for conjuring that same urgency and vitality first heard on record four decades ago.

Of the band’s most recent work, NPR states: “[The album] bolsters that Half Japanese tradition, with 13 diverse, attention-grabbing tunes that rival the band’s ’80s classics such as Charmed Life and The Band That Would Be King. Amid hard-riff jams, swinging ditties, lovelorn ballads and other catchy gems, Jad persistently breathes life into the Half Japanese repertoire, once described by his brother as ‘monster songs and love songs.’”

The Half Japanese story could easily be titled ‘songs about monsters and love.’ Brothers Jad and David Fair first started out playing as Half Japanese when their parents relocated from Michigan to Uniontown, Maryland in the 1970s. Half Japanese was then born in their bedroom in spite of the fact that the Fair brothers had little to no idea about how exactly to play their instruments. Instead, they enthusiastically hammered out homemade tunes peppered with humor, energy and innocence, with lyrics frequently concerned about horror flicks, monsters, tabloids and women.

It’s been said that they were heavily inspired by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock. As such, and as a direct equivalent to Pollock’s form of action painting, Jad and David Fair relied more on their raw thirst for creation rather than on their technical shortcomings. They are rightfully considered to have spearheaded both the lo-fi and D.I.Y. movements, thereby foreshadowing a great deal of what the indie rock scene would come to explode in the ‘90s.

half_japanese_gentlemenThe band’s official recording career began with a characteristically ambitious triple album, 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts (1980), later chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 most influential alternative albums of all time. Over the years, Half Japanese have faithfully released music at a tremendous pace, as Half Japanese, as solo artists and in numerous additional collaborations. And aside from David Fair, who handed over the duties to his brother in the early 1980s but has made occasional guest appearance over the years, the band features the same members who have been at Jad’s side since the late ’80s and early ’90s: John Sluggett (guitar, keys, timbales), Gilles-Vincent Rieder (drums, percussion, keys), Jason Willett (bass, keys), Mick Hobbs (guitar, glockenspiel).

They’ve never come close to breaking into mainstream but have consistently followed their own artistic vision all along, enjoying support from bands they’d influenced like Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and, of course, Nirvana. Kurt Cobain ranked them among his very favorites, chose them to open for Nirvana on the In Utero tour and was even wearing their T-shirt when he died.

Proudly to introduce the latest work from these underrated art-rockers with a round of 5 Albums That Changed My Life, answered by the one and only Jad Fair.

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‘It’s difficult to choose the 5 albums that had the biggest impact on me,’ admits Fair. ‘There are so many albums that I’ve played over and over and over again. The five albums I chose are…’:

The Stooges:
Fun House
(Elektra, 1970)
I grew up in Michigan and I thought I was in the best place in the world for music. We had The MC5, Motown and The Stooges. I bought Fun House when it first came out and played it more than any other album I had. I loved its energy. I think it’s a perfect album.

shaggsThe Shaggs:
Philosophy of the World
(Third Word, 1969)
I was given a cassette tape of Philosophy of the World in 1977 and was blown away by it. The music is great and the lyrics are sweet and pure. I was surprised to later find out that The Shaggs always used music sheets. Two years ago Dot Wiggin released a new album and asked me to do the cover art. I was thrilled to do it.

 

The Modern Lovers:
The Modern Lovers
(Beserkley, 1976)
I first heard about The Modern Lovers in 1974. Interview magazine had an interview with Jonathan Richman. The interview struck a chord with me. He was doing what I wanted to do. I bought the Modern Lovers album in ’76 and loved it. Everything about it is spot on. Jonathan is one of my favorite songwriters and performers. Excellent times ten.

daniel_hiDaniel Johnston:
Hi, How Are You
(self-released, 1983)
Half Japanese had a tour of the U.S. in 1986. At a show in Austin Daniel Johnston’s manager Jeff Tartakov gave me a tape of Hi, How Are You. While on tour we played it more times than any other album. Daniel is an amazing songwriter. I started writing to Daniel and was able to record with him in 1990. I’m so lucky to have Daniel as a friend.

 

Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band:
Trout Mask Replica
(Straight/Reprise, 1969)
My brother David had all of Captain Beefheart’s albums. Trout Mask Replica is an album I immediately flipped for. The Magic Band had a sound all their own. It was like nothing else I had heard. The blues roots were solid yet they took it to another level. The musicianship is top-notch.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Days of Heaven: 1970-tallet – 100 Favorittlåter

70-tallet! For et fantastisk musikktiår. Fra etterdønningene av Woodstock til etterdønningene av punken, fra gedigen arenarock til tysk minimalisme, dette tiåret har alt – og det har noe av den aller beste musikken som er skapt. Denne listen med 100 utvalgte favorittlåter er mer en personlig odysse enn en nøktern framstilling av tiårets største og mest kjente hits. Mye bra der også, men bakom listene ligger deg også særs mye gull det er verdt å minnes.

Denne ferden starter omtrent midt i tiåret, med en Neil Young som reflekterer nettopp over dette tiåret han her er inne i, preget av nedturene etter 60-åras blomsterliv og søkende etter ny grunn. On the Beach er en påle ikke bare i hans diskografi, men i hele 70-tallsrocken. De første låtene angir mye av det som presenteres her, Nick Drake med sin noble britiske folk, Can med sin utagerende psykedelia, Television med sine sylskarpe gitardrønn fra New Yorks asfalt og Pink Floyd med sin utsvevende stormannsgalskap. Dette er en rundreise gjennom et fargerikt og variert tiår, som er langt bedre enn sitt rykte – begrenset ned til én låt pr. artist.

Disse låtene – i hvert fall de aller fleste – står seg dessuten like godt den dag i dag.

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Neil Young: On the Beach (1974)
Nick Drake: Hazey Jane II (1970)
Can: Halleluwah (1971)
Television: Marquee Moon (1977)
Pink Floyd: Echoes (1971)
The Modern Lovers: Roadrunner (1977)
Bruce Springsteen: Thunder Road (1975)
Suicide: Ghost Rider (1977)
Chris Bell: I Am the Cosmos (1978)
Neu!: Hallogallo (1972)

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The Soft Machine: Moon in June (1970)
Big Star: Thirteen (1972)
Gram Parsons: She (1973)
Allen Toussaint: Southern Nights (1975)
Bob Dylan: Hurricane (1976)
Electric Light Orchestra: Showdown (1973)
The Congos: Days Chasing Days (1979)
XTC: Making Plans For Nigel (1979)
Miles Davis: Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (1970)
The Stranglers: Nice ‘n’ Sleazy (1978)

alice_coltrane

Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance (1978)
The Clash: Guns of Brixton (1979)
Blondie: One Way or Another (1978)
John Martyn: Solid Air (1973)
Pharoah Sanders: Astral Traveling (1971)
The Nerves: Hanging on the Telephone (1976)
Alice Coltrane: Blue Nile (1970)
Gene Clark: Silver Raven (1974)
Shuggie Otis: Aht Uh Mi Hed (1974)
Bert Jansch: Needle of Death (1974)

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Creedence Clearwater Revival: Run Through the Jungle (1970)
John Phillips: Topanga Canyon (1970)
Paul Giovanni & Magnet: The Willow Song (1973)
Garland Jeffreys: City Kids (1979)
Judee Sill: The Kiss (1973)
Syd Barrett: Dominoes (1970)
Patti Smith: Gloria (1975)
Harry Nilsson: Without You (1971)
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Kandy Korn (1971)
Todd Rundgren: I Saw the Light (1972)

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Dolly Parton: Jolene (1973)
Curtis Mayfield: Move On Up (1970)
Matthews Southern Comfort: Woodstock (1970)
Sonic Rendevouz Band: City Slang (1978)
America: Ventura Highway (1972)
Wire: Ex Lion Tamer (1977)
Jesse Colin Young: Ridgetop (1973)
Black Sabbath: Iron Man (1970)
Nick Lowe: Cruel to Be Kind (1979)
Poco: Magnolia (1973)

carpenters

Brinsley Schwarz: Country Girl (1970)
Junor Murvin: Police & Thieves (1976)
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues (1972)
Hole in the Wall: Restless Man (1972)
The Carpenters: (They Long to Be) Close to You (1970)
Flamin’ Groovies: Shake Some Action (1976)
Little Feat: Willin’ (1972)
Leonard Cohen: Avalanche (1971)
Al Green: Let’s Stay Together (1972)
Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (1977)

rodrigues

Dead Boys: Sonic Reducer (1977)
Graham Parker: You Can’t Be Too Strong (1979)
Donnie & Joe Emerson: Baby (1979)
Iggy & the Stooges: Down on the Street (1970)
The Adverts: Gary Gilmore’s Eyes (1977)
The Real Kids: All Kindsa Girls (1977)
The Rubinoos: I Think We’re Alone Now (1977)
Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1970)
Rodrigues: Sugar Man (1970)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: The Seasons (1970)

0 R

James Chance & The Contortions: Contort Yourself (1979)
ZZ Top: La Grange (1973)
Min Bul: Champagne of Course (1970)
This Heat: 24 Track Loop (1979)
The Motors: Airport (1978)
Kinky Friedman: Sold American (1974)
Gang Of Four: Damaged Goods (1979)
The Only Ones: Out There in the Night (1979)
Tom Petty: American Girl (1977)
Tom Robinson Band: 2 4 6 8 Motorway (1977)

kris_kristofferson

Steve Young: Alabama Highway (1975)
Loudon Wainwright III: School Days (1970)
B-52’s: Rock Lobster (1979)
Gong: The Isle of Everywhere (1974)
Augustus Pablo: King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown (1975)
Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Blank Generation (1977)
Hall & Oates: Lady Rain (1973)
Jimmy Webb: Galveston (1972)
Kris Kristofferson: Border Lord (1972)
Jimi Hendrix: Machine Gun (1970)

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Joe McPhee: Nation Time (1971)
Graham Nash: Chicago (1971)
Tim Buckley: Sweet Surrender (1972)
Karen Dalton: Katie Cruel (1971)
Graham Nash/David Crosby: Southbound Train (1972)
Last Poets: Niggers Are Scared of Revolution (1970)
Marianne Faithfull: Broken English (1979)
Flower Travellin’ Band: Satori 1 (1971)
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Brazil (1970)
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: Working Class Hero (1970)

Bjørn Hammershaug