BY MICHAEL LICHVAR
When I tell you there are some polite Japanese people in Louisville this week, is it surprising? It shouldn’t be. Louisville is becoming more diverse by the day, and Satoshi Tsugahara is as polite and kind as people come. What may come as a shock, however, is that Tsugahara — standing no more than 5-foot-6 — is the frontman of Drum:Kan, one of the best and most explosive rock bands I’ve ever heard.
Drum:Kan is an old-fashioned grunge band, greatly influenced by the Pixies, which formed nearly 10 years ago in Tokyo. The band began writing songs seriously, recording and touring in 1999 and has since released two EPs, two split-EPs (one with Louisville band Your Black Star), a self-titled “mini” album with seven songs, and five full-length albums.
The most recent two full-length albums were recorded here in Louisville. The first, appropriately titled Louisville, was recorded downtown at VML studios in November 2003, while the second was recorded at the popular Ratterman Family Funeral Home in November 2004 — both by producer and Louisville-native Kevin Ratterman.
Tsugahara met Ratterman in 2003 when Ratterman’s band at the time, Elliott, went on tour in Japan. Elliott had been interested in touring Japan, and their record label put them in touch with Tsugahara. Elliott was the first overseas band Tsugahara ever worked with.
At the end of their Japan tour, Ratterman informed Tsugahara that Elliott was breaking up. Tsugahara was surprised but saw Elliott’s end as Drum:Kan’s new beginning. “I asked to him about record for Drum:Kan because he is a producer,” Tsugahara said by e-mail. “He agreeably undertook this.”
Tsugahara and Ratterman worked out a deal. Tsugahara and the members of Drum:Kan came to the States in the fall of 2003 and toured with Elliott on the band’s farewell tour. In return, Ratterman volunteered to produce Drum:Kan’s fourth full-length album.
“I was, of course, very honored and excited to work with them,” Ratterman said. “I called (VML owner) Nick (Stevens) and asked him if he could work with our budget to record the Drum:Kan album, and he got us in there working midnight until 10 a.m. for about 10 days.”
It became apparent that Drum:Kan’s constant touring and traveling to different places around the world put stress on some of the band members when Drum:Kan bassist Hideyuki Sunaga couldn’t travel to the United States to tour and record in 2003. Ratterman enlisted friend and Your Black Star singer/guitarist Jeremy Johnson (hence the release of a Drum:Kan/Your Black Star split EP) to play bass in Sunaga’s absence.
More tensions arose in 2004 when Naoki Kojima, Drum:Kan’s original drummer, couldn’t make it to record in Louisville for a second time. On their fifth full-length album, Ratterman took Kojima’s place behind the drums and Johnson once again took Sunaga’s place on bass.
“We will do a lot of tours in one year,” Tsugahara said. “It is so hard that Naoki goes out to the tour for these several years. Then he chose (to) quit Drum:Kan.” Tsugahara said they’ve always had Junpei Minami as a drummer for shows they play outside of Tokyo. “After Naoki quit, Junpei join us.”
The blows for Drum:Kan kept coming when longtime guitarist Akinori Hirao quit earlier this year. “Aki wanted commercial rock from the sound, more pop than Drum:Kan,” Tsugahara said. “Then Aki chose quit from us, but we are still good friends.”
Tsugahara wasn’t going to let Hirao’s departure stop Drum:Kan for long. “When Aki seceded, we did the audition of a lot of guitar players for Drum:Kan. Then we chose Yasu (Yokomizo) because he was great player.”
With the past behind them, Drum:Kan arrived in Louisville earlier this week to record their third album with Ratterman; their second at the Ratterman Family Funeral Home. When asked why Drum:Kan keeps coming to Louisville to record, Tsugahara said, “Why? Because we love Louisville and Louisville friends! Also, Kevin’s sound, too. He is really sound master!”
While they’re here, Drum:Kan will showcase their brand of power-pop grunge along with Tsugahara’s dynamic vocals Saturday at the Rud. Johnson will be joining them on stage and in the studio — Sunaga was unable to come here for the third time. They’re playing with Ratterman’s new band, the superbly eccentric Scott Carney and Heavy Friends, plus Pittsburgh’s Centipede E’est and Wine and Spirits.
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