Jad Fair: The Half Japanese interview

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Half Japanese have just released a triumphant album of lo-fi but loud punk called “Overjoyed” and I’m super happy about it. Formed by Jad and David Fair before I wore shorts for school, before punk as we know it was invented, Half Japanese were the blueprint, nay the blue touch paper for many Gen X slacker bands. They resolutely refused to learn to play chords, their stage set up was primitive and detuned, primal and yet deranged.

By legend, once a soundman watched Jad tune up without plugging in, and when he questioned him was sent off with a flea in his ear, as Jad went onto play the whole gig with an air gap between his electric guitar and the amp. More recently as documented in the 1993 doc Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King the Fairs played an unorthodox cover of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In The Midnight Hour’ at a nursing home and were accompanied unannounced by residents with harmonicas, which seemed perfectly normal for a band whose songs were generally either about love or monsters.

When you’re resolutely anti-convention and true to your own voice anything can happen, and nobody could deny that the band have followed their own wonky course and attracted a hardcore, cult fanbase. Some of these more musically renowned fans became players in the band including Gumball’s Don Fleming, Shimmy Disc’s Mark Kramer, and Moe Tucker of the Velvets no less. Half Japanese have also attracted other more even more left-field patrons like magician Penn Jillette (one half of Penn & Teller) who released some of their prolific output on his label.

But perhaps the moment that brought Half Japanese’s lopsided lyrics and discordant blur snap into focus for many music fans was the patronage of one Kurt Cobain, who got them to open on Nirvana’s ill-fated “In Utero” tour in 1993. The legend was assured when it transpired that Kurt was wearing a Half Japanese shirt when he took his own life.

The band went onto release their noisiest album to date “Hot” in 1995, followed by “Heaven Sent” in 1997 whose title track was over sixty minutes long. The Half Japanese output became less frequent, but Jad was still painting, paper cutting and releasing records hand over fist, including collaborations with other fans and acolytes The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Yo La Tengo and R. Stevie Moore. The old band had gone but was not forgotten as another collaborator Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel curated them back together for his All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2012.

“Overjoyed” is the first Half Japanese album in 13 years, and although they feel like they’ve been around forever, the album couldn’t feel any fresher. It’s buoyed by exuberance, a joie-de-vivre not just backed with a jingle jangle but with jet pack assistance, particularly on the opening salvo of tracks ‘In Its Pull’ and ‘Meant To Be That Way’. Produced by John Dieterich of Deerhoof, the album packs plenty of punch, and far from being tinny like some previous work, it’s full of dextrous texture including on spaghetti westerly ‘Brave Enough’. The absolute piece de resistance though is the pure carpe diem of “The Time Is Now”, Jad’s love letter to an unspecified raven haired woman, but also to the World itself.

I’ve known him from my old days producing MTV’s Alternative Nation, and since Crossfire had included ‘In Its Pull’ in the October Buzzbombs it seemed like a great time to get in touch for an exclusive interview with half of Half Japanese’s original line up and its one constant compass, Mr. Jad Fair

Why the big delay between albums (since 2001’s “Hello”) what have you been up to?

The main reason it took so long to record again with Half Japanese is that we all live in different cities and two band members live in Europe. It’s expensive to get us all together and expensive to record at a studio. It fell into place this time because we had shows with Neutral Milk Hotel, and Joyful Noise covered the cost of recording.

My main focus for the last 15 years has been art. I’ve had several exhibitions, and have had quite a few art books published.

How does it feel playing alongside David again?

David doesn’t play on the new album. We do shows once a year with the original line-up at the ShakeMore festival and occasionally will have a show together, but it’s not very often. David and I recorded in a studio a year ago. We have enough songs for an album.

The album is called “Overjoyed” and you seem genuinely happy in it, especially from genuinely joyous love song ‘The Time Is Now’ onwards, what’s happened?

I have a good life, and I usually am happy. All of the members of Half Japanese get along well together, and it’s always great to have some time with them.

Ph: Brian Birzer

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How do you go about spreading your happiness?

I’m releasing a lot of albums. It will be six this year, and I’ll have 3 or 4 new ones next year. I’m also very busy with my art. I try to do 4 paper-cuttings each day. I have a very full schedule.

How important is it to be the best you can possibly be? “Overjoyed” feels like the Half Japanese self-help album…

It is a positive album. I like that. I read an interview of George Burns. He was talking about Jack Benny and said that he was always positive. Everything was always the best. If Jack Benny had a cup of coffee it would be the best cup coffee he ever had. I can’t say that I’m as positive as that, but it’s something I aim for.

Chocolate seems to be a recurring trope, why’s that?

Chocolate is important. I love it.

How familiar do you make yourself with mainstream culture? Do you absorb it and regurgitate it, or avoid it and work in a hermetically sealed bubble?

I can’t say that I pay much attention to mainstream culture. I am around it, and probably absorb some of it, but not enough to hurt me.

Your music has always seemed so clever, are there any dumb-ass party songs or bands you like to listen to?

I wouldn’t call them dumb-ass, but I think of Brave Combo as being a party band. I like them a lot. They are a real fine live band.

Peter Buck called your early 7”s over-worldly, yet this feels more like an out and out rock record, with some other-worldly lyrics, what’s your assessment of it?

My brother and I just did what came natural. To me it doesn’t seem other-worldly, because it was my world. It just seems normal.

It was produced by John Dieterich from Deerhoof and he’s certainly added some higher-fi heft than normal, how much input did you allow him, was it always part of the plan to give this record added oomph?!

John was great to work with. He also mixed and mastered the album I did with Strobe Talbot, and he plays on the album with R Stevie Moore. Half Japanese has started work on another album. John has agreed to produce that one too.

You’ve always resolutely not learned chords or traditional playing techniques as a matter of choice, have you ever been tempted?

I know a few chords and will tune my guitar every now and then, but I usually don’t. I like the sound I’m able to get with an untuned guitar. There is no way that I could get the same sound or feel if I felt I had to play chords.

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On your website you say you will write tunes for any occasion for money, what’s been the strangest request you’ve had?

I’ve done a lot of songs for people. I’m working on two this week. The strangest request was for a song which was also a marriage proposal. I felt some pressure doing that one. I’m glad to say that she said yes, and they are now married.

How fulfilling is making your art?

I enjoy doing it, and it’s great that people appreciate what I’m doing.

How do you differentiate between the art you make and the musical art you make?

It all comes so natural to me. I can’t say I give it much thought. I just do it.

You have a patron in magician Penn Jillette, what tricks has he taught you?

Penn and Teller are great. I started writing to Penn right after the first single came out. Teller taught me how to make a coin vanish. Half Japanese had a show in Los Angeles in 1985 and Penn and Teller were on stage with us during part of our set.

The infamous Nirvana ‘In Utero’ tour was 21 years ago now, how do you remember it?

I was at the airport in Toronto and picked up a copy of Spin magazine which had an interview with Kurt. In the interview he said that Half Japanese would be the opening band. That was the first I heard about it. I called my booking agent and she told me that she had just been contacted about it. I was surprised at how young the audience was. It was mostly kids in their teens. On the first night we played some fast songs and some slow ones. Every fast song went over well and every slow one bombed. For the rest of the shows we only played fast songs.

Did you realise at the time how significant Kurt’s legacy would be, or how significant his patronage would be?

Nirvana was a great live band. I like the records, but I think they were much better live. I’m glad we were able to do the tour.

What did you learn about Kurt on tour?

Kurt kept to himself. I was around him a bit, but I spent more time with Dave and Krist.

He was wearing your t-shirt at the end, how did that make you feel?

It’s good to know that Kurt liked what we did. I doubt that he gave much thought to what t-shirt to wear on that day. It’s just sad.

You’ve played with so many amazing musicians but what would be his dream line up looking back. The Jad Fair super group if you will?

I once did a show in New York with Don Fleming, Ira Kaplan, John Zorn, Steve Shelly and Thurston Moore. That was a pretty wild show.

When you pass on (hopefully a long long time from now) will your spirit be a love song or a monster?

It will definitely be a love song.

Overjoyed by Half Japanese is out now on Joyful Noise Recordings. Enjoy this footage with Jad and the band.

Richard Pryor vs Slayer tee by Aye Jay

Sometimes tee shirt designs are so well thought out that you just have to push the buy button, especially if you know that there are only 200 made and they are $26.00. Artist Aye Jay mixed Richard Pryor with Slayer to come up with this classic must-have. Keep an eye on Shirts & Destroy in case they restock this 3-colour gem. Currently, they are sold out.

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Andrew WK and Prince Harry Parody T-Shirt


The King of Party Mr Andrew W.k. has paid tribute to everyone’s favourite Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Harry. In case you missed it, naughty boy Harry has been back in the news lately for his party antics and naked frolicking in a Vegas hotel room (pick up any tabloid for continued gossiping…).

The cleverly named“Harry Hard” t-shirt hit the ‘shelves’ of Andrew W.K.’s store today, and is able to purchase here.

In other news related to this story, check out our video interview with Andrew W.K. here and wish Harry the best of luck as he returns to Afghanistan as part of a four month tour as an Apache helicopter pilot.

Unabomber x Crossfire Pilot Tee collab

It doesn’t happen often in here but when Unabomber Skateboards asked us if we were interested in a collab, we decided that we should go back to the beginning when Crossfire was represented by the good old Bomber image and within a few emails, the ‘Pilot Tee‘ was born.

So, this collab celebrates 10 Years of us bringing you what we do in here from a brand that we have admired since day one. In fact, the winged handshake Unabomber logo is one of the most iconic British skateboard company logo’s ever made, so we are proud to merge our head and their hands for this one-off, limited edition run of tees.

Grab these whilst they are available from our online store. We will send them to you in the post as soon as you order with a Crossfire circle sticker and Refs Cards. Treat yourself to a comfy, new tee to celebrate with us and take into the summer month’s ahead. Thanks for your support.

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Bored of Southsea Seaside Special T-Shirt

seaside_special_boredThe guys down at Bored of Southsea have revived a classic 70’s t-shirt this week, orginally worn by legendary Radio 1 and 2 DJ’s including heavyweight Tony Blackburn (pictured below).

The ‘Seaside Special’ pays homage to the classic British music show Top of the Pops that for whatever reason is sorely missed in the UK thesedays. Maybe this will help revive it. Back in the 70’s this show went on the road and was filmed in a big top in a number of British Seaside resorts including Torbay, Blackpool and of course, Southsea. So this retrospective t-shirt comes with a lot of local history and pride.

The new design comes freshly printed on a t-shirt and crew jumper with the Bored flag logo on the back and are £20 from their website.

This news has tempted me to search through old photos of Southsea Skatepark jams, where Bod Boyle, Steve Schneer and many others ripped the vert ramp apart back in ’89. There’s so much history down there, celebrate with Bored and buy one today.

Review: Mrs Wilberforce ‘Tee Number Two’

We’re big fans of limited tees here at Crossfire so imagine our delight and surprise when we were given two super limited t-shirts to wear and review from the creative mind behind Mrs Wilberforce. Hand printed in East London by none other than the lovely Stu at Lovenskate, the aptly titled ‘Tee Number Two‘ (it’s their second t-shirt design) that I’m currently wearing is just one of ten available in white. The tee you see on the right is one of ten available in black. This simple, homemade and ‘keeping it local’ ethic is evident in all things Wilberforce: keeping things super limited, using high quality material (standard American Apparel crew neck) with unique (and rad) designs while ensuring that they’re affordable to all those on a shoestring belt-wearing budget… so you know, everyone in East London. That includes me.

His attention to detail in the shirt design is sublime. Not dissimilar from the dystopian symbols of early Palace artwork, the tee utilises a photo of industrial smog perfectly positioned within a sharp, off-kilter square frame that makes great use of inverted colours… a long way away from the squashed penny drawings of Tee Number One (featuring the Mrs Wilberforce Logo) but it is still something very much in continuation with the Mrs Wilberforce brand, even in the early stages. I love it.

Mrs Wilberforce have also put their talents to designing skateboard decks (check the awesome cruiser here) and collaborations with bands and filmmakers. As we enter 2011, Mrs Wilberforce is just six months old but on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, we’re absolutely starving for more.

Joe Moynihan

You can buy the new tee at the Pioneer New Year Jam this weekend! Go and pick one up before they’re all gone.