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Make Believe Mailer 84: For Tracy Hyde
The Last Interview With The Tokyo Band
All the way back in the fall of 2012, I sat down with Azusa Suga in a Shinjuku cafe to talk about his netlabel Canata Records. Then, the Bandcamp-based label shared clever takes on indie-pop sounds, including multiple Vocaloid mutations on twee. I was mostly interested in the digital-first approach Suga and co-founder Yoshiki Iwasawa (of Tokyo rock project Boyish) were taking with Canata, connecting it to the then-golden state of electronic netlabels in the country.
In the decade since, For Tracy Hyde grew to be a full band, it became flag-bearers for the Japanese indie-pop sound in the back end of the 2010s, highlighted by albums rich with catchy rock and a commitment to Suga’s genre-less leanings, with an openness to experimenting that has been a rarity in the Sarah-Records-reverent Japanese indie-pop community. That included thematically, with For Tracy Hyde — in its final form consisting of Suga, vocalist and guitarist Eureka, bassist Mav and drummer Soukou — conjuring up imagined film soundtracks and eventually going political on 2021’s Ethernity.
They also became representatives for Japanese indie-pop in Asia, playing shows across the continent while gradually gaining a following beyond. It seemed to all be coming together around the release of last December’s Hotel Insomnia, a set of songs split between familiar rock sweetness, deeper dips into shoegaze and new terrain completely for the group (rapping on “House Of Mirrors!”). It attracted more attention for the band than ever before, including a positive review on Pitchfork.
Literally the same day that went live, For Tracy Hyde they would disband after one final show in March, leading to the pretty funny in retrospect sight of Pitchfork’s second ever piece on For Tracy Hyde being a news story about them breaking up.
A little over a month1 after For Tracy Hyde’s finale at Shibuya’s WWW X, I caught up with the quartet at the offices of their label P-Vine. As Suga said early on in our chat, this would probably be the final interview For Tracy Hyde ever had, offering one more chance to reflect and look back on a decade-plus of an influential Japanese band…and what comes next.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MAKE BELIEVE MELODIES: Since the final show at WWW X, just in general, what have you guys been up to personally? Has anything in your life changed since the band officially disbanded, or is it like, same old same old?
AZUSA SUGA: Well, I’ve been doing a day job…
Same one you had last time we talked, or a new one?
SUGA: The same job. I’ve worked at the same company since graduation so... and also, I’m writing and contributing stuff to idol groups, which I’ve been doing since before I’ve been in the band. Well, nothing much has really changed I guess. I still have another band called AprilBlue too so, same old same old I guess.
MAV: I don’t feel like much has changed. I still go into the studio either on Saturday or Sunday. I’m working with [singer/songwriter] Sou Shibano, so I still get out to the studio once a week. I actually never used weekdays for [For Tracy Hyde] to begin with, so I honestly don’t feel like my daily life has changed much.
EUREKA: I actually think it changed significantly. Well, the band’s schedule has always been just once or twice a week, but I was always listening to our songs, trying to memorize the lyrics. So, For Tracy Hyde has always taken up 70 to 80 percent of my brain, and now that that’s gone, I kind of don’t know what to do. Now, I listen to a lot of songs, watch movies and read novels.
SUGA: Ferri-Chrome [Patrick Note: Band Eureka has been in for last few years] has been pretty active, right? I feel like you’ve had more live shows.
EUREKA: Yeah, there’s a few live shows happening so I still go into the studio once every two weeks or so, and we’ll be recording soon.
SOUKOU: It hasn’t changed much for me.
SUGA: You’re doing Shibano with Mav, right?
SOUKOU: Oh yeah...well, as for drums I’m still playing, so things didn’t necessarily change. But I do feel like what used to be the core of doing music is now gone, so in that sense maybe I have less energy.
SUGA: But we do all have our own things going on.
I want to talk about the future for sure, I don’t want to focus just on the past…but I do want to start with it. About a month on now, how did your final show feel?
SUGA: Well, we were able to take time to prepare for it, and the last show happened after we’d been doing two live shows a month, so things went pretty well. As a band, looking back at the last 10 years, I can definitely say that it was our best live show. I don’t think it’s that common to be able to have a great last show, so in that sense, I think it was a great ending for us.
EUREKA: Well, I think I’ve always made the effort to do my best, so especially as we neared the end, I think I was really able give it my best...I sound so lame...I did my best! [laughs] And as a result, it was really fun being on stage, so I’m happy about that. There were times I was just nervous throughout, but I was able to see the faces of the audience. It was fun.
What did you guys do after the show, like literally? After party?
SUGA: Well, yeah, quite a few friends of ours were drinking at an izakaya in Shibuya so we just went to join them. Now, thanks to COVID-19, izakaya are only open till 3 or 4 a.m., so I was thrown out on the street without a train...I went home by taxi.
SOUKOU: Everyone went home by taxi?
EUREKA: I took the last train.
MAV: I went home by taxi.
SOUKOU: I was drinking until morning.
EUREKA: We all went out to drink. Isn’t that rare for us? First time?
SUGA: It wasn’t the first time but we don’t really do that after Tokyo [shows]. I think we used to do that up till 2016, but around the time when everyone finished school and started working at companies, we kind of gradually stopped.
I’m just going to jump to the central question…why did you guys decide to end For Tracy Hyde? How did you reach that decision?
SUGA: The reason for disbanding...well, it was mainly because of the differences in our motivation towards music. There was a discrepancy between people who wanted to make a living from music, and those that saw music as more of a hobby. I personally want to make a living with music, so when I thought about getting myself to the point where I can quit my company job as soon as possible, I thought it’d be a little difficult unless I do it with people sharing the same energy. From there, we started to have discussions, and decided to end it. I don’t know. I’m sure everyone has their own reasons but that was the case for me.
SUGA: Who was the first to say they wanted to stop?
EUREKA: That would be me. I really like For Tracy Hyde and I did want it to continue. The initial suggestion was for me to quit and help with finding someone who to replace vocals. And then, they said they don’t know if they can call it For Tracy Hyde without me, and suggested that if that’s how I feel, why don’t we go ahead and make our last album…release our final work together…and end it with one last tour? And I think we decided to take that route.
MAV: That’s roughly it. Eureka said she wanted to quit in January 2022, and we decided to think about it after completing the album. When we finished it, Eureka said it’s still difficult, so we agreed to end it after the release party.
It sounds like this feeling of For Tracy Hyde potentially ending bled into the recording of Hotel Insomnia. What songs were impacted by that?
SUGA: Well, it’s kind of hard to tell because...the process of working on this album was really different from the others. For this one, we first made short demos of 20 or 30 songs, and from there we narrowed it down. Up until mid-process, most of the songs existed before we decided to disband. “Bleachers” and “House Of Mirrors” definitely came after we made the decision to disband. I think “Leave The Planet” was pretty late too.
EUREKA: I think that’s about it.
SUGA: : I think that’s roughly it. “Milkshake” and “Undulate” and “Estuary” were even performed at the live show that happened in September two years ago. They were done way before deciding on the disbandment.
Something I am curious about with the album is, you made your announcement... when was it? January 5th? So, that was the same day the album was picked up by Pitchfork. First off, I know you’ve already said “we didn’t quit because we thought we were on Pitchfork”. But what were your reactions to that? Especially to get a good score from Pitchfork. When you saw that, were you like…what are we doing?
SUGA: Well, honestly, just because we were featured on Pitchfork...of course, we were super happy and honored to be picked up, but despite that, we didn’t think to take back our decision. Also, my personal feeling, is that we were featured on Pitchfork by an Asian writer so, in that sense, it didn’t feel like we had the support of the “white indie base”—I know it sounds awkward but—as a Japanese band, that felt a bit disappointing.
MAV: Like you were featured by the Asian branch?
SUGA: Yeah, like getting on NME Asia but not NME.
That’s very interesting. I do think from that I started seeing your music pop up on more publications and playlists. I don’t want to sound weird3, but the person who founded Pitchfork like 25 years ago, he has a Spotify playlist. He suddenly put like four of your songs on it because he saw you on Pitchfork. I saw your music spread further. It was interesting because before that, how much press did you get... like, excluding from me? You weren’t picked up by many international outlets, were you?
SUGA: Not many but... there were a few loose indie music blogs spread out across the world, and a few news sites based in Asia like Bandwagon. That’s pretty much it. At least nothing much happened in the Americas and Europe.
Were there any moments of doubt about going forward with disbanding? Anybody in the group think…let’s not be too hasty here…
MAV: Well, once it was decided, it was kind of too late…
I’m seeing a lot of shaking heads here…
SUGA: For me personally...this might be a bit of a delicate topic but...a fan who supported the band for many years took their own life at the beginning of March. I sometime wonder if things could have been different if the disbandment hadn’t been decided. Not that I think we should have stopped the disbandment, but there is some sort of an unresolved feeling there to be honest.
SOUKOU: I always thought we shouldn’t disband.
SUGA: You did!?
SOUKOU: Like, maybe it’s better we disband. But I just always thought it’s such a waste. When I say it’s a waste, I mean in terms of the band’s value. As for personal reasons or the relationships, I didn’t think anyone needed to force anything to continue. I think balancing these things was difficult.
EUREKA: For me, I think we wouldn’t have been able to have such a great performance at WWW X if we hadn’t decided to disband. To have some sort of a finish line helped me do this without any regret, and I was able to live in the moment. So, yeah, I think I took the disbandment as something positive.
SUGA: Yeah, our sense of purpose changed a lot by having a goal like that.
How else did the decision inform the final show?
MAV: For what it’s worth, we definitely practiced way more than we did for other live shows.
SUGA: Yeah, our willpower to practice was totally different.
MAV: I think this was the only live show where we went into the studio with the PA person and adjusted all the songs from start to finish numerous times. We definitely wanted to do everything we could to be fully prepared. Also, for me personally, I don’t really practice bass before live shows, but for the last show I actually practiced a lot.
SUGA: Oh, me too. The live show in March was the only one where I went through all the songs at home the day before, and the day before that.
MAV: That’s what I thought, so I didn’t go to your house. Honestly, you don’t really practice guitar or bass at home, right? You might play when you’re composing or just for fun, but you don’t necessary practice for live shows since you’ve already memorized everything. I don’t do that because I think a session once a week is enough for me to perform, but for the last one I thought I can’t mess it up so it was a special case.
SUGA: I do feel like it was really effective in giving us a place of emotional support. Also, in terms of the live show, the past release tours often had somewhat similar length and setlist but for this one, after doing it in Osaka, I remember thinking it wasn’t that good. That’s why in Tokyo we intentionally put in other songs.
MAV: And there were actually quite a few people from Osaka we thought would see again in Tokyo.
SUGA: Yeah, yeah. Since disbandment was already decided, there were more people who followed all our local shows, so also in that sense, we thought we should change the songs. And for the album itself, the last song on there, “Leave the Planet”, is the only song that clearly touches on the band’s disbandment. There were many moments leading up to our decision where we felt like we couldn’t bother anymore so we put those feeling into the lyrics.
This is the “memories” portion of the interview…what are your personal favorite memories of For Tracy Hyde? What will each of you treasure from your time in the band?
EUREKA: There are so many genres of memories…
SUGA: Right. I’m sure it depends on the direction but...for me...I think the overseas tours were big for me. We basically sing everything in Japanese, so as a Japanese band singing in Japanese, and having that accepted overseas, was a very moving experience for me. On the other hand, seeing that singing English songs resonated well with the audience also changed our approach to composing music, and my attitude toward music. In many aspects, I see it as a big turning point for me.
MAV: For me... I know you said “most” but I have two in mind...it’s also the overseas shows. Singapore in 2019 really stood out to me. Doing a live show there in itself is pretty difficult, having to adjust with the police and so forth. We had to set up the stage on our own and bring our own stuff, and then seeing the audience passionately jump up and down in such an indie atmosphere was like “what’s going on?” Seeing how we’re being accepted overseas definitely left an impression on me. Other countries were fun too but Singapore stood out the most.
The other one is even before Eureka joined. It was after a recording session during the Lovely Summer Chan4 period, when I was in a car heading back home. I was listening to what we had recorded and felt like we made something great. Before joining this band, I was also in a band called Boyish, where we did recordings as well but...I sort of felt like I was just going along with what Iwasawa, the main writer and personality in the group, wanted to work on. It’s not the best way to express this, but it felt more like I was in a band with For Tracy Hyde. When I went home after our recording and listened to the rough mixes, I felt this sense of actually making music.
EUREKA: As for overseas, I totally feel the same as the others just mentioned. Another thing is...soon after I joined the band, or at an early stage, I kind of felt like I was receiving a warm welcome by Osaka band members. People who are sort of like my senpai taught me many things and...most of the nice memories I have of For Tracy Hyde center around Osaka. Also, after live tours, we would all sleep on the floor together in a big room, and being someone who’s only attended all-girls school, it felt like I was experiencing youth for the first time.
SUGA: : I think it was in Kyoto and Gunma, like two times, where we all stayed in a big room.
EUREKA: Yeah, I felt like I really enjoy sleeping together on the floor. I don’t know but it was so fun... although we were just sleeping. It’s a fond memory.
SOUKOU: The overseas tours were the most fun but…for me, talking about everything back in January 2022 with the members, about disbanding, stood out the most for me. I was feeling so bothered.
SUGA: That’s a negative memory.
SOUKOU: Yeah, it’s a negative memory. I love bad memories the most. The good memories were overseas. The overseas tours and the recordings.
Azusa, before this, I revisited the first time we talked, back in 2012. It was right as you were starting For Tracy Hyde. I was talking with you about Canata Records. I’m just curious, and this is obviously tough because we’re jumping back more than a decade, but like when you were staring For Tracy Hyde, you were doing this net label, sharing music that was Hatsune Miku doing shoegaze and stuff. Did you think it would become something like this a decade on? Kind of when you started this project, what were your initial: where are we gonna go with this? What’s our goal?
SUGA: I don’t know. To be honest...well, the goal has always been to make an impact on the international indie scene as a Japanese act, singing in Japanese, while being based in Japan. While I was striving for this goal, to be honest, I didn’t really think that it would happen. I mean, that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever doubted my skills as a songwriter but...I guess I wasn’t really confident enough to expect it to pan out this way. I mean, after all, we were on Pitchfork.
This band existed for basically a little over a decade. How do you think the reputation of Japanese rock internationally has changed in that period? Both from what you managed to do but also just in general?
SUGA: It’s tough to say. people’s awareness about the presence of indie scene in Japan has definitely spread but I don’t think there’s been a huge increase in the numbers of bands featured on Pitchfork or other international outlets. I mean, even looking at Rate Your Music and similar review sites, it’s not like the scores have increased either. And there haven’t been many albums being celebrated. In that sense, I don’t feel like its status or the support for it have changed too drastically.
But it’s definitely taken root within Asia. More bands are having successful Asian tours in recent years.
MAV: And it’s not su much just related to the indie scene, but with Spotify’s algorithm suggesting seemingly random songs, we sometimes see unexpected bands trending overseas. Like Pasteboard going viral for some reason5, even though few people listened to them here in Japan.
SUGA: Uchuu Nekoko also has so many more fans abroad.
MAV: Pasteboard, Uchuu Nekoko, even like Tokenai Namae.
SUGA: Also My Dead Girlfriend.
MAV: Like, compared to their fame in Japan...I don’t know if Spotify picked them up or not but I get the impression that they’re listened to a lot overseas. I do feel like there’s been more bands that have mysteriously spread across the globe like that.
SUGA: Right, like the internet playing a game. No Buses also kicked off on YouTube. We were a bit like that too though it might be smaller scale.
How has Japanese indie rock itself changed? You guys are veterans now, what do you think?
SOUKOU: The indie scene is so hard…
SUGA: But the number of bands has for sure increased. Also, back when we started the band, doing it in Japanese made it seem like we were not serious enough, but now, it’s become normal for a band to just sing in Japanese. So, in that sense, I think it’s become healthier. Like, it’s sort of removing itself from the British-American complex.
But at the same time, I think there are many cases where a band doesn’t carry actual content, or they are praised for there fashion and the mere fact that they’re singing in English. From there, I think it’s a question of how the industry or listeners can open their eyes to see that.
MAV: It seems like you have a particular band in mind…but, anyways6…
SOUKOU: I feel like the bands around us are starting to have a different demographic recently. Like, their fanbase is shifting.
SUGA: I see what you’re saying. Like, people who are not actually the children of overseas indies consuming Japanese indie bands.
SOUKOU: Yeah, something like that. Like, the people we used to observe as outsiders are listening to them.
MAV: Like, it used to mostly be outgoing indie fans that listen, but now other extrovert-y people are listening to it.
Eureka, this was the first band you were ever part of. What did you take personally from this?
EUREKA: I probably have changed a lot, so it’d be difficult to look for things that haven’t changed but...
EUREKA: You don’t think so?
SUGA: I don’t know. Did you change that much?
EUREKA: Yeah, like...before I joined the band, I didn’t really have future dreams, and I was always the kind of person to answer things that would please adults. I don’t know how to explain it…
MAV: Like a “good girl?”
EUREKA: Not a good girl but if I knew what would make my parents happy, for example saying I want to pursue architecture. I’ve always been that type to study that just because. When I started For Tracy Hyde, I started in it from my own will, and up until then I didn’t really have things I wanted to do. I was a person without any sort of dream, but by joining the band, I was able to find what I want to do. I don’t know...it’s hard, but yeah. It’s like I found my dream.
Now it’s time to look forward. What are all of you guys working on now? Let’s share what you are doing for readers.
SUGA: For me, I still continue to compose many songs for idols. And, also with AprilBlue, we’ve been talking about really getting down to create new music. So, throughout this year and the next, I think I will be releasing stuff consistently. Also, I’m trying to start a new band. I don’t know when yet but I’m planning to start as soon as possible, so please look forward to that as well. I’m also working on music with a Virtual YouTuber.
MAV: As for me, I’m in a band with Sou Shibano whom I’ve always worked with, so I will carry on with that. The name of the band might change at one point but I plan to continue. I also wrote music for shoegazer idols Ray. I also composed for other idols in my agency, so. I will continue doing both the band and these activities at the same time. And I don’t know, I guess I might compose personally too...I sometime make demos with stuff I come up with, so maybe I will release something one day, who knows.
MAV: Yeah, I don’t think I’ll do that, but I might release something of my own if I feel like it.
EUREKA: I will continue being the guitarist and chorus for the band I’m in called Ferri-Chrome. I’ve also been receiving a few offers to be a guest vocalist. I intend to seek offers like that, so for anyone reading this, I’ll be waiting for your invitation. I’m advertising!
This is a good chance to do that.
SUGA: Actually, on that note, I actually want to have more supporting guitar work. I was the support guitarist recently for a solo project called Utero by Rin who’s from the idol group yumegiwa last girl. I want to have more guest guitar opportunities.
SOUKOU: I do support work, but I’ve been feeling it’s not so fun.
SUGA: Oh, so you don’t actually want to do it?
SOUKOU: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to commit. I don’t play that well, so I see it as more of training, but if I were to play music I think I’d enjoy being in a more permanent band. But also, it’s questionable whether I actually have the energy to be in a permanent band, so I will do my best. I will continue doing the support so it’s okay.
We talked about the band, the music…but how about your relationship with one another? I think when you’re in a band, you’re always in constant communication. So, how is your relationship with one another since the band ended?
SUGA: It didn’t really change. To be honest, just like you were saying, we did have the chance to gather a few times for interviews...and for better or worse, it’s not like we were very close. We didn’t really have personal relationships outside of the band, so not much changed.
SOUKOU: Well, it’s not like we don’t get along. If someone invites me for a drink I’ll go.
SUGA: Yeah, it not that we don’t get along. We’ve just never been too attached to each other. We definitely have less chances to meet up but we do go to same live shows and stuff.
MAV: After all, we’re still going to be in similar scenes even after ending the band, so we’ll see each other at live houses. And if there’s a member we’d be like “Hey!”
SUGA: And also, I plan to do events focusing on shoegaze regularly, with the first one happening in July, so I think we’ll get in touch with each other’s band and stuff as well. I feel like we’ll continue to be in each other’s lives in a constructive way.
Written by Patrick St. Michel (email@example.com)
Twitter — @mbmelodies
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Why is this running in late July, you ask? Because shortly after we talked I had a career crisis where for a month I did everything I could to avoid music writing outside this blog, and then when I broke out of this funk, I was super busy! Sorry!
Japanese publication ele-king published a sort of exit interview with For Tracy Hyde the exact same day I met them, and as a result I felt like a lot of what I wanted to ask was suddenly answered, so my questions shifted. Well hey, thanks to my own issues, I get to say I’m publishing the last interview!
I absolutely did, because I was about to talk about Ryan Schreiber.
Yeah, wild detail even I had forgotten about…for like a year, Lovely Summer Chan was the vocalist of For Tracy Hyde, in the middle of the 2010s.
2000s era Saitama band releasing only a single obscure album…but one which has become cherished overseas in certain circles in recent years, to the point of being re-issued on vinyl earlier this year. Also featured on Majestic Casual…remember Majestic Casual?
I regret not jumping in here to ask what band he referenced, because I have no idea…though maybe a handful of guesses.
One reason I think I’ve always loved For Tracy Hyde’s music is that they are a weird Tokyo indie-pop supergroup, if your definition of a superstar is “appeared on an Ano(t)raks compilation,” which I do.