'A Conversation With...Metro-Ongen' (ENG)
Metro-Ongen are an alternative rock band based in Tokyo, Japan. The band blend intricate shoegaze melodies with clever lyricism to create music that tackles a range of themes. Since forming back in 2002 the band have released three albums and their most recent EP titled 'Wrong World' features two brand new tracks 'Wrong World' and 'Strangers'. In this conversation, the band discuss their musical journey and career that spans nearly two decades and share the inspiration behind their recent EP.
Hello Metro-Ongen, could you introduce yourselves?
Ryu: I am the band’s guitarist. Since I started playing guitar in secondary school, music has become my life’s work.
Wakae: I play bass guitar in Metro-Ongen.
Fumi: I am the band’s drummer and backing vocalist. My father used to play drums in a copy band (tribute band) when I was little and at that time I was too shy to perform in front of others, but I think that might have influenced me. At university I started playing drums in a music club.
MGT: I am the band’s vocalist and second guitarist, and I also write lyrics. I tend to create melodies when I am sleeping or walking, it is my hobby.
How did you meet?
MGT: Although the four of us (Ryu, Wakae, Fumi &MGT) were in the same music club at university, we were all doing separate things. Around the time of graduation in 2002, a record label showed interest in my home recordings/demo and with this opportunity I decided to form a band to start making music seriously. I asked Ryu to join, and we started making demos. After that Ryu introduced me to Fumi who used to play in the same band. At the initial recording Fumi was surprised because she thought she had come for a drum audition, but we started recording an unknown song without any explanation. Around 2010, we asked Wakae to join our band instead of being our fan. She had regularly attended our concerts since we initially formed the band, and she could play the bass guitar. And here we are now.
Could you tell us a bit about your music?
Ryu: I am aiming to provide a gateway to the different world for both our listeners and ourselves as players. To connect people who would not have met without our music, and to provide a door to the unknown world which they may never have even noticed in their daily lives.
MGT: People have said that our clear melodies are like Talking Heads or nursery rhyme-esque with a shoegaze sound. I personally think that I have been making music to comfort/console/ soothe myself. The songs we think are good make us feel like we are diving into the deep ocean.
Who would you consider to be your musical influences?
Ryu: The Stone Roses.
Wakae: If it’s a song where I like the bass then I would say 54-71 and massive attack etc.
Fumi: The Stone Roses, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, Belle and Sebastian.
MGT: In terms of singing style, I would say that I am influenced by Mac McCaughan (Superchunk) and Brian Molko (Placebo). As for sound, I would say the Ma(d)chester, Bristol and Glasgow music culture in the UK.
Your recent EP titled ‘Wrong World’ features two songs ‘Wrong World’ and ‘Strangers’ could you tell us the meaning and inspiration behind the songs?
MGT: The EP was released during the pandemic, but this was not a conscious decision to reflect on global frustrations. ‘Wrong World’ and ‘Strangers’ were actually completed prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The theme behind the lyrics of ‘Wrong World’ is that whatever situation someone is in, everyone has issues of their own to say “this world is wrong” but if you finally erased those problems down to zero then there would be nothing left. However, if that ‘wrong world’ vanished, then what would you do for the next 24 hours? The persona in the lyrics is portrayed as having hurt his loved one instead of expressing his sentiments, so he dashes out of his house to see her for the last time. But as the listener we do not know if he ever has the chance to meet her or not. This story initially came to my head when Ryu started playing the explosive intro riff in the studio.
I wrote ‘Strangers’ at the time of the initial Covid-19 outbreak, from the shock in the rise of global nationalism and racism. While Ryu, Fumi and Wakae were making the foundation for the song in the studio, I found a drum recording that had an echo effect. It was reminiscent of an alarm being played by a guitar mixed with the refracting sound like it was hitting cold, concrete walls. That gave me some direction for the nature of the lyrics.
People are likely to take the position of an “Action Giver” (protestor) rather than being “Action Receiver” (victim). The persona of this song used to be an “Action Giver” (protestor) but due to a slight chain reaction his position changes unwillingly so that he becomes the “Action Receiver” (victim). The sense of this song is also explored in the song ‘Labyrinth’ that was in our previous album ‘Eden’. I’m asking the question: When Group A excludes Group B why do they believe that there is a fundamental difference between them? Even inside each individual belonging to Group A, are they not strangers to each other? After all, are we not all strangers to one another? On the contrary, are you not a stranger to yourself? This is what the song is attempting to ask, this is not my original idea but has been discussed by many philosophers and socialists who have already said a lot on the matter.
How would you say 'Wrong World' differs from your previous releases like ‘Eden’ and ‘In The Whale?’
MGT: I think that in terms of sound, this differs from our previous releases up to ‘In The Whale’. Until the release of ‘In The Whale’ we were making music by ourselves and of course at that time those in charge gave some opinions regarding our music but that didn’t influence the way we write music. However, since we set up our own record label after the release of ‘Eden’ back in 2011, we have been working with David Naughton a recording engineer and producer. He started out his career as an assistant for the engineer Tony Doogan who worked with Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fan Club. After that, he worked with Neil Halstead (Slowdive), Suede and Kylie Ann Minogue in the UK and US. We met him in Japan and started going into the studio together; we strictly produce the song ourselves but you could say he has become our fifth member as sound arranger and mixer. I am personally glad that our dynamics as a band and our sound has grown in intensity year after year thanks to him. This EP especially shows the difference.
Up to ‘In The Whale’ the concept of the lyrics was from the perspective of a young person (immaturity), then in ‘Eden’ it describes the time of meeting loved ones, settling down and having kids. It describes the changing process from youth to adulthood and in the most recent EP we see our focus widen to the outside world with the power of family. In that respect, I think that this album is now moving from lyric poetry (in the whale) to epic poetry (eden), a clearer narrative with texture.
Do you have any plans to release a music video for the two singles featured on Wrong World?
MGT: We are currently working hard. The video for ‘Strangers’ is nearly finished; I think we could release it soon. As for ‘Wrong World’ we are in the process of filming it. My daughter is going to play the main character in the video.
Where in the world would you like to tour and perform live?
Ryuk: Certainly, the UK, but anywhere in the world.
Wakae: Taiwan! I’d love to tour Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, and Tainan!
Fumi: UK! Taiwan, also America!
MGT: Such as L.A and Taipei? Because these two cities are where we have the most Spotify listeners (lol). If it’s in the UK I would love to play in my favourite cities of Bristol and Manchester.
Do you have any Japanese artists you can recommend to our readers?
Wakae: HINOMARI, Analogfish.
Fumi: ZOMBIE-CHANGE, Chiaki Mayumura, The Watanabes, HINOMARI.
How has the pandemic affected your creative process in terms of producing your EP?
Ryu: It didn’t have much of an affect on our creative process. But it became hard to record in the studio and schedule live gigs.
Fumi: It didn’t affect our creative side, but the band’s activity became affected. However, with the period of being unable to enter the rehearsal studio and not being able to see the members, it led to the band making movies remotely. It was good because due to corona we were able to trial doing remote work.
MGT: We created a jam session from the intro and our individual ideas, it’s really hard that we can’t play a loud noise with remote sessions. I am doing remote sessions on YouTube but the loud noise in the studio is the best.
What advice would you give to someone who may want to start a band?
Ryu: Each member should continue to play their favourite sound. It’s a miracle to play together because each individual’s music taste and style will never be exactly the same despite them being similar. If it continues then the sound of the band will have a life of its own, just as the characters in the story begin to act out their own life in the story world. Then it will be more than a miracle, it becomes a window into a different world.
MGT: (Without completing the inside sound, don’t worry about the external sound)
(* *It means that it is meaningless to do a sound check on the audience side before recreating their usual studio sound on the stage)
This is a strict word from Mr. Nakamura, an engineer of Que (club) in Shimokitazawa, but it is the most useful word before we play live. This should be useful advice to everyone in the world.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“I think that Metro-Ongen should not sing in English” (lol). This is an occasional comment/advice from our fans. But we still use a little bit in the lyrics.
Check out Metro-Ongen's recent EP 'Wrong World' in the links above or hear the EP in full on my Spotify featured artists playlist (link in bio). And make sure to go follow Metro-Ongen on Spotify where you can find links to their social media pages: https://open.spotify.com/artist/3s6RXsrTX8LA8tbz8lkava?si=FfIes2jKR-uFKQF8cko5XQ
Finally, I wish to say a special thank you to Metro-Ongen for taking the time to answer my questions and for featuring on my blog!