Daniel Robson for JAPAN Forward

Performing for their third time at the Fuji Rock Festival, Glim Spanky is the quintessential band for a festival set in the mountains.

Originally hailing from Nagano Prefecture, itself a place rich in nature, the duo makes music that is heavily influenced by the Woodstock generation — American and British acts from the mid-1960s to early 1970s, from The Beatles to Joni Mitchell. It includes just a little pinch of J-pop golden oldies, such as Yumi Arai, and the psychedelic allusions of George Harrison.

Glim Spanky’s first incarnation was formed by vocalist and guitarist Remi Matsuo when she was aged 16. Guitarist Hiroki Kamemoto, her high school senior, joined later, and the pair formed a strong bond as songwriters.

When Matsuo and Kamemoto decided to relocate to Tokyo to attend college, they waved goodbye to their band members and have been a duo ever since. They were later signed to the Virgin Music label. They have released four full-length studio albums plus several mini-albums and singles, building up a large fan base within Japan and cracking the Oricon top 10 chart.

Central to their sound are the vocals of Matsuo, whose singing voice has a rough and cracked quality that oozes rock’n’roll, and Kamemoto’s guitar melodies, which flavor the rock sound with psychedelic Eastern flourishes.

“Because I have an unusual singing voice, people often ask me whether I have a cold, or whether I drink a lot of alcohol. But this is just my natural voice,” said Matsuo, speaking with JAPAN Forward on-site at the Fuji Rock Festival on Saturday, July 27.

“When I was in primary school or junior high, I noticed that my voice had some kind of distorted edge to it. I couldn’t work out how to put my singing voice to good use. But when I was in middle school, I got into The Beatles. John Lennon had a rough quality to his voice in songs like ‘Help!’ and I realized that a voice like mine would suit rock music really well,” Matsuo reminisced.

“When I first heard her voice, I thought it was so special and unique,” recalled Kamemoto. “I thought a voice like that would be a great ingredient to make unusual music — her voice is an important element of Glim Spanky’s sound.”

Glim Spanky played on the Green Stage, Fuji Rock’s largest, for the 2018 edition of the festival, where they were joined by support musicians to deliver a full-band set. This year, they played twice — once as guest musicians during a Green Stage set of the ensemble band Route 17 Rock’n’Roll Orchestra on July 26, and then an acoustic set the next day in the much more intimate Gypsy Avalon field.

“The two stages each have a completely different vibe,” said Matsuo. “The Green Stage is huge, with a vast audience, and the sound from the stage gets carried off into the mountains. It’s an exhilarating and wonderful feeling.”

She added: “The Gypsy Avalon stage, where we’ll play our acoustic set, is a more enclosed space, with lots of nature. If the Green Stage is like a massive American rock festival, Gypsy Avalon is more like a small-scale traditional festival in England where you’d expect to see fairies and to hear very niche music.”

For their acoustic set, which took place a few hours after our interview, Matsuo and Kamemoto were joined on stage by a keyboard player who played piano and Rhodes accompaniments to their songs. Matsuo played an acoustic guitar, with Kamemoto playing an electric one. But without the drums and heavy distortion of their usual full-band set, their sound was stripped of its usual bombast, giving the melodies a chance to shine.

The members of Glim Spanky tell us that they feel very much at home at Fuji Rock, which is a much more laidback and free festival than many others in Japan. Matsuo drew parallels with Woodstock, the 1969 event held at a New York State farm that set the template for festivals worldwide with its message of peace, love, and music.

By - Ben K.