Half Japanese: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Half Japanese: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

— If you want it to be fast, play fast. If you wanna go slow, go slow. That’s all there is to it, it’s that easy to play guitar. Some people worry about chords and stuff, and that’s all right too. There are all kinds of music in this world.
— Well, you do need chords in order to plug the guitar in, but that’s pretty much it.

Jad & David Fair on playing guitar,
Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (1993)

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Diligently recording and releasing unique music since the mid ‘70s, Half Japanese is an American outsider music institution, one that represents the true embodiment of cult heroes.

With Hear the Lions Roar (Fire Records), their 16th full-length studio effort to date, the underground icons have once again garnered widespread critical acclaim, celebrated for conjuring that same urgency and vitality first heard on record four decades ago.

Of the band’s most recent work, NPR states: “[The album] bolsters that Half Japanese tradition, with 13 diverse, attention-grabbing tunes that rival the band’s ’80s classics such as Charmed Life and The Band That Would Be King. Amid hard-riff jams, swinging ditties, lovelorn ballads and other catchy gems, Jad persistently breathes life into the Half Japanese repertoire, once described by his brother as ‘monster songs and love songs.’”

The Half Japanese story could easily be titled “songs about monsters and love.” Brothers Jad and David Fair first started out playing as Half Japanese when their parents relocated from Michigan to Uniontown, Maryland in the 1970s. Half Japanese was then born in their bedroom in spite of the fact that the Fair brothers had little to no idea about how exactly to play their instruments. Instead, they enthusiastically hammered out homemade tunes peppered with humor, energy and innocence, with lyrics frequently concerned about horror flicks, monsters, tabloids and women.

It’s been said that they were heavily inspired by the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock. As such, and as a direct equivalent to Pollock’s form of action painting, Jad and David Fair relied more on their raw thirst for creation rather than on their technical shortcomings. They are rightfully considered to have spearheaded both the lo-fi and D.I.Y. movements, thereby foreshadowing a great deal of what the indie rock scene would come to explode in the ‘90s.

The band’s official recording career began with a characteristically ambitious triple album, 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts (1980), later chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 most influential alternative albums of all time. Over the years, Half Japanese have faithfully released music at a tremendous pace, as Half Japanese, as solo artists and in numerous additional collaborations. And aside from David Fair, who handed over the duties to his brother in the early 1980s but has made occasional guest appearance over the years, the band features the same members who have been at Jad’s side since the late ’80s and early ’90s: John Sluggett (guitar, keys, timbales), Gilles-Vincent Rieder (drums, percussion, keys), Jason Willett (bass, keys), Mick Hobbs (guitar, glockenspiel).

They’ve never come close to breaking into mainstream but have consistently followed their own artistic vision all along, enjoying support from bands they’d influenced like Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and, of course, Nirvana. Kurt Cobain ranked them among his very favorites, chose them to open for Nirvana on the In Utero tour and was even wearing their T-shirt when he died.

We’re proud today to introduce the latest work from these underrated art-rockers with a round of 5 Albums That Changed My Life, answered by the one and only Jad Fair.

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“It’s difficult to choose the 5 albums that had the biggest impact on me,” admits Jad Fair. “There are so many albums that I’ve played over and over and over again. The five albums I chose are…”

The Stooges: Fun House

I grew up in Michigan and I thought I was in the best place in the world for music. We had The MC5, Motown and The Stooges. I bought Fun House when it first came out and played it more than any other album I had. I loved its energy. I think it’s a perfect album.

The Modern Lovers: The Modern Lovers

I first heard about The Modern Lovers in 1974. Interview magazine had an interview with Jonathan Richman. The interview struck a chord with me. He was doing what I wanted to do. I bought the Modern Lovers album in ’76 and loved it. Everything about it is spot on. Jonathan is one of my favorite songwriters and performers. Excellent times ten.

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

I was given a cassette tape of Philosophy of the World in 1977 and was blown away by it. The music is great and the lyrics are sweet and pure. I was surprised to later find out that The Shaggs always used music sheets. Two years ago Dot Wiggin released a new album and asked me to do the cover art. I was thrilled to do it.

Daniel Johnston: Hi, How Are You

Half Japanese had a tour of the U.S. in 1986. At a show in Austin Daniel Johnston’s manager Jeff Tartakov gave me a tape of Hi, How Are You. While on tour we played it more times than any other album. Daniel is an amazing songwriter. I started writing to Daniel and was able to record with him in 1990. I’m so lucky to have Daniel as a friend.

Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica

My brother David had all of Captain Beefheart’s albums. Trout Mask Replica is an album I immediately flipped for. The Magic Band had a sound all their own. It was like nothing else I had heard. The blues roots were solid yet they took it to another level. The musicianship is top-notch.

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