Johnnivan: I think I know you
Ever since I’ve been reporting from the Japanese indy music scene bands have been contacting me, giving me the opportunity to learn to know even more music that would have otherwise stayed hidden from me and you, my dear readers.
Among those bands is Johnnivan, the co-founder of which approached me on Facebook. His name is Jonathan Sullivan, he is half Japanese, half American and clearly the name giver to the Tokyonese band, which consists of Shogo on keyboards, Junsoo on guitar, Kento on bass, Yusaku on drums with Sullivan himself doing the vocals.
I decided to do a little interview with him by way of Facebook Message, so here goes.
You’re an American in Japan, how did you end up in Japan?
“I’m half-American, half-Japanese and was born and raised there. The inception of the band, however, was when I was in America (Arizona) in 2016. Shogo asked me if I wanted to be in a band with him, and we started sending demos to each other and “practiced” how to write songs. I came back to Japan in May 2017 and the five of us finally were in a room playing music together. We haven’t stopped since.”
How would you describe your own music?
“We could be described as nerdy-indie-disco-rock, if such a thing exists. Our sound is inspired by LCD Soundsystem, Talking Heads, Devo, and some early disco from the seventies and no wave stuff in the eighties. We execute that through the prism of DIY bedroom pop, doing everything (recording/producing/mixing/artwork) ourselves like Jay Som and Frankie Cosmos does. And although not obvious from our sound, Mitski is a huge influence for me as a same Japanese person who also has an American connection.”
The band’s name seems to be a contraction of your own first and last name, does this mean this is mainly your solo project, with the other members supporting?
“We’re very much a band, although I do a large chunk of the writing and the artwork. It’s a goofy name but I like it.”
Do you play gigs in Japan?
“We started playing shows in May, mainly in Shibuya and Shimokitazawa, where Tokyo-based indie bands that we admire tend to play. We have a few upcoming shows in August, too. One of our goals is to play overseas. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to make an entire album in the US.”
How old are you?
“I’m 21. The other members are in the range of 23 to 26.”
Are you all working people? Music is what you do in your spare time?
I’m a senior at university. The rest of the band have day jobs. So yes, it does seem like a hobby but Johnnivan is our top priority. I constantly go back and forth between feeling good about the songs and hating myself, so there’s that.”
Is it hard to get gigs? How do you bring that about?
“We just email the venues we want to play. We are very lucky in that regard; the venue owners happen to enjoy our shows and invite us back to play more either as part of their other events or as opening acts. Meeting other bands and being invited to play their parties/shows is also something that’s been happening recently.
What became clear right away is that the Tokyo indie-scene is a very small world built on connections. We’re new to the scene so we have to get a little aggressive if we want to be noticed.”
What are your future plans? Are you working on an album?
“The next immediate thing is a new single in September. We have some release-related goals:
A – A music video by the end of the year
B – Another single by the end of the year/beginning of next year
C – An album by next summer/fall.
Seventy per cent of what will be on the album is written, but getting the whole album done is going to take longer than we want since we’re doing everything ourselves now. Having said that, we don’t want to rush things and have them turn out the way we don’t want them to. Aside from releases, becoming a better live act is something we will keep working on. Perhaps forever.” (PB)