Despite the fact that SOIL & DESPIMP” SESSIONS “agitator” goes by the nickname Shacho – which translates to company president in Japanese – it doesnt seem quite right packing the band into the ultra-plain white walled conference room to be used for this interview.
As the four out of six members present – trumpeter Tabu Zombie, saxophonist Motoharu, Shacho and bass player Akita Goldman – sink into their swivel chairs, one cant help but imagine these are the type of guys who get noticed when they go out for a stroll. Their mere presence makes a scene.
Sure their fashion sense is colorfully eye-catching, but in Tokyo thats practically par for the course. No, the reason each member of SOIL & “PIMP” would attract attention on the street really comes down to two words: energy and aura. These qualities – combined with oodles of talent – have helped the band blow the roof off clubs, music halls and festival venues around the world.
“When we see the faces of the audience, its like a natural source of energy,” says Motoharu, dressed in a royal purple track suit. “The energy coming from the crowd is fantastic and we do our best to give it back to them.”
It all began on Tokyos entertainment scene, just after the turn of this century. Stale DJ sets prevailed as the main source of musical entertainment, and clearly the landscape was in dire need of a breath of fresh air. The formation of SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS is a convoluted tale with members floating in and out of the group in its early days, but finally, when Shacho and five uniquely talented musicians gathered at an event in Roppongi in 2001, they collectively decided it was time to answer the call.
Live jam sessions were just what the doctor ordered, injecting some much-needed vitality into the club scene. With each member toting his own brand of instrumental poetry up on stage, plus Shachos raucous MC stylings, SOIL & “HEMP” SESSIONS (as it was dubbed at the time) broke the mould and created a live-music revolution.
From behind his trademark sunglasses, Shacho speaks with a voice thats warm, clear and soulful. His role as agitator, loosely defined, is to ensure the band keeps pumping on all cylinders. “Since we started,” he says, “we have always kept the same philosophies in mind: never stop the music, face the audience and play to the audience.”
A direct result of those crowd-pleasing convictions, the bands reputation soared and by 2003 they found themselves invited to play at the Fuji Rock Festival – Japans biggest music bash – without so much as a record deal to stand on. Naturally, they still reflect fondly on the experience that would kick-start their career beyond even their own wildest expectations.”It was raining that day,” recalls Akita Goldman, the bands soft-spoken bassist, “but it stopped eventually.”
Then, as they started to play, an amazing thing happened. “At the beginning of our set, we didnt have much of an audience,” Shacho remembers. “But people go to Fuji Rock to enjoy the vibes, the music. So we just started to play our sound and gradually more and more people began to make their way over to the stage. This wave of people grew bigger and bigger, and suddenly we had quite an impressive crowd in front of us.”
“At the end it got really packed and everybody in the audience raised their hands in the air,” trumpet player Tabu Zombie chimes in after drinking a spoonful of soup from a styrofoam cup. “They were waving their hands because of our music, even though we werent famous at all.”
Asked if they were nervous or if they get stage fright before any of their live shows, the answer is a unanimous “no.”
“We trust each other up there,” Goldman says of the band, which also includes keyboard player Josei and drummer Midorin. “Because of that trust, each of us feels like everythings going to be all right.”
Jammin Outside the Box
Rather than allowing themselves to be defined by a pre-existing genre, SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS have gone ahead and practically defined a genre for themselves.
“When we were first asked to categorize our music, we didnt know what to answer,” says sax player Motoharu. “We wanted to break the box of jazz.”
They adopted the classification “death jazz” ﾐ with allusions to the hard, fast and rough style of death metal rock ﾐ emblazoning the term proudly on their releases. Still, the bands music retains the depth and wide range of emotion one expects from typical jazz standards ﾐ the only difference being that its kept at a constant boiling point. Some might criticize them for a lack of subtlety, but their rugged technique is precisely The group decided to re-brand themselves, changing the “Hemp” to “Pimp,” though they concede its strange that the new moniker is somehow considered more respectable than the old one.
Tabu Zombie ponders this for a while before admitting with a smile, “I guess theyre both about the same.” Either way, they havent had any further name-related trouble.
So although there is no clearly defined meaning to SOIL & “PIMP,” the more one listens to their music the more the name seems to fit. The word “soil” could invoke thoughts of earthy sounds while “pimp” would represent the flash, pomp and excitement that is the hallmark of the band. Combine those concepts together ﾐ something they do very naturally on stage ﾐ and it makes for a potent musical combination featuring both style and substance.
And indeed, Marchs release of their second and latest full studio album, Pimpoint, is a clear illustration of this mix of panache and technical skill. Listening to their songs, you feel a long-forgotten energy awakening from deep within, calling on an incredibly broad range of emotions. You might even sense a bit of dormant teenage rage welling up inside. Suddenly, youre filled to the brim with this wonderful vitality that begs to be released.
“What theyve got is energy,” says Gilles Peterson. “The energy things really important, and the way they fuse the rock attack with a sort of modern-jazz melodic beauty.”
“We have a goal for each album we make,” Tabu Zombie declares. “Every album should be a masterpiece. No bad albums and no bad songs ﾐ thats our motto.”
Shacho sums up Pimpoint in one word: “Party!”
From Notions to Sessions
All bands have their own group dynamics, but the vast majority place emphasis on a leader while the rest of the members serve a backup role. As usual, however, SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS bucks the trend.
“Its always difficult to keep a band tight and strong ﾐ thats the difficulty of being in a band. But it looks to me like theyve got a good unit there,” observes Peterson.
“Were not the kind of band where the members support a singer or leader,” says Motoharu to nods of agreement.
“All six of us play a leading role,” adds Tabu Zombie.
Story by Jim Hand-Cukierman
From J SELECT Magazine, April 2007