They say what makes a good band is chemistry. You know, a special connection that lets musicians pick up instruments and play without saying much at all. This is certainly the case for San Francisco's underground punk-metal band, Vomica. Two members are from Japan and speak little English. The other tow members are American -- and they don't speak any Japanese. But these guys don't need to speak the same language to make music together. Mina Kim reports from San Francisco.
When Vomica's drummer Sean Mou-Keefe first met lead singer Toshi Saizaki five years ago, Saizaki made a big impression.
Mou-Keefe: "He was showing up at parties being cool not speaking English at all, and like just quietly being cool, y'know and I was like that's a cool guy (laughs)."
When the two met, the city was holding a block party open to any band that could put together a ten-song set. Mou-Keefe got a friend, Wade Jones, to play bass, and Saizaki persuaded his friend, Ryo Harada, to play lead guitar. Saizaki, who'd never sung in public before, agreed to sing lead and Vomica was born.
This song, Can't Sleep, now one of the favorites on their CD, was first played at the block party. Mou-Keefe remembers the crowd's response to heavy metal sung in Japanese.
Mou-Keefe: "Everybody was kind of dough-eyed like kind of innocent and they just had this look of excitement like here's something new y'know."
Five years later Vomica's still going strong. They've figured out how to get around their language barrier.
At practice, Jones tunes his bass and chats with Mou-Keefe at one end of the room. At the other end, Saizaki and Harada have a conversation in Japanese. Jones says they're able to work through the details of a song using gestures and simple sentences.
"We have just an unspoken language and body language of being able to read and know what they're talking about."
Despite the group's longevity, no one makes a living off the band. Jones and Mou-Keefe work as glass blowers. Harada is a gardener and Saizaki, a sushi chef. As the group's only English speakers, Jones books all the gigs and Mou-Keefe is in charge of the CDs and website. Jones says he doesn't mind the extra work, but Saizaki says he feels bad about it, as he washes and scales fish at his restaurant.
"Wade is book manager, he's always putting the show and Sean is help out these computer thing...so I don't know, I don't do anything. So I'm feel so bad."
But without Saizaki, the group wouldn't have its trademark songs in Japanese. Or the excitement of its performances - Saizaki's known for stripping naked toward the end of a show. And the songs he writes are about his life in Japan before he came here six years ago. Like this one about Shibuya, one of Tokyo's most chaotic shopping and entertainment districts. Saizaki is screaming at people to pay attention to his friend's store.
Jones and Mou-Keefe admit they don't know what the songs mean half the time. But it doesn't seem to matter to them, or to the growing number of Japanese rock fans in the US. Some clubs in San Francisco have even started having all "J-rock" band nights, helping Vomica's fan base grow from mainly Japanese, to more racially mixed.
But backstage before a recent performance, guitarist Harada says fame isn't what he's looking for.
"I'm living music life through my friends: Vomica, like Sean, Wade me, and it's, no like to be rock star."
As they walk off stage, the band members share a quick hug. Their chemistry is what keeps fans like Ryan Schnurrpusch coming back.
"I know their band is based on a tight friendship and I think there's an energy that you can't get from any other kind of band that's maybe more manufactured y'know. So when you see them live, you see true friendship and such, and that's really exciting."
Vomica is working on a new CD, but final production has been delayed. Toshi Saizaki had to return to Japan to be with his ailing father. Sean Mou-Keefe, Wade Jones and Ryo Harada have decided to take the band to him. Vomica's second CD release, and first concert tour in Japan are set for next summer.