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19 January 2017

Life Is Like A Box Of Records: Tokyo Taboo

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We welcome London duo Tokyo Taboo to talk us through the records that have meant the most to them.

Tokyo Taboo’s debut album 6th Street Psychosis is out 24th March 2017 via TT Records. The album features ten tenacious, in-your-face tracks that combine the band’s rock and pop punk influences. Watch their latest video for ‘Self Sabotage’ here.

‘Fever’ – Peggy Lee

Dolly: As a kid I used to sing this song with my Grandpa playing the piano to accompany me. My Grandpa used to play the organ in church and on cruise ships and is very musical, though he despises the music industry! He always tried to warn me off music for a career, though encouraged me to sing. I think he felt music is very difficult to earn money from and, to be honest, he hasn’t been proven wrong! During our sing-alongs we were also obsessed with ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ and ‘Edelweiss’ from The Sound of Music. He was a big jazz fan and introduced me to all the greats: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Billy Holiday. That early introduction to music really made me sure that singing was for me, so I hassled my mum for singing lessons! When I hear the old classics it always makes me think of him and playing piano and singing along in my teaching studio always makes me feel like I am going back to my roots.

‘Into The Groove’- Madonna

Dolly: Madonna for me is the ultimate pop star and as a five year old I wanted to be her. I remember owning a cassette tape with her amazing Like A Virgin album cover on the front. She had such a distinctive sense of style. I used to dress my Barbie dolls up like her and dance them around to this song whilst singing the words. Sometimes when I need inspiration, I go back to Madonna’s music videos like ‘Borderline’, ‘Like A Prayer’and ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. My favourite was watching the In Bed With Madonna documentary, as she was such a strong female and really didn’t care what anyone thought of her! The part where she gives a blow job to a Coca Cola bottle is amazing! Also, just how outspoken she was and ‘shocking’ made me how I am today. There are no taboo topics with me (which is where the band name Tokyo Taboo probably came from!).

‘Beautiful’ – Christina Aguilera

Dolly: As a teenager I had a really tough time and this song really helped me out of it. I really felt every word of the lyrics especially the first line “Every day is so wonderful / Then suddenly it’s hard to breathe’”. The song really made me feel like I wasn’t completely alone and that there was someone out there who felt how I felt. Linda Perry is such an amazing songwriter and Christina Aguilera’s vocals on this track really inspired me. They were recorded in one take and have a raw authentic feel to them because of that. This song, ‘The Voice Within’ and ‘Who You Are’ (by Jessie J) inspired me to write ‘Drowning’ and expose my own vulnerability. I always used to be scared of showing a weaker side to my strong stage persona, so writing the song was a big turning point for me.

As a teenager I think I played the Christina Aguilera album Stripped a million times! I still have the CD somewhere and it’s been well-loved and the case is pretty smashed up!

‘California Dreamin” – Bobby Womack

Dolly: We have spent a lot of time in Los Angeles and feel like it’s our second home. This song really conjures up the longing to be in the California sun when it’s cold outside. There aren’t real distinguishable seasons in California and when it’s too cold and grey in London, I always daydream about the blue skies in LA. We recorded our debut album in LA and have played a lot of shows there. It’s always harder to come back to the UK from Los Angeles in October and November as it gets so cold here but is balmy and warm over there. I guess it’s easy to be nostalgic about a place where we only work on music and our creative brains are on overdrive. California is a place where we don’t have to worry about mundane things like earning money.

‘I Touch Myself’ – Divinyls

Dolly: This was the first song we covered as a band almost six years ago! We used to play it live and rocked it up a lot. It reminds me of when fronting a band was a really alien thing for me. I always felt shy about singing the lyrics “when I think about you I touch myself”. I used to inwardly cringe and feel embarrassed. I sing a lot more explicit lyrics now and don’t feel self conscious as much. I’ve definitely grown thicker skin, don’t care so much about what people think of me and don’t react to criticism as much. I remember I used to get really upset when the slightest thing went wrong, whereas now I don’t get disappointed as it’s all part and parcel of the music industry. If you got upset and angry every time someone let you down you would be constantly up and down like a yo yo!

‘Bad For My Body’ – Deap Vally

Dolly: Deap Vally’s debut album Sistrionix was a big influence on us when writing our EP Leech and later also when working on our debut album 6th Street Psychosis. Deap Vally are an LA rock and blues duo. Both female and crazy good live. Shouty vocals, crowd surfing and bare feet banging on the kick drum pedal, they epitomise strong female attitude. ‘Bad For My Body’ is my favourite song on their first album mainly due to the lyrical content. “Doing things that are bad for my body/ Doing things that are bad for my health/ Doing things that are bad for my future ’cause I can’t help myself”… I wrote ‘Self Sabotage’ inspired by this idea of doing things out of habit that are largely self destructive. I think most people have a self destructive streak in them but creative people (myself included) are often the craziest and most idiotic. We met the band when they played a show at a record store in Hollywood and we told them how they influenced us and that seemed to mean a lot to them. As artists if we inspire other creatives, that’s the biggest reward out there.

‘Weatherman’ – Dead Sara

Dolly: When we were searching for a producer to work with on our Leech EP we listened to a whole load of bands we’d never heard of before. Dead Sara were a standout band to us. The riffs, the female rock vocals and hooky melodies really made us research the band to find out who had produced them. We found a Wikipedia article that cited Noah Shain as the one ‘largely responsible’ for creating the band’s sound. So we sent an email to his manager and started to arrange a time to fly out to Los Angeles to record with him. We met most of Dead Sara through working with Noah and the drummer and bass player of Dead Sara, Sean and Chris, played drums and bass on our record. Through working with Noah we learnt a great deal and were impressed by his work ethic. We spent twelve hour days together for almost a month in total and talked about everything you can imagine from politics to relationships. Noah once said that when you make music together you create a bond like no other and it’s so true.

‘The Man Who Sold the World’ – David Bowie (live on Saturday Night Live)

Dolly: We recently went to see the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition and were completely astounded by the large body of work Bowie created. His mime art, his paintings, his acting, his drawings, his theatre work… And obviously his amazing songs! The live performance on SNL really inspired me and I fell newly in love with the song again. The harmonies in this live performance are amazing and the theatricality of Bowie being carried to the front of the stage to the microphone blew me away!

He was a bubble of creativity and his death earlier this year was such a loss. I remember we had just shot our music video for ‘Make It Out Alive’ in the desert in California and I saw the awful news of his death on my laptop whilst I was looking through the video footage that we’d just shot. There seemed to be a real juxtaposition of his life ending whilst we were consumed by creativity. The following day I sat on our balcony in LA in the bright sun and I mourned his loss. Noah our producer had asked us to rework our song ‘Self Sabotage’ and I started to write down a lot of ideas based on the sadness I was feeling. I wrote, “I’m so bored bored of being alive / I’m waiting for the man up in the sky / To show me the reason for my life my life.” The line “waiting for the man up in the sky” was inspired by Bowie’s song ‘Starman’ and the idea of someone watching down on us.

‘Gold Lion’ – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Dolly: Karen O is such an inspiration for me as a front woman, singer and performer. Her stylised vocals are so unique. No one sounds like her and the distorted mic effect she uses is really distinctive to her sound. In this song the vocal tags like ‘ah oh’ and the ‘woooo hooo’ parts made me experiment with my voice and try quirky vocal parts. I’m a lyricist before a singer so I always found it hard to ad lib melodies but Karen O inspired me to be more expressive and use my voice in different playful ways. The music video for ‘Gold Lion’ inspired our video for ‘Leech’. The flames, the field and the smokey colours are all quite similar. My unhinged performance style often gets compared to Karen O’s and I’m always very happy about that likeness. She is a rock goddess!

‘Pictures of You’ – The Cure

Mike: We saw The Cure live in London and they blew our minds! Their set was three hours long, and their stamina was amazing to me. I have no idea how you can be in your late fifties and still have the energy to play through all your greatest songs (and they have so many!).
As I guitarist I love The Cure’s arrangements and, due to their body of work, their music is a great ‘go to’ when we are running low on ideas and creatively spent. This song in particular is one I return to often.

Our first EP as Tokyo Taboo was recorded with a producer who worked with The Cure at Trident Studios in London. It’s so great to be even tenuously linked to such a great band! We are getting married next year on Friday the 9th of June and have chosen ‘Friday I’m in Love’ as our first song, so the band’s music will continue to be a part of our best moments.

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