The Rabbits - s/t LP
Label: Mesh Key
Singer-songwriter Syoichi Miyazawa's tale is a confounding one. He grew up in a small town in Yamagata Prefecture (in northern Japan), loved Dylan and The Beatles, and had very little exposure to, or interest in, underground music. And yet, shortly after 24-year-old Miyazawa arrived in Tokyo in 1978, he began performing solo shows at tiny clubs in the city, singing and playing guitar. His performances quicky devolved from brisk acoustic jaunts to lengthy, heavy dirges sung in a snot-nosed wail over a blown-out electric guitar detuned to produce a kind of sonic sludge.
At one of his earliest gigs, a mutual friend introduced him to Endo Michiro, who would soon become the legendary front man of Japanese punk icons The Stalin. It turned out Miyazawa and Endo had attended Yamagata University at the same time just a few years earlier, but hadn't known each other at school. In Tokyo, they became fast friends, moved into the same apartment building, and for years were inseparable. Endo played guitar and drums on Miyazawa's debut release, the "Christ Was Born in a Stable" flexi disc. But while Endo was social and outgoing, Miyazawa preferred to be alone, avoiding concerts unless he was performing.
Despite these antisocial tendencies, Miyazawa came to despise playing solo. In 1982, an eccentric high school student named Chika introduced herself at one of Miyazawa's gigs, and Miyazawa asked if she'd play bass. She agreed and drafted two of her friends to play second guitar and drums. The Rabbits were born.
Miyazawa wrote the tunes, and had a clear vision for the group, but struggled to get the sound he wanted from the other members. His second guitarist was more of a fusion player, and Miyazawa took great pains to get him to tone down the shredding. The group quickly went through multiple line-up changes. Frustrated with the sound of their first proper recording (self-released as the X1(x) cassette), Miyazawa spent a full year mixing their second cassette, Winter Songs, on his own.
The hard work paid off — the sound of Winter Songs is striking, and unlike anything the band's peers produced. There's liberal use of delay on the vocals, giving the music a psychedelic feel, but the guitars are caustic, cutting through the mix like metal shrapnel. The rhythm section seems on the verge of teetering out of control throughout, an overdriven and pummeling current below abrasive slabs of guitar and vocals. Even at their most aggressive, though, The Rabbits had strong pop sensibilities, complete with cooing backing vocals and the occasional harmonica solo. Miyazawa delivers his borderline nonsensical lyrics with equal amounts of menace and gaiety, consistently riding that fine line as only a natural oddball can. At times, the band sounds like a distant cousin of PiL, Chrome or The Homosexuals, but beamed in from a parallel dimension and filtered through Miyazawa's warped lens.
Although The Rabbits briskly sold all 500 copies of the Winter Songs tape, live audiences at the time seemed dumbfounded by the group, and would stare at them in silence. After two years together, The Rabbits called it quits in 1984.
When asked if any of the many legendary groups (Les Rallizes Desnudes, G.I.S.M., etc.) he shared stages with left an impression, Miyazawa recently revealed that he always left the venue as soon as he finished performing, so he never caught any of the other bands...
All of which is to say — The Rabbits are one of the great punk bands of the early '80s, but their leader had no interest in the punk scene and always thought he was making "normal" music. They rubbed shoulders with a slew of notable groups of the era, and their singer was best friends with arguably the most famous Japanese punk of all time, but Miyazawa shunned fraternization and purposefully distanced himself from his peers.
Could this be why so few underground music fans are familiar with the group, even in Japan? Why they seem to have been written out of the official history of Japanese punk? One can never know for sure, but Mesh-Key hopes to remedy this travesty by offering this compilation, the first-ever official LP by The Rabbits, to a new generation of punk and psychedelic music connoisseurs.