Derry’s Japanese Popstars worried about losing their voices
IRELAND’S big dance-music hope, Derry three-piece The Japanese Popstars, are having a busy time of it at the moment. They’re just back from Ibiza and Mexico, and this month they play Rockness in Scotland, Sea Sessions in Bundoran (a virtual hometown gig for them), before hitting Glastonbury, where the reaction so far to their new album, Controlling Your Allegiance, has seen them move up the dance-tent bill. Doing remixes for Depeche Mode and Gorillaz lately has further helped their case.
In July and August they will be all over the UK and continental Europe, with more dates being added all the time. Which version of The Japanese Popstars people will see at these shows depends on factors outside their control. The new album, their first on a major label, features big-name vocalists, but getting them all together for Japanese Popstars gigs is problematic.
The Cure’s Robert Smith, Jon Spencer, Editors’ Tim Smith, Lisa Hannigan and fast-rising James Vincent McMorrow and more all feature on Controlled Allegiance, and the hope is to get any permutation of them up on stage as the Popstars make their way around the festival circuit.
The “guest vocalist” approach works brilliantly for The Japanese Popstars, particularly on the Lisa Hannigan track.
“Because we didn’t really have that many vocal ideas ourselves when it came to the album, we decided to approach people who we thought were quite unique and had a very individual vocal approach,” says the group’s Gary Curran. “Obviously getting Robert Smith early on was a great bonus, and that was all just luck. He told us that our email to him had been lying in his spam folder for six months and it was only when he went to clear it out that he knew we really wanted him on the album. Thankfully, he really likes what we do.”
They hunted down Lisa Hannigan after seeing her perform at Other Voices, and the same RTÉ programme switched them on to James Vincent McMorrow.
Instead of handing all their vocalists the finished track with a guide vocal on it, they went for more of a collaborative approach, telling all the singers to do what they felt worked. “All the singers wrote their own lyrics, and it was important to us that they wrote their side of the track from their own style,” says Curran. “There were no restrictions on them at all in terms of what they could or could not do . . . it was just a case of merging the two styles together.”
The first single off the album is the Lisa Hannigan-sung Song For Lisa. The Robert Smith vocal is a good bet for a single release. “We did really want Bowie on the album and went after him,” says Curran. “Obviously he’s difficult to pin down, but it’s a door we’re going to keep knocking on until he relents.”
How they will work it live is to see who is available and take it from there. Happily, at some of their festival dates a number of the vocalists will be around anyway. “We just look to how The Chemical Brothers do it,” says Curran. “If the singer is there, great. If not, you adapt your set.”
Having won most every Irish dance music award going for the past few years, the major-label deal with EMI/Virgin and the big-name vocalists on the new album signal a significant step up for the Derry group. All we need now is a track called Teenage Beats.
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