I'll be honest, I gave Big in Japan high rotation right off the bat because two of the four members were in one of my favorite bands of the '90s, The Gain. Sweaty Corky and Fuckin' Joey provided the bass and drum. On the day the Gain called it quits, I was bummed. They seemed like a rocket that was ready to blast a communications satellite of power pop which could send its signal all over the globe only to end up fizzling out on the launch pad.
Big In Japan don't disappoint. Corky and Joey's playing is smarter. Mix in Zoinks' Zac Damon and what you come out of the tunnel are wickedly smart, thrusting power pop songs, wrapped tight into a punk punch. There are subtleties and intricacies at work, ones that won't put you to sleep, which make their music better and better the more times it gets played. Some call it "geek tough." Some call it "skinny tie dynamite." I file it under good stuff.
Interview and pictures by Todd Taylor
Todd: Someone give me the basic rundown.
Joey: The basic facts are Corky, Todd, and I reside in the lovely San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Zac is currently serving his sentence in Sacramento. Zac's claim to fame would be being in Dr. Strange Records' Zoinks while Corky and I laid dat funky backbeat to The Gain. Todd has been the latest edition. The original demos were recorded by Matt and Ross Levine of The Tank and Smartbomb. Due to their commitment to the other bands, they opted to leave.
Zac: I played on a couple of Screeching Weasel albums. I was in the band for a year or so from '97 to '98 and I played on the "Major Label Debut" EP and the "Television City Dream" LP as well as some other comps and collections.
Todd: How did you guys meet?
Zac: I met Corky and Joey through the Gain in '93 or '94, I think. I heard their first 7" and some demo stuff, which is amazing, from one of my roommates at the time who knew them and booked a show for them with my band, Zoinks!. The show took place at the infamous Ryland Street Basement in Reno, Nevada, my house at the time.
Joey: We played with Scared of Chaka.
Zac: For some strange reason everybody came to this particular show and literally packed the place. Nobody had even heard of The Gain yet besides me and a couple of other people. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I thought their music was awesome but not really punk enough to be high energy live. I was very, very wrong. I learned that night that you don't have to play fast in order to get people moving. They totally blew me away and I guess they liked Zoinks! too, so we instantly became friends. We've also just recently added another guitarist, Toddball Smailes.
Toddball: I'm now officially in the band.
Zac: But, unfortunately, not on our first album.
Toddball: Corky and Joey brought me into the band. I was almost the second guitarist for the Gain just before they disbanded. My old band Sixysixpercent also played a show with them. I'm also the webmaster for the Gain's webpage. I met Zac through the fellas in the Gain.
Todd: People have compared some of your songs to Elvis Costello. What does Elvis Costello have over Elvis Prestley?
Zac: True musical talent, a better voice, better songs/songwriting, Costello actually writes his own songs whereas Prestley didn't, for the most part. Costello also has a better sense of style and taste in the way he presents himself.
Toddball: Costello looked waaaay cooler in glasses and didn't get half as fat as the Prestley head did.
Corky: Elvis Costello is still alive.
Joey: What doesn't Costello have over an overrated, bloated white trash racist icon?
Todd: Since we're on it, describe your sound without using the words "pop punk" and without mentioning Elvis Costello.
Zac: We actually only have a couple of songs that sound like anything remotely resembling an Elvis Costello tune. Assuming that I can use the words pop and punk apart from each other, I would say that our music consists of a lot of pop, a lot of rock, and a little punk.
Corky: Good ole rock and roll with melody.
Joey: The same four chords that have been reshuffled for the last thirty years.
Todd: How many van road miles do you think you'd get if you added up all Zoinks tours and Gain tours together?
Zac: I don't know, maybe like 150,000? That's a complete shot in the dark.
Corky: 58,249.09 plus miles, excluding all the mistakes and fuck ups due to lack of ones knowledge to knowing where we are.
Joey: Our main van for the last three years is the "battlewagon," my '85 Dodge Ram. Also doubles as the "Stabbin' Cabin" seen lurking playgrounds near you. I recently had the passenger interior door handles removed.
Todd: Has Honest Dons promised you a backup van?
Toddball: Checkered slip ons.
Joey: They promised we could take our van anytime we want.
Todd: What's the sweetest part of the deal in being part of Fat?
Toddball: Free burritos and Fat Mike always mistaking me for being Mexican.
Zac: Being on a label that has a genuine appreciation and regard for what we do musically and the resources to promote it. Not to mention the fact that they are totally fuckin' great people. Honest Don's and Fat Wreck Chords are hands down THE best punk rock/indie record labels around.
Joey: We get to raid the merch closet for CDs when we show up.
Todd: How is Big In Japan better than your previous bands?
Zac: Well, at the risk of sounding cliche and cheesy, I think that we are quite a bit more mature, musically speaking. I say that more in reference to Zoinks! than the Gain but it's definitely more focused and serious than both bands.
Toddball: We actually play shows more than once a year and outside of Canoga Park. And this band can actually play their instruments.
Joey: It has the potential to be as bad ass as my high school spike and spandex band, Destructor.
Todd: What's kept you excited about the new project - you're all vets.
Joey: I'm looking forward to working with people that dig the same shit as me.
Zac: The label has really kept me excited about this band. I mean, I definitely think that this is the best band I have ever been a part of, but just being on such a great record label has really opened a lot of doors for us.
Toddball: This band is better. Waaaaaaaay better. Better than anything I've ever done.
Todd:: Are you more like the Thundercats or the GoBots?
Toddball: GoBot. Being of half Asian descent, it's pretty much a given that I compare myself to a robot. Although I wish I had cool hair like the Thundercat feller.
Todd: Do you have a Big In Japan motto?
Toddball: [in Joey voice] "Ohhh, fuckin' killa bra." If that's not it, I would say "No, I wasn't in the Gain or Zoinks!. I'm just very ugly."
Zac: Hey everybody, free samples of me. I know it's not really a motto but it's the best I can do right now.
Todd: Name the quirks of all the other band members.
Toddball: I haven't been with Zac too long, so as of right now he has no visible quirks that I know of. Joey's quirk is that he finds it necessary to hunt for turtles and dress them up in pink tutus at all hours of the night. Corky's biggest quirk is his fucking name. What kind of name is that anyway?
Zac: Corky sweats a lot, never has money, and a terrible memory. He also makes funny noises when he's tired and says "You know what I mean?", "You see what I'm saying?" a lot. Joey gets this completely oblivious look on his face when you say more than ten words to him but he is, in fact, listening and understanding most of what you're saying. Then he completely forgets everything you've said 15 minutes later. Joey doesn't like to answer his telephone 'cause he ain't got time for that shit. He also says "Oh, yeah that's fuckin' killa bro" a lot. Todd likes to be Mr. Witty - funny guy and never shuts it off.
Corky: Yeah, Joey never answers his phone.
Joey: In the last six years I've known Corky, he always cries about being broke, so he can't pitch in for gas money. Zac can be a little too anal about playin' live. He needs to relax and just have fun. He also picks his nose often. Todd tells bad jokes and needs to upgrade his gear. Me, I'm a bit of a prick when you're in my van. I can be somewhat of a control freak. I think I might also talk too much shit on the mic.
Todd: On a scale of one to ten, ten being the most probable, do you think Corky really did get Colonel Wilma Dearing (aka Erin Gray) out of her satin body suit?
Zac: I'd have to give that scenario a one.
Joey: Was her name really Colonel? How fuckin' lame is that?… Corky never has.
Toddball: Ten. Corky's always tells me he always wants to wear the suit.
Todd: Why the name Big In Japan?
Zac: I thought it sounded cool and I just think the whole stigma of washed up rockstars still being popular in Japan is kinda funny. I thought it to be a fitting name for our band because we aren't has-beens. We are never-weres.
Joey: It's a tribute to the pretentious metal bands who are still keepin' it real and bein' true to the street in the land o' the risin' sun.
Todd:: Have you ever been to Japan?
Joey: I've eaten at Yoshinoya a few times.
Todd: Have you ever played in Japan?
Todd: Have you ever lost your balance when using a Japanese toilet?
Zac: No, but I look forward to it.
Toddball and Joey: [in a weird unison, almost to the letter] No, but I've lost my balance using an American toilet.
Todd: What's the oddest thing you've heard they sell in Japanese vending machines?
Corky: Hotel rooms?
Joey: Sake-soaked sea turtle genitalia?
Toddball: Erin Gray's satin body suit?
Todd: What's so great about Big In Japan?
Zac: We are the next big thing. And they said there would never be another Beatles. [chuckles]
Corky: That we know how to have fun on stage and we know how to make great records.
Joey: Great chemistry. Just a bunch of regular homies.
Todd: Would you, yourself, get a Big In Japan tattoo?
Zac: Well, there would have to be some sort of artwork to go with it, but yeah. Sure. Why not? It would definitely not have anything Japanese in it. That would be too predictable.
Joey: Probably not. I'm more into black work only. Unfortunately, so is every trendy jackass who doesn't know shit about the true art form.
Todd: What would you give to the first person you see that has a Big In Japan tattoo?
Toddball: Give them their underwear back and tell them to get it colored in.
Zac: Free merchandise, a beer and a big hug…
Joey: … and 50% off our refrigerator magnets.
Todd: What's your biggest hobby, outside of music?
Joey: I got a fuckin' rad chick for two years and three black lab mixes who provide us with cheap entertainment.
Corky: I work and travel.
Toddball: Graphic design and making webpages, I suppose.
Zac: I don't really have any hobbies. Music pretty much takes up all of my extra time and I don't consider it a hobby. It's a way of life, man.
Todd: What ruined music for you?
Joey: Working my ass for The Gain and watching bands like Korn, Papa Roach, Limp Bizeminemeverclear make tons of records. Don't get me started.
Corky: The stupid, plastic people that think they know it all.
Toddball: This thing called KROQ. What in the hell happened to that thing?
Zac: Music has never been ruined for me. There has always been new music that I totally loved and new music that I completely loathed. Hopefully this will always be the case.
Todd: What restored your faith in it?
Corky: Getting this new band together.
Toddball: New bands popping up in the punk rock world. And Dillinger Four.
Joey: The lead singer of Quiet Riot getting hair plugs keeps my dream alive.
Todd: Who was your childhood hero for the instrument that you play?
Zac: Angus Young. I still love AC/DC.
Corky: Keith Moon and Peter Criss.
Joey: Rush's Geddy Lee, of course.
Toddball: Freddie Lippencottleman.
Todd: What are the major themes to your songs?
Zac: Love, relationships, rock n' roll and my hatred of everything that is phony in the world.
Joey: Fast cars, loose women. We're intellectuals.
Corky: Normal life situations.
Todd: Is it rocket science?
Zac: It is most definitely not rocket science but not just anyone can do it.
Todd: Is your aim true?
Zac: You bet it is!
Corky: Look at my drum sticks after a show.