I first got to see and meet the folks in Worthwhile Way at The Fest 9 in Gainesville in 2010. Having never heard of or seen them before, but being a sucker for Japanese punk, I went purely on a whim. I can honestly say I’ve never been so blown away by a band on first seeing them live. I didn’t know a single word to a single song. But between the homemade signs they held up with messages like, “May everybody be always with a smile.” and the obvious thrill on their faces, their unbridled energy and positivity was like a fucking revelation in the midst of the sea of bearded, pseudo-curmudgeons (myself included) that The Fest is.
Worthwhile Way is Akihiro (guitar, vocals) and his wife Mayu (vocals, guitar), Kaorin (bass, vocal) and Chege (drums). They call Tokushima and Tokyo, Japan home. They’ve toured at home in Japan, and have made their way over to the U.S. for The Fest several times and this past year, for Awesome Fest in San Diego. They’ve got an impressive catalog of CDEP and 7” releases behind them, and are gearing up to release their first LP, Love Is All both in Japan and here in the U.S. with a little help from ADD Records.
Akihiro and Mayu also run Eager Beaver Records, a label and distro, which not only releases records by Worthwhile Way and several other bands, but distros tons of stuff from dozens of U.S. and U.K. labels.
Note: In the interest of full disclosure or whatever the fuck, Aki asked me if I’d help out with some of their English. I assured them they speak better English than most zine-reading American punks. None the less, some of their statements were edited a bit.
Interview by Seth Gile
Photos by Robert El Diablo
Seth: Ossu, Aki! Hey Mayu-Sensei!
Akihiro and Mayu: Hey Seth!
Seth: Let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. When did Worthwhile Way get started?
Mayu: We started sometime in 2002. But Aki and Chege joined seven years ago.
Seth: Was this the first band you guys have done?
Mayu: No, no. We all used to be in other bands… except Kaorin.
Seth: So you guys were all friends before you started the band?
Mayu: Oh yeah. We all are old friends. Long before we started the band.
Seth: Well, and I know you—Aki and Mayu—are married, and I believe Kaorin and Chege are as well? Or do I have that all fucked up?
Akihiro: [laughs] Yes. We are married couples. But Kaorin and Chege are not husband and wife.
Seth: Well, fuck me. [laughs]
Mayu: Chege’s wife is called Emi. They live in Hiroshima.
Akihiro: They have two children, too. So cute!
Mayu: They’re cuddly as the Kewpie mayonnaise character. They’re named Shinnosuke and Sumire.
Seth: And they’re now the youngest Japanese punx to ever be upp’ed in Razorcake. [laughs] I already dig their first 7”. So, let’s get gossipy. Does the fact that you guys are couples ever make for any conflicts in the band?
Akihiro: Yeah, it happens.
Mayu: Aki and I always get along well with each other, but sometimes we can’t help but have a little quarrel. [laughs] We have opinions and ideas. But it’s all right. We’re family! We always discuss any problems that come up with all the other members. I think it’s a good thing to clash with each other because we can come out of it with new opinions and wisdom…
Akihiro: …so we can deal with other matters well.
Mayu: I have a great trust in them. And Kaori and Chege have never fought with each other. At all. They’re so mild natured.
Seth: You guys are so damn positive! I almost constantly want to kill the other dudes in my band. And I get to come home from tour and not see them. [laughs] All right. So starting in 2009, you guys have been making an annual thing out of coming to The Fest in Gainesville. How’d you get hooked up with that?
Mayu: Aki sent our band’s bio to The Fest.
Akihiro: Yeah. I just found the application submission on the Fest 8 website.
Seth: I didn’t even think Tony listened to all those. Glad he heard you guys. Well now, this year, despite my protests, I might add, you guys came to Awesome Fest in San Diego instead. Was that just the same kind of deal? I know you’ve made a ton of friends over here since Fest 8.
Akihiro: Yeah, no. That was a different story. We talked to J. Wang from Dan Padilla at the Basement House (in Tampa) for a while. He mentioned something to us about inviting us to Awesome Fest. And then just emailed me an official invitation.
Mayu: We’re really glad he invited us! Thank you so much, J!
Seth: So I take it that it went pretty well?
Akihiro: It was mega awesome!
Seth: [laughs] Accurately named, then.
Akihiro: We can’t say thank you enough to the organizers. Marty Ploy, Davey Tiltwheel… I played guitar with The Slow Death for the second time. It was such a great time. I was Jonny A Tamayo! [laughs] We played Bar Eleven.
Seth: That place rules. You might be too tall to be Jonny, though! Were a lot of kids there to see you guys?
Akihiro: I hope so. We saw a bunch of people we wanted to see again and met a lot for the first time. I was bummed not to see some people. Like the Arms Aloft folks, The Wild, and Jonny C, and Paddy.
Seth: See, I told you that you guys should’ve done Fest instead! But you guys did play some other shows in California while you were over, right?
Akihiro: Yes, we played a few other shows at places like The Big Cheese Brewing Co. in Riverside and Soda Bar in San Diego. I think that doing shows in California is one of the best tours of our entire lives. Thanks to everyone who puts together Awesome Fest for that.
Seth: D’aww. Shit, you guys are too nice. They’re lucky to have you dudes play. All right, so you’ve also got an LP coming out in the U.S. Let’s talk about that shit.
Akihiro: Yes! We are so excited! I can’t say for sure some of the details or the release date. But the artwork is almost done. Mayu is drawing something for the cover art.
Mayu: We can only say this: We love Dave Disorder and ADD Records!
Akihiro: And Too Many Daves!
Seth: You might’ve given some things away, there. [laughs] So what else? You guys did a tour of Japan with The Slow Death.
Akihiro: Feels like we just finished it! And totally… it was an awesome tour for us.
Seth: Were you fully prepared to babysit Jesse for that long?! [laughs]
Mayu: Oh, yeah. I thought he might be a real giant monster when he drank too much. He fell down. He got hurt. [laughs] That it ended without any more serious incidents was a small mercy. He has so much extra energy, too. I knew it! He’s like Shrek. [laughs]
Akihiro: It was a funny tour for us. The Slow Death as a three piece was amazing. We feel so happy if they had a great time in Japan. And it was the first time I got to become Jonny A Tamayo. [laughs]
Seth: Amazing! [laughs] You might have a couple inches on him though. Okay, so back to records. You kind of recently released a split with The Wild on your label, Eager Beaver. How did you meet those guys and gal?
Akihiro: I first listened to their songs a few years back. They were sweet and heart warming.
Mayu: Moved my heart! After a while, we met them in person at The Fest 9.
Akihiro: We went to meet up with some folks at the Spin Cycle and The Wild were playing when we got to the venue.
Mayu: It was an awesome show! They had so much passion and energy. They seemed to be like angels. Then, to our surprise, also they already knew of us.
Akihiro: Yes! We couldn’t believe that. They came to our show at 1982 Bar the next night. Them being there touched my heart. We were so excited!
Seth: The Wild also contributed a song to a comp you guys put out last year. Tell me a little about that.
Akihiro: Yeah, Eager Beaver put it out as a benefit compilation. Following the earthquakes and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011, Eager Beaver Records started an effort that was originally meant to be posts of encouragement and support for Japanese punks on their blog from bands around the world. Eventually, they turned that effort into a compilation CD called A Ray of Hope that pulled together tracks from bands the world over like Iron Chic, Dear Landlord, Bangers, and Too Many Daves. We’re really appreciative for to all the bands from the U.S. and U.K. for taking part in the comp.
Mayu: We made a contribution to two charities in Japan.
Akihiro: The proceeds from the compilation went to two animal refuge organizations in the tsunami-struck area of Japan.
Akihiro: And we will be planning for A Ray of Hope Volume 2.
Seth: Excellent. Let me ask you more about Eager Beaver. When did you guys start the label?
Akihiro: Sounds good. I think Mayu and I got started… eight or nine years ago.
Seth: Was the plan to just release Worthwhile Way stuff?
Akihiro: Yep. We just planned to do releases Worthwhile Way and my old band.
Seth: Turned into quite a bit more than that, eh? Eager Beaver distro seems a great source for Japanese kids to get punk records from all over. You guys get killer stuff in from DIY labels in the states that might be hard for Japanese punks to track down.
Akihiro: Wow. Thank you so much! Who says that? Because there are a ton of distros and shops in Japan!
Seth: Even so. Did you start doing the distro part of Eager Beaver for that reason? Was it harder to find records from the U.S. and U.K. before you started the distro?
Akihiro: Actually, I had started Eager Beaver in Tokyo with Mayu as an online shop for used vinyl. We were so bored with our life. I had just lost my job and my band was not going well. Adding to the mayhem, I had a family matter come up. So I had to go back to Tokushima from Tokyo some years later. Though I didn’t have a connection in the world, I started the distro when I was back home. It was so hard to find records! But I have no issue with that, because I totally have so much fun with record shopping. It’s like treasure hunting for me.
Seth: Yeah man, record shopping in Japan is nuts. I couldn’t believe some of the stuff the used shops carry. Crazy, out-of-print stuff that you couldn’t find here in a million years. Still, I can’t imagine trying to find things like new No Idea or ADD releases over there without distros like you guys. Do you have any upcoming Eager Beaver releases?
Akihiro: Yes, we have. Records from Modern Gooddays, Arms Aloft, Worthwhile Way, and more.
Seth: Let’s talk more about punk in general in Japan. What is the scene there like?
Akihiro: That’s a hard question. I guess the Japanese punk scene is split into smaller parts.
Seth: Right on. I suppose if it’s a small community, there are going to be smaller pockets of kids doing bands and whatnot in each city. Another thing I’ve noticed, and it’s a problem here too, but it seems that a lot of punk bands in Japan are very focused on fashion. It’s sometimes just a style of music. What attracts Worthwhile Way and Eager Beaver to a more DIY scene?
Akihiro: I don’t think that we are trying to be a DIY punk band. DIY is just a normal thing in my life and for the band.
Seth: Even better. [laughs] Is it hard in Japan to play folkier punk like you guys do? There’s a huge scene for it here, but are there other Japanese bands doing it?
Akihiro: It’s not really hard, no. And maybe there are lots of great folk punk bands in Japan, but I’m afraid I don’t have a good enough handle on all the Japanese punk bands to say so.
Seth: What other Japanese bands should we be listening to?
Akihiro: Seth, I’m thinking that you should be listening to more Japanese hardcore and oi punk bands. But—we don’t like to be misunderstood by all the readers of Razorcake. I want to let you know by email.
Seth: [laughs] All right, buddy. I don’t want to make you speak for all of Japanese punk! But I will make you speak for all of Japan: What’s the best flavor of Kit Kats? My vote is for green tea.
Akihiro: [laughs] You rule! My favorite is the strawberry flavor. The soy sauce flavor of Kit Kat is so hard to eat, even though I’m Japanese.
Mayu: Is it? I didn’t know that there’s a wide variety. I have never eaten green tea before. I will probably go with orange.
Seth: Excellent choices, dudes. [laughs] Though I’m totally into the soy sauce ones, too. Thank you guys. Arigatou gozaimasu!