Aiko Masubuchi always wanted to play rock drums. But growing up in Tokyo, where space is at a premium, Aiko’s parents didn’t warm to the prospect. They did know someone who taught Taiko, however, a traditional form of Japanese drumming played on a single large drum, and Aiko was soon a member of a local children’s Taiko group.
“That was my way in. But while I was in it, it was always like, ‘I wish I was playing a drum kit.’”
Aiko has finally gotten her wish. She’s the drummer for Bodega Bay, a smart, energetic low-fi band based out of Brooklyn. But the influence of Taiko remains potent.
“Up until two shows ago, I had a kick drum with me, but I was only using it for one song.” When she realized this, she got rid of the kick drum altogether, and began playing with only a rack tom, floor tom, a snare and a ride.
“I miss the performative aspect of Taiko. I feel like there’s more liberty if I’m standing. That’s what I enjoy about watching drumming, too, is how performative drummers are live.”
Taiko sticks are much larger and heavier than regular drum sticks, up to an inch in diameter at both ends, and Aiko says that getting used to lighter sticks has been a bit of a challenge.
“I’m so used to hitting hard, since I’m not making as much sound as I want when I’m doing Taiko. I feel there’s a lot more physicality to Taiko, and that I hit a lot heavier than if I’d played rock drums all my life.”
Aiko moved to New York from Tokyo five years ago to attend college; she went to a dual language school back home, and living in an English-speaking country seemed an obvious next step.
She studied anthropology at NYU, which is where she met Ben Hozie, the band’s lead singer-songwriter. She wasn’t playing much at that time (“I did some poetry in college, where I thought about rhythm a lot”), and Ben was in another band called Big Fur with guitarist Jason King. Ben and King had met through Craigslist: King sent Ben a cassette tape, which included a Silver Jews riff, and it sealed the connection.
Big Fur broke up, and Aiko and Ben, who had been wanting to collaborate, began playing together, with King on guitar. When they needed a bassist, Aiko suggested her best friend from Tokyo, Anna Takayama, despite the fact that Anna had never played the bass.
“I thought, ‘she’s a tap dancer and plays the violin. She can play bass.’”
Though the band is already well on their way, recording music and playing shows, Anna, and to a lesser extent, Aiko, who had never played drum kit, are both figuring out new instruments as they go, largely under Ben’s guidance.
“I hope that comes out in the songs,” Aiko says. And it does: While it isn’t clear that two band members are playing two entirely new instruments, there is a playfulness in the music and in the recordings that captures the excitement and creative energy of a young venture.
The de-emphasis on virtuosity has shifted focus elsewhere.
“Everybody asks what kind of music we play and we just started saying, ‘art-rock.’ By that we mean there’s a concept behind it. It’s more than just, ‘we play music.’ Being in Brooklyn, you see so many bands who can play really well but who don’t have any character. Character, to me, is more important. I want to see them and be like, ‘I can get behind who these characters are.’ Whether that’s the real person or not, just seeing them on stage, that’s the most fun.”
Both of Bodega Bay’s newly released singles “Tarkovski” and “Cultural Consumer” contain “Cut Your Hair”-esque critiques of commodification in rock culture. But even beyond the songs themselves, Bodega Bay has something to say.
They make zines to distribute at every one of their shows, filled with original writing, photos, doodles, Gchats, QR codes, you name it. The goal, Aiko says, is just to “keep creating, keep that ball rolling. It’s another way to be heard. All four of us are very opinionated people.”
At one of their shows, Aiko performed with “corporation contamination” scrawled all over her arms—a reaction to recent news about water contamination in Japan.
“Knowing that we had a show coming up and that people were going to see us, I wanted to use that opportunity to talk about some things. That’s what’s great about being in a band, it’s this direct interaction with real people.”
That platform, Aiko says forcefully, is not to be wasted.
“You’re doing a show and you’re asking people to listen. Why would you want them to listen to your woes? I hate the idea of navel-gazing. The whole idea of feeling sorry for yourself as a twenty-something year old is really disgusting to me. So many songs have no spine. That’s one thing that we’re really pushing for; if we’re doing something, we’re going to commit to it.”
By Arielle Angel for Tom Tom Magazine