Digital band Anamanaguchi’s new release highlights their evolution

The band mixes digital electronic sounds with traditional instrumentation for dynamic results

Anamanaguchi

By Colby Tortorici. Photos by Leia Jospe.

When it came to creating Anamanaguchi’s third studio album, [USA], things were set to be very different.

The chip-tune style that the band had been perfecting for years was about to shift in many new and different directions. Sitting down with Peter, Ary, James, and Luke to discuss the album and its supporting tour, I found that this shift was one that was very intentional.

Echo: For people that might not know Anamanaguchi, how would you describe your band and sound in five words?

Ary: Well that seemed easy until five words.

Peter: Fun, computer, high-energy, that counts as one word.

Luke: Fun, emotional, electronic punk music?

Peter: I like fun, emotional, high-energy computer band.

Now do you guys want to give a little more than five words?

Peter: (laughs) Those five words are pretty good. 

Listening to your latest album, I heard a lot more diversity than I’d heard from past albums. There were more mellow songs, along with more vocal tracks. Where did the inspiration to change things up come from?

Peter: I think we wanted to work with singers since mid-2013 or so. It’s something that we always thought about doing. We’d always had a vocal line done by a square wave, or a digital synth. In 2014 we put out a song called pop it with our friend Michelle Meesh, and in 2016 we did a track with Hatsune Miku, the vocaloid phenomenon (A Japanese holographic pop singer). We also found that we had a lot more to say, and more experiences in our lives.

Ary: That applies to both sides. Playing with vocals and also playing with different energy levels and dynamics.

Peter: We’d sort of envied the … fun, that you could have with words in music. In a lot of ways this album is about learning to read, learning to speak, in the formative years. Which is why there are so many letters throughout the album like U S A, C R T or B S X. It’s about finding meaning in these potentially meaningless things. The alphabet contains syllables that don’t mean anything, but can be formed into words that do mean something that moves people. 

Ary: We never aggressively set out to be an instrumental band, we never thought how sick it would be to not have vocals. It was just what felt comfortable and natural. After exploring all those elements, we thought about what else there was to work with?

What type of vision are you looking to bring to the stage with this album?

Peter: We’ve been doing expo shows in cities where we can afford a bigger production, places like Austin and Chicago. That was the opportunity that we had to have a bit more of a dramatic thing, where we’d play the album from start to finish, and perform it live as it was designed as an album to be. We bring people through this experience that begins with confused tension of a robotic voice chanting the letters U-S-A.

Ary: Visually we’re trying to mirror the, I don’t like this word but, journey that it takes you through. There are various reflective moments that takes you through different feelings.

So there’s more of a story you guys are telling with this album?

Peter: Totally.

Ary: It’s more dynamic. It’s not necessarily a concrete narrative but it follows arcs. Compared to shows that we’ve played in the past where all the lights are on, strobing as fast as possible, we’re playing as many notes as we can at the highest volume all the time. This is different.

Peter: It’s very lyrically dynamic with the sort of environmental dread of Lorem Ipsum (Arctic Anthem) next to the sugary encouraging euphoria of a track like “B S X.” 

Ary: One way that shapes production is that we’ve been playing with that is using text and visuals in the same way that we’ve been using lyrics.

Peter: You can really talk to the audience. Even just reading words, they can be such a window to the soul of the audience. 

In the past you guys have talked about this album being a bit more introspective than influenced by the culture around you, how do you think that affected the process of making the album?

Peter: Instead of it being like, “those notes are cool, that would be fun,” instead it was very much … like the song “The C R T Woods” — that was a song that I started when I was 15. That song is that old. I’m 31 now, it’s over half my life ago. In order to finish the song, I personally went back to what I remembered that time to be like. I started drawing upon asking why I started this in the first place. What was I trying to do? I remembered personal experiences such as the power going out when I was eight or nine, and just thinking it was crazy. What do I do now? All the things I depend on for comfort are gone. I look on those times fondly, as I came up with solutions like candles and batteries and flashlights, my brother has stories. That song is drawing upon those memories and experiences as opposed to, “what if I mashed this up with this?”

Ary: When we were younger lads it was really fun to paint pictures of fantasy worlds and be inspired by these things that don’t actually exist. It was escapism. This time that wasn’t occupying my space nearly as much as real life, introspective experiences were, positive and negative.

What’s next for Anamanaguchi? Do you plan on exploring new sounds, are you liking what you’re doing now?

Peter: I like it so far. It’s been really fun touring this album. Even though the record came out last month, we’ve been stretching out the touring for it so we can live lives and play shows. When Endless Fantasy came out, the next day we played Connecticut, and the next day we played our hometown in New York. Now we aren’t playing New York until April, even though the album came out in October. We’re doing it slowly, and I think the next move is letting [USA] play out, and doing as much as we can for it. There are still videos we want to make, and ways we want to represent the album, which we’re working on. 
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Everything that Anamanaguchi set out to do with the live show, they achieved. 

In the break between the openers and the headliners, the audience was being interacted with through a constant text stream. Some of it was telling us to make some noise for the openers, while the rest was making sure that we drank enough water, seeing if we had any homework due tomorrow. It was a simple way to keep the audience engaged while getting everyone hyped for the show. Once Anamanaguchi stepped onto the stage, the audience sprung to life in a way that was in no way expecting.

Whether or not a song had lyrics, fans were singing along to everything. Whether they were screaming melodies or actual vocals, they were part of the show. Songs like “Miku” and “Pop It” sent the audience through the roof, and started a small but powerful mosh pit that lasted through the entire show. I almost got sucked into it numerous times, but this angry journalist who wanted to stop being shoved had a show to review. 

The eclectic visuals and text elements featured in the show paired very well with the more rock tone that the live performance featured. While the chiptune melodies that their studio work is comprised of are definitely still there, the live instrumentation that accompanied them really form a different sound altogether.

Every few songs, Peter made a point to chat back and forth with the audience. He definitely has a knack for things like this, as he was very witty on his feet, and had the entire crows laughing multiple times. The audience was incredibly enthusiastic through the entire show. Not once did the energy ever drop. Whether the band was playing their own music or covering rock songs with a chiptune twist, the fans stayed engaged. It was also the first show that I’ve ever been to where at least one person didn’t leave before the encore. The audience seemed like a community at times. As I was sitting alone, a few people who I had never met came up and talked to me and invited me into their friend group. The audience kept the energy through the entire show, and truly are the heart of the show.

No matter that the stage was lit up with visuals, flashing with text and strobe lights, or darkened with no lights at all, the energy that Anamanaguchi displayed was fantastic.

They kept the entire crowd on their feet, and never let up on the rhythm. Their songs sounded notably different on the stage, featuring a much more rock-heavy style that complimented the live setting beautifully. Anamanaguchi is at the forefront of chiptune music, continually reinventing the genre in new and interesting ways, and the only place that they can go from here is up.