Half Japanese at the SXSW Festival, March 2008
|Origin||Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|Genres||Punk rock, indie rock, experimental rock, lo-fi|
|Labels||50 Skidillion Watts, Safe House, Alternative Tentacles|
|Jad Fair, the Velvet Underground, Moe Tucker, John Zorn, Mark Kramer, the Tinklers, Daniel Johnston, Sonic Youth, Nirvana|
Half Japanese is an art punk band formed by brothers Jad and David Fair around 1975, sometime after the family's relocation to Uniontown, Maryland. Their original instrumentation included a small drum set, which they took turns playing; vocals; and an out-of-tune, distorted guitar. Both Fair brothers sang, although over time Jad moved into the frontman role. The band members are John Sluggett - guitar, Gilles-Vincent Rieder - drums, Jason Willett - bass, Mick Hobbs - guitar, and Jad Fair - vocals and guitar.
Jad is well known for playing an untuned electric guitar. After 30 years, he still does not play in any traditional manner; in the documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King he states that "you do need cords to plug the guitar in but that's pretty much it."
Their lyrics often deal with monsters and the supernatural (especially as influenced by "creature feature" and scifi movies), in addition to more conventional themes, such as young love. They have stated that all their songs are either "love songs or monster songs."
The band released their first single Calling All Girls in August 1977, followed by a triple album 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts that gave them a near-instant cult status. It is possible they were the first band to begin with a triple album.
The band played and recorded as a duo until the early 1980s when they began incorporating additional members into the group: Mark Jickling (guitar and vocals) and brothers Ricky and John Dreyfuss (drums and saxophone). Since that time, dozens of musicians have come and gone under the Half Japanese banner, including Howard Wuelfing, Don Fleming, Jay Spiegel that are both from the band Velvet Monkeys, Shockabilly bass player and Shimmy Disc impresario Mark Kramer and many, many others. Jad is the only member who has been with Half Japanese from the beginning. David Fair eventually left the band in the early 1980s to focus on his family. He has continued to make guest appearances with the band from time to time.
The next line-up of Half Japanese came together in the late 1980s, proving to be a long-lasting and stable unit recording several albums and touring frequently throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan. This incarnation featured guitarist/multi-instrumentalist John Sluggett (also a longtime member of Moe Tucker's band), multi-instrumentalist Jason Willett, and drummer Gilles Reider. Since then, the group has worked with Moe Tucker from The Velvet Underground, who produced and performed on Fire In the Sky (1992) as well as The Band That Would Be King, and with Fred Frith, and John Zorn, among others.
Fans and supporters of Half Japanese include Penn Jillette, who helped the band release some of their albums on his label, 50 Skidillion Watts, and Kurt Cobain, who had them open some dates of Nirvana's 1993 In Utero tour. Cobain was wearing a Half Japanese T-shirt when he died.
The band's history and influence are chronicled in the 1993 documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King by Jeff Feuerzeig. The band was chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in March 2012 in Minehead.
The album Hot from 1995 was one of their noisiest grunge albums with heavily distorted vocals and guitars. In 1997, the band released Heaven Sent. The title track, over sixty minutes long, was a live recording for a radio broadcast on Radio 5 VPRO's De Avonden.
In 2011, the band toured through Europe in the formation Jad Fair, John Sluggett, Jason Willett & Gilles-Vincent Reider. Once a year David Fair is in charge of the ShakeMore Music Festival in Westminster, Maryland. Each year the start up formation with the Fair brothers, the Dreyfuss brothers, John Moremen and Mark Jickling perform at ShakeMore. Early drummer Rick Dreyfuss died on March 14, 2013, and was replaced by Skizz Cyzyk and Chris "Batworth" Ciattei from the band, Go Pills.
In October 2013, long time band members, John Sluggett, Gilles-Vincent Rieder, Mick Hobbs, Jason Willett, and Jad Fair, toured with Neutral Milk Hotel. In 2014 a new album, Overjoyed, was released on Joyful Noise Recordings.