The Polysics are one of my favorite Japanese imports. As four small musicians with huge stage presence, they seem both intimidating and adorable — especially when clad in their trademark matching orange jumpsuits and bar-sunglasses. Their music matches this image: fast beats and raucous guitar lines mesh with bouncy synth, pierced by a wild yelp spilling out Japanese, English, and nonsense words. This voice is usually that of Hiroyuki Hayashi.
Hayashi, often referred to as Hiro, founded the band in 1997 when he was just a teenager. Inspired mainly by “the spirit of Devo” and other new wave American bands, the Polysics started off as a poppy art-punk group, gradually easing into their current blend of frenetic punk and rigid “computer music.” The keyboardist, Kayo, is the main source of that digital input. Naturally, in their live shows, while the other band members flail and jump around, she maintains a stiff, almost robotic performance. This fusion is likely what continues to draw new fans to the Polysics.
Over the years, the Polysics have maintained a steady presence, bolstering their original sound with energetic live performances and weird music videos. They haven’t stopped to rest for a moment; in fact, they’re still putting out stuff today. They just released “Absolute Polysics,” an album full of new material, as well as a new best-of collection, “Bestoisu!” (which is a great introduction for the uninitiated, by the way).
But sadly, the Polysics’ current line-up — the classic quartet of Hiro, Kayo, Fumi on bass and Yano on drums — will be broken up after one last international tour. Starting this spring, Kayo will no longer grace the Polysics stage.
The Polysics kicked off their tour in California this weekend, equally excited to put on kick-ass shows at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco and the Roxy Theatre in LA as they were to chow down on some animal-style InnNou InnNou. They granted me a small phone interview (with the help of a translator) to talk about Kayo’s departure, their current sound, and Strong Machine 2.
What’s the main impetus for this tour?
POLYSICS: As you know, Kayo is leaving. We want to show American audiences the Polysics as a quartet before we continue on as a trio. After Kayo, there will still be Polysics. It won’t be the same, but we will keep on playing.
What would you say are your major influences?
Hiro: Definitely new wave, electro-pop…
Fumi: I like the 60s, UK British invasion stuff.
Yano: I also like new wave stuff.
Kayo: I actually mostly listen to classical music. I play one kind of music, then I go home and listen to my classical music.
How would you describe your live shows?
POLYSICS: Happy and crazy! Intense and fun! High energy!
Can you tell me about the Polysics outfits? Do you wear them all the time, or do you switch it up?
Kayo: Well, we wear our jumpsuits at every show.
Hiro: We like wearing them. I think they suit us.
Fumi: We really don’t have any other ideas.
What is your process for making music?
Hiro: For a long time, I would come up with demo tracks and bring them in. Then everyone would sit and listen, and put together the songs based on those demos. With this latest album [“Absolute Polysics”], there was minimal preparation. I brought in just a small part of the track, and then we all jammed to it in the studio. It was definitely more collaborative this time around; I felt like there was a chemical reaction between the four of us.
What is Kayo going to do after she leaves the Polysics?
Kayo: I don’t have any clear idea of what I’m going to, but I would like to get into other things. I would just like to do other things. I’ve been with the Polysics for 12 years, playing keyboard for 12 years. At this point, I’d like to stop being a musician for a little while and start being a person again.
I know that at least a couple of your videos feature Strong Machine 2, the little breakdancing girl. How did you find her? What was the idea behind putting her in your videos? She’s fascinating.
POLYSICS: The director for the video discovered her online, and he really wanted to work with her. He brought her in, and we were all amazed — her dance was just so much better than anything we’d ever seen before. It was…very peculiar. She’s a little bit older now than she was in our videos, but she’s probably still in elementary school. How bizarre, this little girl dancing so proficiently.
Who do you guys like/admire right now in the music scene, internationally or American?
Hiro: I’m really into Yolz in the Sky. They’re from Japan; they sound a lot like PIL [Public Image Ltd], you know, like dark disco.
Fumi: Right now, I like this band called Jaguar Love. They’re the guys from The Blood Brothers, and they’re doing totally different things with this band. More dance-y, electronic, new wave. They toured with us two years ago, and I’m still listening to them.
Kayo: I actually don’t listen to much current stuff.
Yano: None of us really listen to much current stuff.