Scott & Rivers, two world-renowned rock stars who also make Japanese-style pop music, have released their second album, “Nimaime,” a tour de force that in a way sounds more Japanese than the work of Japanese artists, making one ponder what J-pop actually is.
The two, Scott Murphy and Rivers Cuomo, belong to different US rock bands. Rivers is with weezer, while Scott is a member of ALLiSTER and MONOEYES.
They are nicknamed Sukoriba. Scott is currently based in Japan and is fluent in the language, while Rivers is studying it.
“Doing interviews is the most useful thing [for language study]. I have to speak,” said Rivers, who spoke mostly in Japanese during this interview.
He also jotted down words and phrases that caught his interest, such as “kojinteki” (personal) and “nakimushi poppu” (crybaby pop).
This new album comes four years after their debut effort. Why did they not leave the project as a one-time thing?
“I thought of doing it again because I love the Japanese language and Japanese culture,” Rivers said.
Their songwriting process goes as follows: First, Rivers writes the lyrics in English, then Scott translates the words into Japanese so they fit the music.
“Bokura no Mirai” (Our future), one of the tracks on the album, has a line that goes, “Kimi o mita hi ga subete o kaeta. Mo hitori ja naiyo to itta” (The day I saw you changed everything. I said you’re not alone anymore.)
Most of their songs portray romantic love and youthful adventures cheerfully with a pop sound, a style right in the centre of Japanese pop music.
But this was not intentional, Scott said.
“When you have pop sounds and you sing in Japanese, you can’t help but become J-pop,” he added.
Asked what the secret to their being so Japanese-like is, Scott replied with a laugh, “I don’t know.”
Another track, “California Sunshine,” has a cosy feeling of going fast. The song’s English version was “imported” into a weezer album, although that version had part of the chord progression changed at the request of the band’s producer, while the Scott & Rivers version is given a wistful atmosphere by using only a few notes.
“I prefer the Sukoriba version,” Rivers said.
Of all the various cultures and languages in the world, why did they choose Japan?
“I was probably a wandering samurai in my previous life,” Rivers joked, adding, “I’ve been interested in Japan ever since I was born. When I was a little kid, the kindergarten I went to was like a Japanese kindergarten. I was influenced by old Japanese culture there. Okyo [Buddhist chanting], tatami mats, Buddha statues, and so on.”
Since the 1990s, weezer, whose music was affectionately dubbed “nakimushi rock” in Japan, has captivated Japanese fans with the band’s characteristically sobbing melodies.
The new Scott & Rivers album gives listeners a similar sensation. When asked whether it comes from his childhood experiences, Rivers said, “Yes.”
During a concert in Tokyo in April, Scott said they were thinking of releasing a third album in another four years.
“I want to sing at the Kohaku,” Rivers said, referring to NHK’s “Red and White Year-end Song Festival.”
“I also hope to do a long tour to see cities I haven’t visited yet. I hope to perform at Tokyo Dome, too.”