In terms of DYI punk ethics few groups have taken it to the lengths that Half Japanese have. British bands of the late ’70’s declared that once three barred chords could be mastered you were fully ready to start your own band. After all most of the Ramones songs were played with power chords over a sped up 50’s bubblegum rhythm. But Half Japanese took this farther still, creating their own rules for how the instruments could be played. They created rock n roll bursting with enthusiasm and since they achieved that, it seemed pointless to bother too much.
The amateurism of some of the recordings may be a little overbearing to some. To others, it was perpetually the sound of someone in love with making sound and not disguising it. So much so that they never bothered learning the basics. Kurt Cobain was famously a fan of the band. He cited them as one of his favorite groups and Nirvana even asked Half Japanese to open for them on the In Utero tour.As with other bands that Cobain listed among his favorites, this would serve the band as a calling card for the rest of their career.
Below is an article written by guitarist David Fair explaining his method of playing.It works as a maninfesto for instant self reliance on the instrument. There are no mentions about scales, chords, using slides, legattos or any of that. If it does sound naive it’s because it is. But then again Half Japanese managed to record albums loved by many for 30 years, all the while sticking to their original ideas and minimalism.
How to play Guitar
by David Fair
I taught myself to play guitar. It’s incredibly easy when you understand the science of it. The skinny strings play the high sounds, and the fat strings play the low sounds. If you put your finger on the string father out by the tuning end it makes a lower sound. If you want to play fast move your hand fast and if you want to play slower move your hand slower. That’s all there is to it. You can learn the names of notes and how to make chords that other people use, but that’s pretty limiting. Even if you took a few years and learned all the chords you’d still have a limited number of options. If you ignore the chords your options are infinite and you can master guitar playing in one day.
Traditionally, guitars have a fat string on the top and they get skinnier and skinnier as they go down. But he thing to remember is it’s your guitar and you can put whatever you want on it. I like to put six different sized strings on it because that gives the most variety, but my brother used to put all of the same thickness on so he wouldn’t have so much to worry about. What ever string he hit had to be the right one because they were all the same.
Tuning the guitar is kind of a ridiculous notion. If you have to wind the tuning pegs to just a certain place, that implies that every other place would be wrong. But that absurd. How could it be wrong? It’s your guitar and you’re the one playing it. It’s completely up to you to decide hoe it should sound. In fact I don’t tune by the sound at all. I wind the strings until they’re all about the same tightness. I highly recommend electric guitars for a couple of reasons. First of all they don’t depend on body resonating for the sound so it doesn’t matter if you paint them. As also, if you put all the knobs on your amplifier on 10 you can get a much higher reaction to effort ratio with an electric guitar than you can with an acoustic. Just a tiny tap on the strings can rattle your windows, and when you slam the strings, with your amp on 10, you can strip the paint off the walls.
The first guitar I bought was a Silvertone. Later I bought a Fender Telecaster, but it really doesn’t matter what kind you buy as long as the tuning pegs are on the end of the neck where they belong. A few years back someone came out with a guitar that tunes at the other end. I’ve never tried one. I guess they sound alright but they look ridiculous and I imagine you’d feel pretty foolish holding one. That would affect your playing. The idea isn’t to feel foolish. The idea is to put a pick in one hand and a guitar in the other and with a tiny movement rule the world.
Some used the terms post-punk, experimental or indie as a ways to put Half Japanese in a style group. Like early Ramones most of their songs are about teenage dreams of the sun, the beach and the girls sunbathing. Like the Ramones most of the songs are played fast, always with the enthusiasm of a newly formed band playing their parents old garage.
The song “Put some sugar on it” has become one of the bands more well known, not least because of the inclusion in the movie “Kurt Cobain:About a son” that featured some of Cobain’s favorite music (Young Marble Giants and the Melvins among others). It’s loud and hopeful with the nasal twang of lines like: “Come over here where the light’s better/Come over here to my side”.