Starbenders’ Aaron Lecesne and Kriss Tokaji Reflect on a Whirlwind Tour of Japan
Life moves quickly for Starbenders. The last time I spoke with the band, they were somewhat secretive about their future plans, even though they already had several touring dates lined up supporting Alice in Chains. As I learned soon afterward, one of the reasons they played mum was to not ruin the surprise that was to come with the announcement of a full blown overseas tour in Japan! Treading where few local bands have gone before - Shinjuku, Setagaya, Shibuya, and more - Starbenders began their trailblazing journey on 10/24.
After facing the dangers of jet lag, relying on sponsors for backline equipment, and visiting a virtual shrine to the golden days of record stores (as well as an actual shrine), bassist Aaron Lecesne and guitarist Kriss Tokaji were gracious enough to sit down with me again to answer some questions and tell some road stories about their adventures far away.
For those who don’t know, describe your band’s sound.
AARON: I usually just say we sound like we look.
For those who do know, describe your band’s sound.
KRISS: For those who do know, we sound like us.
If Starbenders were an animal, what animal would they be?
AARON: Probably some weird chimaera, a crossbreed of our astrological signs: part fish, part crab, part lion (thanks for adding something cool here, Kriss - he’s a Leo), and the DNA of some guy passing by who happened to be carrying a jug of water. Aquarileopiscancer, a species yet to be discovered. You heard it here first.
KRISS: Well...yeah. That’s the one.
Had anyone in the band ever been to Japan before, personally or professionally?
AARON: None of us had. It was a first for all of us.
What was your biggest “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment?
KRISS: We were lucky enough to visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa before our flight back to Atlanta. It was absolutely surreal.
What are your personal tips for dealing with jet lag?
AARON: First and foremost, don’t underestimate it. I thought not sleeping on the flight, arriving in Japan at 5pm local time, and then heading to bed around 10pm would adjust my schedule. That turned out to be a spectacular misjudgment on my end. I have a friend who’s a flight attendant, and she cautioned me that it would take several days for me to adjust. I kind of scoffed and said, “Whatever, I’ve got this. It’s fine.” It was not fine. Not even close. Out of everyone, I got hit the hardest and it took me the longest to recover.
As far as other tips, use melatonin to stay asleep. Waking up at 2am and then having a full day ahead of you that won’t end until midnight is no fun. Melatonin will at least make sure you sleep an extra four hours when you need it.
KRISS: Eat healthy and hydrate. Don’t lose your mind.
One of the biggest challenges for traveling bands is getting your equipment to the destination safely. How did y’all handle that for this jaunt?
AARON: By asking the flight attendants nicely. Most large planes have coat closets and they’ll usually allow you to put your instruments there if they’ve got space. There are no guarantees here, though. Most of the time, expect that you’ll need to gate-check your instrument, and most will handle it just fine if they’re in a hardshell case. For guitars and basses, the biggest thing to remember is to loosen the strings so there isn’t any tension on the neck. Mine has been flown dozens of times over the past year, and it’s no worse for the wear. Personally I think no airport will treat my P-bass as roughly as I do onstage, so I don’t worry about it too much. For the bigger gear, we work with some great companies who make sure we have backline when we travel, and they took care of us in Japan. It’s pretty hard to transport amps and drums if you have to fly to do a show, so in those cases we lean on our sponsors to provide equipment.
KRISS: The number one thing I believe in is investing in solid guitar and road cases. If you’ve got those, there’s not much else you can do. Having roadworthy gear is imperative as well. The road is unforgiving with equipment, and all you can do is the best you can.
What was the biggest difference between the Japanese crowds and American ones?
AARON: Japanese crowds genuinely appreciate all kinds of music without splitting off into factions, so to speak. We played so many shows with extremely diverse bills, and the venues stayed packed the entire time. Nobody went outside to go smoke. No one was looking at their phones. Nobody showed up late or left early. There’s this tangible love for music in Japan that doesn’t seem to carry the cynicism we sometimes have in America.
I’ve heard from lots of other musicians that Europe and Japan have a bigger demand for rock and roll than in America. Did you feel that too?
KRISS: Rock n’ roll seems to be profoundly important to people in Japan. The passion we saw was pure. It also seems that rock n’ roll is more heavily advertised in Japan as well, and there’s generally a bigger demand for music in the physical form over there. We visited Tower Records Shibuya in Tokyo, and what a sight that was! A nine-story building dedicated to music retail alone. That’s unheard of here in The States. People still care deeply about the experience of music in Japan, whether it’s going to a show or buying a record.
Did you have any expectations about Japan or touring internationally that either got confirmed or completely flipped around?
KRISS: I don’t think any of us knew what to expect! We figured we would learn as we went along. We were just taking it all in, and constantly observing and embracing a culture we were completely new to.
Were there any awkward moments of self-reflection related to American culture that resulted from this?
AARON: In terms of population density Tokyo rivals New York, but it’s the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. A lot of people smoke, but I can count on one hand the number of cigarette butts I saw on the ground the entire time I was there. Politeness, manners, and a general attitude of “don’t be a dick” are big social expectations there.
KRISS: One thing that stuck out to me was the dining experience. Traditional Japanese cuisine is incredible. Virtually every meal we had was intended for sharing with a gathering of friends and family. Sharing a meal with good company, as well as traditional table etiquette, are customary in Japanese culture. I feel like those things are not as regularly important in American culture.
What are some mistakes y’all made about this particular tour that you’re willing to share with us, and how would you do things differently next time?
KRISS: The only thing we would like to do differently next time is stay longer. Our time over there went by much too fast.
AARON: I’ve already shared my jet lag miscalculation, and that’s probably my biggest one. I learned my lesson.
I always end with this, but what are some of the next moves for Starbenders? What can we expect for 2019?
AARON: After we play New York next week, we’re going to lay low and write for four or five weeks. We’ve been [on tour] so often that the few times we were home we only had time to write and record a couple songs. We’ve got a new release coming next year, and we’re going to finish it up in December.
KRISS: Stay tuned!
Check out our review of the song at this link.
Photo credit: Vegas Giovanni.