This is the story of a band that shouldn’t have lasted beyond its first concert. Created for a tribute concert in honour of Japanese surf rock guitarist Takeshi Terauchi during the psychedelic festival Distorsion in 2018, TEKE::TEKE rapidly went from ephemeral trip to one of the most unique bands on the Montréal music scene… and they are on the verge of releasing their first album.
The originator of the project is Serge Nakauchi Pelletier, an alumnus of Pawa Up First and a prolific screen composer, who had no idea that he’d stumbled upon his new band. “No kidding, I never thought this would go anywhere beyond that one show, but we felt such chemistry and the audience reacted so positively that we decided to carry on and see where it would take us,” he says. Rapidly, TEKE::TEKE – guitarist Hidetaka Yoneyama, bassist Mishka Stein, drummer Ian Lettre, trombonist Étienne Lebel, and flautist Yuki Isami – got in gear and added the incandescent singer Maya Kuroki, who comes from the worlds of theatre and performance art.
The band worked on its own compositions, but still integrates Takeshi Terauchi songs to its repertoire. Figurehead of the Eleki movement (“electric,” in Japanese), a local variant of surf rock strongly influenced by the mythical Ventures, Terauchi remains an influence. But the band breaks down genres, mixing psychedelic jams, punk riffs, and traditional Japanese melodies, while drawing from other pop experimentalists, like Brazil’s Os Mutantes.
Raised in a home where Beatles records alternated with those of popular singer Miyuki Nakajima (whose vinyls he still owns), Nakauchi Pelletier was the man to pilot this amazing musical hybrid. “Japanese music has always been a part of my life,” he explains. “I truly am the result of a mix of cultures, and I’ve never felt entirely Japanese or entirely Québécois. When I was growing up, it was an internal struggle to find my identity, but I now understand it’s what makes me unique.”
His multi-ethnic band is the reflection of this mix of cultures. “What’s really great are the different approaches everyone brings to the table: Étienne is crazy about Bulgarian music, Mishka composes by playing chords on his bass as if it was a guitar, and Yuki is classically trained… The mere fact of playing together opens new musical dimensions for all of us.”
During the summer of 2019, the band convened at Machines With Magnets studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to record what would become, two years later, their debut album (slated for release next summer). “We’re very prepared when we go into a studio and we work really fast, sometimes in a single take,” says Nakauchi Pelletier. “But we give ourselves space to experiment. This band has completely transformed the way I compose: I was quite rigid before, but now I let everyone in and add their own touch. Sometimes, we blow up the structure on purpose, in order to re-build it together, and it becomes something I could never have imagined. In fact, it’s the album’s central theme: positive destruction.”
The pandemic has considerably slowed down their plans, but the members of TEKE::TEKE have had time to approach different labels, which explains why they’ve just released a song for the Singles Club of Seattle’s mythical Sub Pop label – although the album, which will be released in a few months, will be on the Kill Rock Stars imprint.
“Our friends from Vancouver’s math-rock combo Mi’ens told them about us and introduced us and we really hit it off,” says Nakauchi Pelletier. “It’s a small, human-scale label, and I feel a personal attachment to them because they launched the career of one of my favourite bands, Unwound. And they’ve also been the home of Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney. That’s quite something! I admit that when I saw their logo’s little star on our album cover, I got goosebumps.”