Have you heard of a band called American Dream Express? The band has been active in Tokyo since the release of their album, Pure Love, on October 27th of last year. And we’re still discovering their full potential: In addition to holding an event in Shimokitazawa in November, one of the band’s music videos unexpectedly featured Japanese actress Masami Nagasawa.
How do they want their second album, Pure Love, to sound? We caught up with the band, speaking mainly to its two leaders, Tomas and Kaito Sakuma. Amid the coronavirus and at a time when people are feeling disheartened, they wondered: “Why is everyone making things so complicated?” They spoke to us about the story behind the release of the album—which they made with the intention of “wanting to make everyone happy”—and what they hope to do next.
――What’s the story behind starting the band, Tomas?
Tomas: I’d never made music before, but I’d been friends with Kaito for about ten years. I used to go to his band’s shows a lot back then. I also had a part-time job at pebble in Shimokitazawa at the time. When your friend works at a bar, everyone visits them there, right? That’s how it was with Kaito—he used to come for drinks three or four times a week, and it was like a party every day. (laughs) But it came to the point where Kaito said, “We should do more than just drink.” He motivated us to start a band. I think that was about four years ago?
Tomas: I’d never been in a band before, so we started with covers. In fact, one of the covers we did was Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.” And eventually, we came up with a song. And then it was like, “Oh, we’re going to play a show.” We took it one step at a time, and that’s how we got to where we are now, having made two albums. That’s about it. (laughs)
At first, it was just the two of us. Gradually, more people joined. We had a member who moved to Taiwan, and a guitarist, Ichiwa, who passed away. We started working on our second album with the current six members. It was around the time that the coronavirus broke out, and we couldn’t perform live. We released the first single in March of 2021, and from there, we released singles nearly every month. That’s how we ended up releasing the second album.
――You’d already made the first album and were familiar with that process. Did that make the second album easier to create?
Kaito: We started working on the second album right after we had the chance to perform at Fuji Rock. So we started recording around that time. But our process changed quite a bit, because live music venues had been devastated by the coronavirus and we couldn’t really play live.
――I see. So for better or for worse, you couldn’t perform live. But did that allow you to fully focus on making the album?
Kaito: Well, we changed our outlook and dedicated ourselves to production. For a rock band, there are a lot more costs to recording than just the money. There are a lot of live instruments, it takes time, and it’s hard to even get all the members together. But since we couldn’t perform live, we tried to keep putting out more and more singles. That’s how we made and released our second album.
――How would you describe American Dream’s creation process?
Tomas: Basically, Kaito writes the songs, and then we listen to them. That’s basically it, but there’s just one song that started with me playing acoustic guitar. It’s a song called “Planetrip.”
――What’s the story behind that song?
Tomas: I take a trip to Niijima every summer, and I spent a month there with Saku-chan and Kaya of Gateballers. On that trip, Ichiwa, a member of the band who passed away just before the album release, looked up at the night sky and said, “The universe is warm.” (laughs) At the time, I thought, “This is it,” and wrote the lyrics to “Planetrip.”
――The song “Good For Nothing” off this album felt psychedelic to me. I think American Dream Express has a cheerful folk/bright psychedelic vibe that you don’t see in Japan much these days.
Tomas: That song was fun to make. We recorded it after listening to CAN. (laughs)
Kaito: Basically, our intent was to release a single every month rather than make an album. We thought about every song as we were making it. The music we were listening to was different at the time of each song, so that’s why the album is like that.
Tomas: There were times when we had a set release date, but the song wasn’t done at all. (laughs) So it was a lot like a live performance.
――I have the impression that your musical backgrounds are quite diverse as well—is that true?
Tomas:I like ‘90s music, so at first, that was Nirvana, Pavement, and The Flaming Lips. That was the kind of music I listened to.
――Maybe you like that loose sound and the wavy feel of a psychedelic band.
Tomas: I tend to find something cool about not trying too hard. That’s at the heart of who I am. A recent example would be King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. I don’t know how they feel, but personally, I think people who don’t take the world too seriously are cool.
Kaito: I may have mentioned this when TOKION interviewed me individually, but my solo work is more echoey. But with American Dream Express, I want to make happy psychedelic rock.
――What’s the story behind that?
Kaito: I think it’s just who Tomas is. And right before we started American Dream Express, I went to LA for work. There, I saw a psychedelic band from LA called Frankie and the Witch Fingers. They were so cool, down to the space they were playing in. People in the psychedelic scene there have fun dancing to psychedelic music. But I think it’s different from just playing rock music at a club. So, they have that kind of scene there, and it felt comfortable for me. That made me want to create a space for everyone to drink and have fun to happy psychedelic rock.
Tomas: People think of psychedelic as quite heavy and dark. But I felt like there was more to it than that.
Kaito: Exactly. Like, why not have more fun with it?
――Are the other members on board with that?
Natsuki: Yeah. That’s the vibe we’ve had all along.
Ren: I think if we made the old-fashioned 1960s rock I grew up listening to, but in the 1980s and ‘90s, this would be it. American Dream Express makes something similar to that vibe. That’s been my impression of American Dream Express since seeing them from an objective point of view [before I joined as a guitarist]. I was never in a band where I could just play guitar, but here, I can just play guitar. So I’m like, “Yes!”
American Dream Express makes happy music for an era where live performances have become complicated
Tomas: People are listening to music—not exactly psychedelic, but more along the lines of My Bloody Valentine—by themselves on their earphones. You can see that in the top charts and playlists during the pandemic. Old indie rock is what sounds good. So there are kids who go to performances to relive that experience. Everyone gets nervous at a live show, and this time, I invited a lot of friends, including friends who had never been to a live show. But then they said that they were nervous about going to their first show. But I wanted them to just think of it as a regular party. (laughs)
――What sort of things does the band want to do in the future? The band is named American Dream, so perhaps expanding into America?
Tomas: We didn’t give the band name that much thought. (laughs)
Kaito: But if I had to say something, I think like with Masami Nagasawa recently, we’re a band that lets people dream. So I think we should do things that let people dream.
Tomas: That kind of work is fun. It’s fun for us, and I think other people will enjoy it, too. Like, “Isn’t that band doing interesting stuff?”
Kaito: We do something big once a year that makes people think, “They’re at it again.” Excitement is American Dream Express’s number one gift. I hope that we can keep up that fun timing.
――Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to mention?
Kaito: Please invite us to play at festivals. (laughs) We’ll always be on standby.
Tomas: We’ll show you a fun time! Thanks!