Local Current Blog

Birthday Suits turn 10, reflect on coming of age in the Twin Cities

Photo by Andrea Swensson/MPR

When explosive punk duo Birthday Suits played the Turf Club earlier this month, they had a lot of milestones to mark. Not only was it time to release their long-awaited new full-length, Spin the Bottle: Adult Party, but the band’s lead singer and guitarist, Hideo Takahashi, was returning from a year-and-a-half sojourn to Japan just in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of playing with drummer Matthew Kazama as Birthday Suits.

As the duo prepare for a busy summer—including a gig at the 7th St. Entry this Saturday night, May 16, with another longtime local punk duo, Gay Witch Abortion, plus Whatever Forever—I sat down with them to discuss their history together and apart, and what’s next for their beloved band.

Andrea Swensson: Take me back pre-Birthday Suits, and pre-living in the Twin Cities. I’m really interested to know what the music scenes were like in the cities where you grew up; what were your first introductions to music? 

Hideo Takahashi: I guess I will start. I grew up in Tokyo and I was there until 17 so I didn’t know anything about music scene in Tokyo, only things like watching J-pop on the TV. At that time I didn’t know anything underground or indie. Then I moved here and went to high school, then I discover all the punk rock, hanging out with the punk rock kids, and I listened Dead Kennedys almost every day, then went to college. I played music with people I met in high school and college. Then while we were in college, or maybe after the college we started Sweet JAP.

Do you remember some of the first bands that you saw live here in the Twin Cities?

Hideo: I remember like I went to see Bad Religion in the Main Room and Green Day was opening, right before the Dookie album came out. So when I was high school I saw Green Day and the cool stuff I’d never seen. But then also the family I was staying with—American family when I was high school—I didn’t know anything about music, so I watched MTV and Nirvana’s Nevermind came out, and Nirvana felt like the best thing on MTV I was watching. Then like slowly went to more indie and underground and discovered Maximum Rocknroll exists.

How about you, Matthew?

Matthew Kazama: The early teenage, at the time I listened to J-pop almost like mandatory. That was occupying life. Then later I was more looking for fast and loud and very kinda crazy stuff like Metallica or Deep Purple—Aerosmith—something like that. That’s what I was listening.

Do you remember your first show that you saw live?

Matthew: Yeah. Marilyn Manson. It was crazy.

Was that here?

Matthew: Yeah. Metrodome or something, at the festival Oz Fest. It was crazy.

How old were you when you moved here?

Matthew: I was 18.

Are you guys the same age?

Hideo: No. I’m few years older—maybe little more than few years.

For those who weren’t around to hear Sweet JAP, how would you describe that band?

Hideo: I would say like between punk and grunge and hardcore and fast, crazy. With four Japanese and one white guy.

What was it about the two of you that made you want to start your own project? What did you like about each other?

Hideo: The songwriting process was easier since it was just two of us. Like Sweet JAP, we had three besides us, like two other guys writing songs too, and everybody had stuff they wanted to do, and everybody wanted to go slightly different directions and stuff. So it was like, less people. You’ll make me happy and I’ll make you happy, kind of like it’s like two-way, like it’s easier to accomplish. And then one phone call—do you wanna do this show? Yes? OK. No? OK.

Now you just celebrated your 10-year anniversary. What’s it like to be in a band with only one other person for 10 years?

Hideo: We’ve never been in other bands more than 10 years, so I don’t know the difference being two-piece or more. It was quick. I don’t know—Blind Shake is more than 10 years.

That’s true.

Hideo: It’s not that special. And like D-4 is 21 years old.

Matthew: It was 2005, like the band Chooglin’ was 2005, too, and Skoal Kodiak too, I think. A lot of good bands were made in 2005. Current too, right?

Yeah! I’m curious too about—you guys have toured so much together, and to have just the two of you on the road for so long, I imagine you know each other very well. What is that experience like, to be on the road together?

Hideo: Usually we have sound guy too. It’s OK. If we stay at hotel we get each own get own bed instead of sharing bed with other guys. We get to drive more often, but it’s OK too. We both like same kind of food so we don’t have to fight about what to eat. And we can tour with minivan and gas is good and if somebody wanna walk around it’s easy to find one person instead of finding like three other people.

Who controls the radio in the van?

Hideo: Driver.

Matthew: We got the system down.

Do you have similar musical tastes?

Hideo: I think so. A little bit different, but music is music.

I wanted to ask you about the title to your new album—Spin the Bottle: Adult Party—where did that come from?

Hideo: I can’t remember what we were talking about, but I was hanging out with Lori Barbero, of Babes in Toyland—something about spin the bottle came up, then I think she said something about “don’t forget, make sure you add adult party at the end” or something. And I thought that was cool, so I wrote it down. It’s like, OK, that sounds good.

You mentioned the Blind Shake earlier. I know that you worked a little bit with Mike Blaha on the new album. Did he produce it?

Hideo: We recorded with him. I guess he produced it. He was involved like mixing and everything. He suggested like let’s try this—that kind of stuff. Yes, he’s part of the team.

I thought it was interesting that you actually recorded this back in 2013 and it’s coming out now, but you had spent some time back in Japan, right?

Hideo: Yeah, we recorded right before I left to Japan. It’s nice to have a record come out and do an actual release show. It’s like, hey, do you remember us?

There’s a song on the new record called “Minneapolis.” Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind that one?

Hideo: Like most of the songs we have recorded, we write right before recording. I was in process of moving out, so I was thinking about Minneapolis I guess. I live in St. Paul now, but when I was high school and college I lived in Minneapolis—and Minneapolis the word fit better than St. Paul, so I used it. It’s Twin Cities, but Minneapolis sounded good. Sorry St. Paul.

Maybe that’ll be on the next record—St. Paul.

Hideo: Yeah. “Moon Boy” is kinda about St. Paul.

I wanna know more about what’s going on with you, Matthew. I know that you recently started a family, right?

Matthew: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Baby is so cute. Two months.

Congratulations!

Matthew: Thank you. Yeah, he starts learning how to smile. So cute. I’m not sleeping as much, but my wife is not sleeping almost at all, so I can’t complain. I’m kinda tired, but when I look at my baby I feel fine.

There was just a big article in last week’s Vita.mn about moms in the rock scene, and balancing parenting with being in a band. I was just curious—has that changed your approach to being in a band, and how much you can do?

Matthew: I try not to think that it’s different, but the priority kinda shifts a little bit and I have couple other project too. We’re trying to have recording and stuff, but just because of the baby reason it kinda made it difficult a little bit, but I’m trying to maintain everything. This is still my passion, and my wife is a really understanding person, so yeah, I’m trying to maintain.

What else are you working on right now? I saw that you were working with Darren Jackson on some Kid Dakota stuff?

Matthew: Yup, that’s right. It’s really kinda awesome, the new album coming out from Kid Dakota, and I’m working with Wild Wing. It’s Aby Wolf, and Josh Journey-Heinz and Chris Smalley. That’s really kinda badass stuff.

Hideo, do you work on anything outside of Birthday Suits musically?

Hideo: No. Walking dog. [laughs] Watching TV.

Now that you’ve turned 10 and you’ve got this new record out, what’s next for the band?

Hideo: Taking it easy. Waiting for cash-in and stuff. [laughs] I don’t know. We might do out of town show here and there but probably not much until when his son will be able to speak and walk, and once he can start selling our merchandise we might tour again.

Birthday Suits play the 7th St. Entry on Saturday, May 16, with Gay Witch Abortion and Whatever Forever.