In 1996 the Walsh brothers were nostalgic teenagers living in a tiny village in rural England, passing away their time in a room together writing heartfelt pop songs on second hand guitars. Twenty years later they find themselves in Tokyo, sharing a room together, sipping on green tea, while writing heartfelt pop songs on second hand guitars. They call themselves The Watanabes.
Stepping foot in Japan for the first time over twelve years ago, little did Selwyn and Duncan know that it would be the beginning of a beautiful musical adventure spanning a decade. The Watanabes have since released four records at major record stores nationwide across Japan, appeared on national television and radio, performed at hundreds of venues across the country, and made some notable fans along the way including 60’s legend Dave Crosby (The Byrds), former Guns N Roses drummer Matt Sorum, and Ric O’Barry, star of Academy Award-winning movie, The Cove. The brothers have been joined by several talented musicians along the way, each of whom made valuable contributions to the sound and direction of their music, but have been writing and performing primarily as a duo since 2013.
After three years writing songs and developing their language skills in rural Japan, in 2007 the band packed up and shifted to Tokyo in search of new inspiration and regular trains. Here they began work on their debut album ‘Independent Social Power’. The album caught the attention of Japanese indie music magazine Cookie Scene, as well as the BBC, who described their work as “pure Indie, with floating verses and catchy choruses”.
February 2011 saw The Watanabes launch their second album ‘You’re Dancing I’m Absorbed’, recorded under the wise Glaswegian eye of music producer and engineer David Naughton (Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fan Club, Mojave 3) and released on Manchester based label BabyBoom Records. The record features guest appearances from American folk pop singer Kate Sikora, and British indie Godfather Nick Duffy of The Lilac Time. Two tracks from the album, True Romantics and Concerned with You, were used as part of TV advertising campaigns for Western Union and Triumph Motorcycles, and their acoustic lullaby Whales Can Sing was championed by Ric O’Barry, star of the Academy Award winning documentary ‘The Cove’. The song was written as an emotional reaction to the documentary and has touched the hearts of other notable individuals including Jim Gellatly (Amazing Radio), race car driver and environmentalist Leilani Munter, 60’s legend David Crosby of The Byrds, and Rock N Roll Hall of Famer and former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, who The Watanabes performed alongside in Tokyo on August 2013.
On the day before the release party of their second album, a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Filled with a desire to support their adopted homeland, the band organised and performed in many charity events in aid of Tohoku, and in March 2014 they visited Fukushima to help build a playground alongside NPO Playground of Hope. The trip was documented in the shape of a collaborative music video, which was used to promote the charity, and The Watanabes’ new single Make Things Better. The band’s fundraising efforts have been praised both by Japanese national newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, and Time Out Tokyo, who described them as a band with “more heart than ego”.
The Watanabes have played at venues across Japan, headlining at Japan Music Week, Asian indie showcase Tokyo BootUp!, The Great British Weekend, The Kansai Music Conference, and Shibuya based international indie festival Rock God Dam. They are part of a thriving international music scene in Tokyo, their role in which was recognized by The Japan Times. In April 2014 they were invited to perform live on one of Japan’s biggest radio stations, InterFm, as part of their 24-hour live radio event. In the space of 8 years, the band have developed a small but dedicated international following within the country. The British Chamber of Commerce recently featured the group as an example of the thriving British music scene in Japan, describing them as “one of the biggest names on the live circuit here”. According to Tokyo Weekender, they are “one of Tokyo’s best known indie bands”, while Time Out Tokyo call them “Tokyo’s answer to The Smiths”. Japanzine magazine simply asks, “You’ve heard of The Watanabes, surely? Everyone has!”
After three of their band members packed away their instruments, The Watanabes decided to continue working as a duo and released a 5 track EP ‘Draw What You’ Like at major record stores across Japan on 29th September 2014. The record received national airplay and positive reviews from the BBC’s Mark Forrest, Amazing Radio’s Beth Elfyn, InterFM’s Guy Perryman and Music Connection Magazine, and three of the tracks were aired on CNN International as part of a TV documentary on Japan.
The Watanabes will soon once again be unveiling new material, releasing their new EP, Spoiled and Nostalgic, as a worldwide digital download on November 17th 2017. Produced by David Naughton (Mojave 3, Belle & Sebastian), and mastered by Frank Arkwright (The Smiths, Blur, New Order) at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, the EP has already received positive reviews, and found favour with the BBC. Made “Record of the Week” on BBC Radio Norfolk, Radio One DJ Sophie Little chimed enthusiastically about the band’s “sweet, beautiful music”, calling ‘Hummingbird’ an “absolute belter of a tune”. Meanwhile in Japan, long time InterFM DJ Mike Rogers has given ‘Over Romantic’ regular airplay on his popular morning shows, both on InterFm and Rakuten Fm, describing the band as “Japan’s answer to Belle & Sebastian”.