Tight songs, loose pants

Big in Japan

Zach, Zac and Matt: Their hair may be floppy but their ditties sure aren’t.<br>

Zach, Zac and Matt: Their hair may be floppy but their ditties sure aren’t.

Zac Damon is laughing because I told him my girlfriend’s little sister wants a signed picture of him. She’s a fan of Screeching Weasel, the Midwestern punk band in which Zac spent a short stint as, in his words, “a faceless member.” Though Zac has spent a decade as one of the area’s most talented and productive punk musicians—playing, recording and touring with bands such as Zoinks and Squirtgun both in and outside of Reno—his amusement over being asked to provide an autograph for a 15-year-old girl in Colorado is genuine. He’s not used to thinking of himself as a rock star. You’d never, for instance, spot him wearing a feather boa, as certain other local heroes do.

Zac’s current band, Big in Japan, released its first CD, a heavily pop-punk disc titled Destroy the New Rock, in 2001. Since then, the band has gained a new line-up and has expanded its sound beyond that of the first release. The group currently features, in addition to Zac on guitar and vocals, Zach Brandner (SteveDave) on bass, Matt Mayhall (Whiskey, Keyser Soze) on drums and Jim Bowers, with whom Zac co-founded the band Crushstory, on guitar and vocals. (It should be mentioned that Matt and the author were both briefly in Crushstory.)

I attended one of Big in Japan’s recent practices, and found: 1. The new line-up plays together really well, and 2. Their current sound is much more diverse than it was on the first record. The pop-punk is still present, but now incorporates some loud indie-rock along the lines of Built to Spill or The Poster Children. Some songs are reminiscent of early ‘90s college radio—a couple are downright jangly. There’s more power-pop and straightforward rock, and where previously, Zac wrote all the songs, now Jim is beginning to contribute some of his own, including “Lipstick Traces,” which would not sound out of place on an early Joe Jackson record.

Trying to account for the band’s change in direction, I ask what they have been listening to lately. Matt and Zac agree that the new Nada Surf record is a favorite. Zac then promptly explains that he has not been listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and other hipster bands with “tight clothes and rock ‘n’ roll hair.”

Big in Japan left the first week of August for a five-date tour and to record a new record at Sonic Iguana in Lafayette, Ind. The record will be released by Insubordinate Records, a small start-up label out of Baltimore. This upcoming release promises to be well worth hearing. These guys could be rock stars, if they’d just do something about their hair.