Black and white photo of Urusei Yatsura

Now & Then Playlist: Urusei Yatsura take us back to the nineties as they reissue their debut LP ‘We Are Urusei Yatsura’

Every music fanatic has an Urusei Yatsura – the band that tipped you over the edge from someone who just enjoys music to an out and out obsessive. I’m lucky that mine is Urusei Yatsura.

It was one of those serendipitous, seemingly innocuous sliding door moments. During one of my regular teenage visits to blow my paltry supermarket deli counter weekend job salary at Tunbridge Wells’ sadly missed independent record emporium Longplayer, I rummaged through the multi-buy CD singles box to find myself one short of the number required for the offer and my gaze fell upon a white case with a leopard print line drawing of a Polaroid camera, some Japanese characters and a band name I didn’t know how to pronounce. Intrigued, I picked it up and took my haul to the till. Little did I know at the time what an impact that CD, ‘Hello Tiger‘ by Glaswegian lo-fi cult heroes Urusei Yatsura would have on my life. Five years later I found myself pressing publish on Kaytronika, my first music blog, named for a track by that band whose cd I’d picked up on a whim on that fateful day.

Urusei Yatsura released three sparkling albums of glorious fuzzy guitar pop before splitting in 2001, fusing the pedalboard and extended technique guitar noise explorations of Sonic Youth with toy ray guns, scathing sarcastic wit and tunes that still make me want to jump up and down until my legs give in. I have long since ceased to be capable of speaking about them with any degree of objectivity, so as the band celebrate thirty years since they first formed with an expanded double 12″ vinyl reissue of their debut full length album We Are Urusei Yatsura, packed with b-sides, rarities and archive Polaroid photos, we caught up with guitar/vocalist Graham Kemp to find out more and look back at the time of the original release.

How did the reissue come about?

I had been talking to Vinita of Rocketgirl for a while about getting an anniversary release of the album out in some form. We had got together to put out an album of BBC sessions back in 2016, and of course she was very much our favourite Ché (Ed: the label that the record was originally released on) person, so I really wanted to do the WE ARE reissue with her. In the end it was ready, despite the worldwide vinyl meltdown, for the 30th anniversary of our official birthday, 9th March 1993. Thanks Adele!

How did it feel revisiting the album and looking back at pictures, reviews and footage from that time?

During lockdown I started digging through a load of music on defunct formats. Cassette and video tape mostly. Steven from Bis helped by digitising some old DAT tapes I had in a box, which turned out to be an album’s worth of recordings we did with Thom Falls before ALL HAIL came out. I thought it would be cool to get the best of that, and other rare and lost tracks on the album somehow, just to give a picture of the band over the 2 years leading up to our debut full length effort. So the idea really developed out of the archive I was putting together on Bandcamp. I found tapes of old shows so got them all on there for anyone interested to hear. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. The idea was not to make a profit, just make the sounds available for anyone interested. Pretty much all the stuff on there is pay-if-you-like. It turned out that a lot of people were interested, so I kept at it.

It was quite diverting to do this in my spare time, and really took me back in time listening to these long lost shows. It sounded like we were having a lot of fun. I was very surprised, hearing the album fresh again after so many years. I appreciated John Rivers’ (Ed: who recorded the album) work so much more. All the sounds, the space in the recordings. It had a really nice feel now I wasn’t so close to it!

Looking back at the album’s original release in 1996, where do you think it fitted into the music scene of the time and what about it has meant it’s been able to stand the test of time well enough to warrant a reissue?

I think when it came out there was a bit of a guitar band resurgence. I found an indie chart from the week after release and the top 3 was us, Super Furry Animals and Ash. Both these bands went on to be massive, and I think we only missed out due to record company problems. Shortly after, the major labels and the press agreed that Britpop was the new thing, and obviously we didn’t fit into that, so we were never massively over-exposed as a 90’s band. I think our lack of profile makes the re-issue more welcome tbh. I just think it’s a good record, and not fitting in to the ethos of the time just makes it better. It turns out we are very fondly remembered by people who were into us at the time. Who knew!

Were there any bands back then that were on a similar wavelength to you or that you felt a sort of kinship with?

We toured with SFA and Mogwai, so of course we loved them. The Wedding Present. Magoo, Prolapse, Spare Snare. We were friends with the Delgados and BIS.  As fans, Pavement and Sonic Youth of course.

Thinking of the musical landscape into which the album is being reissued, what has changed since its original release?

It’s become so much harder for bands. The internet has really made connecting with fans so much easier, and opened up new avenues. The massive downside is music has become so devalued thanks to the Spotifyication of the landscape. It’s sort of expected to be free. It used to be possible to be a band full time, but now it seems like there are a few massive legacy bands and a bunch of hobbyists, which is going to become unsustainable pretty quickly.

I have been continually enraged hearing about venues expecting a cut of the band’s merch sales. That’s practically abuse. I would have hit the roof if any venue had attempted to steal our money out from under us in that way. Here’s an idea for young bands; the venues get their 15%, but you start selling cans at your merch table. Fuck those guys. Sincerely.

Who are the current bands that you admire? Are there any in whom you can hear or feel a similar spirit to what you were trying to achieve with this record?

Still love Mogwai, still going strong. Franz Ferdinand too. Alex has been really helpful with the record. Loving the new Yo La Tengo. I got into Rolling Blackouts CF after randomly hearing a tune recently. I need some suggestions for some new stuff actually. People should pitch me bands!

What have you all got going on at the moment/coming up soon?

I have been recording under the name Calacas for a while. I’m doing a limited edition LP. One for each member of the band and one for sale for £7,597, which I have worked out is the cost of all the rehearsals and recording sessions to get it together. Fergus has recently put out an album with Dee Sada under the name Paper Birch. Their stuff will be more sensibly priced.

We asked Graham to make a playlist of tracks from 1996 alongside current artists – check it out below:

Sparklehorse– Saturday
“I play great keyboards of horses teeth..” One of the all time beautiful songs.

Stereolab – Cybele’s Reverie
Just a smooth espresso groove. Lush and romantic krautrock, but impossibly French.

Polvo – The Purple Bear
All the guitars are playing backwards and it feels so good. I identify with the goofy lyrics.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Stagger Lee
Saw him doing this little number on the White Room and was blown away.

Super Furry Animals – The Man Don’t Give A Fuck
The Animals are lovely guys and hearing this tune tear the roof off every night was some fun.

Mogwai – Ceiling Granny
Reminds me of Chavez. This is a good thing.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – French Press
Itchy little groove but somehow sunbleached and relaxed at the same time. Vocals Robert Forster-ish to my ears.

Wilco – Everyone Hides
I can’t tell you why but this song is incredibly special to me.

Purple Mountains – All My Happiness Is Gone
Because ‘Nights That Won’t Happen’ is too sad. Beautiful, but too sad.

Yo La Tengo – Miles Away
Some lovely wonky shoegaze from the group that could not be beat.

We Are Urusei Yatsura (2023 Xxtra Version) is available now via Bandcamp

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Article by Paul Maps

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