In Conversation: Nagano’s 7th Jet Balloon Talk The Japanese Emo Scene, Origami Angel Comparisons, and Their Excellent New EP

Thanks to a bit of misfortune that I was able to turn into good fortune, I found myself in Japan for a little over two weeks at the end of April with a very loose itinerary. I knew I wanted to sneak in as much live music and baseball as humanly possible while in the country. I further knew I had to see Weave if at all possible, a band whose phenomenal 2020 album The Sound 2 I first heard thanks in no small part to Keegan Bradford of Camp Trash’s one man campaign to make people aware its among the best albums released so far this decade. Luckily for me Weave were playing a show at noon Tokyo time the Tuesday after I got in, playing Nagano emo band 7th Jet Balloon’s EP release show for pleasant, sadness, and…at a venue called Marble in Shinjuku. After looking them up I quickly realized that not only were 7th Jet Balloon unsurprisingly also up my alley but that their two man set up reminded me of one of my favorite American emo bands, Origami Angel, who I interviewed back in 2019. Gami always confounded me with how they produce so much noise with just two people and 7th Jet Balloon gave off the same vibe from the moment they took the stage, with lead singer and guitar player Shun and drummer ssm filling up the venue with their sound. I was making friends before the show started and the fellas in Starship, an emo band from Tokyo whose set also blew me away, declared Shun “Master Shredder” saying he was known locally for his ripping guitar work as they pantomimed Shun running his hands up and down the fret board. Shun more than lived up to the title during their set, with drummer ssm bringing every bit as much ferocity with his performance. While they pack as strong a punch as Origami Angel does, 7th Jet Balloon’s music is a bit more meandering than Gami’s straightforward pop-focused sensibilities, with 7th Jet Balloon songs often taking on several movements and evolutions that lead towards a gargantuan close in a way that reminds me a tiny bit of Weatherday at times. That being said, 7th Jet Balloon is more anthemic in sound than the majority of the noodly/ math-rock focused bands in the Japanese emo scene. The EP has several earworms that’ll have you singing along in short order, like the absolute ripper “MGDYRKRNI” whose soaring chorus will be stuck in your head from the second you first hear it. The drumming is particularly impressive on “MGDYRKNRI”, ssm brings a machine gun intensity that blows me away listen after listen. My absolute favorite song from the EP right now though has to be “Japanese Gateball” which gets heavier and heavier as the track goes on, like a video game getting harder and harder as you move through the levels, only to give us a quick shouting respite before barging into the barn burner of a close. It was a song that absolutely blew me away live, by the end of the track they had the whole venue pumping their fists in support. “Japanese Gateball” also features some phenomenal guttural yelling from Tomoho Maeda of ANORAK! one of the bands unquestionably leading Japan’s own ascendant fifth wave of emo. After self-releasing their first EP I use a wooden bat when I play baseball, 7th Jet Balloon are releasing pleasant, sadness, and… on ungulates records, the same label that releases music from ANORAK!, Starship, and at least a dozen other phenomenal Japanese bands. The label is run by Kou Nakagawa, who also drums in what feels like a hundred Japanese emo bands himself (he lists legitimately 25 emo bands he regularly plays with in this interview and that doesn’t seem to be half of them). Ungulates’ bands like ANORAK! and Injury Tape have been able to make waves internationally as of late thanks in part to support from people like Keegan Bradford and Ian Cohen, and there was a sense in Marble Shinjuku that 7th Jet Balloon could be the next band from Japan making similar waves.

Later in the evening after 7th Jet Balloon’s EP release show, I realized the community I met at Marble Shinjuku was only the tip of the iceberg. I was climbing the stairs up to Algernon Cadwallader’s 7:00 PM show the same day at Rips, a fifth floor music venue in Hachioji, when I heard someone calling my name from below. It was Takumi, the lead singer of tabletennis fanclub 2 (one of the hundred bands Kou plays drums in), who was standing with none other than the Shun and ssm from 7th Jet Balloon! They introduced me to everyone they knew at the show, which felt like a quarter of the sizable crowd, all of whom seemed to be in at least one if not several emo bands themselves. Just about everyone I was introduced to took the time to first joke about before quickly telling me how excited they were for 7th Jet Balloon, there was both a great sense of camaraderie and a palpable excitement for their new EP at the Algernon show. From the conversations I had it really felt like the Japanese emo community felt that 7th Jet Balloon massively leveled up with their new EP, and that they are officially a force to be reckoned with.

When I asked about the name of the EP pleasant, sadness, and… Shun and ssm said it was about how life isn’t all roses. You’ll have sad times but we’ll power through together till times are pleasant again. When times are inevitably tough once again for me, this EP will be a reminder of those amazing shows and the open arms that all the bands I met in Japan welcomed me with. I hope it I had the chance to ask Shun and ssm a few questions via email about how they met, the bands they’re inspired by, and recording their incredible new EP.

7th Jet Balloon playing “I wanna be your dog” at Marble Shinjuku.

GSC: What are your names? What do you do in the band 7th Jet Balloon?

Shun: I am Shun/しゅん. We are 7th Jet Balloon. We are an emo band from Japan (Nagano). I play guitar and sing.

ssm: I am ssm and I masterbate.

GSC: What are your earliest music memories? Who was playing music around the house and what music were they playing?

Shun: My father played classical guitar, my sister played piano, my mother played taiko drums, and I often listened to the music of Japanese rock bands that my older brothers and sisters listened to.

ssm: I felt good listening to Dragon Ball anime songs.

GSC: When did you first know that you wanted to play music yourself? What instrument did you start with?

Shun: When I was in junior high school. After listening to Japanese rock bands, I wanted to be in a band myself, so I started playing the guitar.

ssm:In the third year of junior high school. Drums. I was excited to start playing drums.

GSC: What was your first exposure to emo music? What made you gravitate to that particular sound?

Shun: Shortly before I started this band, ssm introduced me to bands like Origami Angel and American Football. I was very impressed with the beautiful and sad guitar sound, and I felt it suited my nerdy personality.

Ssm: When I was 21 years old, I heard a Japanese band called Haikki and was struck by their guitar sound and how beautiful it was.

GSC: How did you two first meet? When did you decide to start a band together?

Shun: We were on the same baseball team when we were in junior high school. We also played in a 4-piece band together when we were in high school. When I became a working adult, we decided to play in an emo band when we hung out in the studio.

GSC: What was the local DIY music scene like in Nagano? Were there other bands that you looked up to in Nagano or did you have to meet other emo bands from Japan on the internet and on tour?

Shun: To be honest, it’s not very prosperous. So I listened to various bands domestically and internationally on the internet and shared them with my band members.

ssm: I like Matsumoto Gorilla. Nagano Prefecture’s music scene is declining, so I have no respect for it.

GSC: Were there any bands in particular who inspired the 7th Jet Balloon sound? I know you’ve been called Nagano’s Origami Angel, a comparison which I definitely see.

ssm: Tiny moving parts。

Shun: I was definitely influenced by Origami Angel. The guitar was influenced by tiny moving parts, my Japanese friends Kudaranai1nichi and ANORAK!

Shun left and ssm right

GSC: How did you first get connected with ungulates records? They have put out a number of phenomenal Japanese emo releases, so I imagine they have a strong presence in the local scene.

Shun: When we became friends with the members of Kudaranai1nichi and ANORAK! who are active in the same generation, we also wanted to release our music on Ungulates records.

ssm: I went to see a silly one-day show in 2020 during the corona crisis, and Kou Nakagawa was playing the drums. I think that was the first time I bought an ungulates records release.

GSC: You released your first EP,  i use a wooden bat when i play baseball, back in 2021. What were your lives like when you released that EP? What memories do you have from when it was recorded and released?

Shun: At first, the recording was kind of fumbling around, but I think we were able to make a good song by inviting friends to sing the chorus, and talking with Inari-san. When it was first released, I was happy just to see our name featured on the website.

ssm: I wrote and recorded the songs while working, and there were a lot of things I was not used to, so it was a continuous process of trial and error. I was happy to see positive reactions from friends in the scene and others on social media.

GSC: “Snowing Day” is my favorite song from the EP. Was that song inspired by the band Snowing? If not, what is that song about?

Shun: I am also aware of Snowing, but for me this song is about a sad event on a snowy day.

ssm: Yes, it is, but there are two meanings to “Snowing day”. One is inspired by the singalong part of the band Snowing’s signature song “Sam Rudich”. The other is that lyrically, the song is about memories related to a time when it was snowing.

GSC: Was there anything you learned from your first EP that changed your approach to your second EP?

Shun: I think my guitar sound and singing voice have changed for the better.

ssm: I wanted to do a wider range of work, so the first album had only English verses, but the second album has Japanese verses, and I made full use of the looper to play different melodies with one person.

GSC: What were your intentions with your second EP pleasant, sadness, and… ? How has the reception to the record been so far?

Shun: Thankfully, I’m glad that so many people responded with kind words.

ssm: There are fun things, and if you are alive, there are sad things as well, and there are times when you feel sad that you just can’t do without, but you want to smile and be happy beyond that. That’s how I felt when we wrote the title of the EP.

It sounds really good.

GSC: “MGDYRKRNI” is an amazing song. What is that song about? How did it come together?

Shun: MGDYRKRNI is a romanization of the consonants of the Japanese word “Maji de Yarikilenai” (feeling really uneasy). The meaning of this song is “I can’t do it anymore”.

ssm: Thank you. I wrote this song when I was in a situation where things were not going well and I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. It is a song that encourages me to do what I have to do even when I feel like I can’t do it anymore, and that if life goes on, I have no choice but to do it.

GSC: I love the massive closer to the EP “Japanese Gateball” with Tomoho Maeda of ANORAK!. How did that collaboration come about? What did Tomoho bring to the song?

Shun: Tomoho and I were friends and we were thinking of a song that would include a chorus. Tomoho brought more impulse and sadness to the song.

ssm: I went to see ANORAK! as a guest before Shun and I started this band, and since I was the same age as Tomoho, we naturally became friends. Then, when I started this band, we asked our friend to collaborate on a song, and he did.

He is a genius, and he gave us a new color that only he could write and sing, which we could not express.

GSC: How has it been playing these songs live? I had a blast at Marble Sinjuku at your EP release show a few weeks ago.

Shun: That show was great. I was really happy to see people getting excited about the songs we wrote.

ssm: I love these songs, so I am happy to be able to perform in front of so many people. I was glad we were able to sell CDs and merch as well.

GSC: Do you have a favorite song to play live? “I wanna be your dog” sounded extremely good live.

Shun: Thank you. The second song on the EP, “This is a pen”, is my favorite, it’s fun to play the various guitar phases.

ssm: All of them. If I had to say, I’d say, all of them. I don’t really want to play “Snowing Day” because it’s hard drumming to be honest (laughs).

GSC: Who are some of your favorite emo bands in Japan right now that more people need to be checking out? All three bands that played your EP release show, Starship, Chinese Hoodie, and Weave are all phenomenal for starters.

Shun: That’s right. They are all great bands. Some of my favorite Japanese emo bands are くだらない1日(Kudaranai ichinichi), ANORAK!, and By the End of Summer. There are many other cool emo bands in Japan.

ssm: By the End of Summer.

GSC: How much fun did you have at the Algernon Cadwallader show? Were they a big influence on your sound?

Shun: It was my first time seeing a foreign emo band show, so it was a shock. The beautiful and delicate sound enlivened the venue and the audience was singing enthusiastically.

ssm: I thought, wow, Algernon Cadwallader really existed. Thank you. I think they are the representative of emo revival.

GSC: What is something outside of music that brings you joy that people might not know about?

Shun: It is Japanese animation. Japanese anime makes you feel like you are in an anime world, away from the real world. You can escape from the unpleasant things in the real world for a little while.

ssm: Watching baseball games.

Follow 7th Jet Balloon on twitter and insta, grab the album on BandCamp or stream it on Spotify or Apple Music!

7th Jet Balloon finishing their set at Marble Shinjuku

Leave a Reply