from the 20th Anniversary Interview by Von and Mokuo (Target Maark!), excerpted here with permission
Translation by Aya Cuzner
Introduction by The Most Exalted Bishop Booger-X
2018’s Burger Booglaoo is overflowing with treats, but the most anticipated, drool-inducing and frenetic of the bunch as simply gotta be the first-ever US performance of Japan’s kings, FIRESTARTER! To put it bluntly, Firestarter are one of the world’s most astonishing bands --- a spiky juggernaut that assembles note-perfect power-pop and bursting punk rock in epic fashion. There’s no pose or trend that factors into their attack --- it’s a pure sound, one honed from a life-long devotion to Rock’n’Roll and an obsession with its truest and most sensational forms.
Brothers Fifi and Fink formed the band after the demise of the legendary TEENGENERATE, their wildly popular 1990s garage punk band, much-lauded for the spirit and abandon with which they channeled 60s and 70s punk sounds throughout their day. That fiery urgency remains a cornerstone of Firestarter’s sound, but with the genre and production constraints were blown up entirely. One listen to “Keith Richard’s Man” or “Keen Reaction” (just two of the many hits heard on their 2 LPs, released in the US for the first time to coincide with this Boogaloo performance!) is all the proof you’d ever need. Truly legendary true-believer Rock’n’Roll --- so powerful, endlessly compelling, simply jaw-dropping.
Ms. Aya --- prime-mover, devout fan and the band’s Boogaloo handler --- was gracious enough to translate a (until now!) Japanese-only interview with the boys, conducted last year to coincide with their 20th anniversary. Read on, gaze at some lush snaps from recent Japanese performances and GEAR UP for what is sure to be a phenomenal Boogaloo moment! It gets no better than this anywhere in the world, folks. Behold: FIRESTARTER!!!
Von: I found out from Jimbo that it’s been 20 years since Firestarter started. Thanks for doing the interview with me! Can you introduce yourselves to the readers?
Fink: Hi, I play guitar.
Fifi: I used to play guitar as well, but I just sing now.
Jimbo: I play the drums, and no, Jimbo isn’t my real name.
Fifi: Speak up Sammy!
Sammy: Hi, I play bass.
Toshio: I’m not a band member but released some of their records (Mangrove label).
(Ksuke, the other guitar player is late for the interview - getting drunk somewhere?)
Q1: Firestarter has been around for 20 years now. How would you summarize the band looking back the last 20 years?
Fifi: We were very productive the first 10 years. My brother, Fink was on guitar and played a lot of shows and we also released some records. And then Fink left the band and we had different guys play with us. Ksuke eventually joined and now Fink is back in the band again. But yeah, we’ve been slacking off a bit the last 10 years.
Jimbo: We started practicing in 1996 and started playing shows in 1997.
Toshio: Mangrove released the first Firestarter LP in 2000 and the second LP in 2003.
Fink: Firestarter started as a 3 piece.
Fifi: Yep, kind of like a KBD (Killed By Death – obscure punk compilations) band…we were covering bands like THE DOGS from Detroit and RAZAR from Australia. We started out wanting to do punk rock, but my other band THE TWEEZERS (Fifi’s power pop band) broke up around the same time and affected the direction of Firestarter’s music.
Q2: Did you feel like you’ve done enough garage punk with TEENGENERATE? Was it intentional to play something completely different with Firestarter?
Fifi: Teengenerate was my brother’s (Fink is Fifi’s younger brother) band. And yes, I felt like I was done with that style of music. Actually, I never thought of Teengenerate as a “garage punk” band. At first we were covering bands like THE ZEROS, NERVOUS EATERS and THE NERVES…so yeah, we weren’t exactly garage punk. We were just lo-fi, I guess.
Q3: How did Fink join Firestarter?
Fink: I was doing another band called THE RAYDIOS with Sammy on bass. Sammy was also playing in Firestarter at the same time. One day when the Raydios’ was opening for THE OBLIVIANS, my brother summoned me to play with his band. And after I played with Firestarter, my brother was like “it’s pretty much the same line-up as The Raydios, so you should just continue play in Firestarter. You’re cool with that, right?” I’d say I joined Firestarter by force.
Fifi: I have no recollection of it (laughter)
(Kesuke stumbles in looking hungover)
Q4: Great, now Ksuke is here. How did Ksuke end up playing in Firestarter?
Fifi: He was a customer at my bar, Poorcow in Tokyo and he was playing in his band called DARK THE GIANT. I had no idea what his guitar sounded like, but he was a cool guy so I figured “why not?”
Ksuke: I thought Fifi was just drunk talking.
Q5: Fifi and Fink, you guys are brothers. Did you influence each other growing up?
Fink: Never the way we dressed or anything but musically, definitely. My brother is 2 years older than me. When I was still in elementary school, my brother would borrow some records from a friend who also liked RockNRoll. And since my brother and I shared a bedroom at the time, I ended up listening to whatever he was listening to and I eventually got into it as well.
Fifi: What amazed me was whenever I bought a record and if Fink liked it, he would go out and get his own copy.
Fink: That’s because you got pissed at me if you caught me playing your records.
Von: My sons do the same thing…they like the same stuff and fight over it.
Fink: There were some records we bought together – my brother would convince me how great a certain band is and the next thing you know, he’s asking me to pitch in because he doesn’t have enough money to buy the record.
Von: So, he was asking you to be a business partner (laughter)
Fink: Yeah, and after a while he would sell the record without telling me.
Q6: Wow, that’s cold (laughter). Toshio, you played in bands too. What was your first impression of Firestarter?
Toshio: By the time I first listened to Firestarter, I wasn’t playing music anymore and have already sold all my gears. But hearing Firestarter was like getting kicked in the head…I went back out there and bought a new guitar and started practicing again playing along some Firestarter songs. They had a huge impact on me.
Q6: How was it decided to release the first LP?
Toshio: Firestarter let me include their songs on the Ad Vice comp (released on Toshio’s label, Mangrove in 2000 – bands included other Japanese bands) and later on told me that they were interested in releasing an album on my label.
Von: How many copies did you press?
Toshio: 1st LP on vinyl was 1500 copies and 1200 CD’s.
Von: How about the second album?
Toshio: 700 LPs and 2000 CD’s.
Von: It’s very exciting that you’re remastering and reissuing both albums on CDs. I hear it has some bonus tracks as well! (They’ve also reissued the albums on vinyl on Secret Mission Records – all these will be available at the Firestarter’s merch table at the Burger Boogaloo on Sunday!)
Q7: You guys have played with a lot of bands from overseas. Who was the most memorable?
Fink: I’d say THE VIBRATORS. I’ve liked them a lot since I was a teenager, so yeah they definitely had a lasting impression on me.
Von: Yeah, I was really stoked to see them too. Eddie’s still such a great drummer.
Fifi: Did you ever hear the story about how The Vibrators ended up playing in Japan? A club owner in Kyoto was travelling in England and he went to see The Vibrators on the very last night of his stay in England. And at the end of the show, he happened to see the band getting paid and realized how little money it was and thought, “I can afford to bring them to Japan!” Then he immediately went up to the guys in The Vibrators and asked if they’d be interested in playing in Japan and they were like, “YES!”
Von: How about you, Fifi? Which overseas band was most memorable?
Fifi: It was THE DRONES for me. I think they came around the time Firestarter was just starting…I don’t think Fink was even in the band yet. I was stunned how great they were. I think they were still in their late 30’s, so yeah they could definitely still play very well.
Jimbo: Yeah, same here. Drones was my most memorable overseas band I played with. What an impact they had on me.
Sammy: CHRIS SPEDDING for me. It was pretty recent.
Ksuke: FLAMIN’ GROOVIES was the most memorable band for me. The very first overseas band I played with.
Von: Oh yeah, I went to that. They made me cry.
Ksuke: They kept making me drink whiskey.
Jimbo: Oh shit, really?
Fifi: I remember them fighting in the backstage.
Q8: How do you feel about the music the young people are listening to these days?
Fifi: I think they can listen to whatever. But I think they should try and listen to all different types of music. They can download or look up for videos online…whatever works. The more you listen, the more fun it gets. Dig deep. Especially if you want to start a band, you gotta listen to a ton of music. It’ll broaden your horizons.