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Baker's Dozen

Love Songs And Monster Songs: Jad Fair's Favourite Albums
Sean Kitching , March 22nd, 2023 10:20

As Half Japanese gear up for a brand new album this summer and a UK show in September, frontman Jad Fair takes Sean Kitching through thirteen favourite records from Howlin’ Wolf to Lord Invader

Formed around 1975 by brothers Jad and David Fair, Half Japanese were early exponents of punk’s DIY ethos, recording in the bedroom of their parent’s house in Uniontown, Maryland, and eschewing even the most basic ‘rules’ of music, including the use of chords. Typifying their approach in Jeff Feuerzeig’s 1993 documentary, The Band Who Would Be King, Jad made the humorous observation that, at the very least, “you do need cords to plug the guitar in”. The brothers’ lack of technical proficiency, married with an indefatigable enthusiasm for exploration, became the guiding principle in their developing aesthetic. With a penchant for writing either “love songs or monster songs,” Half Japanese have become one of the longest running art-punk bands in history.

Although they have been without David Fair since the early 1980s, their current incarnation has been running since 1993. A string of well-received recent albums has made the band the epitome of the late career flourishing act who, turning finally to pop music after a long and winding road, bring their own idiosyncratic stamp to the form. Their ‘classic’ album is widely perceived to be 1988s Charmed Life, but equally worthy of recommendation is 2020’s Crazy Hearts and the forthcoming album, due 21 July, titled with Jad Fair’s usual unquenchable optimism, Jump Into Love.

Championed by Kurt Cobain, Half Japanese were chosen by the Nirvana frontman to open a handful of dates on their In Utero tour in 1993, on a bill they also shared with The Breeders. Typically unassuming, Jad Fair recalls: “I was real pleased that Kurt was a fan of Half Japanese. I was at a hotel and I was reading an interview with Kurt in the magazine Spin, and he says they’re going to be going out on tour and Half Japanese will be opening for them. We usually do some fast songs and some slow songs, and every fast song we played had a good audience response, and every slow one just bombed. So, after the first night, we only played fast songs. Nirvana were just fantastic every night, it was an amazing show.”

Fair has also collaborated with a who’s who of cult musicians, including John Zorn, Thurston Moore, The Pastels, Kramer, Yo La Tengo, Fred Frith, Teenage Fanclub, Danielson Famile and Daniel Johnston. Johnston and Fair released the collaborative album It’s Spooky in 1989. Johnston was keen on a further collaboration, but as Fair recalls: “He wanted it to be called the Blood Brothers and we would do only slasher songs and I was like ‘Daniel, I like monster movies but slasher movies are not my cup of tea.’”

Throughout his thirteen choices for this feature, Fair exhibits the influence of Michigan, where he grew up with the sound of The Stooges, MC5, Question Mark And The Mysterians and Destroy All Monsters. He also reveals a sincere love of individualistic voices and styles of playing, from The Shaggs and Captain Beefheart to Karen Dalton. He also refutes the notion that he is in any way an ‘experimental’ musician: “With Half Japanese, the main thing is that we do whatever comes natural to us. It’s not something that we’re trying to be other than what we are. I mean, so many bands start out wishing they sounded like some other band, and that certainly was not the case with us.”

It’s exactly this kind of heart-on-sleeve, genuine quality that characterises Jad Fair’s music and art. That element is also tempered by an intense creativity fuelled by a degree of improvisational skill capable of transforming potential weaknesses into unique strengths. A fine example of this is Fair’s guitar, famed for coming apart onstage. When I asked him if he still had it, Fair replies: “I bought that when I was in Glasgow, doing shows with The Pastels. That would have been about 35 years back. The guitar neck came off and I thought, well, I could get screws and screw it back on but then I thought no, I’ll just get some rubber bands and I’ll keep it together with rubber bands.”

Half Japanese play their only UK date this year at London’s Moth Club on 24 September. To begin reading Jad Fair’s Baker’s Dozen, click the image of him below.