The Watanabes are an international indie folk pop band performing and recording in Tokyo, fronted by two British brothers on guitar and vocals, an American keyboardist and a Japanese rhythm section.
The group began life in the orange-laden prefecture of Ehime, and named themselves Watanabe in tribute to the warm and friendly people of the region, whilst also alluding to The Smiths. The initial inspiration however came from Toru Watanabe, the slightly troubled and over nostalgic protagonist in Haruki Murakami’s novel, Norwegian Wood.
Three years later, the band packed up and shifted to Tokyo in search of new inspiration and regular trains, where they began work on their debut album ‘Independent Social Power’. The album caught the attention of Japanese indie music magazine Cookie Scene, as well as the BBC, who described their work as “pure Indie, with floating verses and catchy choruses”.
February 2011 saw The Watanbes launch their second album ‘You’re Dancing I’m Absorbed’, recorded under the wise Glaswegian eye of music producer and engineer David Naughton (Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fan Club, Mojave 3) and released on Manchester based label BabyBoom Records. The record features guest appearances from American folk pop singer Kate Sikora, and British indie Godfather Nick Duffy of The Lilac Time.
Two tracks for the album, True Romantics and Concerned with You, were used as part of a TV advertising campaign for Triumph Motorcycles, and their acoustic lullaby Whales Can Sing was championed by Ric O’Barry, star of the Academy Award winning documentary ‘The Cove’. The song was written as an emotional reaction to the documentary and has touched the hearts of other notable individuals including Jim Gellatly (Amazing Radio), race car driver and environmentalist Leilani Munter, 60’s legend David Crosby of The Byrds, and Rock N Roll Hall of Famer and former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, who The Watanabes performed alongside in Tokyo on August 2013.
On the day before the release party of their second album, a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Filled with a desire to support their adopted homeland, the band have organised and performed in many charity events in aid of Tohoku, and recently visited Fukushima to help build a playground alongside NPO Playground of Hope. The trip was documented in the shape of a collaborative music video, which will be used to promote the charity, and The Watanabes’ new single Make Things Better. The band’s fundraising efforts have been praised both by Japanese national newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, and Time Out Tokyo, who described them as a band with “more heart than ego”.
The Watanabes have played at venues across Japan, headlining at Japan Music Week, Asian indie showcase Tokyo BootUp!, The Kansai Music Conference, and Shibuya based international indie festival Rock God Dam. In April 2014 they were invited to perform live on one of Japan’s biggest radio stations, InterFm, as part of their 24-hour live radio event. In the space of 8 years, the band have developed a small but dedicated international following within the country. The British Chamber of Commerce recently featured the group as an example of the thriving British music scene in Japan, describing them as “one of the biggest names on the live circuit here”. According to Tokyo Weekender, they are “one of Tokyo’s best known indie bands”, while Time Out Tokyo call them “Tokyo’s answer to The Smiths”. Japanzine magazine simply asks, “You’ve heard of The Watanabes, surely? Everyone has!”
The Watanabes release their new 5 track EP Draw What You Like at major record stores across Japan and worldwide as a digital download on 29th September 2014. The record has already received airplay and positive reviews from the BBC’s Mark Forrest and Amazing Radio’s Beth Elfyn. The lead track on the EP is ‘There’s Something Wrong’.