Meet TEKE::TEKE, the J-Rock Tribute Turned Full-Fledged Fusion Band Class of 2019

Meet TEKE::TEKE, the J-Rock Tribute Turned Full-Fledged Fusion Band Class of 2019
Photo: Andi State
Forming a tribute band can be an easy way to attract attention: wrangle up a bunch of local musicians, learn the songs of a noteworthy artist and cash in on little more than nostalgia. But TEKE::TEKE were never a typical tribute band — even before they started writing their own music.
 
For starters, they were a tribute to the eleki music scene, a Japanese rock movement that began in the 1960s following a tour from American surf rockers the Ventures, with a particular focus on guitarist Takeshi "Terry" Terauchi, who composed surf-flecked instrumental tracks driven by his distinctive, tremolo-heavy playing style.
 
"I had to practice like crazy to nail his guitar lines and his techniques, the trem bar — I actually got tendonitis in the first few months we practiced, because I had never played the guitar that way," says guitarist Serge Nakauchi Pelletier.
 
The project began after Nakauchi Pelletier discovered a Terry record during a trip to a record store while on tour with Montreal rapper Boogát. "[Terry's] coming from a scene that I was familiar with, but I wasn't really familiar with his music," he says. "Then we listened to his music in the van on tour and were freaking out."
 
Nakauchi Pelletier and two of his fellow Boogát backing band members — trombonist Etienne Lebel and drummer Ian Lettre — became hooked on Terry, slowly incorporating his music into their soundchecks on tour. Once they were back in Montreal, the trio began discussing playing Terry's music live. The trio recruited flautist and keyboardist Yuki Isami, guitarist Hidetaka Yoneyama and bassist Mishka Stein (from Patrick Watson's band), and booked a one-off show at the 2017 edition of Montreal's Distorsion festival.
 
From the beginning, it was clear that TEKE::TEKE weren't just replicating the sounds of eleki music. "We weren't trying to play those songs perfectly, with all the right tones and sounds of the time," admits the guitarist. "We wanted to play them with our own arrangements and our own take on them. I was really inspired by that, and I wanted to write my own music with influences from that era, but moving ahead with more sounds of the time, of today," adding sounds of psych and shoegaze to the mix.
 
By the time TEKE::TEKE made their live debut, the seeds of a proper band had already been planted. The inclusion of vocalist Maya Kuroki, who joined for the band's second show that September at POP Montreal, solidified the group as heading far beyond their tribute act origins. "It wasn't just Takeshi's music anymore, it was a tribute to that whole era," says Nakauchi Pelletier.
 
Though they've yet to celebrate their second anniversary, TEKE::TEKE have hit the ground running. Their debut EP, Jikaku, was released in May 2018, and the band are preparing to record a full-length album. While the EP featured two original compositions and two covers — of Terry's "Ai No Kizuna" and Maki Asakawa's "Chicchana Toki Kara" — the forthcoming full-length promises to feature nearly all original material, though, according to Nakauchi Pelletier, the band are still fond of a particular composition of Terry's that they've extended to include some original improvisation. Though they had originally hoped to ready the album's release for the spring of 2019, to coincide with the next instalment of the Distorsion festival and their two-year anniversary, the band have decided to slow things down. They now plan to the release the album this fall.
 
Despite the band's unique fusion of eleki, psych and shoegaze, the band feel comfortable in the Montreal psych scene, says Nakauchi Pelletier. "A lot of people here, in Quebec at least, grew up on anime, stuff on TV that would be series from Japan dubbed in French, but the original music was still there. There's this weird connection, I feel like people can hear something that they kind of know."
 
The project has also piqued the interests of Israeli guitar virtuoso Yonatan Gat, who has been in talks to work on TEKE::TEKE's forthcoming record, and art-rock troupe Yamantaka // Sonic Titan who, like TEKE::TEKE, incorporate elements of Asian theatrical and musical traditions in their music and performance. Of the latter, Nakauchi Pelletier says, "We love them. I think there's a mutual admiration or something going on. We were joking around, but kind of seriously, about doing a Yamanteke show."
 
With an eclectic, international blend of musical styles, well-regarded fans and plenty of new material on the way, TEKE::TEKE have far surpassed past any notion of being a novelty act. "It should be a band of its time. It's today, it's now," says Nakauchi Pelletier. "There's no pressure, no big expectations. We just go with the opportunities and the people that we like and that's how things happened."
 
TEKE::TEKE play Bar le Ritz PDB in Montreal on January 12 as part of Exclaim!'s Class of 2019 concert series.