Guitar Vader were a Japanese rock band whose strong Western influences enamored them to overseas audiences. Drawing inspiration from the Beatles, Ramones, and Pixies, they sang many of their lyrics in English, especially on their early albums, despite not really being able to speak the language. Their Japanese inflections and idiosyncratic approach to grammar -- one of their songs was titled "All the People Envy New My Guitar" -- at times made the words sound like another language altogether. However, the joyous exuberance they packed into the songs to the point of overflowing carried them over the bumps. All but the shortest of their bouncy songs typically changed dramatically partway through -- not just changes of key but of tempo and rhythm and sometimes even genre.
Guitarist/singer Miki Tanabe and bassist/singer Ujuan Shozo met at a rehearsal space in Kawasaki, Kanagawa, while in other bands. Their original bands broke up soon after and they began collaborating in 1998, with the addition of Yuki Takumiya on drums. Their early cassette-tape demos, released on Berry Records, sold out of the 1,000 copies of each that were released, even though they were only available at a single store. Songs from these demos were compiled together with several new songs for their lo-fi 1999 debut album, also only released on cassette, Die Happy!
In 2000 they recorded a short album called Wild at Honey in homage to the Beach Boys' Wild Honey, which was a step toward a less-distorted and more pop sound. Drummer Takumiya left the band soon afterwards. Hideki Naganuma, who composed music for video games, heard some of the early Guitar Vader cassettes and approached them to contribute songs to Jet Set Radio (released in the U.S. as Jet Grind Radio). These two ecstatically chirpy songs, "Magical Girl" and "Super Brother," were the English-speaking world's first exposure to Guitar Vader, and they became something of an Internet phenomenon. Their songs were also used in the soundtrack of RoomMania #203. Though they rarely played live and never toured extensively, instead playing one-offs and making appearances at conventions, these soundtracks would spread their music to an international audience.
With the addition of Suzuki Yoshifumi as their new drummer, they recorded From Dusk in 2000 with producer Taichi Ohira. Ohira helped them achieve the fuller fuzz-pop sound they had been striving for by playing keyboards on the album. One of its songs was featured on the soundtrack to Jet Set Radio Future, a sequel to the previous game, along with another song from their remix album, Remixes GVR. In 2003 they left Berry Records, which had been acquired by Sony, dissatisfied with their contract's low royalty rate, the fact that they didn't own their own music, and the lack of encouragement to record a new album. They recorded Dawn in their own studio that year and released it independently, before traveling to England to play two concerts. Shozo played keys on the album; American Steve Laity was added to the band to replicate the keyboard sound live.
They recorded their final album, Happy East, in 2004. Their first concerts in the U.S.A. were to follow, but were canceled when Ujuan suffered a viral infection of the heart. Their attempts to record a follow-up were also hampered by Ujuan's illness and a growing rift between him and Tanabe. Despite rumors of one more album having been completed, the band broke up in 2007 without releasing it. ~ Jody Macgregor