Kentaro Saito wants Charlestonians to know one thing about his band, the Otonano Trio. In fact, he says that it’s the most important thing that all of us here in the Holy City need to know. “We are from Japan,” Saito says. Since our rather hastily arranged interview with Saito was conducted via e-mail, because he and his bandmates live on the other side of the dateline — Tokyo to be exact — we don’t know if he wrote that answer with a deadpan glee, but we like to hope that he did because there’s far more to the Otonano Trio than just hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. They’re also one of the most absolutely out-there acts we’ve heard in a long time.
The Otonano Trio’s just-released disc Stories at the Homerun Office is a noisy crash test of funk, punk, country twang, and freak jazz, and with song titles like “Baroque Hoedown” and lines like “Don’t let your balls get hit by the ball” on “Baseball,” it’s bound to leave you scratching your head and saying, “I don’t know what the fuck that was, but I like it.” Given the Otonano Trio’s mix-and-match funk-and-punk mind meld, it’s no surprise to learn that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of Saito’s biggest inspirations, along with Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield.
While Saito’s not exactly a household name in the States, the singer and guitarist has been around for quite some time, and he’s got quite a rep for being a wild man on stage, most notably during his stint with the Dynamite Club when he was known to dance around in his underwear and show off his karate skills.
Oddly enough, that now-defunct band featured one of Charleston’s own, Byrne Klay of Megan Jean and the KFB, on bass. Klay was in Dynamite Club for three years and toured four continents with the band. “I really never knew what he would do next as a performer,” Klay says of Saito. “He’s just so spontaneous. He’s just a ball of raw energy, like pure id or something.”
Klay adds, “One minute he was hanging from the rafters, the next he would be kung-fu battling with the drummer while I kept the beat on the bass. Despite three years in a band with a half-naked Japanese man, I never saw more than ass crack, cause he really is a class act.”
These days Saito is apparently a bit more settled down. After all, “otonano” means “grown-ups” in Japanese. “I, at least, think I got better, though my wife might think otherwise,” Saito says. “One thing I became aware of with age is that self analysis maybe somehow be selfish analysis.”
This week, Saito and the Otonano Trio hit up the Sparrow in Park Circle for the Japanese Power Delight tour. Joining them will be two other Japanese bands, Gelatine and Babylon Breakers. Surprisingly, the idea for the 10-city U.S. tour was inspired by a tragedy. “The recent earthquake in Japan made me think a lot. It made me aware of quite a few things,” Saito says. “I thought of what am I capable of doing and what do I really want with life and all that.”
He adds, “It also made me aware that I really want to be a part of introducing great Japanese bands” to the U.S.
Klay, for one, thinks that the Oct. 10 show at the Sparrow is a must-see, and he has nothing but praise for his former bandmate Saito. “He’s also one of the best guitarists I’ve ever met,” Klay says. “I think Park Circle is just about the right place for a Japanese power invasion.”