alex deller interviews a very jaded seeming yoichi, several years ago…
Snuffy Smile is a great little punk label from Japan that’s been around for a good few years now and released records by bands like the Urchin, I Excuse, Minority Blues Band and plenty more besides. It’s run by Yoichi, who was kind enough to tap out some responses to a few questions I had about what keeps Snuffy Smile ticking…
C: Give us a brief history of the label – how long have you been running it and what made you start? What significant obstacles and difficulties have you faced, and how have you overcome them (starting to sound like a job interview there…). Do you still see running Snuffy Smile as a learning process, or is it all “second nature” to you now?
Y: I started the label in 1993 and I really can’t remember what I was thinking at the time. I just started it to release the bands I thought should have records out as there were no good labels to release stuff by the bands I loved. Before I started the label, I had many favourite labels like Rugger Bugger in the UK or Allied in the US and I wanted to do something like them, though they were still much better than mine.
I got a lot of backstabbing by many people about the things I did as a label, and I still don’t know why so many people seemed to hate me. I think Japanese people dislike those who do their own thing. I received a lot of help from the bands themselves, but basically made my own decisions and had my own opinions as to how things should be done. Some people didn’t like that and preferred useless negotiation. But all those people seem to have gone away and nobody pays me that much attention, so it seems like a waste of time to complain about them.
The label is everything to me and I’ve never done anything I like besides it, except for drinking, reading or travelling. I can’t say exactly what it is – it’s like a learning process but at the same time it’s all second nature to me too.
C: What advice would you give to anyone setting up their own label or putting out a record?
Y: I can’t see why anyone would want to start a punk rock label nowadays – nobody needs it anymore. I still am because I don’t have anything to do besides it. If you are enjoying your life in other ways I’d say don’t have any such a stupid ideas. You won’t get any new ideas for a punk rock label from me. It’s dying but I still love it.
C: What has been the most positive aspect of running Snuffy Smile? Is there anything about it that you don’t like?
Y: The most positive aspect is definitely meeting great people. I’m fuckin’ old but I still love to sleep anywhere and live in a way not many other people would want to. I can do it because I’m q guy involved in this punk scene and I’m proud of that. But it also makes me depressed – I’ve been losing friends along the way. There seem to be very few people who want to carry on the punk way of life for any length of time in Japan.
C: Let’s talk about the Snuffy Smile “sound” – often gruff, usually melodic, always punk. Do you go out of your way to seek these bands out, or do they gravitate towards you? Were there many bands like this in Japan already, or has the label itself led to more bands adopting a certain style?
Y: I don’t think about such a thing. All the bands are just ones I love and they’re playing the music I like. I listen to many kinds of music, but my favourite stuff is always like Leatherface, Jawbreaker, Stiff Little Fingers… so you know my taste.
I just meet the bands when I go to shows or when I’m touring. I’ve been doing the label for over 12 years, so some of the oldest bands influenced younger bands and they influenced other bands… and so on and on…
C: How do you feel about the term “pop punk”? Nowadays it seems almost synonymous with bad, vacuous Blink 182-type bands and Vans-sponsored tours – do you think this leads to a lot of good bands going unnoticed because of the stigma this genre has?
Y: I don’t care. I’m always doing my thing in the underground and I don’t know what’s going on in the “proper” music scene. Punk was pretty much dead a long time ago now it’s living a living death. The whole music business is of no concern to me anymore. All the good bands go unnoticed by ordinary people in Japan, but that’s okay because I’m not interested in mainstream culture at all. If someone doesn’t listen to the bands on my label because it’s “pop punk” then that’s not a problem – I don’t have any responsibility for saving people from being victims of media control or anything like that. In my opinion it’s better to build the wall and keep them out.
C: Boring question: which new bands would you recommend we check out?
Y: Blotto is definitely the best band in Japan at the moment. The Because are great too.
C: How has Snuffy Smile built its relationships with overseas bands? Do they contact you, or vice versa? Are you usually friends with them beforehand? Does the distance ever prove to be a problem?
Y: Once you get one friend in punk scene it’s just a beginning – soon enough you have a hundred friends. It’s easy. I always wrote letters to the bands I loved and asked them “hey, are you interested in doing a split 7inch?”.Basically I pretty much know who can do it and who can’t, though a few times it didn’t work so well.
C: What’s in the pipeline for the label – do you have any significant plans or schemes? Are there any bands you’d particularly like to work with?
Y: There are never any future plans for the label. I’m just doing what I want to do right now. But if the Tone get back together I’d want to release something with them again, for sure.
C: If you had the chance, which band would you most like to have put a record out by?
Y: Dillinger Four. I tried but it didn’t happen. Also, the Strike and Hellbender.
C: Any last words or requests?
Y: Life is a waste of time, so let’s waste the time on the things you enjoy. Thanks a lot for the interview.