Thanks so much to Akiko for this interview. Sugarfrost Records is one of those labels that truly inspired me to start Cloudberry. The aesthetics, the great taste for picking their releases, and their just phenomenal packaging, was something I have wanted to emulate. Sugarfrost released records by many great bands, from Graeme Elston’s Pure and Eva Luna to Japan’s Nelories and b-flower among others. These days Akiko is a bit disconnected from indiepop but she still has stock of Sugarfrost Records and I totally recommend you ordering some of this stuff from her, it’s just fantastic indiepop!
Now Sugarfrost have a facebook page!
++ Hi Akiko! First of all I want to tell you that your label is a big inspiration to me and my own label. Thanks for what you’ve done. You also started small with The Boshi label releasing zines and flexis before moving to CDs and 7″s. What made possible this change?
My first UK trip was in, inevitably, 1986. After a month of absorbing all indie stuff, back home to Japan and I started writing fanzines, organising indie clubs and gigs. It was primarily just myself at Boshi Label. But with Sugarfrost, it is me and John. You can do more when there’s two of you. The move to 7″s was natural course of evolution. 7″s was the indie medium and it was also “real”, I suppose. That is when compared with cassettes and flexis. Such was the days then.
++ I’d love to do an interview about what you did with The Boshi Label later, as there’s so much to cover about Sugarfrost, hope that’s ok! So it was 1991 when you started Sugarfrost. How was the infrastructure then for the label?
What do you mean by ‘infrastructure’? Such a long word feels too much for us! We were just one of those ‘bedroom’ indie labels. No office, daytime job and stuff, not very much money, just the two of us.
++ Why did you name the label Sugarfrost?
Certain cereal company sold nice sugary stuff (those days in Japan they were marketed as kids snack, not breakfast) called Sugar Frost in Japan. After we nicked the name, somehow they changed the name to… Frosties.
++ I always wondered how you ended up in UK being from Japan, and how did you get into indiepop?
I did first few very home-made ones, design and photos. Stay Still cover boy is my brother so really should’ve given my mum a credit! Then, apart from Razorblade Smile and Evelyn Tremble, all others by Paradiso – our friend Jon Parker, who was co-writing Paradiso fanzine with Eddie (of our own Evelyn Tremble). Somehow Mike from They Go Boom! was doing the typeset for our booklet releases (and messed up a bit!). As most of our bunch were fanzine writers, there was no shortage of volunteers for stories. I think it was because we loved what we did and it was the whole package not just the record that mattered to us. There was no pushing schedule or anything, we only produced what we loved and cared.
++ What about the aesthetics and artwork of the label, who took care of that? Something that always strike me is the “extra” that you put on each record, like those booklets included in many of the 7″s for example. How did that came about?
My keen interest in UK indie music has really started when I made good friends at Aztec Camera fan club in Japan when I was at high school. I was already deeply into ‘neo-aco’ by that time, which was an on-going movement. I quickly dug into the indie scene and within a few years I was writing to all sorts of fanzine writers and indiepop bands. After a couple of UK trips while at uni, I was determined to move and to study at Glasgow School of Art.
++ Also something that impresses me is that you released many Japanese bands for the English market like Nelories, B-Flower or White Kam Kam. How were these received by the brits? Must have been something totally new!
Some people had already heard about Shonen Knife by then. Can’t remember who else, but we weren’t the first anyway. Still unusual it was, though. We got some good reviews and Nelories even had a John Peel session. Music papers praised B-Flower most because of singing straight in Japanese.
++ First release was the fantastic Pure 7″. You already had worked with Graeme on a flexi and would later keep releasing his music. It feels you were his biggest fan! I just met him some weeks ago in London, great guy. How was your relationship with him? Did you ever meet? Any anecdotes you could share?
Did we ever meet? He almost lived with us! ^_^ We met that often, almost like a family. Graeme moved to Liverpool for uni, where we were. Then we just got on so well. But we didn’t release so many of his stuff just because we were mates. From beginning to the end, we liked his music, we had respect for his musical talent. Ah, we had some good laugh – us, Graeme and the Paradiso boys!
++ The second release of Sugarfrost is monumental I think. The compilation “The Birth of the True” should be considered a classic and also an introduction to indiepop. What’s the story behind this compilation? How did you choose the bands and what does the name “The Birth of the True” means?
Again, I can’t recall who came up with the title. There is an Aztec Camera song of the same title actually (as referred in Hachino B-Flower’s interview), but can’t remember if we had that in mind or not. The compilation idea came from Japan side, the label which had all the Japanese bands. It was to be something half the scale but ended up a full LP. We chose UK half of the tracks. One of the things that was special about the compilation was, it was a Japan-UK compilation without any bands from Tokyo and London. You don’t have to be from the big city to be a great artist.
++ You then released White Come Come (or White Kam Kam? it seems they wrote their name in different ways), Nelories, and B-Flower. These Japanese bands are fantastic. How did you discover them? Did you go to Japan often during those years? Did you ever catch them playing live?
I knew Jun from Nelories while she was still at high school, I at uni. Eventually they signed to a label in Tokyo, who had other bands. After the release of the LP, we took Eva Luna to Japan for the Birth of the True showcase tour organised by the label. It was a grand tour of 7 cities from north to south. A great experience, including one-day recording! Tired-looking photo of Eva Luna on the stairs outside the studio can be seen on the back of their Kick Out single on Turntable Friend. Who played where are all blurred now, but it was great to be able to play with the Japanese bands.
As for the spelling of WCC, for the LP we insisted WCC to use Ks instead of Cs for obvious reason. However they then insisted to spell it with Cs for the 12″. I think if they had a better name, would have sold more – we had to throw boxes of them away when we moved, which was painful – but who knows?
++ Even though you mostly released pure pop you also released the very noisy Razorblade Smile. I guess your taste was quite varied! I wonder then which other bands from the period would you have wanted to release? And also, if maybe there were any releases on the pipeline that for one or another reason didn’t get released?
To answer this question, I must explain that we are JAMC (Jesus And Mary Chain, early Creation band from Glasgow) generation. Pop doesn’t have to take just one form. I don’t see Razorblade Smile as a different kind of music, we still hear pure pop in them, in essence. And they were cool!
Other bands that we would have liked to release – is a difficult question. Is even more difficult now that I don’t listen to those music from the era any more. Oh, just remembered there was a talk about releasing the unreleased (then) second album by Fantastic Something! We knew someone in Greece who knew them. But they needed some money for some studio work and we couldn’t afford it. Not much money now but was for us then.
As for our unreleased, there were actually a couple that didn’t happen: one more single by Eva Luna, also an LP by B-Flower.
++ I still haven’t been able to find or listen the Evelyn Tremble 7″. So I’m very curious about this one. Care to tell me a bit about it? Like who were they and how did they sound like?
They are from Hull, England. As I mentioned before, we knew Eddie as a fanzine writer before this band came up. They are like a bunch of boys grew up together, and very funny bunch as well! Musically, kind of like Pale Fountains with a dark side? The booklet sleeve was designed and printed in LA, and just at the time of the big earthquake, too! So it was delayed by some 8 months or so, I seem to remember.
++ You also released Fugu, whose records have become quite difficult to track down. How did you find him? Did you usually get lots of demos from bands by the way? Or what was the usual way for you to find bands for the label?
Fugu has sent us a demo. Ours was his first release, he came over to Liverpool for the recording. And yes, we used to receive lots of demo tapes. Fugu is the only one that we did purely because of the demo, he was virtually unknown to us (ie wasn’t a fanzine writer, and was French).
++ And last but not least, Eva Luna. They released many records with you. I’m wondering, if you were to pick a song penned by Graeme Elston, which one would be your favourite? And what about your favourite song from the whole Sugarfrost discography?
Hmmm, a difficult question! Again, it’s not all about the song, the whole situation adds to the feel of each releases. The first Pure single was the first recording I had ever attended. I also did the photograph of Graeme (in the cathedral yard in Liverpool) and the Pure handwriting on sleeve. Still remember the wow it was when we finally got distribution for the single, thanks to Martin Whitehead (of Subway Organisation and The Flatmates) at Revolver whom I knew then. So all that makes the first single sound special to me.
++ So when and why did you decide to stop releasing records? And what did you do after? Where you still involved with music?
We just drifted off. No definite end. There had never been any money in it. John got busier at work, Graeme moved to London. Times have changed. Also the whole ‘indie’ situation changed about the time of our last releases.
So I was a secondhand vinyl buyer for Japanese shops for a while, then dealing them myself running a regular catalogue for Japanese customers. Which was a lot more profitable than doing Sugarfrost! But after a while, the Japanese ‘guitar pop’ scene also died out and no one was buying those records. So that also drifted off.
++ Nowadays you live in New Zealand, how much different is live over there? How do you like it and what do you do in your spare time? I see you have a page where you sell posters?
Life in New Zealand is 100 times better than the UK. We actually have LIFE here! I can go on and on about life here. It’s that good. For us, anyway. We are not materialistic. We live close to nature. Back to basics, kind of thing. Which is good when you are not so young but not so old.
After the vinyl sale died out, I moved on to selling Japanese “chirashi” movie promo posters. It is so small, hardly takes any space unlike 1000 vinyl records! That was the initial thought, but I got quite into collecting them myself now. It really is a joy. I have an eBay shop (http://stores.ebay.co.uk/puppetonachain-chirashi-shop) and also own website (puppetonachain.com), dealing mainly arthouse, world cinema, cult, independent and anime film posters.
++ Do you miss anything from the UK?
Only miss those lovely hand-pulled pints of real ale from north of England.
++ One last question, my Japanese friends keep telling me I have to try Okonomiyaki. Would you recommend me the same? Or which dishes from Japan are your favourites?
You are talking to a girl from Hiroshima! (Well, I lived mostly in Nara but Hiroshima is my birthtown.) There are 2 sorts of Okonomiyaki: Hiroshima or not Hiroshima. Non-Hiroshima sorts are still yummy but you can make it at home. What you get in Japanese restaurants abroad are non-Hiroshima variation. (You have to be careful not to go to somewhere that serves one from freezer! ) For Hiroshima ‘Okonomi’, you need to go there. There is a real Okonomi culture in Hiroshima. It’s casual, not gourmet. And it’s everywhere.
So Okonomi is one thing I won’t miss if I visit Hiroshima. Food in Japan is so good, I always put on weight when I go back! As I eat almost anything, list of favourite would be so long – too long probably for an interview on music 😛
++ Thanks again a lot Akiko! Hopefully talk soon! Anything else you’d like to add?
It is amazing how we can’t remember some details of what we did. Since junior high school, music had been my whole life and Sugarfrost was, kind of, the baby of my obsession. However, or rather because of it, I now seem to have cut myself from it all mentally. It takes something to bring myself to listen or think about those things. It mattered so much to me… when I see any records I so loved from the era, what I see isn’t just a recorded medium. I see myself there, as I was 15, 18, 21, you know, ‘when I was young’? Somehow it’s hard. Strange it is, isn’t it?
Limited number of back catalogue still available – please refer to: