Half Japanese

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Half Japanese
Half Japanese at the SXSW Festival, March 2008
Half Japanese at the SXSW Festival, March 2008
Background information
OriginUniontown, Maryland, United States
Years active1975–present
Labels50 Skidillion Watts, Safe House, Alternative Tentacles, Joyful Noise Recordings, Fire Records (UK), Emperor Jones, T.E.C. Tones, Psycho Acoustic Sounds
MembersJad Fair
Past membersDavid Fair
Mark Jickling
John Sluggett
Howard Wuelfing
Don Fleming
Jay Spiegel
Jason Willett
Gilles Reider
Henry Beckmeyer
Rick Dreyfuss
John Dreyfuss
Moe Tucker
Kramer Rich Labrie

Half Japanese is an American art punk band formed by brothers Jad and David Fair around 1975, sometime after the family's relocation to Uniontown, Maryland. Their original instrumentation included a small drum set, which they took turns playing; vocals; and an out-of-tune, distorted guitar. Both Fair brothers sang, although over time Jad moved into the frontman role. As of the last several releases since the 1990s, according to the album and CD credits, the band composes and plays the entirety of the music while Fair, eschewing his role as guitarist from earlier albums, plays almost no guitar but is responsible for the vocals and lyrics, which typically divide into either "love songs or monster songs." The band, still a vital "art punk" unit, has released six albums since 2014 with the same personnel that recorded Hot in 1993. Their last three releases, Why Not?, Invincible and Crazy Hearts have all received four-star reviews from the U.K. magazine, Record Collector, while New Yorker also praised the 2021 release, Crazy Hearts. The band members are John Sluggett (guitar), Gilles-Vincent Rieder (drums), Jason Willett (bass), Mick Hobbs (guitar), and Jad Fair (vocals and guitar).

Band history[edit]

Jad is well known for playing an untuned electric guitar. After more than 40 years, he still does not play in any traditional manner; in the documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King he states that "you do need cords to plug the guitar in but that's pretty much it."

Their lyrics often deal with monsters and the supernatural (especially as influenced by "creature feature" and scifi movies), in addition to more conventional themes, such as young love. They have stated that all their songs are either "love songs or monster songs."

The band released their first single "Calling All Girls" in August 1977, followed by a triple album 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts,[1] that gave them a near-instant cult status. It is possible they were the first band to begin with a triple album.

The band played and recorded as a duo until the early 1980s, when they began incorporating additional members into the group: Mark Jickling (guitar and vocals) and brothers Ricky and John Dreyfuss (drums and saxophone). Since that time, dozens of musicians have come and gone under the Half Japanese banner, including Howard Wuelfing, Don Fleming, Jay Spiegel that are both from the band Velvet Monkeys, and Shockabilly bass player and Shimmy Disc impresario Mark Kramer among others. Jad is the only member who has been with Half Japanese from the beginning.[1] David Fair eventually left the band in the early 1980s to focus on his family. He has continued to make guest appearances with the band from time to time.

The next line-up of Half Japanese came together in the late 1980s, proving to be a long-lasting and stable unit recording several albums and touring frequently throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan. This incarnation featured guitarist/multi-instrumentalist John Sluggett (also a longtime member of Moe Tucker's band), multi-instrumentalist Jason Willett, Mick Hobbs, and drummer Gilles Reider. Since then, the group has worked with Moe Tucker from The Velvet Underground, who produced and performed on Fire In the Sky (1992), as well as The Band That Would Be King, and with Fred Frith, and John Zorn, among others.[1]

Fans and supporters of Half Japanese include Penn Jillette, who helped the band release some of their albums on his label, 50 Skidillion Watts, and Kurt Cobain, who had them open some dates of Nirvana's 1993 In Utero tour. Cobain was wearing a Half Japanese T-shirt when he died.[2]

The band's history and influence are chronicled in the 1993 documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King by Jeff Feuerzeig.[1] The band was chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in March 2012 in Minehead.[3]

The 1995 album Hot was one of their noisiest grunge albums with heavily distorted vocals and guitars.[citation needed] In 1997, the band released Heaven Sent.[1] The title track, over 60 minutes long, was a live recording for a radio broadcast on Radio 5 VPRO's De Avonden.

In 2011, the band toured through Europe in the formation Jad Fair, John Sluggett, Jason Willett, Mick Hobbs, and Gilles-Vincent Reider. Once a year David Fair is in charge of the ShakeMore Music Festival in Westminster, Maryland. Each year the start up formation with the Fair brothers, the Dreyfuss brothers, John Moremen, and Mark Jickling perform at ShakeMore. Early drummer Rick Dreyfuss died on March 14, 2013, and was replaced by Skizz Cyzyk and Chris "Batworth" Ciattei from the band Go Pills.

In October 2013, long time band members, John Sluggett, Gilles-Vincent Rieder, Mick Hobbs, Jason Willett, and Jad Fair, toured with Neutral Milk Hotel. In 2014 a new album, Overjoyed, was released on Joyful Noise Recordings.


Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

  • Half Alive (Cassette - live at DC Space and the Red Door, Baltimore[4] - 50 Skidillion Watts, 1977)
  • 50 Skidillion Watts Live (Calypso Now, 1984)
  • Boo: Live in Europe 1992 (TEC Tones, 1994)

Compilation albums[edit]

  • Best Of Half Japanese (Timebomb Japan, 1993)
  • Greatest Hits 2 CDs / 3 LPs (Safe House, 1995)
  • Best Of Half Japanese Vol. 2 (Timebomb Japan, 1995)


  • "Calling All Girls" (50 Skidillion Watts, 1977)
  • Horrible (Press, 1982)
  • Real Cool Time/What Can I Do/Monopoly EP (Overzealous Editions, 1989)
  • Everybody Knows, Twang 1 EP (Seminal Twang, 1991)
  • 4 Four Kids EP (Ralph, 1991)
  • Postcard EP (Earl, 1991)
  • Eye of the Hurricane/Said and Done/U.S. Teens are Spoiled Bums/Daytona Beach EP (1991)


  • "No Direct Line from my Brain to My Heart"/"(I Don't Want to Have) Mono (No More)" 7" (50 Skidillion Watts, 1978)
  • "Spy" (Armageddon, 1981)
  • "How Will I Know" (Press, 1982)
  • "U.S. Teens Are Spoiled Bums" (50 Skidillion Watts, 1988)
  • "T For Texas"/"Go Go Go Go" (X.X.O.O. Fan Club, 1990)


  • Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (Jeff Feuerzeig, Washington Square Films, 1993)


  • All the Doctors in Hot Springs, December 2012[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (2003). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 232. ISBN 1-85227-969-9.
  2. ^ "Follow-Up Report". Seattle Police Department. 8 April 1994. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  3. ^ "ATP curated by Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) - All Tomorrow's Parties". Atpfestival.com. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ "Half Japanese had so much fun in Hot Springs, they published a book about it - Rock Candy - Arkansas news, politics, opinion, restaurants, music, movies and art". Arkansas Times. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2014.

External links[edit]