Music & Clubs

Don't Call It A Reunion

After disappearing from the scene, San Jose's Shinobu is more popular than ever
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Though they never officially broke up, Shinobu found that their following has grown exponentially three years after the band vanished from the scene.

WHEN Shinobu's bass player Bob Vielma returned to San Jose after a year of teaching English in Japan, he was shocked at the crowd that came out to see his band play at Nickel City, most of whom were people he didn't recognize.

"I was like, what happened in San Jose while I was in Japan?" Vielma says.

It was Shinobu's first show in San Jose since the band dissolved at the beginning of 2008. During that time, guitarist Matt Keegan moved to New Jersey and drummer Jonathan Jing Fu and Vielma moved to Japan. Before their departure, Shinobu had a strong five-year run, from 2002 to 2007.

The band released three albums (the second, Worstward Ho!, on Asian Man Records), toured the states five times and traveled to Japan once. In that time, Shinobu rarely drew more than 10 people to any show in San Jose. Somehow, the group didn't find much of an audience until after it broke up.

Except that, according to the members of the band, they never did. "I like how our band has never broken up. I think it's stupid for bands to break up and do reunion shows," Vielma says.

Even if they haven't broken up, they are far less active than they were back in their heyday, especially with only Vielma and lead singer/guitarist Mike Huguenor left in San Jose.

Plus they've all moved on to new bands. Huguenor plays in eclectic punk band Hard Girls, as well as Jesse Michael's current band, the Classics of Love. Keegan now lives in New York and plays with experimental ska-punk-avant-freaks Bomb the Music Industry. Fu continues to play drums in various Japanese bands. And Vielma raps and plays bass for punk performance-art pranksters Gnarboots.

Still, when I sat down with Huguenor and Vielma, they had nothing but fond memories of their Shinobu days. "It was our first serious band. I don't think it'll ever get better than that," says Vielma.

"I specifically started Shinobu because I didn't want to be in a punk band anymore. I was listening to Sebedoh, Pavement, Deerhoof and Built to Spill and wanted to start a band that sounded like the music I was listening to," Huguenor says.

The indie scene just wasn't interested in Shinobu, probably for having too much residual punk energy. "Punk is the only thing at the time that would take us," Huguenor says.

But that scene wasn't really a good fit either. "We were in the punk scene when every band wanted to sound like Dillinger Four. Now punk bands are doing lots of different styles. We had the horrible fate of not being in the right place at the right time," Vielma says.

Shinobu's brand of quirky, intelligent and energetic songs was actually equal parts punk and indie rock. The band members wrote pop music that had anything but traditional three-chord song structures. Lyrically, they struck a bizarre balance between nerdy and thought-provoking. Their live shows were fun and crazy. They'd be jumping and tumbling all over the stage and on top of each other.

The San Jose kids growing up in the past few years have embraced their unique style in a way the previous generation did not. "I don't want to say it was all a matter of bad timing. Looking back, we became a much better band in 2006–07, right before we split up. We always thought we were doing something cool but hadn't yet struck on what that was," Vielma says.

Both Vielma and Huguenor believe that Strange Spring Air, their last album, was without a doubt their favorite. It's the album on which Huguenor says they really started sounding wholly their own and unlike their influences.

Despite barely being a band anymore, Shinobu has a slew of new releases. It put out a 30-song B-side collection on Quote Unquote Records called Exhaustion, Exhaustion, then released a 7-inch of songs recorded in 2009 when Vielma first returned from Japan. Now, the group is releasing a split 7-inch with the Albert Square.

"We had so many things we never did anything with. Some of it's pretty cool stuff that didn't get a proper release," Huguenor says.

Shinobu seems to play shows every so often too, including Jan. 15 at Homestead Lanes along with the Albert Square, as a release party for its split 7-inch.

For a band that broke up three years ago, Shinobu is pretty prolific. It's a good thing it never realized what supposedly happened.


Jan. 15, 8pm; $8

Homestead Lanes, Cupertino

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