“In New York, I started by playing open mic nights, and after that I got first one booking, then more bookings.”
One of those gigs was at Blue Mondays, a rocker dive bar directly downstairs from Amram’s communal music loft. Their doors are literally only three or four meters apart.
“Ken was playing in front of maybe three people,” says Amram. “But I was thinking this guy is amazing. After he finished, I said, ‘Please, please, play with me.’ He hardly spoke any English then, but I invited him upstairs. I was like, let’s jam right now.”
“I was thinking, ‘Upstairs! Right now!’ I was really scared,” says Ken. “In Japan, it is impossible to play inside the apartment. I didn’t think it was possible, and also it was New York.”
“But when he saw all the old amplifiers and the drums, I started to see a smile on his face,” says Amram. “We jammed that night and wrote a song.”
That song is called Hold On, and Amram now describes it as “a pact between me and Ken to play music together no matter what.” The lyrics are simple, yet powerful: “Hold on, hold on. We’re in this together against the storm.”
Before long, it would take on even greater meaning for the pair. Ken returned to Tokyo after a few more gigs, but he quickly invited Amram to join him in Japan for a tour. The night of their first show was set for March 11, 2011, the day of the earthquake and tsunami.
“The show actually went on,” says Amram. “We had no idea how serious it was at that moment. But we soon realized. We didn’t have a long history together, but going through that brought us a lot closer.”
The earthquake has also left its mark on Ken South Rock’s music, and Amram says both are obsessed with natural, elemental forces that are far beyond human power. These sentiments are evident in songs like Hold On and Volcano, where Ken’s Japanese lyrics speak of animistic gods of the mountains and the seas.
This combines with a raw sense of emotional urgency that Amram describes as “positive aggression.”
“There’s a lot of emotion in our playing,” says Amram “That comes from how difficult it is to say anything, or how difficult it is to get your point across, or just how difficult it is to survive.”
In Tainan: Ken South Rock plays tonight at 9pm at TCRC, B1, 314, Simen Rd Sec 2, Greater Tainan (台南市西門路二段314號B1). Tickets are NT$300 at the door.
In Taipei: Tomorrow at 5:30pm with Slack Tide, Broken Little Sister, Manic Sheep and Naisho at The Wall (這牆壁), B1, 200 Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). No price given.
Sunday 9pm in Taipei with Forests and Suichublanco at Revolver, 1-2, Roosevelt Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路一段1-2號). NT$300 at the door.