Asia Spotlight: For Tracy Hyde on making troubled music and redefining familiarity in new album 'Hotel Insomnia'

Asia Spotlight: For Tracy Hyde on making troubled music and redefining familiarity in new album 'Hotel Insomnia'

If there’s anything you need to know about For Tracy Hyde, it’s that they’re incredibly ambitious and it works. There’s no one that pulls off their complex and thematic music quite the same like they do. 

While they often get described as shoegaze and dream pop, the Japanese band’s music encompasses so much more. Constantly evolving and growing, the quartet has a knack for building cosmic soundscapes with quirky elements hidden in every corner. It’s a labyrinth of styles and influences that, despite coming from so many subgenres and cultures, all beautifully come together.

“We just do whatever we want to do, and hope to balance that with a widely appealing pop sensitivity. I just want everybody to listen to us casually, and then gradually get drawn into the depths until there’s no way out,” said For Tracy Hyde’s vocalist and guitarist eureka

“I feel like it’s this kind of game where we try to find ways to sneak weird things into what seems normal on the surface,” added drummer soukou.

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Taking inspiration from the legends that came before them, For Tracy Hyde owe a lot of their music to Shibuya-kei, a microgenre of pop music and culture that took over Japan in the late 90s. It was liberating, eclectic, and innovative—everything that the band now hopes they reflect through their music. 

“Look at our modus operandi of citing music from all over the world throughout history to create new pop music, our anti-mainstream attitude,  the care and attention that we put into our artwork. There are so many similarities with Shibuya-kei, so in that sense we could be described as a Shibuya-kei revival band. It’s just that we have too many stompboxes,” explained frontman and guitarist Natsubot

“Just as Natsubot said, I feel that our attitude is the same as Shibuya-kei bands. We want to present what we think is cool through curation and homage. At the same time, we also want our musical output to take the form of J-Pop in its universal appeal,” added bassist Mav.

The music culture of the past have contributed a lot to For Tracy Hyde, not just with the music they make but the very way the band was formed. 

The Internet has always had a way of making the world feel small and when you were part of the music community on Twitter in Japan in 2009, it felt even smaller. But luckily, this very facet gave way to the beginnings of For Tracy Hyde

Finding company with other aspiring musicians and shoegaze fans online was the start of the now beloved Japanese band, with Natsubot and Mav connecting all those years ago. 

“Things go back to 2009, when Twitter wasn’t big in Japan yet. The community of music geeks there was especially small, so everybody who liked shoegaze and lived in Tokyo pretty much came to know each other naturally,” explained Natsubot. 

The band initially began with a different lineup and name but as time went on, For Tracy Hyde began to take shape. Today, the group comprise Natsubot, Mav, eureka, and soukou (drums).  

 
 
 
 
 
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With this lineup, the band have released their albums New Young City in 2019 and Ethernity in 2021, following 2017’s he(r)art and 2016’s Film Bleu. Each of those albums cemented For Tracy Hyde’s place in Japan’s vast music scene, with every record expanding their sound and pushing the boundaries of what they can do. 

Now, the band is set to release their upcoming album Hotel Insomnia, which comes not only as the next chapter of their music but also as a celebration of how far they’ve come. In true For Tracy Hyde fashion, the new record sees the ‘Just Like Fireflies’ act tackle new territories, both sonically and thematically.

“Our past three albums put emphasis on conceptuality and a cohesive narrative arc. In contrast, this time we tried singing about different things and taking different approaches with each song, instead making sure that each song is great and the album flows nicely,” said Natsubot. 

While For Tracy Hyde’s previous albums highlighted the beautiful things in life and told a serene story of love and new possibilities, Hotel Insomnia sits on the opposite end of that spectrum, focusing on the dark and grim aspects of daily life that are often easier to ignore. 

“Theme-wise, I wanted to allude to criticism and satire of modern civilization, and the unease and anxiety of living in the post-COVID world, giving a sense that there is a dark undercurrent beneath the music. But at the same time, I also wanted to base the album on daily life and make it sound beautiful the same way we had with our previous works,” Natsubot explained. 

“The initial spark was that I wanted to make an album with a sense of vastness that would go well with travelling. From that starting point, my thoughts branched out to that sleeplessness I’m sure everybody has experienced when travelling: jetlag, vague fears about your future popping out of nowhere, sudden reminiscences of the past, all conspiring to make you toss and turn in your hotel bed. That sort of overlapped with the sense of alienation and disorientation we were feeling in the post-Trump, post-COVID world, where what was once very familiar to us started to feel foreign and strange. The album title is both a reference to travel and an allusion to the current world where we become strangers in our own homes.”

Straying away from the dreamy and idyllic moods of their current discography, their new album sees a darker side to the band’s musicality and artistry, one that creates a weightless limbo of anticipation and reflection.

“It has a weird mood to it, similar to the fatigue you experience after seeing an exhausting play or a movie: you’re caught up in thought and too tired to talk with anybody, but you can’t go to sleep either, so you just keep thinking and thinking,” said eureka. 

“I actually feel that, unlike our previous albums, this one isn’t what you’d listen to walking on the streets, but rather in your bedroom or dark spaces while reflecting on yourself. I do think there is a sense of salvation to it,” added soukou. 

“While each song is very strong, many of them are heavy and psychedelic, so the album as a whole is very high-context. It’s kind of thrilling to imagine what everybody’s reaction to it will be like,” said Mav.

Hotel Insomnia marks an exciting turn for the band’s music, seeing the members try out new skillsets and techniques—like Natsubot rapping for the first time and soukou trying out a new approach to his drumming—and a creative process that involves all hands on deck. 

“For this album, Natsubot brought in about 20 or 30 short demos, and we voted on which ones we wanted to do, or made alternative suggestions. It was the first time we worked this way, and it was very democratic. Also for the first time, the album cover features the band, so I feel that this is an album the four of us made together. That’s also been reflected in the music,” teased eureka. 

It’s a record that the band is evidently proud of; so proud, in fact, they’re hoping to bring it out to tour for their fans all across the region and beyond. 

“Never before have I been so confident about a record of ours, and I want to make sure that it reaches as many people as possible,” said Natsubot. 

While the band hasn’t shared what’s to come of their Hotel Insomnia launch tour, there’s no doubt it’ll be absolutely phenomenal. A mainstay at festivals across the region, For Tracy Hyde are no strangers to performing to crowds, be it in Japan or elsewhere—having most recently returned to Singapore for Baybeats 2022.

“Going back to Singapore, our recent gig at Baybeats 2022 was great. It was our first time playing on an outdoor stage so I was really nervous, but the scenery was great and the sound was huge. Awesome all around,” said soukou.

“Japan’s COVID-19 measures still require face masks for the audience and cheering out loud isn’t allowed yet, so actually getting to see the audience’s faces and watching them sing and dance around made me really happy. Music really transcends borders and language barriers,” said eureka. 

 
 
 
 
 
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For the next chapter of For Tracy Hyde, helmed by Hotel Insomnia, the band just hopes to keep doing what they’re doing. In the middle of trying times and their day jobs, being a musician is not an easy feat but for Natsubot, Mav, eureka, and soukou, this is where their heart lies and they’d do anything to keep it going.

“It’s great for me to have a place where I belong, where I can sing and play and people will come to listen. It makes me feel alive. If we can make people feel alive, too, even for a short while, that would make me happy,” said eureka. 

“These days a lot of young bands both in and out of Japan reach out to me saying that For Tracy Hyde have influenced them. Being able to pass down the music we inherited from our seniors to the younger generations makes me really glad,” said Natsubot. 


Hotel Insomnia comes out on 14 December, you can pre-order the CD and vinyl now via P-VINE Records. Get a glimpse of the upcoming album with 'Subway Station Revelation' here.