Mistress of Radio (MR) visited American Sensei in their
studio and interviewed the band members. In the following transcript
quotations are vulnerable to misattribution, but we trust that
neither American Sensei nor you, O gentle reader, will be offended.
MR: I'm here with American Sensei. The band is made up of John, Chad, and Mike. Chad, can you tell me how you got started?
C: Well, Mike and I knew each other from different bands and had mutual respect for each other's songwriting and musical abilities. We just decided to get together and start making up songs. So we did that.
MR: What does American Sensei mean?
C: Well, it means different things to different people. Basically, it's a reference to the character in the Karate Kid movies, it's the evil American Sensei that wears black and teaches high school kids to beat up Ralph Maccio. He looks like Joe Piscopo a lot of the time, wears a black gee, and has the evil dojo, so it's just sort of a random pop culture reference, and Mike has something to add since he's actually the source of the name.
M: People ask this question a lot so Chad makes up good answers for it. One of the best ones is that it's "my dad's middle name" which he says, which I always get a kick out of.
MR: Who would you say are your influences, musically?
C: That's always kind of a weird question, since I don't necessarily
think we sound like our influences too much. People generally say that we're like Superchunk and the Pixies mixed together. I know that Mike was really in to Hüsker Dü and all that Bob Mould type stuff. So it could be a common Hüsker Dü origin to Superchunk and us. That gives you some kind of idea. We're also obliquely influenced by early 80's pop stuff; people have said that.
M: Yeah, we have a musical aesthetic that involves trimming the fat and unnecessary parts off songs. We don't really go into long jams. We also like to use a lot of dynamics in the songs. So an influence with that respect is maybe somebody like PJ Harvey, who makes a lot of use of space and quiet parts in songs and has them explode. It's not just like totally soft-loud, like Nirvana-y stuff. We try to work with different points between those two extremes. So there you go.
MR: You're waiting for this question. You went to Stanford; you graduated. What did you major in?
J: I got a Masters in Philosophy.
C: I got a Ph.D. in Rock. [Laughter]
MR: If you weren't playing music, what would you be doing?
J: Well... I would probably be living in Connecticut where my girlfriend is and doing something to make money.
C: Writing maybe? I was an English major in college, and that was the other sort of art form that I relate to. So I'd be just as poor. It'd pretty much be the same way.
M: If I wasn't doing music, I'd probably be doing film stuff because film can
be an expressive art, too, and there's a lot of pretentions in the film
industry just like the music industry, too, so it could be really annoying, but
yeah, film would be fun.|
J: If you had to write a rap lyric to this beat that's in the background, what would it be?
M: I would be just repeating the word KILL over and over again.
MR: Can you tell me about one of your most unusual shows?
M: We went on tour a few months ago and we played a few shows in Canada. We played in Montreal, and it was just totally weird, because nobody knew who we were or the other band we toured with, Lifter. So basically there were these 3 French guys in these really tight horizontally striped shirts. They looked like they were in the French navy circa 1860 or something. And they were running around while we were playing, trolling these weird stick kite things and running around in circles and yelling things in French. That was really bizarre. And the place was this huge punk rock place. That was bizarre.
MR: Changing the subject a little: If you could be any cartoon character or super hero, who would you be?
M: Oh man, no way! I don't know.
J: Well, I haven't had enough time to think of the exact accurate answer, but what first comes to mind is Calvin; I would probably be Calvin.
C: I always liked the orange monster guy in Bugs Bunny that lived in the castle. I think his name was Gossamer, and he had tennis shoes.
And he just ran around the castle trying to kill Bugs Bunny. I don't know whether I'd want to be that, but I liked that guy.
MR: Did you think Bugs Bunny was attractive when he dressed up as a lady?
C: Oh my god, who didn't? [Laughter]
MR: What are your aspirations as a group?
M: My goal is to be able to make up songs that I like as much as my favorite songs by other people. Does that make sense? I listen to some other band's song, and I think that's a great song, and I love it for whatever reason -- I want to be able to make up songs like that. It's probably unattainable, because even my favorite bands have bands that they look at and they think they can never be as good as those other bands. It's probably impossible, but that's what keeps us going.
MR: Any last message to our listeners?
C: My advice is just to have an open mind. A lot of people who listen to college radio and work in college radio get caught up in the "indier-than-thou," "cooler-than-thou" attitude. I think college radio is really cool. They can play whatever they want, which is awesome. But they tend to go overboard and play just stuff that other people say is cool and things like that. I worked in college radio for a little while and felt that a lot of people that worked there just really didn't have an open mind, even though they liked to be snobbier than everyone else and saying, "Oh yeah, we're playing stuff that you would never play." I'm not naming names, but it's just something to think about.