Who are The Kaizens?

Words By Verity Hesketh

‘Kaizen’ is a Japanese business term meaning ‘a change for the better’. Understanding this is key to understanding the band that operates under its banner. 

The Kaizens’ sound at its core is found in the ambition of 2000’s muscular indie, and the outsider snarl of alt-rock. The band’s live shows are fireballs of tightly wound energy, unravelling in a skilful blaze of sound and colour. 

Initially strangers, but hailing from the same area in south Devon, the band were all head-hunted by Tom, the founding member and lead singer. Sam Swann (bass) says, “We’re all here with thanks to the internet. We were all lonely hearts musicians, hoping that we’d find a match. And then we did.”

During the past year in particular, The Kaizens have swung into successful momentum, playing and recording with the Devon Youth Orchestra, releasing a string of well-received singles, alongside continuous support from BBC Introducing.

So what happens when a global pandemic disrupts that perpetual motion? How to do you stop the static? I hopped on Zoom with Josh and Sam to find out more about The Kaizens’ creative culture, and how they’re coping with #lockdownlife.

Left Hand Side was produced and released during lockdown, how did you put this together, with all of you bar Josh and Tom living separately? 

Josh: It’s been really great being able to put energy into this band, it’s been an amazing distraction away from everything else that’s been happening. Everyone needs goals at the end of the day, us included, and you need to keep your focus on them to stop getting stagnant.

Sam: Of course it’s been a challenge in lockdown, but we’ve still been determined to keep going. We’ve been recording ourselves alone, and sending them off to Josh for mixing. 

Josh: I’m pretty sure all the parts to Left Hand Side were recorded in the first take. 

In terms of your next drop, what could we expect from you? 

Sam: Oooh. That is a good question. We’ve dropped some hints so far on our social media, but I think for the moment we’re going to go with the flow and pick one of the handful of songs we’ve been working on. I think they’ve all got potential, but I think it might be a last minute decision for us. 

Josh: Our biggest argument is always which will be the next song to drop. We’ve always got a bunch of songs that we’ll be working on at any given point because we just write all the time. 

How do you keep your sound feeling fresh? 

Sam: We’re now utilising SoundCloud a lot more. We want to be more raw about how we put songs together, openly sharing our demos and background stuff. A lot of bands get scared of putting too much online before it’s absolutely perfect, but if you’re not putting your songs and your soul online, how are you going to get there? We’ve never wanted to try to impress anyone, it’s really important to us to make each other happy as a band. 

You played with Devon Youth Orchestra last year at your biggest gig yet; Plymouth Pavilions. Tell me about your experience getting an orchestra onboard with a rock band.

Josh: We’ve always wanted to be communal, the idea happened organically. At first we were just brick-walled. Like; ‘No. This isn’t going to happen. This isn’t going to work.’ One of the sound guys suggested maybe a violin or two, and we were like, ‘No, that’s not an orchestra!’. I don’t want to give too much away, but we worked pretty hard to get our orchestra. 

I don’t think we’ve said this before, but we walked off the stage at Plymouth Pavilions with mixed feelings. This is a place where we’ve seen a lot of our heroes play; we felt we had some big boots to fill and everybody we’d ever known ever was there. 

Sam: When we got off the stage our heads were hanging; we just weren’t sure. But then we got backstage and the energy that greeted us was so intense – I suddenly realised that this was the best thing we’d done so far. We’d actually done it. 

What are your plans as a band for the future?

Josh: We want people to be part of our input. One of the most exciting parts of this band is our creative process. By the time you’ve had the idea and recorded it, you’ve always kind of lost something if you haven’t had input along the way. We love rolling with new suggestions and making our stuff an evolving thing.

We want to be open and honest. We want to be able ask ourselves, did we miss anything? Could we rework this? You want to feel you’ve looked at a song from all angles and seen all of its potential. Otherwise, why bother?

There’s a lot of perfection to be had in imperfection. Whatever 2020 brings for the music industry, be sure that The Kaizens are not going to let a little thing like a global pandemic get in the way of their circular culture for energy and improvement.