There are three ways Bloom Waves’ Ren Julius Reyes saved me before we even met, with the first involving the doldrums of being stuck in Brooklyn during SXSW. It’s not that I even have designs on Texas, it’s just that being stuck in a gray, slushie hellhole during Indie Kid Spring Break is rough when you already despise the cold and people exhibiting happiness on Facebook. The second involves the Union Square Best Buy being closed before our get-together and him directing me towards Adorama on 18th street (“I just checked and they open at 9:30”). So now I have a fab new camera with all the trimmings! Thanks, Ren.
The third way Ren saved me involves tuning intoBloom Waves’ Yumi On The Shore EP the evening prior, a shoegazey flotation tank of an album. Yumi is largely delivered in calming yet still acoustically arresting ripples, subdued with complimentarily elemental lyrics about washing everything away and/or drowning everything far into the sea. It’s oddly pleasant, a dreamy respite that doesn’t solve all your anxieties but certainly tables them for the time being.
So between all this anguish and anxiety, the perpetual wintertime sadness and SX FOMO, I’m grateful to meet Ren in the flesh. I’m especially grateful that he shows up promptly at 11, the nearby bells of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery ringing in his arrival, because I am freezing to death.
The Scene: Hi-Collar came as a recommendation from Ren’s friend in Chicago, and the Japanese kissaten is a different flavor than I’m accustomed to, at least in terms of breakfast-ing. The shelves ahead of us showcase the cafe’s love for juxtaposition, with delicate floral tea-cups on top of complex glass coffee makers. A single counter space guarantees that the place will fill up, and quickly. Sure enough Ren and I are soon shouting over the din of bright-eyed patrons and Jazz Age tunes.
11:12 A.M. From the way he’s explaining it, Ren’s bedroom-project-turned-Actual-Band kind of formed Voltron style, with everything falling perfectly into place. Guitarist Paul Alvarez was a childhood friend, someone who lived down the street from Ren after he moved from the Philippines to Jersey as a child. Somehow they managed to get through decades of a friendship without collaborating creatively, but when Ren asked for him to play in Bloom Waves it was an “instantaneous” yes.
Bassist Seiji Kokeguchi was a connection made from the Japanese shoegaze Facebook group. He serendipitously made the move to New York about a month shy of Ren formalizing Bloom Waves, another instant yes.
Drummer Kevin Francisco was another old-time connection from the days of anime conventions, kicked out at the time for playing music in the hallways. The two had collaborated a couple years prior, and he was more than happy to rejoin forces.
And Ren forms the head.
11:24 “Cheers!” Our iced coffees are here, delightfully sweet and energizing, and we clink our copper mugs before Ren gets back to the story behind the Yumi cover. He designs ads for Broadway as a day job (“Is that like, fun for you, are you having a great time with it?”) but had a brief flirtation with publication design. Yumi draws from that first love, an interest in John Gall’s paperback covers of Haruki Murakami, the album title itself an allusion to the author’s Kafka on the Shore.
So yes, Ren is having a great time with graphic design, as a career and as something that both supports and informs his music. “It’s kind of like putting puzzles together,” he explains. The arrangements are all working out.
11:34 After our hotcakes arrive I shout, “It was AnimeNEXT!” That was the New Jersey-based convention Ren attended, and incidentally the one my ex was at the first time I smoked weed. That’s a long and arduous story I make Ren sit through, but anyway, they might have overlapped since back in the day he was there trying to make money off his art.
Incidentally trying to nail manga was never a style he felt comfortable with. He can do portraits, fan art, high-end digital painting, but not lines. And trying to draw a manga based on a band, merging two passions in that way, was all a little much.
“Drawing guitars, and drawing hands on a guitar is the hardest thing ever, and I just gave up right there.”
11:47 “Have you watched Super yet?” Whenever I mention Dragon Ball Z I’m asked this. And the answer is no, I’m waiting to watch it with my brother and I’m really worried about Trunks’ storyline because I was in love with him when I was 9.
“The story is complex, and it’s actually well-written,” Ren says. Huge sigh of relief. Our talk takes a few twists and turns before we land on the real break-out star of the series.
“Everyone likes Vegeta more than Goku because he’s way more human even though he’s saiyan. Goku’s supposed to be a perfect warrior and he never comes close to that…maybe he’ll get there for an episode,” Ren says. It’s that failure that makes the arrogant prince more relatable because, “it’s the trials and tribulations of a human.”
“The more you grow up the more you become Vegeta,” he summarizes.
“We all become Vegeta,” I concur.
12:09 As Ren’s finishing his coffee, he’s talking about how he tries to bring J-Pop and J-Rock elements to his English music. Even though he isn’t fluent in the language he loves “how the syllables are cut, how they phrase words, it flows so well” and tries to mimic that flow with Bloom Waves (ah, and there’s all that water imagery).
Our talk then turns to why the J-Pop and J-Rock scenes are still so niche in this country, an alternative in an alternative. Our counterpoint is the appeal of music from the U.K., and I have my theories: language barriers, America’s Euro-centric bias, how the baby boomers latched onto the British Invasion, creating a mainstream millennials and Gen Xers would grow up on, how douchey white kid hipsters (me) have a total boner for all that post-punk Manchester stuff. Things like that.
On a mainstream level, the bands that ended up translating here were… I don’t know, Dir En Grey had a moment, Puffy AmiYumi had that Cartoon Network stint… “Shonen Knife, Shonen Knife was I guess a big one in the ‘90s,” is my conclusion. Which is crazy because they’re playing “Alphaville or something” like us mere mortals.
Ren corrects that it’s Sunnyvale (right, right) and mentions that he actually caught their Halloween show at Knitting Factory. Apparently I missed that being a thing, and as such missed Ren’s Halloween costume, which, as he proves via his Instagram, was a full body shark suit.
12:17 Ren and I make friends with the gentlest fuzziest puppers of all time – one of those Pomeranians that look like a orange cotton ball. There aren’t any pictures, so I’ll understand if I don’t win a Pulitzer prize for this piece. Anyway.
12:19 “Wait, so you date pigeons?” I’m trying to understand all these gag dating games that apparently exist on the mobile-verse. He assures me that all these games are not played in earnest, strictly for the lol-factor, and as he’s never actually investigated this one personally. “You should check it out, it is exactly what I say it is,” he says.
“Oh, I trust it’s exactly what you say it is,” I respond. “I’m also horrified.”
This isn’t as ridiculous as Love Sushi Rangers, which Ren explains is a dating game about sushi who magically come to life one night, and from there you have the option of dating gorgeous bishounen men (he went the salmon route, he loves salmon). My question is, is the sushi actually enchanted or is the fish that was part of the sushi enchanted?
“I think it was just the sushi being enchanted,” he clarifies.
“For some reason that’s stupid to me, like the magic fish thing seems less ridiculous,” I counter.
“I guess if it was a magic fish, it’s dead,” he reasons. Fair point.
Our day culminates with some sprawling photos against a shark mural, some talk about owning dogs and a hug farewell at the 6 train (my insistence). Ren and I have had a nice little vacation – maybe not to Austin, but to somewhere splendid, silly, and weirdly serene.
And then I immediately fall back into my agitated, self-absorbed nonsense as I catch the L back into Brooklyn, a trifecta of the Showtime dancers swerving on the poles around me (I’ve been a subway rider for a decade and it’s never showtime, not for me, especially not now), missing my friends, and missing the sun. But that’s only temporary, a seasonal affliction… I think?
Coming out of the underground tunnel for air, I shuffle around YouTube, popping my headphones into my ears. And as the slush melts in McCarren Park, I let the cascade of Yumi On The Shore take me back home.