Half Japanese - Biography

The American punk band Half Japanese never let other people’s notions of musical expertise limit their boundless enthusiasm for playing rock and roll. From their humble beginnings of playing together in a bedroom, brothers Jad and David Fair created their own dissonant, microtonal musical language. In his essay “How to Play Guitar,” David Fair describes the band’s method. “Tuning the guitar is kind of a ridiculous notion. If you have to wind the tuning pegs to just a certain place, that implies that every other place would be wrong. But that’s absurd. How could it be wrong? It’s your guitar and you're the one playing it. It’s completely up to you to decide how it should sound.”

Half Japanese (sometimes written ½ Japanese) formed in 1974 in Allendale, Michigan. “My brother David and I were going to college at Grand Valley State University,” Jad Fair told the Washington Post in 2008. “We had rented a house together close to the campus and I had just bought a drum set and our other roommate, David Stansky, had a guitar and amp. It all kind of fell together.” The Fair brothers were inspired by fellow Michigan punks, the Stooges and MC5, as well as by New York’s Velvet Underground. Destroy All Monsters, an “anti-rock band” that made an apocalyptic noise in Detroit in the mid-70s, also seems to have left its mark on the Fair brothers. In an early photograph of the brothers, which appeared on the cover of Greatest Hits (Safe House) in 1995, Jad Fair wears a homemade Destroy All Monsters t-shirt. Writing for Perfect Sound Forever in 1996, Destroy All Monsters member Cary Loren remembered David Fair as one of the small number of people who came to see his band play in the mid-70s. Loren also claims that the title song, “Calling All Girls,” on Half Japanese’s first single is based on a DAM song.

The band self-released “Calling All Girls” on its 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Watts (often written with more zeroes, but always pronounced “50 Skidillion”) label in 1977. By this time, the band had relocated to Uniontown, Maryland. The Fair brothers promoted the single by mailing copies to every journalist on staff at New York Rocker, among other lucky recipients, and advertising the single for mailorder in fanzines. Another single, “No Direct Line from My Brain to My Heart” (50 Skidillion), followed in 1978. In 1979, 50 Skidillion issued two cassette releases: ½ Live, comprised of Half Japanese sets in Baltimore and Washington, DC, and ½ Gentlemen Not Beasts, the band’s debut album of home recordings.

More people encountered ½ Gentlemen Not Beasts (1980) the following year as the triple-LP box issued by British label Armageddon. The box included a lyric sheet, a poster, photos, and a comic book. Most of Half Japanese’s originals on the three record set are love songs about girls or minimal electronic compositions. David Fair would later say that all Half Japanese songs are either “love songs” or “monster songs.” The album also includes several liberally stylized covers such as Bob Dylan’s “Tangled up in Blue,” Bruce Springsteen’s “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” The Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked,” and Dyke and the Blazers’ “Funky Broadway.”

1981’s Loud (Armageddon) includes the sax and drumming of brothers John and Rick Dreyfuss and the guitar of Mark Jickling. Musically, the album is close to the contemporary cold-sweat no wave and free jazz of New York City’s underground, though it is emotionally more vulnerable. Loud’s cover of The Doors’ “The Spy” was the album’s single. After 1982’s 12” EP Horrible (Press), a concept record of “monster songs,” Half Japanese’s next release came two years later with another live cassette, 1010 Watts (1984 Calypso Now). Guitarist Don Fleming, who would later produce albums by Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Teenage Fanclub, joined the band for Our Solar System and Sing No Evil, both released in 1984 on Iridescence.

After Iridescence went out of business, Half Japanese revived their 50 Skidillion Watts label with funding from Penn Jillette, of magician duo Penn & Teller. Kramer, of the band Shockabilly and the Shimmy Disc label, produced and played on 1987’s Music to Strip By (50 Skidillion) and 1989’s The Band That Would Be King (50 Skidillion), though Kramer does not appear on the intervening gem — 1988’s Charmed Life (50 Skidillion). David Fair, reportedly spending time with his family, does not appear on either Music to Strip By or The Band That Would Be King. Half Japanese increasingly became Jad Fair’s backing band, featuring several notable guest musicians such as legendary avant-gardies John Zorn and Fred Frith who contribute to The Band That Would Be King.

Mysterious founding member David Stansky appears on We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love (T.E.C. Tones), released in 1990. Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker produced and contributes guitar and drums to 1993’s Fire in the Sky (Safe House). That same year, Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King was released, and fans Nirvana asked the band to open a portion of the In Utero tour. In 1994 and 1995, Boo: Live in Europe 1992 (T.E.C. Tones), Hot (1995 — Safe House), and Greatest Hits (50 Skidillion) followed. In 1997, the band released Bone Head (Alternative Tentacles) and Heaven Sent (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate), two albums of new material.

2001’s Hello (Alternative Tentacles) is Half Japanese’s most recent album. In 2007, Jad Fair reunited with the Dreyfuss brothers, Mark Jickling, and guitarist John Moremen for some live Half Japanese shows. The following year, David Fair joined the band for the South by Southwest music festival.


Shop Amoeba Merch Paypal Free Shipping On Amoeba.com We Buy Large Collections


New customers, create your Amoeba.com account here. Its quick and easy!


Don't want to register? Feel free to make a purchase as a guest!

Checkout as Guest

Currently, we do not allow digital purchases without registration



Become a member of Amoeba.com. It's easy and quick!

All fields required.

An error has occured - see below:

Minimum: 8 characters, 1 uppercase, 1 special character

Already have an account? Log in.


Forgot Password

To reset your password, enter your registration e-mail address.


Forgot Username

Enter your registration e-mail address and we'll send you your username.


Amoeba Newsletter Sign Up