Budokan Boys is the weird, acerbic pop project of multi-instrumentalist Jeff T Byrd and vocalist Michael Jeffrey Lee -- two Americans in Berlin. Formed in New Orleans in 2014, they've released three albums, 2018’s That’s How You Become A Clown (Tymbal), 2019’s DAD IS BAD (Baba Vanga), and 2020's So Broken Up About You Dying (ever/never).
A few years ago, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jeff T Byrd and Michael Lee were sitting around in Lee’s room, trying to figure out what to do. Their jobs were going poorly, they had few friends beyond themselves, and they were both deeply, deeply depressed. As if this weren’t enough, they’d agreed to play a show in only two weeks time, for which they hadn’t yet written a single song.
Suddenly, Byrd struck upon an idea: he fired up his old trusty drum machine and programmed a wonky beat. Then Lee, smiling and taking the bait, began to childishly plink around on his piano. Soon, Byrd was adding some synth textures, and Lee started singing nonsense into the mic.
“Sounds like we really got something,” Byrd said.
“Sure does,” said Lee, “but still, it seems like something’s missing.”
“Hmmm,” said Byrd. “How about some sax?”
“Sax would be great,” said Lee, still plinking. “You brought it?”
“Sure did,” said Byrd. “Check this out.”
Byrd started blowing hard on the sax, which fit right in with the general cacophony.
“Whoa that’s great,” said Lee. “I think we’ve got our sound.”
“Not so fast,” said Byrd. “I think there’s one more element that’s needed.”
“I don’t know,” said Lee. “Sounds pretty good right now.”
“Just give me a second,” said Byrd, who put down his sax and began rooting around in a large duffel bag. He emerged with several cables and contraptions, and, using the cables, ran Lee’s mic and piano through the contraptions.
“Ok,” said Byrd. “Plink on the piano a bit.”
Lee pressed a key and crinkled up his nose. “Wow, that’s disturbing,” he said.
“Yes it is,” said Byrd. “Now go ahead and sing into the mic.”
Lee sang a bit, then immediately pulled away. “I sound like a devilish goblin,” he said. “I don’t know about this, Jeff.”
“Just trust me, OK?”
“OK, you’re the musician.”
Byrd fired up the drum machine again, added some synth textures, then Lee started singing and plinking. Soon Jeff had taken up the sax again, and they made a horrible racket for several hours, pausing only to use the bathroom. When they were done, they had written four songs: enough for the show.
“That was really fun,” Lee said, cracking a beer and sitting down on the floor.
“I’m glad we ended up using the contraptions,” said Byrd, who was busy packing up his equipment. “I think it made all the difference.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” said Lee. “Sorry I doubted you on that one.”
“That’s OK,” said Byrd. “Well, should we get together same time tomorrow?”
“Sure,” said Lee. “I don’t have anything going on.”
“Me neither,” said Byrd.
“But hey,” said Lee, “what are we going to call this new band of ours?”
“That’s a good question,” said Byrd. “I guess I was counting on you for that. You’re the writer.”
“That’s true,” said Lee. “Well, how about Budokan Boys?”
“Budokan Boys?” said Byrd.
“Yeah,” said Lee. “What do you think?”
“I understand the boys part,” said Byrd. “But why Budokan?”
“Well,” said Lee, “Budokan was this arena in Japan where all the great bands used to play. And they would really go all out in their performances too, and always try out strange arrangements. So I was thinking we could call ourselves Budokan Boys, because we go all out in our performances and because we try out strange arrangements.”
“OK,” said Byrd. “I like it.”
“Me too,” said Lee. “And who knows, maybe because of our name we’ll get to play Budokan someday. Wouldn’t that be something?”
“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then,” said Byrd, shouldering the massive amounts of gear.
“Yeah, see you then,” said Lee. “Hey, do you need a hand with any of that?”
“No, I’ve got it,” said Byrd. “It’s not that far.”
“Ok,” said Lee. “Just lock the door on your way out.”
“Sure thing,” said Byrd, and shuffled out.