Growing up outside of Tokyo and encouraged by a father who loved American music, Orono Noguchi honed her English skills by singing along to records by Weezer, Pavement and other indie rockers. By the time she was 14, anyone talking to her could have easily believed she was from Seattle, Los Angeles or Maine.

“She had no trace of an accent at all when she arrived here,” said Mel MacKay, head of school at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, where Noguchi graduated in 2017. “I had her for AP English, in a talented class of almost entirely American kids, and her English skills and her writing skills were off the chart.”

Before she was done with high school, Noguchi’s writing skills would earn her more than just good grades. Her skill as a lyricist helped land her the job of lead singer for a trippy London-based band called Superorganism. The band’s debut self-titled album came out in March, and Rolling Stone has called it one of the 50 best albums of the year. The eight-member band performed on the late-night talk show “Conan” Sept. 24 and is currently touring Europe.

Noguchi says the band’s success has surprised her. She wrote the group’s first single, “Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” before she was a member, in her Bangor dorm room. She shared it online with the other musicians, who added the music and her vocals, and posted it on the internet.

“We thought if like 20 people checked it out, that would be amazing,” said Noguchi, 18, during a phone interview in September. The song and video have been viewed more than 3 million times. “I wrote it in about 30 minutes. It was a perfect Sunday morning, and I was putting off an essay I had to write. I was hungry and bored and sort of in a meditative state.”

Noguchi’s parents, Tom and Sachiyo Noguchi, spent time as college students studying at the University of Maine. Her father loved it there, and in Ohio, where he also studied. And anywhere he went in America. Her mother, however, was happier in Japan.

When the couple’s daughter was born, in Japan, they named her for the town in Maine where they had studied together: Orono.

Noguchi grew up outside of Tokyo, “hating Japan” and finding Japanese society “oppressive” and “misogynistic,” she said. She felt pressure to fit in and not do anything to stand out. She found people unfriendly, and, maybe most important to a budding artist, she thought many Japanese had “bad taste” in music.

She grew up listening to American bands her father played and consumed “all things American,” including TV and movies. She remembers once when she was in the second grade her father woke her up at 2 a.m. so they could watch “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” together on TV.

Among her favorite bands as a child were Weezer, the Los Angeles-based power pop band that first had commercial success in the 1990s with “Buddy Holly” and other songs. Another favorite was Pavement, a California indie-rock band probably best known to mainstream audiences for the melodic, nonsensical 1994 single “Cut Your Hair” with the lyrics: “Music scene is crazy/Bands start up each and every day/I saw one just the other day/A special new band/I remember lying/I don’t remember lies.”

Orono Noguchi, 18, was a student at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor a couple of years ago when she met members of Superorganism online. Now she’s the lead singer for the London-based band.

Pavement was one of the biggest influences on Noguchi as a budding musician and songwriter, she said. She liked the vibe the band put out, not caring if its music was commercial or if people liked it.

“As a child, you’re constantly worried about how people perceived you, so I loved their vibe of not really caring,” said Noguchi. “It made me think I could write a song that makes no sense at all and just have fun with it. It was very refreshing.” Besides learning how American actors and rockers spoke, Noguchi attended an English immersion school in Japan. She hoped to attend school in America. Her father, who works for a company based in Delaware, started researching boarding schools near Orono where his daughter might study.

He found John Bapst, a former Catholic school in Bangor which had begun an international student program in 2011. It wasn’t Orono, but it was pretty close.

“He always told me it was the perfect place to be a student, filled with nature, beautiful,” said Noguchi.

Noguchi arrived at the school in 2014, as a sophomore. She had been wanting this her whole life, to be living in America, surrounded by the art and music that would nurture her soul.

“I had romanticized America in this very intense way. I couldn’t relate to anything about Japan,” said Noguchi. “I thought everyone (in America) would be super cool and have really great taste in music. But it’s not really that way.”

In school in Maine, Noguchi played saxophone in the pit band for a couple school musicals, but wasn’t in any school bands.

MacKay remembers Noguchi talking about writing songs and recording them, in her dorm room. He said she was not “the person who answers every question” in class, but her essays were always extremely thoughtful and focused on big picture ideas.

“Reading her papers, I knew this was someone who doesn’t simply accept life the way it comes to them,” said MacKay.

SONGWRITING BY EMAIL

Noguchi first encountered some of her bandmates from Superorganism a couple years ago, when they were in a band called the Eversons. She listened to the band’s music online and liked them.

They were planning a tour of Japan, so when Noguchi was home in the summer of 2015, she went to see the band play, met the members and started an online correspondence.

Over the next year and a half or so, Noguchi and members of the Eversons exchanged thoughts on music and life, and also exchanged bits of music and lyrics.

Four of the Eversons – Mark Turner, Christopher Young, Timothy Shann and Blair Everson – had started making music for a demo in early 2017 with other musicians and decided to send it to Noguchi.

She listened to it, and on that fateful Sunday morning in her dorm room, she wrote “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” and sent it back to the band:

“I know you think I’m a sociopath/My lovely prey, I’m a cliche/Make way, I’m in my Pepsi mood/ Mama needs food, how about a barbecue/For us the bourgeoisie, so carefree/Remember when we?/ I don’t know what you need to get by.”

The song is slow, but melodic, featuring pulsating synth plus drums and electric guitar. Noguchi sings most of it in an understated way, almost talking. There is an array of special effect-type sounds, including distorted background chatter and chimes. The video is sort of an art project, with wacky images that are reminiscent of the animation of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” including a dolphin spitting bananas.

The song marked the beginning of Superorganism. By late 2017, Rolling Stone had labeled them one of the 10 bands “you need to know.”

The song the band played on Conan O’Brien’s show in September, “Everybody Wants to Be Famous,” is a little more rhythmic and upbeat in tempo, with powerful backup vocals by three band members. But it still features trippy electronic sounds and one part where Noguchi’s voice is continually distorted until she sounds like Donald Duck.

SCHOOL PROJECT

When Noguchi started working with Superorganism, in early 2017, she was in her final semester at John Bapst. She qualified for the school’s independent study and turned her work with Superorganism into her school project.

So at the end of the semester, when students were called on to display what they had accomplished, she played some finished songs, presented song lyrics and showed the original cover art for the band’s debut album.

About a month after graduating, she hit the road with the band and toured all over the United States. The other seven members are from New Zealand, Australia, Korea and the United Kingdom, but all are now based in London.

She says being on the road with the same people, 24 hours a day, is a little challenging for her. But she loves seeing new places, new people and glimpses into different cultures.

Asked if seeing more of the real America has dulled her passion for it, Noguchi answered, “I love it more.”

Noguchi hasn’t played Maine with her band, but they did play The Sinclair, a club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in September. This month, the band left for a European tour that will include England, France, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. In January, the band will tour Asia, including Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan.

Band members are currently working on their second album. But Noguchi also plans to go to college and is looking around now for places to apply to.

If she wanted to, she could go to college in the town she’s named for. But that might be too predictable for an artist who has described herself online as “your average 17-year-old Japanese girl living in Maine.”

“I might want to go someplace in New England. I’m still attracted to New England, after traveling all around the states,” Noguchi said. “New England is really cool and low-key.”

Contact Ray Routhier at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @RayRouthier

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