When push came to shove, members of the Sendai-based rock band Monkey Majik put down their guitars and backed up the messages of love they sing about with action.
The band's two Canadian members, brothers Maynard Plant and Blaise Plant, volunteered day after day in the tsunami-stricken areas, helping remove debris and rubble following the March 11 earthquake last year.
Just as it devastated many coastal communities in Tohoku, the quake and tsunami last year almost destroyed the band, threatening its ability to make music, write creatively, and even its very livelihood.
But it was the process of helping that restored the band members' morale and gave them the motivation to produce music and again bring their message to their fans, the brothers said during a recent interview at a Sendai studio.
"It's the positivity of the people, said Maynard, 36. "If I look back 10 years from now I'll still think it was a terrible disaster, but I probably won't remember the disaster so much as the positivity of people--how people pushed themselves to move forward."
Combining the rustic sensitivities that natives of the Tohoku region and Canada share, Monkey Majik has built a unique multilingual lyrical world, themed on love, everyday happiness, nature and other universal elements of life.
Marking the anniversary of the March 11 disaster, the band released its new album "Somewhere Out There" on March 7.
"The fact that we were able to return to music was a very positive thing, because it means that we didn't give up," said Blaise, 32.
The brothers were both in Sendai when the quake jolted the economic center of the Tohoku region. By participating in volunteer activities and hosting large charity concerts in Osaka and Sendai, they and the two Japanese members provided a much-needed morale boost to residents throughout the past year.
Fans bound up with the band's positive, soothing music might have been anxious to see how the catastrophe and subsequent emotional events affected the band's output.
Maynard, who first settled in Tohoku as an English teaching assistant in 1997, admitted that it was emotionally difficult and logistically impossible to write music for three months after the earthquake.
"We can look back and say we experienced something that only happens once every 1,000 years and try to take a positive side from that, but to be honest, there is nothing positive about it," he said.
"But music never really left us," Blaise added. Even during the darkest days after the quake, the brothers brought guitars with them when they volunteered, sitting down with locals to jam and play songs during lunch breaks.
And the positivity of people they met at the tsunami-stricken areas gave them inspiration. By the fall, the band started writing songs and completed its seventh full-scale album.
The attitude of the survivors made the album more upbeat than past albums, Blaise said. It also has a more "spacey, supernatural or almost spiritual feeling," he said, reflecting "a subtle and strong spiritual presence" that he felt within the people since the earthquake.
In the disaster-afflicted areas, everyone was "acting like monks from a monastery," not panicking, acting very calm. It renewed the conventional image of the Japanese as highly secularized people, the brothers said.
"I think the Japanese made a big statement in the way they dealt with this whole thing--that morality is something deeper (than religion)," Maynard said. "It proved the point that religion is not what creates morality in humans--morality is there inside you first, perhaps."
Blaise added: "I think people will always remember that more than the actual earthquake and tsunami. That's what is really important."
Adding the album's 11 songs to their set list, the band will start its first nationwide tour since the earthquake on May 26, visiting all of Tohoku's six prefectures. It will also visit Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Asian countries in its first solo overseas tour this summer.
While the shows will be fun, escapist events as usual, they will also be opportunities to give something back to their fans in return for all the prayers and help the fans gave to Tohoku, the brothers said.
The disaster proved that "we can communicate with each other even when there is no hope," Blaise said, adding that he wants to prove "music is just another good tool to communicate with people."
Maynard said: "Tohoku will be a much stronger place than ever before. I see it becoming a major center on a moral level, as a proof of hope and recovery."
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