Saskatoon

Big in Japan: Saskatoon-born man finds long-lasting fame as pop star overseas

A Saskatoon woman says it's been quite a ride watching her brother catapult to pop stardom in Japan.

Pop-rock group Monkey Majik has ties all over Canada, but have made their name in Japan

Maynard Plant, pictured performing with Monkey Majik in Budokan arena in Tokyo, says they've performed for small crowds of a handful of people and festivals with upwards of 50,000. (Avex Group Inc.)

Maynard Plant has belted out his blend of English and Japanese lyrics for upwards of 50,000 people at Japanese music festivals. He has written emotional ballads for TV shows and racked up more than 13 million views on a single music video.

The 43-year-old may be big in Japan, but he has some quintessential prairie childhood memories. Before all the fame, Plant was a child whose favourite thing to do during lazy summers in Saskatchewan was to lie on a family members' trampoline — and just look up.

"The sheer amount of sky was something that really, really blew my mind when I was a kid. So going back was like being in a fairytale. You've got these beautiful, vast amounts of prairie land," Maynard said.

"That environment still blows me away."

Saskatchewan captured his heart, even after his family settled in Ottawa, but later in life that same heart led Plant down a much less conventional path.

He had just obtained a degree from Queen's University and moved to Japan to teach English classes — he says because "I had nothing better to do" — when he was asked to put together a band and perform as a Canadian contingent at an international festival.

From there, Monkey Majik was born.

Maynard, in blue, and Blaise Plant, in pink, sing in a mix of English and Japanese lyrics. (Avex Group Inc.)

His sister Linette is a postal worker who has chosen to settle in the prairie city where both she and Maynard were born: Saskatoon.

She wasn't surprised to see Maynard following in their musically gifted father's footsteps, finding it novel to see that he was putting out CDs.

Then when their other brother Blaise moved out and joined the group and they gained attention on the airwaves, it was "a bit surreal."

At this point, the group has been performing for more than 15 years.

"We didn't really know how big it was until we started going out there and visiting. Then you walk down the street and people recognize them and they're coming up and wanting autographs and you're kind of like 'what?'" Linette said.

Maynard Plant's band Monkey Majik has an enduring hold in the Asian country. (Avex Group Inc.)

It's especially hard for her to picture her brothers' level of celebrity overseas when they all get together in Canada (their parents now live in Ottawa) and the Japanese fame fades away.

"They're just our brothers. It's just kind of normal, when everybody is together we just kind of fit back into our roles when we were young," Linette said.

Claim to fame

While Monkey Majik gained steam over the years, it was only a few years ago that its members signed to a label.

One thing that really stands out in their discography is the variety of sounds. Their songs range from pop beats you might hear in a Maroon 5 or Chromeo song to slower, more serious ballads.

Maynard credits that to the many people who write their songs. Plant took influence from Nirvana and The Pixies at first but when Blaise joined, things got more poppy and colourful.

"We love pop music. We love writing songs that make people happy, that makes us happy," Maynard said.

Monkey Majik's biggest hit, called Umarvelous, is a perfect example of the colour Maynard describes. The music video came out in 2018 and took inspiration from Earth, Wind and Fire's Get Down music video from the '80s.

"It's humorous but we took it very seriously … I think the most amazing part of the video is that everybody has these really serious faces on and yet they're dressed the way they are," Maynard said.

The only English line is "everything is no calorie," so the lyrics fly over the heads of most Canadians. Maynard explains the Japanese lines are a play on a popular joke in Japan where people find silly excuses to say the food they're eating has no calories.

After decades living in Japan, based in Sendai, Maynard is fully immersed into his life there. He is married, has children and keeps his own bees.

It's not a common hobby, but the apiary full of bees that Maynard has is rooted in Prince Albert and Tisdale where an uncle and other relatives were beekeepers.

"It was them teaching me the importance of honeybees and what they do for the world, and pollination, and how important of an animal they are, that always stuck with me," Maynard said.

Because of that, he said Saskatchewan gets mentioned at least three times a week in Sendai.

Maynard said his photos of the wide open spaces he grew up with, especially canola fields, are a marvel for people in Japan, a country that is so packed with people that it never feels like people get away from the city.

His sister said she isn't surprised by the path Maynard and Blaise have taken. Her family has moved all over Canada and their parents gave them the travel bug early on in life.

"Some of us are a little more adventurous," Linette said with a laugh.

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