Paint It Yellow

by Steve Wilson • Photography by Christian Remde

You won’t ever get a straight answer out of Peelander-Yellow. Ask him why everybody in his band, Peelander-Z, is color-coded (Peelander-Blue, Peelander-Green, Peelander-Purple, etc.) and he replies this way: “We need to get a new idea…Peelander-Zebra…Peelander-Dot…Peelander-Rainbow…Peelander-Train…Peelander-Andre-the-Giant. We can make something new. We have an all-over choice. Peelander-Lion…Peelander-Dentist!”

And if given the chance, he’ll go on and on about how his “Japanese-action-comic-punk” band hails from the Z area of the planet Peelander, how their insane costumes are actually their real skin or how it feels to win a professional wrestling title by taking down wrestler Nick Mayberry in the middle of a show and then continuing with the music set. But ask him to reveal the secret location of his favorite fishing spot on Lady Bird Lake and he goes mum. Then ask him why he even likes fishing in the first place. “I want to make a fishing tournament in Austin. Springtime good time…and maybe singing and comedy…we need a beer company sponsor!”

Like his answers, Yellow and his banana Laffy-Taffy mane are all over the place these days. He’s as likely to pop up on any stage in Austin as he is in the paint section of Home Depot looking like a human-sized swatch of BEHR Premium Plus Lemon Souffle. His murals are all over the place, too—in restaurants such as Qui and at East Side King’s food trailers and the Do512 Lounge—alive with the intricate squiggles of a fevered imagination. 

Austinites will be pardoned, then, for assuming Yellow lives here. He actually just visits several times a year from New York City, where he emigrated from Japan way back when he went by the earthly name of Kengo Hioki. He came to the states to become a visual artist, but those plans soon changed. “I come to New York for art but I got a lot of stress,” he says. “I want to scream something! Ayiyiyiyi!” He thought music might suit him better, but the first Peelander-Z show in 1998 didn’t go over very well. “Everybody cannot understand because I’m not good musician,” he recalls. “So I started Power Ranger costumes for the band, then other older-style eighties art. So we mix the music with art.” 

Peelander-Z shows soon evolved into performance art pieces involving giant squids and tigers, human bowling, leaps from impossible heights, piggyback rides, fake chair fights, lots of cue cards for the audience and, oh yeah, music. The Peelanders first reduced a South by Southwest stage to rubble in 2003, and have made Austin a regular stop ever since. In recent years, they’ve also drawn Austin’s old and young alike with Mad Tiger Fest, where the band crams onstage with the likes of The Octopus Project, assorted high school bands and any children in the audience who aren’t laughing or crying too much to take Yellow's guitar off his hands. “They understand my world,” he says of his younger fans.

As much as he loves these antics, Yellow jumped at the chance to paint again when East Side King co-owners Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya asked him to design their trailer behind Liberty Bar. Things sped along like a human bowling ball from there: more trailers, then restaurants (including Qui’s namesake, Qui), homes and offices all around Austin, as well as in New York and Chicago. “East Side King kicked my art door open,” he says, adding, “Woo!”

Qui says he and Utsunomiya chose Yellow as their artist for his personality—a facet that has seeped into every corner of East Side King. “His art definitely inspires our restaurants’ concepts—from our tables, business cards, web pages, to the overall feel of East Side King,” says Qui. “Our guests have loved his characters, and we get people that come in just to admire his art.” 

Now that Yellow’s making the kind of art he set out to do years ago, he wants to branch out to other mediums—lots of other mediums. “I want to make movie,” he says. “I want to make magic show like David Copperfield…I need a white tiger…I want to make Broadway…I want to make TV show…I want to get big trailer and put everything inside and fly to the moon.” Then he starts giggling.

Somewhere in all these plans, he’d also like to open a curry noodle restaurant in Austin. Think Peelander-Z with food. “One day, I make all pink-food special!” he says. “Next day, all green-food special! Everybody on staff with Peelander costumes! Building look like starship…sometimes it moves a little bit!”

On the more modest end of this fantasy, Yellow dreams of moving to Austin and buying a boat so he can go fishing at his secret spot on Lady Bird Lake. “I restarted my art life with Austin,” he says. “That’s why it’s very important place for me.” In the meantime, he still has plenty of shows to play, stages to leap from, chairs to throw and wrestlers to defeat as a rock demi-god. “We want to try to open new door with Peelander-Z,” he says. “Story’s never-ending. I never see my brain, but if you can open my brain, you will see future.”