Jad Fair outside Cafe Oto in Dalston, London, on 2nd December 2011
Half Japanese are one of those bands from the punk era that influenced a whole host of bands over the past 35 years. Co-founder Jad Fair is pleased with his band's long-term legacy.
"Yamantaka Eye, from the Boredoms, said once, 'Had there not been Half Japanese, there would not be the Boredoms.' I don't know that that's true but, boy, that's very flattering. And Charles Brohawn, from the band The Tinklers, said pretty much the same thing, that they were so influenced by what my brother and I were doing that that's why they started their band," the 57-year-old told Soundblab in an east London coffee shop earlier this month.
Fair formed Half Japanese in Michigan with his brother, David, in 1974, though the group's debut EP, Calling All Girls, didn't come out until 1977. The last Half Japanese studio album, Hello, came out in 2001, though Fair is looking forward to getting on stage with his brother again next year.
"In March, Half Japanese will be playing at All Tomorrow's Parties," Fair said. The aforementioned Boredoms will also be on the bill, as well as another band that are close to Fair's heart.
"I was asked to play saxophone on a Jon Spencer [Blues Explosion] album, Orange, but unfortunately I was out on tour at the time and when I got back home there was a message on my answer machine asking me, 'Can I come to the studio to do it?' and by that time it was too late," he recalled.
Fair has made a name for collaborating with all sorts of musicians. The previous evening, Fair had kicked off a short European tour in front of a modest London audience and included a couple of Daniel Johnston songs in the set. His association with the troubled genius goes back more than 20 years.
"In 1985, Half Japanese had a show in Austin, Texas, and Daniel's manager at that time, Jeff Tartakov, gave me a couple of cassette tapes of Daniel and I was very impressed by his music and his song writing, and I started corresponding with Daniel," he said, adding that the pair of them finally met up when Fair was recording with another legendary artist.
"About four years later, I was in New York City, doing some recording with Moe Tucker, and Daniel came to the recording studio and we became friends. We did some recording up in New York and then I invited him to my house to record an album," he said.
For Fair, the chance to work with the former Velvet Underground drummer was a great honour.
"I was so pleased to work with Moe Tucker, because I grew up listening to Velvet Underground, and Velvet Underground were more important to me than The Beatles. I mean, it would be like if Paul McCartney called me on the phone and said, 'Would you like to record with me?' I mean, it's even better than that, 'cause it's Moe Tucker, so I was real pleased about that," he enthused.
These days, Fair divides his time between music and the art of paper cutting.
"With Half Japanese, we were doing a lot of travelling in a van and I wanted something to do in the van, just to pass the time. I tried doing some drawing and my hand was not steady for drawing, but I found that with scissors. I could cut, even if it's moving around. I don't know that it's the safest thing to do, but I'm able to use scissors," he explained.
While Fair's paper cutting creations demand quite respectable prices, his website reveals another source of income called "Record a Song," where, for the princely sum of $300, he will write and record a song for you.
"I've done quite a few of those and usually it's for a birthday or a wedding anniversary, [though] I've done a couple for the birth of a baby. I did one which was a marriage proposal, and I was a bit nervous about that, because if I don't write a good song, she'll say no, and if she says no, is he going to pay me the 300," he said with a laugh.
Fire Records will be continuing their reissue series with all fourteen albums from cult indie-rock band Half Japanese in early 2012. This again sees all the releases brought together on one label, including all of the hard-to-find albums, which is incredibly rare for a catalogue this vast. This will also coincide with the band's appearance at the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival curated by Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel in March of next year.