Friday, 13 January 2012

Interview with Jad Fair on Soundblab.com 18th December 2011

Interviews // Jad Fair - Half Japanese

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.

Interview with Jackie Jackson in The Daily Yomiuri on 25 November 2011

MJ / Jackie remembers King of Pop ahead of Tokyo tribute
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Tito, Marlon, Jackie Jackson and Ai pose with Katherine Jackson at a press
conference at Claridgea in London,  announcing the Michael Jackson Tribute
Live event in Tokyo.

LONDON--With Michael Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray, due to be sentenced for involuntary manslaughter in Los Angeles on Tuesday next week, the chance to focus on the King of Pop's music will come as a welcome relief for his fans around the world.

And what better way to honor Michael's legacy in Japan than next month's Michael Jackson Tribute Live? Three of Michael's brothers will celebrate the life of the entertainer at the event, with AI, Toshinobu Kubota, Tortoise Matsumoto, Macy Gray, a host of other big names. Eldest brother Jackie Jackson is enthusiastic at the prospect.

"I'm looking forward to coming to Japan and visiting all our fans there and putting on a great tribute show on behalf of my brother, with AI...so I'm very excited about that. It's gonna be something special," he said over the phone from his home in Las Vegas earlier this month.

For Jackie, it will be his first appearance on a Japanese stage for quite some time.

"Maybe in the early '80s--or it might have been the late '70s--that was the last time we performed, and it was a great show. But we felt something was wrong, because Japanese people are so kind and so quiet, and there was no screaming going on. It was applause after every song. We were used to screaming when we were doing a concert, and that was not taking place in Japan," he said with a laugh.

Jackie's forthcoming visit with brothers Marlon and Tito came about after promoters of Michael Jackson Tribute Live contacted their mother, Katherine Jackson.

"As my brother was such a big icon in Japan--and so were The Jacksons as well--they wanted to do something to celebrate everything [Michael] did in the music industry and for all the humanitarian work he's done for charity. They decided to do a tribute show to honor him and wanted us to be a part of it, so they contacted my mom, and my mom said, 'Yes, he would love that,' and that's how it all started," Jackie explained.

Michael Jackson Tribute Live had its official launch in London last month, the day after the Michael Forever concert in Cardiff, a show that featured The Jacksons among a glittering array of stars. Jackie has fond memories of the occasion.

"It was wonderful. We had Jamie Foxx hosting the show. There was Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera. And Michael's kids were there, and my mom was there. They came on the stage--it was unbelievable," he recalled.

The appearance of Michael's children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, at Cardiff came as a big surprise to the audience at the Millennium Stadium.

Joining The Jacksons on stage will be R&B singer AI, who was also at the launch in London, having recently released a single featuring The Jacksons. Jackie has fond memories of the recording.

"[AI] told us she'd got this number, 'Letter in the Sky,' and my brothers heard it and we thought it was a great song. She wanted us to be a part of it and they showed up right away. We went to the recording studio that Michael had always recorded in, called Westlake [in Los Angeles], and everything was set up, the cameras and everything, and we recorded the song in one day. We shot the video the same day, too," he said, adding he and his brothers were very pleased with the results. "We did a great job on the song with her and it turned out to be wonderful. We love the song. She's an incredible talent."

On the subject of talent, it's easy for people to forget that, for all his well-documented eccentricities, Michael was a phenomenal artist. Shortly before my interview with Jackie, the radio played "Hallellujah Day," one of the lesser-known Jackson 5 singles that a 14-year-old Michael sings on, and it struck me his voice is unmistakable. Jackie concurred.

"Yes, I noticed that when he was very, very young. He had a talent when he was very, very young. The group started with myself, Jermaine and Tito, and Michael and Marlon came in later. Michael was playing the bongos, but he started dancing and singing, so we decided to put him up front, and it was magic," he remembered.

Of all the magical moments that ended up on vinyl, Jackie's favorite Jackson 5 song goes way back to 1969.

"The very first one, 'I Want You Back,' that's the one that still means the most for me, because that was the very first hit. When we heard it for the first time on the radio, I was in the car with one of my friends. I had to pull in to the side of the road just to hear what it sounded like on the radio, and it sounded so good to me--I knew it was a hit," he said

It's appropriate Jackie will join thousands of others to celebrate Michael's life, though as the eldest Jackson son, Jackie had his own thoughts on how his younger brother will be remembered.

"He was a great father, he was a great humanitarian, he gave to so many charities around the world and he wanted to make the world a better place. If a kid needed something, a heart or something like that, he would try and find a donor for that heart, he would give up the money for it, no matter what it was. That was Michael Jackson."

Michael Jackson Tribute Live, featuring The Jacksons, AI and many more, will take place at 7 p.m. on Dec. 13-14 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. For more information, visit http://mjtribute.jp/
(Nov. 25, 2011)

Interview with Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene) in The Daily Yomiuri on 4th November 2011

Ocean Colour Scene's 'homecoming'
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Steve Cradock at the Guildhall, Southampton, on 19th February 2011

LONDON--There's been a trend over the past decade or so for artists of a certain vintage to spice up their concerts by playing one of their classic albums in its entirety, but when Ocean Colour Scene finally get to perform their seminal album, Moseley Shoals, in Tokyo this month--the show was originally scheduled for March--the album will more or less be coming home, 15 years after its original release.

"We did it originally for Pony Canyon in Japan, 'cause we didn't have a deal in England. It's quite a budget album, it was done on a little 16-track desk using borrowed gear," Steve Cradock, guitarist in Ocean Colour Scene, said backstage in Southampton, England, earlier this year.

When the album eventually came out on Universal Music in 1996, it marked the beginning of a long relationship with Japan that last year saw the release of the British group's latest album, Saturday, and an appearance on the main stage at the Fuji Rock Festival.

"I think Fuji Rock is brilliant--apart from having a 12-hour flight over there and another six-hour journey--but it's a great setting and the crowds are really good," the 42-year-old said.

Formed in Birmingham, England, by Cradock, singer Simon Fowler, bassist Damon Minchella and drummer Oscar Harrison, Ocean Colour Scene released their first single in 1990. An eponymous debut album followed two years later, yet it wasn't until the release of Moseley Shoals that the group's soulful 1960s-influenced sound earned a wider audience, and a connection with the burgeoning Britpop scene. Cradock recalls it with some skepticism.

"[Britpop] was just a press word, really, I think. Obviously, something new happened when Oasis [emerged, but] Blur and us lot were already going. Oasis changed the template and the whole media explosion came, 'cause they needed to sell papers, they needed something to write about," he said.

Ocean Colour Scene were always more beat group than Britpop, yet the five-piece were on the bill of a concert that has come to symbolize the movement--Oasis at Knebworth in August 1996.

"That was amazing. For a band of our generation to do two nights at Knebworth it was unheard of--you've got to remember that we came from being fans of [The] La's and Stone Roses, an indie mentality--so to see a band like Oasis do two nights playing to a quarter of a million people was extraordinary," he said.

Less than a year later, Ocean Colour Scene were playing the main stage at Glastonbury Festival (just before headliners Radiohead), after the million-selling Moseley Shoals peaked at No. 2 in the British album chart. So, what can audiences expect to see when Ocean Colour Scene play the album in its entirety next month?

"The running order is 'The Riverboat Song,' straight into 'The Day We Caught the Train,' which normally is a big encore song, so it's different. Then you get 'Lining Your Pockets' next to 'Fleeting Mind,' which are both slow songs. We wouldn't particularly do that as a normal set, but it's quite nice to play it in that running order," Cradock said, adding that fans can also expect a few extras.

"[We're] a loud, old-school band. We'll be playing things from all over the 21 years [we've been together], we'll be there all night," he said with a laugh.

As the guitarist in Paul Weller's backing band for almost 20 years, Cradock might have been excused for harboring thoughts of throwing in his lot with Ocean Colour Scene to allow him to focus solely on his work with "The Modfather."

"No," Cradock said emphatically. "Ocean Colour Scene's always been my first band. We've never had major punch-ups, we just find our own route, find our timing to do things, and that allows us to exist," he said.

As well as being a member of two touring bands this year, Cradock has also found time as a solo artist to open for Beady Eye in Britain and Germany, and released his second very impressive solo album, Peace City West, in April. Though he lives in southwest England these days, the album title is a literary reference to Cradock's hometown--Britain's second largest city.

"It came from a book by General Sir John Hackett [called The Untold Story], which was about a third world war that was nuclear, and Minsk, in Russia--or what was once Russia--got nuked, and so did Birmingham. Minsk was Peace City East and Birmingham was Peace City West," he said.

Ocean Colour Scene will play at AX in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 5738-2020, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16. For more information, visit http://smash-jpn.com.
(Nov. 4, 2011)

Interview with Adam Young (Owl City) in The Daily Yomiuri on 7 October 2011

Owl City: strong faith in music
Self-described introvert Adam Young finds chart success
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Adam Young, aka Owl City, on stage at
 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, on 10th September 2011
LONDON--Popular music and Christianity have not always been the best of bedfellows, yet Adam Young, otherwise known as Owl City, has no qualms about publicly declaring his religious beliefs.

"I am a Christian of faith, that is so important to me, and rather than go out and try to preach to anybody, I've always felt that if I were to hide that fact it would be a crime, because I would probably be leaving out a big factor of why I do what I do," Young said during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri over the phone from his home in Owatonna, Minn., last month.

While Young's Christianity may not be overtly reflected in his lyrics, his clean-cut image and declarations of faith on his Web site suggest that he is deeply committed. This may explain why his recent London show attracted a large number of well-dressed youngsters, with more than a few preteens accompanied by parents no doubt relieved that their offspring had chosen Owl City over someone like, uh, The Offspring.

"I think there's something about what I do that connects specifically to [15 to 30 year olds] and whatnot. It's always been interesting to see but, then again, I'm very, very grateful just to have fans at all in a time where the industry is as shaky as it is," Young said.

A self-described introvert, it seems appropriate that Young should opt to perform under a pseudonym but where, exactly, did the name come from?

"That's a good question, [but] it doesn't have the most eloquent answer to go with it. I guess the bottom line is I wanted a bit of a quirky name that would invoke this surreal, dreamy kind of quirky sense of something that allows the listener to create his own place in their head, so the name honestly doesn't mean anything, it's designed as an aesthetic thing," he said.

Owl City started life four years ago when Young, an insomniac living with his parents, would relieve sleepless nights making music in the basement. After releasing an EP and album independently, he made his U.S. major-label album debut with Ocean Eyes in July 2009, though iTunes had already chosen one of its tracks, "Fireflies," as Single of the Week earlier in the month, resulting in more than half a million downloads.

One of the standout tracks on Ocean Eyes is "Hello Seattle." So, after a paean to the city of baseball star Ichiro Suzuki, is Young ready to put pen to paper in praise of Tokyo?

"I would love to write a song about Tokyo, I'd have to sit down and think about it, but it would probably be something along the same lines as proclaiming my love for it, beyond anything else, because I am very enchanted by Tokyo, so it's definitely on my list someday," he said.

Following the Top 10 success of Ocean Eyes in Britain and the United States, its follow-up, All Things Bright and Beautiful, came out earlier this year, with the title's evocation of a well-known hymn only part of the story behind the naming of the album.

"That's about 50 percent of where it came from, but also there's a book by an author, James Herriott, who wrote this book in the '70s about the life of a veterinarian, and he titled it All Things Bright and Beautiful. I remember growing up with that book. That was where it came from initially, but I'm definitely aware of the hymn, so it's kind of a mix of both," he explained.

One of the standout numbers on the album, "Kamikaze," with its catchy tune and sweeping keyboards middle eight, was inspired by a much more contemporary form of pop culture.

"I just got done watching the 'Bourne' trilogy, [The] Bourne Identity, [The] Bourne Supremacy, [The] Bourne Ultimatum films, with Matt Damon, and I remember thinking, 'I want to write a song that would capture something like that aesthetic, that sort of vibe in his movies, a little bit more raw, a little bit more aggressive, a song that sounds like it could be in a heist movie.' I wanted something that would tie together with that, so I've always had the word kamikaze floating around in my head and I wanted to bring that into a song, so that's where it ended up," he said.

When it comes to another Japanese word beginning with the letter K, however, Young admitted to being a reluctant karaoke crooner.

"I'm always too shy," he said with a laugh, adding that one particular rock anthem, with an appropriate title for someone with Young's beliefs, took his fancy. "Oh dear, I can't think of anything off the top of my head, maybe an old fun classic that would make everybody laugh, like 'Living On A Prayer' by Bon Jovi, something like that. It would have to be deliberately awkward, just to get a laugh out of everybody, 'cause I am very introverted, very shy, so I would like that."

Owl City will play at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Big Cat in Osaka, (06) 6535-5569; at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 at Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211, and at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the Stellar Ball in Shinagawa, Tokyo, (03) 3444-6751. For more information, visit http://smash-jpn.com.
(Oct. 7, 2011)

Interview with Gilbert O'Sullivan in The Daily Yomiuri on 23 September 2011

Still packing a punch at 64
Singer Gilbert O'Sullivan to visit old and new Japanese friends
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Gilbert O'Sullivan pictured at his daughters'
apartment in central London last month.
LONDON--With albums titled I'm a Writer, Not a Fighter and Southpaw, it shouldn't have been a surprise. But when singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan proudly pointed to a photograph on the wall from the mid-1970s of him sparring with Muhammad Ali, it occurred to this writer that he shares the boxer's single-minded approach.

At the age of 64, the highly focused O'Sullivan released Gilbertville earlier this year, the latest in a steady stream of albums since his debut long player, Himself, in 1971. He was in high spirits during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri over a mug of tea at his daughters' central London apartment, and spoke of the dedication an album demands.

"It requires a lot of discipline to sit in a room nine to five. Do you want to do that, for weeks, months on end? If you're really as enthusiastic and keen as I am, you'll do it, but if you look outside and it's a sunny day, you'll think, 'Do I want to do this?'"

For all his work as a contemporary songwriter, O'Sullivan will forever be associated with a string of Top 10 singles in the 1970s, and in Japan for a pair of hits in the early '90s. Of all these tunes, one in particular, "Alone Again (Naturally)" stands out as a perennial favorite.

"In Japan, that's the song, although we had a No. 1 in the early '90s with 'Tomorrow Today,' which was used on a TV show," O'Sullivan said, adding that "Alone Again" helped broaden his appeal in Japan.

"When I go to Japan I meet people--and I get letters from people in Japan--who like me because they went to see Sophia Coppola's movie The Virgin Suicides. 'Alone Again' was in that, so a lot of young people are into that movie, and I get people who like me because they heard the song in that movie. I'm for that, because you get introduced to a new audience. And if they know nothing of your past before then, it's still a nice thing."

While "Alone Again" has found a place in the hearts of his Japanese fans, other nationalities have their own favorite O'Sullivan tunes.

"[If] you go to Spain, the most popular O'Sullivan song is 'What's in a Kiss'; go to Germany and the most popular O'Sullivan song is 'Get Down'; go to England, it's 'Clair'; and in Holland it's 'Nothing Rhymed.' So there's a nice mishmash of different songs, it isn't just the one," he said.

For many, the Dutch got it right with "Nothing Rhymed," a career milestone for O'Sullivan.

"['Nothing Rhymed'] was an important song for many reasons. Apart from being the first hit, it was the first record with [former manager] Gordon [Mills]. Everything seemed to gel then, that first recording session when we did that, in 1970.

"In Japan, they liked it because they wanted me to go there. The world was interested in me at that point because of how I looked, so for a lot of people it's their favorite track of mine, which I don't mind at all," he said, adding that a certain legendary guitarist might have been in the studio for the recording.

"There's still a feeling--it's still debatable--I think Jimmy Page was the guitar player, because he used to do sessions--even when Led Zeppelin started--because the guitar player didn't read [music]. I remember that. He was sitting there with his acoustic, so we think that was him," he said.

"Nothing Rhymed" has been covered by artists such as Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield, but it was a live version by Morrissey that most fascinated O'Sullivan, who sees some parallels between himself and the former Smiths frontman."

"I've heard that he did it on stage [but] he's not recorded it. [My agent in Ireland] said Morrissey's a big fan and the earlier stuff of mine was a big influence on him. Because, I guess, in a way I was like that, I was a very kind of indie person, you know. I didn't mix with people, I'm not social, I'm very much into my own little world, very much love music. I don't really have close friends and that, I looked a bit weird, so I think people kind of related to that. I think Morrissey, arguably, in the very beginning, picked up on that...I'd loved to have heard it," he said.

Despite Morrissey's cover, don't expect to hear a version of "This Charming Man" on O'Sullivan's next album.

"I've no interest in doing covers because I've no need to. If you have a good voice, like James Taylor or something, maybe covers make sense because you can sing, 'How sweet it is to be loved by you,' and it's great. I'm very confident with my own songs and I wouldn't be confident singing other people's songs," he explained.

The same can be said for O'Sullivan collaborations, but an exception is a single he recorded with a Japanese musician in 1991.

"There's a very famous singer in Japan, Takao Kisugi. He's very influenced by Gilbert O'Sullivan. We did a song together with his melody and my melody--that's the only time that I've done that--but only in Japan. I did it just because of him. I don't do it with other people, but in this instance I agreed to it because Takao is such a nice person and he' s such a big fan of mine. So in honor of his respect for me, I agreed to do it. 'What A Way (To Show I Love You)' is the song. It's my lyric and his melody, so we did that. That's the only one."

Gilbert O'Sullivan will play at Billboard Live in Osaka at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 (06) 6342-7722, at Kanazawa City Bunka Hall in Kanazawa at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4, (076) 224-4141, and at Billboard Live in Tokyo at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 6-7, (03) 3405-1133. For more information, visit www.gilbertosullivan.net/in_concert/tour_dates.htm.
(Sep. 23, 2011)

Interview with Kanon Wakeshima in The Daily Yomiuri on 16th September 2011

Wakeshima charms cute crowd in London debut
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Kanon Wakeshaima at Hyper Japan in London on July 23, 2011

LONDON--The "home" of Hello Kitty (her official profile says she lives in suburban London) is rapidly embracing Japanese pop culture as enthusiastically as countries, such as France and the United States, with London's recent carnival of cute, Hyper Japan, showcasing the British debut of Kanon Wakeshima, a singer/cellist and Gothic Lolita fashion icon.

Wakeshima's two charity performances for the Great East Japan Earthquake were among the highlights of the second staging of the annual festival, with the 23-year-old pleasantly surprised at the turnout.

"It was lovely. There were a lot more people than I expected and I had a great time," Wakeshima told The Daily Yomiuri shortly after finishing her first set at the three-day event.

Tokyo-born Wakeshima has developed a musical style that combines her love of pop tunes with a passion for classical music, the latter a calling that grabbed her from an early age.

"I started playing the cello when I was 3," Wakeshima said, adding that her bow-wielding future had been determined when she was a mere twinkle in her parents' eyes.

"My mother and father are big music fans and, even before I was born, they'd decided that if they had a girl, they'd like her to play the cello, because that would be quite cool for a girl," she said.

In primary school, Wakeshima's focus was on classical music, but as her teenage years approached, she was introduced to exciting new sounds.

"When I was at middle school, I discovered J-pop and thought, 'Well, what would happen if I applied my musical interpretation to J-pop?' And that's how I've gotten to where I am today," she recalled, adding that at about the same time she also found her look.

"I really liked Lolita fashion when I was in middle school, but I didn't have any money so I couldn't buy the clothes. So, when I started high school and got a part-time job, I could save some money and start buying some clothes."

These days, she can afford slightly more expensive threads, such as the outfit she was modeling during our interview. "I had this specially made by [clothing company] Baby, The Stars Shine Bright," she said.

Wakeshima's fusion of music genres might not appeal to everyone, yet the results are surprisingly effective, with the shrill cry of J-pop complemented by her subtle cello accompaniment. Wakeshima's debut album, Shinshoku Dolce, came out in 2009, with Shojo Jikake no Libretto: Lolitawork Libretto released the following year. When asked about last year's album, Wakeshima was keen to expand on her vision for the project.

"The whole concept is that there's a girl who really likes pop-up picture books, and in the book there's a girl. That's where the title and central concept behind the album came from," she said.

On stage, Wakeshima is a confident performer, with the audience at Hyper Japan treated to a few sentences in English between numbers. Though she used a backing track, she wasn't completely alone on stage.

"The red cello that I used today is called Nanachie," she said, explaining the names she has given to each of her instruments.

"Each of the cellos' names represent numbers in kanji. The brown one that I've been playing since I was at middle school, which I use for recording and rehearsals, is called Yaehauru, while the other ones--the white and the silver ones that are used for live performances and promotional appearances--are named Mikazuki and Momotose, respectively."

Her next series of live shows to be performed in Tokyo, billed as The Strange Treat!, is a trio of concerts that will be held on three separate nights in September, which has already sold out, October and November, each with slightly different themes. So what can audiences expect to see?

"Rather than songs that I've played previously, I'm going to be performing new material. Also, I'll be using a live band, so there'll be a lot of people on stage. I'm considering various arrangements for my songs, so the makeup of the band depends on what arrangements I decide upon for individual songs," she said.

As for the future, Wakeshima is keeping a refreshingly open mind for somebody with one foot in the J-pop camp.

"Whether it's fashion or music, I don't want to stick with one particular style. For example, in my live performances, I'll have different kinds of musical arrangements, such as jazz or pop. Be it music or fashion, I like to do lots of different things as they come, and see where they take me in the future."

Kanon Wakeshima will play concerts, collectively named "The Strange Treat!," at Shibuya 7th Floor in Tokyo at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29 and Nov. 26. For more information, call (03) 3462-4466 or visit http://7th-floor.net.
(Sep. 16, 2011)

Interview with KT Tunstall in The Daily Yomiuri on 19th August 2011

Feline dreams suit her vision
KT Tunstall on Haruki Murakami, Uummannaq and change
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

KT Tunstall on stage at The Assembly,
 Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 28 Feb. 2011
LONDON--Kate Victoria, aka KT Tunstall, likes lists. So much so that her official Web site includes "KT's Top 10's," where the inclusion of Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle among her favorite "Books & Blogs" reveals an interest in Japan that extends beyond sushi and karaoke.

"I'd never read a book like that before. It's the world of Murakami and you can enter it and get it and love being in it. And then you realize that there's this worldwide club of people who love going into it and adore his work--it's like reading your own dream," the Scottish singer-songwriter said during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri backstage before a show in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, earlier this year.

Dreams seem to have featured prominently for the 36-year-old recently, with the title of her latest album, Tiger Suit, inspired by a childhood memory.

"[It's] a recurring dream, where I'm a kid and I go out and there's a tiger in the garden and I'm petting it, and it doesn't mind. It's not until I'm in the house later that I see it through the window and I'm really, really fearful of it, so [the dream's] very much a message of going for it and worrying about it later, which I like," she said.

Tiger Suit is Tunstall's fourth studio album since her 2004 debut, Eye To The Telescope, spawned the hit single, "Suddenly I See," a tune that earned Tunstall global recognition when it was played over the opening titles of the Oscar-nominated movie The Devil Wears Prada. "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" was an even bigger hit in the United States after American Idol contestant Katherine McPhee performed the song in the finale of the show's fifth season. A stripped-down collection of songs, Acoustic Extravaganza (the clue's in the title), came out a year later, closely followed by Drastic Fantastic in 2007.

The seeds of Tiger Suit were sown after Tunstall visited Uummannaq, a village in Greenland, during an expedition she joined in 2008 that was organized by Cape Farewell, a charitable organization that promotes cultural responses to climate change.

"It was a really, really profound trip and it was the beginning of taking time out to make this record. It was hugely challenging, partly because I knew that I had a lot of work ahead of me to get to where I wanted to be and, secondly, because I was on the boat with about 20 other really, really great artists: Jarvis Cocker, Martha Wainwright, Feist and Ryuichi Sakamoto--who was incredible.

"[Sakamoto] absolutely blew everybody away with a recording of melting glacial water, and explained that he thought it was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard, but the saddest as well, because we shouldn't be able to hear it. It was melt water that shouldn't be melting," she said, adding that the trip proved to be very inspiring.

"It was really enlightening. I came back from it having progressed to somewhere new, with a new song under my belt, which I wrote on the boat, beating a life preserver for the beat--'Uummannaq [Song]'--possibly my favorite place I've ever been."

As for a favorite track on Tiger Suit, Tunstall gave an unequivocal reply.

"'Difficulty.' Usually I'm a slave to the style a song is born in, and I'll feel intrinsically linked to that and not be able to change it. On that one, we decided to rip it apart and start again, and that was the song that took me into a relationship with electronica that I understood for the first time. I felt electronica is not going to jeopardize the intimacy of my sound. It could easily bolster it and actually make it more emotional, which was a new realization," she explained, recalling that her producer had been a major influence.

"When I got together with Jim Abbiss, he asked for a commitment and said: 'If you're going to change your sound, you need to stick to it. We can't do this and then go back, or you'll end up with half a cruddy album.' So, at that point, I absolutely made a pact: 'Yes, let's do something different, let's be experimental, let's introduce electronica and synthesizers, drum machines, whatever.' And that was really liberating, 'cause at that point I stopped caring and we just did anything we wanted, and that was great."

Tunstall's eye for change is not confined to music. An avid Tweeter, her thoughts are usually restricted to 140 characters, though Tunstall does harbor deeper literary aspirations.

"I've always kept journals, for years and years and years, since I was a teenager. And it's very much train of thought, rather than what I did today. I've started some cartoon sketches and I'm a big fan of graphic novels--I'm certainly not a connoisseur, but there's a few that I've loved--and I would love to put something together. Definitely, short stories appeal a lot, but I'm quite intimidated by it. I think that the art of writing is a very great one, and an acquired skill, and I wouldn't want to put out something crap," she said with a laugh.

KT Tunstall will play at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, (06) 6281-8181, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29; Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 30 and O-East in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 5458-4681, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1. For more information, visit http://smash-jpn.com.
(Aug. 19, 2011)

Simple Plan Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 5th August 2011

When fans provide inspiration
Simple Plan followers--fundraisers, songwriters
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Simple Plan at Atlantic Records, London, on 9th June 2011
LONDON--Canadian pop-rock band Simple Plan have received their share of gifts from fans in Japan, but when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck it was time for the five-piece to give something back, as singer Pierre Bouvier and rhythm guitarist Sebastien Lefebvre explained during a recent interview for The Daily Yomiuri in London.

"We started off with the first donation [to the Canadian Red Cross] of 10,000 [Canadian dollars, about 830 yen,000], then we gave another [donation] to the Red Cross in Japan," Bouvier said. Bandmate Lefebvre was keen to stress how important it was for them to help.

"We have a foundation, we care about what happens in the world, and we have a lot of fans in Japan, so it was important for us to do something," the 30-year-old said, adding that the group's legions of fans around the world did their bit as well.

"A lot of our fans were like, 'Oh, you know, it's so sad what's happening, we want to help as well,' so we created a T-shirt where everything goes to Japan, so the fans could get involved by buying a Simple Plan 'Help Japan' T-shirt."

The foundation Lefebvre refers to is the Simple Plan Foundation, a charity set up by the band more than five years ago to help young people in their hometown. Over the years the band's benevolence has spread quite a bit further.

"We do a lot of stuff locally, for our own city of Montreal, but we try and do stuff worldwide--we've given when the Haiti disaster happened--I think every little thing makes a difference. We're not the biggest foundation, we don't have millions of dollars, [but] so far I think we've donated 500,000 dollars," Bouvier said.

Half a million dollars? Not bad for a pop group! But not surprising for a band that since its debut album, No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls, in 2002, have built a global following that continue to flock to crowd-pleasing live shows, with some audience members at their London show the previous night having camped out overnight. The band's fourth album, Get Your Heart On!, came out in June, and is a return to basics after 2007's self-titled release had taken them into more anthemic territory.

"That record was a little bit different--love it, I think it's great. They're epic [songs] and really opened up the horizons to what we could do and what we could allow ourselves to do. Once that was done and we toured on that record for two years, we felt like, 'Hey, now we want to go back and play some fun, fast, melodic, pop-punk influenced things,'" the 32-year-old said, with his bandmate quick to point out that each album has its place in the group's evolution.

"Even if it is a little back-to-our-roots, it could not have been our first or second record--it definitely is our fourth," Lefebvre stressed.

The massed ranks of the Simple Plan army also got a chance to express themselves on the closing track on Get Your Heart On! (before the bonus tracks), and is sure to have quite a few of the Simple Plan faithful diving for their packets of tissues.

"'This Song Saved My Life' was a song we wanted to write about the impact that our music has on people...I've heard it again yesterday after the show, some girl was like, 'I just want to say thank you very much, because I was really thinking about killing myself, and because of your band and your music, it helped me through that time and now I'm here,'" Bouvier explained, adding that a bit of social networking had provided some of the lyrics.

"We asked them on Twitter to tell us about how they feel about our music, how it's helped them and when they hear the words, 'Simple Plan,' what does it make them feel? And all those answers became the verses of the song," he said. And as part of the songwriting process, it was fitting that some of the contributors joined the group in Vancouver when they recorded the track, as Lefebvre recalled.

"We invited some fans to actually sing on the song, so there's people from all over Europe and North America--even people from Brazil and Japan came--and, honestly, they were pretty good singers. Whenever that part of the record comes on--it's the last song on the record so it's pretty much the last part of the whole record when the kids start singing--that still gives me goose bumps when I hear it," he said.

This year, Simple Plan will make their Summer Sonic debut, having headlined the White Stage at Fuji Rock Festival three years ago, and Bouvier is raring to go.

"We loved Fuji Rock. It was great too, but Summer Sonic seems to be more like the bands that are our style, so we've always wanted to play it and we're excited about doing it this year. I think it's gonna reach out to a lot of fans that like our band, but have never seen us before."

Simple Plan will play the Mountain Stages at Summer Sonic, held at QVC Marine Field and Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture on Aug. 13 and Maihama Summer Sonic Osaka Site in Osaka on Aug. 14. For more details, visit www.summersonic.com/2011. For information on Simple Plan's "Help Japan" T-shirts, visit http://merchdirect.com/simpleplanfoundation/tshirts.
(Aug. 5, 2011)

Nick Lowe Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 29th July 2011

Nick Lowe's lifelong high / Pop legend shares lessons from Man in Black and Old Man Time
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Nick Lowe (promo pic)
LONDON--Having Johnny Cash as a stepfather-in-law would be intimidating for some musicians, but for British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, the ghost of the late, great Man in Black continues to provide him with lyrical inspiration, more than 20 years since his divorce from Cash's stepdaughter, Carlene Carter.

"If I'm wrestling with a problem, I'll sit back mentally and say, 'Well, what would John have done here?' and it would always have been, take something out," the 62-year-old Lowe, on the phone from his west London home, said in an interview with The Daily Yomiuri last month.

"You look at what you've done and you'll say, 'Well, those two things can go for a kickoff,' and then suddenly you think, 'Oh, this is much better now.'"

Not that the man responsible for penning such tunes as "Cruel To Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" ever struggles for ideas, but the muse can visit him in the strangest places.

"The great thing about being a songwriter is that you can take your office with you, [so] when you're pushing your trolley round Tesco's [supermarket], you can be mulling something over," he said.

In a career spanning six decades, Lowe's career took off commercially in the mid-1970s, when he found himself in the position of in-house producer at Stiff Records, the pioneering British independent record label of the punk era, where his production credits included "New Rose," the first single by The Damned, and My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello's debut album.

In 1978, Lowe released his first solo album, Jesus of Cool, and followed it up a year later with Labour of Lust, which contained "Cruel To Be Kind," the catchy pop tune that would become a global hit--spawning a Japanese-language version by Sanyutei Endoh in 1981, and a Greek translation of the tune just last year. Lowe is level-headed about the song's enduring appeal.

"I think it's the tune. I wrote it in the 1970s and it's a real 1970s pop tune. At the time, it was bang up-to-date, the absolute last word. I still do that song, I love to do it, actually, 'cause it makes people laugh--they think it's so corny," he said.

Yet one of Lowe's older compositions has become even more widely known. Written when he was a member of the pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" was the opening track on the group's final studio album, The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz, released in 1974.

The song would likely have sunk without trace had it not been for the intervention a few years later of a geeky, bespectacled singer in an ill-fitting suit, who recorded a cover version in 1979.

"It's Elvis [Costello] that I owe for bringing it to the public's notice...and to this day, quite a lot of people still think that he wrote it," Lowe said.

The lyrics were a clarion call at a time when the ideals of the hippie movement were being replaced by the cynicism synonymous with a period author Tom Wolfe termed "The Me Decade."

"The song was supposed to be an old hippie, superseded by the new thinking, saying to an imaginary, coke-sniffing hipster, 'Oh, you might think I've had my day, mate, I'm a joke now, but what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?'" Lowe explained. He said he had been careful not to treat the lyrics too lightly: "Something must have stopped me making it too facetious--'Wait a minute, this is actually quite good so don't be too smart-arsed about this and mess it all up.' So I left it all oblique and it was Elvis who made it anthemic, and put the bulging eyes and veins into it."

Thirteen years after Costello's version, Curtis Stigers recorded the song for the Grammy-award winning soundtrack of the movie The Bodyguard. The royalties from that multimillion-selling album made Lowe an overnight millionaire.

"Holy moly, it was incredible. You can't really comprehend it, but it couldn't have come at a better time, because I'd just developed a new way of recording and presenting myself, and the one thing I needed was an injection of cash so I could start to reinvent myself, and that came along just in the nick of time," he said, without a hint of irony.

Lowe's self-reinvention produced four critically acclaimed albums, from The Impossible Bird in 1994 to 2007's At My Age. His new album, The Old Magic, is due for release in September and it seems this particular sexagenarian is enjoying the sort of musical freedom that perhaps only maturity can bring.

"One of the advantages [of getting older] is that you lose a lot of your snobbery about musical styles and things. When you get older, you just jumble it all up and suddenly you think, 'Well, hey, I'll just make up my own thing.' There's a wonderful release to it, you're just thinking, 'Sod all the rest of you, I'm going to do it this way.'"

Nick Lowe will play at Billboard Live in Tokyo (03-3405-1133) at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 10-11 and Billboard Live in Osaka (06-6342-7722) at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 12.
(Jul. 29, 2011)

Mick Jones (The Clash/Big Audio Dynamite) Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 8th July 2011

FUJI ROCK hits 15 with a B.A.D. blast

Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Mick Jones and me backstage at the Royal Festival Hall,
 London, on 23rd July 2011
LONDON--The first Fuji Rock Festival in 1997 will be remembered for many things: A beautiful setting at the foot of Mt. Fuji; Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis playing with a broken arm; and the typhoon that caused it to be canceled after one day.


After such a dramatic birth, the fact that Fuji Rock will be staged for the 15th time this month is an achievement in itself. Among the 30,000 that braved the wind and rain at Tenjinyama 14 years ago was former frontman of The Clash, Joe Strummer, so it's fitting that a onetime bandmate of his will be making his Fuji Rock debut this year.

"I'm expecting a totally different festival experience from what I'm used to--culturally different as well," Mick Jones, leader of Big Audio Dynamite--and former guitarist for The Clash--told The Daily Yomiuri recently over the phone.

There's little doubt that the British five-piece would have already played Fuji Rock by now, were it not for the fact that B.A.D. disbanded in 1997 and only reformed this year. Jones was inspired to get the band back together after helping out Damon Albarn's Gorillaz.

"I'd just got off the tour last year with the Gorillaz--I was playing in the band and I enjoyed myself immensely--and doing this now has some continuity to me. I thought, 'Follow the music,' and that's how I ended up doing this. It seemed right," the 56-year-old said.

Formed in 1984 by Jones, shortly after he left The Clash, B.A.D. combined the energy of his former band with the sounds Jones had heard from the emerging hip-hop scene in New York in the early 1980s.

The resulting album, This is Big Audio Dynamite, spawned the singles "E=MC2" and "Medicine Show," while its follow-up, No. 10, Upping St. (coproduced by Strummer and Jones), contained the dynamic single "V. Thirteen," a track that wouldn't have been out of place on one of The Clash's albums.

His association with one of punk's legendary bands could have been a millstone for Jones, yet he saw B.A.D. as a step forward.

"It was both a natural progression, and [I was] trying to get away from [The Clash] at the same time. After I left The Clash, I started hanging out with [B.A.D. sampler] Don [Letts] and [B.A.D. bassist] Leo [Williams] a lot more, and we started going to clubs. I was looking for a group and I wanted to try and express myself with the sounds that I was hearing in that environment, and that's kind of how it mentally developed," he explained.

Jones has found the experience of reforming B.A.D. invigorating, not that the members had ever drifted far apart.

"We haven't been estranged. We knew each other and we've seen each other during that period, we've just never got back together again," he said, adding that this lineup's first ever show in Japan will include a mix of old and new material.

"When you look at it, all our old stuff is new stuff," he said with a laugh. "We've got some stuff that we never put out and will be new. I think we were one of those groups that wasn't defined by the '80s, so we feel [there's] quite a lot we could do as we are now."

While B.A.D. may be able to escape being tied to the '80s, Jones will always be linked to The Clash. A few weeks before Strummer's untimely death in 2002 (less than four months after he had attended Fuji Rock), Jones shared a stage with him at a benefit gig in west London.

"We [The Clash] never managed [to reform] when he was alive, unfortunately. I think unfortunately, but then that [gig] will always be remembered fondly, in a way, so I was very glad to do that. I didn't know I was going to get up on stage or anything, I just went along to the show and felt compelled," he said.

Big Audio Dynamite will headline the White Stage at Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba, Niigata Prefecture, on July 29. Visit www.fujirockfestival.com for more details.
(Jul. 8, 2011)

The Vaccines in The Daily Yomiuri on 20th March 2011

SUMMER SOUNDS: FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL
Vaccines hope to give Fuji a shot in the arm
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

The Vaccines at the Electric Ballroom, London, on 8th April 2011

LONDON--As far as self-fulfilling prophecies go, recording a song called "We're Happening" as the b-side of your second single is a pretty strong statement, but with the release of The Vaccines' debut album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, earlier this month, it would appear this was no idle claim. It was not, however, part of any master strategy.

"We didn't really have a game plan," drummer Pete Robertson said in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri backstage at London's Brixton Academy. "We wrote songs, arranged them in a rehearsal room before we went into the studio to get a good representation of how we sounded live, and we're very pleased with it."

Yet, when The Vaccines finally make their live debut in Japan at Fuji Rock Festival in July, anyone who has followed the overseas media will have already seen the London-based four-piece on the cover of British music magazine New Musical Express twice this year and read reviews of them live in The New York Times, even though the album will not be released in the United States until May 31. Like the rest of the band, Robertson remains grounded about the hype.

"The NME are just expressing their own opinions. At the end of the day, that's all an article or review is, it's just an opinion," he said.

As for Fuji Rock, Robertson is looking forward to it, though, at the time of our interview, the band's spot in the lineup had yet to be confirmed.

"We would be over the moon if we were invited, it would be a dream come true. I've heard it's one of the best festivals to play in the world for bands, and one of the best ones to go to for fans," he said.

The Vaccines have made a remarkable impression ever since singer Justin Young, guitarist Freddie Cowan and bassist Arni Hjorvar hooked up with Robertson less than 12 months ago.

"When I joined, that was when it became The Vaccines. They'd been playing together, the three of them and other people, for a few months before that, but I joined in April last year [2010] and that was when we decided, let's throw everything we've got at it," the 26-year-old explained.

With a sound that draws from the Ramones, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Strokes, their brand of rock 'n' roll is simple but extremely effective. On stage, the brevity of their set, mainly because few of their songs exceed three minutes, only emphasizes the intensity of the experience, while on record, there is an intelligent mix of earthy indie fare, such as that second single, "Post Break-Up Sex," and richer, thoughtful pieces like the five-minute "epic" "Family Friend," that closes the album before four bonus tracks kick in. Robertson is very happy with the end result.

"We've never made an album before, individually or collectively, so the whole process has been really exciting. But ultimately, we wanted to make something that we could be really proud of, that was the primary concern, and we have done," he said.

Though Young tends to come up with the song ideas, Robertson was keen to stress that the band has a democratic approach to the songwriting process.

"Justin will come in with a song in various stages of completion--he's the primary songwriter--and then we'll collectively dress it up. I write my part, we all throw ideas at everyone else. I play a bit of guitar and a bit of keyboards, Arni's actually quite a good drummer and everyone's got quite a strong involvement with what everyone's doing, it's a tight-knit team effort," he said.

While the collection is a vibrant debut, the band's influences get a little too close to home at times. "Post Break-Up Sex," with its echoes of the Ramones' 1981 album track, "The KKK Took My Baby Away," is a prime example. While admitting that the group love the iconic New York punk band, Robertson doesn't see them as an overbearing influence.

"We're big fans of the music that the Ramones were big fans of, when rock 'n' roll and pop music was in its purest form in the 1950s and 1960s, with the girl groups and garage bands," he said.

This purity manifests itself in the band's first single, "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)," a pulsating number that packs a hell of a punch into the first 82 seconds of the album, though for Robertson, his top tune is still the song that grabbed him from the very beginning.

"'If You Wanna' is still my favorite. It was the first song that I ever heard, it was the song that Arni played in demo and I was just like, 'Wow! That's special,' and after having playing it a million times I still feel that way. It was the song that really catapulted and kick-started our [career]," he said.

Currently on tour with the Arctic Monkeys in North America, Robertson is eager to visit Japan, especially after the band was forced to cancel a Tokyo concert in April because Young required throat surgery.

"We're incredibly excited," he enthused. "I think a few people were blogging about us over there, which we couldn't really believe. We were amazed that anyone outside of our friendship group was talking about us, let alone over the other side of the world," he said.

The Vaccines will play at Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba, Niigata Prefecture, on July 29. For more information about the festival, visit www.fujirockfestival.com.
(May. 20, 2011)

The Go! Team interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 13th May 2011

Catch The Go! Team before they're gone
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

The Go! Team backstage at Heaven, London, on 8th February 2011

LONDON--Three years ago, The Go! Team lit up Fuji Rock Festival with an explosive set that was one of the highlights of the weekend for this writer. Yet, according to the band's founder and leader, Ian Parton, when the British-based band return next week, it could be their live swan song in Japan.

"There's a fair chance we might stop touring as a band, maybe next year," the 37-year-old said in an interview for The Daily Yomiuri alongside bandmates Kaori Tsuchida and Ninja backstage before a recent show in London.

When asked to expand on what could be a momentous decision for the group's fans, Parton thought long and hard, before uttering the inconclusive reply: "Stuff. You know."

Parton is a focused individual, having formed The Go! Team after recording what became the group's debut album, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, by himself at his parent's house in 2004. Mixing pop, hip hop, lo-fi and nostalgia to produce accessible, engaging pop music, this cosmopolitan outlook extends to members of the band, with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Tsuchida and compatriot Chi Fukimi Taylor on drums accounting for one third of the band. While Tsuchida may not be a household name in her home country--in spite of her overseas success--she is more than happy to maintain a low profile.

"I really liked [British artist] Billy Childish and [his band Thee] Headcoatees when I was in Japan. Some music lovers [in Japan] are really into American or English music that's [seen as] underground in Japan, so I'm proud to be in that position myself now," she said.

Though based in Britain these days, Tsuchida's thoughts not unnaturally turned to Japan when she heard about the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.

"I wanted to go back straight away and do something, but I couldn't, so I felt useless. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected and I hope Japan rebuilds from this disaster," she said in an e-mail message last week.

The Go! Team's latest album, Rolling Blackouts, is an entertaining collection, ranging from epic-sounding production numbers to catchy pop tunes, such as the Japan-inspired "Secretary Song."

"I got this '50s sample of someone on the typewriter, and put it on top of this other thing...and as soon as I got the two on top of each other, I had an instant vision of it being like a Tokyo secretary," Parton explained. Parton's love of obscure musical samples manifests itself one of his favorite tracks on the album, "Super Triangle." "[It's] probably the one I play the most [at the moment]. I love little interlude songs, little cheeky songs," he said.

Vocalist Ninja revealed a more sensory approach to her appreciation of the album. "I can see pictures really clearly when a song plays, and if I like the picture, then I like the song. If a song doesn't give me a picture, then it's probably a rubbish song," she said.

But for a neat description of Rolling Blackouts, Tsuchida has coined a phrase that sums up The Go! Team, both on record and on stage.

"On one side, it has really hard songs, and on the other side really, really sweet stuff, so together I described it as 'Sugar-coated Chaos.'"

The Go! Team will play May 17, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Nagoya (052) 264-8211; May 18, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka (06) 6281-8181; and May 20, 7 p.m. at Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo. (03) 5464-0800.
(May. 13, 2011)

Fran Healy interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 11th March 2011

Travis singer gets alone time

Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri


Fran Healy outside Dingwalls, London, in January 2011
LONDON--Being a member of a pop group is often compared to married life. For Fran Healy, lead singer of Scottish band Travis, he's reached the rock ' n' roll equivalent of the seven-year itch.

"I feel like I've been in a marriage for years and years and years and, unlike real marriages, when you're in a band you should go and play with other players, 'cause it feeds your creativity," Healy said during an interview for The Daily Yomiuri before a recent show in north London.

Not that Healy is ready to file for divorce from his bandmates. It seems they all thought Travis needed a well-earned rest.

"We all came off the road in 2009, pretty tired, [and] we wanted a break, 'cause we'd done The Boy With No Name and then Ode to J. Smith right after it, and toured both, and we were like, 'Right, give ourselves a break,'" He said.

Healy saw it as a chance to do his own thing, though the 37-year-old found his initial inspiration from an unexpected source.

"I wrote one song, called 'Holiday,' and I thought it was about wanting to go on holiday, but when I listened to the lyrics...I was like, actually, this is me telling myself, 'Do something else, man, go and spread your wings a bit and follow your instinct,' so that's what I'm doing," he said.

The resulting album, Wreckorder, came out last year. The standout track features a bass guitarist usually known for his singing and songwriting.

"'As It Comes' is my favorite song on the album, and it just happens to be that's the song that Paul McCartney plays on. But I love it because it's short, because it's totally about something specific. When I wrote it, it made me feel great.

"He did it on the original Beatles bass as well, the one that's on all the Beatles records. That's why Paul's great, 'cause he knows that his best bass sound comes from that bass, it's got the magic," he said. Unfortunately, McCartney won't be joining Healy on stage next week for shows that will be quite intimate affairs.

"This is just me and an acoustic guitar. It's gonna be the new stuff and, hopefully, they'll get to hear their favorite Travis songs stripped totally down to the bone, just like the way they were when they were written in the bedroom, when I felt like, 'Wow! This is great,' he said.

The Berlin resident is enjoying his musical career, whether that is as a solo artist or as the frontman of a four-piece band.

"There will be Travis records, [but] I don't know when. Seventeen years knowing people is a long time, and sometimes it's nice to have a break, so that's what we're doing, and I'm loving it," he said.

Fran Healy will play March 14, 7 p.m., at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. (06) 6281- 8181; and March 16, 7 p.m. at Blitz in Akasaka, Tokyo. (03) 3584-8811. For more information, visit http://smash-jpn.com.
(Mar. 11, 2011)

Edwyn Collins Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 4th March 2011

Lyrical lifeline: Music at the heart of British music legend Edwyn Collins' inspirational recovery from 2 strokes
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Edwyn Collins and me at his studio in London on 13th December 2010

LONDON--"Rock 'n' roll survivor" is an epithet that gets thrown around when describing some of the more over-indulgent and self-abusing characters that occupy the world of popular music, but in Edwyn Collins' case, the phrase is rather too close for comfort.

In February 2005, Edwyn suffered a double stroke that hospitalized him for six months, temporarily restricting his speech to just three phrases. Six years on, the 51-year-old is on the road to recovery and on his way to Japan for the first time since the mid-1990s in support of last year's Losing Sleep, his first collection of songs written since being struck down by his debilitating illness.

"At first, six months in hospital, I couldn't say a thing. 'Yes,' 'no,' and 'the possibilities are endless,' over and over again, but I persevered," Edwyn says during a recent interview for The Daily Yomiuri at his studio in northwest London.

Perseverance has been a feature of Edwyn's career ever since 1976, when he formed the group that would eventually become post-punk pioneers Orange Juice. That band's influence on indie music in general, and groups like Teenage Fanclub and Franz Ferdinand in particular, far outweighed the impact it made on the pop charts, with only "Rip It Up" making a dent on the British singles chart in 1983. Twelve years later, Edwyn finally achieved success as a solo artist with the global hit single "A Girl Like You" from the album Gorgeous George.

And then, a couple of albums later--and with another one already recorded--Edwyn was struck down at the age of 45. Yet Edwyn can see a positive side to the debilitating effects of the aphasia caused by his life-changing illness, which has affected his ability to read, write and speak.

"I used to be an intellectual," he says, adding that music is his motivation these days. "It's not frustrating for me in the least. Now I'm passionate about the songs, but reading a book is too demanding for me...Maybe I'm thick? Maybe I'm not right in the head? But I don't care about that. It doesn't bother me."

Edwyn has not had to face his journey alone, thanks to the care of his wife, Grace, who also helps him in interviews by supplementing his answers when he finds it difficult to express himself. When Edwyn laboriously writes a message on the back of an envelope, he uses a phrase that is familiar to Grace.

"'I'm getting there.' This is one of his phrases he uses," she explains. "He has a book full of much-used phrases that he has used, it helps him enormously but, as you can see, this is quite painstaking."

Edwyn's battle to overcome his illness is an inspiration to musicians and listeners alike, with Losing Sleep packed with a host of talented musicians, such as Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy, and Johnny Marr and Ryan Jarman from the Cribs, and the Sex Pistols' Paul Cook, who has been his resident drummer for the past couple of decades.

"I want immediacy, I want excitement, I want vibrancy, I want spontaneousness, I want atmosphere to capture a moment. I like fast songs, direct songs and positive songs, about what life is all about, and what subjects I can involve myself in," he says, before bursting into song with a couple of lines from "It Dawns On Me" a track from Losing Sleep featuring the Magic Numbers' vocalist Romeo Stodart: "A simple life, a simple choice, it dawns on me, reality."

Says Edwyn: "It's making a statement, I think. A simple statement, a direct statement of intent."

While Edwyn's creative process appears to be up and running now--"I'm writing fast and furious," he says enthusiastically--for nearly four years he was incapable of writing anything resembling a lyric, save for a brief respite about six months after his stroke.

"[The song] 'Searching For The Truth,' I wrote that in hospital, 24 hours before I came back [from hospital]," Edwyn recalls, though Grace chips in with a more prosaic memory of the song's germination.

"You started to sing, 'I'm searching for the truth, I'm searching for the truth,' two days before you
left hospital. And what's funny is that you then proceeded to sing it for the next four hours straight, over and over again, until I was ready to kill you," she says with a laugh.

"I sang it over and over in repetition. I was not well, but now I'm getting there," Edwyn adds.

There is further evidence of Edwyn "getting there" in the drawings of birds that adorn the jacket of Losing Sleep. Ever since he attended art school as a teenager, Edwyn has loved sketching, and this has been a vital part of his rehabilitation.

"I'm passionate about drawing and sketching," he says, adding that he was determined to develop his drawing, in spite of being barely able to write.

"At first it was impossible, but I persevered. I drew a crude circle at first, and I remember the first time I drew a wigeon duck in pencil I was pleased with the results. Mind you, it's crude, but I persevered and nowadays I'm using color. I sit at the table sketching away, it takes me about an hour for a quick sketch. I guess it's therapy for me," he says.

As well as the illustrations of birds that adorn the album cover, Edwyn's drawings extend to dolphins and other animals, with his works already exhibited a number of times over the past 2-1/2 years and collected in a book, Some British Birds, two years ago.

Edwyn's ability to draw is even more remarkable when one considers that he has lost the use of his favored right arm and is unable to use it to anchor the paper as he draws with his left hand. "I have a technique with the paper. I constantly move the paper," he says.

As Edwyn prepares for his seventh visit to Japan, he recalls a previous trip, when he came face-to-face with a dish he remembers as "uni." So is he looking forward to reacquainting himself with sea urchin this time around?

"No. I tried it, it tasted of the sea," he says.

Edwyn's rehabilitation over the past six years continues.

"[It's] a new life, but just beginning. After my stroke, no more headaches. I had taken Solpadeine tablets for headaches eight times in 24 hours, and I wasn't well at all. I constantly had headaches and [I thought]: 'What's wrong with me? My brain isn't working.' Nowadays, I don't suffer headaches no more," he says.

These days, Edwyn is firmly focused on his songwriting with the grit and determination of one who recognized that "the possibilities are endless" so soon after staring death squarely in the face, and when he says, "I want to express myself well and the lyrics are a lifeline to me," one gets the feeling that, for this rock 'n' roll survivor, life is just beginning.

Edwyn Collins will play March 23, 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Billboard Live in Osaka, (06) 6342-7722; and March 25, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Billboard Live in Tokyo, (03) 3405-1133. For more details, visit www.billboard-live.com.
(Mar. 4, 2011)

Crystal Castles Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 14th January 2011

Crystal Castles anything but fragile
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Ethan Kath, of Crystal Castles, backstage at
 the Roundhouse on 15th October 2010

LONDON--Of the many reasons drummers have given for quitting a band, not wanting to wear lingerie is one of the more unusual. But that's exactly what happened when Crystal Castles was about to take the stage at Summer Sonic in 2008.

"I found a pair of Alice's stockings and I cut them in half and put one on," Ethan Kath, the band's producer and songwriter said, referring to the band's singer, Alice Glass. "I gave [the drummer] the other one to put on, and he refused. He was like, 'I'm not going to play in stockings,' and that was the last time I played with him.

"I wanted us to have matching stockings."

The band will play concerts in Osaka and Tokyo next week with replacement drummer and Kath's long-time friend, Chris Chartrand. "We can't wait to go there. We played Summer Sonic in 2008, and we've been waiting since then to return," he said.

Formed in 2004, Crystal Castles released its eponymous debut album in 2008. An untitled follow-up came out last year and made it onto the Best Albums of the Year lists in both Spin Magazine and New Musical Express. Crystal Castles owes much of its sound to the dark, brooding influence of Fiction label mates The Cure. In fact, that band's vocalist, Robert Smith, sings on the group's latest U.K. single, a version of Canadian band Platinum Blonde's "Not In Love," which also appears on Crystal Castles (II), sans Smith. Kath sees the group's recorded output and live sound as distinctive entities.

"[On record] we have some songs that sound like sad, isolation, really icy, and then we have other ones that are really abrasive, with Alice screaming over them. Our shows are the opposite of the isolated feelings of our records--it's more communal. We're in this together, we're gonna sweat on each other, spit on each other, bleed on each other: It's just like a pile of wet flesh," he said.

Kath's assessment of the group's live concerts is no understatement, with Glass spending most of her time on- (or rather off-) stage surfing the crowd and getting mighty sweaty with the mosh pit. Kath was struck by Glass' confrontational approach toward fronting a rock band when he saw her singing with Fetus Fatale in 2003.

"The time I went to check out her band, there were legends [there] from the Toronto '80s punk scene...and they were heckling the band. Alice was [taking a] mouthful of beer, spitting it into their faces and telling them to f--- off. At that time, she was just 15 and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I thought she was amazing and powerful and I knew that I had found my dream front person," he recalled.

Years later, their shared love of punk has become their profession, one that requires new shots of inspiration. "We like collecting old punk records and when we were in Japan we found this amazing store in Tokyo that had every dream punk seven-inch you could ever hope to find, and we look forward to going back to that store. We found it by fluke, we were just walking around and saw a sign saying, 'Punk and Hardcore Vinyl,' and we were like 'Whaaat?' It was the best punk store in the world."

Crystal Castles will play Club Quattro in Osaka, at 7 p.m. on Jan. 17. (06) 6281-8181; and at the Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo, at 7 p.m. on Jan. 18. (03) 5464-0800. For more information, visit www.creativeman.co.jp/artist/2011/01crystal.
(Jan. 14, 2011)