Sylvian Trouser Press Article - September 1982.

Interviews with the band and ex-members

Sylvian Trouser Press Article - September 1982.

Postby heartofdavid on Mon Mar 30, 2009 4:14 pm

Per a request.

Japan
(An Inscrutable Londoner Takes on the US in His Own Fashion)
By Jon Young

Don’t be fooled by David Sylvian’s mild manners. Japan’s singer is one tough character in a pinch, judging by his account of a recent run-in with the group’s British label, Virgin.

“The making of Tin Drum got totally out of hand. It was taking a long time,” the blond, 25-year old bandleader recalls. “The record company had a budget they were trying to make us stick to, and we’d gone over it. There was a phone call to the studio from the head of the company saying, “It’s gotta be finished tomorrow.’ I said, ‘It’ll never be finished tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Then that’s it. You’re not gonna have an album. Just stop work now.’ We were calling each other’s bluff. I told him, ‘Then you won’t have an album to release and you just wasted 70,000 pounds. You might as well give us a few more thousand and get an album.’

“That did it.”

Sylvian relates this tale with the quiet confidence of someone who knows he holds all the aces. Gentlemen Take Polaroids, and Tin Drum, Japan’s last two releases, have made the group a commercial and critical success back home in England. Epic, Virgin’s American outlet, has similar hopes for the band stateside. To gain the largely-unknown Japan some attention here they’ve flown Sylvian to Manhattan and installed him in a comfortable hotel room to receive interviewers. He discourses on the group amid debris typical of the cultured tourist/musician: camera equipment and tape cassettes, mostly of oriental music.

Japan may enjoy prominence and respect today, but not long ago they were considered a bad joke. When Londoners Sylvian, his brother Steve Jansen (drums), Rob Dean (guitar), Richard Barbieri (keyboards) and Mick Karn (bass) debuted in 1977 on Ariola with Adolescent Sex, it was obvious the band had bitten off more influences than they could chew. Visually they embraced a somewhat passé glitter: all flash clothes, makeup and strange hair. Musically, their extreme dependence on Roxy Music and David Bowie made them impossible to take seriously. Obscure Alternatives, the follow-up, improved only slightly on a bad situation.

“We dislike the first two albums intensely because they were done for all the wrong reasons,” Sylvian notes. “We were just learning how to play. There was so much pressure from the record company and management, saying they knew what we should be doing; we had to struggle to keep free of that. The records came out caricatured.”

“Ariola signed us for our appearance. They didn’t hear the music; they were that kind of company. We’d take tapes to them and they’d sit there with stopwatches. If a song didn’t reach the chorus in the first thirty second, it wasn’t right.”

Serious reassessment was in order after the first two LPs. “We felt we had to come up with something we were really happy with or change quite dramatically. If we didn’t achieve what we were out to achieve, there was no point going on. Looking back on what we’d done, we saw what was wrong with us.”

The turnaround began with the single “Life in Tokyo”, produced by Giorgio Moroder of Donna Summer fame (and more recently David Bowie’s collaborator on the Cat People theme). Japan stopped trying so hard. Sylvian allowed the languid quality of his voice to come through without resorting to mimicry, and the musicianship was smoother and less strained.

Following a third LP with Ariola, Quiet Life, the group switched to Virgin and started gaining fans in earnest. Japan’s music grew progressively more distinctive and understated – so much so that guitarist Dean was out of a job. “We were using guitar less and less, so I decided it would probably be better for him to leave the band.” Dean is currently a member of Los Angeles band Vivabeat.

Tin Drum expanded Japan’s following and even won critical raves. Although pleased, Sylvian exhibits calm skepticism and the band’s new media acclaim back home. “It’s for financial reasons, I think. The music press in losing power. Kids are growing up knowing how cynical and untruthful the music press is sometimes. A lot of bands have come up recently that were put down by the press in the past. Public demand has made them too big to ignore.”

Corporate rock logic would seem to dictate that Japan now embark on constant touring to consolidate their UK success and to help push Japan, a new US compilation drawn from their last two British efforts. This is not your standard band, however.

“Japan has split up until October, when we’ll get back together for an English tour. We’ll go to Japan in January; after that’s the only chance we’ll get to come over here.”

Odd timing, one could say.

“That’s what they say in England. We’ve just taken off there in a big way and there’s no band to promote what’s going on. It’s sort of a weird situation, but we always work on instinct. I didn’t want to get stuck where you make an album, go on tour and do publicity, around and around. We’ve never bothered with promoting things at the right times, which is probably why it’s taken so long for us to take off. Now just seems like the right time to work on different projects.”

A creative band like Japan has alternatives. During the lull, Sylvian has recorded s single with Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra that continues the experimentation with oriental themes so prominent on Tin Drum. Karn has had his sculpture exhibited in London; Jansen took photos and wrote poetry for the catalogue.

Sylvian has so little of the traditional rock hustler in him that he even declines to talk up the band’s first domestic release in four years.
“I’m not happy with it. I didn’t like the idea of splitting up the two albums. Tin Drum is a whole concept, even down to the cover (on foreign pressings, a shot of Sylvian eating rice underneath a picture of Mao). Epic was going to release Japan in the original cover, even if they put different tracks on it. Then they suddenly came up with this awful cover [a close-up of Sylvian].” From his placid tone of voice, you’d think this annoyance transpired 10 years ago. “If somebody’s interest, they should try to find Tin Drum on import. I’m sure they’ll get a lot more out of it.” [In gratitude for this interview, Epic officials prevailed upon Sylvian to play a groundbreaking date in Beirut. – Ed.] *note to readers, the editor of Trouser Press often made sarcastic, joking, and other type comments in the body of articles.

Sylvian can’t even guarantee there will be another Japan LP. “If Japan makes another album, it’s got to be of high quality. There’s no way we’re gonna do something below standard just because another record’s expected by October.” Then, with a soft smile, he adds, “It’s in no way definite, but I think there will be another album.”

As always, David Sylvian’s sublime poise blankets his feelings.
Hallucinating lucidity
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Postby billster on Tue Mar 31, 2009 1:12 pm

Thanks. I really appreciate reading new stuff. thankyou for taking the time and effort.
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Re: Sylvian Trouser Press Article - September 1982.

Postby mynewcareer on Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:16 pm

It's a shame the record company pressurised the band into making such a compromise with their music - they were lucky to survive it all without splitting, going mad or becoming coke-heads.

I like some of the songs from the first two albums, and I'd liked to have heard them rearranged with a sympathetic producer. David was right about them sounding like caricacture.
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