Interview Richard 1994/95

Interviews with the band and ex-members

Interview Richard 1994/95

Postby Quiet Visitor on Fri Nov 22, 2013 1:11 pm

Here's a rough translation of an interview Richard did in 1994/95 for a Dutch magazine:

By Wilco Barg

After the break-up of Japan it turned out that the success of that band was a guarantee for the members to release their work through big record-companies. Although Rain Tree Crow, a veiled Japan-reunion, had to become a long-term project, it was restricted to one album. Richard Barbieri looks back on an exciting past, but also looks ahead to the future of his own label Medium, on which recently the first results of the collaboration of Steve Jansen and Mick Karn were presented.

How did the idea started to work with Steve and Mick again?
“We are good friends and see each other frequently. We always found it pleasant to work with each other and we thought that the Rain Tree Crow-project would have lasted longer. When all of a sudden this appeared to be not the case, it was a big disappointment for us. We wanted to keep the spirit though, so we decided to continue together. The only way to do that was to break with everybody and to do everything by our selves, so we decided to start off an own record-label. It had to become a label which would bring our own music on the market without compromise and unlimited. In the past, in the days of Japan and the solo-projects, we were allowed to release just one album every one or two years. That went much too slow. We work together with a lot of musicians, so there’s a lot of material being created we want to release. Big companies aren’t always eager to release all that work. So we decided not to work together as a group but more like a project. You see, I don’t think we are a group.”

You don’t get that impression, indeed. When you’re looking at the compositions on Beginning To Melt you’re working either alone or together with David Torn.
“I have to confess that the idea was that Beginning To Melt would become a kind of introduction with the label. So we knew we had to be represented with one track to get the attention of the public. We have a long-term friendship with David Torn, but we try to work together on every album with other musicians, so it remains interesting for us. You see, there are enough interesting projects with other musicians (Barbieri and Jansen both participated on the new No-Man-album, WB), in which the record-companies are interested. Take for instance Rob Dean. We hadn’t worked with him for years. We managed to persuade him to play on one of the songs. That guy lives nowadays in the jungle of South America and didn’t touch a guitar since he left Japan.”

Is that the reason you work together with Robby Aceto and your wife?
“Yes indeed, everybody is allowed to participate.”

The song you wrote together with your wife sounds suspiciously like the work of Kate Bush. Was that the intention?
“Not really. She’s got Irish blood. And I think there’s something going on with Irish vocalists. It looks as if they approach the music all in the same way. She is a lover of the work of Kate Bush, so I think that has something to do with it. After all, she writes the tracks together with me.”

Will these tracks appear on a new likewise album?
“On Beginning To Melt we called ourselves The Oystercatchers. Soon Medium will release a mini-CD with four tracks in more or less the same vein under that name. It is more rock-orientated, a more simple way of making music. It is something I’ve never done in the past. It is fun to do. I think it has more dynamic.”

You’re working together now with Robby Aceto. I think his voice sounds a lot like David Sylvian’s. Does this offer you the chance to work on music in the style of Japan?
“Not necessarily. There are a lot of singers we would like to work with. This project wasn’t setup to start a new band. In fact it is a collaboration with friends. You know, it is really hard to find the right singer. You have to take into account their philosophy, their lyrics, their ideas. So I don’t know it yet. We don’t have special plans with one particular singer.”

When you’re writing music with Mick, Steve or alone, the music sounds as if it’s been written for a soundtrack. It that your way of writing?
“Yes, I think so. Atmosphere is very important for us. We like it to build-up something slowly. It is a way of working we also used in the days of Japan.”

Yes, but with Japan you started writing this kind of songs not until the period of Tin Drum. The only tracks from that period which sound like that are Canton and Temple Of Dawn.
“Sure. Before that we already wrote tracks like Despair and The Tenant, which appeared on previous albums. Yes, I think it’s a natural growing-process, because we don’t work with a singer. You don’t have to change the concept because there aren’t any song-lyrics to be incorporated. So, the whole process started with a basic feeling. I think that’s the reason it calls up associations with film-music.”

A lot of the Dutch pop-critics say that your music is running down. After Japan was disbanded it seems none of the band-members were able to create something good in this style on their own. To me it looks like the four of you together should be able to create something like that.
“When the four of us came together something special happened with the group. I think that the Rain Tree Crow album is different from the Japan-material. But it worked. It came into being the same way. You have to look at it like this: during the longest period, when Mick is making solo-albums, I make albums together with Steve, and that produces a different kind of music.”

You consider the Medium-releases as a project. You can participate on it or you can leave whenever you want.“Sure. I mean, I think one way or another we can create a track which last for twenty, thirty minutes, for which we use different singers. It is as if you’re pasting a voice as an instrument into the music. With David we had a whole lot of years a strongly voice-orientated way of working. The image and his personality were very strong.”

Everything was orientated on David?
“Sure. His voice was always there, and it was good to be without that for a while. You know, to let the music breath at last.”

Does the own label also imply that you will be working on each other’s solo-albums?
“Our ways cross each other once in a while. But I think that Steve and I have more in common with each other than with Mick.”

Because Steve and you have worked together more often in the past?
“It has a different musical foundation. Mick has a different approach of music. Steve and I approach the music in the same way. That’s why we’re working together a lot. So I don’t think we will be working a lot together with Mick. Currently Steve and I are working on a new album on which Mick probably can’t be heard a lot.”

Although the Japan-years lay behind you now, Mick still has got that characteristic bass-technique.
“Yes, I think we all have our personalities, with which I refer to our musical personalities. You know, I think we were one of the few groups from the 80’s from which you could deduce the identity. You could listen to something and say: “That’s Mick Karn.” And he has stick to that and always will keep to that. But when Steve and I are working on new material we don’t always need that specific bass-structure. Sometimes we just want something simple, because we’re building it up slowly. As a way to compare things: when I participate on an album from Mick, I find it hard to play my parts. It is not naturally. Steve and I love to play naturally. I have to go completely back to a different style of music. But on the other hand we’ve been working on pieces of music together lately, and it appeared everything fitted together perfectly again.”

But you’re creating a sound which is familiar with the audience. You only have to hear a small piece to know it’s from the members of Japan.
“That characteristic sound is there. I mean, sometimes I would like to go into a studio with the three of us and compose something completely different. But every time that sound, from which people say it sounds like Japan, comes back.”

Can you get annoyed by those never-ending comparisons with Japan?
“Not really, no. I have no problems with the past of Japan. I don’t feel ashamed for it, there are no things I want to forget or something I regret from a musical viewpoint. It is just like life itself. It’s a part of your life, something you grow up with. The same way you make mistakes. It is as if you’re living naïve and being naïve in the way you’re composing and recording music.”

People always say David was demanding too much attention for himself.
“Yes, I think you’re right. I think it has worked in our advantage too, because a broad audience was given the opportunity to fixate on one person. David had a very strong image. He played his part very well. He felt comfortable in that role, because he was prepared for it. I think it has only contributed to our success. On the other hand I think that the identity and character of a group lied more with the other members. There came more originality from the remaining members.”

You see, when you listen to Sylvian solo, the music seems to be minimized.
“The point with David I think is that he’s an excellent director. He needs a large group of interesting musicians around him to create a good product. When he would be working on a project by himself, I doubt if he would lay down as much personality in his music. He’s a very good composer. That’s why he’s also working together with Robert Fripp and other musicians of that caliber. Because that’s what all album from David have in common, you discover all those people. You think: “hé, that’s Jon Hassell”, or “hé, that’s Robert Fripp, that’s Kenny Wheeler”. So that’s the way he uses people, but I don’t think the final product radiates a group-feeling, the way it was there in the early days.”

During Mick Karn’s last tour you and Steve played in the group too.
“Yes, and back then we also played in Amsterdam. We played a lot of Mick’s solo-work, pieces of ourselves and from Rain Tree Crow.”

Do you have any plans for a new tour?
“We’re considering a tour. It will become a Medium-tour, which also includes work from Mick solo. Maybe we’ll be playing some old Jansen/Barbieri-stuff, but certainly no Japan-material.”

You’re not playing that anymore at all?
“I don’t think it would be fair to play material from those days. You see, it was the work of four people. The Rain Tree Crow-project is different, because a large part of the material is instrumental and fits our way of thinking very much.”

What are the plans of the Medium label, apart from releasing the mini-album The Oystercatchers?
“The next release will become a Jansen/Barbieri/Karn-single. A kind of EP. It will contain a new track which last about nine or ten minutes. And it will also contain a remix-version of one of the songs of Beginning To Melt. The song went through a structural change. The next release then will be the mini-album The Oystercatchers. And probably after that there will be a new Jansen/Barbieri-album released. That’s what the release of new material concerns. After that, like I told before, we hope to do some concerts soon. At least that’s the intention. We have plans to go to Japan and play maybe five or six concerts, maybe two in London and one in Scotland. And when it’s possible maybe one on the continent. It’s very difficult with a label of your own. We all have our responsibilities. We are just starting to learn how that all works.”

Published in SI Magazine, nr. 139/140, January/February 1995. Translated November 2013.
SI Magazine was a magazine on melodic rock-music, specialized in progressive rock. First it was called Sym Info. After its demise it was taken over by the still existing magazine iO Pages (

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