Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Interviews with the band and ex-members

Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Postby Quiet Visitor on Sat Nov 09, 2013 11:32 am

This interview was published a while ago on Mick's forum. Just in case that forum will disappear when the new site will be on line, it may be interesting post it here too for archive reasons:

Japan on Japan

By Alfred Bos

Tin Drum was originally meant as a farewell-album. After five years of relatively little success both record-company and management were prepared to drop Japan. “This time we’ll do it exactly the way we want it, we thought. It’s finished after all, so who cares.” Tin Drum though contained three hit-singles, from which the most unexpected, Ghost, also scored the best: top 10 in England. “After that Tin Drum became somewhat ironically our hello-album.”

Looking back Mick Karn can grin about it. While Quiet Life and in to a lesser degree Gentlemen Take Polaroids inspired the glitter from the New Romantics with their stylized beauty and calculated dance-rhythms, Japan sat at home sulking. Of course it is flattering when young groups like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran mention you as an example, but what good does it do to you when the record-company starts to urge for hits. Hits which are being scored by others with your music.
“It was very painful to notice that the things we’ve been doing with so much devotion for such a long time wasn’t recognized until the Blitz-movement suddenly became fashion. That gave us a bitter feeling, especially towards the press. I think we’ve been influential especially as individuals: I hear people drum like Steve and my bass-playing is being copied. You shouldn’t make it bigger than it is though, it is a fact that people are being influenced all the time.”
“Gentlemen Take Polaroids marked time. We weren’t too happy with that album The best way to get a record off the ground is to tour as much as possible. When you play the same songs night after night you’re ready for something new.”
After Quiet Life Japan decided to reduce the live-performances drastically. At the same time they switched record-companies, and because of that their new employer asked for a new album while the group wasn’t ready for it yet. Gentlemen became a copy of Quiet Life – a technically well considered marketing-product, but rather dull for a group who seemed to be ahead of themselves with every LP. Tin Drum though succeeded where Gentlemen failed: de mix of centuries-old Eastern culture-music and Western consumption-pop seemed to fit the band like a second skin.

Coexistence
“Previously every member of the band listened to other music. Steve and I especially to African music, Richard to electronic music and all those things came together on Quiet Life and Gentlemen Take Polaroids. Those albums got a very balanced sound, a sound in which everything was perfect in place. After Gentlemen this began to bore us. Before Tin Drum non us appeared to be well informed about the latest developments because we all had been listening to the same music, which was Chinese music.”
Coexistence is the keyword concerning Japan. Like Kid Creole tries to bring together black and white in one music, Tin Drum is an attempt to integrate an exotic tradition into Western pop-music: a joining of white and yellow.
“In fact Tin Drum has come into being by coincidence. The only thing on which has been thought of hours and hours, are the sounds. Richard (Barbieri – AB) wanted to bring to live through his synthesizers the natural sounds from Chinese music, which was often centuries old. This took him hours of programming. Most keyboard-parts were played by Steve (Jansen – AB), because as a drummer he has the best timing from all of us four. We started from the feeling that this would become our latest album, so we only did what we felt like ourselves. Canton was the first thing we recorded, very spontaneous, and that put the frame for the whole album. That’s the strange thing about Tin Drum. It was made on instinct. Afterwards it turned out to sound rather Chinese, while we had never talked about making a Chinese album one day. It turned out all of us four had been busy with the same things.”

Trash-can
One and a half year ago Japan lost its guitarist Rob Dean, mainly because the guitar took up lesser and lesser space in the sound which was dominated by synthesizers. At the moment thought the band tours with a guitarist, Masami Tsuchiya, from the Japanese band Ippu-Do, which released one album for the Western Market up till now: Radio Fantasy. Next to that Tsuchiya released the solo-record Rice Music, on which Japanese and English musicians (including Steve Jansen, Mick Karn and Bill Nelson) play together. For both albums the integration of old Japanese culture-music in a Western pop-setting is characteristic, exactly the same thing Japan tries to do, although in opposite direction. Rice Music for instance contains the song Secret Party, which refers to the band Japan both in its title (The Art Of Parties) as well as in its lyrics (“gentlemen take polaroids”). “That track is a gift from me to Japan, because I appreciate their music so much”, Tsuchiya thinks.
He tells that he is one of the few Japanese young people who are interested in their own tradition, because the land is being flooded through radio and television with information from and about the West. Europe pleases him very much, because it is so quiet, he thinks. Quiet compared with the hectic ant hill which is being called Tokyo. “You hear music everywhere”, Mick Karn says, “no matter if you walk into a department store or crossing a zebra crossing, music is everywhere, Western pop-music.”
Radio Fantasy seems to be a parody on Japanese radio, represented by a trash-can adorned with a greased quiff on the cover. Just like pop-music is more or less a trash-can in which styles and trends from all kinds of directions can be collected, Radio Fantasy sweeps together traditional Japanese music, classic pop-hits (She’s Not There) and even Latin-American tango’s on one heap. “That is correct”, says Tsuchiya. “You’re the first one who noticed the symbolic value from the cover. Radio Fantasy is a reflection on Japanese radio, on which all kinds of music and traditions can also be heard next to each other.”

Recycling
His solo-album Rice Music contains some schizophrenic features: the integration of two cultures (Japanese tradition and Western pop) has succeeded only partial. Tsuchiya though calls himself quadrophonic: he plays in his own group Ippu-Do as well as in Japan, makes solo-records and is also a producer. On Rice Music he also makes use of outer-musical sounds like radio-voices. “That’s my way to integrate sounds out of the environment into the music. In the Japanese tradition natural sounds are being considered as part of the music. The drops falling out of a bamboo reed are making a harmony together with the koto. That same technique I have used on Rice Music: while I was at home playing the synthesizer you can hear the radio on the background. That also became part of the music.”
To my question if the copy-passion from the Japanese must be considered as imitation or as recycling, he answers without hesitation: “Imitation.” Mick Karn though rather speaks of recycling. “Japanese people can do some things very good. No matter if they make cars or music, technically it is always safe and sound. But they are looking down on their own tradition and look up to England and America. When they hear something which they like, they’ll make something that looks like it, to give themselves the satisfaction that they can do it as well, just as good as the English or Americans. You could call that recycling, although they won’t look at it that way, because they do it for centuries.”
A lot of Japanese pop-music sounds rather characterless. “It has no depth. You can listen to it, but after that you’ve heard enough of it”, says Karn. The sound is all right, a lot of cleaver things are happening, but there is no surprise. Everything fits decent together.” He thinks Masami Tsuchiya wanted to stuff Rice Music too full with all kinds of styles. “Yes, he is a bit schizophrenic, or rather very much schizophrenic. When Japanese people hear something they want to copy, they can only copy the form, not the feeling. This makes why a lot of Japanese pop-music is so empty. Which is a pity, because if they would make their own music, they could also give it their own feeling.”

Divorce
The current world tour from Japan takes four months which makes it the longest one the band has ever set out. After Tin Drum the decision was made to take an artistic breathing space. Mick Karn recorded a solo-single and –album, Richard Barbieri produced a Swedish band, Steve Jansen toured three months through Japan with Yukihiro Takahashi from the YMO and David Sylvian made the single Bamboo Flute as a crowning glory on his holiday. After ten months the tour brought them back together again, but possibly not for long.
“This tour is a kind of test to see if it makes sense to go on as a collective unit.” Japan may have found its musical balance on Tin Drum, on a personal level there has occurred a diverging of opinions. “At the moment the group is split into two camps. On one side you have David and Steve, who are especially busy with introvert technically things, say the super-tight Japanese pop-music, while Richard and I have developed towards the other side. We want to make everything sound as natural as possible, and of all times not electronic. Rick and I have grown closer to one another while we were working on my solo-album, which can be released any moment now. That record brought us together because Rich and I were the only ones who where in the country and I really had to work together with someone else. When in January we’ll decide it makes more sense to let everybody work on their own solo-projects, it doesn’t mean the group will fall apart. The temporary divorce only takes a bit longer. As a group we will certainly make more albums.”

Published in Muziekkrant OOR, number 22, November 3rd 1982
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Re: Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Postby Burnsjed on Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:44 pm

Not totally sure MK gave a true representation of Tin Drum to be honest.
Remember a an excellent thread on vintagesynth http://www.vintagesynth.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=53890&hilit=sylvian+sylvian#p559655 regarding the synths on Burning Bridges (I know GTP) but the guy who had all the information went on to say

David Sylvain appears to have played most of the synth parts on Burning Bridges. From what I understand
there is no OB-X on that song. In fact, with the exception of Taking Island where all the synth parts
were played by Sakamoto, Sylvain played all the P5 parts on "Polaroids". The same goes for "Tin Drum" except
for a few P5 parts in Cantonese Boy and Canton which were done by Barbieri and Steve Jansen.
Not only did Sylvain play most P5 parts, he programmed the sounds too (at least on "Tin Drum", listen to the awesome
"R2-D2" sounds on Ghosts for example*).
He was/is an amazing synth-programmer according to Barbieri and should get much more credit for "Tin Drum".


Mick seemed to have a lot of issues at the time with Sylvian, so it seems to me he was on form by giving DS no recognition for his work.
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Re: Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Postby Quiet Visitor on Fri Nov 15, 2013 2:34 pm

Burnsjed wrote:Not totally sure MK gave a true representation of Tin Drum to be honest.(...) Mick seemed to have a lot of issues at the time with Sylvian, so it seems to me he was on form by giving DS no recognition for his work.


We can't be sure, indeed, because we weren't there. What speaks for Mick's side is that the interview was from 1982, so memories where still fresh. I don't know when the statements of "Micke" were made, but I assume they were from a later moment. But all in all I guess it's still the music that counts and when struggles between bandmembers create great songs like the Tin Drum-collection the listener is the winner in the end. :)
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Re: Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Postby Burnsjed on Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:36 pm

Quiet Visitor wrote:
Burnsjed wrote:Not totally sure MK gave a true representation of Tin Drum to be honest.(...) Mick seemed to have a lot of issues at the time with Sylvian, so it seems to me he was on form by giving DS no recognition for his work.


We can't be sure, indeed, because we weren't there. What speaks for Mick's side is that the interview was from 1982, so memories where still fresh. I don't know when the statements of "Micke" were made, but I assume they were from a later moment. But all in all I guess it's still the music that counts and when struggles between bandmembers create great songs like the Tin Drum-collection the listener is the winner in the end. :)


I wasn't question Mick's memory, but to put it in perspective he also said

ZZ magazine ‚”Why do you think Dave is the only one who wanted to continue with the band?
Mick ‚”I think if the band did split, Dave would be the one who would suffer most because I think he’s incapable of carrying on by himself. The three of us worked much harder than Dave ever has and without us he would find it very difficult. He is an excellent producer and if he could find a band that didn’t know which direction to go in, the songs were a bit flabby here and there, then he could take over and produce them and it would be great. That’s what it’s been like with Japan, it’s the three of us working but Dave steering and I think without us he would go on thinking he’s a good songwriter and music writer which he’s not, he’s a good lyric writer. I think he’d find it very difficult unless he had us people around him.


I can't say I put much value in anything he was saying back then to be honest.
This interview with zz was done before they toured the last time.
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Re: Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Postby swordofdestiny on Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:39 pm

To be honest I always found Mick's vitriolic bitterness to be very off-putting. David carried on pretty well after Japan split. The rest is history. A very sad history.
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Re: Interview Mick & Masami 1982

Postby Burnsjed on Sat Nov 16, 2013 9:15 am

Agreed, that zz magazine interview is rather sad and bitter.
Mick may have had very good reasons to feel bitter at the time, but quite clearly that part, and other parts, are nonsense.
The reason why I linked that thread on vintagesynth, is Mikke seems to know everything about all synths used in music.
Not sure who he is, but when there are questions on what synths were used, he is able to divulge every synth used for every single sound, and he references conversations he has had with the keyboard players involved.

He has always been very complimentary on Sylvian's programming skills, referencing Barbieri on the Japan material (who appears to be very gracious and humble, lets face it, as the keyboard player of Japan, to say that Sylvian played and programmed most of the later sounds, is quite an admission).
He has mentioned that Sylvian knew the Prophet VS inside out, this is the synth that DS used predominately on his first three solo albums. When you listen to some of the evolving pads on Gone To Earth, you realise just how good he was.

I wonder if DS went from writing on the guitar to writing on the piano/keyboard? This would also explain how their sound evolved over the years. Tin Drum has so many intricate synth parts and sounds, that clearly took an awful lot of work.

If you notice in that interview in the original post, when MK recollects over Quiet Life, Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum, he never references Sylvian. He talks how the other three listened to different styles of music etc, and apart from
It turned out all of us four had been busy with the same things.
there is no mention of DS.
Considering he is credited as solely writing nearly all of the songs, that is a very strange admission.

Bizarrely enough, after all I have said, my favourite part of Japan's music was the rhythm section, and the majority of that is down to Mick. His first solo album is one that I play more often than probably any of the Japan albums, he had a god given talent, and his bass playing was just unreal.
As John Taylor said after Mick past away, he never seemed to waste a single note. He didn't put any notes to fill in a gap, everything was there for a reason, and was always melodic. RIP Mick.
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