World music reissue label Wewantsounds release Akiko Yano’s 1982 solo album ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ outside of Japan for the very first time. Co-produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the record was notable for featuring the talents of JAPAN band members Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and David Sylvian.
Fusing rock, jazz, avant pop and Japanese folk, Akiko Yano was a successful singer/songwriter in her homeland before touring the world as a keyboardist with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA. Her high pitched vocal style inevitably drew comparisons with Kate Bush but in 1981, her husband’s connections led to a new approach.
With Ryuichi Sakamoto having already collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ from JAPAN’s fourth album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, he and Yano travelled to the UK. With a strong Yen, recording facilities in London proved to be cheaper than in Tokyo and so it was at Air Studios that they teamed up with the Lewisham combo and their producer / engineer Steve Nye following the completion of ‘Tin Drum’.
Translated as “there must be love”, ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ states its case with the bilingual opening title track of the album, giving a platform for the JAPAN rhythm section both instrumentally and vocally, while not deviating from Akiko Yano’s own distinctive style. The glistening textures of Sakamoto emanating from his beloved Prophet 5 also leave no doubt as to who is producing.
Although ‘Kanashikute Yarikirenai’ adopts a West Coast demeanour, particularly when complimented by JAPAN live guitarist David Rhodes’ solo, it is all offset by Sakamoto’s haunting synth tones. Continuing on a similar highway, ‘What’s Got In Your Eyes’ has more that driving Californian feel to it and translates smoothly thanks to English lyrics provided partly by YMO collaborator Peter Barakan.
‘Oishii Seikatsu’ and ‘Michi De Battari’ come as appealing interludes, the former shaped by a marimba figure and the latter with traditionally Japanese textures although all approximated using electronics.
The best track on ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ is the vibrant and funky ‘Onnatachiyo Otokotachiyo’; it sees Steve Jansen demonstrating why highly regarded session drummers like Gavin Harrison regard him as a key influence in the art of percussive painting without overplaying. Stabs of synthetic brass from Sakamoto, Yano’s own piano work and Mick Karn’s trademark fretless slides combine to make this a superb highlight.
The speedy ‘Aisuru Hito Yo’ is more four-to-the-floor despite the tribal congas from Motoya Hamaguchi, containing the spacey overtures that these days gets referred to as Citypop and laced with the jazzy cosmic surfin’ of early YMO. But this is hardly surprising as the drums are helmed by Yukihiro Takahashi plus there is also much to enjoy with Sakamoto’s technopop work here ranging from blips and rings to pulses and sirens to sweeps and growls.
Written entirely in English by Yano, ‘Sleep On My Baby’ is a slice of quirky fusion pop with the distinctive backing vocals of Mick Karn.
But while Karn was perhaps less fluid trhough much of ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ than he had been with his bass work as part of JAPAN on account Sakamoto directing the exact notes that were required, he provides a bit more of his fretless signature sound here if a bit more sedately and less up front.
The guitar driven ‘Another Wedding Song’ is more of a funk soul art piece rather than a conventional song but Haruomi Hosono joins the party on bass guitar with Takahashi for a YMO reunion on the jazzy pop of ‘Donnatokimo Donnatokimo Donnatokimo’ which evokes the magical sunsets of the Ryukyu Islands with its rootsy Japanese variation on steel guitar from Hiroki Komazawa.
The gorgeous piano lullaby ‘Good Night’, written by the unconnected classical musician Yuji Takahashi with words by Yano and Peter Barakan, saw the Japanese songstress duet with David Sylvian and its interplay will delight any fans of the JAPAN frontman or Sakamoto’s film soundtracks. A fittingly perfect if very short closer, it was subsequently used on a domestic Seiko watches TV commercial.
A number of JAPAN and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA enthusiasts are likely to be hearing ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ for the first time as this sixth Akiko Yano solo album was only released in Japan and they will undoubtedly enjoy a number of the tracks due to their instrumental and vocal connections. While Akiko Yano’s music didn’t export in large numbers, she gained a cult following in Europe and her music broke down barriers.
Today female Japanese singers are able to perform to packed theatres in London while the synthwave fraternity has adopted within its wider family, the Citypop that was pioneered by YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA when she was part of their live presentation.
Always prolific and often releasing an album per year, as recently as 2018, she worked with American synth duo REED & CAROLINE on ‘When We’re In Space’ for her collaborations collection ‘Let’s Go Together’ while she has released three more long players since. It may have taken nearly 40 years but the vast catalogue of Akiko Yano is now able to be more widely appreciated.
ROB DEAN is best known as a member of the classic quintet line-up of JAPAN with David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri which acted as the blueprint for DURAN DURAN.
Hackney-born Dean had been recruited by the four Catford boys via an advert in Melody Maker. Although he had already left the band by the time of their wider breakthrough in Autumn 1981, his six-string made a prominent contribution to some of the band’s best known singles like ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘I Second That Emotion’. Dean was one of the first exponents of the EBow, a battery-powered hand-held monophonic electronic device which produced a powerful infinite sustain that was rich in harmonics.
It therefore allowed for a variety of sounds on a guitar not playable using traditional strumming or picking techniques; other users of the EBow included Bill Nelson, The Edge, Stuart Adamson, Paul Reynolds and Wayne Hussey.
Featuring on four of JAPAN’s five studio albums, Dean had found himself marginalised by David Sylvian’s artistic pursuit of a more minimalist keyboard based sound during the recording sessions for his final record with them, ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, resulting in him appearing on just four tracks.
After JAPAN, Dean worked with GARY NUMAN, SINÉAD O’CONNOR and ABC while he was also formed the Australian connected bands ILLUSTRATED MAN and THE SLOW CLUB.
Now resident in Costa Rica, the guitarist kindly chatted at length about his time in JAPAN and his return to music with a brand new project LIGHT OF DAY…
Much had been made of your resemblance to Sylvain Sylvain, had you actually been a NEW YORK DOLLS fan?
The simple answer is no. I remember seeing them on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and thinking how they were fun to watch and decidedly trashy, but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy their album or go and see them live. The truth is my hair (in those days at least!) was naturally very curly and so when I grew it long, which was ultimately a pre-requisite for being part of JAPAN really, obviously it had a Bolan / Sylvain look. The make-up obviously helped promote this further.
As time went on, I appreciated them a bit more. I remember I was once at Max’s Kansas City in NYC chatting with the club’s co-owner and the subject of Sylvain came up. She said he was usually around somewhere.
I thought no more about it and as I was outside the club about to leave, she emerged dragging a very drunk individual by his jacket sleeve. It was Sylvain Sylvain – she wanted so desperately for him to meet me. I’m guessing he didn’t remember our encounter!
How comfortable were you with the early look of JAPAN and being in the public eye with it?
I was fine with it. JAPAN were my first band really and therefore it was easy to get caught up in the whole image thing (we had a record deal! we played gigs!). Where I was least happy was traveling on a bus or the tube to a rehearsal or business meeting where I became (understandably) self-conscious about it. It was ok for the others, they all lived close to each other and travelled together all the time, usually in Rich’s small car, but I lived on the other side of London and so it was a bit more awkward.
When JAPAN scored their initial success in Japan with the ‘Adolescent Sex’ album and went from playing pubs in Britain to the Budokan in Tokyo, how did you find having to deal with screaming girls at your shows?
You can’t really explain the buzz of that initial reception getting off that plane in Tokyo for the first time and being greeted by a mob of screaming fans. Leaving the hotel discreetly by back exits, bodyguards accompanying you everywhere on shopping excursions…
It was nuts really, decidedly unreal. The first night we were invited by our promoter Mr Udo to see Linda Ronstadt at the Budokan. No sooner had we entered the vast auditorium, Ms Ronstadt and band already in full swing, than by our presence alone we unwittingly had caused a mini-riot and were forced to leave in order for the concert to continue.
As far as our own shows went, although somewhat otherworldly to be exchanging a couple of hundred people at the Marquee club for two 10,000 seat sold out shows at the Budokan, it never really felt that it was anything but deserved. By the end of the first tour we had become quite blasé about the whole experience. It was a huge confidence builder though.
Is it true that wrestler Kendo Nagasaki was involved in some rather bizarre UK promotion of that album?
Yes, he was hired to promote the first album, delivering it by hand to all the disc jockeys and record promoters in his full wrestler’s regalia. All that sort of guff was entirely out of our hands as was the poster campaign and the promotional phallic cardboard sword with a huge erect penis on the reverse!
What were the pros and cons of having someone like Simon Napier-Bell as a manager?
The pros? I’m not sure in hindsight. He was clearly an old school manager with all the baggage that that comes with. Initially I think we felt that having a manager with such a reputation could only be a good thing and we were so green then that we just rode along with it all and trusted that he had our own interests at heart.
The blatant Far Eastern connotations, all of that was out of our control really. We trusted that it was what needed to be done to get us noticed and recognised. Which we certainly were but perhaps initially not in the way we had hoped.
All of the press hated any act being thrust down their throats and so having our painted faces and lewd posters plastered all over London unquestionably did more harm than good, particularly in the punk era!
I don’t think for one moment we were embarrassed by it however, not then anyway. The T-shirts with the band name spelled out with people and animals f***ing did take it a bit too far though…
The other thing that has lingered with me and possibly now I feel more regrettable than the rest was the blatant lies, the fabrications about the band that placed us in a position that was virtually impossible to get out of.
The ‘Most Beautiful Man in the World’ tag on David Sylvian which had no founding in reality and was created purely to put us on the pages of The Sun newspaper for example; something to be proud of? No, I don’t think so. For a few years that promotion machine was in fabrication overdrive and ultimately it comes down to one person, Simon Napier-Bell…
Photo by Watal Asanuma
JAPAN’s first major tour was opening for BLUE OYSTER CULT in 1978, do you have any amusing memories of it, as the audiences were said to be quite hostile?
We had supported on a smaller yet no less incongruous Uni tour before that with Jim Capaldi’s band which included Alan Spenner and Neil Hubbard whose work as sidemen we would come to admire later on, not to mention the Kokomo singers, who appear on the recorded version of ‘European Son’.
As to BOC, it was our first time playing on the larger theatrical stages and our largest audiences so far, so we certainly looked forward to that. Although we weren’t playing to anything close to our own audiences, the only time they got really hostile and vocal was when we played the song ‘Suburban Berlin’.
As the tour continued, David encouraged us to lengthen the instrumental section and bring it down almost to a whisper, (which was the crowd’s opportunity to loudly voice their displeasure with us, the longer the better, which they indeed did do), before the song exploded into a huge round of final refrains.
On the last night of the tour, the road crew used that hushed silence and the explosive end to unleash all of the pyrotechnics and fireworks that they had remaining from the tour. All at once! Consequently we were all completely covered in ash, not to mention virtually deaf from the explosives. The other thing I remember was getting in the hotel lift with Buck Dharma for the first time and realizing that the lead guitarist of BOC was essentially a midget. Fond memories…
‘The Tenant’ instrumental that closed the ‘Obscure Alternatives’ album was a pivotal point in JAPAN changing their sound and saw you using an EBow for possibly the first time?
No it wasn’t an EBow; I don’t think they were actually available or that I was even aware of their existence at that point. But I did want a very Fripp-like thick sustained sound. We had been listening particularly to the ‘Heroes’ album then and so he was a strong and obvious influence on my playing moving forward.
What was it like to record ‘Life In Tokyo’ with Giorgio Moroder in Los Angeles as it was a radical new direction for JAPAN at the time?
We were all fans of the ‘Midnight Express’ film and soundtrack, which had just won Giorgio Moroder an Oscar, so the notion of flying to LA to record with him was an exciting one. I personally also really liked the work he had been doing with Donna Summer too. Combined with the heavy presence of KRAFTWERK and YMO in our album collections, it felt like the next logical step and we were banking on it causing us to break through in the pop market, which if we were to stay with our current record company, Hansa we would need to do.
So we flew over for about 5 days staying at the Beverly Hilton, no less. The song started life as an idea on a cassette that Giorgio had thought of using for the Jodie Foster movie ‘Foxes’, which David had fashioned quickly into a song.
In the studio, Giorgio had a drumkit set-up with ‘his’ sound and in fact it was a very controlled recording environment, leaving little to error.
For his trademark sequencer sound, he brought in Harold Faltermeyer who at the time was his keyboard programmer. Harold laid down the part by playing it manually with a slap delay of equal volume which I think surprised us all, as we presumed it would be an actual sequencer but that human element was actually at the core of Giorgio’s sound. He also had his trio of backing singers who had appeared on all the Donna Summer hits, amongst others.
The sessions went so quickly that all, or at least most of the instrumental parts were finished in a single day. The next day was left for final vocal and mixing. It was enjoyable, but there was no mistaking who was in control and the efficiency on display made it feel more like a demo session really.
Had the single been a hit, then I suppose it could have been possible that Giorgio would have been asked to produce the album. Had that been the case, ‘Quiet Life’ would have been a very different beast.
‘Quiet Life’ saw you moving from a recognisable and traditional lead style into something more textural, had there been any particular guitarists who influenced you?
Although there had been plenty of solos in my work in the past, I always felt that my playing was at its best when it was servicing the song rather than sticking out, in a similar way to that of most of George Harrison’s work in THE BEATLES.
At that time due to his remarkably distinctive work with DAVID BOWIE, PETER GABRIEL, DARYL HALL and BLONDIE amongst others, Fripp was my biggest influence and possibly remains so even now. I was also influenced by Phil Manzanera, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Ricky Gardiner and John McGeoch during that album.
Despite the fraught tensions during the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ album sessions, ‘Swing’ and ‘Methods Of Dance’ were exemplary examples of JAPAN firing on all cylinders, can you remember much about recording those two tracks?
Both of those tracks were pretty much finalised in rehearsals leading up to the album sessions at The Townhouse and AIR. So my contributions to both tracks in the studio were executed quite swiftly and efficiently with little fuss or struggle. The most effective songs in JAPAN’s repertoire were generally executed this way. There was one song, ’Angel In Furs’ which we had rehearsed to a similarly honed degree but which when we entered the studio suddenly seemed too obvious and simplistic when compared to the rest, and so it fell by the wayside very early on.
‘Some Kind Of Fool’ is the great lost JAPAN track and was replaced on the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ album with ‘Burning Bridges’. What were your memories about the song and its non-appearance on the album?
Unquestionably, it is a beautiful song. I struggled to find parts for it that didn’t intrude on its simple flow but eventually found parts that I was happy with.
After that, Ann O’Dell’s strings were added and it was at that point that David decided not to pursue recording it further, the main reason being I believe, that with the strings, it began to resemble ‘The Other Side Of Life’ too closely arrangement-wise which actually I can see was a very valid point.
I think in David’s head he was very conscious of the possibility of ‘Polaroids’ becoming ‘Quiet Life Part II’ which none of us wanted, although recording the majority of it at AIR and having the familiar figure of John Punter in the producer’s chair didn’t help.
In some ways, we wanted that easy relaxed camaraderie but that time had passed. Ironically the JAPAN version with a couple of embellishments and a re-recorded vocal eventually found its way onto the Sylvian compilation ‘Everything & Nothing’ but under his name alone, rather unfairly. Surprisingly, the guitar parts which I struggled over remain intact too. Anyone listening to this is essentially listening to an updated version of the original JAPAN band version.
You wrote the JAPAN B-side ‘The Width Of A Room’ but perhaps surprisingly, it was recorded using keyboards rather than guitar, was this more filmic direction something you would have liked to take further had there been an opportunity?
I was always the film buff in the band. Days off would invariably find me in one art house cinema in London or another. On our first Japan trip myself and Pip, the lighting director sneaked off for a screening of ‘Raging Bull’ which was not due to be released in the UK for several months.
Photo by Nicola Tyson
During the recording of ‘Polaroids’, I would slip away for a couple of hours to catch a new film on many occasions. For the release of the two-pack single of ‘Polaroids’, it was suggested that we all come up with a suitable instrumental track as a B-side.
I wrote ‘The Width Of A Room’ on an acoustic guitar in an open tuning. When it came to the recorded version however, I was the one who was most adamant that it be exclusively a keyboard piece, even though I was encouraged to add some guitar.
I think I wanted it to fit in, rather than someone to say, “Oh that must be the guitarist’s track”. Later when I lived in LA, I did work on a film score with a friend. The movie was some dreadful Charlie Sheen B-movie whose name I have conveniently forgotten and I learned quite quickly that writing music to express emotions that I wasn’t feeling was not something I could really enjoy doing.
It’s pretty well documented that you left JAPAN due to the feeling that your guitar work was being sidelined, do you feel some kind of kinship with Andy Taylor from DURAN DURAN in this respect in terms of a band evolving and not quite fitting in?
As time went on, I was finding it harder and harder to come up with guitar parts that I could be satisfied with on the new material. The track ‘European Son’ for instance, never featured a guitar part because I was never satisfied with anything I tried, although ironically just before my tenure with the band expired, I found a live option I was content with!
But it wasn’t only my own dissatisfaction. By the time of ‘Polaroids’, I felt that myself and David just weren’t on the same wavelength. Not sure we ever were to be honest, but it was more exposed by then.
Then there was talk of the band moving to Japan to live for a spell which I was not excited about. The rest of them had each other and very few others could penetrate this circle.
I on the other hand had the group of friends who I grew up with and still enjoyed seeing when I could. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to live in such close proximity with these four other people at the exclusion of everyone else either. So the split was on the cards and inevitable.
Having left JAPAN in 1981 was it still difficult to still be playing on ‘The Art Of Parties’ Spring tour which saw the band make the breakthrough into theatres?
Not at all. I enjoyed playing the songs as much as I ever had, and my relationship with Mick, Rich and Steve was as good as ever, in fact in some ways it might have felt even more relaxed because there was less pressure on me. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the way David suddenly treated me like a side man. But that was David for you, if you weren’t of any use to him any more then you basically didn’t exist. I don’t doubt there have been plenty with a similar experience over the years.
Around this period, you contributed EBowed guitar to the Numan track ‘Boys Like Me’ from ‘Dance’ which also featured Mick Karn, was that an improvised jam on your part?
Yes, I was invited to the studio on the same day Mick was laying down some bass parts. The track was pulled up, I plugged in and started playing around with an EBow part. Ready to do a proper pass, I found out that Gary was happy with what I had already done! For my own satisfaction I would have preferred recording a couple more takes that Gary could choose from but he felt it wasn’t necessary. We hung around the studio for the rest of the day and I also contributed whoops and hand claps on a B-side which was basically a fretless bass improvisation.
The song ‘Quiet Life’ is probably the best known JAPAN track you played on, so what did you think when it became a Top 20 hit in September 1981 belatedly some 18 months after it first featured on the parent album?
I was living in LA at that time and was barely aware of what was being released posthumously from the Hansa catalogue. I wasn’t really conscious of the re-release or success of any of those tracks. I remember a friend of mine from Epic Records handing me the disc ‘Japan’ which was an amalgam of tracks from ‘Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ with the most god awful photo of David looking like a secretary or something on the cover. It not surprisingly failed to set the US charts alight. I was busy concentrating on attempting to create a new life for myself on a different continent. Later Mick came out for a holiday. It was nice to hang out and lark about away from the rigidness of the band. We had a blast.
You were part of Numan’s live band during his 1982 comeback tour of clubs in America, reports indicate it wasn’t a happy one, what was your take on it?
It had its ups and downs, certainly. Generally as a band we enjoyed ourselves. Playing with the likes of Pino Palladino and Roger Mason was a great experience and I think we rehearsed solidly for six weeks before the first gig at Perkin’s Palace, a theatre known for rock shows in Pasadena. ‘The Tube’ were in evidence to record Gary’s ‘comeback’ for posterity and in doing so, their crew really messed up the power in the hall and the show was a disaster, despite our last rehearsals being in that very venue! We then had a tour bus setting on fire shortly after and had to wait it out while another was delivered.
Any funny stories you can tell?
I remember playing Boston where we played a large club with a low stage. From the floor there were so many hung lights on the stage that they obscured Pino’s head completely – we had a headless bass player!
In New Orleans, we played on a riverboat which went up and down the Mississippi while we played. Unfortunately Gary’s Mum who was the wardrobe mistress had left Gary’s trademark fedora in the hotel room which was of course then unreachable and so an announcement went out over the tannoy system to see if any of the audience had one Gary could use. When one failed to surface, he opted for the boat captain’s hat instead.
We were a tight, funky band and I would say that in general, we enjoyed each other’s company on the road a lot. WALL OF VOODOO, our support act on the tour were good friends of mine from LA and so a good time was had by all really. The negative aspects really stem from it not being a success financially, not from the players failing to get on or any inherent friction.
You continued working with Australian keyboardist Roger Mason from that Numan tour afterwards in ILLUSTRATED MAN?
Yes, we became firm friends on the tour, similar music tastes being the connection. After the Numan tour, Roger returned to the UK where he was living at the time and I followed soon after, the plan being to create our own music project.
We shared a flat in Ealing Common where we would stay up all night recording on a Fostex 4-track. In those days, we barely saw daylight. We were quite productive but ultimately nothing came of the tapes because we were sidetracked by another Aussie import, Philip Foxman who had recently secured a development deal with EMI.
Soon we became a band. I brought drummer Hugo Burnham into the fold, who I’d met in LA firstly when a band I worked with, VIVABEAT, supported THE GANG OF FOUR at the Palladium and later when he drummed for ABC on a promo US tour for ‘Beauty Stab’. We started demoing songs and got a deal with EMI / Parlophone.
We recorded an album with my good friend John Punter producing, but the project was doomed to failure as neither myself, Roger nor Hugo had much confidence in Philip as our frontman.
Nonetheless, we toured the UK as support to Nik Kershaw and with Cyndi Lauper and also did our own tour in the US, promoting a 12” EP of some of the album songs, but at the end of the tour Roger and I split and Hugo did the same soon after. The album as a result was never released.
What did you do after ILLUSTRATED MAN?
Later I would relocate to Australia and form my own band, THE SLOW CLUB. We signed to Virgin and released an album on which Roger’s keyboard expertise featured quite heavily and we had a minor hit over there. I still rate him as the best all-round keyboard player I have ever worked with and we are still good friends today.
You mention ABC, there is a deeper link with them isn’t there?
Yes, I first met those charming chaps in LA when they were touring ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, of which I was and still am a huge fan. I particularly hit it off with Martin, Mark and Stephen.
We met again when they were promoting ‘Beauty Stab’ in LA a year later. I even accompanied them on their taping for American Bandstand. Later when I moved back to the UK we often saw each other socially.
Martin and I went to PRINCE’s ‘Lovesexy’ tour at Wembley together and also Bowie’s ‘Glass Spider’ show amongst others.
So it was somewhat inevitable that I would end up on an ABC recording somewhere down the line! When that time came, I played on two songs which at that point were demos I believe. They were ‘The Night You Murdered Love’ and ‘Paper Thin’. Although I didn’t play on the album recording, my parts were still used on the ‘Alphabet City’ version of the former and sometime later ‘Paper Thin’ surfaced with all my contributions on the ‘Up’ album. Obviously I haven’t seen any of the ABC boys in many years, although in the mid-2000s Martin and his family visited me here at home for a few days which was lovely.
Can you talk about the Bamboo fanzine and how this helped facilitate SINÉAD O’CONNOR’s debut UK live performance?
The Bamboo fanzine, essentially created for JAPAN’s fanbase, was run by Debi Zornes and Howard Sawyer, both at the time staunch fans of the band. After I had left the band and returned to the UK, we became close and spent a fair bit of time in each other’s company.
When I began working with Sinéad, it seemed logical that I would suggest we play a few songs together at one of the annual fanzine get-togethers at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. Thankfully Sinéad was into the idea although I’m not sure her manager at the time, Fiachra Trench was quite as positive!
At that point she had not debuted in public at all, so for our relatively modest little gathering, it was actually quite a coup.
We played three songs with myself accompanying Sinéad on electric guitar – ‘Jackie’ (from the forthcoming debut album), ‘I Fall To Pieces’ (a Patsy Cline cover) and ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND song and the only song with a strong link to JAPAN. Not surprisingly, she was well received.
Can you tell us about O’Connor’s debut album and the two different versions which were recorded?
I was working in the West Country with a band called CRAZY HOUSE who were signed to Chrysalis. For the most part, I was miserable living in Trowbridge (a dead end town if ever I saw one!) and I soon discovered that this particular band dynamic was very oppressive.
By chance I bumped into Tim Butler from THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS who invited me to his wedding nearby. There I was invited to tour with The Furs, which I declined as I still felt a commitment to CRAZY HOUSE.
Soon after however I heard a demo of Sinéad and expressed interest in working with her, although at that point she had a guitarist on board. Except I soon learned that he had been offered and had accepted the touring gig with The Furs that I had turned down, so the gig with Sinéad was mine and I hotfooted it out of Trowbridge – commitment be damned!
For the next year together with the rest of her band, we honed the material that would comprise her first album. We had a rehearsal space at Nomis studios booked solidly for months at a time.
When time came to record the album, Mick Glossop was chosen as producer. He had a strong connection to her record label, Ensign through his work with THE WATERBOYS and seemed like a logical choice.
So the sessions began in Townhouse studios. For the most part, Glossop had the entire band record live in the studio which was far from ideal, somewhat chaotic and in many ways counter-productive.
At that point the songs were quite electric / folk in feel. We finished the album, which Ensign then sent out to several producers to remix.
But due to the organic way it had been recorded and with the lack of any time codes or click tracks, it was unanimously deemed impossible to remix. So there needed to be a massive rethink. It was decided to re-record the tracks with Kevin Moloney producing in a much more pared down fashion.
The only part of the original sessions that survived were the orchestral tracks which were integral to the epic song ‘Troy’. The second incarnation was very different to the first, with Sinéad’s fiery vocals much more to the fore and a lot of the instrumental embellishments absent. There are certainly tracks from the original sessions that I wish could be heard and maybe one day they will. There’s a wonderfully unique take on THE DOORS song ‘The Crystal Ship’, for instance.
After the recording of the second album, Sinéad found herself pregnant and the album release was put back until she gave birth. In the meantime, I took a gig in Australia which led me on that different path, and so my time with her came to an end. Marco Pirroni added some guitar to two tracks closer to the release date and after I had left for Australia. Throughout it all, working closely with her during that time had been a joy. She was sweet, warm, considerate and a pleasure to be around not to mention an undeniable force of nature.
You reconnected with Jansen, Barbieri and Karn in 1993 on the ‘Beginning To Melt’ album on the ‘Ego Dance’ track, what are your recollections of this?
At the time, I had been living in a small cabin in the woods close to a beach in Costa Rica with an outside toilet and no electricity, surrounded by all manner of wildlife (yep, I loved every minute of it!).
So when I returned for a visit to the UK and was invited to record on a track with my ex-band mates, I was far from prepared.
I had barely touched an electric guitar in two years. I knew that I could do a lot better. So basically I did not feel comfortable even though I had the support of old friends and bandmates, whom it was hugely enjoyable hanging out with again after so long. The session was recorded at Steve’s flat at the time in Notting Hill. What I remember most was relaxing and laughing a lot. Steven Wilson and Theo Travis were there too, I think.
In 2016, you shared a really touching post about the late Mick Karn, what was it like with working and spending time with him in the band?
Mick was always from the day we met, a creative force. He was funny and very likeable. He was the personality in the band, the one that most people were drawn towards because he was the most approachable and I believe most enigmatic. Working with him was always inspiring as a musician and I feel grateful to have known him in that capacity. Like everyone, it wasn’t all highs – he had his down times too.
I think my favorite moments came after the band though, out of David’s controlling shadow, just hanging out as friends. I wish I had been around to spend time with him in the later years of his life, but I rarely ventured back to the UK or Europe. I often wonder if ‘missing’ someone is the appropriate term when you haven’t seen each other for decades, but I guess it’s just the reality that if you wanted to, he wouldn’t be there to hang out with anymore.
You dropped out of the industry to become a professional ornithologist and artist, but are now on the verge of releasing some new material, what made you want to get back into making more high profile music?
When I decided to move to Costa Rica, I had no plan and no idea what path I wished to take. I only knew that I needed a change.
It certainly wasn’t on the cards that I would become so enraptured with birds that I would become some sort of authority on them and subsequently illustrate field guides for a living. So music in the last almost 30 years had, by design taken a back seat and up until recently, I had absolutely no desire to rekindle the flame of musical creativity. I think it really boils down to meeting someone who was completely open to my ideas and realizing that recording new music could still be enjoyable, refreshing and inspiring after years and years of disconnect.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK have had a sneak preview of the new album and there is quite a diverse range of influences in it, both electronic and rock, what is the line-up and your role(s) within it?
Our project LIGHT OF DAY is essentially my collaborator Isaac Moraga and myself. We co-wrote, arranged and produced all of the material, bar one cover.
Isaac sings and plays guitars, I play guitars, EBow and loops as well as backing vocals. The rest are top rate Costa Rican musicians playing keyboards, bass, percussion and drums.
Certainly the influences are diverse and to a large extent, I would say the album ‘Dimensions’ is a result of all those years not being musically creative, as if after being bottled up inside, it all flooded out through the pieces that Isaac and I have created.
It’s quite a big sound which feels to me like a celebration – positive, propulsive, energetic and atmospheric. There are some epic soundscapes there with echoes of 80s style electronica, ambient, 70s prog rock and more contemporary elements too. At the moment we are fine tuning with a few remixes and Ed Buller is helping out in this department.
Generally I am very happy with this album. Someone said that they thought it was my best work and I think they might be right. In any case I really hope it finds an audience. The plan is to release it on CD, vinyl and digitally some time soon. If anyone is interested they can check out some previews on the LIGHT OF DAY Facebook page.
Recently I also released a digital EP with Martin Birke from GENRE PEAK of ambient-style pieces called ‘Triptych’, which we plan to release on CD with extra content at some point, and I hope to record an album of ambient soundscapes some time in the near future too.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to ROB DEAN
Although their recorded output covered just five albums over a four year period, JAPAN are one of the most acclaimed bands from the flaboyant and colourful era which many came to know as New Romantic.
JAPAN’s final two studio albums ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ are being reissued as Abbey Road Half-Speed mastered 2LP gatefold vinyl editions with two tracks per side, running at 45RPM to maximise audio quality. Along with the pair’s predecessor ‘Quiet Life’, they formed the Holy Trinity of JAPAN records on which the band’s reputation was based.
The fact that Universal Music have considered there is sufficient demand for such product is an indication of the high regard JAPAN are held. In many social media discussions about bands which people wished they had seen live, JAPAN are invariably one of the acts that get mentioned.
Photo by Fin Costello
As far as their legacy is concerned, if JAPAN had not led the way with their arty aspirational poise, DURAN DURAN would not have had a role model to inspire them to their subsequent success.
Le Bon & Co even used JAPAN’s regular photographer Fin Costello to capture the cover image used on their self-titled debut album.
Thanks to JAPAN’s flamboyant bassist Mick Karn who sadly passed away in January 2011, the sound of the fretless bass became ubiquitous in the mainstream for a number of years. It was a playing style that top session player Pino Palladino ultimately adopted and made his fortune from.
Meanwhile, enigmatic front man David Sylvian was the ultimate pin-up for that flamboyant period, but later progressed to becoming a highly regarded solo artist with a no-compromise approach in parallel to Scott Walker, proving that there is life after pretty boy pop stardom.
Today, drummer Steve Jansen and keyboardist Richard Barbieri continue to release solo albums of a primarily instrumental nature as well as working on collaborative projects, while guitarist Rob Dean is now an ornithologist specialising in Costa Rican birdlife.
Londoners David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean began their career as an aggressive funk laden glam rock outfit with a straggly image not dissimilar to NEW YORK DOLLS.
Looked after by future WHAM! manager Simon Napier-Bell, who had been drawn to the band by Sylvian’s androgynous good looks which he described as “a cross between Mick Jagger and Brigitte Bardot”, the debut JAPAN album ‘Adolescent Sex’ was released in April 1978 by Ariola Hansa, the German label that had steered BONEY M to great success.
While the bizarre mix of rock, funk, glam and electronics achieved little impact in Britain, it was a surprise success with teenage girls in the country of Japan, resulting in the band playing to packed houses at big venues like Tokyo’s Bukodan.
With a reggae element also thrown into the mix, a largely more rock ‘n’ roll flavoured second album ‘Obscure Alternatives’ was released in October 1978; although it too was met with ambivalence, it proved to be a pivotal turning point for the band with the haunting closing instrumental ‘The Tenant’ a sign of things to come.
JAPAN’s continued success in Japan exposed the band members to South East Asian culture and its fascination with modern technology. These experiences were reflected in the recording of ‘Life In Tokyo’ produced by Giorgio Moroder in April 1979, which was arranged at the behest of Ariola Hansa who felt JAPAN should attempt to crack the disco market.
Now acknowledged as the bridge between growly funk-rock JAPAN and the more familiar, mannered and artier version of the group recognised by most today, ‘Life In Tokyo’ was a key interim landmark in their career as a recording that all band members were happy with.
With the more mannered textures of ROXY MUSIC now emanating from their psyche, the electronically assisted template showcased on ‘Life In Tokyo’ was refined for their third album ‘Quiet Life’ released in January 1980.
Produced by John Punter who had worked on ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’ album, JAPAN found a willing conspirator who truly believed in them.
JAPAN’s look also changed with stylish suits, heavier make-up and shorter coiffured hair for an effeminate demeanour that was similar to the New Romantics who were now frequenting The Blitz Club.
The opening title track’s resonant heart was a Roland System 700 driven by Barbieri’s snappy eight step Oberheim Mini-sequencer. Complimented by Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass,and Sylvian’s lyrical conclusion that the band were outsiders in the environment they were born into, it was a sure-fire hit… but not yet as Ariola Hansa didn’t see fit to release ‘Quiet Life’ as a single in the UK at that point!
Also on ‘Quiet Life’, there was also an understated cover of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, understood to be Andy Warhol’s favourite Lou Reed composition alongside more uptempo art rock numbers like ‘Fall In Love With Me’ and ‘Halloween’. But the revelations of the ‘Quiet Life’ album were the tear-jerking epics ‘In Vogue’ and ‘The Other Side Of Life’ orchestrated by Ann O’Dell which premiered a very different aspect to JAPAN, one with an emotional centre.
Meanwhile, the gently mysterious ‘Despair’ was influenced by Erik Satie with its piano aesthetics. Crooned entirely in French, it no doubt took its lead from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Song For Europe’. Highly cinematic, it was concluded with a glorious melodic ensemble of strings and choirs from an ARP Solina.
After their shaky start, the change in musical style and the more artful demeanour of ‘Quiet Life’ was pointing JAPAN in the right direction and towards Virgin Records. Again produced by John Punter, ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ saw Richard Barbieri seriously getting into technology with the ARP Omni, Polymoog, Roland Jupiter 4 and Sequential Prophet 5 among the many synths used on the album along with his own Oberheim OBX, Micromoog and Roland System 700.
While wonderful melancholic songs such as the title track and ‘My New Career’ were a natural progression of the muzak which shaped the ‘Quiet Life’ album, the band were beginning to tire of this gentle wall of sound and aspiring to do something more dynamic.
Indeed, the dropping of the more conventional sounding ‘Some Kind Of Fool’ for the more abstract Bowie / Eno influenced electronic mood piece ‘Burning Bridges’ at the last minute was a sign of that dilemma. In the studio, Sylvian in particular as the band’s songwriter was seeking to take more control, leading to disagreements with individual band members as well as Punter with regards production.
With Sylvian now writing songs on keyboards, this artistically left little manoeuvre for Rob Dean’s guitar despite his willingness to become more textural thanks to some Fripp inspired E-bowed embellishments.
Dean was absent from four of the album’s eight tracks; Karn was also missing from two numbers. In their place came guest musicians such as Ryuichi Sakamoto on the exotic ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ and Bowie violinist Simon House who provided a solo to ‘My New Career’, beginning a pattern of collaboration that Sylvian would continue throughout his solo career.
Sylvian was aiming for a sparser sound and this was achieved with the mournful Satie-esque ‘Nightporter’. Featuring just Sylvian and Barbieri with session musicians Barry Guy on string bass and Andrew Cauthery on oboe, it was one of the album’s key tracks and a pointer of things to come for JAPAN’s leader.
Despite the tensions, when all five band members were featuring, they were firing on cylinders. The terrific ‘Swing’ combined Sylvian’s poetic travelogue with Richard Barbieri’s Oriental synth textures. In addition, Rob Dean made a full contribution with some excellent six string work as the rhythm section of Karn and Jansen maintained an amazing bounce over the Compurhythm driven bossa nova.
Meanwhile on the magnificently jagged ‘Methods Of Dance’, the spine-tingling middle section saw Jansen contributing drums, marimba and percussive keyboard embellishments bookended by a sophisticated arrangement layers of distinct keyboard parts, Karn’s sax, bursts of tense ringing guitar from Dean and the cry of a Japanese girl named Cyo.
Photo by Nicola Tyson
But both of these songs were incredibly long and complex, formed of many distinct sections in a manner akin to progressive rock. Now while for anyone prepared to stick out these sub-seven minute tracks which formed half of the album, there would be ultimately be satisfaction and enlightenment, it was not going to prove easy to market such lengthy songs as 220 second edits to national and commercial radio. With Virgin promoting the album as “Music For Adults Only” and perhaps paradoxically with a key front cover for ‘Smash Hits’, it was close but no cigar.
Although ‘Gentleman Take Polaroids’ did not as yet yield a hit single, JAPAN were finally selling out concerts on home turf, notably a show at London’s Lyceum to launch the long player. But cracks were already appearing within the quintet, with Rob Dean leaving after a May 1981 tour supporting ‘The Art Of Parties’ single which he had not actually played on.
However, momentum was building and one party that noticed was JAPAN’s former label Ariola Hansa. In August 1981, they cashed-in with the release of ‘Quiet Life’ as a single which reached No17 in the UK singles charts. As a result, a new younger audience was becoming interested in JAPAN, one that was not only seeking something modern and stylish but with a depth of musicality too.
Photo by Steve Jansen
For JAPAN’s fifth album released in November 1981, the band took the influences of the Far East even further with the Chinese flavoured ‘Tin Drum’. The slimmed down band line-up was reflected in the music. A much more minimal album than any of the band’s previous work, ‘Tin Drum’ had hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX, Prophet 5 and occasionally the System 700, with the work split 55:45 between Barbieri and Sylvian. That Stockhausen derived minimalism with its sense of space was taken to its zenith with ‘Ghosts’ and its iconic chilling metallic intro.
Richard Barbieri told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “Not being a technically gifted player, the keys were of less importance to me than the actual controls. What I tried to do was to make more events happen from one note than playing 200 notes. The prime example to that is the intro to ‘Ghosts’ because it’s just one triggered note on the System 700, but I’d programmed in this evolving series of movements with filters, LFOs and pitch frequency oscillation. I’ve never been able to quite get that sound again, but it caused havoc for the engineer because there were lots of peaks and it was quite difficult to record.”
Exquisitely programmed as opposed to relying on effects, JAPAN were aiming for synth derived acoustic colours constructed using ring modulation as well as parallel tuning in fourths and fifths for sounds that possessed a dead echo. Produced by another Roxy cohort Steve Nye, the arrangements were simpler with repeating patterns, tight hand played sequences and clean rhythmic tones.
But it was no less sophisticated with the assortment of timbres within those parts providing the variation and the air of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ looming. The wondrous ‘Still Life In Mobile Homes’ in particular saw East meeting West with Oriental vocal aesthetics and cleverly programmed organic synthesized sounds sitting next to state of the art digital technology such the Linn LM1 Drum Computer, all with the prowess of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.
The lyrical themes of ‘Tin Drum’ flirted with Chinese Communism as Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’. Sylvian appeared to be taking inspiration from the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao, a point highlighted by the pentatonic polyrhythmic single ‘Visions Of China’ and its less frantic but similarly dida enhanced sister song ‘Cantonese Boy’.
With co-writing credits on ‘Visions Of China’ and the traditional sounding instrumental ‘Canton’, Steve Jansen was playing an increasing role as well, but it was clear that his older brother still maintained overall control.
Jansen told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “That would have been put down to the fact that what I was doing rhythmically played a bigger part than usual in the inspiration and direction of the songs. But in reality I don’t think it was the right way of doing it. I think all JAPAN’s music was methodically arranged by each member and warranted some co-writing credit however small.”
While Mick Karn was becoming slightly more isolated having not played on ‘Ghosts’, he still provided some memorable bass runs and got a co-writing credit for his dominant mantra and harmonics on the percussively brooding seven minute ‘Sons Of Pioneers’.
But on the whole, the songs on ‘Tin Drum’ were shorter and sharper like ‘Talking Drum’, providing a degree of immediacy that had not been present before; the album became the band’s biggest UK success, both commercially and critically.
However, all was not well within the band. Frustrations about publishing and personal differences came to a head with the now well-documented tensions between Sylvian and Karn tearing the band apart as they soldiered on with a British tour.
The individual band members spent 1982 undertaking their own projects while JAPAN was put on hiatus. Despite rumours of a split, JAPAN became chart regulars in 1982, notching up a further six Top 40 singles including a cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘I Second That Emotion. However, the biggest surprise came when ‘Ghosts’ caught the mood of the moment with a Top 5 hit that April as the British Task Force was heading south towards the Falkland Islands.
An extensive Autumn tour of the UK, Europe and South East Asia was arranged by Napier-Bell to capitalise on their wider profile as he sought to buy time to keep his charges creatively together.
Photo by Fin Costello
Although the majority of the dates were sold out, JAPAN called it a day at the height of their powers with a final performance in Nagoya, Japan on 16th December 1982.
Sylvian and Karn continued with solo careers as well as collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Midge Ure respectively, while Jansen and Barbieri worked with both of their former bandmates, as well together as THE DOLPHIN BROTHERS who released an album ‘Catch The Fall’ in 1987.
That same year, relations had thawed enough between Sylvian and Karn for them to jointly record two songs ‘Buoy’ and ‘When Love Walks In’ for the bassist’s second solo album ‘Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters’ which was co-produced by Jansen.
So in 1989, the quartet gathered at Studio Miraval in the south of France for what was considered to be a JAPAN reunion in all but name. But that episode in itself was a whole other story…
‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ are each released as Abbey Road Half-Speed Mastered gatefold 2LP 45RPM vinyl sets with download key by Virgin Records / Universal Music on 24th August 2018, both albums will also be available in a 180 gram single LP edition playing at the standard 33RPM
Steve Jansen has been very busy of late over the last 12 months with projects involving both music and photography.
In 2015, the one-time drummer of JAPAN published ‘Through A Quiet Window’, a book of his photos taken between 1978-1991 documenting his time with the band and touring with fellow sticksman Yukihiro Takahashi of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.
Featuring band mates David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, ‘Through A Quiet Window’ is must for JAPAN fans, capturing the band at work in the studio and relaxing in a variety of situations.
Interest in the book has led to exhibitions of Jansen’s photos in Kyoto and Sydney, Nova Scotia with an ambient soundtrack recently prepared to accompany the installation at the latter location. That music will be released as a brand new album ‘Corridor’ with the floating 48 minute title composition appended by ‘Recovery Room’, an 8 minute instrumental fusing percussive electronica with classical elements.
Steve Jansen kindly chatted about the genesis of ‘Corridor’ and ‘Through A Quiet Window’ while also shedding light on the perception of JAPAN as a band at the height of their artistic success.
Your new album ’Corridor’ is aesthetically paired with your previous release ‘The Extinct Suite’, but is maybe more minimal, especially the start?
Visually the artwork is aesthetically paired with ‘The Extinct Suite’ and sonically there are similarities but not so many.
The music of ‘Corridor’ is less structured since many of the tracks on ‘The Extinct Suite’ were instrumental versions of songs from ‘Tender Extinction’ and therefore have more form. ‘Corridor’ leans more towards ambient / minimalist music overall.
Like ‘The Extinct Suite’, ’Corridor’ has been derived from some of your previous work, in this case ‘STER_01’ & ‘STER_02’ and connected with new music?
That’s correct. STER (‘Sounds That Emit Randomly’) was a project folder title of mine containing various sound files that I ended up compiling into two pieces (01 & 02). Some sounds originated from my own piano playing at my home and others were more randomly sourced. It was my intention to create a series of tracks along these lines, however with the photo exhibition project materialising, I thought these pieces might work with new material as an installation piece.
There’s a variety of ethnic acoustic textures that dominate the second third of the piece, how were those achieved?
These were recorded in Sweden on an instrument known as an Akkordzither that Charlie Storm had in his studio in Gothenburg. I played various takes and treated them in different ways to create the ethnic acoustic textures that you hear.
’Corridor’ was specifically constructed for your ‘Through A Quiet Window’ exhibition at The Cape Breton University Art Gallery in Nova Scotia. Like Brian Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’, it is designed for low volumes so recording wise, are you able to explain how is this different from music intended to be played loud in terms of production?
Due to most galleries being acoustically live environments with little or no sound insulation, there needs to be some consideration for the way in which bass frequencies will spin out of control and overly complex music will not perform well.
These concerns need to be considered during the compositional stage as well as the mixing stage.
Also due to the live acoustics of the room, the music would not be good at high volume as the audio will bounce around the walls creating unwanted echo that will end up as a wash of sound with no distinct content or detail. It’s therefore best set at low level volume where the visitor might then experience subtle audio changes that enhance the experience of the room. Of course, it can still be listened to at any personally preferred volume.
The late Mick Karn makes a brief appearance about 30 minutes into ‘Corridor’?
Yes, it was a sample I had of Mick testing his bass sound during an improvised recording. The album consists of simple bass elements such as occasional rumbles and sustained drones and this relates to your previous question.
The ‘Through A Quiet Window’ photo book is a fabulous visual document of your time in JAPAN, and highlights your kinship with Mick in particular?
During that period Mick and I would often go on local excursions to take photographs for some purpose or other. It wasn’t unusual for us to stay up all night as work often went through the night, so it became a way of life even when not in the studio.
The photograph of Mick with the Sleeping Buddha for example was taken along Kensington High Street at dawn when very few people were about, apart from the occasional jogger heading into Holland Park. David and I would also take time out to go do some photographs together, sometimes at the request of Japanese magazines such as Rock Show, otherwise simply to have some new images on file. More candid shots were taken during work and travel times and these are generally my favourite images.
The photos were mostly naturally lit, but also captured how photogenic the members of JAPAN were, even in more candid situations?
Being young does have its advantages and whoever said “the camera never lies” was lying. I think capturing natural light is the most important element in photography because it recalls the mood and ambience in the room and can actually enhance it somewhat too simply by the way that analog film reacts to light differently to our eye.
There’s a great one of Mick and David having corn flakes and burnt toast in Stanhope Gardens; what type of memories and feelings were there when you were sorting through your photos from this period?
The memories are generally happy ones. The 70s was a peculiar decade with a lot of societal changes occurring and by the early 80s, we were in a more comfortable place where opportunities were opening up.
By some change of fortune, we’d become seen as being somewhat at the forefront of whatever youth movement our band was associated with. We pre-empted the ‘New Romantic’ scene which was a nightclub / fashion scene that emerged later, however the press were keen to throw JAPAN in that mix which we found irritating as ‘New Romantic’ sounded so lame. We were not culturally connecting with it at all, not musically nor aesthetically.
Ironically, our first hit ‘Quiet Life’ came at a time when we were in the process of finishing our final album ‘Tin Drum’, two albums after ‘Quiet Life’, so we were fairly out of sync with the music scene of the time, and this had always been the case since we first emerged around the time of punk, playing music that was anything but punk. So when I see images of the band, I can’t help but think we were an anomaly but that this actually suited who we were and went on to define who we were to become artistically.
The photos of Yukihiro Takahashi are much more relaxed and are mostly in colour?
I have both, I think in the book there are also both. When we had the chance, Yukihiro and I would spend time together socially, going fishing (he loves fishing, I was there more for the experience) staying in the countryside, visiting Onsen (hot springs), finding nice places to eat etc so I have quite a few relaxed images of him.
How did you go about selecting the final photos for the book and subsequently the exhibition?
Selecting images for the book was a process of elimination.
I knew which images I wanted to include and then I had to reduce it down to the amount that would comfortably fit within the confines of the book format.
When it came to the exhibition in Kyoto, because it was located on the men’s floor of the ISETAN store, I generally chose images that displayed how the band members styled themselves during those years, interspersed with various others to offer some variety. The images for the exhibitions in Canada were mostly selected by the curator for both galleries, Greg Davies.
You mentioned on your Sleepyard blog that Universal Music had acquired the catalogue of NINE HORSES, the trio comprising of yourself, David Sylvian and Burnt Friedman. What’s possibly happening in terms of reissues, is there any released material still in the can?
There isn’t any unreleased NINE HORSES material and to be honest, I’m not too sure what plans Universal have for it.
NINE HORSES was very much a band project, how did the working methods differ for you personally compared with for example, JAPAN and RAIN TREE CROW?
David and I worked as co-composers along with Burnt which meant that various tracks originated from different members, or from myself and David together.
This was never the case with the previous incarnations you’ve mentioned in your question.
On ‘Wonderful World’, you got to work with Swedish artist Stina Nordenstam?
Yes, Stina was an artist David really wanted to work with so he made the connection. The two of us flew from the US to Stockholm to record with her over two days and things went really well. After this visit, she and I made a connection that spanned over a few years, during which time she never failed to be an engaging and intense personality, both strong and opinionated yet vulnerable and fragile.
‘Serotonin’ is a favourite from ‘Snow Borne Sorrow’, how did that one come together in the studio?
‘Serotonin’ was Burnt’s music upon which we built. During all of the NINE HORSES recording Burnt was never present with David and I, his parts were done by exchanging files virtually.
Photo by Ulf Jansson
EXIT NORTH is an ongoing project of yours, how are things progressing there?
The EXIT NORTH album is complete except for one track which is proving somewhat troublesome. As soon as that’s done, we will send the mixes off for mastering.
I very much enjoy working with Thomas, Charlie and Ulf. I totally respect them and what they’ve created with this work and I hope the feeling’s mutual.
We realise it’s been a long time in the making but we hope that this music, by way of its disassociation with contemporary genres, will stand the test of time as a collection of songs, therefore it’s important to us that we get it right. And because this is a self-funded project and we are four persons each with our own lives and projects to support, this one is subsequently taking a little longer than it would otherwise.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Steve Jansen
LUSTANS LAKEJER are the unga moderna trailblazers who were once described as Sweden’s answer to DURAN DURAN.
This was not entirely surprising with bassist Peter Bergstrandh’s rather striking resemblance to John Taylor and a song entitled ‘Rendez-Vous I Rio’, even though it was released first in 1981!
Led by Johan Kinde, the band took a more electronic direction when keyboardist Tom Wolgers joined in 1981 for their second album ‘Uppdrag I Genève’. Despite Wolgers leaving afterwards, LUSTANS LAKEJER continued their new found interest in synthesizers.
The 1982 sequencer driven reworking of their early single ‘Diamanter’ is hailed by many as a Swedish synthpop classic and the band came to international attention when their third long player ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri of JAPAN. The album was subsequently released in English as ‘A Place In the Sun’ in 1983, with the band changing their name to VANITY FAIR.
After two further albums ‘Lustavision’ and ‘Sinnenas Rike’, LUSTANS LAKEJER disbanded with Kinde embarking on a solo career. But the band returned with Tom Wolgers rejoining in 1999 for the album ‘Åkerberga’. They then entered Melodienfestival in 2007, competing to represent Sweden in the European Song Contest.
With LUSTANS LAKEJER to tour ‘En Plats I Solen’ later this year, mainman Johan Kinde kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the band’s career…
You are performing ‘En Plats I Solen’ on tour this Autumn?
Yes, that’s the plan. No dates or venues are fixed yet, but the idea is to start the tour mid-October / early November, more or less exactly 35 years since the release of the album.
Why do you see this as the LUSTANS LAKEJAR album, the one that fans and critics have the most affection for?
Well, the critics’ choice is actually usually our first album.
‘En Plats I Solen’ is our third and the fans are pretty much split between one of the three first albums. Some, quite rightly, are also very fond of our two comeback albums ‘Åkersberga’ (1999) and ‘Elixir’ (2011).
I believe, however, that those who prefer ‘En Plats I Solen’ very much do so because of the atmosphere and the sound; it was a rather big step forward compared to the two previous albums. Of course, it also has some stellar songs.
How did Richard Barbieri come to be involved in ‘En Plats I Solen’? What was the thinking behind him being the producer?
It was actually Klas Lunding, the head of our record company Stranded Rekords, who got in touch with Richard first. I actually still don’t know how that came about.
Richard was played ‘Diamanter’, the 1982 version that we had just finished; he became interested and came to Stockholm in the spring of 1982 to meet us. We all got along swimmingly and the project was given the go-ahead.
The thinking behind it was of course to give the upcoming album a better sound, one that could perhaps even work on the international stage.
Although LUSTANS LAKEJER used synths on their first two albums, was the more dynamic electronic reworking of ‘Diamanter’ the seed to the new approach on ‘En Plats I Solen’?
That’s an interesting question, and in some sense that is correct. But that single was arranged, recorded and mixed before we had any contact with Richard and therefore is rather one of a kind in our repertoire. I do wish we would have revisited that hard synth-disco-oriented sound a few more times, if not on ‘En Plats I Solen’, then shortly afterwards.
As can be heard on ‘En Främlings Ögon’ (‘Eyes Of A Stranger’) and ‘Drömmar Dör Först’ (‘Something’s Got To Give’) , JAPAN were a key influence on this album, but what other artists were you listening to at the time?
Well, I don’t think ‘Drömmar Dör Först’ (‘Something’s Got To Give’) sounds very much like JAPAN at all, that one is more an example of another influence at the time, TALKING HEADS and especially their forays into funk and black music. We were very much into the rhythmic aspect of the music.
Then there’s all sorts of influences, from chanson (or at least CHARLES AZNAVOUR) to the more obvious like early ROXY MUSIC and Berlin-era DAVID BOWIE.
With the synthesizer textures prevalent on the album, how were these being procured? Was Richard Barbieri more involved in the programming, while Janis Bokalders did the actual playing?
Yes, that is basically the way it happened. However, Janis had just bought a Roland Jupiter 8 and he was also very good at programming, and since Richard hadn’t used that particular machine before, he worked mainly on the Prophet 5. But there were of course also a lot of cross-creativity, when Richard helped program the Jupiter 8 and Janis the Prophet 5; it was all very collaborative and non-prestigious.
I believe Richard even played some parts, but I can’t remember which or indeed if he actually did anymore. The vast majority of the keyboards were definitely played by Janis, but Richard had a huge part in the soundscaping.
We also rented an Emulator, which they both experimented with. Lastly, Janis actually owned a EMS VCS3 which he used on some tracks without the keyboard, something he also does on the solo on ‘Diamanter.’
‘Den Glöd Som Aldrig Dör’ (‘Whispers In the Dark’) contained one of the first uses of an Emulator on a pop record; was utilising the state of the art technology an important aspect in the band’s direction?
The Emulator features prominently on both ‘Den Glöd Som Aldrig Dör’ (‘Whispers In The Dark’) and – perhaps even more – on ‘Något Måste Brista’ (‘In Spite Of It All’). And yes, we did like to experiment with new technology, but not for the sake of it, we always wanted to get something creatively interesting out of the new instruments. In the case of the Emulator, I think we only partly managed to do that.
What was it like to have the late Mick Karn contributing sax to three of the tracks on ‘En Plats I Solen’?
Absolutely fantastic. Mick flew in from LA so he had a great tan, a crisp suit and just looked like a pop star – or perhaps rather a movie star – in every possible way. He was so kind and helpful and came up with some great ideas and performances for the saxophone parts.
He was also very entertaining and told some lovely stories from his youth. Even though he was only in Stockholm for about a weekend, I remember those few days with much joy. I was very sad to hear of his illness and subsequent passing.
Which tracks on ‘En Plats I Solen’ were the favourite ones for you and why?
I would count these as my favourites: ‘En Kyss För Varje Tår’ (‘A Kiss For Every Tear’), ‘En Främlings Ögon’ (‘Eyes Of A Stranger’), ‘Läppar Tiger, Ögon Talar’ (‘Lips Are Silent’) and ‘Drömmar Dör Först’ (‘Something’s Got To Give’), together with ‘Vackra Djur’ (‘Just As Wild’).
Some of them because I like the songwriting aspect of them, I think they are melodically and harmonically good compositions, others because of the arrangements and how the band actually sound when playing them. I also think Janis’ instrumental title track, ‘En Plats I Solen’ (‘A place In The Sun’) is a wonderful piece of music.
The album was later released in English as ‘A Place In The Sun’ and the band changed their name to VANITY FAIR, had this always been part of the game plan?
The English version was actually recorded first, in the summer of 1982 when Richard was in Stockholm.
The lyrics for the Swedish version were recorded in separate sessions in the early fall of ‘82. So in a way we did have a game plan, in the sense that we wanted the album to be released internationally.
The name VANITY FAIR, however, was something we came up with at the last moment before the actual release. We weren’t that happy with the name then and I’m not that happy with it now… 😉
The verbatim translation of LUSTANS LAKEJER is ‘The Lackeys of Lust’ or maybe ‘The Slaves of Lust’, but this didn’t sound right in English so we never really got it right. Unfortunately THE LOUNGE LIZARDS was already taken by another band… 😉
How did you find writing lyrics in English? Did your approach to subjects change and did you eventually find yourself starting to dream in English?
No, the subject matter was similar to the first two albums. Perhaps this one is even more centred around love and particularly the loss of it, but that had more to do with private circumstances than a change in language.
I usually start a new lyric with a title that inspires me and working in a new language, I found this approach even more stimulating. With a new language, there was a fresh feeling about a lot of the title and lyric ideas.
About the dreams – it’s quite some time ago, but I’ve written quite a few songs in English since then and I’m quite certain that I rarely or never dream in English. However, because I read so much English, even news, and watch so many Anglo-American TV series and movies, I do sometimes have a hard time to find the correct Swedish synonym for certain words. Several English alternatives are popping up in my head, but the right Swedish one seems to elude me. Very annoying…
Of course, the music industry was different back then. But do you think in hindsight it might have been better to keep the LUSTANS LAKEJER name for ‘A Place In The Sun’ to utilise the press momentum that had been gained from Richard Barbieri being the producer?
Well, we kept the name in Sweden and all the Scandinavian /Nordic countries. As I explained earlier, we all (including several record companies) believed that LUSTANS LAKEJER would be to strange a band name for the international market. It does not make any sense if you don’t understand the meaning of the words.
Two of the original Richard Barbieri produced tracks were dropped for the VANITY FAIR version of the album and the running order was altered, why was this?
We recorded a single version of ‘Lips Are Silent’ (‘Läppar Tiger, Ögon Talar’) which we at that time felt very happy with, and decided to put it on the English album. However, when we play the song live nowadays, we play the original version.
The reason to swap ‘Could You Be The One’ (Räddaren I Nöden’) for ‘The Texture of Her Skin’ (the B-side of ‘En Främlings Ögon’, no Swedish version of this song exists…) was that we felt that it would make the album a bit more energetic. This was also the reasoning behind the altered running order – instead of having the two tracks that became singles as song number 1 and 2 on Side 1, we let them open each side of the album. So it was really more a case of trying to find a better balance for the album, than anything else.
LUSTANS LAKEJER have had a fluid line-up with you as the constant over the years, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages?
Well, the advantage is that I have had the opportunities to work with different musicians during the years, but that can also be a disadvantage. It’s easy to make good-sounding but less interesting albums when you can bring anybody in to play on them.
Looking back, I wish I never disbanded the group after ‘A Place In The Sun’. We had something special together and could have gone on making extraordinary music, at least through the 80s.
What inspired your return as LUSTANS LAKEJER for 1999’s ‘Åkersberga’ album?
The two LUSTANS LAKEJER albums after ‘A Place In The Sun’ and my first two solo albums ‘Johan Kinde’ (1989) and ‘Valona’ (1990) had some great songs, really nice compositions, but lacked the originality of the first three albums.
I wanted to get back to that mood, that style, without compromising the quality of the songs. And I think the producer Jan Lundkvist (who basically plays all the instruments) and I managed to do that very well, with of course some participation from Tom Wolgers, who played keyboards on the second LUSTANS LAKEJER album ‘Uppdrag I Genève’.
‘Cynisk’ is a moody triumph. How had your headspace changed musically by this time?
Thank you, it’s one of my own favourites from the album. Musically, I think it’s inspired by very disparate artists, as varied as BARRY WHITE – the chord structure has a lot of minor 9s in the verses –– and DEPECHE MODE with the bass synth arrangement in the chorus.
While DEPECHE MODE might be a rather obvious influence, BARRY WHITE is an example of how my musical tastes had expanded by that time and how I now could use these more complex tastes to influence me, but not overwhelm me. I mean, I’m not trying to sound like BARRY WHITE, I just liked that chords and made something quite different out of it.
With ‘Allt Vi En Gång Trodde På’, LUSTANS LAKEJER entered Melodifestivalen in 2007 which is Sweden’s national selection procedure for the Eurovision Song Contest. How did you find the experience?
Well, it was an interesting experience, even though perhaps not gratifying in the end. Looking back I feel we should’ve had a more synth-driven song, or at least done the song in a crisper, more synth-driven arrangement.
In Scandinavia, they take this event more seriously than in the United Kingdom and for example, an act like RAIN TREE CROW or THE DOLPHIN BROTHERS would never enter it. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it used to boils down to the fact that ABBA made their breakthrough in Eurovision in 1974. That was basically the first Swedish act ever to make it big (or at least that big) on the international stage. In England, it was never that important, you were almost automatically an international star if you became popular domestically.
And even if it would have been a big thing in the UK, I don’t think those kind of artists like RAIN TREE CROW or THE DOLPHIN BROTHERS would fit the bill. Now, PET SHOP BOYS, THE HUMAN LEAGUE or DURAN DURAN – that’s another matter, they could’ve done it! 😉
The most recent LUSTANS LAKEJAR album was ‘Elixir’ in 2011, how do you find the music industry today with Spotify and social media? How has it worked for you as a veteran artist compared with the past?
No matter if you’re a veteran artist or a newcomer, it’s much much harder to get paid for recorded music today. That being said, I hope that one day soon Spotify and other streaming services will be able to pay a fair royalty to artists and composers because it’s far better than illegal downloading, and I think there’s no turning back to physical copies. I say this somewhat sadly, of course, because I love good album covers…
What’s next for you as LUSTANS LAKEJER after touring ‘En Plats I Solen’?
Well, we’re still touring with ‘Uppdrag I Genève’ and are still working on the venues and exact line-up of the band for the ‘En Plats I Solen’ tour in the Autumn / Winter of 2017, so that will possibly take us into 2018. I hope to get back to you with some exciting news about that soon!
I do have some new songs that I’ve been thinking about recording with the band, but this is just an idea at this point.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Johan Kinde