Things are set to get interesting when Shinato Sakamoto starts drinking at the font of smooth. Sakamoto, formerly of pyche rockers Yura Yura Teikoku has created another world for his solo album that makes us feel all woozy. But as we find out, there’s a darker unexpected edge to this easy listen.
Bowlegs: This album is quite different to the sound of Yura Yura Teikoku. Were you thinking of any particular feeling when you were putting together the sounds for this album?
Shintaro: In March, 2009, I disbanded Yura Yura Teikoku, a band I’d been doing for 21 years straight. I spent the next year holed up at home, and thought of the concept for this album: “An obscure party band of unclear nationality is playing mood music in a small bar, and the audience, normally shy people who rarely let their hair down, starts to feel more relaxed and, before they know it, starts to dance.” I wanted to make music that would approximate the atmosphere of this club. I guess an important point being that I didn’t set out to make songs that would sound like the songs performed by that band, but rather songs that would evoke the mood of that club.
Bowlegs: Is the sound of the album a reaction to having made harder edged music for the last few years?
Shintaro: That concept might have been a reaction to years of playing with Yura Yura Teikoku, but I didn’t consciously set out to make a different type of music. I just really wanted to hear that sort of music, and that was the impulse for making these ten songs. When a friend of mine heard the album for the first time, he said, “It sounds like a bunch of dead people, who for some reason haven’t figured out that they’re dead yet, having a good time playing music.” I really liked this impression, and felt like it’d be pretty cool if that’s what my record really sounded like.
Bowlegs: The album feels like it is made from quite traditional rock instrumentation, without plug ins and post production tricks. You could have easily gone down a more sampled sound based route, but you chose not to?
Shintaro: I wanted to make music where the players themselves were invisible. That said, I didn’t think there would be a point to making the album just with machines. I wanted to make something where you had normal songs played by normal human beings, but somehow without any trace of actual living people in the music.
Bowlegs: We think of you in the lineage of pizzicato 5 or Cornelius, kind of exploring the sound of 60s and 70s and 80s ‘easy listening’. Do you think there is a particular curiosity about those old sounds with Japanese musicians?
Shintaro: In the 90s in Japan, there was kind of a boom of people who were into old easy listening records, and I think there were lots of musicians who were listening to a mix of all sorts of different genres, but I can’t really say if that tendency was indicative of any particular Japanese sensibility.
Bowlegs: Can you tell us a little about some of the lyrical ideas on the album?
Shintaro: There are lots of songs about death, but I tried as best I could to make the distinction between life and death as flat as possible in the lyrics. I also dealt with the idea of how we reconcile or come to terms with a general feeling of despair as we try to put together happy lives for ourselves.
Bowlegs: So, what other cool Japanese music should we be listening to at the moment?
Shintaro: Seichi Yamamoto, Hair Stylistics
Bowlegs: Is there a strong underground scene in Japan?
Shintaro: I don’t think there is a really strong underground scene for rock or experimental music. I think there are lots of people doing interesting things, but I have a feeling the scene is fragmented and scattered into little groups. I’ve heard that there are strong scenes within the anime music and young girl “idol” music worlds, but those are worlds I have nothing to do with, so I don’t really know what’s happening there.
Bowlegs: Do you have any plans to tour the album over here in europe and the us?
Shintaro: I don’t have any plans at the moment.
Bowlegs: Aw, well we hope to catch you sometime soon. Maybe we’ll drop by that small bar where that obscure band is playing. (Did anyone catch where it was?)
Check our review of Shintaro Sakamoto’s excellent album How To Live With a Phantom
-Interview by Julian Tardo-