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JAPAN SPLITS!? (Music Life, early 1982)


An urgent interview with David Sylvian - translated from Japanese by Anita Chao


Seriously speaking, it has proved that 1981 had been a developmental year for the band Japan. Ever since last autumn their name started to mean something on the British pop music scene, and now it won't surprise anyone to hear their music being played on the radio.

From a basic definition of success, Japan today has landed on the right track, only that they seem to choose to fall into disbandment.

This meeting offered not only opinions on music, but also the modern British society from David's point of view. It's very much different from any regular press conference. To any young Music Life reader who isn't a Japan fan, there could still be a lot to learn. Your opinions are all welcome to be heard.

THE TRUTH BEHIND DISBANDMENT IS?

Q: Though the members have been focusing more on individual activities ever since last year's tour, everything is now pretty much scheduled and settled already, isn't it? Although it seems that Japan won't be disbanded just yet……

D: Umm, right now I don't know what to do yet. At least for the last 3 months Japan have been in a state of disbandment. Meanwhile there's nothing needing to be done. But I still have a few things left to do with Japan. After all this, I am scheduled to record a single with Ryuichi (Sakamoto). Steve and Mick are going to join in on an album with Akiko (Yano), and also Steve might work together with the guitarist from Ippudo (Masami Tsuchiya). These are all the schedules so far, but before finishing working with Ryuichi on the single, Richard and I are thinking of doing an album. Only if there's time. But if the recording with Ryuichi is enjoyable, I'll probably end up doing an album with him. It would be best to also have some time to compose. Maybe I still would do the album with Richard after that, since Richard himself probably hasn't any idea about what he's going to do.

Q: From the NME interview, there's this one quote "keep on heading separately towards our own destinations", but for a band it is surely not ordinary to be in a state of disbanding for the last 3 months. Comparing to being trapped in a group like Japan, do you think disbanding would open a door to new variety of possibilities?

D: It is definitely not enjoyable for things to reach a state such as disbandment. But, that's how it is to be. Nerves are tightened and it's pushing me toward the wrong direction. To me, the problem with Japan is there seems to be a danger of becoming too carefree. Waiting for a decision to be made for something to be done, always expecting the same from each other. Once you leave each other to work with someone else, then I think you could find at which level your true ability really lies. Then again, if we all could get together for a recording at the end of this year, it should be able to raise 100% of interest from everyone and I think it might turn out be an all fresh experience.

Q: In my opinion, after "Tin Drum", there's a possibility that each member would develop into one's own direction. As for you David, in which direction do you think you might like to head for?

D: Well, I think it might be the time to start composing……, but of course there are a few other ideas. I still have very much interest in oriental music, and also some interests for electronic. It's not about using electronic with a synthesizer sound, but the instruments with an acoustic sound. But once you're in the studio, you'll never know which direction you'd go.

Q: Don't know whether this would be rude to ask, but I've been wondering why do you seem unable to enjoy live performance……

D: I think it's mostly because live work is not getting anything new out of me. A concert is nothing creative, it's just a technical thing. I'm not someone who would explore the physical side of the matter, I just prefer something that expands one's mind.

Q: Therefore, in your opinion a concert is something that usually requires physical side instead of the mental side.

D: Yeah, it's not my opinion only but it's also how live work has always been. When on stage I'm very relaxed. I don't move much. Musically I think our performance is good but, myself objectively in a physical sense don't feel like I'm being an entertainer. I think I won't be considering anything else except a concert that is both relaxing and smooth. As for the physical entertainment, it's been handed over to Mick (Karn). Mick is very good at such entertainment and in fact he quite enjoys it. It's fine as long as the audience understands that's the kind of person I am. I think I might enjoy concerts if they were not being held so often. I too may feel excited if it's not a tour but just 4 concerts or so, but if it turns out to be a long concert tour then…… On stage the technical problems and so on would make the touring period un-enjoyable.

Q: But if you don't do it while you're enjoying, when on stage wouldn't you feel you're being cut off from everyone else? Or wouldn't it be so? From your words, it just sounds like you're seeing yourself in a film or something.

D: That would depend on the atmosphere when you get on stage. Though I'm standing in the center of stage, I could still pick up that feeling of enjoyment if all the members are in high spirits. But if we have had some arguements beforehand and later get on stage in a not so very good mood, then I would feel isolated. Not all of us together, but simply doing each other's own things. This has become a small problem, though it doesn't happen often.

IT'S MORE THRILLING TO WORK IN THE STUDIO

Q: The reason that you prefer to be all alone in the studio, is it because you understand yourself well enough to know that you won't be able to take any mental pressure from others?

D: No, it isn't. You feel the mental pressure in the studio, and it's exactly the thing I like. In a concert you can't get any pressure, so that's why there's nothing to enjoy. Live work isn't all a thrill, but studio work is. I know myself quite well that I would want to be inquisitive about specific things once I'm in the studio. That's probably one thing which is enjoyable about being in the studio. The recording procedure is also one of the parts which I enjoy. Recording isn't just a process of putting sound on tape. To search for sounds and then arrange them, to me it's the most thrilling thing.

Q: So the difficulties in the recording procedure are the ones that you enjoy?

D: Yeah, when things are not pleasing, I would remind myself that I just have to get out of this situation and I just have to look for a way out. That's the brain-stimulating thing which I like. A concert's originally a technical thing, and when I'm on stage there's nothing to do except to sing and perform. The amplifier could be down or the PA system isn't working, or that it doesn't sound any good, I do worry but there's nothing to do about it.

Q: Then who do you like to work with most in the studio apart from yourself? For example is it nice to work with someone like Ryuichi?

D: I like to collaborate. Because there isn't much fun doing things on your own. I think there isn't much "challenge" from working alone. And though it's easier to work alone, it's not fun, really. (J) One reason to enjoy working in the studio is that people could sit down together to think up a most brilliant idea. Then I'll have the feeling that I'm really committing myself into doing things, and that it would set off a spark among people whom I'm working with, which is to be the charm that leads me to go on.

Q: But there would be some inspiration when you work with someone else, wouldn't it? It should be quite meaningless if not so.

D: Yes, that's right. It really is. I think in that sense working together with other people is a very important thing. I haven't much of a interest in doing the solo thing. It's because I have no interest in records which are completely done by computer or synthesizer. Sitting alone in front of a computer punching in don't make any sense at all. Because there won't be any resonance coming out from between me and a machine.

Q: Yes, that's something which is completely within your control. So while you and Mr. Sakamoto are working with each other, operating together and enjoying it, do you find it a realization in inspiring each other?

D: Yeah, 'til now we have only worked together once. Just a day in the studio. But I really like talking to him. I also very much enjoy his idea and the things that he's doing. He's much better than me in either computer or keyboards, and to me it means a broader view. So I really like working with Ryuichi.

LIVE ENTIRELY FOR "CONVERSATION"

Q: David you seem to enjoy talking, but do you think talking to others occupies a rather important part in your life?

D: It is with the people that I work with. But it does turn out to be trouble from time to time. I think you can't really chat in a studio. In the studio there's a "feel" of devotion. It becomes a problem at work. In the studio, it's all about getting into each individual's own soul. Things go into each other between four people while working, in fact things are quite unspeakable except for the technical matters. But, I do enjoy having conversations with people.

Q: According to your words, in your mind are you sorting thoughts or solving problems? It depends on people, there are ones who would spend hours thinking on one's own, while on the other hand there are others who would consider actual conversation a better choice.

D: I'm both. I can sort it well alone if it's my own thoughts, but I won't think much about theorizing myself. But you can always broaden your own ideas from talking to others, and I think conversation has become that very purpose.

Q: Are you interested in doing a movie soundtrack?

D: Though I kept on mentioning it during the last five years, no one's showing up at my door asking me to do one! But I really want to do it though. When I saw Jean Cocteau's "Beauty & the Beast", I had thought I'd like to do that kind of film music, but nowadays nobody does that kind of film anymore. I like European films. I also had seen two or three Japanese films but they're mostly things like "Samurai", I haven't seen any modern ones. I've seen something on Japanese TV though they are all rather strange.

JAPAN AS HOMECOMING

Q: Currently I live in London, and I always return to my home country once a year being surprised each time that so many changes are taking place in such a short time period. But in your case, do you feel rather excited that you're back in Britain after all those tours in Japan or in the United States?

D: Well, no. I'd be more willing to feel that way when I return to Japan. I feel comfortable when I'm back in Japan. The speed of life would be fast too. Nothing is "threatening" in Tokyo. In London, simply from a walk in the street there would be a threatening atmosphere coming from people around you, but Japan is nothing like that at all. To me it's always been a mystery that Japanese people would come to Britain.

Q: David have you ever thought about living some other country besides Britain?

D: In fact we, at the beginning of last year, had considered moving to Japan before the year-end. But all kinds of things messed up the plan we had, that's also why we are now here doing all that we're doing. But I haven't given up about moving to Japan yet. From time to time though I was away from Britain, I often would be in an atmosphere that I'm being captured. In fact, I hate to think that no matter where I go, no matter where I live, I would still have to work in Britain. I do not only work here, but I also live here as well. It's only because there're some business in Britain, that's all. But I don't think I will be able to stand it much longer.

Q: Then are you certain that you'll leave all the business here and go somewhere else when the right time comes?

D: That's right.

(Suddenly the lights go out in the rehearsal studio that we're using) Oh!! What the…? I dislike being in darkness. (Hurried on running towards the control room, after a while he got back and said) I really don't like the dark.

Q: Let's continue what we've been discussing. I think the basic cost of living should be necessary even for moving to some other place, what would you do if you're without it?

D: Mmm. First, I hope I won't fall into that kind of situation, though I always have just barely enough. Like the money is lost or is really tight. But you can always earn yourself a capital if necessary, can't you? Even if I go to Japan, still there should be some people in Britain providing me with the capital. Because to some people I am a valuable commodity. So if I really want to do it, I can take advantage of that. The thing at this moment that we can take advantage of is the band Japan. If, we as Japan could work together for these two to three months, we should be able to make quite a lot of money. That would be all there is for me. Well, I don't think now is the moment when it has to be that way, and to take advantage of people ------ I just hope there won't be a need to do so.

BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL & SOCIETY

Q: Now let's change the subject, did you seen Steve and co after they got back from Japan?

D: Yeah, I've talked to him on the phone. They have heard about things such as the "Japan Exhibition", and it seems that they're quite into it. Also they seem to appreciate it very much. And are pleased. It would've been nice to come out to London.

Q: The interest you have towards Japan, is it concerned with the culture or is it concerned with the people?

D: I am interested in this "society" thing of Japan. I think up 'til now in all the countries I've been it's the only country which have been doing a well society. It's a deeply interesting thing. I see why Japan has been a well society, and also I can understand why young kids dislike growing up in Japan's social environment. For a social system to run smoothly, usually sacrifice will have to be made though you won't realize it when you're young. In Britain there's completely no discipline between one another, and there's no feeling of community.

Q: I think it's probably because individualism has been too widespread and overdone in Britain or in Europe……

D: Yeah, it's been overdone. Everyone is all after freedom which is in fact unnecessary. Because people have always seen themselves as free, therefore being free also has been considered to be the most important thing. But it's not so at all. People have been depending too much on being an individual and the freedom to choose what one wants to do. To me, I don't think these things are important. I think I can go on living in a community environment if I could be one strong enough person. I believe no one would want their characters to be repressed by others. But I feel that people whose minds aren't stable, themselves can't do anything but to prove that they are independent individuals.

Q: In Japan people certainly work very well, and sometimes work also has priority over family. What's your opinion on this?

D: Work is something that's really important. I think it's already become a reason to live for. I do believe work is the most important thing that one should have in life. Even relationships and work, if now you are working, is it not that you are developing your relationships right there? If you're working in a community, is it not that you can't help but to be one of them? I'm the same as the rest of the British, who has not too much of a sympathy towards others, but now though people younger than me can feel it, people of the same generation can't. They have a strong tendency of accepting too easily of what the society has to offer, and whatever was put in their hands they'll take it. It's nerve-racking. But I do sympathize with people of the young generation who are out of work. This means that this country would go into change without their help in remaking. Actually I don't know what to do to realise this, but they are teamed up together and once if any become leader or director, I think somehow change might come.

FROM JAPAN COME NEW IDEAS

Q: David do you view your own life optimistically?

D: I usually am both optimistic and pessimistic. Up to this point I consider things that I'm doing to be quite successful…… In fact before becoming successful I knew I would be. Basically, I'm optimistic. I have flexibility, but to speak of it I wouldn't expect the future to be easy, and neither would I want it to be so.

Q: Considering it at this time, would you be an all-time musician?

D: Yeah, I'm a musician, and I always think that new era would arrive according to the music. Therefore, with me at this age, I think I'm the only pioneer in the type of music that I'm doing. I think either musical performance or musical style has been changing between these ten to twenty years. It's a really interesting thing. Because I have no interest for these classical musicians or rock musicians. I think change is coming soon. Whatever comes up I shall enjoy it. Even if I won't be able to join in actively, to see what's happening in the surrounding would also be nice.

Q: For rock so far America and Britain are the only mainstream, but might there be more influences from European countries or Japan?

D: Without any doubt, I think Japan would become the mainstream. Not only in music but in many other things as well. Already this has started. China hasn't been so yet. If only the world would develop towards the right direction. America is already dead, and Europe is not well known yet. There're also some good ideas in Britain, but they've been put to a stop before they have matured. Right now, I do think the strongest things are from Japan. People in Japan now are very active, and at the same time they are also able to do their own things in music. So I believe new ideas shall come out from Japan


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