Japan Fan Club Interview #2 - Autumn 1978
Interviewer: Chris Carr
"TO LAUGH OFTEN AND MUCH; TO WIN THE RESPECT OF INTELLIGENT PEOPLE AND THE AFFECTION OF CHILDREN TO EARN THE APPRECIATION OF HONEST CRITICS AND ENDURE THE BETRAYAL OF FALSE FRIENDS, TO APPRECIATE BEAUTY, TO FIND THE BEST IN OTHERS, TO LEAVE THE WORLD A BIT BETTER, TO KNOW EVEN ONE LIFE HAS BREATHED EASIER BECAUSE YOU LlVED. THIS IS TO HAVE BEEN A SUCCESS . . . . . . ."
Ralph W. Emerson
It's five months since the last magazine was out, and JAPAN are on the verge of releasing their second album °Obscure Alternatives". It's due out in the first week of November and as Dave Sylvian revealed in the last magazine, it's not so much a continuation of the first LP but rather a change of direction. If you saw any of their gigs on the Blue Oyster Cult tour or at their recent headlining stint at the Music Machine, you'll appreciate the difference. Gone is the overt funk, replaced instead by a slower more atmospheric feel. It,s a mature, haunting album that reveals more each time it's played. This second interview took place in a hospital ward while Steve Jansen was recovering from an operation. In the interview the band relate what has happened to them over the last five months, and they also outline the recording of the new album and give a run down on the ideas behind each track.
C. C: What was the aim behind the Music Machine gigs?
DAVE: It was just to see how many people out there wanted to see us constantly.
MICK: It was the first time that we'd played to people who had come to see us, our own audience. So it was an experiment.
C. G Was it successful?
MICK: Yeah, it was very successful.
RICHARD: We broke the house record for a Monday.
DAVE And the size of the audience increased every gig, instead of dropping.
C. C: You had two other dates to play there that you didn't play. Can you tell us why you pulled out of those dates?
DAVE: Because Steve had to have his appendix out in a hurry because he was getting really bad and he's been having constant attacks for two and a half years and none of the doctors knew what it was. In the end he saw a specialist who said he'd better have his appendix out quickly because if he had another attack he probably wouldn't survive it . . . . .
STEVE: And in fact when they took it out they discovered it had burst and that it was leaking.
MICK: That's smart, that's what you die of, you should've kept it. I would have kept mine.
STEVE: That's why the gigs were cancelled but I'm on the road to recovery, though I'm not allowed to gig for at least three weeks.
C. C: What are your next major gigs for this country?
DAVE: We,ll be doing a tour to coincide with the album, but no dates have been finalised as yet, but it might be in November
C. C: You also played the Bilzen festival in Belgium. How did you go down?
DAVE Pretty good for an open air festival, and seeing that we weren't very well known.
MICK: It was weird for us though because being an open air festival there wasn't much atmosphere. We seemed to go down all right so we were quite pleased.
ROB: Apparently us and Blondie were the only bands they stood up for.
DAVE: Yeah but us and Blondie were the only good bands that didn't get encores as well.
C. C Looking back on it, how did the tour supporting Blue Oyster Cult go?
DAVE It was a good experience, we can now cope with ay audience - we can cope with the worst audience that anybody wants to give us.
MICK: I think it did a lot fan wise, we got a lot of letters from people who say they saw us then became converted.
C. C: America's the next live work isn't it?
DAVE: Yes, we start in Washington - just one day, two night in New York, two nights in Boston, two in L.A. and San Fransisco. We'll be there for ten days, though we've got some days off.
C. C: Where will you be on your days off?
DAVE: In New York or L. A. though some will be spent travelling.
C. C: Are you headlining?
DAVE Yes, they are all small clubs, just so that we get the feel of the place, we're doing Max's in New York, the Starwood in LA etc.
C. C: How did America receive the first LP?
DAVE They are still receiving it, it's only just come out and it's doing quite well. It's got a lot of F.M. play all over the place. They are releasing the new LP over there before it come out here, rush releasing it on top of the other one, because they think it's got a lot more chance of taking off. I don't know if they even promoted the first LP. I think they were getting ready to promote it when they heard the new LP and now they've gone crazy about it.
C. C: Let's go to Japan now, you're a great success over there. You were a great success even before the LP was released over there. ("Adolescent Sex° sold 100, 000 copies in the first week of release in Japan, and entered the foreign artists' charts at number two. )
DAVE Yeah it's only just been released over there, and it's getting good reactions - they've had it on import for some time though, and that's when it first took off.
C. C: Is it planned to market both LPs in the same way as the States - simultaneously?
RICHARD: No the second LP won't be released until March or something like that, when we are going to tour there.
C. C: Do you know any dates or venues?
DAVE: They are hoping that we'll be doing the biggest venues possible.
MICK: We had plans to go over this year, but they want us to wait, so that we can play the bigger places.
RICHARD: If we go over now it's just a new band going to Japan, but if they hear the two LPs with all the publicity we are getting, when we go over in March we'll be able to play where we want there's been such a large response.
C. C: Back to Europe, how did the first LP go down?
DAVE We've got a following all over Europe, but it's hard to tell how large because we haven't really gigged over there.
MICK: Germany and Holland seem to be going very well, but apart from that we don't know.
STEVE: What about Australia .. . .
ROBc Yes Australia has apparently gone mad about us, it surprised us because we forgat all about Australia.
C. C: That's surprising.
DAVE: They released the LP with a different cover out there....
That just about brings Japan's news up to date, though they have been busy recording TV appearances in France and Germany during the last couple of weeks. At the moment the British tour dates are being finalised , but before that the band are looking forward to their tour of the States.
DAVE: With "OBSCURE ALTERNATIVES" we've tried to recreate atmospheres, emotions, and opinions, not necessarily our own but of other people who feel just as strongly as we do about the situations and circumstances in which they live. We are not trying to be intellectual and at the same time avoid being trite and pretentious; these characteristics have no place in music or any other art form.
C. C: Could you give us a track by track run down of the LP?
DAVE: AUTOMATIC GUN is about different parties and revolutions taking over governments, and about the people they leave behind; the refugees etc. RHODESIA is about Rhodesia and what is going on there. About people that shelter themselves from reality that offends them. It's sort of sarcastic, satire. Everything I think about the situation in Rhodesia I've put in the song, so there's not much point in me explaining what I feel about it because hopefully people will understand from what I've said in the song.
RICHARD: Most of the lyrics are just observations of things not actual delvings into things and saying this and that.
DAVE: They are observations and not opinions.
C. Cs Do any of you have any opinions about Rhodesia?
MICK: Oh yeah, but we don't like to tell people all our opinions in songs.
C. C: Outside of songs.
MICK: Yeah Smith is a cunt.
DAVE: Ian Smith, there should be an all black government in Rhodesia.
C. G LOVE IS INFECTIOUS - does it speak for itself?
DAVE; It's about a feminist. °She keeps appointments by the hour glass / Guerilla warfare in her bed / And constant love is oh oh so negative / We,re simulating sex instead .. / Love is infectious / I don,t know about that / Love is infectious / I don,t know about it ...
C. C: SOMETIMES I FEEL SO LOW . . . .
DAVE: It's a love song.
C. C: Something you went through?
DAVE: Yes something that I went through but really it's just a love song. °I feel so rejected / Come dance for me / I need alternative living / To feel objectively/ Sometimes I feel so low / Wholesale on heartaches / ~Cross a warehouse floor / Outside a heart beats faster / Inside it needs far more / Sometimes I feel so low / So close to heaven / Come reach for me / I feel the pressure rising / We~re descending constantly / Sometimes I feel so low"
C. C: OBSCURE ALTERNATIVES
DAVE: That's about not accepting what's given to you beforehand as you are being brought up in the system of things. You shouldn't just follow a pattern that's been laid down for you, you should choose for yourself what you want to do, and adapt a certain way of thinking. Use the alternatives.
MICK: You should forget the way that you were brought up and what you've been taught, and just think for yourself.
DAVE: It's just trying to make people realise that there are other alternatives to life, than to everything they do; to the one they go for (by), live in. It's ignoring what people told you. DEVIATION is about an affair I had during our stay in Hamburg. It was five days constant pressure, you can tell by the song what we think of it, what we think of Hamburg. We had a really good time, we think Hamburg is a really nice place so we wrote about it.
C. C: How did you have a good time?
ROB: It was just being somewhere different, and seeing how different that city was. We usually have good times wherever we are apart from in England.
C. C: So you weren't being sarcastic?
RICHARD: No we had a great time. You just look at people and places and see how different they are and that's just interesting, it makes you think a lot, you stay in England too long and you just get bored, and you don't think about anything.
C. C: Germany is in a way your second home isn't it?
C. C: SUBURBAN BERLIN
DAVE: That's about the Nazi front in England and comparing it with pre-war Germany.
C. C: Do you have airy particular feelings about that?
DAVE: Yeah I've got strong feelings about lots of things, racialists, anybody that's against minority groups, it annoys me.
C. C: Anybody against minority groups?
C. C: Well in a way °Suburban Berlin° could be taken to be pro the rights of the National Front.
DAVE: Yes it could be.
MICK: No it's not pro or against it, it's just comparing them.
C. C: Do you have any feelings about the National Front?
JAPAN Yes we are against it. Everything that the Front stands for we hate.
C. C: Mick is of Greek descent.
DAVE: Yes so if they had their way they could throw him out.
MICK: That doesn't worry me at all because I don't think that will ever come about.
C. C: Well two years ago few people really saw it as a threat.
DAVE: I don't think it's a threat, there are too many people against it obviously.
MICK: It's just a lot of publicity and it really is a very small minority group.
C. C: You don't think that the whole Nazi thing was built up by the °No Threat", I mean look at how many blockheads are there to ...
RICHARD: That's the idea of the song, saying that the pre war Nazi rising was terrible and that millions of people were against it and it's just saying what's happening here with the National Front isn't that far away from it, if it got out of hand.
C. C: THE TENANT - is an instrumental, why the title?
DAVE: I wrote the actual basis to it a long time ago - just the piano. I wrote a bit while we were recording the last album, and then while we were at the airport I kept hearing these electronic noises in the background - I didn't know where they were coming from - and I thought of putting it all into this song. The atmosphere it created in the room was kind of claustrophobic and quite depressing . We just wanted to get it down.
MICK: As far as the title goes, when we actually finished it we sat there in the studio listening to it ...
DAVE: It created the same atmosphere as the film "The Tenant'·.
ROB: We just threw around titles and someone came up with °The Tenant" - it just seemed right.
MICK: Everybody in the record company is quite against it .. .
DAVE: Because it's not really commercial. MICK: And it sounds like a film score and it's not what they expected.
C. C: On tape it sounds very much like an Eno thing - very similar to something on the last Eno LP "Before and After Science·,.
DAVE: Eno does things where you don't actually have to listen to the music, he creates an atmosphere - it's just background music. It's a backdrop for something. This isn't a backdrop for anything - this is just an instrumental song that creates a lot of emotion - it connects to me more than anything else on the album. It brings out more personal emotions than anything else and I don't even play on it.
C. C: Who does play on it?
RICHARD: It,s mainly Rob, me and Mick, and Steve does a little percussion in it.
C. Cs As an album then it's a step away from the "commercial, danceable° type of thing.
RICHARD: From the last album it's just a totally different direction - it's completely different. It~s more basic - simplified althot much more experimental.
C. Cs How long did the whole thing take?
DAVE: The actual recording took us about ten days.
ROB: But the mixing was something else entirely.
DAVE We played a much bigger part on this album than we did on the last and everything down to the last detail was just us - even the production of it is us - really. Really I think we co-produced it, but it won't say that on the album. We knew exactly what we wanted when v went into the studio, and we got it. We enjoyed experimenting with different things.
C. C: From this LP now, have you got any clear idea about the next one - about the direction?
MICK: We've got a clear idea yeah, although none of the songs have been written - but that's part of it.
RICHARD: It probably won't be a progression of this one. It'll be something different again.
C. C: Will it be your own production do you think?
DAVE: It'll be somebody else co-producing with us. It won't be Ray Singer any more.
MICK: We don't think we know enough to do it completely by ourselves.
DAVE: Besides that, a sixth member can bring in something that we possibly haven't thought of. We have one or two particular producers in mind, and we'll soon know who's free to do it but to begin with we'll probably record two or three possible singles to see if we are going to be able to relate to each other. We hope to start the third album after a tour of Australia. We'll probably be recording it in America, but we're not sure whether it will be before or after a full length tour of the States. Hopefully we,ll be able to find time to get into some different medias within the arts so as to add more dimensions to our emotional expressions.
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