Friday, August 19, 2011

OKAMOTO'S Power Push Interview

I was working on this for a pretty long time, but took a big break in the middle. Finally finished it this morning. It's obviously not perfect, but I learned a lot about my favorite band during the process and some parts came out ok! :D I'm pretty sure it's the longest thing I've ever attempted to translate in full. Here is the original Japanese from Natalie Music. Not sure what else to say, so...hope someone finds this interesting!

Power Push OKAMOTO'S

Seize the moment and shout your desire! An ambitious work that opens a new door.

The OKAMOTO'S released their first single, "Shout Your Desire!!!!" This song commemorates the 100th birthday of Taro Okamoto (the origin of the band's name) and sets the pace for their new album, "Desire," to be released September 7th. Focusing on the single and album, we were brought closer to the OKAMOTO's right NOW, who continue to evolve at an astonishing pace.

Do what you want according to your desires

First let's start by taking a look back at the time it took to get from the release of your second album, "Crazy for OKAMOTO'S," last November, to your first single, "Shout Your Desire!!!!"

Okamoto Reiji (drums): We had a lot of firsts, didn't we?

Okamoto Kouki (guitar): Since Hama joined, we had our first one-man tour in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka that December.

Okamoto Shou (vocals): After that we left on our first long national tour. At the same time we were also always thinking about our next album. Then we were contacted by the Taro Okamoto foundation. They said that 2011 was his 100th birthday, so we should definitely do something together.


Shou: At first I thought they were going to say, "Please change your name." (laughs)

Hama Okamoto (bass): That's not even necessarily a joke. Little by little we've been getting more and more exposure, so we were prepared, like, "Ah, so I wonder if that time has come…" At first they said we should at least meet, so we went to the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum in Aoyama. We got to see where Taro himself lived, and talked with the foundation.

Reiji: That space is generally a private residence that people other than his family can't get into, and all the chairs and the desk there were handmade by Taro.

Shou: Yeah, and the fridge was painted blue.

Reiji: Well that was apparently a paint job he special ordered from the manufacturer (laughs). I guess he said to them, "Why should a refridgerator have to be white?!"

That sounds like something he would say (laughs).

Shou: Then they said, "We're so happy that young people like you guys respect Taro Okamoto. Let's definitely do something together." Since there was going to be an event on February 26 (Taro's birthday) at the Roppongi Hills Arena called Taro100 Festival, they wanted us to perform there, and then also asked if we would make one song for him. The result is that we started working on the album from there.

But writing a song dedicated to Taro is quite a task!

Shou: Yeah, it is. At the time we had a really hard time figuring out what type of song we should write. Then we looked at his work―all four of us went to see Tower of the Sun and felt that it really about "desire." We felt it from his famous quote "Art is Explosion," too, the idea that we should just do what we want according to our desires. So then we had a basic idea for the song, but something was still missing. But the moment we added the "Yay yay yay yay! Boom BOOM!" shouts in the beginning, everything fit perfectly. With that, development went smoothly, and after we finished this song we thought to make the theme of the whole album "desire."

I have this feeling that "desire" has sort of a negative image right now…

How did you guys seize on the the word "desire?"

Shou: I've been thinking that lately there are a lot of people who are not being faithful to their desires. Desire is an impulse really close to instinct, right? You could alway say it's your core. I think it's naturally, a "Don't think, feel" kind of thing.

Reiji: To be frank, it's like a feeling of proceeding from the source.

That's the truth.

Reiji: Yeah, honest. Laying it all bare, that kind of image. So we decided we wanted to make the album really honest, too.

Hama: I have the feeling that "desire" as a word has sort of a negative image in today's society…

Kouki: Ah yeah, might be true.

Perhaps especially after the earthquake that is the case.

Hama: Yeah. It might be weird to say that BECAUSE of that it's a word we dared to want to use, but we thought hey we're the OKAMOTO's so we can just use the meaning as it is.

Kouki, what kind of image were you trying to create with "Shout your desire!!!!"?

Kouki: Well, it's true that I wrote the base, but a great part of the song we built up during sessions. We wrote it concurrently with this year's spring tour, so our live vibe and performance energy gradually improved, which was reflected in our sessions as well. With this song, I think our style of completing songs as a band is perfected.

Were you able to get feedback on your work on your tour? [highly paraphrased :(]

Kouki: I really think so. But it's not the case that we've been trying to play for a long time on the stage every night. Up to this point it'd often the pattern that we'd play for people who don't know us and be surprised, but the people who came to our tour, conversely did know us. The challenge of how to overcome their expectations is what we tried to focus on in our training.

The feeling of opening a new door for the OKAMOTO'S

"Shout Your Desire!!!!" is a song that really probes that essence of rock and roll the OKAMOTO'S play, but the song it's paired with, "Future Eve" kind of falls under the pop genre with it's wild yet rich sound. I think it's also a really great song.

Shou: Yeah, the impetus for this song was the earthquake. Ever since last May when 10's was released time was flying by, but it came to a halt on 3/11. Along the tour two shows were post-poned, and if you include event performances, that makes a total of five. There were a lot of things we thought about, that first time we stopped to take a look around. If it were me last year, at a time like this I would have had the view that even if we did something, music wouldn't make a difference, but this year I realized there would be people out there who would understand. I honestly thought we could give people courage and hope through music.

So it's because of those thoughts that the lyrics have such a strong message.

Shou: Yeah. It's a song about how if you change the future, the past will also change, so you should try with all your might. I actually feel that when we finished this song, we opened a new door as the OKAMOTO'S.

Out of all your songs so far, this one is the most consciously directed at the listener. I think maybe that's where the pop part of the band is derived from, but…

Shou: I think that's right. This is the the last song finished for the album, but even if you listen to the other songs, there are more pop songs than the when we made 10's.

Like "Hello, I Love You."

Shou: Yeah. The feeling that, "Hey, there are these kinds of pop songs, too," has gotten pretty strong. Sure there are songs where the mindset may not come across, and it's just cool, but there are songs where the mindset really has to be conveyed; for those cases I think it's important to use a pop melody. It's not that you make it pop to pander, but that you use pop to convey the message. "Future Eve" is one where we really wanted the meaning to come across, so we pursued the pop feeling harder, but on the other hand I think we might play the interlude parts of this song with more passion than any of the other ones. That must be our desire.

Without a doubt.

Hama: "Future Eve" was positioned as the last song on the album, but I think it's a song made in the perfect form of our pop style. There are other pop songs on the album, but I think anyone who listens to this song will be able to see its stand-out strength.

Kouki: Even though it's a pop song, our essence comes out. Even more than putting catchy elements and avant garde elements into one song, we were charmed by seeing how interesting of a song we could make by mixing these elements. "Future Eve" is exactly that kind of song.

Reiji: I think we changed, too. Before, there were times where we had this tension that we thought we might bust out laughing while playing pop songs, but now there's nothing at all like that. Personally, I've been getting into BOOWY lately―I think my taste has really changed.

Huh, getting into BOOWY!

Reiji: Honestly, I didn't have any interest in them before, but just lately I started thinking they are really good. I couldn't imagine thinking that a year ago. In just one year my taste has changed this much, it must be that my sense are evolving as well.

When you say it like that, it probably means you'll keep on changing and evolving right?

Reiji: Yeah, but, for instance, it's not like since I started liking Boowy I started hating other songs. More like it's interesting how my tastes are expanding.

The OKAMOTO's in particular were exploring pretty deep places, musically, from the beginning, so there might be lots of room to expand.

Reiji: Yeah, I'm in touch with that deep place, so even while listening to Boowy I can enjoy noticing the point like "Whoa! They're putting in tons of essence!!!" That's huge.

Inspiration & Respect

With the songs on this album like the one Hama wrote "Hama Okamoto's Free Time" and the one Reiji did the lyrics for, "What sound would that girl make if I used her?", the band members' individual characters and musical ideas are becoming more distinct than previously.

Hama: We're pretty excited about coming up with stuff as a band and proposing it. In this album we weren't able to include them, but for instance, there are quite a few songs that Reiji wrote.

Reiji: That's right, like some ska songs.

Really? I want to listen!

Hama: As a band, the times that we've been able to really move each other have increased. Personally, I was able to do the "Casablanca Dandy" (by Kenji Sawada) sound direction. Our recording techniques and skills keep getting better, so we can freely take on these challenges in a relaxed mood.

Hama, what kind of image were you going for with "Hama Okamoto's Free Time?"

Hama: Well, there wasn't really a specific decision around it. At first I was just playing around with riffs, but then I realized it had become one song. When it came time to think about what to name the song, well, there's this album collaboration album I love by Norah Jones, "…FEATURING NORAH JONES." The Japanese title of that album is "Norah Jone's Free Time." (laughs)


Hama: I was inspired by that (laughs). I thought it went well with the feel of the song.

Speaking of title inspiration, Reiji's song, "What sound would that girl make if I used her?" is kinda paying respects to Yasuyuki Okamura, right?

Reiji: Yeah, that's right. But the one who proposed that title was actually Hama!

Hama: I figured it was important to give it a title that would make it clear that Reiji wrote it. The other songs' titles are also pretty strong.

I guess you could call it a love song about personified drums.

Hama: Yeah, it's because it's a love song, and since you could basically call Reiji an Okamura maniac, that I came up with the title. "If I decided that girl is a long shot, what face would she make?" is a pretty famous song, so I guess you could say we're kind of riding the wave? Or timing wise, you might say it's like a celebration of the revival maybe.

Reiji: Plus the album's release date is September 7th, right? Isn't that the same day as the opening show of Okamura's revival tour? Awwwwesome!

OKAMOTO'S' desire

Earlier we heard about "Casablanca Dandy" from Hama by chance, but this time there are some pretty strong cover choices, right?

Hama: "Casablanca Dandy" is a pretty high bar, but I was thinking it would be a good look for Shou, including his mannerisms and character. And then, the challenge of covering the Takayuki Inoue Band, the question of how far we can take covers in our style. For instance, the time Shou wanted to challenge Julie, us other three's performance skills were clearly tested. So we tackled this song while remembering the thrill of that challenge.

I think it turned out to be a really good cover, and that fighting spirit is great.

Reiji: The bar for "Give It Away" (by the Red Hot Chili Peppers) was similarly high.

It's a perfect copy (laughs).

Kouki: So there's a guitar solo in that song, right? Well in the original one, they reversed the playback, but we reversed the reversed playback―I played the original by ear and then we reversed it in the recording (laughs).

Reiji: That mysterious "pyuu gikogikogiko" noise in the outro took us about three hours to reproduce (laughs).

(laughs) Persisting with this fetish-like thoroughness must be that OKAMOTO'S "desire" again, huh.

Hama: For real! Doing a Red Chili's cover seems to fit us well, so we're bragging about it more than others. There's an un-mic'd version of "Pump It Up" (by Elvis Costello) on there, too (laughs). I think it's obvious how much fun we were having.

When we interviewed you guys previously we asked the question, "Why did you guys, who have such deep knowledge of various types of music, end up deciding to do rock 'n roll?" Your answer was, "Even now we don't have the intention of choosing rock 'n roll―we don't know what kind of music we'll be doing from here on out." Is that still how you are thinking about it?

Reiji: Hmm.

Kouki: For example, if we were to say definitively, "We play rock 'n roll," then we'd feel kind of tied down. We want to keep adopting whatever we think sounds interesting and hold on to that feeling that we could be anything.

Hama; If we had slapped that label on this album, we wouldn't have ended up with the track list we did (laughs).

For sure. (laughs)

Kouki: Yeah. I think people understand that we are a band that doesn't want to be tied down to any one style.

Reiji: We feel like there is nothing but possibilities up ahead, too, so we're excited to see what happens next.

What do you want to accomplish going forward?

Shou: We want to get our music out to people who only listen now and then. How do we get to the point where those sorts of people who say, "That album 'Tommy' by THE WHO is cool!" would say that about us? We're also really focused on conquering the world, so how do we get there? And when you think of that, we've got this sensation of speed from putting out three albums in a little over a year, but I think from this album on there is seems to be some more delibrate work, too.

There is, yeah.

Kouki: Yeah.

Hama: I don't think our song writing pace will change, but in terms of how we're positioning the albums tactically, I think we want to take some more time to think about that.

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