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By SHARON JENNINGS
Tell us about your latest work and how you came to create it? Does it have special meaning to you?
My first album, “What’s Keeping Me Going” is more of an acoustic guitar/acoustic sounds album. After years of not even owning a solid-body electric guitar, I bought a Paul Reed Smith shortly after I released that album, and while performing somewhat regularly with the Tokyo musicians of the last three songs of the EP, I decided I’d like to make a straight-up rock-band album. We recorded six tracks in the studio with that band, of which only two finally made it onto the EP. The two songs recorded in Chicago were recorded under the auspices of my old friend Matthew Skoller, a slightly famous blues harmonica player and song-writer. He got me in the studio with his band members to record the first two songs on the EP. I had recorded those in Tokyo, but the feel of the drums in particular just weren’t the feel I wanted.
I needed a more “roots” American feel, and I’m grateful to Matthew Skoller for producing that Chicago recording session. The lead guitar parts, however, on both “Here I Am” and “Blues for Wesley” were recorded later on back in Tokyo in engineer Seiki Kitano’s BangOnRecordings studio. The final track was recorded with “my” bassist and a percussionist who is on both of my albums. I had decided I wanted to wind the album down with a more acoustic sound. The songs are reflections on spiritual striving, time, impermanence, love and solitude, and I like the arc of the song titles Here I Am, (Blues for Wesley), Tick Tock, Los Años (“the years”), Disappearing. As to whether the album has a “special meaning” for me, I’d say it does only in the sense that I’m happy to have released a second album, it is growing on me as I get more distance from the recording/editing process itself, and I will very likely make another more acoustic album in the next couple of years.
What is the secret to a good collaboration? How did you meet your producers?
The sounds of the first album and this EP are very much due to the keen ear, attention to detail, musical sense, and great engineering of BangOnRecordings engineer/musical producer Seiki Kitano. We took a lot of time–I’m busy with my day job and he is busy with other recordings–to do both records, so we had plenty of time to reflect on the sounds we wanted to add (and subtract), the vocal parts, additional instruments, etc. I met Kitano-san through a friend of a friend who had recorded two albums with him. He, in turn, introduced me to “my” bassist Kiyo Tahara who, in collaboration with Keyboardist Momo Tahara, has come up with some fine arrangements for my tunes, including the keyboard parts for Tick Tock and Los Años. Personally, I feel like these relationship things–like finding a spouse–are a matter of luck. I stumbled into the hands of an excellent musical producer out of blind luck. Luck and then attentive perseverance.
What is your favorite kind of music? What is so attractive about that genre?
If I have to pick one “favorite” genre, I’d say it’s the classic jazz of the late fifties and into the sixties. I’m a huge fan of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, and the toweringest giant of them all, John Coltrane. I like the freedom of this music, the aliveness of it, its intensity, but also the feel-good swing that keeps much of that music just a step or two away from the Chicago blues that I also love.
Where can we follow you and where can our readers catch you live next?
I have a FB page that I keep current, a website with a live schedule, and I’ve got some videos up on youtube. Most of my shows are in small venues in Tokyo, though occasionally I do mini “tours” to other places in Japan, and in August, early September, I’m often back in the U.S. (midwest) playing a little show or two. I had a show with the Arthur/Kiyo/Momo trio at the Big River Bar of Higashi-Nakano Tokyo last night, and I’ll have a show on January 11th at the Ikebukuro Ale House that will add drums to the trio along with guitar virtuoso and effects wizard Kei Takasugi.
Who are the musicians you most admire and why?
Regarding guitar-players, my big three are Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia. Particularly with Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix, I like how close to jazz they are. Their lines swing, they improvise extensively, feeding off walking bass lines and free-style drums, while using the range of expressive options that the electric guitar allows. Carlos Santana is my first love when it comes to electric guitar listening, and wanting to play that sweetly intense melodic style is what motivated me as a youngster.
What do you enjoy about touring? What is the biggest drag about touring?
Unfortunately, I’ve done very little touring. The mini-tours I’ve done have been great fun, and I haven’t done it enough for the novelty to wear off. For me, then, the biggest drag about “touring” is that I haven’t found a way to make money at it. It’s hard to even break even.
What advice would you give other young artists today?