Last February, I met Toko Yasuda in Tokyo. She is undeniably one of the key figures in the American Indie music scene, having (and have) played in bands such as Blonde Redhead, Enon, The Laps, St.Vincent and PLVS VLTRA as a solo artist, so I was very honoured and happy to get to know this lovely human being. Just like I casually did to Neon Bunny, Baths and Gold Panda, I gave her a disposable camera to freely take pictures of Los Angeles – a place where she bases herself in right now. Here’s what she saw.
Kumisolo’s latest album Kabuki Femme Fatale is out now via Flau
We are focusing today on Dublin’s synth-pop duo, SHIPS. A musical project of Simon and Sorca as SHIPS started in 2012. Continously releasing a strong suite of singles since 2012, the duo has finally released their debut album last May, titled Precession. We have spoken to Simon and Sorca about the making of this album and how the concept of the album, which was inspired by what was learnt throughout their life, the past and future.
By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, June 2, 2017
Hello! Very nice to meet you. How’s everything?
Hi, lovely to meet you, everything is well here for us in Dublin. Thanks for inviting us to chat.
We always ask artists this question. Please describe Ships in three words.
Sorca: Hmmm three? I’m not sure I have one that would do, Simon?
Simon: I’ll stick to empirical descriptions, Duo, suffix, journey
What’s the creative role between the two?
We write songs together and sometimes separately, and we record them here at our home, in Dublin.We both like to sing and play different instruments and we like to sit together and share production ideas, then try to make them happen, and we take turns making dinner.
We read that most recording is done in house. What’s your set up?
We have a small studio set up in the attic. It’s cosy, with a big sky light. There are some synthsisers, bass guitars, regular guitars and a few other odds and ends.
The music is recorded and mixed onto a computer and the rest is history.
You have been making music since 2012. How did it all start?
When we met we had an instant connection around our musical loves and we just took it from there. We’ve been writing and preforming together ever since. We’ve put out a few of singles over the years, each quite different, mostly just trying ideas out.
And in May, you have released your debut album. What took you so long?
We just followed the natural course of things, we didn’t rush in, and it happened when it was ready.
‘Precession’ is the name of the album and you said that this album draws inspiration from what you’ve learned in the past and what there is still to learn. Can you tell us why and how you reached to this concept?
Much of our experience of life is rooted in cycles. We are all part of our own set of cycles, from experiences, to emotional cycles and of course, intrinsically tied to the cycles of our planet, our galaxy and our universe. One of the beautiful aspects of experiencing something again and again, is that you get a chance to take with you what you learned from before, and add it to the experience, each time it comes around. Making each personal precession uniquely different, with something new to learn at every moment.
And how is it reflected in the songs featured in the album?
Each song speaks of parts of ourselves that have learned something along the way. They are as much a selection of songs about the self as they are about the experience of being human in general. They kind of speak directly from experience, none are abstract or have storylines, you might say they are upfront and transparant in this way.
I believe that by learning something new, you continue to discover more to learn. Do you agree?
Absolutely! Although at times it might seem daunting that behind every door is another door, it’s also very exciting!
What do you believe in music?
Music is a powerful evoker of emotion that cuts across barriers of language or understanding. Music is for everyone.
What’s next for Ships? Touring Japan anytime soon?
We would love to tour Japan, we’re drawn to your culture’s strong connection with the planet and respect for nature. We’d love to visit and play music there along the way!
When I first listened to “St Anthony” by Joel Porter, a singer songwriter and a North Dakota native, I was by myself in the office brainstorming some creative ideas for my client. I had to stop. The song was, though quietly charged, so captivating and filled with emotions – both hopeful and sad, I knew I needed to commit myself fully to this song. After a dozen of listens, I couldn’t help but wonder, who is this guy? So when I heard a news that he would release an EP in a week, I messaged him right away for an interview.
Porter explains that Mountain Twin EP is about growth. Over the course of four folk-based, painstakingly carefully crafted songs, which include a song he co-wrote with his musician parents, he illustrates the nature, feelings, memories and what it means to seek for the truth. You can easily feel yourself being in the desolate plains, where the snow is falling, the river is flowing and the mountains howling. In order to get to know the world he paints further, we asked him how he came to discover his own style, how the nature influences his art, and what he believes in life. Make sure to check out the streaming link at the end of the interview.
Interview: Joel Porter
By Satoru Teshima, March 12 2017
How would you describe your music in three words?
Ambient, Honest, Beauty-seeking
Where are you right now?
In my bedroom in Nashville, Tennessee
Growing up, were you a musical kid? What made you want to express yourself through music?
I was. My mother is an incredible vocalist, and my father is a talented and intelligent musician and composer. We actually wrote “Winter Coat” together. That is so cool to say…”I wrote this song with my father.” Makes that song really special.
I started playing violin at the age of four, french horn in the 5th grade, guitar/bass guitar in the 6th grade. It wasn’t until high school that I fell in love with writing music. I’ve always associated songs to certain time periods and linked them to the little truths we find as we grow. I’ve found that I can explain these memories and little truths to someone through music better than I can through conversation.
How did you develop your way of singing that you do now?
I’ve been singing since I was six or seven in my dad’s children’s choir.. but this is the first time I fell like I’ve found where my voice fits. This project plays to the strengths of my voice rather than me trying to force it to be something it’s not. This music is where my voice needs to live. Soft, honest, aching at times, uplifting in others. Intimate the whole way. Eric (my good friend, producer, and 1/2 of the band Foreign Fields) took this idea and capitalized on it.
Are there any singers you look up to?
Not so much vocalists, but artists/groups. I love atmospheric sounding artists like Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Asgier, Foreign Fields, Connor Youngblood, Death Cab, Coldplay etc. I’m also very inspired by orchestral and choral music.
I recently watched a TedTalk presentation by David Byrne, in which he talks about how the environment can affect the way you write. Seeing from your pictures, it seems like you are surrounding yourself with nature. How is that affecting the way you make your music? Is nature playing a big part?
Absolutely. I grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota. Its a city of 70k people, by a river in the heart of the midwest. Its full of rolling golden hills during the summer and desolate snowy plains during the winter. You feel like you can see forever. That open space fuels my writing, and I try to get back home as much as possible to let my mind roam.
I also spend a lot of time in the mountains. I love mountain landscape as well as mountain culture. The communities and people I’ve spent time with in those areas are content being isolated, but are constantly pushing themselves to be the best version of themselves for the sake of growth rather than status. That constant search for beauty is a beautiful way of life, and it definitely influences the thoughts and opinions in my music.
Your emotional songwriting and meticulous attention to details what made me a fan. How do you approach songwriting? What’s the process?
It’s different with every song, but for the most part it usually starts with a melody. Then I’ll find one idea to write around and try to describe it in as many personal ways as possible. If its honest and beautiful, its usually right. The rest of the process is molding, adding, and taking away the unnecessary until there is a complete, beautiful idea. Then I take it to Eric and we finish it up in the studio. The two of us covered everything on this record (except live drums). E turned my idea for this project into something. His production and guidance are just as much a part of the identities of these songs as my writing and melodies are. He takes what I’m trying to do, and elevates it. He is incredible to work with.
“I’m sick of writing songs that my father cry”, is a line that left a bittersweet sentiment in me somehow. Are your songs autographical? Or are you more of a storyteller?
That line came from a conversation I had with my father… but overall I would say it’s a combination of both. Everything that I write about comes from some form of personal experience. I build and create layers and layers of material from that experience. At its core, the end product is very autobiographical… but its covered by interesting, beautiful pieces of imagery and metaphor.
Tell us more about Mountain Twin EP. Is there a certain theme underlying to this EP?
From the beginning of the writing process, to the end of the mastering process, it took about a year. The Mountain Twin EP is about discovery.. sifting through our low points, our adventures, the quite, desolate open spaces where our minds are able to roam and rest, our memories… taking all of those moments and trying to piece them into an identity…. trying to weave them into something that matters. Its about growth, and becoming the best version of myself that I can.
Finally, what do you believe in as an artist to achieve your goal in life?
To never stop seeking the truth, and continuing to grow. I just don’t want to waste this life. As long as I’m working toward a beautiful life, I’ll have no regrets.. Love as much as you can. Thats my ultimate goal.
Stream Mountain Twin EP.
Connect with Joel Porter
Japanese record label Flau has been releasing an array of sensitive, beautiful music for nearly a decade, building a loyal following among discerning listeners in Japan and beyond. Their output ranges from folk and pop to experimental techno, but there is always a delicate sensibility that runs through every record, a quality that characterizes the Flau sound. We talked to Flau owner Yasuhiko Fukuzono about 2016 and where the label might be headed in coming years, on this special year-end interview.
Year End Interview: flau
By Alisa Yamasaki, December 31, 2016
What were the most memorable releases to you this year?
Serpentwithfeet left a big impression on me, with both his music and visuals.
In terms of Japanese releases, I listened to Little Museum of Bird, Asa-Chang & Junray and Theater 1. For overseas releases, I listened to Lee Lang and Beatrice Dillon a lot.
What about Flau releases?
At the end of last year, we released two albums (Ocean and Farewell) from the Taiwanese ensemble Cicada, and did a Japanese tour as well. The first release from Flau this year was by Port St. Willow, a singer-songwriter from New York. We couldn’t do a concert here, but he visited several times and we caught up. He told me all about gentrification, Donald Trump and moving to a suburb up North with friends. I helped with the BRRWD compilation, the project between Repeat Pattern and Ta-ku, as well as Submerse’s zine. We also had releases by Submerse, Fabio Caramuru and Molnbar av John. I really want Caramuru and av John to tour Japan next year. For reissues, we had Robert Lippok from Raum and MOTORO FAAM from Flau.
Were there any standout moments for the label this year? What were some new discoveries as a label owner?
We actually had the fewest releases and tours this year, but there were also a lot of interesting experiences through overseas festival bookings and compilations. There seems to be more of a focus on “Cool Japan” music at festivals overseas, and I had to think of how Flau as a label should be involved in that scene. These days I’m interested in how to support the growth of artists who’ve released on my label.
What are some labels you’ve been checking out recently?
I like to discover new labels through Bandcamp and SoundCloud and immediately download music, but I tend to forget to follow up on the labels. I always check out labels that Flau has a close relationship with. Sweet Dreams Press is a label that continues to inspire me.
There are countless microgenres in Tokyo alone. Are there any trends that have caught your attention in the Japanese music scene?
I’m not sure if it counts as a microgenre but I’m interested in local communities that aren’t visible through the internet. Shifts in styles and attitudes among groups are fascinating to me in general.
Flau has impacted the Japanese music scene not only through its releases, but also through its events. How do you approach event curation? What do you have in mind when showcasing live music?
With our regular event Foundland, I do think about how to create a relaxing environment for music. I want to keep throwing events that have the music front and center, not as background music.
What makes you want to release an artist’s music on Flau? Have there been any changes in the “Flau sound” over the years?
I used to only look at completed projects, but these days I’m moved by unfinished work as long as the artist’s personality shows through. I enjoy the process that begins there, thinking with the artists on how to present the project and how to connect it with the public. The label’s taste has changed since it first started. These days I want to release music by artists from Japan and Asia.
What makes Flau special is not only the style of music, but an entire personality created through the record artwork as well. Do you decide on the artwork? Is looking for good art like looking for good music?
I usually choose the artwork but sometimes the artists have requests too. I try to incorporate artwork that reflects the label’s style. I tend to rely on my instincts but I trust Ryuto Miyake who drew the Flau cat. I ask him to do a lot of artwork for the label. It’s the same for music, but I like art that doesn’t try to be weird or edgy for the sake of it, and has a classy aspect to it. A playful spirit is always great.
Do you think 2016 was a good year for Japanese artists abroad?
There are plenty of Japanese artists who do well in alternative scenes abroad, but these days I feel like major Japanese artists are also breaking through. With the internet it’s become so easy to trace what influenced today’s music scene, so in that sense I think a lot of older Japanese ambient and New Age records are going to be talked about again.
What are your goals for 2017 as a label?
We already have a lot of releases lined up for next year, like records by British harpist Emma Gatrill, a collaboration between Tomo Akikawabaya’s project The Future Eve and Robert Wyatt, as well as new projects by Noah and Henning Schmiedt. As I mentioned earlier, I want to focus more on small, local communities. You’ll be seeing more releases by Japanese artists.
Flau is turning 10 years old next year. How does it feel?
I want to use this upcoming year wisely so there will be a 20 year anniversary to celebrate in the future. I’m constantly looking for new talent, so please send me demos!
Connect with flau
2016 might be one of the worst years the history could ever remember. God can only guess what the future holds. But as for the futuristic sounds of music, we can always count on King Deluxe, a Vancouver based record label that specialises in exploring the most cutting-edge, visual, and futuristic (and unsigned) artists of the moment. We had a chance to speak with a founder of the label, PK. We talked about who King Deluxe is, their take on 2016, and their own view on the music industry.
Year End Interview: King Deluxe
By Satoru ‘Teshi’ Teshima, December 28, 2016
Can you tell us a little bit about King Deluxe? Who is behind the label? Where is it based?
We’re based mostly in cyberspace, with me running things currently from Vancouver. With me are a loose collective of artists that sometimes work together, for this label and elsewhere. Plus we constantly have new people contributing from all over the planet although a lot of those are animators and 3D modelers. I myself am a treeplanter, living remotely up in northern Canada for parts of the year. On one hand it makes it challenging to run a label year round but it also allows me to devote myself almost entirely to King Deluxe the rest of the time.
What’s King Deluxe’s manifesto?
It used to be something along the lines of let’s make future sounds. Then it evolved to lets make future sounds and sync it with cool visualizations that nobody’s seen before. Now, it’s to put people right inside of our creations. And eventually have our art interact with them.
King Deluxe seems really particular about its curation. How do you find emerging artists and how do you approach them?
I spend a lot of time obsessively digging for new sounds and visual art when I’m not living in a tent, so the majority of the people working with the label are those I approached because I found it criminal that they weren’t already signed to a larger label. In the summers I have lots of time out in nature to listen to the music I’ve collected. It’s getting a bit easier though every year to find a good data connection up north, so I’m not entirely cut off.
Globally a lot has happened in 2016. For King Deluxe, what was the biggest news? What excited you the most?
On one hand the rise of global populism is disheartening, on the other we finally have impressive virtual reality devices, and a ton of creativity happening within this new medium. It’s early days but quite exciting to me. So years later looking back at 2017 we may all view it as the beginning of the slide into a 1984 style hellscape, but at the same time we’ll be able to escape into our stylized virtual dreamworlds, so it won’t be all bad.
While the streaming sites have been re-defining how we consume music, what’s your view on the music industry now?
I know we’re not the only ones finding it difficult to reach audiences and sell our work, streaming is definitely up but overall I feel like we’re in a dip that won’t last forever. Soundcloud once led the way when it came to showcasing fresh sounds and now we need the next big platform to come along. These things move in cycles and I’ve been around long enough to experience the rise and fall of many others, including Audiogalaxy, MP3.com, and Myspace, to name a few important ones.
Basically we need central hubs of new work from those pushing the form, that’s easily searchable and is great for keeping tabs on the artist as well as letting you get in touch with friends with similar tastes. The scene right now is too fractured, but I do think there’s a lot of potential to make a living doing music. I would be surprised if Spotify remains vital for too long unless they overhaul their business model.
As for King Deluxe, you’ll be able to find lots of our new stuff on Steam soon enough. It’s the best place to find VR works and that’s a big focus for 2018. Expect music videos (and short films) that completely immerse people, with 360 youtube versions for those without access to these headsets. Also we’re working on a virtual music festival.
DVA – [HI:EMOTIONS]
Julien Mier – Smokestacks, Shorelines
Favourite music video:
most intractable earworm – Genghis Khan
Favourite audio production / radioplay: MarsCorp
Music peripheral I could no longer live without: