Some readers might have thought of the notorious song that John Lennon dedicated to his wife Yoko Ono when reading this post. On the occasion of our chat with Rie Mitsutake aka Miko and Will Long aka Celer, who teamed up for this brilliant project, we spoke about that possible connection as well. “I Love You…”, their debut album, includes 14 lovely songs, which mix together synth folk, homemade pop nuances and lo-fi electronics by means of vintage electronics, acoustic instruments, classic microphones, found sounds and toys. It captured and translated into music many moments of a simple home and city life, but let’s dig deeper into it…
Chain D.L.K.: Hi guys. How are you?
Will: I’m fine. It’s hot in Tokyo right now, but it’s nice to have some free time to enjoy the summer.
Rie: I’m suffering a bit from the summer heat, but I’m fine.
Chain D.L.K.: Something tells me your band has some connections to the FabFour…
Will: Actually I didn’t have any idea who FabFour were until I looked it up. The connection with the Beatles and our band is really very small. When we first started making music together, some of the source material was centered around recordings of Beatles fans being interviewed before a concert in the 1960’s. It didn’t really have any significance other than that the conversations were kind of cute, and silly.
Chain D.L.K.: What was the importance of Yoko Ono inside Beatles from the perspective of a Japanese band, who quotes her and a song Lennon dedicated to her?
Rie: I admit that I like Yoko Ono and respect her a lot in many ways. I’m glad we have a band name somehow associated with her. But actually we didn’t pick the name especially to dedicate the band to her nor to that song. I think the name happened to come up to us when we were talking about old videos of Beatles fans’ interviews.
Chain D.L.K.: How did your musical and artistic paths intersect?
Will: We started talking over email about a collaboration in 2010. We had both released on the labels PLOP and Spekk which are part of the same company, so we were familiar with each others music. We met for the first time when I came to Japan for a tour in late 2010, and soon after that I moved to Japan from the United States to live there. We’ve been together ever since.
Rie: After Will moved to Japan, we have played some shows together as Oh, Yoko in Tokyo. We also toured in Australia together in 2011 as Miko and Celer. I felt comfortable working on music with Will from the beginning, but as we spent more time together, I think, our collaboration became much more natural and spontaneous.
Chain D.L.K.: Even if I don’t understand Japanese language, your music speaks by itself and evokes a certain feeling of nostalgia… which more or less glorious part of the past would you relive or do you miss?
Will: For our music we tried using as many acoustic and vintage instruments as possible, to give it a more pure, real sound. I think for us, it’s more of a nostalgia for the musical instruments themselves. For me it’s very inspiring and fun to use older instruments. Being stuck in front of a computer all the time to make music is really sad and overwhelming to me. It’s fun for me to use these old instruments, and actually have to learn how to use them. It’s more than just downloading plugins. Even if they are bulky and heavy, they have character, and a style of their own, and it takes a lot of work to learn how to use them properly. The meanings behind the songs, and the reasons we made them are more in line with our daily lives, and things that happen in the everyday.
Rie: Using vintage instruments might be a big reason for creating a nostalgic feeling, as Will said. Every instrument we used had strong character and they are sometimes strong enough to lead us and control the music as if they have some kind of feelings. We were just playing instruments as if we were led by instruments, and recorded them. We didn’t do much editing to them. Sometimes, I feel playing instruments is like chasing the time passing away, wanting every moment to stay. If our music reminds people of their lost times or forgotten feelings, I think, it means great success for our music.
Chain D.L.K.: Even if I cannot say vocals prevail on other elements in your lovely musical formula, do you think the fact that some listeners on this side of the world have some problems with Japanese could be an obstacle for spreading your music? Do you provide any translation of your lyrics somewhere?
Will: I think the themes and feelings can still be found and appreciated, regardless of understanding the language. But in this case, understanding the lyrics makes it more insightful and special, I think. The CD does contain both English and Japanese versions of the lyrics, also.
Rie: For me, as a listener whose language is Japanese, most of the music I listen to normally is sang in foreign languages. But personally, I don’t think the lack of understanding of lyrics always hs negative effects when you listen to and enjoy music. But yes, the CD does contain English translations. I hope it will help people appreciate our music in different ways. Singing in English is still difficult for me, because it’s not my mother tongue and sometimes it doesn’t match with the melodies and rhythms that spontaneously come out of me. But I want to practice and write English lyrics more.
Chain D.L.K.: For instance, what’s the meaning of the lyrics of songs like “Radio Days”, “Grand Prix” or “Love Song”?
Rie: In “Love Song” , I am singing in “unknown language” so there are no lyrics for the song. For the other two, I”ll just give you the English translations instead of explaining them.
I was waiting for the dawn, and came to see you
In the corner of the town, on a broken planet
Searching for your shadow
I’m waking, without knowing the answer
I waited for someone then ring the bell
I can see the countless stars
I stopped, and hear something
Beyond the echo of my footsteps
I will be there someday
I will be there someday
Without knowing where, I go
Walking around the dimly-lit town at midnight
Nothing, nowhere, nobody, no one
Without knowing where, I go
Colors change outside the window
From the radio, from the car stereo
The music is playing as if it’s escorting me
Everything becomes clear,
I can go everywhere
My longing, twilight, greetings, romance,
I’m throwing them away from the window
I just wanna be dancing now, if it’s a dream
Chain D.L.K.: Japanese music is hitting so many audiophiles hearts and there are so many interesting releases coming from your country… do you think that the old cliché according to which Japanese are just talented copycats is (finally) fading away or not?
Will: I wasn’t aware of a talented copycats cliché, but I guess that can be pinned on certain kinds of music for sure, but equally to other countries as well. But to me, Japanese music has always been a wide variety to explore. The Japanese music that gets overseas is very random sometimes, but I think it’s because many Japanese labels and musicians are content with only releasing and distributing within Japan. It’s something very different from the outlook of the United States, or Europe for instance. Maybe this is changing more over time, but it still seems apparent to me. Since coming to Japan I’ve discovered far more music than I was capable of from the US. Music changes so often it’s difficult to see where it’s going, but within Japan it feels very strong and creative. There’s a lot of history, and for me it’s a great discovery.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides the Internet, is there any specific reason which might explain this back-firing of the Japanese music engine?
Will: I would think that the internet, if anything, opened up the Japanese music scene more.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you find John Lawrence’s report for “Newsbreak”?
Will: Quite randomly, while looking through old newsreel footage. In fact, I guess that is one of the few remaining connections to the Beatles on the album. But it has more to do with me, actually. I was born on the day John Lennon was shot, so it’s more a connection with that coincidence than the subject.
Chain D.L.K.: Keio line inspired so many musicians – I remember a full album by Merzbow and Richard Pinhas inspired by it… why is it so inspiring in your own words?
Will: Keio line became associated with that song almost by chance. I used to live close to the Keio line, and would take the train to Shibuya in the center of Tokyo often. Rie and I would actually meet there, since she lived in Yokohama. When we were making the album, I made a loop that resembled the Keio line theme song (that plays right before the train leaves the station), and we had been around the Keio line area that day, so it came from a very everyday, unexpected connection.
Chain D.L.K.: Where did you record “Song with Coyotes”? Are there any coyotes in Japan?!?!?
Will: Actually, the coyotes howling were recorded in Wyoming. I lived there for a summer, in the middle of a national park, and very often the coyotes would bark on the hilltops, just a short distance from my house. The rain in the track was recorded in Tokyo when I lived in a really small apartment, during my first year in Japan.
Chain D.L.K.: You managed Normal Cookie and Bun Tapes labels together. Is there a different philosophy or concept behind these two labels?
Will: Normal Cookie is more of Rie’s label for only our Oh, Yoko releases, on various formats. We thought it would be good to release our Oh, Yoko material completely ourselves, controlling the design, distribution, and schedule.
Bun Tapes is much smaller, for hardware synthesizer-based music, released only on cassette, and is more of a community label. Our graphic designer for Bun Tapes also lives in the same town we do.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring “I Love You…” on live stage outside Japan?
Will: Hopefully. We’d love to tour through Korea, Europe, and the United States.
Rie: We are looking for sponsors!
Chain D.L.K.: What part does music play in your life?
Will: It’s a creative hobby, but something that is fun that can be a central point in bringing lots of different creative formats together, such as photography, art, or writing. All those things interest me, but putting them together to form a whole thing makes it much more special. Truly though it’s just something that can be fun, and it’s a good way to use creative energy. It’s very fun playing and making music together, just like it’s fun cooking a dinner together, or going on a trip.
Rie: It’s just fun to play and create music, and for me, it’s also one of the important means to communicate with people.
Chain D.L.K.: Were there any funny stories which occured during the recording of your album?
Rie: One day, we were taking a long walk to our neighborhood town, carrying our cassette tape recorder with us. We were walking across a park and we found there was a small airport behind. We sat by the fence and were recording the noise from the planes. Then we happened to record a conversation between a boy and his father. They were doing Banzai Sansho (three cheers) after the plane took off and it was so cute. I think Banzai Sansho is something older people do and it was funny that such a little boy, maybe 3-4 years-old was doing that. I guess his grandpa taught him how to do that. Anyway, we liked the recording and used it in our “Take-off” song.
Chain D.L.K.: How would you describe your own aesthetics?
Will: I just want to make music and art that is representative of my life, events that happen, and things and people who are important to me. For Oh, Yoko, it’s a challenge to make more pop-based music, but an inspiring challenge. It’s too easy to get stuck doing the same thing all the time, and while it’s good to have your comfort areas, some challenging for yourself is useful. We just want to make simple and fun music that tells stories from our life, and helps us find a more peaceful, simpler life.
Rie: Being simple is becoming more important to me too. I always want to be honest to myself, and it also means keep changing.
visit Oh, Yoko! on the web at: www.normalcookie.com
We were still flowing on the enchanting voice, the absorbing experimental soundworlds and the wise lyrics (full of many hints and references to David Lynch films) by Roshi Nasehi. Welsh with Iranian background, her second album “3 Almonds and a Walnut“, which follows the critically acclaimed debut album “The Sky & The Caspian Sea” , was produced again by Roshi’s main collaborator , the British percussionist and composer Graham Dowdall (Gagarin, Pere Ubu, Nico, Cortex, Faction…). We decided to have a chat with this talented singer. We warmly recommend you join the flow… Roshi ft.Pars Radio’s “3 Almonds and a Walnut” is being released by Gagarin’s GEO Records.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Roshi. How are you?
Roshi Nasehi: Yes, I am good.
Chain D.L.K.: Before speaking about your astonishing second album, could you introduce yourself in your own words?
Roshi Nasehi: Thank you… I’m Roshi, a Welsh-born singer-writer of Iranian descent living in London. My main music project Roshi featuring Pars Radio is a collaboration with wonderful sound artist Graham Dowdall. We mix reinterpretations of the Iranian (mostly folk) songs I grew up hearing with original material.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you discover your passion for music and singing?
Roshi Nasehi: It’s been with me since I was a child. I remember singing daily at school. Wales has a big singing culture and songs at school encompassed Welsh folk songs, 80s pop, and songs from musicals. Early memories also include hearing my parent’s old tapes of Iranian pop and folk music and later on my dad resuming playing traditional Iranian music on the violin, which is something he had learned as a child in Iran. All these things have had a bearing on my music activities as an adult.
Chain D.L.K.: You’re half Iranian half Welsh… do you think this mixture has had an influence on your creativity?
Roshi Nasehi: Actually both my parents are Iranian but I was born in Wales and lived there for the first 21 years of my life so I grew up feeling Welsh and Iranian. I now also feel like a Londoner after many years of living here. I certainly inherited Iranian songs and sounds from my parents and my early musical experiences and later music college training in Wales has also had an impact too. I think at this stage my experience of London and collaborating with a Londoner have also influenced me with songs like “Nunhead Cemetry”.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you meet Graham Dowdall and when did the idea of a collaboration begin to sparkle?
Roshi Nasehie: I met him 11 years ago at a music workshop training rather than performance. We both practice as workshop leaders and see it as a great and natural way to use our skills in addition to writing/recording and performing. Collaborating towards performance happened very organically a few years after we met, though Graham’s creativity was apparent to me straight away.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s speak about “3 Almonds and a walnut”… or do you prefer we call it “oosh Badam ber Goz”? What’s the story behind such a title?
Roshi Nasehi: The song is a very playful track based on a rhythm which has an accompanying chant “oosh Badam ber Goz” meaning “3 Almonds & a Walnut” which is apparently what children chant in order to remember the rhythm (i.e. it’s a kind of mnemonic). In addition to the rhythm I talk and sing about having a nut allergy (ha – which has been a genuine dilemma as an Iranian) and there are some other ‘playground’ style chants. It’s the title track from our second full length record.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any link to your previous album “The Sky & The Caspian Sea”?
Roshi Nasehi: I think it’s a development from our last record. There are more vocal and rhytmic experiemnts and we play with different musical styles more. Certain musical interests remain the same for us, for instance in using my voice and Graham’s electronics to create a specific atmosphere or specific expressive purpose and we’ve continued our interest in ‘found sounds’ sometimes nostalgic sounds like old-fashioned radio style hissing which is soon to become a thing of the past with digital technology.
Chain D.L.K.: One of my favourite song of the album is “Postcard”… how did you collect all the evoked images on that song? What’s the tower falling inch after inch?
Roshi Nasehi: It was my response to a trip to Pisa, Italy. It was the contradiction between the beautiful historic buildings that should provoke a feeling of transience and the sad reality of how touristy and saturated it felt.
Chain D.L.K.: Another song with interesting references is “Nunhead Cemetery”. You also collected field recordings from a cemetery for that song… did anyone come back from the dead after getting charmed by your voice?
Roshi Nasehi: Haha it is a lovely atmospheric place and we wanted to capture some of the natural sound track of the place.
Chain D.L.K.: “Don’t breathe it to a soul but Amarilly is getting gay with a dude” (what a title!) is one of the two songs you made under commission for a live score of silent movie “Amarilly of Clothes Line Alley”. Could you tell us more about this work?
Roshi Nasehi: I was commissioned by Birds Eye View to create a live score to a silent Mary Pickford feature from 1918, “Amarilly Of Clothes Line Alley” for the 2012 Southbank Women Of The World Festival. I knew a little about Mary Pickford already but not this comedy feature. The “Don’t breathe it to a soul” music was created for a 7 and a half-minute sequence which starts off in a slightly spooky studio setting with industrial materials and skulls and later features people whispering and gossiping (the title is an intertitle from the film) all of which inspired our approach to making the music. The original can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V2FAR_nttw
Chain D.L.K.: What about “Pache Leili”?
Roshi Nasehi: This is a traditional Iranian song from Northern Iran and the words are in a Farsi dialect so I had to ask my mother what they meant as it was particularly difficult for me to immediately grasp (my Grandmother on my mother’s side is from Rasht which is the area where the song originates from). It is an unrequited love song with a hauntingly beautiful melody and Graham and I wanted to experiment with harmonising and jazzy rhythms in it.
Chain D.L.K.: Even though minimal electronic sonic frames by Graham are cool, I sometimes imagined orchestral arrangement while listening to many songs of yours… are you going to rearrange any of them or would you arrange any of them for a live performance?
Roshi Nasehi: We want to stay as true to the record as possible in live performances, so for instance I multi-track my voice live through looping and live vocal effects as well as playing keyboards and synths etc. Graham is triggering found sounds via a sampler as well as playing beats via drum pads and pedals. I love his performative approach to making digital music. I find it much more interesting than just going through a laptop.
Chain D.L.K.: You sing that song in an excellent way… what does it refer to?
Roshi Nasehi: I think I was mainly playing with the idea of ‘the love song’ in pop and dance music and I think that Graham and I were playing with those musical styles, though the lyrics are relevant to frustrations I’ve had (maybe frustrations we all have) when communication isn’t working with someone else… “the words don’t always flow, I say the wrong thing or you do'” etc and I was trying to create a general sense of word play with the repeated syllabic words “talk,talk,talk,talk” “lines,lines,lines,lines” etc, etc.
Chain D.L.K.: What do you think about Gagarin’s remix of “Don’t breathe it…”? Did Graham propose a number of different versions of that song before choosing one?
Roshi Nasehi: We released the original version on a limited edition 7″ with a remix from David Thomas (Pere Ubu). In addition to his wonderful ‘stark, freaked out’ remix, we had remixes from Kerry Andrew (aka You Are Wolf) and Justin Paton (NOW). I love how each artist has done their own thing with the track. Graham’s ‘Gagarin’ remix has his South London bass vibe combined with an homage to drum and bass.
Chain D.L.K.: Any forthcoming tours? Will you perform outside UK as well?
Roshi Nasehi: Actually our next performance is in Paris at the beautiful Eglise St. Merri (76 Rue de la Verrerie) near Centre Pompidou on Sunday August 25th at 4pm. We’d love to play more European shows. We’ve both performed in other European clubs (particularly Graham) with other projects, but we haven’t done it enough with this project! We are putting together a UK tour in Autumn.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve read Aziz Joon is an Iranian folk love song…what’s its meaning? Do you think what we call love has many possible declensions with regard to the originating cultural contest?
Roshi Nasehi: Like other folk songs this one has a social commentary and is about a person leaving their village probably to go to war. They are saying goodbye to a mother figure and remembering their true love. I find the similar concerns people express in old folk songs, regardless of where they are from are endlessly fascinating. As for the different declensions of love, it is true that we only have one word in English which potentially means many different things…
visit Roshi feat.Pars Radio on the web at: roshi.biz