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JAPAN (STEVE JANSEN) INTERVIEW [2003]

JAPAN HAVE OFTEN BEEN PERCEIVED AS QUITE ALOOF, VERY SERIOUS, AND I SUPPOSE A BIT PRETENTIOUS, BUT WAS JAPAN A HAPPY TIME FOR YOU?

Yes definitely.. I think that the appearance that we gave was really because we weren't very good socially and we kept ourselves to ourselves quite a lot. I think that as far as our own day to day coping with everything went, we had fun with it and we made sure it wasn't in any way morose!

There were moments of course, just like everybody has, when things were difficult but we got through those... I think that for me the idea of going on stage and appearing in front of people wasn't, for the most part, something that I didn't feel comfortable with, but David wasn't too comfortable with it, therefore the only way to cope is to kind of close down - I mean other people do the opposite and they kind of become more flamboyant because they can step into a kind of shell that is outgoing...

I think that we had a bit of a paradox there because we were looking quite flamboyant and the attention was there because of us looking a certain way, but our characters weren't really backing that up, or following through with any kind of behaviour except for a kind of sensitivity I guess, which is what drove us to make the music that we were making...

IT FEELS LIKE JAPAN'S MUSIC WAS MADE WITH A LACK OF FASHION THAT HAS MADE IT TIMELESS WHICH HAS ALLOWED THE MUSIC TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME... IF YOU WENT BACK TO THE START NOW AND DID IT ALL AGAIN, DO YOU THINK YOU'D COME UP WITH PRETTY MUCH THE SAME THING AGAIN NOW?

I think that the general way of working that we were interested in would be the same, but there are influences. Technology pushes you in certain directions creatively as well as out of necessity, so because of that I think that there are elements that put a date on the sound of Japan, and that you can hear as being from that period, but I think that our aim - and still today this is mine and David's aim - was to try experimenting in directions that we hadn't covered if we could. If you lose that or if you start to become too complacent about producing music then I think that the spirit goes out of it and you kind of lose touch with what it is you're trying to do. It just becomes almost a job or a task - something that's not very inspired and that's the thing to avoid...

But it is exciting you know? It's exciting to come up with something that's fresh, and the importantly that you can feel good about.

OVER THE YEARS YOU'VE WORKED WITH A WHOLE HOST OF OTHER PEOPLE, BUT IT DOES SEEM THAT THAT PATHS OF THE VARIOUS JAPAN MEMBERS ARE FOREVER DESTINED TO KEEP CROSSING, AND KEEP COLLABORATING... WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS THAT KEEPS YOU IN EACH OTHERS ORBITS TO SUCH A GREAT EXTENT?

I think it's because we have shared development, from school to young adults. We got together then because we had a sympathy with each other, a kind of a bonding thing, and it's still a comfortable thing, a situation that we feel comfortable with and that kind of helps you produce work which you feel is going to challenge other people, or at least is demanding of other people.

You push each other in a way that is acceptable to each of you, and you just don't get that opportunity with other people because they might have different standards, or they may not like spending really long amounts of time on one track, or they may not see the point in ditching an idea that's working musically but doesn't sound right... just different ideas can develop among people you feel comfortable with.

AND I IMAGINE THAT SITUATION IS ONLY HEIGHTENED IN YOUR WORK WITH DAVID, PURELY BECAUSE AS BROTHERS YOUR SHARED HISTORY IS EVEN LONGER?

Yeah, and it's particularly healthy for us right now because we haven't done an album together - just the two of us working together - before, and we've also spent the last decade not really being very much in touch with each other until about two or three years ago, so it's a nice state to be in right now!

LISTENING TO THE REISSUES IT STRUCK ME - AND THIS IS POSSIBLY GOING TO SOUND QUITE CRASS FOR WHICH I APOLOGISE - THAT AFTER YOUR EARLY SUCCESS IN THE FAR EAST, AND AFTER YOUR SPENDING TIME THERE, A LOT MORE JAPANESE INFLUENCE STARTED TO APPEAR IN YOUR MUSIC?

Probably the influences are more Chinese than Japanese, 'Tin Drum' is mainly the elements of Chinese music and culture, but we did use the odd Japanese voice sample in tracks like 'Talking Drum', and I think in the middle section of 'Still Life In Mobile Homes' there's a section that uses some Japanese vocalisation, but essentially it's more of a Chinese thing!

Having said that there was an increased interest in the Far East. Before going there we had absolutely no idea what to expect and we were absolutely bowled over by it, as most people are!

I IMAGINE THAT THE EXPERIENCE WAS ONLY HEIGHTENED BY THE SITUATION YOU WERE IN, I THINK IT WAS IN SIMON NAPIER-BELL'S BOOK THAT HE TOLD THE STORY OF YOUR PLAYING AT THE RED COW IN HAMMERSMITH ONE NIGHT AND THEN TOKYO'S BUDOKAN THE NEXT!

Absolutely, and the thing is that we then came back to the Red Cow in Hammersmith! There was still a long way to go in the UK at that stage as there was basically no ground covered at all... bless them but the Japanese were going on the image more than anything else because they loved that kind of glam rock styling. At the time Queen were their top band alongside Kiss and bands like that, and they loved that kind of imagery, that kind of indiscriminate sexuality that young girls can kind of relate to.

It still goes on today to some extent... I see pop stars come out of the closet and it doesn't dampen their fans enthusiasm or stop them being an icon - it's makes them very safe, almost harmless, and that just makes them easier to relate to. Maybe that's what happened to us in Japan because we did look effeminate, and girls weren't put off by that - you'd think they would be but they weren't!

WHERE DID THE FAR EASTERN INFLUENCES ACTUALLY COME FROM FOR THE BAND THEN, WERE THEY AN EARLY FASCINATION FOR ANY OF YOU?

No, not really, the name was chosen out of innocence, we had no knowledge of Japan at all... it may have come from a lyric or something - I often think that the influence might have all come from one of Bowie's lyrics, maybe even Ziggy Stardust - this was about 1974, and so we named ourselves Japan...

In those days we listened to Bowie and Roxy Music and things like that, and I think that might have triggered some imagery - I think Bowie had some costumes and things like that and it all just filtered through, but our actual knowledge of it was very little. To our surprise the Japanese didn't take offence that we decided to call ourselves that!

WITH THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT WOULD YOU DO IT ALL AGAIN?

Yeah... differently perhaps, it's a good thing to dedicate your life to - I mean making music, if you get the opportunity to do it for twenty-five years it is a great bonus in life.

YOU'VE TOUCHED ON HOW YOU TRIED TO KEEP A DISTANCE BETWEEN THE BAND AND THE WORKINGS OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, BUT IN A FUNNY WAY THINGS HAVE COME CIRCLE BECAUSE WITH INTERESTS IN TWO LABELS YOU ARE ALMOST A PART OF THAT INDUSTRY, BUT DO YOUR EXPERIENCES HELP YOU IN A LABEL SITUATION OR HINDER YOU?

Both. I think there's an element of both because you understand what's possible creatively, and you also understand your status within the marketplace in terms of selling records, so you kind of get a picture of that and you get a hand in all the areas of distribution so you basically get a better picture of where you're going with material, who you go to, where you aim and so on.

Labels are changing hands all the time, new kids are brought in all the time and get briefed on all the do's and don'ts - how long something can last, how long something should be focused on, the competition you're up against - even in your own label, which is all very unhealthy - to know when you put out a record it may be up against a Genesis album for example, is a worry, and you know that the people spending time on promoting the record will only have a certain amount of time and patience for it, and that makes everything feel like it's almost defeated before it's even got off the ground...

The advantage of your own label is that a record can last as long as you want it to last, you can make your music available to people for as long as you want it to be available, and you can redistribute it, or repackage it - it just gives you the flexibility and the options that a big label just doesn't offer you.

IS IT DIFFICULT BEING THE ARTIST AND THE LABEL, AND HAVING TO PUT YOUR ARTISTIC WORK INTO A COMMERCIAL CONTEXT?

In the making of the music it doesn't really enter into it. It would be difficult to be motivated while constantly considering the market and where you are in the market.

I think you go into a project thinking that you want to make a certain type of music, explore a certain area, and you may have high expectations of that, and it may have potential in a particular area, and therefore when it comes to marketing you can aim right for that particular area, but you do have to be realistic about it.

The competition is people selling to an age-group of ten to fifteen year olds and whereas we don't have an interest in that market you have to be realistic. Everything can depend on the accessibility of the material, or the exposure it gets, and there are always lessons to be learned... A friend of ours, Ruyuichi Sakamoto, had a number one in Japan after just making a little piano melody in Japan for a TV commercial, which was then repackaged and sold as a single - not of his own doing, and it went to number one for months and he made a fortune!

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE PLAYING THE GAME?

No, no not really, it's just not a good state of mind to be in, and we do as little of it as possible!

WELL I'M CERTAINLY GRATEFUL FOR YOUR TIME NOW TO DO THIS INTERVIEW, AND I GUESS WITH THE REISSUES AND THE UPCOMING TOUR THERE WILL BE A GREAT DEAL OF PROMOTIONAL DUTIES?

I like touring, and I like that double bonus from touring that not only are you reaching people, but you are also often getting press coverage that you wouldn't have had before with reviews and so on. So, the whole time spent around touring is highly focused and I do enjoy that about it. It's a team effort too, with everyone tuned into something... it's fun! It's good to be able to be doing that, I mean tours don't get to happen that often so it's nice that we have the chance to get out there.

PRESUMABLY THEN, YOU'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FORTHCOMING TOUR WITH DAVID?

Yes. I love traveling, and I love Europe... it's going to be great to be back in Europe, I do miss it even being here - and I've only been here for about nine months - but I really miss Europe a great deal. So, yes I'm really looking forward to it and the press and promotion will all be part of that, and it is nice to communicate.

WHAT ELSE IS IN THE PIPELINE FOR YOU, YOU MENTIONED THAT THERE WILL BE YOUR COLLABORATION ALBUM WITH DAVID SOMETIME NEXT YEAR, BUT IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT WE SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR?

I'm working on solo material at the moment, obviously with the label with David we're looking to put some releases out next year... two releases next year at least...

IS THAT YOUR OWN WORK, OR WILL SAMADHI BE SIGNING OTHER ARTISTS?

Yeah it's our material, but we are hoping to involve a couple of people that we are interested in. Obviously as an artist-owned label it's hard to take on the extra burden and expectations of other artists, but we work with like-minded people with certain aspirations similar to our own and hopefully things can happen. There are associations with those kinds of people that we hope to develop, but that's all in the pipeline and there's a lot of work to be done, and one just hopes that one doesn't get too burdened down by it! If you don't have the pressures from a record label then you have time to take different paths to explore and that's the great thing, a great luxury to have, but you don't want things to drag on to the point where people are wondering what this label is about and just want to hear something...

TO FINISH... THERE ARE RUMOURS CIRCULATING THAT JAPAN ARE PLANNING TO REFORM IN SOME WAY...

Really? Why would that be?

WELL, YOU DID DO IT ONCE WITH RAIN TREE CROW...

Yes, that was a reformation there's no other word for it, but we're not reforming... we have plenty to do; Richard has his Porcupine Tree project, Mick has just had a baby and is off to Cyprus for a few months, David and I are happy working together... there really is no plan to reform!

AUGUST 2003

When it came to transcribing this interview there was a bit of a disaster, the kind of disaster that interviewers dread, and I managed to delete the first ten minutes of the interview before I could transcribe it. I did think about trying to write it out from memory, but that seemed like cheating.

We talked about the Japan reissues mostly, how Steve found the process of listening to all the back catalogue again (a surprisingly pleasant experience), the importance of reissuing the catalogue (he sees it as a chance to improve on the sound, and he's proud of what they achieved), whether he felt that any of the reissues stood out for him ('Gentlemen Take Polaroids'), the various projects he's currently involved with - working with brother David Sylvian on a collaboration album for release next year, Samadhi - a new joint label project with Sylvian, Medium - a label project with Mick Karn and Richard Barbieri, working on the Japan reissues and remasters, working on solo material, preparing for a tour with Sylvian to promote his 'Blemish' album (for which rehearsals were about to start) - and how he liked living in the city (London) even though he'd enjoyed several months in rural USA (he was talking from a studio 'on the side of a mountain' there), and that brings us to the actual interview you see here...

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