tetsu’s gear closet – The 120 stories tetsu has been loving…
tetsu long interview – by Minoru Tanaka
-The moment I saw it, I thought “I came to New York today just to find this guitar…” (laughs)-
One would not go so far as to say that “musician” and “instrument” are so closely linked that it is impossible to separate them. Yet, there are various ways in which this can be said to be the case. There are those who always seek out new instruments in order to suit their ideals, others who cling to beloved instruments until they fall apart, others still who absolutely refuse to let go of their instruments… tetsu’s bass collection, which exceeds 120 units, is surely among the most prominent in the world. This quantity certainly does not reflect the number of instruments needed as a musician, rather it is certainly a barometer reflecting the deep love between the musician and his instruments.
“Why collect basses?” “What is it about this bass that caught your eye?” “What would be your ideal bass?” “What is your dream as a bassist?”
Now, I shall present tetsu’s super-long interview, which focuses on AWAKE TOUR 2005 in its second half. He may have been a bit nervous, though he is not the type to volunteer the details of his life, instead preferring to take his time to select his words, politely, in order to then present his honest opinions straightforwardly. As the topic veered toward his maniac’s bass collection, he became considerably more excited, and his expression softened…
tetsu, the artist/musician, shall now be examined to his core, through his deep love and strong preferences toward instruments and music.
-It wasn’t interesting at all, so I thought “I’ve been tricked.”-
– There aren’t many people who can claim ownership of a bass collection as large as this one. I’m honestly surprised.
– I’ve never heard of another collection focused on basses, let alone one that exceeds 120 units (laughs). Today, please let me go through various topics related to your bass collection. First, before we get into the details of your collection, would you care to enlighten me as to how you first became interested in bass and guitar?
[The very beginning, well, that was back in middle school. Actually our guitarist ken-chan is my childhood friend and he was one year above me. Along with our senpai who was two years above me, he and I hung out together a lot after school. Senpai’s house was right across the street from mine, and we went there a lot to listen to records and stuff. There were guitars all over that house, so I somehow got my hands on one.]
– That was guitar, not bass?
[Yeah, it was guitar. Around second year of middle school, I think.]
– What kind of music did you listen to back then?
[What the three of us listened to together was all hard rock and heavy metal. Before that, there was New Wave and the New Romantics Boom, so I had been listening to Duran Duran, Culture Club, and lots of other things like that.]
– Then you started to like metal at that time.
[Yeah. When I started hanging out with ken-chan and that senpai, that’s what they liked, so after school I’d go to senpai’s house and listen to it while messing with a guitar.]
– Do you remember what kind of guitar it was?
[Electric ones. I’m pretty sure it was a Tokai. A black Strat-type.]
– You didn’t know how to play, did you?
[Right. I didn’t really know, but ken-chan and senpai were already into it, and at first I had no intention of learning to play. It’s just that they had lots of guitars there, so I found out how to hold one properly and even played around a little.]
– Did you play any other instruments before that?
[I can’t honestly say I did. My little sister was taking piano lessons, so we had a piano at home. But I didn’t really play… I couldn’t do much more than [NEKO funjatta] *laughs*.] (1)
– (laughs) When did you start playing bass?
[When was it again… The three of us were hanging out, and ken-chan said something like “tetsu, how about you try the bass?” The others already had their own guitars, so “Why not get a bass?” they said.]
– Does that mean that the three of you were planning to form a band?
[It was more like, those two would play guitar together once in a while, but instead of having three guitars together we’d be able to jam in that room better if there was a bass, or something (laughs). That’s what ken-chan told me. But I was like “What’s a bass? How’s it different from a guitar?”.]
– (laughs) And what kind of bass did you buy?
[Some kind of Ari-pro (Aria ProII), looked like an Explorer or something.]
– Why did you choose that bass?
[It was kinda popular at the time. The bassist of Hanoi Rocks or something was featured in the Aria catalogue, they were popular back then, around my second year of middle school. I guess I bought it at the start of my third year…]
– But with bass, early on, it’s not very interesting to practise alone at home, is it?
[It’s really not (laughs). Plus I was starting from “What’s a bass?” too. ken-chan told me “It’s like a guitar, only with four strings instead of six,” so I figured “Well, since I started much later than you two, it might be easier for me to just have four strings…” (laughs). I asked “Is it fun to play alone in my room?” and got told “Yeah, it’s interesting.” So I bought a bass but once I bought it and tried it out, it wasn’t interesting at all. I thought “He tricked me,” at first (laughs).]
– (laughs) Did you buy an amp at the same time?
[I did. A little 30W Roland.]
– Did the three of you get together to do anything band-like?
[Nah, not like a band, we just played more properly in that room. Without even using an amp, we managed to make it sound good with just the raw sound. One time, we brought all our instruments and amps to another senpai’s house, this senpai played drums, and tried playing together. We rode our bikes to take all our stuff over. But it was just a normal house, so looking back on it now, I guess we must have been such a nuisance for the neighbourhood (laughs). Speaking of bands, that was the first time I ever played with a drummer, but that drummer was really bad so the rhythm didn’t match at all. He’d try to fill it but then the bar would get messed up (laughs).]
– (laughs) What other kinds of basses did you use during your amateur period?
[Before going major? Later on, I had a Charvel Jackson head type.]
– Was it a model used by a famous band?
[Let’s see… The bassist from the Osaka band Rattle Snake Shake used it. I bet no one knows who that is (laughs).]
– (laughs) Did that person influence you?
[No, that wasn’t it. Why did I buy that bass again? … Well I was really happy with it back then, in fact I still like it even now. I don’t have it anymore so I can’t compare it to anything else though.]
– Did you also buy a few guitars during that period?
[Yeah, I had a lot of guitars. This is another bass, but I had an Ibanez SR-1000 that was shaped a bit like an old TUNE bass. I think I had about three of those by the time I went pro. … Oh yeah, I had a Fernandes Mockingbird bass, too.]
– How was the sound?
[It wasn’t that impressive. There was another Fernandes, a Warwick-type, that I borrowed from a friend. I used it a lot for lives. For lives, it was always either that one or the Mockingbird I mentioned before.]
– Warwick-types are light, so they’re good for moving around the stage freely, right?
[Right. But the Mockingbird had better balance.]
– Were there any bassists you admired at the time?
[The one I covered the most was DEAD END’s (CRAZY COOL) JOE-san. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever covered anyone other than DEAD END… Oh right, there was REACTION, too. The only bands I really copied were DEAD END and REACTION. Plus a song or two from other bands, too.]
– Do you spend a lot of time practising fingering or technique?
[Nah, not really.]
– Then it’s mainly what you do at rehearsals, recordings and lives?
[Yeah that’s right. That’s about all.]
– There are some bassists who make a habit of practising their fingering…
[I don’t know any other bassists, so I wouldn’t know.]
– What kind of guitars did you have before you became a pro?
[Guitars? I had a Les Paul-ish original model from Aria Pro, what was it again…?]
– A PE? That’s easy to play, isn’t it?
[Maybe that. But you know, I don’t find that any particular guitar or bass is easy or hard to play. It’s like… let me play it for ten, fifteen minutes, and I can adjust to anything.]
– Eh? Then, you aren’t bothered by different scales or neck grips or anything like that?
[Right. I can adjust to that fast, so its not a question of the instrument being easy or hard to play. It’s the same thing with cars. People always talk about such and such a car being an easy ride or some other car being a hard ride, but generally if you give me ten minutes, I can adjust to it. And since I can do the same with a bass, it’s always easy to play. Even when I buy a new one, I just need a little time with it and then it gets to be easy to play.]
– That’s unusual… Any other guitars?
[I had an Aria Pro Explorer guitar, just like my bass, and also a Telecaster, but I can’t remember the maker… I don’t think it was a Fender, maybe it was a Tokai… Then there was my Fernandes V (Flying V) which was an artist model for Jimmy-san from 44 Magnum. What else did I have? … I had a few more.]
– You seem to have had more guitars than basses, so does that mean you were more interested in guitars?
[When it comes to my collection, I don’t find as many cool basses. Guitars are cooler, you know? Back then, I wasn’t even remotely considering becoming a pro. It didn’t really matter if it was a guitar or a bass.]
– Then you’ve always been the type to go “I want tons of instruments!” haven’t you?
[Hm~ Guess so…]
– Do you still have any of the instruments you bought back then?
[I don’t think so, except for that Ibanez bass, I still have that. I don’t have a single one of the guitars left…]
– What happened to all your old instruments?
[Hm~ I don’t really remember (laughs). I guess I must have sold them… I can’t remember who I sold them to or for how much…]
– It’s not something you paid attention to.
– It would be nice if you still had your very first bass though.
[Yeah, that would be kind of nice I guess… Well, maybe more standard looking models are cooler, but that’s not the way I am~ I had lightning and stuff painted on the body… (laughs).]
– Ah~ they made models that had lighting on them. Like those black ones with white lightning.
[Mine was blue though.]
– It was the Explorer model designed to look slimmer, right?
[Right, right. It wasn’t actually an Explorer, but that’s closest to what it looked like.]
– Can’t go wrong with something this expensive (laughs) –
– At the time of your debut, what kind of bass were you using?
[Around that time, my main one was my ZON.]
– You’ve been using the ZON for a long time now. When did you first obtain it?
[Around ’93 I think…]
– Why did you choose a ZON?
[Back then, I was thinking “There just aren’t any good basses around…”. ZON wasn’t being used by many people, plus it had a high class image, so I thought it might be good (laughs).]
– You certainly don’t see them much in Japan, and there very few musicians who use them.
[That’s right, and it cost me about 800 000 yen. I wonder if it still costs that much… I figured “Can’t go wrong with something this expensive”. That’s the price, the real price (laughs). At the time, Pearl (instrument makers) also ran an import agency, and someone from Pearl gave me a ZON Legacy Elite to try out and play. That is, if I liked it I could just buy it as it was.]
– On that model, the neck is made of graphite, right? Is the body’s wood the core?
– What is the fingerboard made of?
[The fingerboard is phenolic resin cured wood, I think…]
– How is the sound?
[The sound is incredibly clear, and it has a wide dynamic range, I think of it as “snappy”.]
– You’ve used it for an extremely long time, haven’t you.
[That’s right. From time it was made up to now, despite anything else that came along, I’m still using it.]
– So that makes it more than ten years. You own four ZONs, but the core body Legacy Elite is your main one?
– After the ZON, it would be the ESP signature models, right?
[Yes, as far as what I use on stage goes. Right after my debut, about a year or so after, I signed an endorsement contract with ESP… From that point on, what I use on stage has basically been ESP.]
– Was there a reason you chose ESP?
[Let’s see… they seemed high class (laughs). Actually, I had done bit of an endorsement for ESP before that, during my indies phase.]
– Is that so? You’ve made several signature models with ESP, but the first one was the TFR, correct? How was that completed?
[First, I borrowed a Forest bass they were selling. Then, since I kinda liked it, I remade it to my own preferences, changing the head to a reverse design, the pickups to Bartolinis, and I arranged the body’s wood too. I changed to pegs to Sperzels.]
– When making an original signature model, it’s perplexing to have so many degrees of freedom. Did you hesitate over where to start?
[Yeah, I did. I could draw the plans out myself then have it made accordingly, but that’s surprisingly scary (laughs). Ultimately, there’s no way to know how it’s going to sound until it’s been put together and tried out. So what I did was take the existing model, pick out what I like, and arrange it how I wanted. I started from that Forest bass.]
– Many of your signature models are full scale. Do you dislike short scale?
– tetsu-san, your recent models have been tending toward a more traditional feel, haven’t they?
[‘Cause I’m getting old (laughs). But I’ve thought this way since I was at least 20. I think you can only use personal models like that while you’re young. Standard precision basses and jazz basses, well, you can still use those no matter how old you get. I’ve always thought that way. It’s the same with cars, that’s why I bought a pink Porsche when I was 25 (laughs). “I won’t want to ride around in this when I get older,” I thought. Basses work the same way, but I thought so more strongly when I was younger. I thought I would calm down as I got older and end up liking standard models more.]
– I see… By the way, what kind of car do you drive now?
[A Maserati. It’s just an ordinary 4-door.]
– I love jazz basses from the early 60s… –
– That’s still quite the showy car… Let’s get back on topic. You’ve taken quite an interest in vintage guitars and basses lately, right? You also seem to have many unique basses.
[That’s right (laughs).]
– Looking at your collection, it’s plain to see that there is quite a wide selection of vintage and rare models. When did your collection really begin to grow?
[Around ’98 I think… Yeah, ’98.]
– For any particular reason?
[Hm, let me think… (laughs). Generally, when I start a recording, I want to get new instruments. Normally, at home, I can’t connect my bass to an amp and play loudly, you know? And, even though I’m a musician by trade, I only get to record an album once a year at most. Well, each one takes several months to do, anyway. Tours, too, they only happen once a year. But when you think about it, I only get to play my bass really loudly a small fraction of the time, every year. Because at home, I usually can’t play it very loudly. That’s why when I’m at home, I don’t end up wanting any new instruments, but when I get to start recording and play it really loudly, that makes me wanna get more.]
– “I want more basses that sound different!” That sort of thing?
[Oh, and without playing it then, there’s no way to know what a certain bass really sounds like. Without playing it loud in a recording studio, I mean.]
– I understand how your desire for wanting many different basses could rise up, but why are you specifically interested in vintage ones?
– What was the first vintage bass you bought?
[A jazz bass, I think… I think that might have been how I got interested in vintage to begin with. There’s a guitar technician I owe a lot to, Takamori-san, who always gets vintage stuff ready in the studio for every recording.]
– He goes out and rents them for you?
[No, they’re vintage instruments he personally owns, and well maybe some of them are rented, too. I’ve gotten to try out a lot of different ones that way. That’s what made me start thinking “Hey, vintage basses are awesome…”. That’s how I got interested.]
– Do vintage models make a different sort of impression compared to everything else you’ve played?
[Apart from those, I’ve used my ZONs almost exclusively for recording. Now we’re getting to have more and more different types of tunes… Well, we’ve had lots of different kinds of tunes since our indies phase, so it’s more like “I wanna get all kinds of different basses to fit the songs,” now. The timing’s almost the same between that and my getting a hold of vintage basses.]
– Even among your vintage basses, you have an astonishing number of rare models. For example, that gold plated ’62 jazz bass, or models in rare colours. You have vintage items that can’t be found by any amount of searching…
[At first, I would do my recording with the vintage jazz basses that Takamori-san got ready for me, but in the end borrowing them is… how can I say this…]
– …lacking in spirit? They don’t agree with you, perhaps?
[It’s like I can’t get into them or something… Hm~ I can’t really explain (laughs). Well, I ended up deciding to buy my own vintage stuff. Then, when I went to New York, I found an instrument shop that let me try out everything they had. It took me two days.]
– Two days! How many did you try out?
[Wait, I wasn’t playing them constantly from morning until closing time (laughs). How many did I play, again?… I said “everything” but that was only 20-30 or so. In the end I bought the jazz bass that felt best, a ’62 Sunburst.]
– Then, do you really prefer jazz basses to precision basses?
[Yeah, guess so. Ever since I started borrowing Takamori-san’s, I’ve liked using jazz basses more than precision basses.]
– You have a ’62 Dakota Red finish, gold plated jazz bass. That’s fairly rare.
[Oh, yeah, gold plated jazz basses are unusual.]
– These rare models you have, do you mostly find them overseas?
– If you were to compare different vintage instruments of the same model, would you find that each one had it’s own distinct tone and character?
[Hm. I don’t think so.]
– That’s interesting. Perhaps because they’re all one industrial product, made to a standard. Over the years, the construction methods change and so the sound changes, too.
[Well, there are some things even foreigners can make right (laughs). Especially the older products.]
– What kind of vintage Fender jazz basses did you go get?
[I really loved that Sunburst jazz bass, and so I came to love jazz basses from the early 60s, so I thought I’d get some more that were made before 1965. Then I decided jazz basses in rare colours would be good, so I bought that Dakota Red one and a ’63 Fiesta Red jazz bass and a whole bunch more.]
– Compared to guitars, there don’t seem to be as many basses in rare colours.
[Well, that’s because there are fewer bassists around to begin with. Anyway, once I had a lot of jazz basses, I decided I’d better get some precision basses too, so I went after precision basses next.]
– That includes the ’58 precision bass you introduced in ‘Player’ magazine’s ‘Vintage Fair’ section, right?
[Right. That and a ’65 Shoreline Gold precision bass. After that, I encountered the Fender Bass VI.]
– tetsu-san, you usually don’t play basses with more than four strings, yet you certainly seem to love your Fender Bass VI and your Gibson 6-string bass (laughs).
[That’s right. Especially the Bass VI, when I found it I thought “This has to be played by me, I just have to play it…” and “This instrument was made for a bassist just like me, wasn’t it?” so I knew I had to buy it (laughs).]
– The Fender Bass VI, it has six strings on a neck of the same width as an ordinary four-string bass, so the strings are pitched closer together. Does that make it harder to play?
[Well, it’s certainly more tiring to play, but I get used to it after playing for 10, 15 minutes (laughs).]
– But the scale is extremely small too, isn’t it?
[Yes it is. That’s why it’s better to think of it as playing a guitar instead of a bass, cause if you think of it as a bass then you’ll have problems with the scale being shorter than usual, so it’s better to just think of it as a guitar to make things easier, right? (laughs)]
– I see. As for tuning, the Bass VI is set one octave lower than a guitar, right? It’s not set at low B.
– Why did you intuitively sense that the Bass VI was “a bass meant for a bassist like yourself”?
[Even though I normally use 4-stringed basses, I do a lot of dubbing into the background of the basic parts of the back melody from a high position. Even now, when I do that, I think “I could use something higher pitched for this!” Also, I like the band called The Cure, and almost all of their songs are made that way, with Robert Smith’s vocal parts played on a Bass VI. I found out about that and thought it was a great way to play, it’s perfectly suited to me.]
– I see. Of course, it’s called a Bass VI, but it used to be used just like a baritone guitar, so it’s well suited to that kind of thing.
[When you hear it, you can’t help but think of it as a guitar, right? The parts played with it and the timbre, too.]
– Make V basses popular, tetsu –
– You went from jazz basses to precision ones, then on to the Bass VI, so what came next?
[After that… was VOX I think… To tell the truth, I got into VOX because of the colour.]
– Speaking of which, tetsu-san, you seem to like pinkish, Fiesta Red-type colours quite a bit.
[Yeah, I do. When I bought that ’63 Fiesta Red jazz bass, I thought “Wow, this is the perfect colour for me. Okay, I’m gonna collect basses this colour!” Then, the first one I got was that jazz, Fender VI. Then, “It’s not a Fender, but this VOX is practically the same colour!” So I bought that Phantom Bass without thinking beyond that. I bought a Fiesta Red Jaguar the same way, getting into guitars now. I just wanted to get as much as I could of that colour, you know.]
– I see… How did the Phantom Bass sound?
[That bass, well, I bought it without caring about the sound, but it’s actually really good (laughs). It’s deep. There’s a controller-selector thingy on the pickups, but you can only use it to choose whether you’re using the front or rear pickups. You can’t do half-tone. I always use the front ones, but it’s so deep and sounds great.]
– Have you ever used it in a recording?
[I have. The most famous song I used it for would be HEAVEN’S DRIVE, that’s done with that VOX. The bass is so important that if I hadn’t used that exact one, the song wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.]
– I see. By using various types of basses for different songs, you can expand the range of available arrangements for each composition and performance, right?
– You got into VOX because it was Fiesta Red, but are there others you like, too?
[Yes there are. Sometimes I find a Phantom that’s a different colour, and figure I might as well buy it (laughs). The specs are always a bit different, too.]
– Have you ever found a VOX within the country?
[I’m pretty sure it was always within the country. But, I can’t remember for the life of me where I bought that light blue Phantom.]
– Now, what comes after VOX?
[I don’t really remember the order I bought things in, so this won’t be accurate…]
– You have quite a few Gibson basses. Specifically, you have three Flying V basses, but you don’t look like the kind of bassist who’d play them (laughs).
[(laughs) The Gibson basses? I almost never use them for recording. What I use is usually the EB-3, I guess.]
– The EB-3 is a popular model among Gibson basses, but these others, such as the EB-2D or the six-string hollow model EB-6, these are rare!
[There really aren’t many of them around.]
– Isn’t it unfair for one person to own almost ten vintage Gibson basses? (laughs)
– Do you know someone with more?
[Nah, I hardly know any other musicians at all (laughs).]
– (laughs) You seem to be especially particular about your V basses…
[The thing is that JOE-san from DEAD END used V basses. He’s someone I admired a lot back when I was in high school… One time, JOE-san said to me : “Make V basses popular, tetsu.” So that’s one more reason to collect them (laughs).]
– (laughs) Really?! Then it’s your honourable duty. How do they sound?
[Sound… I still haven’t used them for a proper recording (laughs).]
– Many people say they use V guitars not only for the design, but also because they like their sound. But with V basses that’s not really… But you have three of them?
[I think it’s a great looking bass for the stage. But, it gets a bit tiring to play for recordings.]
– Because you can’t play a V bass sitting down, right? (laughs)
[(laughs) But you know, these basses have gotten to be pretty valuable now. They only made them for about two years at the start of the 80s, you know? I still haven’t found a Silverburst finish one.]
– It can’t be found. You also have a Thunderbird II, what condition is it in?
[It’s good. That’s another bass you don’t see around much.]
– Doesn’t the neck ever break?
[No, it never gets broken.]
– The neck on this model is incredibly easy to break. It’s so thin, and on top of that, it’s made of mahogany. It snaps right apart.
[Is that so…]
– What do you like about the Thunderbird bass?
[Oh, there’s nothing I really like about it. I’ve never even used it once (laughs).]
– You don’t even know what it sounds like?
– But you bought so many Gibson basses because you like them, didn’t you?
[See, the Gibson basses have a lot of variety between them, you know, in terms of design. That’s what made me want to collect them. With Fender, it’s just precision bass or jazz bass, basically.]
– I see. Then you don’t always purchase things with the intention of playing them.
[Rather than use them, I’d say I buy them for my collection.]
– Apart from Gibson and Fender, you have quite a few rare basses. For example, in the promotion video for the single Jojoushi, you were playing a Hofner 5000-1. It’s amazingly beautiful.
[Isn’t it so pretty?! It’s so pretty I wondered “Is this a re-issue?”]
– Really! Which year was it made?
[I think it’s from the ’70s…]
– I sometimes see 500-1 models like Paul McCartney used, but this 5000-1 is something I’ve never seen before. How unusual…
[Lately, I’ve tried not to buy anything but unusual stuff… (laughs)]
– Did you find it overseas?
[Yeah, in L.A.]
– It’s in staggeringly good condition, there aren’t even any stains… Have you made use of it for any recordings?
[Not for recording, no. I used a Hofner for Hitomi no Juunin, but it wasn’t this model, it was an ordinary 500-1 violin bass. I had borrowed it just for the recording, so I returned it as soon as the recording was over.]
– You didn’t want to include it in your collection?
[Nah~ In terms of looks, it was just too ordinary…]
– I see (laughs). That Hofner is often seen, after all. As far as the woodworking and binding are concerned, they’re extremely fine but there are hardly any flaws.
[I like it.]
– Now, this Born to Rock bass, that is rare!
[Yeah, it’s unusual.]
– Guitars by this brand have been played by Hotei (Tomoyasu)-san, but they actually make basses too.
[That was the first I’d heard of their basses, too (laughs). I knew Hotei-san used one of their guitars, though. “Hey! They make basses too!” I bought it when I found out.]
– What kind of a sound does it have?
[I haven’t actually played this one properly, either. But I don’t really expect to, either, not with this shape… (laughs)]
– (laughs) You also have a red Klein bass, which is also incredibly rare.
[It sure is. Plus, this one’s apparently a prototype.]
– Eh, is that so?
[It was on the market for a while too, but the market version has a completely different paint job. The market model had matte style paint with a cracked-looking finish, or something. Oh and the placing of the jacks, too, the holes are all in different places, so I’m pretty sure this one’s a prototype.]
– You have a turbo bass, too. This is the original model that came out in the mid-80s, isn’t it? Doesn’t that only exist in textbooks?
[The turbo bass wasn’t just going on sale just then… Was it a brand new thing?]
– Perhaps that was only a prototype… I had honestly only seen it in textbooks before. However, I have still never seen it sold anywhere. Although, surely it’s been reissued since then.
[I heard that bass prototypes were only in textbooks, but when I was told “We have a prototype of a turbo bass in dead stock,” I had to buy it right away. Yeah, yeah, that’s why later, when the reissue came out, I was really upset! (laughs)]
– (laughs) I understand. How does it sound?
[That’s another one I’ve never really played… In the end, I guess I only ever really play them for recordings, and of course I’m never gonna say “Okay, take all my basses in today.” (laughs)]
– Of course not. With 120 of them, that wouldn’t exactly be an easy delivery, would it? (laughs)
[I’ve played around with the turbo on a tiny little amp, but it sounded pretty orthodox to me.]
– I came just to find this guitar… –
– Does having all kinds of different basses around make recordings more fun? “I’ll use this bass for this song,” for instance.
[Yeah, I guess it does. But lately, I haven’t wanted to take the risk, so I’ve only been doing it by the book, even in recordings. I only have them prepare the small number of basses I actually use.]
– Which bass was the main one used in recording the album AWAKE?
[Lately, for recordings, I’ve mostly been using the Sadowsky. That and my ZON, of course.]
– Is the Sadowsky a model made in the USA?
[Yeah, it’s from N.Y.C.]
– How does it sound?
[It’s great. It has incredibly good balance from the first string to the fourth. That happens so much, you know, for a bass to sound weird on a couple of the strings. The balance is so good, especially when I’m playing with an orchestra, the sound stands right out.]
– I see. Your collection is quite heavy on variety. Is there any particular instrument you might currently be looking for?
[Hm~ Not really… I’d say I’ve pretty much gotten everything I want.]
– Not ‘pretty much’, absolutely (laughs). You love your 4-stringed basses, but might you not also be interested in 5- or 6-, that is to say in multi-stringed basses?
[Hm, they don’t usually sound that good, and I have to say that there aren’t any 5-string basses that really sound good to me.]
– You don’t care for the low-B of the fifth string??
[Nah, it’s not the sound of the fifth string, it’s how the other four strings sound that I don’t like.]
– If there is a 4-string and a 5-string version of the same models, the tone will be basically different?
[Yeah, it’s actually pretty different. That’s why, whenever I absolutely want to use the pitch of a 5-string, I always make sure to tune it down. Of course, that’s useless for lives, but for recordings I can do that sort of thing, you know? I think it’s better to use them that way. Lives are much more straightforward of course.]
– Over that past few years, multi-stringed basses have been popular, but even so many bassists are particular about having their 4-strings.
[Of course, that’s because the sound is better with a 4-string. If they could make a 5-string bass that sounded just like a 4-string, only with the extra string making that one lower note, then that would be great, but in reality it changes the entire sound so I don’t like it. Even when I use a 5-string, I’ll have actually played most parts of the song with a 4-string.]
– You can’t bring yourself to sacrifice the sound of the other four strings just to get that fifth one?
[Right, so what I’d rather do is just punch in that part, then tune my 4-string lower and just play it that way, or something.]
– I see. By the way, tetsu-san, are you at all interested in instruments made in your birth year of ’69?
[I have absolutely no interest in any jazz basses made in ’69 (laughs).]
– Your Gretsch White Falcon is a ’69 model. Did you have that fact in mind when you purchased it?
[Yeah, I did (laughs). I bought it because it was from ’69. I already had a ’57 Gretsch Silver Jet but, before, when I was in New York, I walked past a shop where this White Falcon was on display in the show window. The moment I saw it, I thought “I came to New York today just to find this guitar…” (laughs). On top of that, the reason I was in New York at the time was to do the mastering of my TETSU69 album (Suite November, released in 2002), so it meant even more. “I have to buy this now!” (laughs).]
– Incredible timing with the ’69… (laughs). Do you have any other ’69 instruments?
[What else do I have? From ’69~ Right this second, I can’t think of any other ones…]
– Without that bass, there would be no such thing as the sound of tetsu from L’Arc –
– So far we’ve spoken of bass and electric guitars, but you don’t have as many acoustic guitars. Though, there is that Rancher…
[Acoustic guitars, well, yeah… I don’t really get much of a chance to play them.]
– You don’t use one to compose songs at home or anything?
[I don’t play them much at all, no. Besides, playing an acoustic at home would get loud, wouldn’t it? (laughs)]
– Oh, would it? (laughs)
[It’s quieter to play an electric without plugging in the amp.]
– That doesn’t make the sound too quiet to hear? (laughs)
[Nah, when I’m at home, it’s just loud enough. That Rancher I have makes such a… “Cha-keeeen!” sound that I really don’t…]
– It looks rather impressive though, doesn’t it?
[Yes, it looks great.]
– Are there any other instruments you want?
[No, not right now. Next time I get around to recording something, I might find something I want, I dunno.]
– You are the owner of such an expansive collection, but you don’t generally touch any of these, you only see them when you use them in a recording. Isn’t that rather sad?
[I guess so. But when I’m at home, I really don’t play much.]
– Do you write songs with a guitar?
[Yeah, I use a guitar.]
– What kind of guitar do you use?
[A Sadowsky, these days.]
– Does the guitar you use for composing affect the outcome of the tune?
[Ah, maybe it does, somewhat.]
– You might come up with an entirely different song if you composed with an acoustic guitar.
[Oh, yeah. But, I wouldn’t want to cause trouble… To make sure I don’t bother anyone, I’ll wait until I move again before I start being loud playing it (laughs).]
– Do you have any anecdotes about your collection?
[I have a lot of Steinbergers. Almost ten, actually.]
– Are they all Steinberger basses?
[Nah, guitars. Not those tiny square-body ones; as far as the body goes, it’s that big one called a GM shape.]
– Ah, with the wooden body, right?
[That’s right. The Steinbergers are being remade right now, aren’t they?]
– Since they came to be affiliated with Gibson, they haven’t been manufactured, but maybe that has changed by now…
[They’re making them again. I was thinking of buying some new products, and those peaked my interest… Before, my reasoning was just “I don’t have any Steinbergers yet,” so I got some (laughs). Somehow, I got heavily into them at one point.]
– Equipped with a TransTrem tremolo system, right?
[Yeah, they are. I don’t use tremolo that much though.]
– Have any other instruments come to your attention lately?
[Hm~ I don’t think so…]
– tetsu-san, when you spot a guitar or bass, what do you use as a basis to determine whether or not you want it and whether or not you will buy it?
[Hm~ Let’s see… If I find a bass I like for its sound, then I’ll buy lots of them, but besides that… Ones that would work as good weapons, with kind of a weird sound to them, and anything that’s really rare, I’ll buy all those right away.]
– Do you sometimes buy them like you did the White Falcon, just while browsing shops in the street?
[Sometimes, when I’m overseas.]
– Do you often find yourself wandering around instrument shops?
[Sometimes, if I have the time.]
– When you find an instrument that interests you, what do you make sure to check?
[First, I check to see if it still has all the original parts. Then I check the neck for break marks and stuff.]
– You’ve said that it doesn’t matter to you whether the neck is thin or wide, correct?
[I’m fine either way.]
– If you had to choose one bass from your collection as the most precious of them all, which would it be? As in, this is the one you would save from a fire or something (laughs).
[Eh~ only one? I’d be hesitating (laughs). Which one… Hm~ I guess it would have to be the ZON, wouldn’t it? … I feel that without that bass, there would be no such thing as the sound of tetsu from L’Arc.]
– Indeed… Seeing how you’ve been using it for over 10 years now. By the way, you have a bass that JOE-san from DEAD END once used, correct?
[Yes I do! I received it from him through an acquaintance.]
– Since this is the band you admired so much in your school days, I imagine you must have been thrilled.
[I was so happy! You know, I went to see them so many times back in high school, and this is the bass JOE-san used to play back then. It’s the bass he had since his indies, like a trademark of his. Like “CRAZY-COOL JOE = This” or something. It’s JOE-san’s most famous bass. Was it really okay for him to give it to me? (laughs)]
– It is a bass associated with profound memories. One could even see it represents a starting point for yourself, tetsu-san.
[Back in high school, I went to a whole bunch of DEAD END lives right after school, still in my uniform and everything. JOE-san was playing this bass every single time… Now, to think that it belongs to me… It feels a little strange…]
– It looks like a B.C. Rich, but it isn’t one, is it?
[Right, it’s a Riverhead. It’s made pretty well, too, Riverhead is nothing to sneeze at. Then, JOE-san replaced the bridge himself, using a type that continues past the back, but look, now the strings can’t reach (laughs). So look here, one of the four pegs is stuck all the way over there (laughs).]
– Ah, I see. It looks so handmade, it almost has a lonely sort of feel to it (laughs).
– Either here or overseas, as long as the timing is right… –
– A few days ago, you performed live in Korea and China as part of ASIALIVE 2005, so could you tell me how that project came about?
[I wonder myself (laughs). It was a request from the management, but doing a live overseas on the same scale as we do them at home is pretty tough. Adapting the local PA system, for instance, or having to use simpler, livehouse-style lighting because their lighting system isn’t as big and powerful as what we have in Japan, and yet we’re still trying to produce a show of the same quality as our Japanese ones…]
– It’s quite the tall order, isn’t it?
[Yep. And I never felt too strongly about it either way, never “I wanna do lives overseas!” or “I don’t want to.” (laughs). My stance has always been “If we can go there, let’s do it.” And then we started hearing that we could go there this time around…]
– You did ASIALIVE 2005 as a bit of a continuation of AWAKE TOUR 2005, right?
[Thinking of it as all one package, the overseas tour had to be close to the national tour or else we’d have a hard time making a profit (laughs). We didn’t have to hold separate rehearsals for the overseas tour, for example, but that could only work as long as it was within a month of the other one, or else we’d be looking at problems with our overhead expenses. Plus, the rehearsals for the national tour coincided with our time in the recording studio, so it was extra efficient. That’s why we decided to combine it with the tour after releasing AWAKE. Otherwise, doing individual concerts would have been too difficult.]
– I see. In the rest of Asia, especially in China, there are various emotional issues and lingering resentments toward Japan, to the point where it is a point of active social discussion, and so were you at all worried about that sort of thing during ASIALIVE 2005?
[Hm~ I know what you mean… but personally I wasn’t worried.]
– While you were in the midst of planning ASIALIVE, there was an international news report about anti-Japanese incidents occurring in China. You didn’t worry much about that, either?
[I personally wasn’t worried. Some of the staff seemed to be quite worried, though.]
– Then when you went there for the ASIALIVE concert, were there any moments when you felt anti-Japanese resentment toward you, as a Japanese person?
[No, not particularly.]
– The menu for ASIALIVE in China and Korea differed from the one for AWAKE TOUR, correct?
[That’s right. The contents were different. AWAKE TOUR was focused on songs from the album AWAKE, but ASIALIVE was mostly geared toward a brand-new audience, so we gave them a thoroughly varied selection of songs so they could understand what this band called L’Arc is really all about.]
– Then, it was full of your hit songs?
– After doing shows at home, in Korea, and in China, did you notice any differences between the three audiences, in terms of national character, so to speak?
[You know, even within Japan the audience reacts pretty differently depending on where we are. Osaka crowds have an Osaka-style feel to them, Kyuushuu crowds have a Kyuushuu feel, and so on. It’s like that just within one country, so of course it’s the same overseas, and the differences were even more blatantly obvious, they behave so differently.]
– The fans express excitement and emotional responses in different ways than the Japanese would?
[No, I think it’s more that since to those fans, we’re a foreign band, they just react to us like they would to any foreign band. Even in Japan, there’s a lot more excitement when a foreign group comes to do a show here, you know. So, I think that basically, they aren’t actually all that different.]
– The overseas fans had been awaiting your arrival for quite a long time, so where there any happenings, so to speak, because of that?
[Happenings, you say… Security in the airports wasn’t all that strict. In Japan, when a foreign band comes over, they have fences and security all over the place so fans can’t get very close. But over there, they don’t have a system like that in place. It was like Japan back in the 1960’s or 70’s. So the fans came right up to us, pulling and grabbing and fighting their way up.]
– Did that situation cause much trouble for you?
[Hm~ Nobody got hurt, this time. In Thailand in 1999, the fans pushed and shoved so much that everyone toppled over like dominoes, and I fell down too. I thought I was gonna die, that time (laughs).]
– That’s scary… In any case, that must be a lot of people.
[It sure is. But it used the be the same way in Japan, whenever foreign bands came.]
– Now that you’ve performed in Korea and China, and experienced such a passionate response, do you think this can be used as a key to open the door for new activities throughout Asia?
[I’m not planning to actively go out into Asia and be more active overseas. That’s not to say that I only want to do things here in Japan, I just don’t have much of anything decided either way. Either here or overseas, as long as the timing is right, anything could end up being possible. Nothing’s decided now, and I don’t think the timing is right either.]
– You can’t say that you have any future plans to go overseas again because you haven’t looked into yet?
[My plans for the future aren’t any different from what I’ve been doing. I want to write good music, release it, do some lives… You know how it goes. This time it just so happened that conditions were right for us to go do some shows in Asia, and I’m sure conditions will be right again eventually, and even if they aren’t it’s not entirely impossible…]
– I see. Did you go shopping for instruments in Shanghai?
[No, I didn’t. You know, I hardly had time to go out at all, in China. We were really just there for the live. So yeah, I don’t know anything about Shanghai (laughs).]
– It’s hard to balance that sort of thing –
– Now, I think we should return to the topic we were originally discussing. That is, your instruments. Shall we begin with your signature models? What kind of time span was there between the creation of your first one, the ESP TFR, and the ELT that you produced next?
[Um, about two or three years.]
– For the TFR, tetsu-san, you explained how the pre-existing ESP Forest was rearranged by yourself and others doing similar things, and now this ELT looks like it may have been inspired by your ZON…
[Right. I really love my ZON, so I wanted to make something using a similar concept.]
– Do the ideas for the signature models mostly originate with you, or is it rather more from the makers?
[Generally, they come from me.]
– You could make a signature model any time, but what determines the timing and scheduling of them?
[I determine the timing too (laughs).]
– When you are working on a signature model, what kind of obstacles do you encounter on the way to realising your ideal design?
[My signature models are ultimately meant to be sold, and so if I aim only for perfection of the instrument itself, the cost will rise too much, so then it would end up being too expensive when they start selling it.]
– That perfection, is it meant in terms of the parts or of the construction method? It sounds as though it could be as simple as selecting the pickups.
[Of course, that’s the case when it comes to the pickups, and for the bridge and the pegs too. Changing the parts just a little can mean making the price go up to 20, 30 000 yen. I could make the perfect model if I was willing to do that, but it’s pointless because at that price, it won’t ever get purchased and used. And of course, the makers want to make something they can sell. It’s hard to balance that sort of thing.]
– I see. Is there a common thread to your signature models, tetsu-san?
[Not really, I don’t think.]
– It doesn’t have to be a design feature, even if it were just the neck…
[That’s always different, too.]
– Are they all long scale?
[That’s right. The scale might be the only thing they all have in common.]
– Is that because you’re working from jazz basses?
[It’s more like, before, I used to think that if it wasn’t long scale, it was no good.]
– The Fender 6-string bass you use has an extremely short scale, but I suppose you think of that as something completely different?
[When it comes to 6-strings, I mostly go from a high position, and I hardly use anything but the first three strings. The lower-pitched ones, well, I’ll use them for lives once in a while but I never use them for recording.]
– When designing a signature models, do you actually draw out the shape you want?
[To tell the truth, my signature models are pretty much all based on existing products.]
– Then the first thing you pick out is the design.
[Right, it all starts with the design.]
– Do you take that design, then find the right sound based on the parts and materials you want to use, or do you select those with an ideal sound in mind? The latter seems more difficult…
[That’s for sure. That’s why I get a prototype made first, then change the position of the pickups, or even switch them completely. Sometimes I’ll change the materials for the body, or change all sorts of other things. I’ve even changed the neck of the BUZZ BASS I use so much lately.]
– Did you change the BUZZ BASS’ fingerboard, too? Or perhaps the width of the neck?
[Yeah, I changed them. I even changed the pickup placement.]
– The Sadowsky I have now is enough. –
– Presently, your main bass for recording is your Sadowsky, so when did you get your hands on it?
[In the fall of 2003. It was Takamori-san the guitar technician who first told me “Sadowsky basses are good. They’re good for recording, too.” So, I was interested and borrowed a Sadowsky for that recording to try it out. I was really happy with it, so I bought right then and there (laughs).]
– How many Sadowskys did you try out?
[I think there were only two… You know, there are hardly any of them in the country, since Sadowskys are made in New York. At the time, I tried asking their import agency in Japan, but it turned out that there were almost none in the warehouse. So instead I got the head office of an instrument store to let me try them out.]
– What is it about Sadowskys that you like, specifically?
[With Sadowskys, the sound balance is incredibly good. The sound is deep, and it has a wide range. They hardly have any dead points at all. I think I’ve always liked, you know, wood basses (laughs), I’ve always wanted them. I’ve had my ZON for over 10 years and I really love it, but the neck on it is made of special materials, and I don’t think it sounds any better the more I use it… With a bass like that, the sound never changes. Of course, that’s a good thing, but in the end I want wood basses (laughs).]
– I think I understand how you feel. Now that you have this Sadowsky, do you think it will become your main recording bass?
[No, I think it’ll be 50/50 with my ZON. Depending on the song, of course.]
– You have an Atlansia bass in your collection but I don’t think it quite fits your image, tetsu-san…
[Really? Actually, I haven’t even used it a single time (laughs). Rather than for playing, I bought it because it interested me as a piece of craft work. Because it’s a nice design (laughs). The colour and the design. I don’t even know what it sounds like.]
– It’s quite unique, with it’s own individual design and concept, and extremely interesting. Speaking of Atlansia, they once released a bass with only one string, a long time ago. Did you know that?
[Yeah, I’ve seen pictures of it (laughs).]
– It really had only one string, so it looked deceptively easy to play, but in reality it’s quite tough on the left hand, isn’t it? …It needs to wander all over the place (laughs).
[With Atlansia, well, I like the looks of their products, but the necks are always a bit wide so I have a hard time holding them…]
– It’s as if the makers were thinking “If the neck is wider, the sound will be deeper.” (2)
[Yeah, I think that does have something to do with it, but it’s not all that deep… Of course, I’ve never even hooked it up to an amp (laughs).]
– You even have a GR bass synthesizer. There aren’t too many people who use those… (laughs).
[I don’t use it either (laughs).]
– What was the timing behind your acquisition of it?
[Well~ I actually don’t remember how I ended up buying it. I must have thought it would be a good idea to have it in my collection. I never actually had any intention of using it.]
– Lindert basses are rarely found in Japan… This doesn’t fit your image either, tetsu-san… (laughs). This isn’t so much a 6-string bass as a baritone guitar, right?
[It’s called a baritone guitar, yeah. But I use it just like the 6-string Fender. By the way, is there even a difference between a 6-string bass and a baritone guitar?]
– They do seem to be the same thing. Even the scales are similar.
– Have you ever used the Lindert for recording?
[I’ve used it quite a bit, actually. I’m pretty sure the solo in Perfect Blue was played with this one…]
– How’s the sound?
[It’s not quite a bass, it can really only be played like a guitar. With an effector attached, the sound could be anything. It’s like tender meat, you know, add the right condiments and it’s like a delicious meal (laughs).]
– (laughs) I see. I see you also have two of Okano (Hajime)-san’s signature model Yamahas.
[Ah, actually they’re both prototypes. Probably the only ones of their kind.]
– Do you actually use them?
[I actually do. I used them for the recording of READY STEADY GO.]
– How did they sound?
[Great. A good, junk food-like sorta sound (laughs). They look like junk instruments, don’t they?]
– They look cool. Like they’re on their way to being pretty. Were they recommended to you by Okano-san?
[More like Okano-san gave them to me. It says “Prototype” in the back of the head, so they’re quite precious.]
– You recently purchased a Trace Elliot T-bass, correct? That is also quite rare.
[Sure is (laughs).]
– The shape of the head looks three-dimensional, it’s quite a unique design. How did you come across it?
[I looked for it on line and finally found it. I’ve always wanted one and was looking for a long time…]
– I’ve also investigated the T-bass, and even on line, it’s hardly findable.
[I know (laughs).]
– The product must have debuted in 98-99, but I think production stopped immediately.
[Seems that way.]
– How does it sound?
[The sound, well, this is probably because it’s fretless, I’m not sure, but it’s a really bright sound, it comes out really well.]
– Then I suppose it must match up well with the Trace Elliot bass amp you had before?
[I wonder if it does~ I’m sure you’re right.]
– What kind of amp do you use now?
[An Ashdown pre (amp), and the power (amp) is an Ampeg.]
– You used a Trace Elliot amp for a long time, though…
[That’s true. Well, I guess that’s the reason why I looked so hard for that T-bass.]
– I’ve never heard of anyone else looking for a T-bass (laughs). Did you find it here in Japan?
– The pegs are set at an angle, doesn’t that make them hard to wind up?
[No, it’s actually pretty easy.]
– Don’t you use it for recording?
[I think I might try it out soon. But I think the Sadowsky will end up winning.]
– You seem to quite like your Sadowsky.
[I love my Sadowsky! As long as I have this and my ZON, I don’t need anything else (laughs). I think I could manage with just those two. Its pickups are still good too. I’ve even thought of using those pickups for my own signature models.]
– You also have Sadowsky guitars, correct?
[Yep. I do.]
– tetsu-san, the Sadowsky you use is a jazz bass type, but you also have various other kinds, don’t you?
[As far as models are concerned, I have all sorts of them. ‘Cause I can order them.]
– Are you thinking of ordering any other models?
[Ordering them isn’t quite as interesting. Let’s see… I don’t have any particular requests. The Sadowsky I have now is enough.]
– Compared to an ordinary bass, the Sadowsky seems so much more elaborate, made with so much more care. Is that apparent in its sound, too?
[Yeah, it is. According to what I’ve heard, Sadowsky-san actually went to a bunch of recording sessions and got opinions and ideas directly from the bassists, implementing them in his work. I think that sets him apart from other makers.]
– I see. The design is quite standard, but it seems to stand out against other instruments in terms of quality.
[In the end, when it comes to making instruments, you can’t afford not to listen to the opinions of actual musicians. That’s the only way to see if your instrument would actually get used, you know. I have a tiny little 20-30 watt amp at home, and there’s a huge difference in what I’m looking for between something I’ll play on that little thing at home and what I want for a recording or a live with the hugely powerful sound equipment there.]
– Fodera basses are used by many studio and jam session oriented musicians. Have you no interest in getting a Fodera bass?
[I think they sound good, but I don’t really like the way they look.]
– Is that so? I thought it had such a professional look to it…
[That butterfly-ish mark looks kinda iffy to me… (laughs). Nah, for work where the bass won’t be seen, for studio work and stuff, then I think it’d be good, but it just isn’t very rockish.]
– Ah, certainly. How about in terms of sound?
[Nah, I’m okay with my Sadowsky for now.]
– Of course (laughs). You’ve used your unique basses many times for recording, so has the character of one of those basses ever exerted an influence?
[Yes. For the recording of winter fall, I used an EB-II and it fit that song’s image just perfectly. It wasn’t even my bass, it was one that Okano-san or Takamori-san got for me. EB, that has a round sorta sound, doesn’t it? But that sound was perfect for the song.]
– Does a bass with such a strong personality have the power to change the melodies you’ve already come up with?
[Hm~ It’s not that it really changes things, I don’t think. Rather, it affects whether I’ll be playing with my fingers or with a pick.]
– Is it very different to produce a sound with a bass when you’re playing live instead of in a recording studio?
[Well, the people creating the sound are different in lives and in the studio. I focus on the playing, and I leave the sound production up to them (laughs). Also, for lives, I mostly use wireless ESP basses. Rather than talk about sound production, for a live what I really hear is just the ear monitor. I can hardly hear the sound coming out of the giant ampeg speakers behind me. What the audience hears is the sound from the PA system, and that’s what the engineers have produced for them.]
– At times like that, I go for a drive. –
– Okano-san has been the producer for L’Arc for a very long time now, and as a bassist he can be said to be representative of Japan. tetsu-san, from your point of view, is there any particular lesson you’ve learned from him?
[There is. About recordings, he says “Try playing like this instead,” and stuff, giving lots of basic advice. He’s also taught lots of fingering practise techniques. Lots of stuff like that.]
– Conversely, tetsu-san, as a bassist yourself, is there anything you always check other bassists for?
[I think doing that gets to be annoying. Of course, Okano-san is a bassist himself, so bass is what he pays most attention to.]
– During recordings, do you create your sound with Okano-san’s help?
[Yeah. For sound production, I work with Okano-san and the engineer Takamori-san. All I really do is play, and once in a while I make a request or something (laughs).]
– Do you get any advice on bass riffs?
[Of course, sometimes he’ll give me ideas. Okano-san is a producer, an arranger, and a director. But, that doesn’t only apply to bass, he works with the guitar, the drums, and the keyboards, too.]
– Not only is he a star bassist for Japan, he can also work as a producer. That must be heartening for you, tetsu-san.
[Yeah, it is.]
– Do the other members have any input regarding what you play or what sound you produce, tetsu-san?
[They do. And I do the same for them.]
– Then, you check up on each other work and give shape to the music that way?
[Hm~ Yeah, that’s basically it… That’s when L’Arc’s particular atmosphere comes out and moves us forward (laughs).]
– It isn’t a system where the person who wrote the song gets to arrange it according to his own ideas, and the resulting product follows from that?
[No, actually, the songwriter does get a lot of control over the arrangements and idea of the song. And over the tone of the arrangements, too. Well, it all depends on the song, really. It all has to come together when we actually record it. Sometimes we’re all going “This sounds great!”, sometimes we can’t make up our minds, sometimes we’ll be still working out the drum parts but have the bass recording done, it’s really case by case.]
– tetsu-san, you can write various types of songs, but your repertoire seems to include several distinctive, cheerful tunes. tetsu-san, what is your songwriting technique?
[I go “Let’s do this!” (laughs).]
– (laughs). I can’t help but picture you driving along and humming to yourself, then suddenly coming up with a good melody out of nowhere, or perhaps coming up with one while watching the scenery go by from inside a train?
[Nah, if I happen to be driving when I come up with a song, I can still work on it. It depends on my schedule. When it’s like “Write so many songs by such and such a date,” then I’ll come with songs while taking a nice bath, or while I’m driving my car, or while I’m relaxing in my room. I can write a song anytime.]
– It isn’t homework, but can you really write songs with a deadline like that?
[Yeah, I can. All of us can, pretty much.]
– Do you go looking for motivation or inspiration? For example, watching movies, reading books, or listening to music…
[Hm~ Inspiration… Seeing movies, listening to music, going out to see people and all that, it’s stuff I do every day, normally, so it’s not limited to times when I’m trying to write songs.]
– When you write music, do you approach it with a theme or idea already in mind?
[Sometimes I think of the big picture.]
– For example, once the release of a L’Arc album has been decided upon, do you write songs with that particular album in mind?
[Yeah, that’s right.]
– Are you the type to write a whole song in one go?
[Well, you know, sometimes it doesn’t take me very long, and sometimes it does, so it really varies.]
– When you’re writing songs, and a good melody just won’t come to mind no matter what you do, how do you deal with the situation?
[Most of the time, at times like that, I go for a drive.]
– As recreation?
[Hm~ Well after staying cooped up in my room without getting any ideas, going for a drive makes a nice change of pace, and then ideas start popping up again. Most of time I write songs at night, so the roads are pretty empty.]
– I think I would choose bass, after all. –
– This is changing the subject, but in recent years, Japan has had a problem of declining birth rates. Before, we had several band booms come and go, but today it’s much harder for young people to get together and form new bands, which is quite regrettable.
[But it was already like that in my time (laughs). Seriously, in my high school, there wasn’t a single person who would’ve joined a band. That’s why I had to go looking at other schools before I could finally have my own band. Even though, these days, the entire population is dropping, I think the percentage of people who listen to music is higher now than it was back in my school days.]
– Personally, I’ve noticed that fewer young people want to be in bands these days, and it makes me sad. You don’t feel the same way?
[Nah, because it’s just another effect of the passage of time. But I think it’s all because nobody thinks being in a band is cool, now. Of course, whatever young people think is cool is what we’re going to see a lot of. If they don’t think being in a band is cool, well that just can’t be helped…]
– You’d have preferred it if you and your band had been considered cool, wouldn’t you?
[Hm~ To me, being in a band was never about being cool…. But I wasn’t trying to be uncool, either.]
– I didn’t mean to imply that you were “uncool” (laughs). Even though there were always certain trends around, you didn’t feel that they affected you, then?
[I don’t think about what other people think of me. I do what I like, and I make the kind of music I like. As for how many other people are going to think the same way… that’s not something I think about…]
– Well, that’s how it turns out.
[Of course, I’m happier the more people turn out to feel the same way as I do, and I’m grateful for those people. But it’s not like I worry about there only being a few people who think like me, either. I’d find a way to keep going even if there were only a handful. I don’t think there’s any need to change the way we do things just for the sake of making more people like us. Well, I guess you could say I’m not interested in doing things that way, I don’t understand why anyone would do it.]
– Now, could you tell me about your happiest moments as a musician?
[When I’ve just finished a new song.]
– You don’t mean when you’ve just finished recording it at the studio, do you?
[Right, I mean when I finish recording my own demo tape. That’s my happiest moment.]
– Now, could you talk about things you try to do as an artist?
[Things I try to do… Hm~ Is there even anything? (laughs) I just try to make good music, that’s all…]
– L’Arc formed over ten years ago and are still active, even becoming a prominent leader in the Japanese music industry, so as a veteran artist, what do you think your goals and objectives will be from now on?
[The Japanese music scene keeps on changing… New artists are constantly being born, so I’m still going to have to work hard…]
– I’m sure you had set big goals for yourself when you had your debut, and now that you’ve surpassed them, have you set any new goals for yourself, as you grope around the beginnings of a new period?
[Hm~ Let me see… But, back when we debuted, we didn’t set any kind of specific goals like wanting to play live at Budoukan or sell a certain number of copies of our albums. So I don’t think we’re going to have goals like that now, either…]
– I see. tetsu-san, what is your dream as an artist?
[Dream? Nothing in particular. Becoming a pro musician was never a dream of mine, either. I just did the obvious thing to do in the obvious way.]
– And how do you feel about having so many people accept the reality of how far you’ve gotten by doing the obvious thing in the obvious way?
[I’m happy about it, of course.]
– So you don’t concern yourself with album sales figures?
[I wouldn’t say I’m concerned, but I do check them regularly. Without actually having a clue about how our own products sell, we can’t very well come up with a workable plan for the next one (laughs).]
– Now for my last question, what is it about being a bassist that you’re happiest with?
[As a bassist? …But I’m a guitarist and a vocalist, too…]
– Of course you are, but for the most part, you work as a bassist (laughs).
[I started drumming lately, too (laughs). But you know, if I could somehow start all over again and choose my instrument, I think I would choose bass, after all.]
Translated by Natalie Arnold
1. The title of a simple piece often taught to beginners. It means “Stepped on the cat.” Go back.
2. In Japanese, a deep sound is actually said to be a wide sound, so this line is a play on words. Go back.