People with pure motives for music do not change
You were holding “My Hero Tour” a solo tour with guest musician KenKen*1, until just before the state of emergency was declared on 7 April, right?
“We were touring around Shikoku until the end of March.”
You have switched to online live performances without audience since then, but this style was not the mainstream back then.
“We were already broadcasting ‘LIVE FOR NIPPON’*2 simultaneously with the real event, so I guess it wasn’t a big deal. We wanted to stick to the idea of broadcasting from ‘live venues,’ because we wanted to spend whatever money we could for them. But the sound lags from the remote guest made it really difficult (LOL).”
What incredible guitar technique to make remote session work. How did it feel to perform without audience?
“When we broadcasted the performances with KenKen without audience, the music we played was the same. After trying, I realized that I can complete myself on stage. Some say, ‘we cannot perform without audience,’ but it didn’t matter to me. When we recorded ‘Love On Music’*3, we did a session at a radio studio. So, maybe I am used to performing without an audience. And for me, the urge to play satisfying music is stronger than the desire to look cool for the audience. Theater Brook*4 is group of guys with same mind. It doesn’t matter to the music itself whether we have audience in front of us or not. Although it’s kind of lonely after the performance. I think people with pure motives for music do not change.
The other day I watched German football league’s soccer match, held at an empty stadium, and it was really fun, because I can feel the devotion of the players from the screen. Removing the spectators eliminated unnecessary elements, and the motivation and the technique of the players surfaced; it was clear that the better or more motivated team would win. This is the same with music, isn’t it? Music by those who have great technique and motivation are fun to watch even if it is online.”
*1 KenKen… One of the top bassists in Japan, active as a soloist, member of RISE, and support as a player for many other bands. Arrested in 2019 for suspected violation of Cannabis Control Law and on probation until 2022.
*2 ‘LIVE FOR NIPPON thinking about Japan’s tomorrow’…… A live event started by Taiji Sato immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Holds a monthly talk show/live concert at live music club with guest musician.
*3 ‘Love On Music’ …… A radio program broadcasted on InterFM897 on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Taiji Sato performs a live session with a guest musician in the studio. The programs started in April 2015, reaching its 300th broadcast at the end of 2020.
*4 Theater Brook …… A music band founded by Taiji Sato (Vocal/Guitar) in 1986. Made a major debut in 1995. Other members include Takashi Nakajo (Bass) since 1995, Emerson Kitamura (Keyboard) since 1996 and Takashi Numazawa (Drums) since 1997.
You can party at home
The other day, it was announced that “THE SOLAR BUDOKAN”*5 of 2020 would be held for four days in a hybrid format of live online broadcast without audience + audience pre-recording. Why did you decide not to cancel the event this time?
“Canceling wouldn’t benefit anybody, does it? Festivals have a role to revitalize the town or to stimulate the local economy, and I believe we should continue it for the future.
Another reason is that the coronavirus situation will probably get worse, so we should do what we can now in anticipation that we won’t be able to do anything in the future. This once-in-a-century virus that affected the world could become more dangerous. Then it could be even more difficult to hold large-scale events. That’s why we have to hold these events, even if we have to scale them down. It is easy to cancel them, but then it will be impossible to hold the next one. If there are more people infected with the virus next year than this year, the Self-Restraint police will definitely be like, ‘Why are you doing it this year when you canceled it last year.’ Of course, it must have been a courageous decision for those who cancelled festivals, but I don’t think we should stop it.”
Unless you hold the events, you won’t be able to accumulate the knowledge of how to run events under these situations.
“Exactly. There must be many more ‘You can even do that?’ on an online broadcast. The amount of effort to have an artist performing from overseas or to perform remotely at a music club in Tokyo is the same. We should be able to do unexpected things. The technologies have advanced to such level. So, this is about us taking advantage of what is available to do fun stuff. We need to prove that you can party even at home. If the world becomes worse and if we end up socially distancing our hearts as well, we will be questioned what we have been doing as human beings. Have we developed technologies only to make money?
The children are watching us with cool head. So, I want to do my very best, and want the children, who’s our future, to cheer, “Yeah, Taiji!”.
For this year’s ‘THE SOLAR BUDOKAN,’ we are discussing ideas to connect with Senegal and Wales (U.K.) for broadcasting, and we also want to connect with interesting locations with magnificent view. I’ve been touring all over Japan and I know there are many places with awesome views.”
It would be great if people who saw it visits those locations post coronavirus.
“I have vaguely thought of that. I’ve been wondering, with the system itself, there may be a way to experiences the fun of the festival virtually.”
There are various advanced technologies such as VR.
“I think, maybe it’s a great time to maximize its use? Once we maximize them, we may find unexpected byproducts. There won’t be byproducts unless we move forward. However, we cannot just be aggressive and forceful. We need to discuss with relevant people, especially with the locals. We should not force things, nor slap them with wad of bills.”
*5 ‘THE SOLAR BUDOKAN’ …… Taiji Sato organized a rock festival using solar power in the wake of the nuclear power plant accident, holding the first event at Nippon Budokan in December 2012. It has since been held in Nakatsugawa City, Gifu Prefecture. http://solarbudokan.com/2020/
I don’t want the coronavirus to control my life
Is there a scene or a word that has been memorable to you during the coronavirus crisis?
“I went to a grocery store with my two children, and the younger 2-year-old started crying, ‘I want ~,’ and took off his face mask. Then a woman who saw it took an overtly negative attitude, as if to say, ‘Germs!?’ How very harsh and how could I forget it? Normally, without coronavirus, if you see a small child crying, you would ask, ‘What’s the matter?”, right?
I think it means fear is widespread in the world. And fear is interfering with people’s behaviors. It was the same in the event of earthquakes and nuclear power plant accident. Then, what are they afraid of, I think it’s the fear of death. When I think of the root cause of the fear, it’s because we don’t know what death is. But in the society overflowed with information, I cannot think of death as a negative thing anymore. Things changed in me as I came to know about Dalai Lama’s circle of transmigration of the soul and the religious concepts of death. Maybe I have more curiosity than fear of death. Though I hate pain (LOL).”
“So, I intentionally say this firmly that I don’t really get this feeling of being intimidated by the coronavirus. If you end up living a boring life in fear of the coronavirus, that’ll be a waste of life. You are given a life in this day and there are many things you could do, I wouldn’t recommend living a life of a recluse, staying home and treating anyone who coughs, as a criminal.
Everyone dies without exception. That’s why life is beautiful and meaningful. My father died this June, and he looked like he had his life completely under his control. He took my hand, looked at a photo of his grandchildren carrying school backpack and said, ‘That was fun,’ and then he was gone. I thought it resembled how David Bowie passed, having released an album two days before his death. I mean, I think he produced his ending. I know there are those who can do this and those who cannot, but I feel like I can do this because my father was able to. So, how to complete my life is my theme. When I think of this, I don’t want the coronavirus to control my life.”
What are you particularly concerned under the coronavirus crisis?
“When I see my children and compare their school with private schools, online teaching is not implemented at public schools at all. Considering that there will be second and third waves after this, don’t we have to be prepared now? Because children born to a poor family or rich family must be able to receive education equally. It is absolutely wrong if only the rich can get good education.
There is a strong hereditary tradition in Japan, right? I think it means information is unlikely to be shared. Some people say ‘social mobility is low,’ and I think this is right. My father used to be a newspaper reporter, and I think he wanted me to be a journalist, but I went straight into the path of music. But maybe this was why I came up with the idea of ‘THE SOLAR BUDOKAN.’ Because I have sympathy for journalists. I think these will lead to increase social mobility. It is really important that children can be what they want to be, isn’t it? A society forcing children to do the same job as their father is a society with limited options. Widening the opportunities for education will definitely change this. I would like this opportunity to be taken, to make significant revision in the education system.”
Listening to the government’s debate on education during coronavirus crisis worries us, doesn’t it?
“Containment of the coronavirus was successful in Taiwan. When I saw that, I realized that trust between the citizens and the government is critical. We don’t have that in this country. We have not built trust. Neither from the citizens nor from the authorities. So, maybe this is not as simple as changing the regime, the state of democracy in this country is wrong, because the structure is wrong. And that’s why all sorts of rankings are low, including the ranking of government’s handling of coronavirus. I think it shouldn’t be this low, because there must be a lot of smart people in Japan. But it seems like those people don’t have a say. And that’s why we are failing. I think we need to reset everything and start anew.”
Resetting everything once, or falling to the pits….
“In any case, I think this country is in a really bad shape. You wonder what is going on if you see how the money is being spent, right? It still takes a lot more money to fix things at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. And there is this serious blow from the coronavirus. But we are passing everything to the future generation. Everything including the debts are passed onto people in the future, in other word, our children. Do you think they will be happy with this? Native Americans have an ideology that your seventh-generation descendants are looking up to you, watch you and I think knowing this is very important. We’ve got to share this with every Japanese people.”
The important thing is to have both solitude and love
There are many challenges.
“I think there will be more severe lockdown than the previous, coming to the world. So, even if the coronavirus is subdued a little, we should just shift to remote work. Music can be played remotely too. Then we can just create a structure to sustain live music bars & clubs. I am sure we can create a system for deeper communication. Unless we build a social structure that can endure a severer lockdown, we would be facing a long winter.”
A society that can endure, we need to figure out what kind of society that is.
“Actually it’s like we are in science fiction. We cannot talk face to face or eat together. In the future, we might be in tougher situations such as being banned from eating even with family members. Then there would be more moments where we will feel alone. Then the question is how do we send our love to our family and loved ones. We have to communicate, by email, by letter, or by whatever. If we don’t communicate love, the virus will divide us. So, I think we should actively communicate our love.
To that end, there are many things you could do with new technologies. You can communicate love to whom you want without touching them. On the other hand, you could also communicate hatred. The worst scenario is to distribute hatred, and the division leads to conflicts, and the storm of hatred leads to killing.”
You’re right. Slandering on SNS became a big issue during the coronavirus crisis.
“I think we need to digest solitude properly. Those who cannot digest solitude accumulate stress and throw negative words at others. I think that’s why they slander and express their hatred. But love, including romance, can be extremely powerful at a time like this. Love is a very effective medicine for solitude.”
But it’s difficult to expressing love properly. I have an impression that Japanese people are not good at it.
“Most people don’t express it. That’s why we end up with frictions. Maybe the world is not that good at it. Those who can express it has been doing so. Dalai Lama or the Pope, they always use the words of love. And we are saved by those words.”
Musicians are like evangelists of love.
“So, those who are smart and cool should be proudly saying, ‘It’s cool to express love,’ or ‘It’s a cool way of living.’ I believe that the most important thing is to have both solitude and love. And if you have an unwavering vision of solitude and love, there is nothing to be afraid.”
Born in Tokushima Prefecture in 1967. Founded Theater Brook in 1986. Made a major debut in 1995. Aside from being a member of Theater Brook, active as a soloist and in units.
Interviewed by Joe Yokomizo on 27th June, 2020