Yamashita Tatsuro Interview (2016)

This is a translated interview with Yamashita Tatsuro, conducted in 2016.

Topics covered in the interview include early musical influences, the current music scene, playing live, childhood memories, thoughts about getting older, and future ambitions. Enjoy!

Interview & text: Ooyama Takuya (Japanese text)
Photography: Kikuchi Eiji, Hamada Shino, Kugino Takahiro
English translation: Henkka
Yamashita Tatsuro on the web: Official Website

Yamashita Tatsuro has just finished his 40th anniversary tour, “Yamashita Tatsuro PERFORMANCE 2015-2016.” Spanning six months beginning from the autumn of 2015, the tour was planned to consist of 64 performances in 35 cities. However, an additional performance in Kanagawa due to a ticket sales issue as well as a substitute performance for the interrupted Iwate concert ultimately brought the total to 66 performances.

Even today, 40 years since his debut in SUGAR BABE, Yamashita Tatsuro continues vigorously to pursue his career. Where lies the source of that vitality? What are the convictions that have kept him going throughout all these years? We hope to find out the answers to these questions in this long, 6000-word interview which includes live photos published on the web for the first time ever.

— Congratulations on finishing your lengthy tour of 66 concerts.

Yamashita Tatsuro: Well, I only made it halfway through that Iwate show in December, so we’ll call it 65.5. (laughs)

— What are your feelings now, having finished such a long tour?

Tatsuro: I’m beat! (laughs) It’s been eight years since I resumed touring in 2008 so I feel like I’ve gotten back into the groove pretty well at this point. The ensemble is coming together great and there’s lots of brass parts and such… But yes, at my age doing shows that each last over three hours every time, it sure did tire me out.

— Watching you on stage, however, one could never tell you felt tired.

Tatsuro: Well, thankfully my voice is still coming out great. In my younger years I would’ve guessed my voice would eventually deteriorate, but that hasn’t been the case. But physically everything below my neck, especially with that kind of a schedule, it’s… Yeah. In my thirties, I’d be touring every year while also recording at the same time. Nowadays that would be just out of the question. And in those days I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day while also drowning myself in booze.

In that sense, I’m taking better care of my health now. And thanks to my constant touring schedule as of late, my voice continues to get better and better — in fact, it might even be coming out better now than it did in my thirties. Singing live, these days I’m able to keep a steady high B♭ while back in the day I could only reach a B.

— Many singers tend to have trouble with their voice as they age, causing them to lower the key of their songs. It seems like you’re doing just fine, however.

Tatsuro: I thought that was exactly what would happen with me as well, but fortunately I seem to have been spared. Honestly, I think I’d rather just quit altogether if I had lower the key of my songs to be able to sing them. If I become unable to sing that final, long G# in Smoke Gets In Your Eyes… That’s one of those reference points for me when I would consider quitting.

— However, on this last tour you actually canceled your concert in Iwate due to trouble with your voice. What happened there?

Tatsuro: It wasn’t the high register that was the problem that day. Instead, it was that transition point from the higher notes of my lower natural register, to the notes where I would almost be switching to falsetto — F# or G, somewhere around there. For some reason my voice just wasn’t coming out in that register. But my high falsetto and my lower register, those were totally unaffected.

— Reading about it in the sports papers, I was actually worried…

Tatsuro: The sports papers blew it way out of proportion. I was totally fine earlier that day in rehearsal, as I was the next day at the show in Aomori. But of course they never reported about any of that. (laughs) I went to see a doctor about it once we got back to Tokyo and they found nothing wrong with my vocal cords. Even now when I think about it, it was really strange. Could’ve been the PM 2.5 in the air for all I know. (laughs)

— Be that as it may, it was a brave decision to call off the concert midway through.

Tatsuro: Sometimes it happens that my voice isn’t in the best condition in the beginning, but as the show goes on it always gets back to its usual form soon enough. I just push through it. But that night we’d been playing for an hour and it still hadn’t come back to me.

For me, I consider the first half of my shows the most important bit. That first hour and a half until the a cappella bit is like the show’s lifeline. The second half of the show is kind of like a festival — it’s the climax. But if the first half isn’t done well, I just feel bad for the audience. Especially on this last tour because I’d been doing so well up until that point, it only made me feel more strongly about it. I’ve only interrupted a show two times in my life.

— When you started touring again in 2008, you said that playing live was going to become your new main priority going forward. Was this decision made based on the state of the music industry today?

Tatsuro: Yes. With the CD market getting smaller and smaller, the royalties I receive from streaming alone would have been too lacking, making it so that I could no longer make put a lot of money into recording. So I thought, “I’ll just make my living playing live then.” But even so I never imagined these recent “developments.”

— How do you mean?

Tatsuro: I assumed that as I got older, I’d have less and less people coming to my shows. But even if that did happen… Well, I was going to look at it as part of the fun in getting older, and I’d just think of playing live as a kind of a hobby. I never expected my audiences to get even bigger than before or that I’d have new fans coming in. As someone who doesn’t do TV appearances or other big media stuff, I wasn’t expecting a significant influx of new fans.

— It’s not like you did any special promotion in order to bring in new fans either.

Tatsuro: No, not at all. I’d always wanted to play at a summer festival though, and so I was lucky to get to perform at the Rising Sun Rock Festival. Their audience has a wide age range and it’s a very rock-oriented event. Their sort of “policy” really suits me — I feel like the young people who listen to rock music today have pretty much the same kind of mentality that I myself used to have in my twenties.

— I’d think so, yes.

Tatsuro: So I thought, if they’re the same as me, then I should just play like I always do. I got to play there two times, in 2010 and 2014. I’d love to do it again.

— I also feel like many new listeners first became fans with your 2014 performance at Sweet Love Shower.

Tatsuro: That was a really good one, too. If I’d just been doing it like I always used to, releasing new albums and going on tour, I would’ve never even gotten the idea of playing at summer festivals.

— Is there a sense that your music is reaching new fans?

Tatsuro: Yeah. It’s interesting seeing how there are more and more people in their twenties and thirties in my audiences. Maybe it’s how the social climate now is similar to how it was when I first got into music — right around that period when the Vietnam War was leading into the Cold War. I feel like the atmosphere today is kind of similar to how it was then. I don’t know whether it’s because of that, but it feels like I share the same sense of values with the younger generation. I’m more on the same wavelength with them than I am with people who lived through the Bubble Era; people in their forties or so.

— The social atmosphere of the time when those younger fans were growing up…

Tatsuro: It’s similar, yeah. Rather than talking to the people of my generation, it’s more fun talking to young people like that. When I see people my own age at funerals or whatnot, pretty soon everyone will start reminiscing and talking about the “good old days.” I’m just not at the stage yet where I’d want to talk about that stuff.

— Whenever I see you live I’m always impressed by the quality of your performances. May I ask you about your current band members?

Tatsuro: I first started getting ready to play live again back in 2006, and the first thing I did was to look for a drummer. I spent over a year doing that. I met with and saw 17 different drummers play live, and the 17th drummer was Ogasawara Takumi.

— It was a huge deal for Ogasawara who was only 24 years old at the time.

Tatsuro: By that point, the members that were already set were Ito Koki (bass), Nanba Hiroyuki (keyboards), Sahashi Yoshiyuki (guitar), and me. Then, at the beginning of 2008 or so, we added Ogasawara Takumi as well as Shibata Toshifumi as the second keyboard player.

— What appeals to you about Ogasawara’s drumming?

Tatsuro: First of all, it’s our compatibility on the human level. In order to work with someone for years on end, it’s crucial that you can get along together. And then, of course, his technique and style.

— His style?

Tatsuro: His style of drumming. There were lots of good drummers besides him, too, but they just didn’t suit my music. My stuff has a lot of 8-beat and 16-beat, and it requires many different kinds of expression, so the drummer needs quite a bit of academic knowledge. I was a drummer myself so I have a very strong opinion on what I want in a drummer. Overall, he was just the best match.

— So technique alone isn’t enough.

Tatsuro: There are plenty of talented studio musicians out there, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Working with studio musicians is like the lunch at catering — you don’t know what you’re working with until you get there. And even if you do happen to get a really great musician, it’s not like you then get to keep them all for yourself. Coming from a band background myself, I don’t like the whole “studio music mechanism.”

James Brown, for example, was basically “band music.” He chose his own guys and he thoroughly whipped them into sounding exactly like he wanted. But when you look at other rhythm & blues acts from that era, while it’d be first-class studio musicians playing on the actual recordings, on the stage they’d be using second-rate tour musicians. When you do that, the sound changes. That’s why there’s almost nothing interesting when it comes live R&B. If you’re going to see an R&B show, you should absolutely go see a band rather than a solo act. The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, stuff like that — those guys sound the same on stage as they do on the records. That’s very important.

— I see. So your band right now is sort of like your own “The J.B.’s.”

Tatsuro: Yeah. When we do my song “SPARKLE,” for example, even now it sounds basically the same live as it does on the record. In the intro I’m playing the same guitar that I used to record it, so it sounds the exact same. Ito Koki, too, is using the same bass that he used to record it, so it has the same sound. We even have Nanba on keyboards, so again, it’s the same.

— So when you do get, for instance, a different drummer and second keyboard player, you need to work on making this new band sound like the record.

Tatsuro: That’s right. Ogasawara hits the snare hard — he’s what you might call the quintessential “rim shot player” and his idol is Jeff Porcaro, so as a drummer his play style is close to the kind of thing I was doing in the 80’s. Things like that make it easy for me to work with him.

— The members who joined in 2008 must’ve been nervous at first.

Tatsuro: Well, especially Ogasawara. “Nervous” is an understatement. He’d never played concert halls that can fit 2,000 people. And hall shows are the real deal — you can’t get away with anything. When you’re playing stadiums or arenas, the bigger the venue the less you feel the audience’s presence. But when you’re playing clubs or halls, it’s different. You’re guaranteed to get scrutinized very carefully.

— So even you are sometimes influenced by the audience like that?

Tatsuro: Of course. Especially when you’re playing to smaller crowds — that can totally change the performance.

— Is it more difficult playing to an audience of 100 people?

Tatsuro: Absolutely. This is something I always say: if you can win over 100 people, you can do the same for 10,000 people. But sometimes you can play successfully for 10,000 people and yet you can’t persuade just 100 people. That’s what it is to play live. I bet even the Stones kick off each tour they do by playing at a tiny venue. They know how it is.

— So rather than you “not being able” to perform at, say, Tokyo Dome, it’s more that you just choose not to play venues like that?

Tatsuro: Well, I’ve never played there so I don’t want to start talking big. (laughs) But while Tokyo Dome might be up there as one of the biggest venues there is, I don’t agree that that’s always the most beautiful thing in terms of music. This might make me sound arrogant, but my music doesn’t suit venues like the Budokan or the Domes. You can’t convey any subtleties in sound at venues like that. Of course, if you’re like a high-energy three-piece band or something, then sure, you could play at the Dome or wherever.

Also, since my shows are so long I’m sure it wouldn’t be comfortable for the people on the second and third floors of the Budokan to be sitting in their plastic chairs through the entire show. Who wants to sit in those chairs for three hours straight? (laughs)

— Your live shows are always over three hours in length. This might be a stupid question, but why do you always play for so long?

Tatsuro: That’s actually a good question. (laughs) It goes back to when I was younger. When I had a hit in the 80’s with “RIDE ON TIME,” I could finally go on countrywide tours. But while I was playing 2,000-seat halls, I was only getting crowds between 800 to 1,200 people at the time.

— So it’s not like the venues were completely empty, but…

Tatsuro: Right. We could sell out shows in places like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, but in the countryside it was always like that. My style of music was totally atypical for the time. This was a time when, if I was playing in the sticks, the people there had never seen a male vocalist singing in falsetto, so they’d be looking at me all weird. Seeing people like that on tour I’d sometimes think, “I might not be coming back here again.”

— Your feeling was that there’d be no “next time.”

Tatsuro: We would have poor attendance even in the central spots of the prefecture in question, in cities like Kurume or Toyohashi or Hirosaki, so I’d be thinking I wouldn’t be going back there the next year. So then I decided that if I wasn’t going back there, then I would at least give them everything I had before I went back home. That was what led to the shows getting longer.

— Ah, I see.

Tatsuro: But another big reason is that if I want to fit everything I want to convey into one concert, there’s no way to do it in under three hours. The 8-beat stuff, 16-beat stuff, the a cappella bit in the middle, and the climax at the end — when I line up everything I want to have people hear, it just comes out to over three hours. I want the show to have a proper beginning, middle, and end, and I also think about its degree of perfection. This is the end result.

— Indeed, it wouldn’t be possible to convey all that in just two hours.

Tatsuro: Ultimately, in the context of Japanese music culture I’m totally outside of the mainstream, barely even associated with it at all. Who knows how many more years I’ll be able to keep doing this. But since that’s the case, I want to show people everything I have. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past 40 years in my life as a musician. As I’ve kept touring under those unfavorable circumstances, I’ve always had to continue asking myself what it is that I ought to be doing.

— One definitely gets a strong sense of your concerts having a beginning, middle, and end. Even though your setlists change with each tour, it feels like the actual organizational structure of the show is always the same.

Tatsuro: That kind of thing is actually very important when it comes to performing arts. When I resumed touring — this last one was my sixth tour since then — I doubt there’s anyone who has come to see all six tours. Whether they’re busy with work or it just otherwise didn’t fit their schedule, whatever the reason may be, that’s only to be expected of working people. But let’s say one of those people came to my show for the first time in three years, and the audience and the whole structure of the show had changed. In a way, they’d probably feel like they’d been left behind. The stuff that I play is popular music, so my thinking is never… “If these listeners can’t keep up, I’ll just leave them behind.

That’s why fundamentally I want my shows to always have that same sense of development. For example, if I did an outstanding jazz ad-lib, that would probably fulfill the expectations of 50% of the audience but betray the other 50%. And that’s assuming I somehow managed to pull off just the most amazing jazz ad-lib you ever heard. I’m always thinking about how well I can satisfy my audience; about how much I’m betraying their expectations.

— Each time you want to show them something different while still living up to their expectations.

Tatsuro: Right. And moreover, in my case there are surely lots of people who last saw me live 20, 30 years ago. When that happens, I want to make sure that the musical performance and the vocals are on par — or at least as good as they can possibly be — compared to 20 years ago. When I started playing live again 2008, my goal was for my shows to have the same sort of passion as they did in the 1980’s. That’s why the structure hasn’t changed much since then.

Back when I’d just started touring again, there were some songs I couldn’t perform. But those songs are much fewer now. The atmosphere at the venue now is very similar to how it was in the 80’s. Or, no. In some ways I guess it’s even better than it was then. My power of concentration and the expressiveness of my singing have gotten better for sure. Old yet new, new yet old… It’s a strange kind of live experience.

— It sounds like it’s not just a “hobby” anymore.

Tatsuro: Well, I also don’t mind playing for just 30 people with nothing but a guitar. That’s a nice, friendly atmosphere, too. But when I’m doing hall tours like this, I don’t want to do it unless the performances have the same kind of passion as they used to have back then. There’s no point otherwise. People in their fifties could come to my shows and think, “My culture is still alive and well.” It’s a form of self-affirmation. That’s something that’s very important for me as someone who’s oriented towards the music of that generation.

— I never got to see you play in the 80’s, but your concerts right now are very physical and full of movement. It feels very much like a rock’n’roll show.

Tatsuro: The guitar chords, the melodies, the worldview in the lyrics — my music might be very “middle-of-the-road” in terms of all that, but even so, I’m of that whole rock’n’roll generation, and so my music has to unfold with that rock’n’roll groove. It’s already “old music” as it is, so that groove is something I have to always keep conscious of. If I don’t, I run the risk of sounding like the “golden oldies,” or muzak, or lounge music.

I was talking to Nanba the other day and he said something interesting. He said that the prog rock played by young people today is no good because it’s just not rock’n’roll. Sure, it has all the surface-level qualities of prog rock, like the chords and the song structures. But the drums and the bass don’t rock, so it’s worthless.

— It’s supposed to be progressive rock, after all.

Tatsuro: There’s more I could say in regards to that, too. Ever since the whole Shibuya-kei generation, the drums and the bass in music like that has been getting less and less rock’n’roll. But more than anything, the vocals these days don’t have groove. In that sense even those 80’s idol singers — Nakamori Akina and Matsuda Seiko and the like — even they had more of that rock essence.

— It’s crucial to you whether something is rock or not.

Tatsuro: Yeah. The entire reason I do music is because I love rock’n’roll. That’s all. American music, especially stuff that is a fusion of African-American and white music — like rockabilly and rhythm & blues and such — I like stuff that’s derived from traditional American music. The definition of rock differs from person to person, but I guess for me it’s all in the feeling of groove in the rhythm. Having determination and guts — that’s what rock is all about for me.

— Incidentally, I get the feeling that American rock has been more influential for you than UK rock.

Tatsuro: Well, I’m actually quite familiar with 60’s British rock, too. The three records that have left the biggest impression for me throughout my life are The Zombies’ “Tell Her No,” Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and The Flowerpot Men’s “Let’s Go To San Francisco.” They’re all British.

— When did you first start deliberately listening to American rock?

Tatsuro: I was always omnivorous when it came to music. I’d listen to the Top 40 and like everything, but from around junior high to when I started high school, I’d say I probably listened to UK rock more. When Graham Nash left The Hollies to go to to America and form Crosby, Stills & Nash, that’s around the time that I too moved from British to American music.

Also, I just love rhythm & blues. I happened to see a James Brown live video in 1969 when I was in 2nd grade of high school, and it changed my life. After that, it’s like I was stuck in this swamp just listening to R&B all the time.

— What was that James Brown video?

Tatsuro: It was the film version of this TV show called “The T.A.M.I. Show.” Nowadays you can get it on DVD, but back then it was such a valuable experience being able to see this thing. I’d originally gone to see the film because of the The Beach Boys, but James Brown appeared in it as well and when I saw him, I just went… “What the hell is this?!” Seeing his whole cape routine when he was in his prime made my jaw drop. I was completely taken aback.

— Were you influenced by him?

Tatsuro: It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I picked up most of the basic elements of my live shows from James Brown. The way one song connects to the next, the general pacing of the show, not counting off the beginnings of songs to the extent that we can avoid it… Those are all things we always practice thoroughly. That might all sound obvious today, but I can assure you that back in the 80’s it was very rare to see anything like that.

— And James Brown was your role model in that.

Tatsuro: Also, back in high school I’d listen to FEN and they had this oldies program run by a famous DJ. It was called the “Jim Pewter Show,” and they were doing this special program on R&B vocal groups. That was another thing that changed my life. It was those two things. Later, getting into the 70’s and playing in bands, I came across The Isley Brothers and of course Earth, Wind & Fire… It was just one life-changing discovery after the other.

— While you say that musically you’re “middle-of-the-road,” you seem very rock’n’roll by your nature. Are you conscious of this yourself?

Tatsuro: Well, yeah. In a word it’s just because I’m so twisted. I started becoming this way when I dropped out of high school. I’m keenly aware of the fact I’m a weirdo. I could never find my place in the Japanese music scene. I’m too soft to be rock, and I dislike kayou kyoku because it feels too business-like. But then I also don’t want to go for some sort of a subculture either, nor can I go the mainstream artist route. I’ve never met anyone with the same ideals about music as me, and so I’ve been forced to go at it alone. These circumstances are what led me to becoming this oddball. (laughs)

— But this “twistedness” doesn’t really come across much in your music, does it?

Tatsuro: That is because of my voice being what it is. I could never sound like James Brown or Ernie Isley. Ultimately, James Brown is my standard. If I can’t sound like him, then there’s just no point in me doing funk.

— So instead you’ve chosen to do what you are capable of doing.

Tatsuro: Right. I do the best I can with my sensibilities and my singing. If I was only a composer, I’d also have to write songs that I couldn’t sing myself. But being a singer-songwriter, I only have to write the kind of stuff that I’m good at. I get to play it safe and write songs only in the categories that I’m able to sing. (laughs)

— It does seem that your condition has only been improving since you resumed touring. What are your plans for the future?

Tatsuro: Eventually when I can no longer sing, I’ll just stop. But I saw Minami Haruo live when he was 72, and his singing was just so bright and resonant. Awaya Noriko, too, was still going at it in her seventies. Futaba Yuriko is amazing, too. In Western music, Paul McCartney is in his seventies, as are Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, and they’re all going strong. Metallica and Kiss are getting up there in age, and they too are still working hard.

— So age is no excuse.

Tatsuro: Nowadays I have no choice but to do daily vocal exercises for 15 minutes. See, I was told by my doctor that past a certain age it’s crucial that you keep constantly using your voice, to an extent.

— Thanks to you continuing to do so, you can now sing songs that you couldn’t some time ago. Your repertoire is only getting bigger.

Tatsuro: Yeah. Come to think of it, pretty much every member of my current band can play the keyboards. My saxist Miyazato Yota is a great piano player, and my backing singer ENA is in the piano department at her high school attached to a music university. So we might actually be able to play “Heron.

— Wow, I’d love to hear that!

Tatsuro: It might be tough to find a spot for it in a typical three-hour tour show, but we might be able to pull it off at a summer festival. In recording “Heron,” I used two pianos, a harpsichord, a marimba and a glockenspiel, two guitars, and lots of percussion. I have other songs that would normally require the use of tapes, but I’d love to be able to play them live with manpower alone.

— By the way, are you opposed to using a click track?

Tatsuro: Well, with some songs it’s just a necessity. “Christmas Eve,” “Atom no Ko,” stuff like that. But as a rule, I want to perform everything with human effort alone whenever possible.

— There’s that sense of groove that can only be achieved when something is performed live, right?

Tatsuro: Tempo fluctuations are at the core of groove and the pleasure principle. And yet, probably 80% of the bands I see live nowadays use a click track. To me, I see no point in even using strings or whatever when the drummer is constrained to a click track like that. They should all follow the example of bands like Queen, for instance. Freddie Mercury might sometimes hop on the piano for a bit, but other than that it would be just three people playing their instruments live. Even with something like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while there’s that bit in the middle that would be played from tape, everything else besides that was played live.

— I see.

Tatsuro: It’s the same thing with prompters (a monitor which only the performers can see, displaying lyrics, etc.) It does make me feel sad when I see people using those things.

— Really?

Tatsuro: No one used anything like that back in the day. And once you try one of those things, you can’t go back to not using them again. Just look at Bob Dylan — even with those complex lyrics of his, he doesn’t use a prompter.

— Still, I don’t think anyone would hold it against you even if you did use one.

Tatsuro: No, no. That’s just being soft. Because ultimately, those things are the sign of you making a compromise. And the audience can sense it when that’s the attitude you have, and it just brings everyone down. When you start allowing compromise, like having someone else sing in your stead because you’ve become unable to, while you just stand there playing guitar in the meantime, it’s the same as that. Also the same thing with lip-syncing. You have to hold yourself to very high standards as to what you are and what you aren’t willing to compromise on. Once I can no longer do that, I’ll just quit.

— So in a way, being able to continue doing what you do without compromise is actually what sustains your musical activities.

Tatsuro: Yeah. If I can’t do that, then there’s no meaning to it. At that point I might as well start playing dinner shows or something. I’d make way more money doing that, plus it’s just easier.

— Right.

Tatsuro: But dinner shows are one thing I absolutely won’t do. That sort of stuff makes you forget why you’re doing music in the first place. When I had a hit record with FOR YOU in 1982, a business partner suggested to me that I ought to do dinner shows. “Absolutely not,” I said. If you want to make money, that’s all fine and good, but that’s not why I play music.

— If you were only thinking about it in terms of income, it would be much easier to just play one dinner show versus sweating it out on tour, right?

Tatsuro: It’s so easy. Even now we still get offers to do things like Christmas dinner shows together with my wife. (laughs)

— Now that I actually kind of want to see… (laughs)

Tatsuro: But that sort of stuff is simply not why I started doing music. I want to be as musically honest as I can — to the point where it might look like I’m honest to a fault. Hey, that’s one way to approach this whole “celebrity” thing. (laughs)

— In your decision to not play dinner shows or do commercials, you’ve probably set a good example for many others.

Tatsuro: Well, it’s painful to create something, you know? When you choose the easy, non-painful way out while also getting money to do so, I’m absolutely certain that it would affect my passion for music. I’ve seen many people who, as a result, became unable to write songs and it just destroyed them mentally.

— And for this exact reason, you’re doing tours spanning 60 concerts even after your own 60th birthday.

Tatsuro: Tell you the truth, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. When I resumed touring I intended to be way more carefree about it. That’s why it feels weird even talking about it like this. I’ll find myself thinking, “What the hell am I even doing?(laughs) For better or worse, I guess I’m just a serious kind of person. I’m too stubborn for my own good. (laughs)

— By the way, I was thinking about how you often talk about your resentment towards the hecklers and critics in the SUGAR BABE days. But wouldn’t it also be fair to say that your resentment is actually what drove you to get where you are today; that everything turned out all right in the end?

Tatsuro: No no, if they’re going to praise me, I’d rather them have started doing so 40 years ago. (laughs) Nah, but you’re right. Everything about my life has had meaning. That old proverb about how everyone needs to go through hardship in their youth, I think that’s right. But since I was so young and naive, I was very hurt at the time. But that’s also what helped me develop such a thick skin, and now nothing bothers me anymore.

— Do you feel that you’re the sort of person today that you envisioned back then?

Tatsuro: Sure, but only when looking at it now in hindsight. Only in retrospect did I start to receive praise for things that were considered mistakes at the time. That has continued to happen over and over again throughout my life.

— So the effort you put into each of your works started bearing fruit only after the fact.

Tatsuro: I always think about how a big part of that is just how I’m so lucky to have been surrounded by so many good staff people and fellow musicians. There haven’t been many times where I’ve just been totally taken advantage of. Up until high school or so, I was such a pure, honest kid that I could never distrust anyone. Even my mom used to always tell me to be careful because of how gullible was. But thanks to that, whenever something good did happen I’d always stop and think, “Wait a minute. I’m gullible — they might be tricking me!(laughs)

— So then did people deceive you around the time when you’d first just joined the music industry?

Tatsuro: Oh, all the time! It was totally common for me to not get paid at all. Even my business partner would often say to me, “You know, it would be so easy for me to swindle you.” I found myself thinking he was probably right. (laughs)

— Having made live performances the main focus of your activities, I feel like in doing so you’ve set yet another example for musicians who are getting older.

Tatsuro: I never thought I’d still be talking in interviews about playing live at the age of 63. (laughs) I’m almost at the age where I should be collecting my pension!

— No way! We still need you to keep active!

Tatsuro: Well, I’m still physically healthy. But recently I’ve been starting to see the people close to me passing away, and one can’t help but feel weirdly thoughtful because of it… And here I thought what I longed for was simply a life of constant drinking and passing out on the street every night.

— I’m not sure if that’s very good either… (laughs)

Tatsuro: I get these letters from people who come to my shows. Stuff like, “I was hospitalized for breast cancer, but listening to your album OPUS gave me the strength to give one more shot at life.” I’ve noticed a clear increase in letters like that as of late. And the reason I’ve been given such a role by people is because my music is so “middle-of-the-road.” See, middle-of-the-road music also has elements of healing music.

— How do you respond to such messages from fans?

Tatsuro: In the past, I was so preoccupied with myself that I probably would’ve had mixed feelings about it. But now that I’m older, I feel like since that’s what is wanted of me, then it’s my duty to respond to that demand. It’s my duty as someone who plays popular music.

— Having now finished this recent, long tour of yours, do you currently have plans to record anything new?

Tatsuro: Yeah, I’d like to update the second half of the setlist a bit. I’d like to write some songs for that slot.

— So listeners can look forward to more of those “festival-like” songs that get everyone fired-up. I think you mentioned during your show that it would be a mini-album?

Tatsuro: Well, if I have enough songs I’d like to make it into a full album. But 15 songs or something would tire me out. Back in the day, you could release an album with just eight songs — or ten at most — so I was able to put out one album a year. With R&B albums, it was totally commonplace for them to have just six songs! So sometimes I think it might be nice to just release a six-song album each year. (laughs)

Well, in any case, please do look forward to it.

One thought on “Yamashita Tatsuro Interview (2016)

  1. Pingback: alt.culture episode 5: The Life and Afterlife of City Pop – alt.culture

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *