Lamp released their most recent album Kanojo no Tokei in May 2018. Translated below are two interviews they did in promotion of this fantastic album. The first one is from OTOTOY. Enjoy!
You can buy Lamp’s music directly from the band, both physically and digitally, on Bandcamp.
Lamp — a band characteristic of their feel-good sound that is both complex yet refined, seamlessly weaving together various styles of music. Their music is always fresh, yet containing elements of their musical roots. We arranged this interview to talk to the members about this release consisting of eight songs to which the members have given their all. Kanojo no Tokei, their 9th album in total, follows nearly four years after their previous release, Yume, and is the band’s first release on their own label, Botanical House.
In the first half of the interview, we talked to the band about Botanical House and about AOR and Brazilian music — the foundations of Lamp’s musicality. Since their formation in 2000, Lamp has always placed the utmost importance in pushing themselves to make the kinds of works that they’ve wanted to make, and as a result the band has now reached a point where they will soon be performing an instantly sold out show in Ebisu LIQUIDROOM. In this interview, we managed to catch a glimpse at the sense of aesthetics shared by all three members.
The band also talks in the interview about how they’ve been finding it more and more difficult to produce new albums with each passing year — apparently they finally completed Kanojo no Tokei only after various ups and downs along the way. However, when you actually listen to the material they’ve delivered, the refined production as well as the songs with their mellow sounds that serve as vivid reminders of the 80’s immediately dispel any doubts one might’ve had. In the second half of the interview, the band reveals that what first pointed them in the direction of this exceedingly amazing new album was “Sachiko,” the last track on their previous release.
Interview & text: Yuya Watanabe
— After the release of your previous album, Yume, you established your own label, Botanical House, in 2015. You’ve since then put out several releases from artists other than Lamp. What made you decide to start your own label?
Taiyo Someya: There are several reasons, but one is that we wanted to do something to help out our own favorite artists. There was also another, more negative reason. We’d worked with a label called MOTEL BLEU for a long time, and after that, we released Yume through Polystar. And, well… I can be a very stubborn person… Eventually it started to feel like it might be best if we just started our own label. Those are the main reasons we started Botanical House.
— Botanical House has released albums not only from Japanese artists, but also from countries like France, Belgium, and South Korea. How did you get to know all these artists?
Someya: Lomboy and Gongjoong Doduk we first met after we’d started the label, but as for the other artists, we’d already decided to release their albums at the stage when we were just starting the label. I first met Tadashi Shinkawa before the release of our first album when we took part in a compilation album called Stylus #6 (2003) on which Shinkawa appeared as well. However, we only really got to talking about a year before we started our label. He had been working at a very “laid back” manner after his second album and I thought that was just such a waste, so I told that to Shinkawa directly and we really hit it off. That’s how it started.
— After Shinkawa’s album, the next release you put out was from France’s Kidsaredead. Following that, Botanical House has been releasing albums from solo artists.
Someya: It wasn’t really something we did intentionally, but before I’d even noticed it, Botanical House was constantly releasing all these home recordings from solo artists… and I just realized, “I guess I really like this sort of thing.” (laughs) Objectively speaking, none of the artists we’ve put out are that similar to Lamp in terms of their music. I suppose there are some similarities between us and Shinkawa, but I’d think even he is quite different from us.
— The music of Shinkawa and Lamp are certainly completely different, but I think one can sense that you both have the same musical roots — or like this “feeling” from those days.
Someya: It could be that I personally tend to gravitate towards artists who sound like they’re coming from a certain era. I like when the artist doesn’t sound like “now” but has a clear influence from a certain era. For example, Shinkawa’s third album, Paintings of Lights, has a very clear 1980’s feel. Kyota Sugai’s y533 sounds like late 1960’s psychedelic music. Kidsaredead sound like 1970’s prog rock and late 1960’s soft rock. They all have a sound that is very reminiscent of a certain time. I guess I just like that sort of thing.
— Is it the same with Lamp when you start writing new songs? Do you set a certain era as your theme?
Someya: We definitely have a tendency of doing that, yes. But at the same time, it also feels like it’s not good to focus too much on any said era. For example, on Yume we were focused on early 80’s Brazilian music, and similarly on this album we were trying to make something that sounds like Brazilian music from the later half of the 80’s. But that’s not to say we wanted to make something that sounds exactly like that — we also want to have something in there that sounds like us. We were inspired by that music in some ways, but when we’re making our songs we’re working based entirely on our own intuitions — we aren’t obsessed with trying to make our albums sound like any particular era.
— Do the rest of you share a similar awareness towards the era of music?
Yusuke Nagai: I’m not sure… At the very least, we’ve never once had a meeting where one of us said, “let’s make the next album like this.” It’s just that we share music amongst ourselves. Someya will tell us to check out something that he’s been listening to, and then we’ll listen to it together. That’s something we’ve been doing since we were teenagers so we’re just naturally always listening to the same kinds of music.
Kaori Sakakibara: I basically like all the music that Taiyo likes, and of course I like all the musicians that have had releases through Botanical House. We must have similar tastes. That’s why we never really have to “reconcile” in regards to those ideas.
Someya: I can be rather pushy by nature. (laughs) When I find something good, I just feel like sharing it with others. Also, I’m sure this applies to everyone, but we all go through these “phases” as listeners, right? In my case, I’ll sometimes notice how I’m just listening to all the same kinds of music as of late, and it’s like it naturally becomes the theme of our next work.
Nagai: Besides, for the most part the outlines of what we liked were already pretty similar even when we first met. “I bet this guy’s into this kind of stuff.” We could always think that of each other. I think that’s pretty important, too.
— The “outlines” of what you liked? What do you mean by that?
Nagai: Well, music is made up of lots of different components, right? When the two of us listened to something, the first thing we’d notice would be things like the sudden harmonies in Simon & Garfunkel’s music for example — we always loved harmony music like that. And just recently we’ve finally become interested in rhythm, too. (laughs)
— How recently is that?
Nagai: Just in the last four or five years.
— So around the time you released Yume?
Nagai: Right. Up until that point, the chords and the melody were the only things that that were on my mind. For me, that was normal.
— When you say you’ve become interested rhythm, what do you mean by that specifically?
Someya: It’s complicated. When I’m writing music I’ve often felt that it’s not coming out quite the way I intended it to. In short, when you’re making music you start with a thought along the lines of, “I want to make music like this.” But since we’re all self-taught, there are so many things we still haven’t picked up on. And that’s kind of where this recent curiosity towards rhythm came from.
— That’s very interesting, especially considering how much influence you actually draw from Brazilian music — which I understand is very much known for its rhythm.
Someya: Yes, it’s true that rhythm is a very important part of Brazilian music, and of course I like that aspect of it as well. For me though, the things I was always the most drawn to in Brazilian music were the melodies and the harmonies. But then I realized that you can’t make something that resembles Brazilian music with only the harmonies. Although with that said, it’s not like our objective is to make an exact copy of Brazilian music to begin with.
— Lamp has been performing live more as of late. Have your live performances had any influence on your musicianship as a whole?
Someya: I’m not quite sure that our live performances have had an effect on our actual recording work. To tell you the truth, the biggest reason we’ve started playing live more is due to monetary concerns. (laughs) That just goes to show how little we were thinking about money up until now. We never thought our music could translate into income for us — in a weird way, I kind of thought that it was okay even if it didn’t. Or, no… I don’t think I’d ever given it even that much thought.
Nagai: We’d made pretty much no money out of it anyhow.
Someya: And it’s not like we were complaining about it either. But now that we’re running a label and we’re putting out other people’s releases, there’s a certain amount of responsibility that comes along with that, too. And as I keep putting on the years, even if I personally feel that it’s okay if my music never makes me any money, the people around me will increasingly be giving me weird looks because of it. (laughs) So then once we started planning our own live shows and releasing some merchandise, we realized that there are aspects of it that can make us some income. The truth is that we’re mostly playing live for financial reasons… because, fact is, our recordings don’t make us any money. And because recording is what we want to do the most… it can honestly be difficult at times.
— Lamp selling out a venue like the LIQUIDROOM by yourselves is no small feat though!
Someya: Recently we’ve had more and more people coming to our shows, and that makes us both very grateful as well as pressured. Still, for me the biggest thing I feel is… “is this really okay?” Of course we’ll play to the best of our ability, but musically I’m not satisfied with what we’re able to offer.
Sakakibara: We’ve been playing with the same supporting members ever since we first started, so I’m just glad we get to see them whenever we play live. For me there is definitely less of that absolute dread about having to play live than there was before.
Nagai: Before, we were always just so depressed whenever we had a show coming up. (laughs)
Someya: My feelings towards our show at LIQUIDROOM are still like 95% anxiety though. (laughs) But it’s not like we can just stand around doing nothing. As long as we’re an active band, we have to keep on putting out new releases, too. I have to say, though… After eight releases, it’s getting harder and harder each year to write new songs. That’s the really difficult part.
— How do you mean it’s getting more difficult?
Someya: I mean, obviously you want to write something that’s musically good. And that’s what everyone expects of us, too. But coming up with something that people will listen to and think “they released another good song!” while also making it something that makes me personally feel “oh yeah, that’s the stuff“… it’s an extremely difficult task.
— So you’re saying you keep raising the bar for yourselves.
Someya: That’s right. We can’t release a new album once every year like we used to, and it’s just… I really wonder how we’re going to manage in the future. (laughs)
— Looking at the songs featured on Kanojo no Tokei, it’s four compositions by Someya and four by Nagai.
Someya: Yes. It was originally supposed to be just a small, four-song ballad compilation kind of thing. But as it turned out to be our first release in such a long time, we just felt that it would’ve been unfair to the people who had been waiting for so long, only for us to release something so minor.
— So you wrote an additional four songs.
Someya: Right. The songs “Slow Motion,” “Yume no Kuni,” “Love Letter,” and “Dare mo Shiranai” were originally not supposed to be included. By the way, we did have even more songs written but we felt that making it these eight songs made for the most cohesive release.
— How does the songwriting process go for the two of you? How far along is your basic demo of the song before you first bring it to the band?
Someya: Mine are very, very basic. It’s mostly just me playing the song on guitar and humming it.
Nagai: Mine are pretty well-developed. Compared to how it was before, I now have a better working environment at home so I just naturally get more into making my demos.
— In that sense, aren’t Nagai’s working methods quite similar to those of Botanical House’s solo artists?
Nagai: They are. Though in my case I always ask the members for advice as I work on my songs. People like Tadashi Shinkawa and Kidsaredead, they can create what they create all by themselves so I very much look up to them in that sense. Shinkawa’s third album was a rather big influence on the song “Fantasy” from this release. I tried listening to Prefab Sprout since Shinkawa said he liked them, and I ended up really liking them, too. So I tried taking the essence of that group and combining it with something of my own that I already had. That was another new thing I tried on this album.
— I’ve also heard that the song “Sachiko” from your last album, Yume, became a “hint” for you in writing this album. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Someya: I just had this vague feeling that “Sachiko” would be the hint that would allow me to write like half of the songs on our next release. And ultimately what ended up happening is that it’s pretty much all songs that were influenced by the mood of “Sachiko.”
— What kind of a hint was it exactly?
Someya: My early songs were full of constant key changes. Around that time, I loved stuff like Ivan Lins and Djavan — music with lots of key changes like that. But right around the year 2005, I got more into Minas-type music, such as Toninho Horta and Lo Borges. If you really listen to it, you notice how that kind of music doesn’t have a lot of key changes. On the contrary — it’s like they were trying to see how rich they could be in their musical expression using just one key. That’s something that really caught me off-guard. I was like, “what is this?” So then I took what I could find from it, trying to express it in my own music, and it feels like “Sachiko” is a song where I really succeeded.
Nagai: But it’s not like either of us is even that much trying to aim for that kind of thing. We’re not clever enough.
Someya: I’m often told, though, that people see us as being very capable…
Sakakibara: For some reason people think we’re this very “serious” band. (laughs) I guess that’s why there are quite a lot of people who will come see us live and they’ll apparently be surprised when they see what we’re really like.
Nagai: Sometimes people will describe us as being “city pop,” but I personally don’t feel we deserve to be called that at all. That type of music really requires some amount of skill, and that skill is something we don’t have.
— When you speak of city pop in that sense, what sort of music are you referring to in specific?
Nagai: Stuff like Sato Hiroshi’s awakening, or Yuumin’s 80’s albums. That right there is some real, professional stuff. I see it as being something completely different to our music — which we’ve always been creating with an amateur’s mindset. Of more recent artists, groups like the Blue Peppers for example have created their own brand of AOR music which I think is just amazing. We could never do anything like that.
— How much do you feel that Japanese pop or kayou kyoku has influenced Lamp’s music?
Someya: I wonder…? I was listening to stuff like Happy End and Sugar Babe when we first started the band, but since then I honestly can’t think of much in terms of Japanese artists who might’ve influenced me. Although, with that said, seeing as we do music with Japanese lyrics I’m of course not saying there’s zero influence from Japanese music. But I like old stuff. I like reading through old magazines, watching old movies, listening to old sounds… That’s all right up my alley. So no matter when we’re making new music, it never has the feel of the current era.
— That’s true. Though on the other hand, you also said you don’t want to just copy all that old music either.
Someya: That feeling of not wanting to do something that sounds exactly like the old stuff… Speaking for myself, it must be a craving to be in the spotlight. I mean, if I’m going to do something, I might as well do something that hasn’t been done before. I can find meaning in making something like that. I don’t know — you two probably don’t think about stuff like this, do you?
Sakakibara: I don’t know… There are some people who will hear some music and think “I want to make music like this” and then they’ll go on to make music just like that.
Nagai: In our case, we wouldn’t succeed in doing that even if we tried.
— So is it more that you’re trying to maybe modernize those old sounds?
Someya: Oh, no. That’s not it either. But we also don’t want to just rehash those old sounds either. (laughs) It’s like… for me, both those things are true at the same time.
Nagai: I’ve almost never felt like I wanted to make something in response to current music. Instead, it feels like I’ve just kept doing what I’ve personally wanted to do.
Someya: I’ve been thinking about that though. There are certain sounds out there that, when I hear them even for three seconds, I just feel like fast-forwarding through that part, you know? So I try to be careful at least to never use sounds like that myself. That’s something I try to always be mindful of.
Nagai: I feel a huge difference between music that is made entirely on computer software versus music that is made using hardware.
Someya: But here’s the tricky part. There’s some music out there that is comprised of boring sounds but that is still good music. To take it to an extreme: I think good music is going to be good music even if you’re listening to it on the lousiest radio-cassette player out there. So in that sense I suppose even boring sounds might be acceptable… but as I’m already making the music, I might as well make it sound interesting, too.
— Seeing as you’re that particular about the sounds, does that mean you mostly use analog equipment?
Someya: Yes. But I’m actually not a fan of making everything sound all vintage just for the sake of making it sound vintage. Instead, I try to do what works best; do what feels best for the music. With this album, I’d check the album credits of late 80’s Brazilian albums and I’d buy synthesizers that had been used on those albums. But once I did, I just took on the sounds of the synthesizer itself — I didn’t really go back to listen to the Brazilian albums that inspired me to buy the equipment in the first place.
Nagai: Honestly, I feel that through all our activities, it’s always just been us finding what we like and doing it. We’ve always just done what we felt we liked. That’s all it is.
Someya: So it’s not about the equipment per se. I just want people to intuitively listen to the sounds themselves.
The second interview is from WebVANDA. In it, the band dives deeper into the sound of Kanojo no Tokei, after which they look back on their past work, album-by-album.
— It has been more than four years since your last album, Yume. Your original concept for this new album was to make it a “small ballad compilation.” Where did that idea come from?
Someya: I don’t remember now where the idea for the “ballad compilation” bit first came from, but we were originally thinking it was going to be a four-song release. I’m quite sure those songs were going to be “Fantasy,” “1998,” “Shasou,” and “Yokai ni te.” But as we spent more and more time working on it, we started to feel sorry about releasing just four songs for the people who had been waiting years to hear more from us. So me and Nagai wrote one more song each, making it six songs… and then we each wrote one more song, making it a total of eight. So it just grew gradually until it took this form.
— You’ve said most of the songs on the album were influenced by the song “Sachiko” from Yume — it became a hint for you in writing these songs. Please tell us more about that.
Someya: My four songs on the album were all influenced by it. My recent songs don’t have many key changes, and composition-wise I’ve shifted to using less tension chords and more slash chords. I’ve started writing more songs that make use of open strings and thinking about the key more. I’ve made my songs simpler.
— Your songs were previously known for having difficult-to-understand melodies and chord progressions — it was one of Lamp’s characteristics. On this album, I didn’t find very much of that. Was your songwriting becoming more simple because of a change in your approach or thinking towards music?
Someya: It wasn’t so much because of any change in my approach or thinking. It was more just about me wanting to write songs like this right now. You could think of it as the result of me trying to write even better music.
— Sound-wise, this album also features more digital, electric piano compared to your previous albums. Roland MKS-20 (tone generator module), the electric pianos of Yamaha CP-80 and DX7, and other famous musical instruments of the 80’s are used throughout, making them some of the cornerstones of the album. Did you end up going for this approach out of necessity because of the album featuring so many ballads or, I should say, moody and mellow songs? It reminds me of an album you released through your own label: Shinkawa Tadashi’s Paintings of Lights (2015). There’s something 90’s era Prefab Sprout about it.
Someya: We’d been warming up to the idea of making an album like this for over ten years. I’d been listening to lots of Brazilian music from that era and I was very much influenced by it, and that’s why I wanted to use sounds like that. I’m the type who’s always drawn to music that is far-removed from me — both time-wise and location-wise — so I wasn’t at all influenced by Shinkawa’s album. Yamaha’s DX7 and CP-80 were very famous instruments in their time, yes. Roland’s MKS-20 I bought because it was written in the credits of a Flavio Venturini album. JX-8P was mentioned in the credits of Toninho Horta’s album Diamond Land (1988). I also went out and bought reverbs and delays that were used in the 80’s.
Nagai: Shinkawa apparently likes Prefab so I just recently started listening to them, too. My songs on this album were definitely influenced by that romantic, sparkly sound of theirs that you can also hear on Shinkawa’s album. And while this isn’t limited only to Prefab, just ten years ago I was still staying away from 80’s music whereas right now I’m very much enjoying listening to all that stuff.
— That late 80’s analog synthesizer, Roland JX-8P, is only used on the song “Yume no Kuni.” Were you perhaps conscious of Toninho’s use of its voice pad in the song “Sunflower” (from Diamond Land) when using it there? Although since I know you’re a big Toninho fan I’m sure you were influenced by him in other ways, too, after listening to his work so much.
Someya: That’s exactly right. I just love how dark, cold, and wet that take sounds, and that voice pad in the interlude is just heavenly. That’s how I wanted to make it sound on our song, too. But when we tried playing the actual instrument itself, the mid-range was just too prominent and even equalization wouldn’t fix it, so it ended up not working out like I had hoped.
— On the other hand, while you had been using live strings very generously since Lamp Gensou (2008) all the way up to your previous album, they can’t be heard on this album. Was it your intention from the beginning to omit them from this release because of your concept?
Someya: Yes. I’d almost never gotten satisfactory results from using live strings — I found that I’d actually get good results even with synth strings. So we deliberately used a lot of them on this one. On our previous works we’d used synth strings to very good effect on, for example, “Sachiko” and in the second chorus of “Koibito to Amagumo” (Tokyo Utopia Tsuuhin, 2011), so we put those experiences to good use.
— Do you have any other stories from recording this album that pop to mind?
Someya: Hmm… It’s always such a boring process that there really aren’t any stories I think would be worth mentioning. Although on this album it was a bit different since we were trying out all kinds of things to get a different kind of sound.
Nagai: Beginning with these recordings, we procured all the equipment ourselves and we became able to record the songs at home to an extent. That alone made these recordings freer than they had been before. And while this had been the case with our previous releases as well, we once again managed to reach a good end result thanks to repeated trial and error. Still, we do crave to produce something that sounds even better, so going forward we want to set up an even better recording environment and learn more about equipment.
— In terms of your songwriting, while Nagai had previously seemed almost like a singer-songwriter who happened to also be playing in a band, this album has more songs that were composed by Nagai but with lyrics written by Sakakibara — as with “Tameiki no Yukue” on your previous album. Nagai’s song “Love Letter” — which, by the way, could almost be called “Sachiko, Part Two” — seems a very well thought-out song.
Nagai: The older I get, the more difficult it becomes for me to write lyrics… hence this pairing. On the two songs where Kaori wrote the lyrics, those were songs to which I personally couldn’t write any.
Sakakibara: It was decided quite near the end of the writing process that I was going to be writing lyrics to these two songs, so I didn’t have a lot of time to work on them. Nagai probably had every intention of writing them himself until he decided that he couldn’t, so I just tried my best not to ruin them.
— I see. It must have been difficult writing those lyrics in such a brief period of time. Apart from Nagai’s “Love Letter” and “Slow Motion,” did you struggle with writing the lyrics to any of Someya’s songs? I’m assuming that with most of the songs it’s the music that’s written first — it must be difficult for you trying to fit words into such complex melody lines.
Sakakibara: I’d written most of the lyrics to Someya’s songs between 2014 to 2016, and we’d even played them live. But as we started recording them, the compositions would change. For example, the second verse might get erased completely, or there would be fewer repetitions of the same part. There were several songs where it was mostly just us erasing bits. When that happens it can have a negative effect on the lyrics, like if I’m trying to have the same sounds or build a scene that crosses between two verses, it can make the lyric lose its meaning… It’s a little sad when that happens, but the song is of course the most important thing so I just have to get over it and fix the lyric. I love both of their songs so it’s always a lot of fun trying to come up with words for them. I love listening to a song they’ve just finished composing and trying to visualize the song in my mind.
— You released the music video to “Fantasy” prior to the release of the album. This music video comprising of scenes from the early 80’s was edited by Sakakibara, and I think in a strange way it also fits the worldview of the song. What kind of an image did you have in mind as you were making the music video?
Sakakibara: I made the music video using early 80’s independent film footage given to me by the person who made it. Apparently, after they’d filmed it, it had just been sitting there unedited all this time. I took all those long takes and spliced them up, little by little, to create an image of everyday youth. The scenery of the city and its young people looked so nice, and they fit the tone of the song so well, too. I really was given priceless material to work with.
— Judging by the image quality, I’m guessing the master was shot on either 16mm or 8mm film. You of course first digitized it before beginning the editing work, right?
Sakakibara: That was 8mm film. The person who gave me the footage digitized it themselves. Usually when we have to digitize film we always send it out to this specialist shop in Ryugoku to have them do it.
— As it would probably be difficult for you to choose a favorite song among the ones you personally wrote, I’d like to ask you all to each name a favorite from the songs you didn’t write on this album.
Someya: Hearing Nagai’s four songs for the first time, they all left an equal impression on me in their “sparkliness.” It was this feeling of, “ahh, I want to get these out there as soon as possible.”
Sakakibara: “Fantasy,” because I just really love this song. This was the first song on the album to take shape and before long we had an idea about how we wanted it to sound, too. It feels like this song carried us all the way to this point.
Nagai: Maybe “Shasou.” It feels like a song that only Lamp could ever release.
— You’re right in that “Shasou” definitely has something mysterious about it; something you can only find in Lamp. Where did you first get the idea for this song?
Someya: This song was influenced by artists like Chico Buarque, Tavinho Moura, Francis Hime, and Milton Nascimento. It’s going to get boring if I say too much, so maybe I’m just going to name those names and leave it there.
— You’ve also previously performed “Fantasy” and “1998” live, and it would be difficult to say which of them is more accomplished. By the way, looking through the credits, it appears that Someya didn’t play on any of Nagai’s compositions. However, do you still oversee the recording of his songs in a directorial manner?
Nagai: Basically it’s all me, but I always share in-progress versions of the songs to get advice. When you’re working alone all the time you run the risk of becoming too narrow-minded, so that’s why it’s a great help to get feedback on the arrangements, on my playing, and on all sorts of things.
Someya: Nagai will only play me those in-progress versions of his songs in the last two or three months of the recording process though…
— Also, on this album there are no versatile arranger-musicians featured, like Minami Kitasono who you had on your previous release. Was it your plan from the start to record this album with only the regular members?
Someya: It wasn’t our intention, but it ended up turning out that way. But if you look back on our past albums, you’ll notice that it’s actually been uncommon for us to have any arrangers featured on them.
— As we are a music research site, I’d like to ask you: what are some of the albums you were listening to when writing or recording this album?
Someya: Dori Caymmi‘s 1988 self-titled album, Marcos Valle‘s 1983 self-titled album, Beto Guedes‘ 1984 Viagem Das Mãos, Chico Buarque‘s 1987 Francisco, Ivan Lins‘ 1987 Mãos, Francis Hime‘s 1973 self-titled album, Rosa Passos‘ first album, and Milton Nascimento‘s Notícias do Brasil.
Nagai: That’s a tough question to answer as it was such a long process, but in the past few years I’ve been listening to lots of Michael Franks‘ 80’s material. I used to always like and listen to his stuff up until his 1980 album One Bad Habit, but lately I’ve actually been listening more to the albums that came after that one. Also, I like Marcos Valle‘ 80’s albums — especially the self-titled one from 1983.
Sakakibara: Flavio Venturini‘s Nascente and O Andarilho, Prefab Sprout‘s Steve McQueen and Swoon, may.e‘s Shiseikatsu, Sunset Rollercoaster‘s Jinji Kikko (EP)… And before I recorded my vocals, I was listening to Elsa Lunghini & Glenn Medeiros‘ duet “Un Roman d’Amitié.”
— As someone who has been following your progress since your debut, Soyokaze Apartment 201 (2003), your sound and style has continued to evolve with each respective album. I feel it’s thanks to those aesthetics of yours that Lamp has become a band that is completely unique. Thus, I’d now like you to look back on your past releases. Please say a couple of words about what you remember of each of them.
1. Soyokaze Apartment 201 (2003)
Someya: Looking back on it now, it’s not an album I could very much recommend to people. But at the time, I completely absorbed myself in making it. It was quite challenging working with people other than us members for the first time.
Nagai: I have lots of bitter memories in regards to this album. It was this feeling of, “why am I not able to make the sort of music I want to?” Plus, the album marked the beginning of plenty of hardship for us.
2. Koibito e (2004)
Someya: I think this was the album where Nagai was the most fixated on how to express himself. Nowadays you might have people calling this a great album and stuff, but my feeling at the time of its release was that it didn’t get a very good reception at all. Nagai’s “Hirogaru Namida” was the focal point of the album.
Nagai: It was a big thing for me to have been able to write “Hirogaru Namida.” It was the first time I ever felt satisfied with a song I had written.
3. Komorebidoori ni te (2005)
Someya: This was the third and final album we recorded at this studio. Near the end of the album’s production we just became too obsessed with it and I remember not feeling very confident about it at the time of its release. Nagai’s “Tsumetai Yoru no Hikari” was at the center — it feels like we created the rest of the album around that song.
Nagai: The sales for Koibito e hadn’t been very good, so we started working on this album feeling fired-up, intending to give it our all… but near the end of it we got so exhausted that ultimately it felt like we just gave up. Also, it was right around this album that I first started seeing the fun in playing the bass, and I think you can actually hear that in my playing, too.
4. Lamp Gensou (2008)
Someya: If someone was to ask me “what kind of music do you guys do?,” this album wouldn’t be the first thing I’d play for them. Still, I do think this album has many good things about it.
Nagai: Pretty much the only thing on my mind with this album was to get the flow of the first three songs right. Listening back to it now it’s not perfect at all, but I was still pleased with it — for the first time it felt like I’d managed to do something I really set out to do. Also, when I first heard the song “Ame Furu Yoru no Mukou” in its finished form, it finally felt like the band had developed a sense of originality.
Sakakibara: We left the place where we’d recorded our first three albums and began recording at proper studios. I think Lamp Gensou is really what changed the band. I feel that beginning with this album our connection to our listeners became stronger.
5. Hachigatsu no Shijou (2010)
Someya: I’ve always liked this one ever since its release. I suppose if there’s one thing I regret about it, it’s that we ended up making it too loud. If I was to do it all over again, that’s the only thing I would fix about it.
Nagai: I have some things I regret about the recording and the arrangement of the final song on the album, “Hachigatsu no Shijou.” Still, it’s among some of my personal favorite songs of the ones I’ve written. I took the picture for the album cover when I was on a trip to Izu.
Sakakibara: This was something we quickly put together by compiling some of our songs with the theme of “summer” that we’d already recorded for our next album. But it still made for a great release that was very compact, in a good sense of the word, and it sounds like it has a sense of unity.
6. Tokyo Utopia Tsuushin (2011)
Someya: While I may have overexerted myself a little, I do feel it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this was perhaps my personal peak. I was just on a roll as a composer with this album. We made it too loud again though, not having learned our lesson from the previous release. In that sense, this one might actually sound better on vinyl. I guess if you get that into working on something, you run the risk of losing your calm and making bad decisions like that.
Nagai: I think it’s a very accomplished album, starting all the way from the cover art.
7. Yume (2014)
Someya: Having finished Tokyo Utopia Tsuushin, I started pretty much completely from zero with this album. That’s also why it took so long.
Nagai: It all comes back to “Sachiko” with this one. That song is so good, it doesn’t even really feel like one of ours.
Sakakibara: As Nagai said, it’s like “Sachiko” isn’t even our song. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have that feeling of “it’s still not good enough…!” that I’d get from our past songs. That sense of accomplishment carried on to Kanojo no Tokei as well, I think.
— Finally, please describe for us the appeal of your new album, Kanojo no Tokei.
Someya: I wonder…? Well, it’s not like Lamp could ever release a bad album — though whether they’re all good or not is another matter.
Nagai: It feels like this is an album that’s both going to sound fresh to longtime listeners of Lamp, and I believe completely new listeners are going to like it, too. There’s nothing too flashy about it but I do think it’s an album full of very varied material, so I’d like people to listen to it.
Sakakibara: The melodies are much more simple than before so it might initially come across as a bit lacking, but I think to listeners who are familiar with the band, it’s actually what makes it sound all the more fresh, pure, and enjoyable.