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The scene: A poolside bar at the Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles. The time: late night Saturday, or actually early morning Sunday. Earlier, Japanese trio Ars Nova had just given their debut performance in the United States as part of the first day’s lineup for Progfest ‘95. The entire band is here, as well as their manager Mr. Numero Ueno, a translator, and at various times different members of the Exposé staff and friends. All the while, fans who caught their show are stopping by to get CDs and posters signed, and a couple of side conversations are going on between Ueno and others.

by Peter Thelen, Mike McLatchey, Published 1996-03-01

  • Various Artists - Progfest '95 coverKeiko — Keiko Kumagai, keyboards
  • Kyoko — Kyoko Kanazawa, bass
  • Akiko — Akiko Takahashi, drums
  • PT — Peter Thelen
  • MM — Mike Mclatchey
  • SS — Shayne Schecht

PT: What are you striving for in your compositions?

Keiko: Well, a lot of our influence is from film music, especially horror films, such as the soundtracks by the group Goblin. So that is the sort of feeling that I would like the compositions to offer.

PT: How did you become interested in forming a band initially?

Keiko: We started the band playing the music of some of our favorite bands at that time, ELP was one of course, but later moved on to original material.

PT: What year did the band begin?

Keiko: Originally it started in 1983. Kyoko is the only original member from that time.

Kyoko: Yes, the original keyboard player left and then in 1986 the band started again with Keiko. Akiko joined three years ago after the last drummer left the group.

PT: Why did she leave?

Kyoko: She got married.

PT: (to Keiko) The band broke up after you got married also, correct?

Keiko: Yes, for several years.

Ars Nove - Fear and Anxiety coverPT: Does the band always break up when one of the members gets married? (laughs all around)

Keiko: Yeah, sometimes! (laughs)

Kyoko: Seriously, it's very difficult to be a wife and remain in a band, it takes a very big commitment.

PT: Have there ever been any men in the band?

Kyoko: No, from the very beginning the idea was to have an all female band, so there were never any men in the band. That was the plan from the very start.

PT: Has the band always been a trio?

Kyoko: Yes, always.

SS: (to Keiko) What is your favorite horror movie?

Keiko: Suspiria.

SS: Do you like Clive Barker?

Keiko: Clive Barker is OK, but Stephen King is much better.

SS: Look (opens his shirt and displays a large tattoo of the Pinhead from Hellraiser). (laughs all around)

PT: Are there any recordings from before the 1990 demo, Fata Morgana?

Keiko: Not really.

MM: How strong of a marketing tool is Marquee Magazine?

Keiko: A little bit, but not that aggressive. Marquee concentrates mainly on foreign bands, not so much on Japanese bands.

MM: What about the Silver Elephant club?

Keiko: On Saturday and Sunday it's mainly Progressive, with some New Wave.

PT: How many gigs do you play in an average year?

Keiko: About four times a year.

Ars Nova - Transi coverMM: What's the relationship between the more avant Progressive groups like Happy Family and Tipographica, and the more symphonic groups like yourselves and others on your label?

Keiko: Within the Made in Japan label, the bands sometimes play together. Usually groups play with other groups on their label and not with groups on another label.

PT: I see that often distribution will change. An album released on Made in Japan two years ago might be released on Belle Antique this year, or the converse. Does the band choose to switch labels or is the distribution sold?

Keiko: Usually it's the producer who chooses to switch to a different label.

MM: Did you have classical music training before rock?

Keiko: Yes, I was classically trained as a child, then became more interested in rock and wanting to explore a more free style.

Akiko: I studied classical piano and ballet, then in junior high school started to play drums in a brass band, then in high school began playing in rock bands.

Kyoko: I taught myself electric bass, with records and videos. Later I switched to acoustic bass and started becoming more interested in jazz forms.

MM: Did you enjoy Deus Ex Machina?

Keiko: Yes! The singer sounds like Demetrios Stratos.

PT: Besides the horror movie soundtracks, what are some of your other musical influences?

Keiko: Il Balletto di Bronzo. Sometimes when we play live we cover an Il Balletto song, and another by Biglietto per l'Inferno.

Akiko: For me, Einsturzende Neubaten, and British rock.

Kyoko: Area, Pat Metheny, Osanna, Aerosmith.

MM: (to Akiko) What is the avant garde live situation like in Japan?

Akiko: Just underground, mostly just live performances, sometimes the bands release CDs, like Demi Semi Quaver, similar to the scene in New York today.

MM: How long were you in a noise band?

Akiko: Eight years.


Filed under: Interviews, Issue 9

Related artist(s): Ars Nova, Akiko Takahashi (Cosmo Space)

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Jason Smith - Tipping Point – A tipping point is sometimes defined as the borderline where you’re just under the influence of alcohol or some other (usually illegal) substance. For drummer Jason Smith it serves as a dividing...  (2008) » Read more

Tor Lundvall - Empty City – There’s Copeland’s Quiet City and some years on The Muffins’ Open City. And countless preceding and following metaphorical interpretations of the City as a force in shaping the human...  (2008) » Read more

A Bôlha - Um Passo a Frente – A Bôlha (The Bubble) were one of Brazil's first progressive bands, back in a time when progressive meant something more fundamental than the keyboard drenched symphonics and complicated...  (1997) » Read more

Engineers - Three Fact Fader – Engineers were a band many pegged to go big, but the implosion of their label after the release of their 2004 debut threw them into limbo. The time off allowed them to slave over these 13 songs, and...  (2011) » Read more