Interview with Pirates Canoe

interview - 04.12.2013 20:01

With Japan Nite 2013 being their first time performing overseas, Pirates Canoe had much to talk about with JaME.

Formed in 2009, Kyoto-based Pirates Canoe have since released two EPs and one album, and have shared their interesting blend of Americana and folk music from the Irish and British Isles throughout Japan. Though the group usually consists of six members, their guitar-mandolin-fiddle trio traveled across the seas to tour North America as a part of Japan Nite 2013. A few moments before Japan Nite’s Los Angeles show, the soft-spoken trio delighted JaME with a brief but in-depth interview.


Can you please introduce yourselves?

Reika: Reika Hunt on guitar and vocal.
Sara: Sara Kono on mandolin and vocal.
Kanako: Kanako Keyaki on fiddle and chorus.

How has touring as part of Japan Nite been?

Everyone: Each audience reacts differently, and we had a lot of fun!

You three (Sara, Kanako, and Reika) happened to meet each other in Kyoto bars. What was it about each other that made you want to form a band together?

Reika: When I talked to Sara for the first time, I wasn’t able to go along with what she was talking about, and I thought it would be difficult to get along with her…(laughs). Keyaki was a quiet, cute girl at first sight. However, both of those first impressions were wrong (laughs). When I was thinking about creating music I met Sara and got introduced to the rest of the group, and that’s how we started.
Sara: Reika was a dark person. Keyaki has a cute appearance, but is exactly the opposite--she is a very cool person. When I stopped playing in my previous band, as an opportunity to start all over, my friends introduced Reika to me. And at the bar I frequent, I saw Keyaki with her violin, so by talking to her…kindly hitting on her (laughs), we got together as a band.
Kanako: My first impression of Reika was when she was singing, so I thought she was slender and is a really good singer. With Sara, since I met her at a bar, I thought she was overly friendly at first (laughs), but she was a gentle, overly friendly person. As for being a member of the band, I was just in it without noticing--but since I really like their music, I am still here and playing it.

How did you choose the name Pirates Canoe? It appears as the first track of your first EP, Guitar Blue, but did it come to be your band name before or after you wrote this song?

Reika: Writing the songs came first. This song was the first one we made as a band. With a few songs on our hands, we started thinking about a name for our band, so everyone got together in a restaurant and started brainstorming, but no one came up with any good ideas…. After three hours or so, we just didn’t have any other choices but to use the title of the song, Pirates Canoe, just to get started. And we ended up using it.

You all come from different musical backgrounds. For those who are not familiar, what were they? And how have these influenced your music? Have other non-musical backgrounds influenced your work? For example, Sara, you grew up at a Buddhist temple….

Reika: Pirates Canoe is the first time I played in a band. I started off without any knowledge and learned everything through the band--say, how to prepare myself before standing on the stage, how to play the guitar with proper stress in the band, figuring out how to play in a way that would impress the audience--all of those things come from the band.
Sara: Though I grew up in a temple and my parents are the priests of the temple…they like reggae music and things like that, so I think I was brought up in an environment filled with music. Although it was a little bit incongruous, I think music was ingrained in my life since I was small, and that led me to getting involved with playing instruments. I used to like cheerful and up-tempo songs, but after I formed the band with them, I became interested in songs that are calm and slow--like really singing towards a particular person. So with their influence, I started writing those kinds of songs, too. I feel like I get to release all the negative emotions inside me (laughs).
Kanako: I was playing music before Pirates Canoe, but this is the first time I played in a full band with drums and everybody who thinks deeply about how to compose and play expressively. Every time I was impressed by new things…not simply playing the song, but thinking more about things, like when to retire (according to how the band plays). I am learning about these things.

When was your first listening experience with bluegrass and Irish/English/American folk music, and what was it about them that attracted you?

Sara: I was in college when I first listened to bluegrass and folk music, so I was between the ages of 18 and 20. The songs that were really old…they all sounded the same to me (laughs). I got more into it later, but at the beginning I was like, “What is the difference between this song and the previous one?!” (laughs)
Reika: I was brought up in Arkansas, so I can’t recall exactly when I first did listen to it. Maybe since I was a little baby. My father is in an American folk band, too. Back then, I didn’t think much about folk music, so when I got into my teenage years and started listening to pop and rock music, I thought country music was frumpy. It was after I got older that I was attracted to acoustic music and bluegrass and stuff like that. I think it was just in my blood.
Kanako: I never listened to any bluegrass or American folk music before I was in Pirates Canoe. Sometimes I would listen to music by artists the two of them recommend, but to be honest, even now they sometimes sound the same to me. Since I wouldn’t try to find this music on my own either, to me, Pirates Canoe is all about folk music, and I like music by Pirates Canoe.

So what do you usually listen to?

Kanako: Since I play the fiddle, I usually listen to Irish instrumental tracks and things like that.

Reika, does having grown up in America have anything to do with the majority of Pirates Canoe’s songs being in English?

Reika: I wrote all of the English lyrics. Since I grew up listening to English songs and no Japanese pop songs, I couldn’t construct any Japanese lyrics to a melody. They said the lyrics are strange when I try to write in Japanese (laughs). English lyrics come out most naturally.

Reika and Sara, as the sole lyricists and composers for Pirates Canoe, what are your writing inspirations? What is your songwriting process like?

Sara: It depends on the situation, but for me it is usually after traveling for a long period of time, after I get impacted by certain events, or by the other band members’ requests. For example, they would request that I write something instrumental, or say they wanted something dark. I would write based on their requests and the inspirations from images that they gave me…but since I am so weak at writing lyrics, after composing I would just hand all the songs to Reika.
Reika: I would come up with a theme first. For example, if I want to write a song about an unexpected pregnancy--and at that time I got a song from Sara--I would put those lyrics into that song. If there’s no new song at that moment, I will try to compose a melody that fits the theme on my own.

Sara, would you make a request to write lyrics after composing a song?

Sara: Um, when I hand the song to Reika, I would tell her that the song is based on a particular image. Sometimes I would give her stuff that has partial Japanese lyrics in it already, and she would change some of it and fill the rest with English lyrics. Sometimes I would just write the song without any particular theme or image, and she would just work on the images based on her own conception. Basically we would use all kinds of approaches.

Can we expect future songs to come from Kanako?

Kanako: Yes, I would like to try composing something for the band one day.

Your first full recording, Sailing Home, was released this past December. What can you tell us about it?

Reika: This was the first time we created a record without the full band but just the three of us. We rushed everything towards the end…or how should I put it…we made the record with a natural impulse in a good atmosphere, rather than making a detailed plan for it. So we rushed to make it and rushed to finish it, then we got so excited when it was done! It was really a happy experience for us. Somehow songs with the image of sailing, boats and the sea came out through making this record, so naturally we just decided to make this an album about sailing.

What would you like to say to your overseas fans and JaME readers?

Sara: This the first time we’re performing overseas. While we play in Japan, we always hope that these old songs can reach audiences of both the elderly and young people. We are so happy to be able to bring our music across the ocean and to the other side of the world. We hope that in the future, we can continue breaking these borders and bring our music to different places in the world, just like we are doing now.


JaME would like to thank Pirates Canoe for taking the time to answer our questions and Audrey Kimura of Benten Label and Japan Nite for making this interview possible.
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