interview - 05.09.2013 20:05

FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT guitarist Kenta discusses with JaME the Japanese American act’s music and journey as an independent and major record label group, their involvement with the Nirvana tribute album NEVERMIND TRIBUTE, as well as his own solo project.

Japanese American act FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT began its career in 2005. The group is known for mixing influences of American roots music into their distinctive rock style. Although FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT has been around for a while, last year they gained a new level of international recognition by signing with Universal Music Japan. That was when the band recorded their own version of Nirvana's Lounge Act for the acclaimed tribute album, NEVERMIND TRIBUTE. The band's latest music video, Brothers, can be viewed on Universal Music Japan's YouTube channel.

At the end of March, JaME had the chance to get to know the guitarist of FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT, Kenta, who was born in Japan and later on found his bandmates in the United States. By staying persistent Kenta managed to fulfil his dream of creating an international band. Now he strives to use his music to share positive energy and faith in reaching your goals.

Let us start from the beginning. How did you meet each other and come up with this idea of creating a mixed band in the sense of "Japan meets America"?

Kenta: I decided to move to the United States from Japan when I was seventeen. My dream was making an international band. At that moment I loved Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and so on, so I chose America. Right after I graduated from high school I moved to California and started looking for band members.

I spent a year there, and when I was attending MI (Musician's Institute), a music school in Hollywood, I met the vocalist Eli Taylor, bassist John Green and drummer Josh Vore. Eli and John are from Sonora, which is a small town in northern California. They had the same dream as me--although I am not sure he was thinking about making an international band, but a band in any case. And Josh in turn was from San Jose. Eli and I became best friends, like soul mates. We have the same birthday--different year, though.

The music video for Cold Lovely Train features an exceptionally elaborate depiction of the Wild West, complete with applicable outfits and props. Can you tell us something about the making of this video?

Kenta: The process of making this music video was really fun. It was the first music video we created, so everything was new and fresh. Luckily the director of this video, Erik Anderson, led us well. He went to the same school with Eli in Sonora. He saw our live show, and he said he fell in love with our music: its energy and the message of the song--which is that for all the artists, artistic people who have their goals, we have to keep riding this cold lonely train to make it happen. We believe that happiness will come at the end, though. Cold Lonely Train matched with his idea, so we started brainstorming and created the whole story. Erik's mother used to be a professional actress, so she called all her friends, so we got all the people and actors and actresses whom we needed. Everything worked perfectly, and the video came out .

Was having English lyrics an automatic choice? Do you plan to include any Japanese in your lyrics?

Kenta: Yes. Because I wanted to play worldwide and couldn't speak English at all when I moved to the United States, I had to find a native English vocalist. Actually, I already put some Japanese in our songs with our last album. I will do that more in the future. But we will use English mainly just because this way most of the people in the world can understand and feel our messages through our music. Also I use Japanese in my solo albums, so whoever interested in Japanese lyrics, they can listen to my solo album.

Even though your music features English lyrics, are you nevertheless targeting Japanese listeners as your first priority?

Kenta: Yes. I love Japan, and I know Japanese people love music. I want to share everything what we feel and experience through our music. I believe that even with English lyrics, Japanese people can feel our music deeply. Plus, we have been together for about nine years, and finally we got signed by Universal Music Japan, so this makes us want to release and play in Japan even more.

How has your music been received in various parts of the world? Are there major differences between how people in America and Japan have responded to your music?

Kenta: We have been pushing ourselves hard to get more exposure with any possible tools, like through the internet (facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc), meeting promoters from different countries. I travel a lot, so I go to different countries and play as my solo project, KENTA HAYASHI TRIO, like in India, Philippine, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and so on. This connection helps as well.

Also, yes, there is a big difference between Japanese and American audiences. It's very interesting. Usually--not every time or everywhere but mostly--Japanese audiences are pretty quiet, but they really listen to us. I heard the lyrics are one of the most important parts or are the parts that they focus on the most in Japan, so sometimes we even get a little nervous with that intense atmosphere. At the same time, we really appreciate that they try to feel our music deeply.

American audiences are usually aggressive--in a good way. Pretty much everybody dances and shouts at our shows (laughs). It gives us more fun and pleasure, and we love playing in this kind of atmosphere. However, we appreciate both sides. Both are always fun.

How do you usually find the inspiration for your songs?

Kenta: I would say my inspiration--all the experiences and my emotions from my life--is everything.
I guess all the artists as well, more or less. Other than that, I would say travelling is the strongest inspiration for me. Going to a new place where I have never been, meeting people whom I have never met, seeing the world I have never seen, eating the food I have never eaten. Also feeling and experiencing art gives me a lot of inspiration, like reading, going to museums, painting, watching moves.

Your lyrics often revolve around the theme of anti-war. How important is it for you to express this message in your music?

Kenta: Our vocalist Eli writes the lyrics for FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT, so this is my point of view, but even the world is realizing and experiencing the awakening of the spiritual world. There are a lot of problems and wars in the world. With these problems, we, every single person, can't be fully happy. In order to get to the next level, we gotta face the problems and solve them. So with our hope and messages, we often talk about wars in our songs.

You started as an independent group producing your own work until 2012, when you signed a recording contract with Universal Music Japan. What kinds of differences have you noticed in working as a major band compared to an indie one?

Kenta: Simply, now we can get a lot of support--promotion wise, budget wise--so we can use better studios and gears to record our albums and get faster and more exposure. But we are doing the same thing. There is not much of a big difference between them in my opinion. One thing, though--this part is a little tough for us--without a major label, we can create whatever we want and like. It doesn't matter how weird or intense our music is. But with a major label, our album has to hit a majority of the peoples’ hearts. I guess all the musicians who are signed by major labels have to go over this wall, like finding a sound that has an artistic side and popularity.

How did you get the opportunity to take part in the Nirvana tribute album, NEVERMIND TRIBUTE?

Kenta: Universal Music Japan thought we would do a great job on this opportunity, so they brought this idea to us. We are the only band that has an American vocalist on this tribute album. It means a lot to us. Covering Nirvana's songs, you have to feel the pain Kurt had, which means that whoever sings their songs, he or she has to know Kurt's background and culture, so I think we expressed those feelings and emotions accurately.

Your latest album features cover art depicting a black panther in a city. Does this image hold a specific meaning?

Kenta: It's like a painting of Picasso’s or Salvador Dalí’s. It’s up to your imagination.
However, my answer is this: the world is becoming a concrete jungle. The environment is being messed up by humans, so the black panther brought nature to the city of Shibuya, Japan. Also, our music is very organic and based on real experiences and roots music. It indicates that as well.

What are your plans for the future?

Kenta: We will start recording our next album in April in Mexico and release it later this year and tour. We will do the same next year as well. I will also record and release my second solo album this year. With FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT, now we have a major label, and we will work with them , so we will talk about our plans after 2014.

The last question is specifically regarding your solo career: you released your first solo album last summer. Can you tell us about the differences between your solo work and the music of FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT?

Kenta: The difference is that I write all the music and lyrics and play all the instruments--except live drums, which I actually do for some songs--and programming as well for my solo album, which means I have the ultimate freedom to express my spirit, emotions and experiences through my art, mainly music. My second album will be very artistic, even more than my first album. My goal is to create something very unique which no one has ever done, and it would give the world peace, love, positive energy, passion, imagination, movement, happiness, and spiritual inspiration. I told myself that I would record at least one album a year and release music until I die. This is my pleasure of being alive, and I think this is the reason I am here on the earth at this moment in this generation.

However, there is art that only FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT can create, so they are both very fun and important for me.
Thank you very much for this interview. We will keep creating our art and sending positive energy to the world!

JaME would like to thank Kenta and FOUR MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT for this interview.
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