Interview with mouse on the keys

interview - 21.07.2010 01:01

JaME got a chance to talk with mouse on the keys about their philosophy, releases and European tour.

mouse on the keys, an interesting jazz-influenced post-rock band, went to Europe for the first time this spring. They visited Germany, Poland and France. After this tour JaME interviewed mouse on the keys. They told us about their band formation, song inspirations, future plans and much more. Let's get to know this band better, since they are returning with their next European tour to visit even more countries.

Could you please introduce the group and the members?

Akira Kawasaki: mouse on the keys was formed by the drummer/composer Akira Kawasaki and the piano/keyboard player Atsushi Kiyota in 2006. Another piano/keyboard player Daisuke Niitome joined the band as a support member just before the recording session of sezession in 2007 and became a permanent member at the time when the band did a release tour of sezession in 2008.

How did you meet and how did you come up with the idea of this band ?

Akira Kawasaki: Atsushi and I were former members of nine days wonder and I met him at the club. Although we weren't of the same age, Daisuke and I were from the same high school and knew each other through doing music. This band was started to embody my ideas. The idea is to mix aggressive drumming style which I have built through doing hardcore band for many years and serious piano sound. Also, I had an idea to make a band which has an feeling of video installation art.

How did you come up with name mouse on the keys?

Akira Kawasaki: It comes from the song called Kitten on the keys by a novelty rag song writer, Zez Confrey.

Akira Kawasaki, before Daisuke Niitome joined the band, you used to play the both piano and drums at once. Is it true? How did you manage to do that?

Akira Kawasaki: Yes, it is true. I knew that there were only a few musicians who play both the piano and drum together at the same time but they still didn't become popular. So I was thinking that I would establish how to play both together.

And then I started things like this: Write piano phrases for the left hand and write drum scores for the right hand and feet as one song. Divide one verse into 16, confirm how the left hand's fingers, right hand stick and right foot's kick drum should link correctly. Then I actually start practicing it from a really slow tempo to the right number of beats per minute again and again and again… As you know from this, I needed much more time and patience than usual drum playing. So I stopped playing like that. But someday I will start trying it again.

Could you tell us about your composition process? And your musical inspirations?

Akira Kawasaki: I do make almost complete demos by electric piano and PC and practice the song with the band based on the demo. Each member will arrange their own part to make themselves comfortable playing or sound better. Then we play it at the show again and again while changing arrangements and we grow it slowly but better.

I get inspiration of song writing many times from modern architecture and modern art. It sometimes comes from books about the historical story of the founding of modern society or ideas. I am very interested in getting involved in the contemporary period because I want to know who I am. You can say that our songs are the soundtracks of this world we are living in.

mouse on the keys has various musical inspirations but if we focus on Japanese music, I mostly got inspired by Akira Ifukube, composer of the original soundtrack of the movie “Godzilla” and Ryuichi Sakamoto. They are the great composers who created genre-less music which is based on contemporary classical music like Stravinsky or Debussy, mixed with east Asian traditional folk music, completed as a pop culture. If we consider Ifukube as a grandfather, Sakamoto as a father, we think we would be the child.

You seem to pay attention to visual aspects as you integrate video into your performances. What is the relation between your music and the chosen pictures?

Akira Kawasaki: We all are Japanese and it is a fact that we are based in Tokyo. That's the reality. Our purpose is to send what we feel and think while living in this place through the band. So, not only the music, but other elements like video projection, fashion or artwork are all connected to some kind of image which symbolize the contemporary period of Tokyo and Japan, as we think. I started thinking this way while we are preparing to produce an anxious object. Before that, even at the time when we recorded sezession, I was thinking everything about the band with a vague image.

How did you meet Denovali Records? How did you come to work together?

Daisuke Niitome: One day, they sent us a message via MySpace in 2008. We didn't reply them at first because we didn't know who they were. But we finally replied them after they sent us few more ardent messages in three months. It was the beginning of our relationship. Then we sent tons of emails to each other and decided to release our CD/EP in Europe. They have been doing great and now they are good friends of ours, through our Europe tour and other works we shared.

Denovali presented your concept with the idea of the German word "Raumkrankheit," which means "space sickness." Could you tell us a little more about this space sickness?

Akira Kawasaki: Like I told you above, I wasn't thinking as much in terms of concepts as much as now during the period when I wrote this song. So I decided this song title with a vague image which I got from its sound. The basic part of this song is written in 23/8 time. When people listen to this song for the first time, most of them get confused and say "How can I groove to this song?" Someone even told me "I get drunk when I listen this song!" And my image of this song was like spaceship drifts in the dark space. So I mixed those few images and named it "Raumkrankheit". The reason of its German name is not because of Denovali. It's my idea. I searched the word in many kinds of languages on wikipedia and the German one suited my image the most.

Could you tell us something about your relation with toe and the label Machupicchu Industrials?

Akira Kawasaki: They are good friends of ours. Machupicchu Industrials is the label managed solely by toe members. Right from the beginning, they intended to start the label only for releasing toe's records. But when they listened our songs, they told me that they liked them and wanted to release them. I felt honored about it and said okay. Both our CDs, mixed and mastered by Takaaki Mino who is the guitarist/engineer of toe. Also the drummer of toe, Takashi Kashikura, is doing drum technology for both records.

In the booklet you introduce the idea of "anxious object". Why did you chose such a concept? How does it connect with the songs on the album?

Akira Kawasaki: This album is a documentary work that focuses on contemporary Tokyo and a part of the feelings of its residents. Each song in this album has a particular title which is connected with this concept as a scene for a film.

An Anxious Object is about Tokyo. When I started thinking about this concept, I noticed that I only consider Tokyo vaguely as a sign and I don't really know about its actual situation or even how it all came about. When I see streets, towns and life here, I can see many sorts of buildings jumbled up close together, eating habits that depend on fast foods and penetration of malformed American pop culture… Those particular things make me feel like I don't understand what kind of existence I am.

Rationalization was the top priority when this city had developed rapidly in the post war period. And that made people's life efficient, standardized and homogenized. It destroyed an old class society and formed mass society which people can buy equally, but at the same time it also destroyed traditional culture. On the whole, other modernized cities in the world might have had same phenomenon as Tokyo, but the historical sense of estrangement is too deep between Japanese people of today and before WW2 or the before the Meiji restoration era. That's why I don't understand myself as a resident of Tokyo, I think.

At that time, I found the phrase “An Anxious Object” while I was reading a book about what art is. This phrase was said by an art critic Harold Rosenberg and he pointed out the fact that he could no longer judge which particular works were the great art pieces and which ones were just trash during the era of inundation of art in the 60's. For those art works, he used the phrase “An Anxious Object.”

I mixed the phrase and the Tokyo where we are living in. I talked about this a lot but it doesn't matter how you grasp or how you listen to it if you can enjoy this album.

The title Spectre de mouse is parallel with “Spectres de Marx” by Jaques Derrida. Could you tell us more about this specific relation?

Akira Kawasaki: This song title is inspired by the book but there is no relation with its contents. When I was thinking of title of this song, I tried to develop it from the words — We, the residents of Tokyo, no longer know who we are — of the album concept.

What about us who don't know ourselves? It might already be a strange creature, not as a human. Is it alien from the space? No, it's a ghost! I was lost in delusions like the above and I suddenly got an image of pale faced ghosts of Tokyo people hovering between the buildings jumbled up close together while I was listening this song.

At that time, I was reading Jaques Derrida's “Spectres de Marx” and I thought the image I got and the ghost of the book title seemed similar to me. Then I decided the song title with little change, from "Marx" to "Mouse."

So, Spectres de Mouse is "Ghosts which mouse on the keys are talking about" or it simply means "Tokyo people are Ghosts." By the way, the book was little difficult for me to understand and I quit reading halfway. But I liked the title so much.

Do you have any plans for new releases? Have you considered using any other instruments?

Daisuke Niitome: We hope to be able to release our new mini album at the end of 2010 or early 2011. Other instruments… maybe or maybe not. (smiles)

Why did you decide to have the European tour?

Daisuke Niitome: We decided to release our two CDs in Europe via Denovali Records first, then we thought we should do the European tour for promotion. But actually, we had talked about wanting to do it for years. So it was a great opportunity for us.

You had four lives in Poland: in Gdynia, Poznań, Kraków and Wrocław. Did you enjoy playing there?

Akira Kawasaki: Yes, we enjoyed ourselves very much. The audiences at every venue in Poland were great. All the venues and everything were just great for us too, really!

Is there any difference between the European and Japanese audience? Is there anything that surprised you?

Daisuke Niitome: Yes. The audiences in Europe and Japan are different. Japanese audiences are much quieter but I think they are listening and watching our live performance very carefully. The audiences in Europe look more exciting and shout loudly while we were playing. And we all definitely could enjoy playing because of them for the first European tour. That was just amazing.

Did you have any weird or funny incidents during the European tour? If there is something you will remember for sure, what would it be?

Daisuke Niitome: We ate kebab a lot.

Are you planning to go back to Europe? Are there any other places you would like to visit next time?

Daisuke Niitome: Yes, we will go back to Europe at the end of September again. There are so many different countries in Europe and each place looks fresh to me. So I just want to visit a lot of places, as many as we can, no matter if they are big or small.

Finally, please give a message to our readers.

All: We want you to come to our show and see us! We will put new songs and materials into our live set. Thanks for your support!

JaME would like to thank Anna Juraszek and Jakub Oratowski for providing photos from the concert in Kraków, Poland.
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