Interview & translation by Alan Cummings
from Ptolemaic Terrascope #31, January 2002
One of the most gratifying and exciting musical events of the last fifteen years
has been the growing awareness in the West of Japan's deep seams of
underground psychedelic groups. We now have a fuller grasp of the roots and
history of this music in Japan, going back to the Group Sounds boom of the late
sixties. But at the tail end of the eighties, it seemed as though groups like High
Rise, Ghost, Fushitsusha, and White Heaven had sprung fully-formed from
some unknown dimension, hyper-charged with Marshall stacks and fuzz
pedals, mainlining a non-ironic devotion to the giants of sixties psychedelic
rock. For those of us investigating the music at the time, each new delivery from
Japan seemed to bring a limitless supply of impeccable records.
Amongst these groups, White Heaven, with their magical blend of West Coast
stoned cool and iced-out NY punk ire, were the most immediately accessible.
You Ishihara's deep, naive vocals formed a perfect counterpoint to some
incendiary guitar slinging courtesy of a guitarist called Michio Kurihara.
Kurihara's presence seemed to kick any track into the stratosphere, with a sure
grasp of tension and song-dynamics that recalled the great Cipollina at his
best. Silkily smooth lines or rough-edged fuzz attack, all seemed to come
equally easily to Kurihara. It was obvious that here was a very special guitarist
indeed. Discographical exploration revealed that Kurihara's career went beyond
White Heaven, radiating out in many directions and encompassing stints with
underground legends like YBO2, Ghost, Marble Sheep, and many others. More
recently, on US and European tours with Damon & Naomi, Kurihara has dazzled
audiences with his textural control and shading.
This, Kurihara's first major interview in English, was conducted by email
between June and September 2001. His responses displayed a rare depth of
thought and courtesy, for which the Terrascope offers its heartfelt thanks.
PT: Tell us about your childhood. What were your early musical memories, early heroes?
MK: I was born on November 23, 1961 on the western edge of Tokyo, in a place called Nishi
Tama. It's a totally normal country town, with a few factories dotted here and there. Nearby is
an American airbase at Yokota. During the Vietnam War there were always lots of military
planes taking off and landing. I remember really clearly the awful racket they'd make. I first got
interested in music in the third year at elementary school, when I was nine. I'd listen to the
classical records we had at home. My favourites at the time were the "symphonic poems"
composed by people like Holst, Smetana, Borodin. Just basic pieces that are simple for
beginners to understand. As a child I remember being impressed by the way the music was
able to express so many emotions and sights, and summon up so many mental images. As
well as these pieces, I used to like listening to baroque music, especially chamber music (string
quartets). By the way, even now I still like Pachelbel's Canon and Aria on a G-String. Before I
went to junior high I almost no interest in rock or pop or maybe it would be closer to say that I
didn't understand them.
The first time I got into rock music was when I was thirteen, my second year at junior high. My
elder brother, who was two years older than me, used to listen to The Beatles all the time. Out
of all their music, the song that I picked up on and that got me interested in the electric guitar
was "While my guitar gently weeps" from The White Album. I remember thinking that the lead
guitar on that track was amazing, and wondering how I could learn to play guitar like that.
I think that track was the reason why I first started wanting to play the guitar. So the first
guitarist I liked was Eric Clapton. Other guitarists I liked during my mid-teens were Rory
Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, Robby Krieger (The Doors), and Haruo Mizuhashi (Jacks).
PT: Could you tell us a bit more about how you came to take up the guitar? What kind of music
were you listening to during your teenage years?
MK: I first started playing guitar in my third year of junior high. I would play this gut guitar of my
brother's that was lying around the house. I wasn't really playing it playing with it would
probably be more exact. Then in the autumn of that year I bought my first electric guitar. It was
a cheap, Japanese Telecaster copy. Around that third year of junior high and the first year of
high school, I was listening to stuff like The Beatles, Grand Funk Railroad, Rory Gallagher.
Then, in my second year at high school I started getting into Hendrix, The Doors, and The
Jacks, and they had an influence on me. Around this time I also remember going to a club in
Fussa, which was a larger town nearby, and seeing an early line-up of Fushitsusha with (Keiji)
Haino, (Jun) Hamano, and Shuhei (Takashima). That was a real shock to me. Their sound was
just such a deviation from the structured music that I had been listening to up until then. That
experience taught me that music allows for so many different forms of expression. It also got
me interested in freeform music. After this, one after another I started getting into the Velvet
Underground, Blue Cheer, MC5, Peter Ivers, Tim Buckley, etc, and through them I learned
about the unfathomable depths and mystery that rock possesses. I have little doubt that all
the music that I listened to between the ages of sixteen and nineteen is still exercising an
influence on me.
PT: What was your first experience of being in a group?
MK: The first group I was a member of was a covers group that I put together with some
classmates for a festival at our school. That was during my first year of high school. It was only
on the level of messing around though. The first real group I played in, playing gigs outside of
school, was a group I formed with some older students in my second year at high school. We
played a mixture of original material inspired by punk and 60s rock, and covers of songs by
The Jacks and others.
PT: When did you develop your guitar style? You have often been compared to John Cipollina
from Quicksilver when did you first hear his playing?
MK: My current guitar style is something which kind of developed naturally. So there's no point
I can say that this is when it began. The first time I heard Cipollina's guitar was on Quicksilver's
second album, Happy Trails, which I think I bought when I was twenty. The first couple of
times I heard it, it didn't make much of an impression on me, but then the more I listened to it
the more I began to see how amazing he was. Then I went out and bought Quicksilver's first
album, and that just totally knocked me out. Just the beauty and the sexuality of his guitar,
and his use of space and timing, they're all superlative. He's one guitarist who is truly worthy
of respect. I think that my current style is made up of elements from Cipollina and all the other
great guitarists of the past which I have naturally absorbed and digested. But either way,
I think that my playing is still developing. I want to keep on applying myself and studying so
that I can play better, get better sounds out of the guitar.
PT: Have any Japanese guitarists been inspirational for you?
MK: First and foremost, Jun Hamano from [late 70s acid punk splatter kings] Gaseneta. I only
know one song by them, but Hamano's guitar work in that song is so impressive tension,
power, speed of intelligent response. Actually, I haven't heard that many Japanese guitarists,
but maybe Shigeru Suzuki when he was in Happy End, Hideki Ishima from the Flower Travellin
Band, Susumu Hirasawa from P-Model (actually, his entire musical vision is wonderful). And
there are a lot of great guitarists on the scene at the moment - people like Sakamoto from
Yura Yura Teikoku, Narita from High Rise, Koji Shishido from Katsurei, Sei'ichi Yamamoto's
playing with Rashinban.
PT: You talked about seeing Fushitsusha and getting into more freeform music earlier.
What kind of stuff did you listen to? Do you still have an interest in that music?
MK: When I first started listening to free music after seeing Fushitsusha, the first record I
listened to was the No New York compilation. The Contortions had a great impact on me.
After that I spent periods listening to Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, James Blood Ulmer, those guys.
Aside from the guitarists, I was also into Eric Dolphy, Sun Ra, Art Ensemble of Chicago and
stuff like that. But for some reason I hardly heard any Japanese stuff, not even [Japan's
greatest freeform guitarist] Masayuki Takayanagi. But I got to see Bailey, Blood Ulmer and
Sun Ra when they played in Japan. The beautiful tensions in Derek Bailey's playing made a
deep impression. I remember really enjoying the Sun Ra gig too it was like a carnival or
something. At the time, in my twenties, I liked music that combined songs with improvisation,
stuff like Sun Ra and the Comme a la radio album that Brigitte Fontaine cut with the Art
Ensemble. One of the reasons why I was so enamoured of freeform music at that time was
that I heard a violent sense of tension in it, something that I couldn't find in more orthodox
music. But now I hardly listen to any freeform stuff at all. Just some Eric Dolphy now and
PT: Quite a few Japanese guitarists, for example Narita from High Rise, take their inspiration
from freeform music. What about you, or has rock always been your main love?
MK: I think that freeform music did have some kind of impact on my playing. But rock has
always been my foundation, even if it doesn't make up the entirety of my music. I have never
really examined or dissected my own playing, but your question made me think a bit about it.
The conclusion I came to was that my playing can perhaps best be described as something
that it built on rock foundations but which combines influences from free music and all the
other musics or sounds that have ever touched the strings of my heart. Amongst the other
music and sounds that have touched my heart are English trad folk and Asian ethnic music
(Mongolian music etc), traditional Japanese songs like nursery rhymes and school songs, and
the classical music I listened to as a child. Then there are sounds that I heard as a baby, the
sound of wind chimes or rain dripping from the eaves (though these sounds have doubtless
expanded and mutated in my memory). I believe that all of these sounds (their melody, tone,
emotional impact) have played on my heartstrings, and all of them have had an influence on
my guitar playing. I've found that those sounds that touch me deepest are ones that call up
images from my memory or subconscious, those that invoke a vague sense of nostalgic
sadness. My playing is based on those musics I mentioned above, and through the guitar I try
to express or incarnate my feelings in sound. And what I most want is that the sound of my
guitar touches even for a moment the heartstrings of even one person who hears it.
PT: What's been occupying your turntable recently?
MK: I still love Tim Buckley and Love, and I listen to them a lot, especially the early stuff.
Then there's Robert Wyatt and that whole so-called Canterbury thing. Early Steeleye Span,
Milton Nascimento's Clube de Esquina. Sometimes I break out the classics the first Blue
Cheer, the first Quicksilver, the second 13th Floor Elevators. These records are like a
fountainhead to me, and anytime I run into a musical wall I tend to go back to them as the
ultimate source of nourishment. On the recent European tour [with Damon & Naomi] I was
given a copy of a solo album by a Spanish guitarist called Ibon Errazkin. Don't know if you've
heard of him? It's all instrumental but it's totally great. Recently that's the only thing that I've
been listening to. Actually, I'm quite surprised myself to realise that my listening habits have
changed so little over the years.
PT: What's your main guitar at the moment?
MK: At the moment, the one I use most is a 1968 Gibson SG Standard. I bought it in 1991,
at a guitar shop in Kunitachi [a western suburb of Tokyo]. Just one look at it and one listen to it
had me hooked. Going right back to my second year of high school, I have mostly always
played SGs. This is a bit off the topic, but Cipollina plays the same Gibson SG Standard, but
his seems to be a very heavily modified early sixties model. I know, because last year I went to
have a look at his guitar in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
PT: Your earliest released recordings are with a group called ONNA, with the cartoonist Keizo
Miyanishi. Tell us a bit more about that group.
MK: I first got involved with ONNA in the spring of 1983. A friend of mine at the time was in a
band with a manga artist and illustrator called Mafuyu Hiroki. Hiroki had just recorded and
released the Onna single with Miyanishi. It seems that Miyanishi then wanted to start playing
gigs seriously, but Hiroki was too busy with other stuff so he left the group. So then Miyanishi
started looking for a guitarist to play these gigs with him, and he asked me through a friend.
I had a lot of time on my hands, so I went for an audition / rehearsal. Anyway, it seems that
there was no one else who was interested, so I got the job straight away. The line-up at the
time was Keizo Miyanishi (vocals and guitar), Ken Matsutani (drums), and a bassist whose
name I've forgotten. The sound was repetitive and heavy, but quite orthodox. This line-up
played maybe five or six gigs during the summer and autumn of that year. This was the first
time that I met Ken Matsutani [leader of Marble Sheep & The Rundown Sun's Children, and
proprieter of Captain Trip Records], and we're still friends today. But anyway, in the autumn
Matsutani and the bassist decided to quit, so from late autumn till spring of the next year.
Miyanishi and I gigged together as a duo. The CD that was released recently is a document
of one of the gigs we played as a duo. The sound of the group at that time was dark, like an
emotional vortex. I feel that it probably came closest to the world of Miyanishi's pictures.
Next, in the spring of 1984 we started looking for a new drummer, and Yoshiki Uenoyama,
who was still a teenage student, joined the group. We played several gigs together as a trio
until that August. Because of the drummer, the sound had become much more easy to listen
to, pop in a certain sense. But in the end, Miyanishi and I had an emotional falling out, and at
the end of August the group split up. So, I played with ONNA between the spring of 1983 and
the summer of 1984, about a year and two or three months.
PT: Tell us about your involvement with YBO2.
MK: There are some links between YBO2 and ONNA. Kitamura, the vocalist and bassist leader
of YBO2 started a magazine called Fool's Mate in 1979. The magazine covered European
rock music, especially progressive stuff. At the beginning of 1984 I went with Miyanishi to a
meeting with Kitamura. At the time, Kitamura had stepped back from editing the magazine and
he was trying to start his own record label. I can't remember all the details exactly, but I think
there was some plan to release a cassette book by ONNA on Kitamura's label. In the end
though the plan came to nothing. Anyway, Kitamura and I then knew each other because of
Then, in the summer of 1984 after ONNA had broken up, I got a call from a friend of mine who
also knew Kitamura. Kitamura was planning to start a rock band, and he wanted to know if I
would be interested in helping out. So that's how me and Uenoyama, the drummer from
ONNA, came to join YBO2. At the beginning there was a female bassist - a friend of
Kitamura's - and Kitamura himself played mellotron and keyboards. The bassist soon left,
which is why Kitamura ended up playing bass.
The sound at the beginning was very simple, especially compared to the complex rhythms that
YBO2 became known for using later. As well as our own original songs, we also played
Steeleye Span and Jefferson Airplane covers. The main thing was the volume though it had
to be massively loud! I believed that rock had to be loud, and it was about this time that I
started playing through Fender and Hiwatt amps simultaneously. Still today, I basically use two
amps, though it does depend on the group. The YBO2 performances were artless and rough,
but I think we had a power all our own. In the end, that trio of me, Kitamura and Uenoyama
played together until June 1985.
PT: Was anything recorded by this early line-up? I think the earliest YBO2 stuff released so far
was the Null, Kitamura, Yoshida trio.
MK: We didn't do any proper recording, and it seems that there aren't even any live recordings
still in existence. So there probably won't ever be any releases by this line-up.
PT: You've recently played again with YBO2. How did that come about?
MK: After Kitamura dissolved YBO2 in 1990, his main group was Differance, which is based
around Celtic music. I heard that when Difference were playing at some club in the autumn of
1999, Kitamura totally by chance bumped into Uenoyama. For some reason they got on like a
house on fire, and they came up with this idea of roping me in and playing just one gig as a
revival of the original YBO2 line-up. I got a call about it, and I agreed to do it, but only as long
as it was just the one gig. So that was how I wound up meeting up with Kitamura for the first
time in fifteen years. In February 2000 we played a gig at a club in Shibuya [a district of
Tokyo] under the name "The Original YBO2", playing some of the same pieces from back
then. At the end of the gig, the most famous line-up of the group Kazuyuki "NULL" Kishino
(guitar) and Tatsuya Yoshida (drums) joined us on stage, and we played one song as a
quintet. That was the first time that I played together with either Kishino or Yoshida, but I felt
that they were both great musicians.
After that, Kitamura reformed YBO2 with Kishino and Yoshida. Masami Akita from Merzbow
joined them for a quartet gig they played in May 2000. I heard that there some kind of friction
between them, and the group soon split up. So Kitamura then got back in touch with me and
asked me to join the group again. I agreed, under the condition that it was just until that
December. So for the latter half of that year, the YBO2 line-up was Kitamura (vocals and
bass), me on guitar, Kishizawa (drums), and Morikawa (vocals, keyboard, guitar). Kishizawa
was the drummer from Differance, and Morikawa is the singer with a band called ZOA and she
had played with a late eighties line-up of YBO2. From that summer until the end of last year,
we played about ten gigs. Kishizawa and Morikawa are both very accomplished musicians.
Kitamura tends to be up and down technically, but when it comes down the gig he can really
turn on the tension sometimes. When everything comes together, the group's performances
are really satisfying. Our Osaka gig, with Masonna guesting, was interesting too. I think that
YBO2 have found new members and that they're still playing.
PT:Tell us about White Heaven. How did you first meet Ishihara?
MK: I first met Ishihara in December 1985 at a small studio in Kichijoji [another Western suburb
of Tokyo, with lots of music venues and record shops], where his band was staging a private
gig. I seem to recall that his band at the time was called White Poppies. Ken Matsutani was
playing guitar in this group, and since we'd become friends in ONNA, he asked me along to
the gig. I was late arriving so I only caught the tail end of the gig, but I still felt that they were
a great band with a unique atmosphere. The band changed their name to White Heaven soon
after that and started playing gigs. I saw them play several times, and it seemed that every
time I went to see them their sound was just getting better and better. Compared to after I
joined, their early sound was a lot simpler, with a strong New York punk or rock 'n roll feel.
Matsutani and the other guitarist, Sakamoto, had this symmetrical thing going on between the
two of them, but they both played great guitar. Ishihara was singing in English and he
produced this unique sense of coolness. I think I only talked with Ishihara once during this
period. I think we talked about music, and I remember thinking that his taste in music was very
similar to my own. Around the autumn of 1986 Matsutani wanted to concentrate on his own
band, Marble Sheep, so he left White Heaven. I was asked to take his place. At first it wasn't
an invitation to join the group more like, "come on down and jam with us, and see how it
goes". But that first session together was just so exciting. I remember thinking that it'd be
great to join the group. Anyway, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, somehow I found myself a
member of the group. I played with White Heaven from late 1986 until 1991, then again from
1994 until 1998.
PT: You also play on Ishihara's wonderful solo album "Passivite".
MK: The line-up on that record is Ishihara (vocals and guitar), Chiyo Kamekawa (bass member
of Yura Yura Teikoku), Koji Shimura (drums ex-White Heaven drummer, currently sticksman
with Mainliner and High Rise), and me on guitar. It's the same line-up as that Ishihara with
Friends group track on the et cetera video. Almost the same line-up as Stars too, only the
drummer is different. You could probably look upon there being a direct link between
Ishihara's solo record and Stars. I think that on "Passivite" Ishihara really captured well a
certain kind of sound that he'd always wanted but had been unable to find with White
Heaven. I think that Kamekawa's [from Yura Yura Teikoku] contribution brought great musical
dividends as well. He's a great bassist. As for my contribution, I tried to play in a totally
different way to my guitar parts in White Heaven.
PT: You seem to have a lot of side-projects and other groups you play with, the most famous
of which is probably Ghost. How did you first meet Batoh from Ghost?
MK: I think it was sometime around 1987. I was at some gig, and I saw a band that Batoh was
a member of at the time, called Pierrot Manzoni. That was probably the first time I saw him.
The line-up was Batoh on vocals and guitar, Taku Sugimoto on guitar, and some drummer
whose name I've forgotten. I remember that they played in an avant-garde improv style. Then,
one time when I was round at Ken Matsutani's place, I bumped into Batoh again. That was
the first time that we talked.
PT: Did you play together with Batoh in Marble Sheep?
MK: I have never been an official member of Marble Sheep. Unofficially, last year at a small
club in Tokyo I played a gig with them at a party celebrating Batoh's wedding. That was the
first ever Batoh/Kurihara/Marble Sheep show. But it was just a one-off, for the party, so it
probably won't even be listed in the Marble Sheep records.
PT: When did you first play with Ghost?
MK: I first started playing live with them in 1994. But I didn't play at every gig, so I really only
became an official member during the August 1997 tour of the USA that Drag City arranged.
PT: You've played on a couple of records with ha-za-ma. Who leads that band?
MK: Roku is the leader. Then I suppose that Kaoru Onuma (drums) is like the sub-leader. The
group started in 1988 when I first jammed with a group that Roku and Onuma had back then,
Dragon. Almost simultaneously the other members of Dragon quit, so we changed the name
to ha-za-ma and started playing some gigs, just jamming and improvising. The original idea of
the group was to be a session unit with an open policy so that anyone could leave or join.
Recently the line-up has become fixed, and it's a shame that we lost the energy that we used
to have. But at the same time, sometimes there are moments where we naturally drift into an
amazing ensemble thing that can take your breath away. It's a strange group. Roku used to
be an artist type, making stained glass and stuff like that. Now he runs a club for Deadheads
and hippies called Yukotopia in Umejima in Adachi-ku [in northern Tokyo. The club was the
venue for the Mike Wilhelm gigs documented on the "Live in Tokyo" disk]. He also owns some
land in Hawaii, so he's only in Japan for six months of the year usually. It looks like he's
going to turn into a hippie himself.
PT: Then there's the "super-group" Cosmic Invention. Batoh also plays on that was he the
MK: Batoh came up with the concept for the group, so I suppose that he's the leader.
He wanted to play a purer form of rock music than he does in Ghost. The group is centred
around people from Ghost, but he also recruited some friends from other groups like Kakashi
and Subvert Blaze. The original idea was for the group to be a recording unit, and there was
never any intention of playing gigs. The line-up was slightly different for every track.
PT: You also showed up on the most recent Overhang Party album. Are you an official
member or just a sideman?
MK: I just help out occasionally and have never been an official member. I've played with them
on and off since around about the start of 1999. I think that year I played the most times.
Last year Fukuoka from Overhang invited the Boston band Major Stars over to Japan. I played
twice with Overhang on those dates. And I'm due to play with them again this September.
I got involved with them because their drummer, Yamazaki, used to be the drummer in Ghost
too. So we knew each other and he invited me to play. I think that they wanted me involved
because they wanted to add something to their usual band sound. Actually, to tell the truth,
before I started playing together with them I didn't know much about them. I'd probably only
heard their tracks on the PSF Tokyo Flashback compilations. But once I started playing
together with them, I understood that they possess a unique dynamism within their decency.
They're a very good band.
PT: One of the bands you sometimes play with, Yura Yura Teikoku, have become very popular
in Japan recently, selling out massive outdoors shows. Tell us a bit about them.
MK: It's unbelievable how big they are now, especially compared to before. I think I jammed
once with their leader Shintaro Sakamoto (vocals and guitar) and the guys from ha-za-ma
around 1988, before he'd started Yura Yura. I have this clear memory of it being an extremely
exciting session. Then in the mid-nineties White Heaven started playing a lot of gigs with them
on the same bill. Between '96 and now I guested at a few of their gigs. Playing with them
always gives me a real rush, and we have a great time. The reason for that is that the three of
them have totally equal chops, sense, and power they're in exquisite balance. And then
there's Sakamoto's songs. I think that he's my favourite out of all the current Japanese
singers. Some people have said that compared to the emotionally thrilling power of their early
performances they've got too pop now. Personally, I really love the stripped back quality to
their sound. It's a real pity that they're aren't more people outside Japan who are into them.
PT: Do you see any difference between your role in say Ghost or ha-za-ma, and your role in
White Heaven or Stars? Are you more like a sideman in some of your groups?
MK: I have never devoted a lot of thought to my role in each group. My basic approach to
producing sounds is the same in every group. Though I suppose you could say that in White
Heaven and Stars my sound is more to do with creating the framework of the songs, whereas
in Ghost or ha-za-ma it's more often, comparatively, to do with creating a background or
adding tonal colour. But of course this varies quite a bit depending on the stage of the
group's development and the particular song. In terms of synaesthesia, you could say that
White Heaven and Stars have a monochrome sound palette (albeit like really intense daylight),
and Ghost and ha-za-ma have a more colourful sound.
Also, each group has its own unique direction and tendencies. For example, in White Heaven
a sense of tension has more important to us than creating a perfect ensemble, and we tended
to pursue certain sounds very stoically. In Ghost though, Batoh has his own unique sound
aesthetic, and so we tend to concentrate more on creating a polished ensemble. Ha-za-ma
was the freest out of these three, more like a laboratory for sound. So I have to adjust my
playing to make it suitable for the direction of each group. But in reality, when playing in a
group we are all touched by the other member's sounds and via a natural process like
chemical reaction, our own sounds alter and change. This, for me, is the most enjoyable part
of playing with so many different groups.
PT: Now to your most recent group, Stars. What's the story?
MK: The first gig we played under the name Stars was in November 1999 in Kichijoji.
We've played a few gigs since then, and in January this year we released a 3 track CD called
"Today". And that's all.
PT: Surely you can tell us a bit more than that. Let's go back a bit. Could you talk about the
break-up of White Heaven?
MK: Around the middle of the nineties there appeared a growing gap between the sound that
Ishihara was searching for, and the sound that the group members wanted to play. This was
nothing to do with them not being good enough Shimura and Nakamura are both very
accomplished musicians. I think that it was more to do with musical differences appearing
between us. And when I think back now, I'm pretty sure that Ishihara was always imagining
some ideal sound, one or two steps ahead of where we were at the time. So, from around
1996, Ishihara started up his own solo project to run simultaneously with the band. I've talked
a little about this previously, but I believe that this was to be entirely a solo unit, and
something totally separate from the music we were making with White Heaven. But as you
know, both groups contained Ishihara, Shimura and me. It's hard to deny that it started to
become slightly difficult to distinguish between the two or to achieve a proper balance.
However, that didn't mean that White Heaven was becoming less stimulating musically, indeed
I think that we'd entered a period of maturity and the music we were creating was very
satisfying. Some months later, after our September 1997 show in Osaka, all the members of
White Heaven together decided that we should split up. I remember that it felt weird on the
one hand there was something nihilistic about it, but at the same time I felt oddly satisfied,
that we had done everything we possibly could as a group. Two months later, after a gig in
November, Ishihara also called a halt to see his solo unit.
PT: How did Ishihara come to form Stars then, with virtually the same line-up? How do you
think the two groups differ?
MK: One day about a year and a half after the break-up of White Heaven, I got a message
from Ishihara. He was talking about forming a new band, and he wanted me to join. This new
band would have the same basic members as his solo unit, but with a different drummer and
a new sound. And Ishihara said that this time he wanted to work as a proper band, not as him
plus some backing musicians as had been the case with his solo unit. So, we started playing
as Stars from our first gig in November 1999. As an aside, Ishihara said that he had decided
to name the band Stars because they're the one thing that existed above White Heaven.
Especially towards the end, White Heaven was largely controlled by Ishihara. But in Stars,
each member is able to contribute much more equally to the overall sound. Or as Ishihara
would explain it, each member's consciousness of the sound has to be at a far higher level.
As well, we've gone back to the start. All the sounds that we'd dragged around with us for
years in White Heaven have all been totally reset, and we've tried to reconstruct a new band
sound. Anyway, that's what we tried to do on that Stars CD that was released earlier this year.
I wonder how it sounded to everyone? Or maybe you can't tell the differences from before?
I suppose that we have invited a lot of confusion, since ex-White Heaven members like
Nakamura engineered and played guest keyboards on the CD, and our old drummer Ishihara
(the younger brother) has played as a guest with us as well. But they're both still close friends,
as well as being great players (Nakamura especially has a marvellous sense on many different
instruments) and that's why we asked them to play. Personally and honestly, I don't care
about the self-promotion. As long as we're a band and we create some positive and great
music, the rest doesn't matter.
PT: I think that the new EP is great. Are there any plans for a full album any time soon?
MK: We had originally planned to start recording an album this autumn, but it looks like the
start will be delayed for various reasons. One problem is that we still don't have a regular
drummer. But we still hope to start recording some material before the end of this year, at the
latest. And we hope to have a release ready as soon as possible.
PT: This May you toured Europe with Damon & Naomi. How was that? Any stories of rock 'n roll
MK: For me personally, that was the most satisfying tour I've been on in years. We toured the
States together last autumn, but this time our communication through sound was so much
deeper. Their live sound is extremely delicate and it already feels very complete in itself. I was
worried about adding anything to it that would damage their original sound, so the first few
times we played together were very much trial and error. It took a bit of time before I could
accommodate my sound to theirs. But during the tour I was gradually able to grasp their
unique sense of timing and breathing. Particularly from around the middle of the tour on there
were a number of amazing moments when we got this real synergy between the vibrations of
the audience and the vibrations that we on stage were putting out. I guess that's what people
mean when they talk about "magic". These kinds of experiences are irreplaceable. On the
best things about long tours like that one (well, it was only a month) is that you can feel the
quality of the band's sound getting better and better with each performance. I liked Damon &
Naomi's music before, but on this tour I was reminded of just what is great about them. I don't
think that they're technical players, but they've transcended that and they have a deep sense
of song. That's what this tour showed me again.
We were fortunate in the choice of support acts on the tour they were local groups, but all were
individual and amazing. In London we had Clientele, in Manchester Rheinalt H Rowlands,
Richard Youngs in Glasgow, Paloma in Paris, all were striking. This was the first tour I'd been
on where we had to haul our amps and other equipment around, jumping on and off trains all
over Europe. It was a bit tiring at times, but still a good experience. I was especially struck by
the scenery we saw from the train window: pastoral in the UK, and the desolate mountains in
PT: We've talked about the many groups you've played with, but they've always been other
people's projects. Have you never wanted to lead your own group? And what about
songwriting? I think the only writing credit I've seen for you so far has been on the recent
MK: The only time I've been officially credited as a songwriter has been that one track on the
Stars EP, and "Out There" on White Heaven's Next to Nothing album. I only write songs when
a suitable image comes to me. But I am far from prolific, and on top of that so many of my
songs end up uncompleted or never getting released. Back when I was in White Heaven,
there were some songs that I composed together with Ishihara or that I helped him finish.
One example would be "Fallin' stars end" from the first album, Out. I've also written some new
songs for Stars, and we're working on them in rehearsal. Hopefully they'll get released one
day. As for leading a group, yeah, it's true, I haven't yet led my own group. I would like to
have the chance to do it some time in the future. But at the same time, I'm not the sort to
push ahead with an idea. Looking back, I've always gone with the flow, responded to
whatever other people are doing. Probably because I have certain negative elements to my
character. In some ways, I think that my current position is possibly the best one for me. But
whatever way a group comes into being, creating a tight ensemble with a good singer and
good musicians is important to me, and it's a real source of happiness too. I've been lucky
enough in my life to meet many wonderful musicians and play in a lot of different groups.
And it's beyond doubt that these experiences have shaped and improved my own playing.
PT: Do you think that there is anything unique about the way Japanese play rock music? If so,
what is it?
MK: As I mentioned earlier, I don't have very much knowledge about Japanese rock music.
And I'm just a musician and not an academic, so it is very hard for me to reply to this question.
All I can say is that not just Japan but every country in the world has its own traditions, culture,
customs, climate, food, etc, and I believe that all of these things are reflected in that country's
music. I am aware that some Japanese groups create a certain emotional world or sense of
humidity that might be considered uniquely Japanese. And I feel that the unique rhythms and
melody of the Japanese language must also provide a defining characteristic of Japanese
rock. But nevertheless I feel that it is not cultural factors, but rather the character of each
individual group and musician that creates the greatest differences. But then again, as I said
before I have little knowledge, and thus little confidence in my conclusions.
PT: Finally, and you can feel free to tell to get lost if you want, how do you support yourself?
Can you make a living just from music?
MK: At the present time I am unable to support myself on music alone. I do earn some money
from playing music, but it's not a regular income by any means. So, I hope out at a small
company that my family owns. They've been very understanding and supportive about things
like going on long tours, and that's what has enabled me to keep on playing music. I know
quite a few people who've been forced to give up music because of their personal situations
In that sense, I do owe a lot to my family and the people around me, because it's thanks to
them that I've been so free (comparatively) to play my music.