Interview with Fujiya & Miyagi
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Transparent Things by Fujiya & Miyagi, and to celebrate this occasion, the band released the album for the first time on vinyl (transparent, of course) on 17th November.
We here at Slip Inside This Sound know the record inside-out, and wanting to know more about the album in detail, we contacted vocalist/guitarist, David Best.
It was an immense honour for us to interview him and to discuss the creation of the album, its influences and the memories at the time in order to have a definitive, first-hand account about "Transparent Things” from Fujiya & Miyagi.
What are your thoughts looking back on "Transparent Things" today? What memories do you have from the very first ideas until the release of the album? What memories do you have supporting the album (tour/promoting the album)?
I'm still really fond of the record and think it holds up pretty well. The only pressure we felt making it was self imposed and only due to us wanting to create a record we were proud of. It’s quite a simple record in many respects and that is probably one of its strengths.
Both myself and Steve were into Can and Kraftwerk as well as Talking Heads and ESG. We were also listening to more electronic current stuff like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Plaid. The Beta Band and Lali Puna were influences early on too. I was more into german music from the seventies and Steve was more into electronic stuff but the crossover was pretty wide between our tastes.
Now we are influenced by the ideas we have or each other but at the beginning we weren't shy about being influenced by our favourite groups. It was more a general feel we went for rather than taking specific ideas from specific songs. I think thats a rubbish thing to do. There were a few exceptions though.
I remember Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song" was a big influence on "Ankle Injuries" vocally, but I doubt anyone would have noticed. That’s one of the pluses of not being able to sing properly I suppose. "In One Ear & Out the Other” was obviously indebted to Talking Heads and “Collarbone" definitely has a touch of ESG about it.
Rhythmically Neu! were important to the record too, but its a very simplified and electronic version of the motorik beat, not a replica. Often acts who say they are influenced by Neu! or Can or La Dusseldorf now seem to do it to be cool rather than the fact that they love it. Maybe their Spotify algorithms told them to do it. I hope that the record became more than the sum of its influences as a lot of us went into it too. It’s good to give people credit who helped inform our sound though. Sly & the Family Stone were a massive influence which never gets pointed out much, especially their record “Fresh".
How did the writing process go for "Transparent Things"? How was it different from "Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style”? Did you go into the studio with a concrete idea about the sound of the album? Did everyone bring their own contribution to the sound of the album?
Our first album, "Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style”, was less song-orientated and pretty laid-back. In many ways it was a bit of a false start. We were finding our feet as to what we wanted to sound like and how we could go about doing it.
Musically, "Transparent Things" was pretty much written at Steve's then flat on Vernon Terrace in Brighton and maybe his subsequent flat too. I really remember him making up the piano bit on "Ankle Injuries" there and thinking we were onto something good. We recorded vocals and bass and some other stuff at Church Road Studios in Hove too, which we still use.
It was quite a natural progression in terms of how the songs were formed. We had the luxury of no expectation or time pressure. As a result its quite an innocent and pure sounding record. We didn't think a huge amount of people would be interested in what we were doing so it was solely for the love of making music.
Steve was programming all the drums at that point and there are some really good rhythms on there, especially “Photocopier" which is probably my favourite song on the record. He loves synths too so that was his domain. I often wrote songs by making up bass lines rather than chords. The words would often come at the same time. Collarbone would be a good example of that. Then we'd flesh them out and turn them into records.
According to certain sources, you went into the recording studio as a four-piece after touring “Electro Karaoke in the Negative Style” before reverting back to a two-piece and later on, adding bassist Matt “Ampersand” Hainsby. Did you feel that he was the missing piece of the puzzle? Did this have an impact on the recording sessions?
With the addition of Matthew Collins and Matthew Avery to the group we became more confident live and much more dance-orientated. I think it was the combination of becoming better at writing and producing songs and the jump we made as a group live which led to what would become "Transparent Things".
We generally started writing with the two of us and it was more about sounds, melodies and words than replicating existing records. We had a few signature styles I suppose, one being the whispering and the vocal interplay initially between myself, Matthew and Steve.
I remember it taking a long time from having the ideas to the finished record. We also split from the other two after a while and were then joined by another Matthew (Hainsby). It seemed we only worked with people called Matthew. We became more streamlined and I think that benefitted the songs.
We are a minimal group and whenever we have created songs that have too many layers on I personally think we aren't as effective.
Myself and Steve wrote the majority of it but there are key contributions from the other Matthews too. The 'Fujiya Miyagi' chant at the beginning isn't me but Matthew Collins for example. Matt Avery wrote the bridge in "Sucker Punch" and Matthew Hainsby contributed too to the title track, "Transparent Things" and “cassettesingle" which was perhaps the only song that came from nothing whilst jamming, which is one of my least favourite activities. Seldom anything good comes from jamming for us. Matt Hainsby didn't even play bass when we asked him to join as a bass player. We asked him as we got on well and he liked Wire.
How did you write the lyrics for the songs? Did you already have a notepad of lyrics or did the music come first?
I had loads of notebooks with various fragments in them. Some songs would come from a title or general idea, such as “Collarbone", then they almost wrote themselves.
A lot of the songs were nostalgic and concerned with adolescence. “Collarbone" was like that, as was "Ankle Injuries”, which was about a loss of innocence by inadvertently finding pages of dirty mags in the bushes on the way to school. At least the internet has put a stop to that nowadays.
I read that Bob Dylan wrote “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” by using all the lines he had left over and putting them together. I think he said something like he didn't have time to write all of the songs so he'd put all the ideas into one. I quite liked that idea and was influenced by it a little on “Photocopier". I suppose that’s where the non-sequiturs really kicked in.
I sort of have two ways of working lyric-wise. One is when I start songs myself and develop them with music already in mind and the other is when Steve has written some music and I fit the words on top. I like doing both but the second is often harder. Now I've added a third way which is to plug in a microphone and try and make stuff up on the spot which is influenced by how I heard Iggy Pop works. I'm quite into that at the moment.
For example, “Collarbone”, there are similarities with “Dem Bones”/“Dry Bones" for part of the song? How did that come about being put into the song?
I really liked "The Prisoner" TV show and in the last episode Patrick McGoohan sung it. I then watched "Singing Detective" and it was used in that too. The record label that initially released it tried to get us to not put it in as they just didn't get it.
What influences did you have at the time for writing lyrics? In the title track, “Transparent Things”, it reminds me of experiences in Brighton, such as European language schools, designated bicycle lanes and same coloured rucksacks. Did Brighton play much of a role in the album?
At the time I didn't think it did but in retrospect it obviously played a role. I was probably picking holes in what I saw rather than celebrating it. It’s all a bit petty but things like cyclists riding on the pavement drove me absolutely nuts and still does. Go on the road or walk, Jesus.
You could probably reduce the themes of the record into three: nostalgia, environment, and relationships.
With the rerelease on vinyl, there will also be an unreleased song, “Different Blades From the Same Pair of Scissors”. How would you describe the song? Along with "Reeboks in Heaven”, are there any other songs or outtakes in the Fujiya & Miyagi vault from the sessions? Are there any ideas/outtakes from the writing/recording sessions which you used for later albums?
"Different Blades From the Same Pair of Scissors" is a 40 minute or so piece of music originally commissioned as a running track. It has 6 ideas all linked together. i think it has its charms.
"Reeboks in Heaven” was on the U.S. version of the album so we've put it on the reissue too. If an idea isn't working we tend to drop it pretty quickly so there aren't any completed other songs.
I'm sure there are fragments. There would be different versions of the songs though. “Collarbone" was quite glitchy and a lot slower initially. "Ankle Injuries" had a long gestation period and there is probably a few nice variations knocking about. We might have a look and stick them up on Soundcloud maybe.
I can't remember any cross fade of songs between "Transparent Things" and the following album “Lightbulbs". It’s often nice to start a fresh when you are making a new record.
What are your opinions about the promo videos for “Ankle Injuries” and “Collarbone” which were released? Did you have much input into the creation/approval of the videos? Would you have chosen other singles to be released?
I loved both videos. "Ankle Injuries" looked amazing. It was done by Wade Shotter. The animation was done in New Zealand. He also did videos for “Knickerbocker" and "Sore Thumb” from the album, “Lightbulbs”, for us. John Davison did the video for “Collarbone".
I feel if you trust in the person you need to let them get on with it. Often when it’s footage of you it’s understandable to feel self-conscious and there have been occasions when we've asked directors to change things but not on these ones. “In One Ear & Out the Other” was released before the others but we didn't have a video for it. I'm happy with those three being released.
If you had the possibility, would you ever record an EP/album with ‘krautrock’ style instrumental songs such as you did with “Cassettesingle” and “Conductor 71”?
We tried to move away from krautrock style tracks as we didn't want to get pigeon-holed as derivative. Looking back it’s probably a bit of a shame as we were quite good at them.
I've been working on some more guitar-based songs which I might release separately from the group and they have a much more motorik feel about them. Along with electronic disco it’s probably my favourite genre of music.
Maybe we will do something like an EP or instrumental record as Fujiya & Miyagi at some point.
With hindsight, were there any things that you would have done differently? What parts of the album are you most proud of?
It is what it is and I'm happy with that. I've realised that perfection in music doesn't exist and if it did it would be the dullest thing to listen to. I suppose I'm proud of all of it. It has a nice feel to it, something which is hard to replicate or even really articulate properly. You can never be new again. That record benefitted from being most peoples introduction to us. Our aesthetic is quite specific so the point of entry will have the strongest impact. The thing I'm most proud about the group is that we are still going where others would have given up.
What did you think of the reviews/reception of the album when it came out in 2006?
We were really surprised and pleased. It got a staggered release in the States so the reviews came in over a long period, which helped the record as reviewers were already familiar with it before reviewing it. We didn't suffer from the 'type as you listen' school of Pitchfork journalism then. That would come later. I find any review hard to read. Obviously it’s nice when you get good ones but even then i have to read through my fingers like I'm watching a film that makes you squirm.
Do you think that the music industry has changed a lot since releasing the album?
Yes, it has but the important thing is to adapt. There are as many positives as there are minuses. Having less of a barrier between you and people who like the group is great. The immediacy of music is great. When you see 90's rockstars crying about not selling CDs it’s pretty pathetic. We have our own label now so we benefit from the streaming side of things. We still play live quite a bit and we enjoy that interaction. If you can I think it’s important to do it yourself. If we'd have been on labels with more clout we may have become more well known but I'm ok with how things have panned out.
With the release of “Transparent Things” on vinyl and the upcoming tour, would the album be played in its entirety? Or would it be a mix of songs from your catalogue? Could fans expect re-worked versions of the songs such as “In One Ear & Out the Other” at Paris in 2009?
We won't play it from start to finish as I think that’s cheesy. This whole Transparent Things reissue came about because it’s never been on vinyl and we wanted to correct that. We are more about the future than the past. Having said that and blatantly contradicting myself, we will play most of the songs mixed in with our normal set. “In One Ear & Out the Other” often gets stretched out but other than that I think the versions will be pretty faithful. We haven't practiced them all so i don't know for certain at this stage. We'll definitely be playing “Photocopier" though.
Fujiya & Miyagi will be supporting the album with dates in France (Paris at Point Ephémère on 23rd November), Ireland, England and China before the end of the year.