What would the 14 year old Steve (bongos charmingly hooked to a single tom, bangles providing additional percussion, a desire to escape?) make of the present day Steve’s ‘attitude’ to drumming ? Is it now just work ? What has changed and do you have any unfulfilled drumming ambitions ?

Well as you might have noticed on my recent releases, rhythm parts are featuring less and less. In a way I find it too easy to introduce rhythms to carry music along and tend to prefer composing musical arrangements that work in more subtle ways. That said, I do still enjoy playing but just not so much with new material. I guess it’s down to the type of music I’m enjoying making at present. I’ve played rhythmic parts for the ‘Exit North’ project but on all manner of objects and in that respect I did feel a bit like a 14 year old rummaging around for things to make noises on, but I blame Charlie (Storm), whose studio is like an audio playground. Drumming is never ‘just work’, you’ve got to go into it committed and mentally engaged.

Thomas Feiner dubbing vocals
Thomas, Gothenburg 2017

hi, not necessarily a question for the WordPress site. Re: The Tama Star classic in the burnt fade colour that you had on several tours with David. Is it still with you? You said you had two kits gifted from Tama (the one in samadhi studios USA) and the one you had in the UK. I really liked that kit (colour spec etc). Sorry if the Q is a bit too “drummy”. I do love your work – have Extinct suite on repeat. However I am a drummer at heart so given to the odd gear question if you would be so kind to indulge me. Thanks.

I’m not sure about the burnt fade kit, perhaps that was on loan from Tama. Depending upon where I’m working Tama would either provide a kit in that territory (USA/JAPAN etc) or I would take my own (UK/EUROPE). For the last 15 years I’ve owned two Tama Starclassic maple kits, one in a ‘smokey black’ finish that I’ve not used live, and the other is a custom natural finish with a strip of mother-of-pearl running through each shell. Sometimes playing in Japan I will use one of Yukihiro Takahashi’s kits as we use the same. I’ve been gifted a number of kits from Tama over the years.

My first purchase was a tinted transparent kit made by a company called ‘Wooding’ followed by a navy blue Tama kit with concert toms which served me up until we had some success in Japan after recording two albums with it. With our first tour in Japan Tama supplied the kit and it was at that point I became an endorsee for them and was gifted a kit (probably the turquoise kit). This was upgraded some years later with a Tama Artstar kit with double headed toms. It was in 2001 that I received the kits that I’m using now. I don’t necessarily stick with the same snare though. I was using a pearl snare for much of the group JAPAN’s career and I used Sonor snares from RAIN TREE CROW onwards. I also have a good selection of Tama chrome, brass and maple snares.

Were ‘The Stanhope Years’ a difficult period in the bands history made worse by the close proximity?

I would say that for the most part it was a good time for the band but we were getting rather more successful in the UK and this seemed to change certain dynamics in everyday life within the band. It’s true to say that we were a closely knit bunch for a span of some 6 years or more and things would inevitably implode.

(Stanhope Gardens. Photo by Steve Jansen)


Did you (collectively) call the band Japan because you had a strong interest in Japan, or did your links with and interest in Japan grow after you named the band? If you had called the band ‘Persia’ then would you now be collaborating with Iranian musicians etc?

The latter. The name simply evoked an exoticism and an enticing escape from the harsh realities of dull suburbia. There were no expectations of appealing to another culture, we were an average age of 16 and couldn’t even appeal to a pub crowd on the Old Kent Road because in fact, in 1974 we could barely even play. The mid seventies was not known for promoting Japanese culture so it was an imagined world. As it turned out we went the androgynous route and by chance that appealed to Japanese girls in the late seventies which came as a surprise to us all. I doubt Iranians would have been quite so good at dealing in a favourable way with guys messing with gender identity.

I was listening to “now he dreams” earlier, and found myself drifting off into a delightful soporific trance. You could expand the piece, and market it as a cure for insomnia. Just a thought.

I think it would be fairly simple for anyone with a basic music software program such as GarageBand to splice and loop it. This track had slipped my mind as it was written for a label sampler CD around the time my son was born. I got the title from the fact that I could observe the change from a peacefully sleeping baby to one that was quite obviously experiencing dreams for the first time, so the ‘lullaby’ reference is quite appropriate.

I have a two part question regarding record labels. Firstly, what is your abiding feeling regarding Medium Productions? Do you look back with a sense of pride on the output of that label? Some remarkable and interesting recordings were released on MP during it’s lifespan; Ism, Pulse and Stone To Flesh to name just a few. Speaking as someone who ordered a number of CD’s from Medium it was also always top notch in terms of looking after the customer. Secondly, did working with Samadhisound live up to your initial hopes and expectations when you made the decision to work with that label?

The Medium label was an ambitious venture into self-publishing at a time when technology was still a few years off from providing quality digital recording as well as effective online distribution. Had things been a little different by the mid 90’s I think we would have been able to produce a more interesting output and potentially been able to reach a larger audience through online global marketing which is standard practice now, but we did our best with what we had at our disposal. Actually ‘_ism’ and ‘Pulse’ were funded by record labels so these were exceptions, but ‘Stone To Flesh’ wasn’t and I feel it shows a degree of compromise on quality, but even more so with the early releases.

I think the one thing you do get with artist owned labels is better customer care because there’s a sense of pride and personal responsibility in selling your work directly to your audience and not treat it purely as a business, as a middleman would.

Samadhisound had bigger ambitions as a label and conceptually had very high ideals, aiming to introduce alternative artists and in-house artwork that would provide more of a label identity, however the business model was flawed in that the terms were highly in the artist’s favour and this meant that the lack of label profits made for a less than dynamic structure behind the scenes. A lack of incentive really. Taking on various obscure and unknown artists (who were always unlikely to sell in high volume) was a lot to ask of people’s time without allowing profits from the higher selling albums to be redirected back into the label to fund the cause. So rather predictably Samadhisound ended up being stripped back to only releasing works by Sylvian, which is essentially what Medium Productions was to myself, Barbieri & Karn. It’s the bare minimum a label can be, only catering for the work of the artists who run it.

There ought to be more of a level playing field but music labels aren’t ever able to offer this due to their business models, and to this end I’d like to see music labels weened out of servicing the music industry entirely to be replaced by new platforms that embrace automation. Distribution, profile and exposure are essentially what a label needs to provide these days (as many artists now fund their own recordings) but will artists still be expected to pay huge shares of their income for this ‘privilege’ if automated systems can do all the work without bias or favour, or will that stranglehold always exist? I would hope not. Perhaps music sales might one day be allowed to prioritise a decent livelihood for future generations of all creators of music, be they popular or alternative, rather than the people in the businesses of music whose motivation is never aligned with offering choice.

“Mission” is a pretty unique track in your catalogue; reminds me slightly of “Seoul Music” and “Light In Darkness” by YMO with the vocal (?) samples used as rhythm and the creative rhythm. How did that track come about; unlike most of “Worlds In A Small Room” it doesn’t seem too closely related to the visuals? Please tell me Richard recorded you repeatedly slamming doors and typing!

I composed and demo’d the music (without a rhythm part) for ‘Mission’ in London on a 4-track machine prior to the recording taking place in Tokyo and perhaps even prior to knowing that the project was going to happen since it arose fairly quickly. We re-created the music in the studio then focused on the rhythm. The idea was to make the track sound industrial and weighty to coincide with the visuals of the space shuttle being hauled into position for take-off. We sampled a studio door slam and I believe the typewriter samples were in the programmer’s arsenal already. Richard’s breath (in and out) was also sampled as part of the rhythm, the room was then declared a toxic hazard zone for a number of days and recording very nearly aborted.

Stanhope Gardens was a cosy set-up for all of us during JAPAN’s days but author John Connolly was a bit misguided with his comments. Aside from the fact that I never dated Ms. Fujii, ‘Overlooking flats’ is also a gross exaggeration. Even with industrial strength binoculars and a few strategically placed mirrors in winter when the trees were bare wouldn’t have made it remotely plausible, but then you can’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good yarn. For the record, I was spending a lot of time at Mr. Karn’s place at that time as I also lived within binocular distance and he was only too pleased Ms. Fujii was crashing out with Sylvian (to quote Bowie). There were darker forces at play.

In recent post the photograph of you aged 14 reveals the name “Japan” was in use in 1973 (it appears on the bass drum). That name I thought was decided upon later than that. What is the drawing of on bass drum, seen below name, and will the archival film you mentioned be available in the digital domain? :)

The photo is from 1974 which I believe was the year we decided upon the name. The drawing on the bass drum is of a dragon’s head. When I say ‘film’ I mean negative stills which were recently snapped up by a work colleague. The local newspaper in question was The Mercury and the session was at the Michaelides family home in Elsinore Road, Forest Hill.

Some time ago I was asked if I hold drumsticks using ‘traditional grip’ or ‘matched grip’ to which I responded with the latter as I had no recollection of ever doing anything else. However with the recent discovery of local newspaper archival film being found for sale I can see that I did make an initial attempt at ‘traditional grip’ at the age of 14 – a time of conflict… when I was still in transition from David Cassidy (hair) to Alice Cooper (bangles). The confusion in all things must have been compounded by the fact that I was left-handed but playing right-handed because that’s how I saw people playing on TV. This drum kit consisted of only one tom-tom but fortunately I was able to attach bongos by literally hooking the frame onto one of the tuning lugs to create more options to hit but to make matters worse it meant the drum sizes were in the reverse order. With all this confusion going on, underpinned by Mr. Karn’s busy carpet and never being too far from a warm radiator, it’s no wonder I took a more minimalistic approach to drumming, configured around various coping mechanisms.

SJ Forest Hill 1974