Hello Steve, Long time reader first time for a questioner :)…In relation to Japan did the band ever do demos of material before doing final recordings or was material worked up in rehearsal’s then committed to tape ? I ask as I am wondering if there might ever be a Japan box set released with unheard versions, demos, live material or has that well now run dry in terms of available material that could be released ?

As far as I recall, once we had a record deal we didn’t have to go the route of demoing material and since the first two albums were very well rehearsed and often performed live it was just a case of going in the studios and getting the job done. From ‘Quiet Life’ onwards we only rehearsed ideas without performing the songs live but there were no proper demos made. Perhaps Mr. Barbieri has progress/reference tapes from the band’s history as he was, for whatever reason, the keeper of tapes …  but not full-on studio demos. There are bound to be some live performances lurking around somewhere although the earlier you go the less likely that is since the technology then didn’t really make it easy. I think the earliest legitimate live recording I have is from a gig at ‘Hurrahs’ club in Boston which was broadcast on local radio probably around 1978/79.

Trafalgar Square, London 1978 (photo by Günther Rakete)

JAPAN in Trafalgar Square London 1978 photo by Günther Rakete

Hi. I had the pleasure of seeing you perform live a few times. I have forever been inspired by your rhythms, musicality and musicianship. One pertinent memory is your solo gong performance at the Harold Budd farewell show in Brighton. Is it something that was rehearsed or improvised? Had you ever done it before?

Thank you ! I’m sure to many that might conjure up all sorts of weird images, not least of all a well-oiled man in a loincloth swinging his big mallet. But alas … it was much more subtle than that. I hadn’t done it before but I had the opportunity to have a go in soundcheck. The aim with that is to get a sustained ambience going which changes tone and timbre depending upon where the gong’s hit and how hard. It’s a bit like playing a drum roll expect on a gong with soft beaters. It was based upon a recording Budd had made on one of his earlier albums and it was this technique that I used on the album I made with John Foxx titled ‘A Secret Life’ which was a project that emerged after we both took part in the Harold Budd (farewell?) concert in Brighton.

Someone took this from the side of stage during soundcheck: Harold Budd and myself with gong.

Budd & Jansen

Did you watch The Man with the Movie Camera before you wrote the music for Kinoapparatom and even if you did or didn’t, were you inspired by anything else from that era? I’m asking, because some of the music (At Work in particular) wouldn’t look – or should I say ‘sound’ – out of place in Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett, which premiered 7 years before the film.

The early 1900’s was an fascinating time for the arts and design and I became interested in the Wiener Werkstätte and Josef Hoffmann during my mid twenties. Bauhaus and German modernism is a big influence over the arts in general and Oskar Schlemmer’s Ballet is an incredible piece to watch even today but I’ve not taken any musical references from it that I’m aware of.  The music for Virtov’s ‘Kinoapparatom’ (‘Man With A Movie Camera’) was partially co-composed with Claudia Chinaura and I can’t speak for his influences. This was a semi-improvised live performance but we had a few days rehearsal in Milan within which to focus ideas and ‘moods’ to connect with specific scenes from the movie. I’d not watched it prior to that time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_with_a_Movie_Camera

http://www.stevejansen.com/news/kinoapparatom_available_on_itunes_23032015.html

First timer here. What has drawn me to your work has always been you drum rhythms. Only got to see you once in Philadelphia, so I got to see you perform with David just that once. Understand I’m not a musician so there are some insight I don’t have . Ever since Tin drum and Brilliant trees I’ve been focused on these patterns you come up with. So let me ask , where in the song writing do they come into play? They seem to me to have a dominate roll. And how do you keep them straight ? And how do you conceive them?

It varied. Tracks such as ‘The Art Of Parties’, ‘Talking Drum’, ‘Still Life In Mobile Homes’ and ‘Cantonese Boy’ were worked out in band rehearsals based around David’s song idea and we were all instrumental in fitting the various parts of the puzzle together in terms of arrangement. The hardest track for me to settle on was ‘Sons Of Pioneers’ which was written around Mick’s bass line. It took me a while to come up with that pattern due to the fact that regular drum patterns that were based around the usual snare, bass drum and hi-hat were not doing it justice. I needed to find more of an ethnic, pulse-like quality that would allow the bass line to be free to do its thing and it wasn’t until we were actually in the studio that I found the pattern. With songs such as ‘Canton’ and ‘Visions Of China’ the drums were driving the structuring of the tracks. ‘Visions Of China’ was a late addition to the album and was worked on into the night at a studio in Swiss Cottage towards the end of recording the album.

‘Brilliant Trees’ varied too. ‘Pulling Punches’, ‘The Ink In The Well’ and ‘Red Guitar’ would have initially been worked out between myself on drums and David playing rhythm guitar. I remember ‘Nostalgia’ was based around a rhythm that David had on his demo of the song which was programmed on a Roland TR808 highlighting certain vocal accents, so I took that as the basis and made it into a drum pattern. Other tracks such as ‘Weathered Wall’ and ‘Brilliant Trees’ were explored and improvised in the studio.

Keeping it straight? If you mean ‘in time’ well that’s the basic requirement for a drummer. As for coming up with patterns, I’m not sure … I would like to deviate from the instinct to play regular patterns because otherwise it would make the song sound too ‘normal’. Mick too. I think especially with Tin Drum, if you subtract the performances and put a straight rhythm section (bass and drums) behind those songs it would all fall rather flat. The tracks were structured to accommodate performances and fairly intricate arrangements. It was very much a musician’s album.

At Nomis Rehearsal Studios in Sinclair Road, Kensington, London (photos by Justin Thomas)

Steve, what is on the black t-shirt both you and your brother are both wearing in older photos. It’s black with letter ‘ese r’ on it (see photo)

I think this could be classified as a proper trainspotter question! Easy to answer though. The t-shirt was one of mine (as was the black zipped sleeve that we’ve both been pictured in many times… I think we just improvised as and when). It was a ‘Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers’ t-shirt for their track ‘Chinese Rocks’. I was a bit of a fan at the time. (thanks for the reference image … I doubt I’d have remembered otherwise).

tshirt

Hi Steve Firstly many thanks for giving music to us over the Japan albums QL and GTP personal favourites. As a trained pianist / keyboard player for pop/rock groups myself – one of many questions I would ask is – on the tracks – the other side of life and in-vouge – did the band play “live” with the orchestra or were the strings overdubbed after the tracks were put down by the band? – John Punter did a good job making it sound like you all played live together!! Thanks for your time V Best

The strings were arranged around the finished band performance and so were added much later which meant we could sit back and relax while the orchestra would work up a sweat. Well actually they operate under very strict union rules so there wasn’t much chance of overworking them.

Can’t credit the photographer as this contact sheet is uncredited but it was taken in one of the smaller rooms at Air Studios.

Mick, Richard & Steve