Hi Steve. Is it true that somewhere online there is/was a version of ‘Sow The Salt’ live but with Tim Elsenburg singing a different vocal to Thomas Feiner’s? Thanks.

Yes that’s right. Tim and I started to co-write for my solo album ‘Slope’ in ’06 and while the recording was still in progress I was invited to join Yukihiro Takahashi’s ‘Something Blue’ tour that same year. Tim and I opened the show with a selection of tracks from ‘Slope’ before it was completed (‘Ballad Of A Deadman’, ‘Sleepyard’, and what became ‘Sow The Salt’ but was at the time featuring a different vocal by Tim). Yukihiro’s set followed and was a laptop performance which I joined. This small tour obviously pre-empted the one-off ‘Slope’ live performance in Tokyo in ’08 and was the first opportunity to work with visual artist Shoko Ise who went on to make all the back-projection films for my show. Tim is one of my favourite people, always great company and a very talented songwriter.

a few snaps here by Sari Hayashiguchi

Hi Steve. I was a huge fan of your work with RB on Dolphin Brothers. I thought your vocals brought the album to life and I wondered why you you never featured vocally on any of Japan’s tracks or much material since? Why stop after only one album?

I took on the vocals for The Dolphin Brothers because of the nature of the deal on offer from Virgin Records at the time, they wanted a more commercially viable album (our first collaboration was an ambient album). Richard and I felt that we could develop this alongside our more ambient/instrumental work. Turned out Virgin were not up for a long term investment and post Dolphin Brothers we made the decision to focus on the less commercial side since I didn’t enjoy the role of front man and I knew my limitations as a vocalist. A second vocalist in the band JAPAN was never considered.

The Dolphin Brothers photo by Sheila Rock
The Dolphin Brothers – photo by Sheila Rock

Hiya Steve, I was wondering where you stand versus your brother in the whole “seat of the pants” improvisation argument?The idea of hiring a studio full of musicians, only then to make it up as you go along – must surely be daunting, to say the least. In the continuum of Pop, I see a band like the Ramones , with their pared back simplicity and rawness at one end & the likes of David & his experimentation at the other. Where does Steve Jansen fit in?

Hi Noel. I assume you are referring to recording rather than live performance. I think there are levels of distinction when working with improvisational artists. Inviting a group of experimental musicians to improv together in the studio could be, (with digital recording), more a means of gathering a wealth of original samples to then manipulate into something representative of your own ideals, in other words plagiarising. If the improvisation were not tampered with in any way, and was a true ‘live performance’ recording rather than edited and manipulated then I would take no issue with it, but whether it’s any good or not is another matter. I prefer wrestling with composition without any hint of improv. To my mind this is much more daunting, particularly if you’re composing outside of more standard forms. In answer to your question I don’t believe this has anything to do with a sliding scale in ‘pop’. Perhaps each music genre has its own sliding scale of depth and ingenuity but they each serve a different purpose.

Hi Steve – one of the things rarely mentioned that I see present in your work, along with that of Mick’s, is humour … it’s only natural that this would filter through into the music. I’m sure there must have been many, many laughs, but can you remember anything in particular during recording or touring, that still makes you chuckle? On a different, more nerdy note, the drum fills that you play on the instrumental section that sees out ‘The other side of life’ … were they premeditated, or were you improvising – perhaps a mixture of both? They seem so spontaneously abstract in places, and yet breathe and flow beautifully. Cheers Mike

Thanks Mike. The drum fills were most certainly improvised and the aim was to create some suspense and to momentarily lose some of the momentum in the repeating 4 bar cycle. The strings added to the drama and in fact a couple of the string moves were written to follow the drum fills (approx. 6m and 6m20s) and therefore give the impression that these small events were a coordinated effort between the orchestra and drums when actually it was an afterthought cunningly employed by Ann O’Dell.

There were many laughs with Mick. Backfiring practical jokes were a common theme. One that always makes me smile occurred during a drive from London to France, probably to record Rain Tree Crow. Mick was at the wheel and pulled off onto a dirt road and for whatever reason, who knows, perhaps in an effort to unnerve me, or perhaps he was inspired by the crunch of the gravel underneath, decided to attempt a fancy spin at an unimpressively slow speed. It was enough to send his beloved, metal cigarette case that was sitting on the dashboard sliding out of the window and subsequently get flattened under the rear wheels. It seemed impossible to drive over your own belongings that were, until a few moments before, inside the car but somehow he managed it.

Mick in Italian café

Hi Steve. How is the Exit North project progressing, are we going to see a release this year? And any new photos? Thank you. x

Exit North is COMPLETE (sigh of relief) and being mastered as we speak. I believe it’s a very fine album. We are looking at a release schedule for around autumn.

New photos? I’ve posted snaps on Twitter recently. Or do you mean my new photo?? That too, taken & posted yesterday on Facebook. Keep up! 🙂

These snaps are from February 2018 in Gothenburg during recording for Exit North.