Ken Kobayashi: Play that funky, grime-y, dubby…

Dear friends, frenemies, and casual readers: this month’s issue (Mar/Apr) is focused on music, not least because I have managed to nab rising indie-pop singer/songwriter and general rainbow of joy Ken Kobayashi for a bit of an interview… there’s also a smattering of stuff arriving in the F.U.N Directory page in the next day or so, so keep your eyes on!


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Ken Kobayashi is not only a friend of mine but also the artist behind the album My Big Foot Over The Sky, currently available through his MySpace page for purchase as an EP, and via iTunes for download!! Or, try before you buy and listen to the whole album here on Ken’s official website!


Hannah J Davies: You seem to have created something which is such a great listen that I’m having trouble putting into one category or another. It’s a bit like you’ve taken the idea of Air’s song ‘Alone In Kyoto’, spanned it in a washing machine with a keyboard, added a few scoops of so-called ‘indie guitar’ and hung it out to dry on a summer’s afternoon. Is this a fair analysis or can you do better?

Ken Kobayashi: Hahaha. That’s good way of putting it…I’ve always liked artists who mix different genres and who develop new music. I am glad to hear that I’ve done that too, and yes, Indie music and Air are certainly key influences in the album. I’m not sure about putting a keyboard into a washing machine, but I like the pictures your mind comes up with.

HJD: Thanks, actually for anyone reading this, don’t put your Casio in the machine! Anyhow, has the fact that both of your parents have been involved in the music industry had an impact on you? [Ken’s parents have been successful  recording artists in their own right]. Essentially, do you feel under pressure to produce deep, avant-garde music rather than disposable pop because of your parents’ influence? Can you see yourself performing at more commercial events, doing sponsorship deals etc. if you hit the big time?

KK: No I don’t feel under pressure. My parents weren’t that famous as musicians, [in the UK] so I’m definitely able to take things easier than, let’s say Sean Lennon. Also I am happy that my parents’ music is quite different from what I do. It’s more interesting that way, and I hope my music is not “disposable pop”, regardless of who my parents are.
On your last point: look at Johnny Rotten. When I recently saw him in an advert for  (Country Life) butter, it was hard to believe that he was among the pioneers of punk. Let’s face it, musicians are people like everyone else, and they will take the money – depending how good the offer is, of course – no matter how deep or undeep their music is.
Johnny’s not-so-rotten commercialism:

HJD: Indeed…I understand that you grew up in London, Tokyo and Berlin, which must have been quite an experience. Where did you draw your musical influences from in these (incredible) cities?
KK: It was a challenging experience. I was born in London and I’ve spent most of my life here. So lots of my influences come from what I’ve heard in London. But it was not like I was literally listening to Japanese music when I was in Japan and German music when I was in Germany.I think it’s more complex than that.
But of course it made me happy when I found good artists from Germany or Japan, because relating to these countries is also a part of my heritage. It’s hard to determine exactly which people, artists, literary figures and other things have specifically influenced me….but hopefully people get the multicultural feeling when they listen to my music. I would enjoy that.

HJD: Where does the title for your debut album, ‘My Big Foot Over The Sky’ come from? It sounds almost religious?
Hahaha. It doesn’t mean anything! I was talking to a friend about the album title and I said “something surreal would be cool….like “my big foot over the sky””, and he said, “that’s actually a good album title”. So it became the title.
HJD: Nice story, I think you’re friend should get some royalties…
On the topic of people, who – musically or otherwise – has been your biggest inspiration to become a musician?

KK: I guess all the artists I liked when I grew up….artists like The Beta Band, Number Girl, Chemical Brothers Oasis, Beck, Air, Asian Dub Foundation. They made me want to become a musician. I really liked their music – they made my childhood so much better. Music always has been important to me. So I started to hope I could provide the same positive feeling to other people by making music.
Mr Ben – Ken Kobayashi

HJD: Positivity seems to be the undertone to your song Mr Ben (which chronicles the life of a city worker in need of a break from his mundane life of ‘going to the Underground’). It even seems a fitting anthem to the current economic recession? Has coupling your musical career with your university studies been stressful for you as well at times?
KK: That’s a funny remark! Hmm….well Mr. Ben is certainly stressed out, but for me the main point in the song is his feeling of being “lost” or “confused” in his daily life, which happens to many people at certain stages of their life. I enjoy what I am doing at the moment, and I know what I want to do in the near future. So in that sense I feel quite different from Mr. Ben…at least for now.
HJD: Who would be your ideal artists to collaborate with, and what would you say if they are reading this?
KK: I know quite a few very talented musicians in London who are also nice people, like The Thirst, The Duloks, Perfect People, Tin Can Telephone, Hanjiro and so on. It would be great to do something with any of them.
HJD: Well the version of ‘Karaoke’ you performed at your album launch with Mira from The Duloks was very good, so a side-project would be great!
Obviously it matters what your fans and critics think, but how would you sum up your debut album in 10 words or less…?

KK: Punky, grime-y, dubby, New-waveish, broken drum and bassy electronica.

HJD: You write all of your own songs. Do you find the writing process difficult sometimes? Where do you get your ideas from mostly?

KK: It wasn’t difficult nor was it easy. I played some chords on the guitar and whenever a catchy melody came into my head (and my mouth), I recorded it and later produced it. I think I need to learn music theory to write more stuff though.

HJD: Now for my ‘wildcard’, as I’ve actually been been dying to know…what exactly is a ‘Magic Jar’? Is it a metaphor or would it be possible for you to draw it for me?

KK: Hahaha. I wrote the song originally in Japanese and used the word “mahoubin” in the song, which refers to a thermos bottle for drinking hot tea or hot chocolate outdoors. “Mahoubin” literally translates as“Magic Jar”, and I thought magic jar sounded better than “Thermos Bottle” or “Vacuum Flask”.

Its magic, you know...
It's magic, you know...

HJD: It certainly does! You’ve played a lot of gigs over the past year, where has been your most memorable gig and why?
KK: Last year was a very good year for my band and me. After we formed as a group, we played many shows. I’d never played that many gigs in one year. I think that the best gig was the launch party for the album, which was in February. There were three fantastic bands playing for me. Lots of people came and the atmosphere was great. I’m very happy I was able to organize the event, and I was probably one of the happiest people on Earth that evening.
HJD: It really was a great night, with support from the aforementioned Thirst, Hanjiro and Telegrams. You play live as ‘Ken Kobayashi and Friends’ with a band despite being a soloist. Are your bandmates also looking to form solo/band musical careers themselves, or are they happy to be part of team Kobayashi for now?
KK: I recorded most of the album on my own. But when it came to playing shows, obviously it would have been boring to do it alone on stage. So I asked some of my friends to join me. I’m really thankful to my band members, because they’ve spent a lot of time on this project and we have really had a good time. All of my band members have cool solo stuff, so you can find them on my top friends list on MySpace. But yes, we’ll continue to play as “Ken Kobayashi and Friends” for a while because now the album is out.
Living it on my own: Ken Kobayashi in a rare solo image...the band were somewhere, though! Image credit: Jules Nandra.
Living it on my own: Ken Kobayashi in a rare solo image...the band were somewhere, though! Image: Jules Nandra.
HJD: Finally, if I told you tomorrow that you couldn’t be a musician anymore, what career would you plump for instead?
KK: Hmm….I have no idea. Well the good thing about music is that you can always do it, professionally or not. And with things like MySpace and Youtube you can distribute your music easily today. So I will be doing this all of my life…even if you tell me not to!


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