Soil & “Pimp” Sessions

Koe: Why did you take up the sax?

Right around the time I graduated from elementary school, my interest in the sax just suddenly welled up. But when I joined the school band in middle school, I ran smack into this tradition where girls play woodwind instruments and boys play brass instruments (saxophones are made of brass but use a reed mouthpiece and are considered woodwind). My passion prevailed, though, and I got to play the sax. When I was about 14, I thought, yeah, this is exactly what I want to do. When you are in a brass band, you get to march and also do some ad lib stuff, but it wasn’t until my 2nd year in high school, when I participated in the Berkeley Summer Seminar in Japan, that I really encountered jazz. The first time I ever cried listening to music was at the teachers’ jazz session. The way they just cooked on stage was too much for me. I wanted more than anything to learn from them, so I started packing the money away. I did some gambling here and there and won big at the horse track. Altogether, I got about 3 million yen. Then about 6 years after my resolution, I finally realized my dream of going to Berkeley in Boston.

Koe: How many years did you attend Berkeley?

About four. I graduated but it was more about what I got from the program than the graduation itself. Graduation was a gift for my mom. Still, it’s the kind of place where, just by being there, you keep on learning.

Koe: Are you still in touch with any of your classmates from that period?

Yeah, the three members of Cro-Magnon were my classmates. They were renting this studio by the month and I used to go out there and jam with them. The pianist Uehara Hiromi, too. The guitarist Lionel Loueke from the Herbie Hancock band. And Tsuji Rie, the keyboardist for Beyoncé’s back band—she and I traveled once from Boston all the way to Miami by car. It was crazy!

Koe: Did you have any hardship while at Berkeley, any time when the teachers got on your case?

Teachers getting on my case? Yeah, this one teacher with whom I took private lessons said, “Why the hell are you so worried about tests? Do you just want good grades?” There was a time when I was really disappointed with my grades so I was trying hard in that respect, but there were also a few teachers who were discriminatory toward Japanese and I wasn’t exactly the type to put up with that. So I went over to his office and yelled back at him. Then he said, “Seriously, why the hell are you so damn serious about grades and evaluations? Do you want to know why you’ve come so far with your music?” Until then, music had always been something I was good at, something that I could get recognition for. But he just said, “Because it’s fun.” I decided to sink the roots of my music in that idea and I even put those words in a tattoo. Since getting that tattoo, I’ve been relaxed whenever I play music.

Koe: So that tattoo is basically a reminder of why you’re still playing?

That’s right. But I’ve also changed a little, too. Of course there’s the pleasure of playing, but I like those musicians who also exert some social influence while enjoying themselves, artists that break down barriers like Bob Marley or The Clash in the UK. I’d like to be a musician like that.

Koe: When did you start playing with Soil & “Pimp” Sessions? How did that all begin?

It was the winter of 2001, soon after I got back from America. There was a jazz session in Roppongi called Soil & Hemp Sessions that was being organized by “Shacho” (president), a current member of the band. When I dropped in, I realized, hey, now here’s a guy thinking just like me. I had come back from Boston right after school because there were things I wanted to do in Japan, namely create a scene where people could enjoy jazz in their everyday lives. I came right back without even going to New York. But I was living in Yokohama and when I dropped into one of those serious, stuck-up jazz joints and told them about my ideal vision for the scene, they’d just get angry at me, saying stuff like, “You’re being idealistic and the reality is different. This isn’t America.” Each time, I shot back, “You fuckers never could make your ideal a reality and so now your ideal will always be just that, an ideal. Jazz just isn’t so difficult.” But they never really got it. Rather than try to fix it all, I pretty quickly realized that I should just create a new scene. Right as I was thinking that, I met the members of Soil.

Koe: And they were thinking about creating a new scene, too?

Even the guests that came to listen to that session weren’t like the old jazz snobs that just come to bitch and complain; I realized that they had come to enjoy the music with us. I wanted to enjoy the music with them, too. You can’t do that at the snob spots and I didn’t realize that until I finally came to this place in Roppongi, which normally doesn’t host jazz. I approached Midorin, the drummer, and Akita Goldman, the bassist, and said let’s do a band. They were looking for a new scene, too, and the sessions had started to become a little worn out anyway. Tabu (trumpet) and Shacho were with us on it. The pianist then, a guy named Shota, isn’t a member with us now, but he was a friend from Berkeley. He had invited me to the session. At the time, on top of Soil & Hemp Sessions, Shota, Tabu and I had launched a band called “urb” and both groups were approached by major record labels. Sony Jazz offered us an eye-opening contract for 7 years, but one of the conditions was giving up Soil & Hemp Sessions. I personally thought Soil was a one-of-a-kind band and quitting it wasn’t a choice. Tabu and I stayed with Soil, and Shota went on to carry urb as the pianist. The timing was right because we then met the brilliant pianist (& current member) Josei, and subsequently changed the name from Soil & Hemp Sessions to Soil & “Pimp” Sessions.

Koe: When we interviewed Dachambo, Special Others and Nabowa (in Koe #6), we asked them about their financial conditions. Special Others, in particular, seems to have really struggled in the beginning. What about the members of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions?

Of course it was tough in the beginning. But I didn’t really think of it in those terms. When I got back from America, I didn’t have any yen to speak of, so I went to work in construction. No matter how busy I may get as a professional musician, I thought, I want to keep doing manual labor here as much as I can. It was because the people were just so nice. And physically I got pretty strong, too. I packed on muscle and size. I brought energy to Soil and without that physical labor then, I don’t think Soil’s music would exist as it does now. Around that time, Shacho was building homepages on his own and doing some computer work, so he had some money. The other five of us didn’t have any so we were always shouting, “Yo Shacho! Treat us to this one” (laughter). But since that time we didn’t have any money, we haven’t done any shows at those live houses with the charge-back systems where musicians pony the money up front and try to earn it back. We all had a sense of responsibility and only played in the places that seemed right.

Koe: You appear on Nabowa’s newly released 2nd album. How did you hook up with them?

I went to play as a guest at a Cro-Magnon show in Kobe and Nabowa appeared on the opposite stage. Their live act just blew me away; I was so impressed I couldn’t pull my eyes away and after their performance I went over to talk to them. As it turned out, all the members had Soil CDs—they all liked our act, too. We became friends after that. They said, let’s do some recording some time and, well, that came to pass and we made some pretty good songs recently.

Koe: To turn to something much more personal, I read your article in the “nbsa+x÷” newspaper, in which you talked about being gay, and I was really impressed by your approach. I don’t think there are too many individuals of your status in Japan who are openly gay. I know this is private, but since it is also linked to identity, could you speak on this topic a little more? Was that article when you came out?

I’ve revealed as much on a TV program and I don’t really ever hide it. If people ask, I’ll talk about it. I first fell in love with another boy when I was in high school, but I had a girlfriend at the time and thought I was just somehow mistaken. But then I just started to become aware of the feelings inside me; I finally came to terms with it when I was about 27. I told everyone for the first time when I was in Boston.

Koe: What was everyone’s reaction?

Well, there was a surprise: we had this big coming out party. About 30 fellow Japanese and I got together for it. It was actually a coming out party thrown for a friend who hadn’t been able to tell anyone yet. But then suddenly about four other guys came forward, saying, “um, actually, we’re gay too…” and instead of a coming out party it turned into an exploding out party (laughter). We had a really great time.

Koe: Do you ever experience any discrimination in Japan?

I have just one bad memory, but for the most part I don’t experience any discrimination. I wrote as much in that “nbsa+x÷” article, but by talking about it, my friendships have deepened instead.

Koe: Japan is a conservative society, I think, but you still see transvestites on TV. If they are accepted, why do you suppose that homosexuals are not?

Well, in America there is some pretty hysterical opposition, but Japan doesn’t have that religious element to blame. Even if people say that they don’t approve of it, when you ask them why, they can’t explain it, can they? American social values are only coming into Japan through the media. It’s too easy to control common sense here and I think Japanese in particular are easily controlled. They just think, “Well, the rest of the world thinks that.” After having traveled in Europe, I’ve begun to believe that Japanese are closer to Europeans than Americans in terms of sentiment and manner toward others. There are a lot of liberal thinkers. A person’s freedom is that person’s own freedom. I think Japanese are liberal in a humanistic way, but their common sense is quite conservative so they get caught up in all these groundless rules.

Koe: America has changed quite a bit these last 10 years or so. Gay & lesbian marriage is now recognized in some parts. Do you think Japan will be the same someday?

If America is doing it, won’t Japan do it, too! (laughter)

Koe: If there are barriers to this in Japan, what are they?

Nobody of any real influence has come out publicly yet. They just don’t want any part of that. Still, though, if someone of considerable influence does come out, then at least that will provide an opportunity for that person’s fans to reflect on it. Maybe even some of them will simply accept that person as is. I feel as if it were kind of my mission when coming out to help provide a world where gay children yet to be born could love without judgment, a world where they didn’t have to live with two identities. I’d be happy to realize that, even if just a little.

Koe: What are your musical plans from here on out?

I’ve been with Soil & “Pimp” Sessions for six years now. We’ve listened to all kinds of things in any number of contexts. We’ve seen all kinds of things, too, and all of us are definitely changing. To be even greater, much more so than now and to keep going—the draw of that is what I’ve really been excited about lately. To have fun without any misguided goals, to fight sometimes but to keep putting out a sound imbued with a strong dose of our own initiative—if we can keep doing that, then Soil will keep on going. If we can’t then I guess Soil will just come to an end, but right now I just don’t think that’s going to happen. We’re in a really good zone right now and there’s a lot we want to do still.

Koe: You always hear about bands from America fighting and breaking up. You lived in America for four years and were no doubt influenced by it, but in Japanese culture, on the other hand, it seems as if there is this tendency to fight and then just make up and keep going. What do you think?

That’s an interesting thought, I suppose—a kind of happy guess—but I don’t think we’re your typical Japanese, and there are just so many times when I think those controlled situations are just one big lie. In South Africa, L.A., Boston, London, Germany, whatever the country, there are terms for good human relations, aren’t there? I think the six of us are maintaining a miraculous balance. We work toward a single goal and keep going in total cooperation. Since we all share the same goal, when one of us blurts out something like, would you please get your ass in gear and practice more, then the other person agrees instead of getting defensive. I let the others listen to music I like and when they say, yeah, that’s good, it makes me happy; likewise, I’m happy when they let me listen to something. It’s a relationship of mutual stimulation and that’s why I think we’re going to keep going.

Koe: You have a lot of overseas experience but is there anything that really stands out in your mind?

I have too many interesting experiences to even count. Recently, though, we went to Cape Town, South Africa and that just rocked—so different from what we had heard. Serbia, too, Croatia, too—just so different from the image we had in Japan. What the hell was this image we had been nurturing? You can’t really understand a place unless you go. South Africans were just unbelievably friendly. The Cape Town I went to, at least, was like that, and I came back having made so many friends.

Koe: Thanks Motoharu.

Koe: どのようにサックスを始めたのですか?







元晴:叱られたと言えば、プライベートレッスンの先生から「お前、なんで試験にこだわるんだ。点数に対してこだわるのか?」と言われたこと。自分の点数を悔しく思うこともあったから頑張れたんだけど、やっぱり日本人差別をする先生もいたし、そういうことに対して黙っていられないタチだから、オフィスに行って怒鳴りつけて、ってことを繰り返してた。そんな頃に先生が言ったのが「お前どうして点数とか評価に対して真剣になるんだ。なんで今まで音楽を続けてこれたんだ?」と。それまでのオレにとって音楽は、得意なもの、自分を認めてもらえるものだった。でも先生は “Because it’s fun” って言ったんだ。これは自分の音楽のルートにしようと思って、タトゥーを入れた。タトゥーを入れてから音楽をやっている時に緊張しなくなった。



Koe:SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONSの活動はいつから始めたのですか? どのように結成されたのですか?

元晴:アメリカから帰ってすぐ、2001年の冬に。六本木でSoil & Hemp Sessionsというセッションが開かれてて、(現バンドメンバーの)「社長」がオーガナイザーの一人だった。そこに行った時に、あ、同じことを考えてるヤツがいると思って。ボストンから早く帰ったのは、日本でやりたいことがあったから。生活の中でジャズを楽しむっていうシーンを日本に作りたかったから、NYに行かずに帰ってきた。でも、横浜に住んでヨコハマのジャズ箱に顔を出して、オレの理想を語ると必ず怒られた。「お前の言っていることは理想で、 現実は違う。ここはアメリカじゃない」って。そう言われる度に、あんた達が理想を現実にしてこなかったから理想はいつまでも理想のままなんだよ、ジャズは難しいものじゃないって言ったけど、伝わらなかった。これは直していくよりも新しいシーンを作った方が早いと思った。そう思った時にSOILのメンバーに出会った。


元晴:そのセッションを聴きに来ているお客さんも、昔ジャズ箱に来ているような人に多かったウンチクを語ったり文句だけを言う人たちじゃなくて、一緒に音楽を楽しむために集まっているのが分かった。オレも一緒に音楽を楽しみたかった。ジャズ箱でそういうことが出来ないから、普段はジャズをやっていないような六本木のその場所へ来ていると気がついた。ドラムの「みどりん」とベーシストの「秋田ゴールドマン」に話しかけたんだ、一緒にバンドやろうよって。二人も新しい場所も求めてて、セッションもちょっとずつ飽和してきてたみたいだったから。「タブ」君と社長もいた。その時のピアニストは現メンバーとは違うショウタってヤツで、バークリー の同期。彼がそのセッションに誘ってくれたんだ。その時は、SOIL & HEMP SESSIONSと、urbってバンドをオレとタブ君とショウタの3人で掛け持ちしてやってて、しかも両方とも同時期にメジャーレーベルから声をかけられた。urbはソニージャズから7年契約って稀に見るいい話だったけど、SOIL & HEMP SESSIONSを辞めるのが条件だった。でもオレには世の中に一つしかないSOILってバンドを辞める選択肢はなかったから、オレとタブ君はSOILに残って、ピアノのショウタがurbを引き継いだ。そのタイミングで天才「丈青」と出会い、バンド名もSOIL & HEMP SESSIONS から、SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONSに変えた。

Koe: DachamboやSpecial Others、Nabowaにも経済的なことを聞いたんですが、Special Othersは最初はすごく苦労していたと話していました。SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONSにも苦労話はありますか?

元晴:もちろん最初の頃は苦労したよ。でも、苦労って思ってなかった。アメリカから帰ってきた時には「円」がなかったから工事現場で働いた。音楽でプロになってどんだけ忙しくなっても、この現場での肉体労働はできるだけ続けたいと思ったんだ。そこには気持ちいい人がいっぱい いたから。しかも、オレの体はものすごいビルドアップされた。筋肉がついて、ガッチリとね。SOILのエナジーはオレが持ち込んだと思ってるし、その肉体労働がなかったら、いまのSOILの音楽もなかったんじゃないかと。その頃は社長がひとり、ホームページを作ったりパソコンの仕事をしてお金を持っていた。他の5人はお金がなかったから、「社長!」って言っておごってもらう(笑)。でもお金が無い時から、チャージバックとかミュージシャンに負担がかかるようなシステムをとっているライブハウスではライブをしなかった。必ずみんなが責任感をもってやるような環境でしかやらなかった。







Koe: 日本で差別を感じたことはありますか?











元晴:それはすごく面白いし、嬉しいguessだと思うよ。でもオレらは自分たちが典型的な日本人だとは思わないし、いまコントロールされている状態がウソだと思うこともいっぱいある。でも、サウスアフリカもLAもボストンもロンドンもドイツも、どこの国でも、人間関係がうまくいく間柄ってあるでしょ? この6人は奇跡的なバランスを保っていると思う。メンバーが一つの目標に向かって一致団結し続けている。皆で目標を共有してるから、お前もっと練習しろよって言ったり、言われたほうは、確かにって言うし。自分が好きな音楽をメンバーに聞かせて、いいねって言われたら嬉しいし、逆に聞かせてもらえたら嬉しい。刺激しあえる関係だから続けていけると思う。


元晴:数えきれないくらい面白い経験をしたよ。最近だと、サウスアフリカのケープタウンがすごく良かった。聞いていたのとは全然違っていて。セルビアもクロアチアも、日本にいて持っていたイメージとは全然違う。俺らに植え付けられてたイメージって何? 実際に見ないと分からないもんだ。サウスアフリカは、最高に人間があったかい所だった。オレが行ったケープタウンは少なくともそうだった。友達もたくさんできたからね。

Koe: Thanks 元晴君。

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