Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Richard Archer [Hard-Fi]

I interviewed Richard Archer the singer/songwriter of HARD-FI by telephone from Japan on 30 June, 2006. He was in a café at London's Heathrow airport, having breakfast.

CBL: Hello...

Archer: Colin?

CBL: Yeh, hi Rich.

Archer: Hi mate. How ya doing?

CBL: Good. I hear you're at the airport.
Archer: Yeh, we're sat in a cafe trying to get some breakfast down before they call the flight on us in about 5 minutes. It’s a little bit tight.

CBL: Where you headed?

Archer [aside]: You've got to eat, haven't you. We're going to Berlin actually for the Argentina Germany game.

CBL: That's on in a few hours.

Archer: Yeh, so that should be quite exciting. We're in Belgium for the England game. So, there you go. You can't complain.

CBL: Well, wish them luck. Anyway, I'd like to say I was really impressed by the album and I consider myself a fan now.

Archer: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CBL: Right, so, it stood out a lot from a lot of the other records I've been listening to and it sounded quite different at first.

Archer: There are some great British bands out at the moment but there isn't much of a sound. It's like a guitar band. Sometimes you can hear a real comparison to Libertines to Arctic Monkeys, there is a common thing. Whereas we were always more dance music, reggae, so we would never try to be part of a scene or anything like that. So we sort of stuck out because of the music and that's been the continuing of the result.

CBL: I get the impression that a lot of the other bands are very historically aware of the music, like Franz Ferdinand, there seem very. clear references to 1980s bands like Magazine and so on. You're music when I heard it - at first - it was very hard to pin down, then, of course, I started to figure out the reggae, dub, ska thing, but its not so obvious.

Archer: We sort of sat there - thanks very much - we sort of sat there and didn't want to kind of like this, "Let's do a ska number." It was more like the spirit that influenced it rather than... Why try to recreate something like that because you're never going to be able to better it. It's kind of like a moment in we kind of listened to a track and said, “Woah, that'll work...but just because we might use a reggae-type bass line, it doesn't mean that we have to have a reggae drumbeat. Why can't we play it over a drum and bass feel or something like this. At the time our plan was to release a record on our own very small label - Necessary Records and we weren't really thinking…

[untranscribed segment]

We weren't sat there thinking “What's hot at the moment there in London, and what's going on?” Rather we were doing what we liked, trying things out. We try out a lot of things. A lot of them are rubbish. A lot of things don't work. But occasionally you come up with something that sounds really cool.

CBL: I also got the impression that a lot of the quality of the music comes from the lyrics I mean…you alright there?

Archer: I think we were just then writing songs about what our own lives, and what we saw around us, what we saw in our friends lives. What we saw on the TV. “Middle Eastern Holiday” was written back in the day when the Iraqi war had officially finished and six military policemen were murdered by a mob in Basra. People say, “You know that could be me. That could be my mate.” And it starts making you think in a different way. You stop seeing it in black and white, and start thinking, “What if I was out there? I would be scared shitless.” Both sides should be at home doing what you are doing going out, washing your car.

CBL: Especially the circumstances in that particular case. I remember reading about that. It was a real cock up by the British army as usual.

Archer: Yeh, yeh. That was where we were at. We were trying to take it from thinking about people just like us. We've never seen ourselves like… You do get certain people, especially in the music industry thinking like they've got a superiority thing, where they think they're better than other people, to say “You don't read the right books, you don't wear the right clothes, you don't hang out at the right places, you don't know the right people, you ain't got the right haircut.” We've never been like that. My thing is you're cool because you follow your own path and you do what you want to do and you don't let other people influence you in doing what they think you should do. We've always tried to reach out for the ordinary people, the people who are just like us. Most people are just ignored. They are just sort of force fed what people want them to have, and they have to take it, and that's wrong. If people are not like the front page of the latest style mag or whatever, they're still the same to us....We've sold a million records and we've done five nights at the Brixton Academy, which no other band has done except for The Clash, Bob Dylan, Massive Attack and the Prodigy, and we've done all those things and yet we've never had an NME front cover, and like the NME's always cool with us but we were never one of those charming [around] with the press, so it always surprised people that we have been as successful as we are. We've bypassed those people and reached the real people out there.

CBL: I think the way it works is because you don't follow the crowd…and so you’re different. If you're different, you stand out and people notice you more. That seems to be working in your favour. Most bands are a bit arty farty aren't they?

Archer: Yeh, yeh. Always amazes me. What's so arty, what's so cutting edge? All these sort of art school bands that ever appear, they're so cutting edge: “Check this out - we've got drums, guitar, a bass, and a singer and we're going to play music that sounds like it was written 25 years ago.” Why is that so much more new and groundbreaking and cool, because you know it isn't. It's just like rehashing something.

CBL: I kind of see that in class terms, because that kind of attitude that you're describing there is a kind of a middle class thing and your music's much more of a working class thing. It's gritty and natural and saying what it means.

Archer: Yeh, I think so. It's always a kind of weird one when you start talking about class. We want to appeal to everyone. We don't want to appeal to just the working class. But a lot of people can identify us with that. But at the end of the day that's where we come from. We've never sat there ... That's the way it is. [to waitress] OK, thank you.

CBL: So, anyway, have you been to Japan before?

Archer: Yes, we have actually. We were there in November for a flying visit. We were there for a week. Had a great time, actually. One of those things where - we did a show in Tokyo and we did a show in Osaka, and. amazing, it was like another world, but similar in many ways. But a lot of people were saying that the crowds would be very polite, y’know, and they'll clap between the songs, and be aware of that. When we played Tokyo, the moment we hit the first chord the place erupted, it went crazy - quite like [gatrbled]

CBL: Yeh, it's quite different from the UK, anyway. For one thing there's not so many CCTVs hanging around spying on people.

Archer: Yeh, that's one of the things we've kind of found as we've been around lately is that people don't actually know what we're talking about in that respect. It has become a massive part of their lives. I'm sure it will at some stage. [garbled] That's our guitarist jamming in my ear.

CBL: In the wider social content. what do you think the advent of the CCTV camera symbolizes? ...Did you get that?

Archer: I think for me, it's always been about saving money. It's cheaper to get someone to look at 20 screens in a room than it is to actually say, “We're going to get enough policemen. We're going get them out of their fast car, and we're going to get them to actually reintegrate with the community to be…to go out there are talk to people and have a relationship with them. Rather than be like this kind of distant authoritarian force. Maybe you can stop things before they happen, rather than look at things on tape afterwards. But that costs money and takes time and it’s easier to put up new cameras and then deal with it later. The UKs always been about saving money, kind of a cheap fix.

CBL: Yeh, cutting corners. Yeh, one of the reasons they don't need to do that in Japan… Japan has much less crime and a lot less violence for sure. One reason they don't have to do that is because a lot of people share the same values. It's all soft power. In the UK, everybody's a bit different, right, and that creates a lot of aggro, and everybody's got their own agenda, and so society can't use that kind of soft power to keep everybody gently in line like what they do in Japan... did you hear that?

Archer: Sorry, I lost you on that last bit.

CBL: Yeh, I'm just saying that the main difference that I've detected is that in Japan they use a kind of soft social power. People usually share more or less the same values and so on, and in the UK it's much more diverse, and so that creates all these… Nobody really knows what's right and what's wrong anymore. You know what I mean?

Archer: I can see that. We kind of noticed that when we were there. Everyone has a lot more respect for each other, and so a lot of the situations don't arise. It's funny how one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet doesn't need to rely on technology for keeping the streets safe or whatever.

CBL: So far you've been writing your songs very directly from your experience from where you've lived, and now with the success, you're lifestyle's changed a lot...

Archer: I'm still living in the house I've been living in for a lot of my life actually through various circumstances.

CBL: Yeh?

Archer: The thing is to try and remain in touch with the people who are your audience, your fans. A lot of what we done has always been out and about [garbled] People are so made up. It sort of gives them hope. It shows that it can be done. A lot of the songs were written while we were still trying to get this record out. It took so long to come out We did it ourselves but it was a lot of hard work.

CBL: Yeh.

Archer: I was writing all that time.

CBL: So, you're going to stay in Staines? You're not going to do a Billy Bragg and move out to some mansion in the country, are you?

Archer: Well right now, I'm still Staines. It's handy for the airport.

CBL: Yeh – aha!

Archer: It just takes 10 minutes. You're home in 10 minutes. No plans to move yet.

CBL: It fits in quite well, then.

Archer: Yeh - all my life I'm trying to get out of it. Now, when I'm away, I miss it and realize that it's quite convenient.

CBL: I was reading a piece in the Guardian about you opening pubs with the mayor and giving beer to a horse. Is this a kind of anti-rock star kind of thing?

Archer: Pub near the producer [garbled]… I had to jump on a plane and go and do a TV show in France, but all my mates could get drunk. There you go. Those are the breaks.

CBL: OK right, It's been very nice speaking to you Richard, thank you very much. That should be plenty to work with. Thanks.

Archer: yes thanks mate, I'm sorry it’s been a little bit noisy cafe.

CBL: Yeh, hopefully I'll remember most of it if the tapes a bit dodgy. OK cheers.

Archer: I'll hopefully see you. I think we're in Japan in September.

CBL: I'll be here. I'll be back from my Summer holidays. It's so bloody hot here.

Archer: Wow, I bet.

CBL: It's the wrong kind of hot. It's humid. You're coming at a good season. September , it's a good time to come here.

Archer: [garbled] Yeh, I'll see you then.

CBL: OK. Nice speaking to you. Right, take care. Goodbye.

Archer: Thanks Colin. OK.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Tomotaka Yasui, sculptor

I interviewed the artist Tomotaka Yasui on the 6th of November, 2008. The interview took place at the tiny Megumi Ogita Gallery and lasted about an hour. The interview is transcribed from handwritten notes and may include some slight inaccuracies.

CBL: About how many of your works are women, children, and animals?

TY: About 80% have been women. Recently I’ve started making children and objects like shoes.

CBL: Is this an attempt to diversify and offer more options to collectors?

TY: Well, maybe, but even with the smaller items, I’m still using the same processes and materials and that takes much time.

CBL: Can you tell me about the materials and methods you use?

TY: The first stage is I use clay to make an initial figure. I then make a mould round this using plaster. After I peel off the plaster moulds, the important stage for me begins. I make an urushi [lacquer] mixture and put this inside the two halves of the mould and reinforce this with linen. I do this 5 or 6 times. Then, I put the two halves together and take off the plaster. The material is a bit rough so I sandpaper it. I think it’s like making a car body. Next I put urushi painting on the surface and sometimes mother-of-pearl. I put white urushi paint on the surface as a background to the other colours. To get the texture of the hair, I mix sand into the paint. The eye is marble and obsidian.

CBL: Is this figure modelled on a specific person?

TY: No. At first I used models, but now I don’t directly use a model. But sometimes I check the parts I want to use and combine them.

CBL: What about the shiny boots?

TY: I use metallic powder in the paint. In this case I think it was bronze. This is a maki-e technique.

CBL: You use traditional Japanese techniques. Why?

TY: Before I used plastic paint, but I feel this stops things too much. Once painted, it doesn’t change. Urushi is breathing.

CBL: You mean artificial or chemical paints are dead?

TY: Well, dead is a little bit strong, but everything is too fixed. It’s too much for me. With urushi we can enjoy change.

CBL: Yes, “change” is very important. So, urushi is kind of fuzzy or flexible?

TY: Yes, that’s it. It’s flexible.

CBL: I’d like to ask you why you chose to work in sculptures of women?

TY: I was born in Belgium and I also lived in Israel. I was always looking at foreign people. It wasn’t easy to find Japanese people. For me foreign people were very interesting, their atmosphere…

CBL: But your figures are Japanese people.

TY: I like the shape of foreign people, but it’s very far for me. I like Western fashion but now I’m very interested in the Asian shape. I don’t put them in kimonos. The fashion is foreign style.

CBL: In this case the fashion looks very 1960s, what with the short skirt, boots, etc.

TY: I like the old things, old designs, old fashions…

CBL: So the 1960s is ancient! When you lived overseas and there weren’t many other Japanese people, did you feel a kind of loneliness?

TY: At first. If I had Japanese people, I think I would always talk with Japanese friends, but there weren’t. But I learned a lot from meeting and talking to foreign people.

CBL: Did you feel something was missing? I mean it’s interesting that you mainly do figures of women. Why don’t you do figures of men?

TY: I like balance. I like the women’s balance.

CBL: Is it because the male figure is top heavy compared to women where the centre of gravity is lower down?

TY: Yes, that’s a big reason. In the future I want to challenge male figures, but first I need to do lots of sketching. I don’t have the experience of sketching men.

CBL: So, before you start working in 3-D, you explore the form in 2-D. Is there a difference of feeling when you make figures of women and figures of animals?

TY: Animals don’t talk, so it’s not easy to communicate with words. It’s not so far. Women have more character.

CBL: Do you sometimes feel that she might wake up, like Pygmalion, the story from Greek legend about a sculptor who fell in love with his statue and prayed to Zeus to make her real?

TY: I don’t know that story, but I don’t think so. I don’t imagine any narrative. My image is more about silence, no meaning…

CBL: But when we see these life-sized, semi-realistic figures we can’t stop psychologically reacting to them like other people – at least in part. They spark off certain natural responses. For example this figure of the child here, you feel like patting it on the head or, if you’re Italian, maybe pinching her cheeks.

TY: I live in the city. Tokyo is very special. Everything is moving fast. The action is positive, but I don’t think every movement is positive. Sometimes stopping, not thinking is also important.

CBL: So these works are saying that stillness and silence are important.

TY: Yes, but when I made these I had to move around them a lot.

CBL: You had to dance around it! Because of the poker-faced expressions, the lacquer coating, the hidden hands, the figures seem to be avoiding contact, avoiding communication.

TY: But this is my style of communicating. If I didn’t want to communicate, I wouldn’t put on this show.

CBL: So, it’s communicating by not communicating. You’re trying to communicate. What are you trying to communicate?

TY: Everyday is very fast, let’s slow down. Let’s cool it. Change of pace is very important. In Tokyo I always see things accelerating like this [makes upward slashes with his hand]. I want to get away from always moving, and express silence and stillness.

CBL: Human relationships are complex and often noisy with arguments, misunderstandings, awkward emotions, etc. Your figures almost seem to represent a desire, a wish for that kind of relationship to be simplified and made into a kind of icon. Your figures may remind some people of the otaku culture, in which people who have difficulty dealing with real relationships are attracted to virtual relationships or relationships with objects that they can control. How does your art fit into the otaku culture?

TY: I’m not interested in the otaku culture.

CBL: Are you negative about otaku culture?

TY: Otaku was a discriminatory term in Japan. At first I didn’t like it, but now the meaning of otaku is changing. But, anyway, I don’t express otaku culture. I express ancient Egyptian or Buddhist artistic ideas through my sculpture. This is nearer for me.

CBL: Egypt is nearer for you! Interesting! I notice you don’t mention ancient Greek sculpture. I guess that’s because it has this feeling of motion which you don’t like.

TY: I think Greek sculpture is very far. Egypt is nearer because the form is not so realistic.

CBL: Well, realism means less freedom because your art becomes tied to the reality of the work. You have to serve the reality. Stylization gives you more freedom to do things as an artist your own way. Is that how it is for you?

TY: I suppose so.

CBL: How about other Japanese artists who have worked in human figures, like Simon Yotsuya and Katusra Funakoshi? Are there any affinities there?

TY: Funakoshi and Yotsuya are very different from me. I think one expresses otaku and the other the more traditional and European style of sculpture. He’s a Catholic, isn’t he?

CBL: The interesting point is that you were born overseas and have lived there for some years, but you don’t express this more traditional, European style.

TY: I don’t express my experience of living overseas in the European shape, but it was very important for me because it enabled me to see Japanese culture from outside. I could compare European and Japanese. Also I was influenced by Western fashions. Japanese fashion is difficult for me.

CBL: Did living overseas make you feel more Japanese?

TY: For me it’s difficult. I live in Jaoan and I now feel very Japanese. In Europe it was sometimes very difficult to speak, but I didn’t feel so different. Sometimes I wonder where my country is. I feel because my wife is Japanese… When she was small, she played Japanese children’s games, which I missed. Sometimes she says, “Why don’t you about this game?”

CBL: With your art, which uses traditional Japanese techniques, expresses Japanese artistic concepts, and which is focused on the physical type of Japanese women, I get the feeling that your art is a kind of coming back to Japan, a kind of homecoming.

TY: Now in foreign countries, all people hear about is otaku culture. I want to introduce other aspects of Japanese culture to other countries, Japanese style, Japanese atmosphere. Atmosphere is an easy word to say, but I guess I mean silence.

CBL: In a way, although your art may superficially look otaku, it’s actually quite the opposite, quite old fashioned and traditional.

TY: I think otaku people are the same age as me and I also sometimes play video games, but only for a few years. When I was growing up, while my friends were playing their computer games, I was going to Kyoto.