In the Eyes of Others (Part 5): Inoue Akira
Recording Story: Searching for the path to “Zankyo” with Fukuyama Masaharu
– Inoue Akira, Music Director
■ When was the first time you met Fukuyama-san?
The first time was in the studio, when we were recording the bonus track “Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu” (春夏秋冬, Spring Summer Autumn Winter) for the single “Sakurazaka” (桜坂released 2000)*1. I had participated as a musician.
■ Can you still remember your first impression of Fukuyama-san?
He came across as a very natural and spontaneous person. Some people would purposely show their candidness, but he’s not the type. He’s truly very unpretentious. A very ordinary man who simply likes the guitar. His being such a regular guy, is what makes people feel really good about him.
■ As Band Master, Inoue-san produced the “Fukuyama Engineering” album – “The Golden Oldies”. How did you feel about creating this cover album project together with Fukuyama-san?
Thinking about it now, producing that album was just like a case study, it gave me a good grasp of whose songs he wanted to cover. Like “So these are the songs he likes!” and “He’s thinks this part is very important!” You can say that doing cover versions has enabled me to better understand him than new songs. For Fukuyama-kun, from all aspects, I think he should find it easy to express himself when he’s singing other people’s songs.
■ The song “Rubii no Yubiwa” (ルビーの指輪, the Ruby Ring) was included in that cover album as well. The original song was arranged by Inoue-san, how was it recorded at that time?
I contacted the original singer Terao (Akira)-san (寺尾聰さん), he came to the recording studio and dived straight in. When I asked him “How do you want to arrange the melody?” He replied “There’s no need to change it.” So I said “Well then, we’ll follow the original score.” But I can’t remember the details already (laugh). However important the work, we’d slowly forget a lot of things (laugh).
■ The way Fukuyama-san reproduced Terao-san’s way of singing, left a strong impression on me.
Even though we used the original melody, his own personality came out very naturally; his voice quality is different and he had a different opinion of the song. These variances made it a lot of fun for me.
■ What do you mean when you said he had a different opinion of the song?
Fukuyama-kun approaches it more from a musician’s perspective. He really loves the guitar, so I think he will always use the guitar as the basis of his music production.
■ The first original song that Inoue-san produced with Fukuyama-san was “Carnival” in the album “f”. What was your stance when you arranged the song then?
At that time, even though he would be making judgements on (multiple instrument) arrangements in a band (Akira-san said “orchestra”), he didn’t play a lot of instruments himself. Watching him from the sidelines, I’d start to think “It wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to work more on the instruments” or “Drums; music arrangement and gradually picking up a bit more of things that he can do, would be nice.” So, in the past, I was more like a consultant. (laugh)
■ In other words, you wanted to let people see more of the musician side of Fukuyama-san?
My intention was not “Do you want to try it all by yourself?” “Playing it yourself” and “playing it all by yourself” are two totally different things. But Fukuyama-kun is a very intelligent man, I believe he understands what I was trying to say. For me, I treat him the same way as I would for other musicians. I’ll tell him “Play it like this here”or “You still haven’t got it here” or “For the time being, please try it this way.”
■ Rather than a consultant, wouldn’t it be more like a demonic coach?
No, not at all. I’ll raise the suggestion for Fukuyama-kun to try first. If it works, I’ll hope he does it that way. But we’ve had times when we would change it again the following day. He’s a very objective person.
■ And after that, Inoue-san became the Band Master, touring with Fukuyama-san on his concerts. What do you feel when you see Fukuyama-san on stage?
He has not changed from the first time I met him in the recording studio. Although he is also a perfectionist, but he is clearly conscious of the fact that maturity (in technique) takes time. This makes it much easier for the people around to work with him. He has a very understanding attitude towards the other musicians. He would say “ I need a bit more time myself too”. And because he is the trademark, he has to take on all the responsibilities, but when he faces the members of the band, he treats them as all equals. In a good way, it’s an evenly-balanced relationship.
■ As one musician to another.
That’s not an easy thing to achieve. There are some whose ears are not even as sharp as his. In the concert, if we come up with something new in our part, will the person standing at the front stage be able to notice it and look back at us with a smile? It means a lot to us when we are performing together. To be able to share our joy and laughter with Fukuyama-kun. When we incorporate variations in a phrase, it is really the very rare person who will feedback to us “That was very nice”. People who are not yet able to handle their own jobs well, will not be able to do that.
■ Has anything happened in the concerts that has given you a particularly strong impression?
In one Daikanshasai where we had an ensemble of acoustic guitars, there was a song which required us all to sing the chorus without music accompaniment. Because we were a group of people who came together simply because we liked music, and not professional backing singers, we had never tried acappella singing before. But I have not heard Fukuyama-kun ask once “Is everyone OK with that?” I believe that was because he trusted his partners. There was an atmosphere of “Though it seems hard, let’s give it a try” among us, and a belief that we could do it. That time, we didn’t really get to practise a lot in our rehearsals, but in the end we were able to make it. We sure sounded like a Light Music*2 orchestra when we were rehearsing for that song. (laugh)
■ The single “Wish” in memory of Minako Honda-san (本田美奈子さん) was produced by the “Inoue Akira & M.I.H. Band” led by Inoue-san*3. Fukuyama-san was also a member (of the band), that was probably brought about from working together on the concert tour.
I am forever grateful to Fukuyama-kun for that. He’s done a lot for this. At the beginning of the recording, I thought it would be great if we could just invite him to play the guitar, then it branched out to a totally unexpected direction, I was very astounded myself. Certain very difficult conditions made it almost impossible to pull through. But the people around, led by Fukuyama-kun, were all very outstanding. And I was impressed that “Minako-chan this singer, was really truly so well-loved by everyone.”
■ The new album “Zankyo” was co-produced by you and Fukuyama-san together. Did you discuss about the direction this album would take beforehand?
No, not in particular. This is not a concept album, it was created song by song. It’s not a matter of whether there is a consistency throughout. I believe Fukuyama-kun grew and matured as a musician and a guitarist during the process of producing the album, and the final style developed naturally as a result. Other than a couple of songs which were recorded unchanged from the original piece of work, we added in songs with other elements as well. We consulted each other all the while as we were making the album.
■ What are the special features in the production of this album?
The speciality was in the way we recorded it, just like distilling Single Malt Whisky. I believe you’ll hardly ever see this type of production in Japan now. We tried different things (in the arrangement); worked on gradually improving and becoming more mature (in expressing it). After the lyrics were done, we went back to refine the music again, and so on. An example would be, after you buy a necktie, you go and choose a shirt to match it, then the jacket…..there are infinite possibilities (of the things you can do).
To be able to create in this fashion, not only was it impossible to budget for, I think the only reason we were able to do it was because he truly had that artistic power. To reassess from a fresh perspective and to readjust accordingly.
■ But this process would be very time consuming, it must have been very hard work, wasn’t it?
We did use a lot of time. But on certain aspects, we shared the same views and insistence, so the process was very satisfying
■ What do you think about Fukuyama-san as a singer-songwriter?
Though he has his insistence on how the album should be structured, he doesn’t have any pattern on the process by which it should be produced. People who use the guitar to create music, have a tendency sometimes to box themselves in. But I think he’s paying attention to that, and so as to avoid falling into the same trap himself. Just like he would want to write songs which he can sing with his audience in the concerts, he has that self-consciousness.
■ How about Fukuyama-san as a singer?
He has a rich singing voice, not the rock type, but very cool. The Japanese understanding of the word “cool” may be a bit different. I think he’s got an attractiveness, a feeling of calmness, one who will not lose himself in the song, the type of singer who wants to convey messages out.
■ What expectations would you have for Fukuyama-san in the future?
None, nothing in particular. “Please move forward in the same manner as you are doing now” something like that (laugh). I believe he will get better and better, because that’s what he wants himself.
■ Going forward, how would you like to get along with him? Any special requests?
None, perhaps I want to find an opportunity to visit Scotland with him, to have a look at those distilleries. We both like to travel, and we both like to take pictures. When he doesn’t need to work, he will send me photos that he had taken and I would do the same too. Not “I’ve taken a good photo, so I’ll show him”, rather “I want to take a good photo, so that I can show him.” It would be nice if our acquaintance is like that, we’ll want to look for things which the other will appreciate. I have a couple of friends like that, but they’re almost all older than me. I think it can be the same with Fukuyama-kun. The type of connection where we can stimulate each other.
~ The End ~
Extract from Bessatsu Kadokawa (2009.07.15) - The Kadokawa Mook Special Issue: Fukuyama Masaharu
*1 This bonus track was only available in the first limited release version of the “Sakurazaka” single CD. It was subsequently included in the album “f”, released the following year.
*2 Light music - more information
*3 Minako Honda, a female Japanese idol singer who passed away from leukemia in 2005. I shall write more on this project on a separate post.
Translated from Fukuyama Honne (Articles 6884, 6902 and 6936) with reference to the original article.
This English translation was first posted on MashaPlus [dot] Info Forums. (Registration required to enter.)