Interview with Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band

interview - 04.06.2013 20:01

The bubbly members of fusion instrumental group Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band met up with JaME in Los Angeles while on tour with Japan Nite and shared several stories and insights.

Since having first performed in 2011, Universal Music Lable's five-piece fusion instrumental group Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band has garnered much attention and fans both in Japan and overseas with their "singing instruments." Featured as one of the acts on Japan Nite's 2013 tour, the members met with JaME before their Los Angeles show and talked about their musical backgrounds, interests and experiences along the road.

Can you please introduce yourselves?

Chihiro: I’m Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band’s trumpet player, Chihiro. Nice to meet you (laughs).
Satoshi: I’m the drummer, Satoshi Yamashita.
Koji: I’m the bassist, Koji Yamamoto.
Hana: I’m the keyboardist, Hana Takami.
Miz: I’m the guitarist, Miz.

When did you start playing your instruments and what motivated you to become professional musicians? Also, what attracted you to jazz?

Chihiro: I started playing the trumpet when I was in the school band during junior high. It was since…the first year of high school that I started thinking of becoming a pro. I really like the feeling of being on stage, so naturally I just turned into a musician. As for jazz, I actually didn’t particularly get into jazz. I started off learning about classical music, and later I learned that the trumpet is used in different genres of music…so jazz was one of the things I tried out while playing the trumpet.
Satoshi: I started playing the drums in my third year of high school. My motivation to become a professional musician was the moment I thought I am one (laughs). I started jazz half a year ago when I wanted to start learning it.
Koji: I started playing music as a hobby during my second year of high school. There wasn’t a particular time when I started thinking about being a pro…while continuing to play, I just became one. Regarding jazz, I didn’t intend to start playing it, but when we started and continued creating our own music, naturally it turned out to be the jazz style we have now.
Hana: I started playing the piano when I was a little child. Thus, growing up with the piano, I wanted to try playing the keyboard and synthesizer. Rather than saying that I decided to become a pro, there was just some point in time where I started thinking that I don’t want this to just be a hobby…and that’s how I decided to be in this career I am in now. As for jazz, I think we don’t try to take in a lot of elements from just jazz, but from everything. So I think jazz would be one of those.
Miz: I started playing the guitar when I was 12. It was when I was in the States and going to some music school in Hollywood that I really started earnestly. Before then, my motivation to play was simply because I like music. However, after knowing some pros at the music school, I started to become conscious and really think about being a professional musician. As for jazz, I like listening to jazz, but I still never get any chance to play it. I personally don’t take in a lot of jazz in my playing, but when I play in the band, I think it would be nice to create some new sounds through taking in elements from different genres.

How would you describe the fusion style of Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band? And your songwriting process together?

Chihiro: For me, the way I compose is by taking in stuff that I feel and see, and then I express them with sounds. For our pianist, Hana, who also writes a lot of songs for the band, she would have an image in mind first…oh, how should I put it? First, we decide if we want a fast song or if we want a happy song. We’ll have the theme decided first and then start putting things together. As for our style, since we are an instrumental band and there are no lyrics in our music, when we compose, we always try to be careful in expressing every single detail, just like we are singing in words.

Who do you look up to musically?

Chihiro: The musician I look up to?! There are a lot! How am I supposed to pick? (laughs) …Michael Jackson?
Satoshi: I like Matsuoka from the TOKIO. His playing style just gave me an inexpressible influence.
Koji: Hm…there isn’t a particular one.
Hana: I look up to my piano teacher.
Miz: I am not sure if you know him, but I like the guitarist Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi.

This isn’t your first time overseas, is it? Is the audience reception different at home and abroad?

Chihiro: The reaction of the audience abroad is very straightforward and direct, and we are always able to catch their expressions. It is really different from Japan. In the US, the audience would say like, “Wow, that’s cool!” and get hyper right on the spot, or dance when they feel like dancing. It’s a lot of fun! We get a lot of energy from them.
Satoshi: I am a drummer, so I am always watching calmly at the back and able to catch expressions from the audience when they really liked our song or when we didn’t play well. Also, sometimes the audience reacts differently even to the same song. The audience from a region that has cold weather reacts calmly while the audience from a hot region heats up really quickly…this is our biggest observation during this tour.

How has your time with Japan Nite been? Were you able to go sightseeing?

Chihiro: No, we didn’t really have to time to sightsee a lot! We usually can only stay in a city for 24 hours or less, so…I hope that we get more time to walk around if there is a next time! Yesterday, we went sightseeing in Las Vegas for the first time.
Satoshi: At Bellagio.
Everyone: Bellagio (laughs).
Chihiro: I guess that’s it…did we get to sightsee in other places?
Satoshi: Our trumpet player, Chihiro--
Chihiro: Me? (laughs)
Satoshi: Chihiro got an injury, so we got to see a hospital in Canada for the first time. …In that hospital in Canada, you can eat McDonald’s in the operating room (laughs). That was discovered by our guitarist, Miz. I got carried away, too, and got a sandwich there. No one kicked us out or anything, so that was a little precious piece of memory.
Chihiro: It’s impossible in Japan.
Satoshi: Yeah, you can’t do that in Japan.

What goals or dreams do you have for Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band?

Chihiro: We wish people all over the world can listen to our music, and…we want to get a Grammy Award! (laughs) Can we do that? Can we really get it?
Satoshi: I just want to enjoy playing music with this group…as a pro but not just as a hobby, of course. Location is not an issue at all. Of course we want to play in the US, Japan…Asia is also good, as well as Europe.
Koji: I feel the same. I think we, as an instrumental band, should fully utilize instrumental-only music and share our work to the entire world.
Hana: Not only in Japan. We want to be active in different places in the world. Through listening to more music of different genres, I hope that we can create various kinds of music and express ourselves.
Miz: I really like L.A. a lot, so if I can come again…and of course I want to go to more countries, too! Yesterday we watched the beautiful fountain show at Bellagio, with a lot of people from different countries and different age groups around us. I feel like I want to be like that…like something that everybody knows and wants to watch at least once--something that can cross borders of race, gender, age…that everybody would enjoy. I think the material from this band really takes in those kinds of elements, so I hope one day we can really do it. That is my dream.

You recently released the album, Yozora no Trumpet, this past November. Can you tell us about it? What influences went into this album?

Chihiro: The title Yozora no Trumpet is actually the title of a song by the trumpeter Nini Rosso. (The original title is Il silzenzio). This song is super popular worldwide and it made him a famous trumpeter, even in Japan. So just like him, we want to create music that can reach every living room in the world, so in this album we have covered and did our original arrangement for his song as well. For the rest of the album, those songs are filled with our most recent feelings, with most of them being speedy songs. And all of those are original songs.
Satoshi: A lot of the songs are created to bring you warmth. Please check it out.

Finally, do you have a message for your overseas fans and JaME readers?
Chihiro: Please come directly, share the same physical space, the same atmosphere as us and listen to our songs. Please come to our lives! We also release a lot of information through the internet, so come and be friends with us! We love you all!

Featured below is the video for Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band's Yozora no Trumpet from the album of the same name. Check it out!

JaME would like to thank Chihiro Yamazaki + ROUTE14band for taking the time to answer our questions, Audrey Kimura of Benten Label and Japan Nite for making this interview possible, and Wai Fu for translating.
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