interview - 13.07.2007 13:00

JaME held an interview with Atsushi Yanaka of Ska Para at the start of their European tour in Utrecht, the Netherlands

On June 29th JaME held an interview with the legendary ska band TOKYO SKA PARADISE ORCHESTRA in the Netherlands just a few hours before they would play in Tivoli de Helling, Utrecht, the first concert of their current Europe tour.

We spoke with Atsushi Yanaka, the baritone saxophonist and one of the original members that started the band about twenty years ago.

Can you please give an introduction of the band for our readers that don't know you?

Atsushi: We're a band consisting of ten men and we play ska mixed with all kinds of music. We're touring Europe for the fifth or sixth year and this is our fifth Europe tour. And it's the second time we're playing in this venue. Before, we played at the festivals Lowlands, Parkpop and also on the TV show "Raymann is laat".

Many bands seem to only last for just a few years, but you are still going strong for about twenty years. What's the secret behind this?

Atsushi: (laughs) We talk a lot with each other and we like to play ska music, of course. And we never fight each other, I don't know why (laughs). Happiness always wins.

Have you ever had any problems with having so many people in the band?

Atsushi: The backstage rooms are too narrow for us (laughs), and the stage is narrow in small venues. But we accept all kinds of stages and we play on a lot during our tours.

How do you usually compose your songs? Do all members contribute or just a select few ? Are there ever any debates or compromises made?

Atsushi: Almost all members compose songs. We always write it down as sheet music and play it at once to "test" it. Then we arrange the song.

You've done some collaborations with various artists such as PUFFY, CHARA, Shéna Ringö, and so on. How did you choose these artists for these collaborations?

Atsushi: It needs timing and it's some kind of coincidence. But they feel honoured to play with us because we have been playing for almost 20 years. So it's easy.

What was it like to work with artists like CHARA who had no connection with ska music?

Atsushi: We feel it was an interesting thing. We are ten members, so we can involve one more person. We can make a mood with ten members, ten men. That's awful for a lady (laughs).

Are there any other artists you would like to work with, and why? (at this point some of the other members who were relaxing in the room joined in)

Takashi Kato: Rolling stones!
Atsushi: Terry Hall, of The Specials. But I have no idea, sorry.
Takashi Kato: Sting! Bono!

Have you ever considered getting a permanent vocalist for the band?

Atsushi: Sometimes our drummer sings and we've released a single with him singing. Sometimes the other members sing too.

So you prefer not to have a vocalist as the eleventh member?

Atsushi: Formerly we've had vocalists, but they quit, which happened twice. But we're proud to be an instrumental band. We have songs with a sing-along style which is also important to us.

Considering the language barrier, do you find it easier to connect with your fans without a vocalist?

Atsushi: Yes it's easier because we're almost a complete instrumental band. But it's very interesting to sing in Japanese. During our last Europe tour we played songs with Japanese vocals, but there were no problems (laughs).

Recently you released a best-of album, BEST OF TOKYO SKA 1998-2007. How were the songs selected?

Atsushi: The drummer selected them all (laughs), he decided it. He has his own radio program, he's a disk jockey. So he wanted to select the songs.

Could you tell us something about SMILE, the Ska Para Movie?

Atsushi: We did 78 gigs in six months, including Vietnam and concerts in Europe, so during the tour we shot the movie. The cameraman came up on the stage and he shot freely. So you can feel like a member of TOKYO SKA PARADISE ORCHESTRA during the movie. There's also backstage material and so many jokes. It's very real.

Why did you choose to wear pink suits?

Atsushi: Well, we put on pink suits since our debut. A little like cherry blossoms. And we're with so many men, so we need something cute (laughs).

You are one of the only Japanese bands that are interested in having a lot of concerts anywhere in the world. What is it that attracts you about playing in foreign countries?

Atsushi: We just like to play, and especially in unknown places.

You've played in the Netherlands various times before; what do you think of the audience here and does it resemble the rest of Europe?

Atsushi: The Netherlands... (he takes out his dictionary to find the right word) ah, they have good manners (laughs). I feel there are invisible bonds in the Netherlands, like they help each other at the party. They don't go too wild.

What's the best part about touring overseas? Are there any downsides?

Atsushi: A bad thing is the tight schedule, sometimes we play seven days in a row. The good thing is that we can play a lot and we can do sight seeing.

There's time for that in your tight schedule?

Atsushi: We have a few hours between rehearsal and playing. So we take a walk and if we are tired we will drink beer at the bar.

So did you do any sight seeing in Utrecht?

Atsushi: Yes, we went to "Cafe Belgium" last night. There were twenty kinds of draft (laughs). Five hundred bottles of beer.

What's the strangest or weirdest thing that has happened to the band while touring abroad?

Atsushi: (thinks for a while) In Germany, we stopped at a cafeteria and we had to pay at the toilet. That never happens in Japan. And one more thing, during some gigs, the audience was not looking at the stage. They were just dancing and not looking at us. They were concentrating really hard on their dancing and sometimes I thought "look at us!" (laughs).

How about the audience in Japan? Some bands say that in Europe the fans dance a lot, but that Japanese fans are rather silent. How is this for your concerts?

Atsushi: Their manners are too good! Between songs they are completely silent. When the song starts, they dance but in between songs there is complete silence. They're not good at making noises on a party. That's strange but it's our customs I guess (laughs).

You've played in many different places, such as in the Yokohama Arena in front of 15,000 people and in very small venues. What do you like best from each type of venue?

Atsushi: We like small venues but big ones too. I don't really feel any differences. I'm also a DJ, but when I'm behind the turntables I feel almost the same as playing baritone saxophone.

Next to performing overseas, would you be interested in releasing your CDs abroad, too?

Atsushi: We already released Ska Me Crazy on an English label and we would like to release more.

What plans do you have for the band's future in and out of Japan?

Atsushi: We want to play at strange and new stages. Maybe this year or next year we will release a new album.

A final message for your fans?

Atsushi: We always need party people at our concerts because we always want to feel the best. Because we are party animals! (laughs) So, come to our concerts!

Thank you very much for the interview!

JaME would like to thank TOKYO SKA PARADISE ORCHESTRA, their staff and Avex Entertainment inc. for the opportunity to interview this band.
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