Sunday, November 24, 2013
Interview with Jake Aesthete from Travel Kyoto (while living in Portland OR)
Don't quote me but I think this is the first interview ever online with the tropical madness called Travel Kyoto?? Enjoy
Why the name travel kyoto?
TK: Well, I knew the style and aesthetic I was looking for when I started. I wanted a name that evoked a kind of nostalgic escapism, romantic images of leisure, a kind of 1960s Pan Am thing... You know, umbrella drinks by a pool, tiki lounge sort of thing... So I had the word "travel" already in mind. then one day kind of randomly I saw the word "Kyoto" somewhere, I think maybe from the logo for the record label Jet Set Records which says "Kyoto, Japan" under it. So anyway, I just thought those two words would look good together, one above the other. I also liked that it was sort of arbitrary and random, like it doesn't quite form a complete statement, although it could be the name of a travel company or something which is also nice. I was also tired of picking names for my musical endeavors that were too generic or obvious and would end up being taken by other bands that already existed. then, once I had "Kyoto" I realized it worked with all these other connotations as well, with the country of Japan in general. Japan is relatively near to my home state of Hawaii so there's a lot of Japanese cultural influence there (more so than in the continental US), so it's something that I'm familiar with. Also incidentally I can associate Japan with a lot of the music that I like and that influences me, like the '90s Shibuya-Kei lounge revival scene, and Harry Hosono's albums from the '70s, and there was a lot of good Japanese bossa nova in the '60s as well... All of that stuff reflects in what I do. I think in general certain demographics in Japan have often been interested in a lot of similar things as me, like French Ye-Ye music and fashion for example... You can see that in all the Shibuya-Kei stuff, a fixation on a certain type of '60s culture and fashion that corresponds to what I'm into. So in other words, it just all sort of fit together perfectly. I guess I should add that "Kyoto" specifically isn't necessarily that important to me, it could have just as easily been "Travel Japan" or "Travel Tokyo"... I thought "Travel Kyoto" just looked better (Although it doesn't hurt that the band Air have a song called "Lost in Kyoto" and they are another significant influence on my music. I actually imagine that some people assume that song is what the name is referring to.)
What music inspires you?
TK: Well, I sort of started to answer that above: Shibuya-Kei, French lounge pop, bossa nova... in general there was a lot of indie pop in the '90s with those type of influences, lounge/exotica/"space age bachelor pad music"... Like Stereolab for example, are probably one of the most well-known examples. But there are a ton of others... Saint Etienne are one of my favorite bands too. Also of course all the original music that inspired those bands, so bossa nova like Joao and Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and other soft '60s pop, I guess what you'd call "easy listening" like Burt Bacharach. He's one of my favorite songwriters, definitely. All that stuff. Then of course early analog synth stuff like Perrey and Kingsley, all those early '70s records with "Moog" in the title. All sorts of obscure European instrumental soundtrack music from the '70s, what gets called "library music" these days... Nino Nardini for example is probably my favorite. But essentially I try to write pop songs, compared to say the Ghost Box Records stuff like Belbury Poly, "Hauntology" which is also influenced by library music, analog synth stuff but less pop-oriented than what I do. or what I try to do, anyway. but I am influenced by the Hauntology stuff in that it's like this weird, warped, nostalgic, half-remembered version of that type of music. That is exactly what I'm going for. When I started it was still at the peak of when stuff like "chillwave" was still a big deal, lo-fi nostalgic '80s music. So I wanted to do that, but more of a '60s/'70s thing. I guess you could say 8mm instead of VHS so to speak. When I started I tagged myself as "chillwave" on Bandcamp but I don't think I ever quite sounded like most of that stuff. I was influenced by the aesthetics of it more than anything. I like some of those bands though. Toro Y Moi's second album is great and definitely made me feel good about what I was doing in the sense that it was kind of '70s and lounge-y. I am influenced by Ariel Pink though, I think he's great. To me he's the real father of that use of lo-fi production as a nostalgic, half-remembered aesthetic thing. I'm still kind of trying to get production close to Worn Copy on the new EP although I think in the future I want to aim for something cleaner-sounding. I'm sort of sick of the lo-fi sound. As much as I love outsider-y weirdos like Ariel and John Maus, and those that came before like Gary Wilson and Bruce Haack, I'm really just a pop guy at heart. I mean I love stuff like early Everything But the Girl. Prefab Sprout are my favorite band of all time. Jazzy '80s stuff like that.
How long have you been making noise, all under the name travel kyoto?
TK: I've been recording as Travel Kyoto for about two years. Not too long before you guys got in touch with me about releasing something, actually. But I had the idea for this particular project for maybe almost a year before that, when I was doing something a little bit different. I've been playing music in various forms for a long time, since I was a kid. The first thing I ever recorded and released was a band I had in high school when i was sixteen or seventeen. I'm twenty-eight now. So I've been playing music for at least ten years, but really even longer than that.
Where are you from? and how is the local music venues and shows in relation to and compared to your style of music?
TK: I grew up in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. That's the most populated one, where Waikiki is. The other islands are a lot more rural. But Honolulu is like a real city more or less. But the music scene is not great. It's a very tourist-driven, service industry-oriented economy there, so a lot of the entertainment is really oriented towards tourists. Although perhaps oddly (maybe not), Polynesian kitsch, exotica-type stuff is not really a thing there anymore (maybe it's seen as being too politically incorrect?). That was something I was trying to play with and subvert with my music, doing a weird deconstructed, postmodern lo-fi take on kitschy exotica. I thought it was strange and kind of sad that one one cared about that stuff there, I think it can be very bizarre and strange and cool when looked at from a certain angle, not necessarily done in a campy or overly ironic way. There is something of a music scene there, a lot of reggae. Also ska. Hawaii is where third-wave ska went to die. There is a small "indie"-ish scene, I played in a few bands like that there. More so there are always a bunch of not very good punk bands around though, I'm not sure why. Not too much that's particularly weird or experimental, but a few people do try once and a while. It's very hard to have any sort of DIY/underground scene there though. A lot of people leave. I was there for a long time, but I moved to Portland Oregon earlier this year. That's where I live now.
We think everyone has been wondering this! What music gear and set up do you use to make your very one of a kind sound?
TK: When I started I was doing everything on a laptop. "Futurist Haikus and Tiki Dreams" was all done like that. But then I got a Tascam cassette four-track and a Casio MT-400V keyboard and that's what I use for my recordings now. The MT-400V is neat, it's an '80s Casio that's kind of chintzy like you'd expect but then it has real analog filters on it. You can actually get some pretty cool sounds on it that way. It's also one of the last models with analog rhythm presets, which I love and use on everything. For recording I also use a Roland SP-404 sampler. I also use that when I've done live shows.
Does any of your family members or relatives make or made music?
TK: My dad plays guitar as a hobby, but more importantly he just really loves music. He had a lot of records when I was growing up so it was easy for me to listen to a lot of stuff. This was more or less pre-internet. I didn't really listen to any current music until I was like twelve years old, but by then I'd already familiarized myself with a lot of the classic, canonized rock music from the '60s and '70s. He had these Rolling Stone album guides, which were these reference books that gave star ratings to thousands of albums. I must have spent literally hundreds of hours as a kid looking through those, reading about bands. A lot of that music I was into as a kid I can't stand now, but I do have my dad to thank for getting me into Todd Rundgren. He's still one of my favorites.
Who does your album artwork and videos?
TK: Everything was done by me except for the video for "Island Fantasy". Someone who goes by the name Wondermuddle put that together. I got in touch with them on Vimeo because I liked their work and they agreed to do it. I was very happy about that, I think it came out really well. Also the cover for Empire of Signs was done by the people at Singapore Sling Tapes because the original image I wanted was by an artist I didn't get permission from and he found out and he wasn't happy about it. It was completely my fault though, I should have asked him. It was right at the time I was moving to Portland and I had a lot of personal stuff going on and I forgot. The other artwork has been images I find on Google. I guess I probably shouldn't say that in case any one else gets upset but I think it should work out alright since those pictures are old enough/public domain (maybe)?
What are your dreams for the future? and what world issues and lifestyles influence your music?
TK: At this point, I don't even know anymore to tell you the truth. I've wanted to make a living with my music for my entire life, but it seems almost impossible these days. Unfortunately there isn't much else I enjoy doing. I'm thinking about trying to write about music for a living but it seems like its hard to make enough money doing that too. I'd like to put a proper band together and tour, but we'll see...
Your videos are very different! a very dark tropical feel, why?
TK: Interesting you'd say that, I've never really though of anything I've done as dark. Nostalgic maybe or even kitschy is more what I was going for. I actually haven't done a video for one of my songs in over a year. I thought the whole "found footage" video thing was getting really played out (it was probably played out before I even started doing them). Unless they are really well-done. I don't think mine were anything particularly special, to be honest. I was pretty lazy about it and put them together very quickly. I will say that I was very conscientious about the particular type of imagery that I was using. The aesthetic of Travel Kyoto was very controlled and intentional from the very beginning. I knew I wanted '60s travel video type imagery, and retro-futuristic "space age" stuff. That was all as much a part of it as the music was. They play into each other completely. The way the music was conceived, I can't even imagine it accompanied by any other type of imagery (for better or worse).
How do you feel about the new world of digital/ internet sampled music? do you like the way music is today verses the way music was sold and presented in the past?
TK: Thats a very tricky question... On one hand my music is completely reliant on technology and the internet in particular. That's the main way underground music gets distributed and heard these days, mine included. I'm sure that a lot more people have heard Travel Kyoto because of Bandcamp and Soundcloud than they would have if I was just releasing tapes or playing live shows. That said, I feel weird about being seen as "an internet artist". It's very easy to curate a particular image and use social media to promote one's music these days, but I don't know if music is any better because of this. I feel like the internet makes people lonely and alienated, but at the same time I'm online as much as anyone is. So I feel very conflicted about it. I feel like some music these days is trying to tackle these issues in certain ways, "vaporwave" for example. But as music I personally feel no connection with that stuff. I have nothing at all against it per se, but I feel like maybe it's kind of a conceptual dead end for a certain way of looking at music? I don't know. There's stuff that extensively uses sampling that I love... Saint Etienne, Pizzicato Five, Jens Lekman... but I guess the thing is I love songs, songwriting. I feel like a lot of music is getting farther away from songs these days. In the underground certainly, there is a lot of abstract, ambient, and drone-based music which is very formless. As superficially "weird" as my music maybe seems, I'm actually very traditional when it comes to songwriting. In this way I feel sort of out-of-place compared to a lot of lo-fi music getting released on cassette these days. That's one of the reasons I'd like to move toward a cleaner sound in the future. I'm really more of an indie-pop guy at heart. I mean, like I've said I love guys like Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, Todd Rundgren... those are songwriters. These days I'm even getting into Stephen Sondheim, musical theater stuff, lots of melody and clever wordplay... But anyway, I'm getting off track aren't I? The internet is good for distributing music and I think it's amazing that so many people have the opportunity to hear what I do. At the same time I wonder if this ease of distribution sets low standards, even for my own music. Sometimes I worry that I've released songs too quickly, because it's so easy to. I probably should have perfected them more. But the thing is, the internet creates this artificial sense of hype where I feel like I have to compete with all this other music (even though not many of us are making any money from it)... it's very strange. Competing for "blog hits". I don't know, maybe I worry about this more than other people. Maybe it's just me. But I'm as guilty as anyone of scouring blogs for new music, paying attention to trends, listening to a lot more new music than I can actually pay enough attention to or devote serious time to appreciate. I have a record player, but I hardly ever actually listen to my records because I'm lazy and it seems too inconvenient compared to clicking through links you know? I'm glad when people buy my music on cassette because I feel like they're probably sitting down and really giving it their full attention, which is more than I do most of the time and possibly more than my music even deserves. There's a lot that has changed about the way music is listened to and distributed these days that I know has to do with technology, and I'm glad that the internet allows my music to reach more people, but I don't know... I don't even know that the internet is necessarily even responsible for all of these changes. For example, I feel nostalgic for a time when people could make a living as professional songwriters, like Bacharach in the Brill Buiding system. That's my dream job, writing hits for other people. But then I have to stop and think, there are still professional songwriters today. There are guys like RedOne and Terius Nash (aka The-Dream, who I think is great) writing all these hits for big pop stars. But the music has changed, the vernacular has changed. I couldn't write a pop hit for the radio today. I am stuck in the past. I actually like a lot of current mainstream pop, stuff like Robyn, R&B stuff, I think Lorde is really good... But I could never write that music. Even a lot of "indie" music today is very influenced by contemporary Top 40 pop, which I think is totally fine and actually cool, but somehow I am out of fashion. I don't consider myself a Luddite, I've made music on computers. But it still had a very traditional songwriting style, verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus etc. A lot of music now is much more rhythm-driven and loop-based. Instrumental beats, for example, I respect but I can't really get into it. At the same time, I think a lot of really traditional, retro rock music these days is kind of stupid. I don't understand recreating the past without changing it or commenting on it in any way. That's what I'm trying to do with Travel Kyoto in my own way. Even though I'm a traditional songwriter I'm not not trying to exactly recreate records I love from the '60s. My music sounds deliberately off, lo-fi, an imperfect image of something. At least that's what I try to do. It's anachronistic. The sounds I use aren't historically accurate at all. Even a lot of my lyrics are almost like commentary on the fact that they are cliches from older styles of music... Sorry this probably all sounds very convoluted and pretentious. It probably is. Also long-winded. I turned this into an essay almost. I apologize. It also probably makes my music seem cold and schematic, which I don't want it to be. I want it to be sincerely enjoyed. If it sounds like I'm rather nostalgic for a time before I was even born, I suppose I am. I would like that to come through in my music also. I am sad that music is mostly consumed in the manner that it is these days, and above all that the idea of an artist making a living on studio recordings is a thing of the past. All my favorite music is very much studio-based and difficult if not impossible to recreate live. But there are larger issues at work here than even the internet per se (although that's certainly a big one). One of the less obvious ideas behind Travel Kyoto has to do with the rise of global corporate capitalism from the '70s onward, and how it effectively ended a lot of major things we associate with (possibly kitschy) mid-century life: "the golden age of air travel", "space age" fashion and architecture, World Fairs, etc. I realize we're getting into sort of James Ferrero/vaporwave territory here but I feel like I approach these things from a somewhat different angle. These concepts are a lot less central to my music. I'm not trying to be as overtly concept-driven as their music often seems to be. I'm basically just a guy who writes pop songs. These ideas are prevalent in the Ghost Box/Hauntology stuff as well, which I think is actually more closely related to Travel Kyoto. All that stuff is specifically British though whereas I try to draw on American imagery to some extent. Anyway, this is all a big paradox because underlying all of this is a deep suspicion if not outright dissatisfaction with our modern technology-addled world, and yet all of it is entirely enabled by said technology. The only reason I even know about Ghost Box or James Ferrero or Hauntology or Vaporwave is because of the internet (in some of those cases the music exists in direct response to the internet), the only reason you know about my music is because of the internet. I'm writing this to you by email and eventually whoever reads this will do so online. Hows that for meta?
Well there it is travel fans! We are super stoked for you to hear the new album listen/ buy below: