As some of you may know, I recently started writing for the English language Japanese newspaper The Japan Times. Through them, I was recently given the opportunity to interview m-flo’s Taku Takahashi when he was in New York City for the Japanese pop culture festival Waku Waku +NYC. It was exciting to be able to meet and interview someone who I’ve been a fan of for over a decade. m-flo was one of my starting off points when I entered the world of Japanese music. Taku’s a cool guy. We sat down in his hotel room, and over the course of 2 hours we discussed a variety of topics, including his “F*ck JPop” tweets, his current thoughts on KPop, and singers he thinks that are actually talented. That part of the interview can be seen on The Japan Times site.
Due to space constrictions and my general loquaciousness, I ended up with a lot more content than I was able to include in my article for The Japan Times. Due to the graciousness of my editor, I am now able to bring the outtakes from my Taku interview here.
August 24 marked 10 years since the release of the m-flo album “Beat Space Nine.” It was your first #1 release. How has the industry changed since then?
It’s very different now. Before, it was based on how many cds you sold. Japan still sells more cds than any other country, but we’re declining. A lot of people look at the numbers and are mistaken. They think we’re selling a lot, but it’s only one particular group which has a very unique fanbase. I think you know who I’m talking about: AKB48. But they’re a rare case.
We’re like the US, but we’re adapting slower. Before, if the label had the money, there was advertisement on tv and in magazines. But now that people don’t buy cds, it’s totally different.
The Japanese music industry is conservative, it’s always been so. But things are getting more liberal now. They’re getting ready for something new. For the past 10 years, few people have been trying to bring out something different.
m-flo was one of the main urban acts last decade. What do you think of that scene today?
There was a hip hop / R&B movement around 1997 / 1998, with Sanpin Camp and LB Nation. I always say that’s the beginning of the end of the first Japanese hip hop boom. It got big and things started to go downhill from there. Major labels tried capitalizing on it, but didn’t succeed, so it went underground again. But now, we’re having a renaissance with rappers like AKLO, KOHH, and PUNPEE. I don’t know about R&B though.
Could you see m-flo going back to their old, urban sound?
You’ve worked with a variety of acts. Who was your favorite?
I have a few. Maki Nomiya, since I’m a big Pizzicato Five fan. Chara, Kato Miliyah, Crystal Kay, I could go on.
What was it like working with Ayumi Hamasaki?
Never met her. I mean I’ve met, but not during the song making process. Sent her the demo, she sang, we got it back, and we did the mix. This was for her song (“Merry-go-round”) and her song with m-flo (“My Way)”.
The same day “Merry-go-round” came out, you had another production come out: Hey! Say! JUMP’s “Ride With Me.” What was it like working with them?
Yeah, that got to #1. With Johnny’s, you don’t get to work with them because they’re always busy. We sent them like 5 demos, until they said ok. I had to please their management, and since it was a theme song (for the tv movie “Kindaichi Shonen no Jikenbo Gokumon Juku Satsujin Jiken”), I had to please the tv producer too. But since they were working with me, they expected something different from what the group normally does. It was a challenge.
If you could work with anyone, who would it be?
Utada Hikaru. We asked her like 5 times and she said no every time. We asked her for all of our “Loves” albums. I think we’ll keep on bugging her though.
How is LISA (m-flo’s former vocalist) doing?
She’s fine. She’s living near my house. I talk to her once a month. We talked about making some new music like almost a year ago, but it didn’t happen. I think it will soon though.
You do soundtracks. How’s that going?
Next week, I’m finishing the one for the movie “Nobunaga Concerto.” I’m also working on one for a Square Enix game that I can’t reveal the name of. Making soundtracks is my dream job.
How does it feel performing in the US?
Wonderful. I was overthinking it at first, but then I realized that I’m just playing in front of other human beings. I’m not as nervous as before, but a bit nervous still. I’m always a bit nervous before I perform.
Do you think speaking English has helped you?
Yes, that’s how this interview is happening. I can connect with foreign fans and artists by speaking English. I can see the outside world. I wish our stupid politicians would do that so they can see how offensive the things they say are to the rest of the world.
Why did m-flo stop releasing singles?
Because singles don’t sell. It’s not only our decision. It’s the label’s decision too.
Speaking of your label, what is going on with Avex right now? There have been some complaints about how they’re throwing everything at the wall recently to see what sticks.
Well, Avex is the biggest label. And they’re the one most up for a challenge. I’ve seen other labels, and they’re more conservative. Avex is much more willing to do something new. That’s something I like about Avex. Some things work, and some don’t. But if you don’t try, nothing happens.
You recently did a promo video for Avex’s streaming service, AWA. What do you think of streaming?
It’s like Japan is skipping a step. The US was ready for streaming because a very large catalog could be found on iTunes. The same can’t be said for Japan. A lot of big acts aren’t on iTunes Japan. The catalog is the important thing with streaming and the same thing is happening. AWA doesn’t have a lot of the newest stuff. They should have some exclusive things though since they’re owned by Avex, like Netflix does.
Any parting words?
I wished Japanese music journalists asked the questions you do, because Japanese journalism sucks. You asked a taboo question when you asked about “F*ck JPop.” A Japanese journalist wouldn’t have the guts to do that. But it’s great to ask these questions so that the artist can explain more.