Kenji Kenji is a workaholic and creative dynamo. He’s’ got more groups that you’ve had hot dinners, missus. We’ve covered a few, Friedrich Sunlight, I guess they’re his main squeeze (Tapete), The Golden Eaves and of late the aptly-named Eccentric Blabla (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten). What they all share in common is a wonderful gift for classic pop songs and delicious melody. We were delighted when he answered some questions for us and added a rather delightful new artwork to our gallery. Oh and he also introduced me to the music of Helen McCookerybook, for which I will be forever grateful.
Tell me a bit more about yourself!
A Japanese-American living in the depths of Bavaria who likes collecting LPs.
You’ve got multiple projects on the go – why is that and how do you keep everything ticking over?
It’s just super fun to be making music with different people! I guess I’ve just been meeting the right people over the past few years.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
The earliest musical memory I have is when John Lennon was shot. My family and I were dining at a traditional Japanese restaurant in downtown Los Angeles and there was a candlelight vigil being held outside. Everyone looked like ghosts in white robes. It was a pretty frightening sight to see so many candles and so many sad faces. My family and I were all gathered in a tatami room with shoji doors (paper doors) separating the rooms. In the next room, a group of official-looking men in business suits sat around a table and amongst them were scraggly looking men who I later found out were members of the Eagles. My uncle, who was a huge music fan, recognized them immediately and we went into their room to ask for their autographs. I was five years old at the time and had no idea who they were but I shyly handed them a pen and they politely scribbled their names onto my napkin. Later, I asked my uncle what in the world was going on outside and he told me that an important man was shot and killed the night before. “His name was John Lennon and he was the singer of The Beatles.” I looked at him in total confusion. He patted me on the head and said, “Don’t worry. You’ll soon discover his music.”
What is your favourite song/piece of music that you’ve written and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t really listen to anything I’ve written after it’s been recorded. But what I can say is that I like singing the songs that our pianist in Friedrich Sunlight has written; particularly one called “Nachtbus” which will most likely be the next Friedrich Sunlight single.
How do you know when a tune you’ve written is complete?
I try not to fuss about too much when I’m writing songs. It probably has to do with the fact that my guitar playing ability is fairly limited, which is why a lot of my songs end up being pretty short. I’m really fortunate to have so many amazingly talented musicians around me to help out with arrangements, etc.; I’ve been making music with my dear friend Andrew for about 20 years now and he’s a serious guitar wiz. My mate Joe in The Golden Eaves is also an extremely good guitar player and he helps me finish sketches of songs that have been hibernating on minidiscs for about a decade.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?
Le Banana Split by Lio. It’s a perfect pop song and I love banana splits. What a great combination! I would’ve probably called it Mint Chip Banana Split though.
What musicians have been your biggest influence and in what way?
This is also a very difficult question to answer as my musical taste is kind of all over the map. However, I can name several singers/musicians right off the bat who I’ve kept very close over the years: Colin Blunstone, Bobby Wratten, Karen Carpenter, Bobbie Gentry, Chet Baker, Nivek Ogre, Scott Walker, Roger Nichols, Rose Melberg, Curt Boettcher, Beverly Kenney, Shirley Collins, John Howard… just to name a few! 🙂
Name some songs that make you happy and why do they have that effect?
Le Banana Split by Lio. It’s a perfect pop song and it makes me think of mint chip banana splits, which makes me smile.
Name some of your favourite records.
There are too many to name! I will spare you the boredom of my endless list.
What other bands/artists are you digging at the moment?
I’ve been loving the new Peter Perrett record; it’s phenomenal. The new Andreas Dorau double LP is also fab. Also, Helen McCookerybook’s newest CD “The Sea” hasn’t left my CD player. Helen was in a band called The Chefs, who I totally adore and her voice and guitar playing – just insanely good. I was personally introduced to her and Vic Godard in London at a Monochrome Set gig earlier this year and I nearly fainted. I regret that I didn’t have a napkin and pen ready.
Who would you like to tour with?
I dislike touring.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are? (and what would be your answer?)
Q: Is that a wig you’re wearing?
A: No, it is not. But I do like wearing blonde wigs on occasion.
What are you working on at the moment/what’s next for you?
We’re currently working on the next Friedrich Sunlight album. We’re so lucky to be working with musical masters like Andy Lewis and Timo Blunck. For me, it’s like a dream come true to be making a record with these guys. I also would like to get the ball rolling for the next Golden Eaves single as well.
It’s all still brewing in my head at the moment but I’d like to start a project with different musicians playing each song. I don’t have a clear idea of what it should sound like but I already have the name. The project will be called Die Matrosen (The Sailors) and I’d like to start with a cover version of “Destination Moon”.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
I think it would be nice if some friends would get together and play a set of songs of their choosing. They all have good taste and I trust that they’d come up with something good.
Finally, speaking of bananas here’s the Kenji’s “Le Banana Split”, now hanging in pride of place in our gallery.
Photos by Ferdinand Klotzky.