Thanks so much to Hideshi Hachino for this fantastic interview. b-flower was part of that amazing generation of pop bands that appeared in Japan during the late 80s and early 90s, releasing a couple of singles on Sugarfrost, gaining recognition by the likes of the NME, signing for a big label like Toshiba in Japan, releasing many albums and gone on hiatus in the late 90s. Fantastic pop that transcended the barrier of language. Please enjoy, and if you understand Japanese (or want to use Google translate) please visit his blog too!
++ Hello Hachino-san! Thanks so much for being up for an interview. It’s hard to cover your huge discography, but let’s take it as an introduction to your music. Alright! I hear you have a new band called Livingston Daisy. Are there any releases coming out? Care to tell me a bit about this new project of yours?
Nice meeting you, Roque-san. So flattered that you’re interested in a band which has barely been active. Thanks for asking me for an interview – Yoroshiku.
Yes, I’ve just resumed releasing songs with a band called Livingstone Daisy – for the first time in just about a decade.
It’s a three-piece band. I’m with Sakana Hosomi, who co-produced b-flower albums and did gigs together from 1995 or so and has been active on his own as keyboardist, arranger, producer and ambient musician under such monikers as ‘hosomi’ and ‘maju.’ The other member is Okabe from b-flower.
We’ve digitally released “Tokyo Snowscape” in October 2010, “This World of Sorrow” in February 2011 and “June Song” in September, and are currently planning to put out an album as CD before too long.
++ So let’s talk b-flower. First thing I want to know, as I’ve been curious about it for years. What does the name mean?
My favourite American poet Richard Brautigan once wrote a beautiful poem in which he likened roadside drunks to flowers of foreign origins, which inspired “Brautigan-Flower” developing into “b-flower.”
++ Back in time. When did the band start? And how did you all knew each other and decided to start a band?
In 1984 or 85, I believe.
We started in strong sympathy with the sound of bands which belonged to such UK independent labels as Rough Trade and Cherry Red. The other members were my uni friends, save guitarist Suzuki who came to an audition we held at a studio where we practised.
++ Was b-flower your first band?
From 1980 or so I went through a real trial-and-error period in search for the best style of vocals to express myself, by following various vocalists in various copy bands, ranging from one copying The Crash and The Jam, another The Rolling Stones to one doing Roxy Music and Duran Duran.
++ On myspace I see some demos from way back, from 1986. What’s the story behind them? These are fantastic gems that I guess never saw the light. Are there more of these? Have you ever thought releasing them at some point?
It was around the time when cassette 4-track MTRs became abound and we recorded those demos just eager to see how they would shape up. None of them are of quality decent enough to be heard, but I decided to upload them on my Myspace in line with what I’ve been putting out in my blog, which I call my music chronicle.
There’s loads of unreleased songs in which I sang nonsense as they were yet to have proper lyrics in Japanese… yes, it might be fun to release them one day.
++ Your first release was “Nichiyo-bi no Mitsubachi” and it was self-released. How was that experience? And how different was it compared to working with Toshiba EMI for example later?
The first release was all handmade and loads of fun. But we were way too inexperienced in playing, singing, sound making, recording and mixing down to achieve the sound that we were aiming for. Based on that experience we decided to hire a producer at Toshiba EMI, by which we gained some and lost some, but the very experience is now a truly great asset.
++ Did you ever consider singing in English as many other Japanese bands did?
I would have tried writing lyric if I had had a command of English good enough to express my emotions and landscapes on my mind exactly as I wished. Having said that, as I believe the Japanese language is very fit for expressions of nuance and subtlety, I might as well use it as a main vehicle even if I could speak English well.
++ I know your band from the Sugarfrost singles, one of my favourite labels ever. I have both your singles with them of course. I wanted to ask how did you end up in that label and if you ever got to meet Akiko-san? And if you did, how was that?
So glad to hear that you have those singles, thanks! At the start of 1990’s we self-released an EP “日曜日のミツバチ (Nichiyo-bi no mitsubachi or, Nothing On Sunday)” and I took its copies to Django in Osaka (now in Nara), a record shop dedicated to UK/US indiepop – such a rarity those days – and asked them to sell on our behalf (I discovered later that Nelories too had their cassettes on sale there). The staff of Django and Akiko-san knew each other and that’s how she came to know and took to b-flower, as I understand. She later asked us in for a compilation album she was making at Sugarfrost.
Akiko-san is an amazing woman, equipped with tremendous power and will to get things done, whilst blessed with a great deal of good common touch. I went to Liverpool to see Akiko-san and John when they lived there. This year too I met her once in Kyoto when she came to Japan.
++ The NME praised your single “Stay Still” in 1993 comparing you to REM and Nico. That must have been on of b-flower’s biggest highlights? A Japanese band, singing in Japanese transcending frontiers. How did that feel like? I do think though thhttp://www.cloudberryrecords.com/blog/wp-admin/post-new.phpat your influences were much broader than REM or Nico, right? More neo-aco stuff?
If honest, I was taken aback by the reactions in the UK. Upon the UK release Akiko-san and John maintained, “Language makes no barrier,” whilst in Japan what we were often hearing was, “This kind of music should sound better when performed in English.” It was more so than not that our standing was that of an outsider from the small circle of Japanese indiepop. That’s why it meant loads to us when the Brits appreciated our sound, the music per se, all the more they spoke a different language. Truly grateful to Akiko-san and John for backing us up on the release.
My main influences are the UK/US rock, pop and folk in general from the 60’s to 90’s. I was also inspired by the pop and rock in Japan, including Kayou-kyoku (standard or Showa-era Japanese pop), which themselves have taken inspirations from their western counterparts.
++ And how did you get into the indiepop/neo-aco stuff? Did you ever go to the UK to see bands?
The bands I still remember well are East Village, Summerhill, The Jasmine Minks and Woodentops. In particular, East Village’s youthful and refreshing play was wonderfully impressive.
++ By the way, who is the little kid on the “Stay Still” 7″ sleeve? You?
Oh, no, ha ha, the little boy is the son of a friend of Akiko-san and John, I gather.
++ I also need to ask you about the b-side of this single, “The Last Snow of Winter”. This is one of the favourite songs of one of my dearest friends, Nana from Germany. Do you think you can tell me the story behind it? What inspired you?
Nana, thank you, glad you like it. Bassist Miya-kun came up with melody first, which brought to my mind a landscape in which pure white snow kept falling on over a forest of conifer, which in turn inspired lyric from me. I remember its recording session – we gathered at a studio and with “Say-no! (Ready, steady, go!)” started to play altogether and that was it. One take, more or less. We got so excited when playing out loud its second half.
We later recorded a different version of it, which we put on a mini-album called “Clover Chronicles 1.” The recording took place at a studio by Lake Yamanaka-ko (the biggest of the five lakes in the foothills of Mt.Fuji). During the recording it started to snow, which I could see out the window of the studio, and it filled me with a sense of serene beauty.
++ After the stint with Sugarfrost you released many albums and singles that most of us on the West haven’t had the chance to listen. If you were to pick one of your albums as an introduction to your band which one would you choose and why?
Could I first make a point of saying this – what I would like to have listened to now is first and foremost my latest releases, those three songs by Livingstone Daisy. That said, when it comes to an introduction to b-flower, the best album to start with would be our first, “In The Penny Arcade,” after all. As the sound quality of its mixdown is real bad, should it be possible at all I would love to get it re-mixed, re-mastered and re-released, but I would believe that at the end of the day it’s the first album that represents what’s the core of a band in the most straight-forward manner.
The b-flower members, with myself included, do take most strongly to the ’98 album “b-flower,” though it might not be exactly what indiepop fans would find instantly on.
++ What about gigs? Did you play lots? Any favourites?
We did gigs whenever we released CDs, mainly in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. There was once a Sugarfrost event where Graeme from Eva Luna (Pure), Jun-chan from Nelories and I did Aztec Camera’s “The Birth of The True” by acoustic guitar, which I still remember well.
++ Also you made some videos for a couple of your songs. Do you have a favourite? I think mine is “蛍 “. Is there any other song from your back catalogue that you would have loved to have made a video of?
So is mine, “蛍 (Hotaru, firefly) “. It’s done by a woman director who had an artistic flair for producing extremely beautiful visuals. I really wanted and asked her to make a video for the next single “地の果てより発つ (Chi no hate yori tatsu, depart from land’s end), but things didn’t work out, which was a huge disappointment.
Other songs I would have made a video of if I could are “日曜日のミツバチ” and “太陽を待ちながら (Taiyo o machi-nagara, waiting for the sun)” from the earlier of our catalogue.
++ During those early 90s in Japan there were many great bands that played fabulous indiepop. Did you feel there was some sort of community/scene going on? Who were your favourites during that time?
Indeed, there were a variety of great bands doing “indie pop” in its truest sense. Major labels tried to shape up a scene by incorporating them (including us), but owing to the sudden break-up of Flippers Guitar who were seen as the nucleus of all, it didn’t translate into a sea change big enough to transform the whole music scene of Japan.
Flippers Guitar, Bridge, Venus Peter, Nelories, Rotten Hats (Great3) and Sunny Day Service were cool, though all of them belonged to a much younger generation than us.
++ Suddenly, at the change of the century you became very quiet just to come back later. Was this a ‘decision’ by the band or did it just turn out like that in hindsight? What did you do in that time?
That b-flower went on a hiatus is almost 100% owing to that the contract with EMI ended and we as a band couldn’t make both ends meet any longer. As you can see when you have a listen of the album “b-flower,” we were no longer content with such simple sound making as our earliest efforts. We wished to make an album to follow at a proper studio by investing time and money making all sorts of trials and errors on sound production. But the sales figures didn’t allow it to happen.
After that we self-released simple, stop-gap sort of works by such side projects as Five Beans Chup and Humming Toad, whilst putting out a 60’s-retro work called “Paint My Soul.”
But I was deeply hurt by that my music was not accepted by the public. Over the last decade I steered clear of listening to music, let alone of touching my guitar.
++ And how did it come about your recent comeback? What ambitions do you have in this second time making music?
Sakana Hosomi contacted me, saying “Hachino-kun, I want to make music with you again.”
Attached to this message was his ‘music’ – it was that which awakened me.
The advancement of the internet is another big factor. It dawned on me that there’s now means by which we could send out our music to all over the world, which led on to the feeling that I might be able to do something.
++ You are from such a beautiful city like Kyoto, I would love to visit one day. So many great buildings there to visit, so many sights. Which ones do you recommend visiting for sure, the ones that one is not allowed to miss?
We’re “a band from Kyoto” simply because Kyoto is our base, but whilst bassist Miya and guitarist Suzuki are indeed from Kyoto, drummer Okabe and I are from Osaka. But I do know a lot about Kyoto as that’s where I spend the longest time. Though a bit cliché, I love Kiyomizu-dera Temple. “As if going to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is a phrase which we the Japanese use when we make a rather drastic decision.
Another is the bamboo forest in Sagano – there, get the feel of Japanese wabi and sabi, please.
++ And what about food? Is there any Kyoto specialties? What did you guys used to have for food and drink while practicing?
The Kyoto speciality around this time of the year is Tamba-guri, sweet chestnuts from the Tamba region (which is the stage for the lyric of “蛍”) – they’re so big and so sweet!
What I was drinking when practising was Coca Cola or Oolong tea from China as I’m not very fond of green tea.
++ I think I could go on and on asking you questions, but let’s wrap it. Wen you are not making music, what other hobbies do you have?
During the time when I had lost the passion for music I kept about 500 stag beetles (adults and grubs both). Every day I got in among them and just watched them. Real geek (Otaku in Japanese).
Now all the beetles are gone and music is back as the hobby.
++ Thanks again so much, anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you, Roque-san. The first album of Livingstone Daisy will be out in several months’ time (as CD, too). I would love for you to have a listen too, Roque-san.
b-Flower – グライダーと長靴