Shintaro Sakamoto :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

On The Feeling of Love EP, Tokyo-based songwriter Shintaro Sakamoto sings with longing about the warmth of companionship and a nightclub where everyone looks cool and the music feels just right in.

Written and recorded as the global pandemic ruled gathering and nightclubbing out, the four song collection finds Sakamoto bouncing over ’70s AM gold pop, flute and lap steel balladry, and gentle funk. But just as he has since beginning his solo career, which kicked off after the dissolution of his long running psych rock band Yura Yura Teikoku more than a decade ago, Shintaro never misses the chance to augment his disco, pop, and soft rock songs with some unexpected element—absurd pitched-up vocals, low battery electronic voices, a curious drum break—that keeps them from slipping into predictability.

Shintaro joined us via the magic translation via our inbox to discuss steel guitar, the influence of Allen Ginsberg, favorite record stores, and the music he most loves from New York City, where many of the labels that have released his music stateside are located. | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: The Feeling of Love was recorded during the pandemic. What was your mood like while recording? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: The first state of emergency was announced in April last year in Japan, and taking a stroll in the less crowded streets wearing a mask became my daily routine. The lyrics reflect the atmosphere of the deserted city around that time.

AD: Was this all recorded at home?

Shintaro Sakamoto: The demos were made at home, but the recording was done with my band at [Peace Music], a studio we use frequently. 

AD: What are the benefits of recording at home, mostly on your own? How about the drawbacks?

Shintaro Sakamoto: The good part is not having to worry about the time, and everything goes the way I envision. The bad part is not being able to go beyond my boundaries. 

AD: The washed out steel guitar at the end of “Don’t Tinker With History” sounds especially wonderful. How has your relationship with the steel guitar changed since the early 2010s? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: I first used the steel guitar in Let’s Dance Raw, back in 2014. I was a complete beginner and decided to just buy one and started practicing. I’ve always loved the sound of the steel guitar, so I’ve been using it a lot ever since. After I got to the level of being able to play decently, I haven’t practiced—so my techniques haven’t improved much, but I’ve been experimenting with new tonality blending the steel guitar and variations of the effectors. 

AD: You contributed a reading/performance of “Manhattan Thirties Flash” to Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America 50th anniversary album. Hearing his words, and your recitation in Japanese, is a great combination, over that percolating drum machine and those slightly fuzzed guitars. Did Ginsberg’s personality influence the musical character of the song? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: The instruments and the sounds are based on my own interpretations of his poetry. For the vocals, I imagined the narration from the opening scene of a fictional dystopian film, or as if the parent was reading a picture book to their child.  

AD: What do you most appreciate about Ginsberg’s lyricism? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: The attitude in trying to recover humanity and physicality in individuals, as the society becomes more and more rationalized. 

AD: When Ginsberg’s talking about “inanimate, repetitive machine Crash” and “robot obsession,” it’s hard not to think of our computerized state and wonder about it. Are you into new technology and excited about that sort of thing at all? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: I’m not so good at keeping up with new technologies. I’m more attracted to old gear, architecture, design, cars, furniture, and so on. 

AD: What other writers, Beats or otherwise, are important to you? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: I’m not much influenced by poems or novels, but I’m more influenced by old Japanese manga. Shigeru Mizuki and Yoshiharu Tsuge for instance. 

AD: I’ve touched on the funkiness of your music. It’s also melodically generous, and while very willing to get strange and disorienting, it’s usually quite gentle and groovy. You played in a psychedelic band, Yura Yura Teikoku, for a long time. Do you still rock out sometimes? In private or otherwise? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: I don’t play music out loud or get violent (like I used to), and even though the musical style has changed since Yura Yura Teikoku, I think my inner-energy remains the same. 

AD: Some of the Yura Yura records were released by DFA Records. Your records have also been released by Other Records. New York digs you, clearly. What music from New York means the most to you these days? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: From the Velvet Underground, Suicide, Television, Voidoids, Ramones, many of my favorite bands came from NY. And I also love the music as well as the personalities of Yo La Tengo. Recently, I’ve been often buying the records coming out from Big Crown Records.

AD: Early on you were associated with the Modern Music scene—you played shows and talked about music with You Ishihara and his band White Heaven. What are some of your favorite record stores around the world? 

Shintaro Sakamoto: Disk Union (Japan), Los Apson? (JP/Tokyo), Hangesha (JP/Kobe), Meditations (JP/Kyoto), Newtone (JP/ Osaka), Upstairs Records (JP/Tokyo), Zipangu Record (JP/Kobe), A-Musik (DE/Köln), Academy Records (US/NY), A1 Record Shop (US/NY), etc.

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