Brighton based Fujiya & Miyagi have big plans in store for 2011. Current album Ventriloquizzing adopts a more sinister tone in which different sounds and beats are further experimented with that on previous albums. Echoes of Neu! and Aphex Twin are marked on each individual track and the lyrics are something you wouldn’t even think up in your dreams. Embrace it and hold on tight as the music launches you into a world of modified and vividly textured beats.
Katia Ganfield speaks to Fujiya & Miyagi’s David Best about the making of Ventriloquizzing, the process and experience of working with producer Thom Monahan, and whyhe never raises his voice above a whisper.
How’s year been so far? Has it been stressful with the tour coming up?
No, well a little bit, I’ve got a nine week old baby boy and Steve’s got a ten week old daughter so it’s been kind of baby centric in Fuyija & Miyagi. That’s been our main concern really. We haven’t really been doing much; we put the album back because of the babies coming. It’s been quite nice really, not doing too much band stuff and the tour is still going ahead in March.
Where are you most looking forward to playing?
I like New York. I know it’s pretty obvious – but that’s what I’m really looking forward to. We’ve been there quite a lot of times, so we’ve got friends there now. It’s just that thing that before you’ve been there, you kind of know it. You know it from TV and films and it’s familiar even though it’s kind of alien as well. Everywhere else in America you’ve got to drive but it’s quite good for the Englishman because you can walk places and I like that.
What three sounds would you use to describe Ventriloquizzing and how would you say it’s different to your other albums?
One would be this synth that we use, that Iggy Pop used on his record The Idiot - so maybe a few notes of that – then you might get the jist of what we’re on about. Maybe a fuzz guitar and a pneumatic drill but in five rooms away so you can just hear it. It’s definitely really different; it’s more moody sounding and more like a band sound. Before, all the drums used to be programmed, and made it sound more ‘dance-floor friendly’. Now, it’s like a proper band type thing.
Listening to your album, these lyrics struck me: “Sucking lemons, nibbling couscous and a scooped out avocado filled with bamboo. / You look ridiculous, not everyone can afford to eat as healthily as you do.” What made you think to write that down as a lyric?
I was trying to write lyrics that aren’t normally in songs and to choose subject matters that are different. There are already lots of love songs out there. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be unaware that when there’s a fish and chip shop 10 yards down the road you’d rather indulge in organic stuff that’s miles away – it all just feels a bit forced to me. In Brighton, that happens quite a lot. I think it’s every fifth person you meet. It’s kind of funny, because songs, when you listen to them, seem to be directed at one person, but normally it’s like an amalgamation of different things you pick up from everywhere. So I thought, maybe it’s a little bit petty, but I thought, at the time it was worthy of writing song about it.
For the album you worked with producer Thom Monahan. What was it like working with him?
It was great because we’ve always produced the stuff ourselves. We were doing variations of the same thing. We didn’t want to do that anymore and we wanted to work with someone else. Our friends, Au Revoir Simone, who he toured with, they did an album with him and they recommended him. He has done stuff with Vetiver and Devendra Banhart – which isn’t the most obvious link to our stuff. But he really loves electronic music and has loads of great old synths. It was brilliant, we learnt a lot.
Was it a change from producing your own stuff to having someone help you along with the whole process?
We kind of co-produced it – Steve’s the main producer in the group and demoed it for ages and ages before we even went to California – so a lot of the songs and parts were all done. Thom just helped with sounds and structures. Sometimes it takes someone outside to point out that things could be better or different when you get too stuck in the way of working. For that reason it was fantastic.
What was the recording process like?
We worked really hard on it and it took ages and ages – like I said before we worked on it a lot in America, spent a month in Sacremento where we chucked in all the drums and stuff, then we went to LA where Thom lives and finished it off. A lot of it was planned, but the music in other songs, like ‘Minestrone’, came from nowhere. A lot of them were still quite rigid I suppose because they’re songs rather than jams – not the greatest jam band really. Everything’s really thought out.
What’s your favourite song on the album?
‘Minestrone’, because when we were doing it seemed very different to what we had done before and that’s what I wanted; I wanted us to change and do something different. Everyone probably thinks it sounds like we always sound, but to me, musically and lyrically, it’s kind of like a story, and I’ve never really told a story before. That’s the one I’m most proud of I think.
What was it with the lyrics in particular?
It’s not like an emotional attachment, I was quite pleased with the story Steve was talking about of the Chanctonbury Ring and that if you go up there at midnight and you run around the trees seven times, the devil appears. So that’s where it came from. Then I thought it would be nicer to update the story so the devil might be wearing an anorak or has got glasses and a flask. I liked the whole process of it and the initial idea just plotting it out and trying to make it more sense then my normal words – which I’m sure it probably doesn’t. That’s what I was trying to do anway.
You mentioned that you were glad to see a bit of a change in the band. Do you ever tempted to go all out with your vocals, like those hardcore punk bands?
I don’t really feel that angry and I’m not really good at shouting and stuff. Before Steve said why don’t you try and sing and give it a bit more oomph…but it just sounds shit – I’m not really good at singing above a whisper really.
So let’s get onto the origin of your name. Fuyija means record and Miyagi is taken from the karate kid. In your 2008 track ‘Photocopier’ you sing “we’re just pretending to be Japanese” – were you simply pretending?
That was like a last minute pitch to try and explain our name so no-one would ask. But my biggest regret in the band is being called that, it doesn’t make any sense.
I also read somewhere you originally wanted to start out as a record label. Where did you end up going with that?
It wasn’t so much that, but it was just two of us and we didn’t think we’d play live or anything so we thought we’d have these alter egos who are Japanese. Obviously we changed as a band, we played live and we’re clearly not Japanese.
Did you ever get booked as a Japanese band?
We got booked in London really early on for a Japanese night. We just rolled up and it was pretty funny. They were a bit disappointed. But you know, they should’ve done their homework.
Your Japanese alter egos, did you have a vision in mind of what they might look like?
We did at the time, and especially because at that time in England there was a real interest in Japanese culture. There was less interest in two blokes from Brighton so I think the initial idea was that we were going to be sumo wrestlers or something with those masks and quite cartoon-like. So the album covers and things, you’d never see out faces… That’s as far as we got. Then the game was up when people realised we weren’t Japanese, so we didn’t follow it through.
What’s your opinion on the different branches of electro that are going to make big movements in 2011 like witch-house or dubstep?
I quite like it all. I like James Blake – but what he’s doing now, I can’t really hear the dub in his step, you know? Which is not a bad thing; he’s just made it his own thing which is what it is. His record and his songs are really interesting. It’s not entitled to a genre really for me. I haven’t really got that much into witch house but I really like things like Emeralds and Fabulous Diamonds but I don’t know what they’d really come under. I’ve started listening to new music again, and some of it’s really exciting but some of its just genre for genres sake.
Who are you keeping your eye on for 2011?
Obviously James Blake’s album is going to do really well. I also like Dylan Ettinger – he’s this synth guy from America. His sound’s similar to John Carpenter but a bit more DIY and I think he’s going to do some really good stuff this year.
Ventriloquizzing is out now via Full Time Hobby.