Perfect Sound Forever

Half Japanese

Moe Tucker and Jad

Jad Fair interview
by Jason Gross (September 1998)

PSF: When you started Half Japanese, did you feel any kind of kinship with the New York and London punk scenes at the time (late '70's)?

I did feel a little bit of a kinship- I don't know if they felt one with me. (laughs) I don't know that it so much influenced our sound. I thought it had a good feel to it and I was glad to see it happen. Very glad to see it happen. It was a movement that when it first started, it didn't feel like it was about money. Then, I thought it was a good thing. It may well have been about money from the very beginning but it didn't feel that way to me at first. Then later on, I thought it was just a money thing, which happens with most movements. Then, I just lost interest.

PSF: Do you think that it's still the same way today?

For so many bands, I think it's just a money thing. I've got nothing against money. People need to make money but I don't need to listen to it.

PSF: How did you go from a wild album to Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts to your goal of 'making the perfect pop song'? Doesn't that seem like opposites?

I don't see them as being opposite. With our first recordings, we were trying to be as good as possible and trying to be as... Well, I was thinking pop at the time but looking back now, I could see that perhaps it was not pop. But it kind of felt pop to me. From an emotional stand point, it had a pop feel to it.

PSF: It seems very different from the later albums, at least in terms of sound.

I think it's not too distant from my solo work. It perhaps is distant from the work of Half Japanese now. But I think it's very similar to my solo records.

PSF: How do you see your solo work as being different from your work with Half Japanese?

When we're doing stuff with the band, I always chose the best songs I have at that time. I don't hold back, thinking 'this is going to be for a solo project.' It's more in terms of time restraints than anything else. If we're working within a set period of time, that's what I'm focused on then. From my end, it's the exactly the same. The only difference in working with other people is that they've got their job to do. But my job is the same.

PSF: Since the group has a long and impressive track record, do you see this as a burden sometimes or maybe something to build on?

I'm pleased with pretty much all of it. There are things that if I had more time to work on it, I would have done it a bit different. Like the album Bonehead, I thought I would liked to have more time to work that out. But there's financial restraints there. There's only a certain amount of time that we can afford to be in a studio. With Our Solar System, I thought that if we had a chance to go into a better studio, it would have been a bit better. But it's OK though.

PSF: Any personal favorites of Half Japanese records?

I very much like the first album, Half Gentlemen/Not Beasts and Charmed Life and Hot- those are my three favorites. I just think we were on during that time period in the studio. And so much of that hinges on how you're feeling when you go into the studio. You're just in there for three or four days. You go in there high and in peak form or you just go in there normal or you're feeling bad. So, it's kind of chancy.

PSF: After so many years, how does the band keep the raw sound that it has?

We're able to keep a raw sound just because we never rehearse. The band members live such a far distance from each other. I spend most of my time in Michigan and Maryland. John is up in the New York area. Gilles is living in Switzerland. Mick lives in London. It's such a distance that we're not able to rehearse so of course it's going to keep a kind of rawness to it.

PSF: Do you ever see your work as a kind of therapy for you?

Oh yeah, I think so. I feel a need to do music and do art work and the songwriting. It's something I really miss when I'm not doing it. There's a certain amount of tranquility that's obtained from the fact that you can be working on songs each day and stuff. I think you use that certain portion of your brain that is otherwise not used. I kind of kind of prefer using it than not using it. (laughs)

PSF: Women and women troubles come up in a lot of your songs. Has the way you see things changed a lot since going through relationships and marriage?

They're just songs to me. I don't put any real deep meaning to it. It's just words that rhyme. Sometimes it has a deep meaning but usually not. Usually, it's just la-la-la. (laughs) With pretty much any jerk that's writing a song, (they're) gonna rhyme a word with a word. People that put some big meaning on it are usually just pretending that there's a big meanning there and are being rather pretentious about it. I think it's just words.

The songs are just what I'm thinking of at the time, which is usually what would be that. That's not unusual. Most men think about women and I'm no different.

PSF: What keeps you motivated and excited to keep working as you do after such a long time?

I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to work with very talented people. And if the opportunity is there, I'm going to take full advantage of that. I have been able to work with some of my favorite musicians. I just finished an album with Yo La Tengo and I'm going to be doing one later this year with Teenage Fanclub and one with Daniel Johnston. These are such talented people. To work with John Zorn and Moe Tucker... I could go on and on. (laughs) It would just be stupidity to have the opportunity to work with these people and not to do so.

PSF: Other than these people you work with, how do you motivate yourself to keep working like you do?

Coming up with songs or music or drawing just comes so quickly to me. It's always there. I hear about people having a creative block and maybe it'll happen some time. But so far, I've never experienced that. It's like going to a water faucet and you turn the handle and there it is, water. It's the same with writing a song. All I do is put a pen in my hand and there's a song.

PSF: You're lucky!

Yeah! (laughs)

PSF: With all of the work that you do with Half Japanese and on solo projects and collaborations, do you see any kind of center or focus to all of your work?

I think there's a spirit there that is a lively spirit. I don't really go in for real... into music that takes a lot of work. Most of it is music that I feel is fun. I'd say that's pretty much the link between the different musicians I work with. They actually enjoy what they're doing.

PSF: As you do, right?

Oh, yes.

PSF: Do you see any kind of connection between the music you do and the artwork you create? Are these different sides of you?

Well, I do think it uses the same portion of the brain, when you're doing one or doing the other. I do think it's true that a lot of galleries and art people have a hard time thinking of an artist of also being a musician. It's actually a hinderance to be an artist... if they're also a musician, they're just not taken as seriously. I don't know why it is but I think it's true.

PSF: Maybe it's just snobbishness.

Yeah, perhaps so.

PSF: So you've seen this, where galleries have been reluctant to work with you?

It's hard to pin-point but I kind of have that feeling. Perhaps I'm wrong but that's just the feeling that I get from talking to different art people. It's also true that some people in the music world will look at music that's done by artists and say 'that's too arty.' There's kind of a snobbishness on the music side (too). It's on both sides.

PSF: You've done a number of children records. What led you to an interest in this?

I did work with children. For about twelve years, I was working at a day care center. I was doing whatever needed to be there. Reading books to children, playing with them, doing art projects. I'm very fond of children. That's why I like doing things for children because I do get a real kick out of that.

PSF: You have a very unique, uninhibited style of singing and guitar playing. How do you think you developed this?

I kind of think part of it... feels to me like rockabilly. Not the sound perhaps but the feeling of it, the emotional side of it. Just raw, very early rockabilly feeling. I think that's the main thing that I feel- the feeling that goes with the rhythm.

PSF: You were talking about records you have coming up with Yo La Tengo and Teenage Fanclub. Any other future plans?

I'm going to be another record with Daniel Johnston. We're planning to record in November. I'm going to record with Kramer and that's going to be coming out sometime around January. I've got a ton of stuff recorded with Jason Willett. I just finished some recording with Craig and Sharon from God Is My Co-Pilot. I might be doing some recording with Gilles Reader (Half Japanese drummer). I do hope to do some Half Japanese recording later this year but we don't know which label it's going to be on.

PSF: The band has gone through a lot of different labels. Has that been an ongoing problem?

There have been problems with some of the labels. Some of the labels have been very, very good to us. We went into it knowing it was a one record deal and it was made clear to us in the start. We were fine with that. There's a lot of good record labels out there so we'll do fine I'm sure.

PSF: What do you hope that people get out of Half Japanese?

I hope they get pleasure from it. That's the main thing. Get some pleasure and enjoyment from listening to it.


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