Interview conducted by Ken Hidaka.
Takeshi Nishimoto is a classically-trained guitarist, and composer, who is conversant with European, Northern Indian, and American jazz classical traditions. In addition to collaborations with artists as diverse as the late sitar master, Rahul Sakyaputra and John Tejada, Nishimoto has also performed extensively as a solo artist – traveling to more than 20 countries and playing various clubs and festivals around the world. Currently involved in a broad range of projects, from soundtracks to gallery-based sound installations, his unique style of playing makes him a much sought after collaborator and mentor.
I was introduced to Takeshi when I started working for the Japanese label, Advanced Public Listening Records. Their recent compilation, ON IN OUT, features 2 tracks by Takeshi – collaborative pieces that he made with Roger Doring. The label head, Miho Mepo, is an old friend of Takeshi from their days living in Berlin. I became aware of Takeshi years ago, through his releases with John Tejada on City Center Offices. I really loved his tracks on the comp, and then I was lucky enough to catch his live performances on Dommune – one, a showcase for the label, Onpa, last November, and the other, a ON IN OUT showcase in January. I both blew me away, so I thought it would be super cool for him to perform at our inaugural ZIM ZAM ZU! event.
Where is your home town?
I’m from Fukuoka.
Where are you based?
I’ve been based in Tokyo since 2018.
How long have you been making music?
I’ve been producing, recording, and performing music since 1985, so it’s about 38 years now. My first recording gear was a cassette tape operated MTR by Fostex.
What inspired you to start making music?
For the first few years my musical experience was all about performing with a band, or practicing alone. Then a good friend of mine introduced me to multi-track recording. Up to this day, I really enjoy the energy from performing live, as well as capturing interesting sounds via recording.
What equipment were you using?
My mother had a nice upright piano, and there was a half broken classical guitar in the house. Then I was given a bass guitar, and I saved up for a practice amplifier.
When you first started were there particular artists that you drew inspiration from?
Back in 1985, I was into the UK punk scene, then the New York underground scene and the Japanese music of the time. When I was in high school, I was into Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Cale, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Who, Television, Jeff Beck..
Are there any guitarists that you particularly admire?
There are so many great guitar players out there, but to just to name a few: Pat Martino, John Mclaughlin, Joe Diorio, Phil Upchurch, George Benson, Jimmy Raney, Kazuhide Yamaji, Kazuhisa Uchihashi, Masami Tsuchiya. All of my guitar teachers in the past – Pepe Romero, James Smith, Brian Head, Scott Tennant, Bill Kanengiser – the list goes on. Phil Upchurch is still my mentor and one of my best friends.
Where were your first gigs?
It was at a venue called “Green Village” in Takasago, Fukuoka-city.
What sort of music were you playing?
It was hard-core, UK style, punk rock music.
From punk rock to ambient is quite a jump? When and why did you first get interested in “ambient” music?
When I look back, I notice what I was into at the time must have been the energy and mindset of the punk rock. “Ambient music” means so many different things as I’m sure you know. It used to mean “BGM”, and therefore it didn’t get paid much attention at all. Things have changed with the terms “neo-classical” or “post-modern”. Personally, I always enjoy the power of music regardless of whether it’s loud or quiet, a whispering tone…Magic is always there when I listen, and to me soft ambient music can be just as powerful as loud rock music.
How did you end up in L.A.?
I spent my formative years in New York City, because of my father’s work. Then I moved back to Japan when I was eight and a half, still moving around many times until I was in middle school. My life was OK since I had a well paid job in my early twenties, however I couldn’t picture myself simply spending the rest of my life in Japan. So I quit my job and moved to Los Angeles in 1994 – despite not knowing anybody there, and enrolled at Santa Monica City College, majoring in American Literature. A year later, I was offered an audition for a special scholarship program, to study Classical Guitar at the USC Thornton School of Music. I got in, and I thought it was meant for me, felt really something special. Then I started practicing guitar very seriously.
How did you hook up with John Tejada? Are you still in touch?
We had a mutual friend, and he came to one of my gigs back in 1998, where I played Northern Indian classical music on guitar, with a sitar player and a tabla player. John liked my playing and we had a very nice hangout after the gig. The next week he invited me to his studio and I found out about his amazing musical skills on various instruments. From then on we regularly met up for recording sessions. Some of these came out on the labels such as 7th City, Plug Research, and then later on City Centre Offices and Palette Recordings, under the name, I’m Not A Gun. John is one of my closest friends on the planet, right up to this day.
How did you hook up with Advance Public Listening Records?
I met Miho-san, the owner of Advance Public Listening Records, when I moved to Berlin in 2005. Life in Berlin was quite a big change from Los Angeles. I met and worked with so many amazing people there. I was there until 2018.
How did you meet Burnt Friedman? Again are you still in contact?
We met at a festival in Aarhus, Denmark, called the Electronic Arts Jazz Festival, which we both took part in, in 2007. I performed as duo, with Roger Döring, and Burnt was there to perform with Jaki Liebezeit. I was so impressed with their concert that I went up to him to tell him how much I appreciated the show. Burnt knew my work with I’m Not A Gun, and we got along very well. We both lived in Berlin at the time, and he suggested I go running with him – he is so into looking after his health. Sooner or later, he invited me to take part in his recordings – playing the sarod. Some years later, I asked Burnt – along with Robert Lippok – to help with the production of my second solo album, Lavandula, which was released in 2013 on a Berlin based record label, Sonic Pieces. We still keep in touch, despite neither of us still residing in Berlin.
Are you working on any collaborations are the moment?
Yes, I have several projects going on at the moment. Hopefully, I can disclose them soon.
What equipment do you have now? Do you have a favorite piece of equipment?
I have several guitars. Some are in Tokyo, while the rest are still in Berlin. I also have a fretless bass, a sarod – a Classical Northern Indian instrument, a set monitor of speakers, some pedals, and a RME audio-interface, for recording. Since each piece of gear has a special meaning to me, I don’t really have a favourite. I do have a preference, though, when comes to a certain situation or task. I’ve been using a 7-string electric acoustic guitar, called a Frameworks guitar since 1998 , and two custom made guitars by the late Abe Rivera. The set of monitor speakers, called Musikelectronic Geithain, completely changed the way I listen to music.
Do you listen to a lot of music? Would you be able to give us a couple of pieces of music that you are currently enjoying?
Andy Rinehart / Jason’s Chord
Jean-Rodolphe Kars / Claude Debussy Preludes Book 1&2
What do you have planned for the upcoming live performance at Bonobo for the inaugural Zim Zam Zu party?
I’ve got a few tracks already in mind to play at the event. Maybe, I`ll start the set with a short improvisation, to check the vibe and atmosphere of the space. The rest is going to be a mixture of tracks that are composed, some from my second album, Lavandula, and some other improvisational ideas.
What are your plans for the rest of 2022? Do you have many gigs lined-up? Any recording planned?
I plan to visit Berlin this summer after three years not being able to, due to COVID. Finishing up my third solo album is definitely the plan for this year. I’d also very much like to play more concerts, and participate in the live events such as Zim Zam Zu. Thanks so much again for this wonderful opportunity!
ZIM ZAM ZU! is a new party hosted by myself, Max Essa, and Dr. Rob. Held at Bar Bonobo, in Harajuku, the first one takes place on Saturday, May 7th. The aim of the party is to help promote interesting, up and coming, Japanese artists, both DJs and live performers.
For the inaugural event, ZIM ZAM ZU! has invited two contrasting guitarists, Kashif and Takeshi Nishimoto. Kashif will be doing a wonderfully groovy, guitar & turntable set downstairs, while Takeshi Nishimoto will wow the second-floor tatami lounge with his uber-chilled ambience. Tim Lambourne of The Good Company Broadcast Party, and co-host of the popular Tokyo-based party, Hey Chef! will also be joining us manning the downstairs dance-floor decks.