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Eluned
Eluned
Written by Elizabeth Strasser-Nicol

London-based Japanese Classical guitarist, Hidé Takemoto, combines a unique playing style with a multitude of genres, to create his own, original sound. Having released three albums and collaborated with musicians from all around the world, Hidé has now taken his magic fingers to creating a brand new EP of beautiful music – this time, all by himself.

I caught up with the delightful man recently…

Hidè Takemoto. Source: facebook
Hidè Takemoto. Source: facebook

How are you?

Very nervous!

Are you looking forward to gigging again?

Absolutely. It’s really from mid July that I just started to play again.

Since lockdown?

Yeh.

Oh wow. How did you find that first gig?

Oh, I’m just so thankful and I’m blessed. It’s really just fantastic.

How were the crowds compared to when you played before? Did you notice any difference?

Yes, the people, the audience and me as well, just really appreciated it so much more than before.

Have you ever played in Camden before?

No, except, I only once played in a place called Green Note. I teamed up with a blues guitar guy, otherwise I’ve never played in Dublin Castle or anywhere place in Camden. I’m really quite looking forward to it. Dublin Castle is such a legendary place.

Do you live in London?

I do. I live in South London but I’ve been in London for over 20 years now.

Do you come to Camden much at all?

Actually, my uncle-in-law, my wife’s uncle, he actually had a restaurant just opposite Dublin Castle, so I walked past Dublin Castle every couple of weeks. He had a Japanese restaurant. I do know Camden town. I just didn’t have a chance to play there so it’s really cool.

So just going back to the very beginning, how did you get started with music? Do you come from a musical family?

*laughs* No, not at all. Apart from the recorder lesson in primary school [laughing]. Year 3, Year 4… I was in Japan and I just had recorder lessons, that’s it.

No shame. I played the recorder as well! How did you get from the recorder to classical guitar specifically?

I actually started off with electric when I was 15 – from a schoolmate. A second hand guitar. I just wanted to be cool and then, at about 19, I started to think that’s what I want to do. Like all the other teenagers, I just wanted to be famous – to be a rock star! I was from a traditional Japanese family. Nobody agreed with that idea. So I didn’t really have a choice but I kind of started to look for some music college where I can study music. There’s nothing in Japan where you can study electric guitar in university or music college. Nothing at all. So I chose classical guitar – I thought somehow it’s similar. I’d never seen or heard a classical guitar before and I just thought ‘it’s kind of an acoustic guitar’. Then I had an exam then somehow managed to enter the music college when I was 19 and a teacher there he happened to be one of the best guitarists in Japan.

That’s lucky!

*laughs* Yeh I was blown away [by] whatever he played, then he became my guru. Since then I started to think ‘maybe I should become a classical guitarist’ [laughing]. It was a funny turnaround but I still love electric guitar and I still play electric guitar.

Do you ever play that live as well?

Uhm, it’s actually only quite recently that’s my like second job. *laughs* My main job is playing classical.

Do you remember the first piece of music you played on classical guitar?

It was actually two song’s for the school’s entrance exam. That’s something I don’t even want to think about [laughing]. I actually failed the exam for the first time. I didn’t know how to put new strings on my classical guitar. I was a complete beginner. I knew how to play the electric guitar. I knew how to change the electric guitar strings. I just didn’t know how to do it on a classical guitar. In Japan, you can have two exams  – the college entrance exams – so I didn’t have to skip a year. I managed to do enough for the second chance and somehow got in and then it all started.

 

So how did you get from that point to then expressing yourself through your own music?

That is actually so much later. After I finished music college in Japan, I came to London. I started to study at the place called Guildhall School.

Guildhall! That’s a big deal!

Yeh, again, I didn’t really know how famous the school was. *laughs* It was a cassette tape. I recorded, again, two songs on my mini disc and sent it over to London and again, I got somehow accepted – then I studied properly in London.

How did you find that experience?

The school was absolutely fantastic. All the best players and teachers. Everything was top level. I was really impressed. It’s all after I graduated from Guildhall that I kind of started to find my own voice, my own style. I started to mix Rock music, Pop and Japanese traditional influences. I studied Indian guitar as well. So that becomes, somehow, a really weird mixture of all this stuff together.

Was that a very conscious decision or did you just find it coming through as you were playing?

It came really naturally, without any plan, which I’m not really good at.

Are you still actively listening to lots of different music that you’re incorporating into your work?

Yep. I’m one with wide influences – Pop, Jazz, Blues, Heavy Metal, Spanish, Celtic… probably most of the different genres and all sorts of classical music as well. Sometimes it’s really difficult to describe my style. It’s like… everything.

What was it that made you take music seriously to where you said ‘actually, I’m an artist, this is what I want do as a day job’.

I think I always knew since I was 15. I kind of thought ‘guitar is my thing’ but it changed from ‘I want to be a rock star’ to ‘I want to be a classical guitarist’ to the whole thing together. I always wanted to be a full time guitarist. I think the short answer is, I knew at 15 that I always wanted to.

Did you think it was possible to do it as a day job?

*laughs* I think um, I can’t remember the exact moment I made my decision to become a musician but I remember my teacher once said to me, because I started to play the classical guitar when I was 19, that in the classical guitar world, all my competitors are child prodigies. They all started playing guitar at 3 or 5. If you start playing at 7, that’s quite late. *laughs* I was 19. So he told me there’s no way I can compete with the talented people. I knew it but [it’s] quite shocking to be assured that I was not one of those people but he then suggested, because I know the many different genres of music including rock and electric guitar stuff, ‘why don’t I use those things… and that made sense to me’. I think that’s how I started to think about mixing the different styles of music rather than just doing one thing, which I somehow cannot really win.

Do you think being in London has influenced your music in any way?

Oh yes. A lot. London is the place where you can hear many different styles of music. I think it’s not possible, unfortunately, if I stayed in Japan. Everything you hear is Japanese music. *laughs* You’d be surprised how closed the Japanese music scene is. It’s only maybe 10% of people who listen to British rock, American rock, other styles. Almost nobody knows what Indian music sounds like. It’s very… weird.

What is the live music scene like there then?

As I said, more than 90% of musicians in Japan are playing Japanese pop music. There are some foreign bands and rock bands and pop stars coming to Japan but it’s very rare and very expensive to get the tickets. Not everybody has a chance to listen to those artists overseas, which is really unfortunate.

I wanted to ask about your creative process and what that is like for you?

Sometimes I write my own stuff for my own joy and for fun. I get inspired from somewhere above and just write down songs as I want to but I’m also a composer as well. I get some commissions and asked to write the songs for a specific event for other musicians, so in that case I study their backgrounds, their favourite music. When I write for myself, I just pick up some really simple idea, a few notes, simple melody or some nice funky rhythm or Indian or Spanish, Turkish, Japanese or Chinese ideas and such and then start from there. I think we always start from very small then make it a little bigger.

 

What happens when you’re out and about in London? How do you record your ideas? Do you hum into your phone? You write music don’t you?

Yeh, I do both really. I used to just write everything down when I was a music student but now I know how easy it is to record it on the phone and just sing simple melodies, so I do both but when I write more Classical style – harmonies and counterpoint and everything, then of course, I do write it down.

You’ve collaborated with quite a few people on Sky Flowers and Four Springs as well, so how does that creative process then change?

Because I kind of know many different styles so when I collaborate with the musicians of a different style, I don’t usually find it difficult to play my guitar to their style. So when I team up with a Japanese traditional guitar player, I tune my guitar to the same way as his, to make it sound similar to that instrument, rather than playing guitar in the normal way. When I play with the Indian musicians – again, I tune my guitar strings to a similar way to how theirs is tune. That’s just easy to blend my guitar to the different styles of music. I think Jazz is probably the hardest. I just have to practice a lot, otherwise I usually find it really easy but fun and exciting to play with other styles of music [and] musicians of other genres.

Do you find they have music already created and you’re adding onto it or is it more back and forth?

Yeh usually I learn their way or their song. When I get to know [them] then I start to produce more ideas so they can do a bit of guitar style of playing and that really is fantastic. Yeh finding sound that nobody has done before is always quite exciting.

 

 

Yeh, so in contrast to that, your 2020 release ‘Featherings’, is all you. I was wondering if that was a deliberate decision to express something more personal or whether it was the result of circumstances like lockdown?

Yes, it was. The whole thing was written within a very short amount of time – I think in about two months? I just wrote the whole things down and made a demo and as soon as lockdown was eased in July last year, I booked a studio and just recorded the whole thing. Yeh it was released in November. It’s only for digital download and streaming. Yeh it’s quite unusually, incredibly fast – the whole process was. Again it’s really all the styles – I had a bit of Indian influences, I had classical influences, I had Spanish influences, I had Japanese music influences, I had pop music influences and… whatever you call it… Jimi Hendrix as well. *laughs* Absolutely no plan. I just wrote everything I wanted to write and that was the result.

Have you played that live since the release?

So nothing from the release date until mid-July this year. Yeh that’s been a bit frustrating.

What’s the best thing about playing live for you?

I think playing live is best in every way. It sounds best, it feels best. Of course, for the audience, I believe it’s the best experience to hear me. They can hear the sound vibration, the feeling… even the smell. *laughs* It’s the best live. I don’t know how to explain why it is but I’m quite confident, it’s the best.

So I was curious then about what it’s like trying to bring that to the studio?

Yeh, I try to play in the same way as I play for the live performance. In fact… on the Featherings EP – one song called ‘Val & Jimi’, is actually improvised.

Really?!

Yeh! *laughs* The whole thing is just made up. I actually played some uh… wrong notes –  unplanned positions and notes. I just accepted it and left it as it is.

 

 

You produced it?

Yeh, it’s all done by me. I had a really, really good engineer in North London. It’s in a place called Cowshed studios. They just completely converted it but part of it still remains as the original Cowshed. It’s a really lovely place and it’s all authentic, the classic equipment there and the engineer was absolutely fantastic.

That’s great. I was thinking, in terms of personal expression – that’s obviously not just in your music. Looking at some of the photos on your website, you seem to really be into the physical expression of clothing. I saw some face paint! Is that sort of thing important to you? Do you feel you can indulge in that when performing live?

Uh *laughs* I wasn’t actually thinking that way at all for the last … I don’t know… 20 years or something but I read an interview of my favourite guitarist, Paul Gilbert. He’s a guitarist from the band called Mr. Big. He said that what you wear is as important as what you play.

I used to believe that the sound is the most important but now, I think how you look and how you feel also affects how you play. So I think it actually does matter. I think he’s right.

So when did you start doing that?

It’s only quite recently. 3 years ago, 4 years ago.

Yeh it looks great.

Aww, thank you!

Lastly, what are you working on now?

I’m actually working on my next project – well, a couple of different projects. I’m doing some funk style EP to produce and also, I’m working on a little song. I’m not sure if I should reveal this yet but it’s an exact 6 minute song. People can use it as a timer to boil an egg *laughs*

That’s quite a novel idea!

[laughing]. I haven’t actually written the song yet but I have actually been talking to some people… if I can find somebody perfect to collaborate with. That’s actually quite an exciting one for me. I also started to produce and organise monthly music events; a series of concerts in East London at a place called The Castle near Aldgate East. Once every month, with a different guest. That’s also quite an exciting project I’m working on.

Brilliant. Thanks very much for your time!

Oh my God, I’m still nervous! *laughs*

 

Check out Hidé Takemoto’s latest E.P. Featherings, available to download from his website and get tickets to see him perform at Dublin Castle on October 29th!

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