Sukima Switch is one of Japan’s best-loved pop and jazz fusion duos. Founded in 1999 by Shintaro Tokita and Takuya Ohashi the group has produced six albums and countless live shows across Japan. Most recently they produced a single titled ‘Line’ for the manga series film Naruto Shippuden.
You are in Amsterdam to record a song with Dutch musician Benny Sings. Can you tell us more about the album and why you wanted to work with Benny?
After 10 years of producing, recording, mixing and making our own arrangements, being in control of the whole musical process, we thought it might be interesting to collaborate with other people to arrange our music. It’s a conceptual album so instead of approaching a technical guy, we wanted to work with musicians who work like us, with the same philosophy, musicians who also make their own arrangements. So we started selecting musicians to work with, and Benny was amongst them.
What was the chemistry like working on the album with Benny?
The recording was really great. It went smoothly and that is also because we met Benny in Japan (Benny has toured Japan since 2003), so we already exchanged some ideas.
How do you collaborate?
The concept of this album is that we ask other musicians to re-arrange already existing songs, famous songs which we have already released or played at concerts.
So Benny made the arrangement, he doesn’t sing on the record?
Yes, and he does the chorus!
What was your first encounter with music?
Ohashi: My first memory is hearing music from computer games and later I listened to orchestras. A friend of mine played the piano, I heard him play a song he heard on the computer, just by hearing the sound he could play it. He really impressed me.
Shintaro: I remember my teacher gave me a ticket for a classical piano concert and they played a song which I was practising at that moment. I thought wow the sound is so different, they can play it so well, I was really shocked.
How did you meet each other?
Ohashi: We met through a common friend, also a piano player. He knew Shintaro from high school and he took me to his concert.
So you (Shintaro) were already performing?
Yes, I was playing the synthesizer. I wasn’t really good but…
Did you start the band soon after you graduated?
Ohashi: I was often playing on the streets and fans were listening so I asked Shintaro if he wanted to help me arrange, record and promote my song. At that time Shintaro was arranging and recording for other musicians too.
Shintaro: A record producer found it really interesting and asked me if we were working together. So I said yes. Right after that I called Ohashi to tell him the good news and that’s how we started.
Where does the name Sukima Switch come from?
When we started working together we did everything at home, mixing, recording, it was a small studio and we didn’t have a band name yet. We started picking words and we came up with the name Switch, we liked the sound of it. We were recording in quite an old place and there were gaps in between the walls and the ceiling, almost everywhere around us, and the word ‘gap’ in Japanese is ‘sukima’, hence, Sukima Switch!
What was one of your most famous performances?
It is difficult to say because each performance is a new challenge. So we feel we should be satisfied with the most recent one.
Which musicians inspire you?
Mostly Japanese musicians, maybe you don’t know them, and American sing and song writers from the sixties and seventies.
What are your dream projects for the future?
Amsterdam is a great city, we enjoyed it very much, and we hope to come back to give a concert. We have been making music for a long time and we have met so many great musicians. If we could organise a big festival outside and perform with our favourite artists, like Benny, that would be fantastic.
Interview by Kim van Beek