| Updated on Jun 4th, 2012
1. Yeah! Mecha Holiday
Aya Matsuura ("Ayaya" to her fans and friends) is probably the single biggest reason I went crazy over J-pop. I first heard her in the trio, "San Nin Matsuri" with the song, "Chu! Summer Party!" and not only was I hooked on her but also her genius producer, Tsunku. There was a running joke on the TV show I did, "Rock Fujiyama", that I was so crazy about Ayaya that if she were ever to be a guest on our show, then I would have to go back to America because my mission in Japan would have been complete. Eventually I did meet her and was even a guest on a radio program she was hosting. We both analyzed each other`s music on the air and had a blast. Her intelligence belies her cuteness, and she is clearly in her own league as an "idol singer". Anyway, the original version of "Yeah! Mecha Holiday" is a song that I often play to non-Japanese musicians and studio people because it is literally a feast for the ears in terms of production tricks, ear candy and a damn good song.
TECH TALK: I used a sweet Gibson 335 for the main solo, but with no distortion, just straight into the clean channel of one of my Engl amps. With no artificial distortion to help sustain notes, you really have to man up and dig in to the strings to get them to speak. I`m very happy with the tonal contrast I got in this song.
2. Nada Sousou
One of the most beautiful Okinawan songs ever, this one hit the mainstream in J-pop thanks to Natsukawa Rimi`s drop dead gorgeous delivery. Blessed with one of the most gorgeous voices in the world, doing Rimi`s signature song took balls of steel for me to attempt. I have had the honor of playing this live with the Taiwanese superstar, Amei and played it myself a few times on TV, but I`ve always done a ballad version of it. This version is the first time I dared to rock it, and hard.
TECH TALK: I`m particularly fond of the tempo change in the middle of the song. We spent a lot of time finding the exact best timing to bring the band back in and rip your head off. I think we nailed it.
I originally wanted to do my all time favorite AKB48 song, "Heavy Rotation", but after recording several demos, I couldn`t get something that I liked as much as the fabulous original. AKB48 have several great songs so I went for another one that is closely associated with them, Aitakatta. Chageeeeee, who plays drums in my solo touring band, killed it on this song. He is the only drummer I know who goes equally apeshit in the studio as he does live. Stick twirls, hair flips, constant furious headbanging and pointing the stick at imaginary fans…as long as he nails the take, it`s fine by me!
TECH TALK: This is a rare case in which I need to look at the guitar neck a lot when playing this song live, because the melodies are spread out over unusual keys. I can`t just "close my eyes and feel it" like I can on most of my stuff. I did the tune with two cheerleaders dancing to it live in Japan and as much as I wanted to make eye contact with them, I had to keep peeking back at my guitar.
4. Ame no Bojo/Funa Uta
When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy cassettes at random in Chinatown. Chinese, Japanese, any kind of Asian music intrigued me. I would learn as much from them as I could, and a lot of that "learning" showed in my band, Cacophony. Among those tapes was a tape of hits by Yashiro Aki-but of course back then I couldn`t even read her name, much less the song titles. But I listened to her day and night on my walkman, walking through the Tenderloin to get my $1 slice of pizza or my 50 cent liquor store cookies. I knew these "nameless" songs backward and forward, every breath, every whisper, every note Aki sang. Fast forward to Japan, Aki herself is slated to join me on my TV show, "Hebimetasan". I am beside myself. The script had us playing a song together, but it was just supposed to be off-the-cuff and a casual impromptu kind of thing. I would have no part of that! A week or so before the taping, I rushed into one of the best studios in Japan, Crescent Studios (at my own expense…!) hired the best drummer I knew, Ryuichi Nishida, and bashed out this medley, so Aki could sing to the sound of a raging band. I had no idea if she would even go for it-as she is like the Barbra Streisand of Japan, and not AT ALL known for fist-pumping metal. When the show day finally arrived, she was totally cool with the arrangement and made one of the most memorable performances of these two hits ever. I was honored that it was with me and on my show. She has since asked me to perform this same arrangement again with her on one of her shows which I about peed my pants when I heard about it. She is one of the most inspirational artists in the history of Japanese music.
TECH TALK: Most of this track was the actual track that I recorded for the TV show back in 2005. I did some edits and played all the guitar melodies (that Aki would have sung live) in 2011.
5. Toire no Kamisama
The fact that a 10 minute tearjerker of a song can be a huge hit and even played live in its entirety (!!) on Japan`s biggest annual yearend music program (NHK`s Kouhaku) brings a smile to my face and warms my heart. But-how the hell do I make it my own?! I knew this had to be the most twisted and heavy showpiece on the album, so demo after demo was made, three studios slaved away simultaneously with edits, overdubbing and some studio wizardry even I had never seen before. Although it is a sweet melody, the song`s main weapon is its touching lyric about a young girl and her relationship with her grandmother throughout her life. You can`t listen to the song without holding back at least a tear or two. That is an emotion that I try to get people to feel with my guitar, so it intrigued me to make the song equally impressive and expressive without the lyrics to evoke emotion. Try it sometime, it is quite the challenge! But at the end of the day, it is one of my faves off the album.
TECH TALK: A lot of the 7-string sounding guitar work on this and "Nada Sousou" was done on a $200 6 string Danelectro that was converted into a baritone. I find that the tighter the strings are for those super low parts, the better they hold a tune. A major gripe I have with 7-string guitars is you have to hit them really soft or else they go sharp on you. I`m not that kind of guy! Also I love to have stunning drumming on my albums, this tune shows off some of Jason Bittner`s warped pummeling, no question.
6. Canon A la Koto
I was asked to appear in a TV commercial for SMBC, one of Japan`s leading banks. I was to be filmed playing "my version" of Pachelbel`s "Canon in D" with a Japanese Koto player, representing "the joining of two worlds". I was happy to do the commercial, but there were two big challenges involved. First of all tuning limitations of the Koto made the arrangement of the song quite complex. Second of all. In my opinion, that is the most overdone and LAME song for the electric guitar to "rock out" on. So I had to construct the song in such a way that I could be happy with, because I would be seen playing it all over Japan for 3 months or so! The Koto player and I rehearsed so much that we were able to do the performance live for the commercial, rather than recording it beforehand. The commercial was done in 30 second and 15 second versions, and it was beautifully done and quite a popular commercial. That`s why I decided to do a full size version for this album. Pachelbel is probably rolling in his grave over my twisted interpretation, but I`m really happy with this version of the most covered "classical" song on rock guitar.
TECH TALK: The Koto is unable to play many chord changes because of the way it is tuned. We had to use 4 separate tunings to record the Koto on this song. If we were to play it live the Koto player would have to have 4 instruments lined up and switch from one to another swiftly. The idea is nit unheard of in the world of Koto, but it is usually only 2 kotos, rarely if ever, more than that.
7. I Love You
Doing this one in the studio with a bunch of guys as expected had the homo jokes flying (nothing against gay people but you know how it is) and it was all we could do not to overdub a Barry White style monologue in any of the quiet sections of the song. It`s actually a really good song, and it was my manager`s idea to do it on the album. I was familiar with it, but not so much that I knew every nuance of every syllable like I did on the other songs like Nana Sousou or Yeah Mecha. So I was lucky to have the Japanese engineer Shin working with me to tell me whether I was interpreting the melody in such a way that people who know the song would not think I am playing it wrong. This is actually quite a tricky concept. Of course if I just wanted to play the melody, I could just copy the melody properly and that would be that. But obviously that is not what I am doing here, the idea is to do it my way, which means changing a lot of the phrasing, making the song worth covering. But if I`m not totally familiar with what people know and expect from the song, it`s easy to throw the whole thing off course by just flatting or sharping a note in the wrong place. That`s where Shin came in and helped me a lot.
TECH TALK: A lot of the playing on this song does not sound like me…So when I play stuff like that I usually keep it because I like to avoid repeating myself at all times. One phrase toward the beginning sounds like I`m using a tremelo bar, but I`m not. Actually I don`t really like the sound of what a tremelo bar does, but I kept that one phrase in there because I thought it was pretty funny that I could emulate a typical tremelo bar phrase without actually using one. I know, it`s not a great reason to keep something that I don`t like, but it didn`t sound like me and that was interesting to me at that moment.
8. Sunao ni Naretara
I don`t care for R&B much. But I LOVE Japanese "R&B"! Why? Because it has all the coolness of R&B without the irritating melisma (look it up), vile lyrics, screaming and/or atonal rapping. It`s great! It`s sexy! Unlike "idol music" (I love that too) you can play it in front of people without getting strange looks. And the melodies pass J-pop standards of being sinfully memorable. "Sunao ni Naretara" is a prime example of that Japanese "R&B" and was quite the challenge to find a "Marty-ish" interpretation of.
TECH TALK: This song took the longest of all on the album to record guitars on. Likely because it was the first one we did on the album and we hadn`t yet figured out which guitars sound best for what yet, and/or because I like to set the bar high for the kind of guitar playing for the whole session on the first song so all the people working in the studio know what level of perfection I will be working at. It can shock some people!
The simplest sounding song on the album, but it is probably the most musically complex. So incredibly structured was the original that I was very hesitant to violate the song like I do on most others. The original is like a piece of perfection. You would never suspect how deep the inner workings of it are until you analyze it. Not just analyze it, but analyze it to the point you need to when you are considering covering the song. I did precious few architectural changes to the song and decided to let my guitar do the talking. I added a guitar solo section that I really like. It really has nothing at all to do with the song, but for some lucky reason, it sounds like it totally belongs. That is what I like about it.
TECH TALK: With a long and simple sounding main melody such as this you have to phrase it consistently within itself or else you have a long mess on your hands. You have to create an overall way of phrasing and stick to it. Once you do that, it`s easy. So few people play melodies like this on guitar so I feel like I`ve picked up a lot of new and unheard of concepts along the way.
10. Beautiful Days
This one is from the biggest group in Japan, Arashi. Like "Gift" on the first Tokyo Jukebox album, when dealing with a heavy hitter like Arashi or Mr. Children, you really gotta up your game on guitar to win the approval of their rabid fans, who very likely could not care less about and instrumental version of a song from their beloved heroes. They wanna hear the guys` voices. So with that pressure I attacked this tune from all angles and hopefully came up with some nice guitar playing..
TECH TALK: This song was originally much longer until we hacked out some sections. It`s still kinda long but it all makes sense and feels good. It was all I could do not to add the trademark "Friedman key modulation" after the classical section, but I resisted the urge for once.
11. Little Braver
I know very little about Anime, but I know a good song when I hear one, and a lot of good songs in Japan are in the Anime genre. That is the genre most well known outside of Japan so I wanted to do one of Anime`s many great songs. Little Braver is the Anime representative for this album. The song was already kind of rock, but very rough around the edges, in a good way. I decided to polish all the edges and make it a glossy and fun to listen to hard rock song. The end solo is one I am really happy with.
TECH TALK: This tune was a last minute addition, and was completely arranged within one hour of hearing the song for the very first time.
12. Mata Kimi ni Koi Shiteru
This one, like "I Love You", was also relatively new to me but apparently a very famous song in Japan that must have slipped under my radar. But unlike "I Love You", "Mata Kimi" had a melody that I could grasp and make my own right away. I loved playing this. Let me tell you, it feels so so good to play this kind of melody with gorgeous tone through a great system at a world class studio. To me this is a straight up Enka song, just like Ame no Bojo or Funa Uta, but pop music fans as well as Enka fans have embraced this tune and made it a huge hit for Sakamoto Fumi.
TECH TALK: The ending note of the solo before the 2nd bridge took FOREVER to nail. It is a strange chord change going from the solo to the bridge, and if I followed it, it brought out that strangeness, and not in a good way. If I didn`t follow it, it just sounded wrong for that one second and did not set up the gorgeous bridge melody nicely at all. After a recordbreaking number of disappointing takes, a few breaks and Slurpees later, I figured out that if I found a sweet spot in the measure to end the solo abruptly, therein may lie the solution. So I tried that approach and although I wasn`t totally ecstatic about it, it was still way better than what I was coming up with before. I had lots of other fish to fry that day so I left it that way and it`s just fine.
13. Ue o Muite Arukou (Sukiyaki)
What a unique melody. Even in Japanese, without a single lyric in English the song hit #1 in the USA. I played this with the Tokyo Philharmonic and always loved the song and its many English cover versions as well. I always joke after finishing one of my sessions, "Okay, now that we have the demo done, let`s get Luke down here to play everything for real!" Well, this time I really did it! I asked Steve Lukather to join me on this as a duet and he absolutely tore it up. He is such an A league player and one of the coolest guys I know. A real muso`s muso without any of the pretensions. He takes the big solo at the end of the song. I swear when I hear his opening phrases I see birds soaring. Just amazing.
TECH TALK: Before arranging this, I got on YouTube, just to check out the many different arrangements of this song. I got the idea to hold out the last note of the bridge from an acoustic singer/songwriter type girl singer. Maybe she is new or an amateur, because I never heard of her. She extended that note and I got chills, so I followed suit.