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Interview

Steve Jansen and Robert Dean on Japan’s Quiet Life

Japan legends talk to SDE about the album and reissue

Japan around the time of Quiet Life album

One of the great cult bands, Japan have remained enigmatic since their final album Tin Drum in 1981. They briefly reformed as Rain Tree Crow ten years later, but Japan are as elusive as their music. Even 40 years on, the elegance and sophistication within their final three albums is like nothing else out there.

Existing somewhere unreachable just beyond their New Romantic peers, David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Robert Dean and Richard Barbieri are only rivalled for alien beauty and quixotic music in the era by Talk Talk. Like Mark Hollis, Japan have essentially shunned their past. There were half-speed remasters of Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum in 2018, but the new boxset for 1979’s Quiet Life is a welcome surprise.

The album where Japan progressed from the angsty art-rock of their first two albums to suddenly outstrip anyone else around, Quiet Life is celebrated with a 3CD+LP boxset next week. It includes the full concert of Japan’s show in Budokan in 1980 and a rarities disc including several Steve Nye remixes, standalone singles ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘European Son’, plus the Giorgio Moroder-produced single ‘Life In Tokyo’.

Considering their mystique, talking to anyone from Japan is as rare as an HMV bargain. But SDE spoke to Jansen and Dean about Quiet Life, its impact 42 years later… and the state of future Japan reissues and rarities. John Earls asks the questions…

SDE: Does it feel like it was 42 years since you made Quiet Life?

Steve Jansen: Yes, it does. But, when you get older, you feel that 40 years isn’t as long as you thought it would be.

Robert Dean: To me, it’s almost like I’m talking about someone else, as I’ve changed so much since those times.

SDE: How do you feel about Quiet Life now?

Robert: I’m really happy the boxset is happening. I see all these other bands putting out elaborate boxsets and I think “We deserve this as much as anybody else.” It’s a very worthwhile package, and it’s the perfect time to revisit the album. It’s something I’m proud of, so why not? I’m a terrible critic of everything I’ve done – I always think I could have done this or that better. But you have to put all that aside and accept it for what it is. And Quiet Life is very, very good. My perspective isn’t the same as everybody else’s, but I’m happy it’s coming out. At this point, the fans have supported us long enough that they deserve this sort of thing.

Steve: I think Quiet Life is quite an easy album to listen to. John Punter’s mixing style was more about creating a wall of sound, rather than having that separation and compartmentalised approach of Tin Drum. Rob’s guitar was still vital to the band at this point, and that’s good to hear. Richard was starting to carve out his own niche on keyboards, but was destined for so much more. The rhythm section is fairly solid, and Mick’s bass melodies were starting to become as hummable as the lead vocals. The songs themselves were much more introspective and had developed a more sophisticated, poetic and romantic quality too, with all the previous teen angst exorcised.

SDE: It seems such a progression from Japan’s second album, Obscure Alternatives. Did it feel that way at the time?

Steve: The material for Adolescent Sex and Obscure Alternatives was performed extensively live before we had the opportunity to record it. Therefore, those albums serve more as a document of what we’d learnt as a group performing together. There was very little recording craft involved, just a lot of energy and influences from an eclectic mix of styles, which were all a part of our early teenage years onwards. By the time we were ready to record Quiet Life, when I was 19, we approached things a little differently. The material was developed in rehearsal rooms in preparation for recording, not as exhausted on any live circuit, so it remained fresh to bring to the studio.

Robert: The progression felt logical at that point. The music we were listening to – Roxy Music, of course; David Bowie; Peter Gabriel; Brian Eno – inevitably became an influence. Not so much on Adolescent Sex, but by Obscure Alternatives we began leaving room for things to be somewhat experimental before going into the studio. We had our rehearsal studio in Willesden and rehearsed some songs a lot, so we had a fair idea of what to do with them by the time we got to the studio. Not all of them, though. ‘The Other Side Of Life’ and ‘In Vogue’ were almost left alone to see what we could achieve with them in the studio.

Steve: As musicians, we were becoming proficient enough to find our own voices through performance and arrangement, with more of an understanding of how things might translate in the process of recording. That experience provided a new motivation to experiment with in the process of overdubbing layers, to give the songs more sonic depth.

SDE: In between the two albums, you made ‘Life In Tokyo’ with Giorgio Moroder. What was that experience like?

Robert: It was the next step after Obscure Alternatives. Giorgio’s style was very different from what we’d been used to. He used a specific studio, set the drum kit up a specific way, used his specific backing singers, used his specific keyboard programmer, who’d program and play the sequencer parts. It was the same set up Giorgio would use for Donna Summer or anyone else, a very regimented way of working. It was so quick and efficiently done, it felt almost like making a demo. I enjoyed the experience as a one-off, but I don’t think it would have worked for an album. For one thing, Giorgio always wanted songwriting input, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have worked over an album for Japan.

SDE: How did Roxy Music producer John Punter come to produce Quiet Life?

Robert: Ray Singer, who produced our first two albums, was pretty much given to us by the record company: “OK, this guy is going to produce your album.” We didn’t really know him that well. We wanted Robert Fripp to produce Obscure Alternatives. We were told he wasn’t available – I don’t know if that’s true – and that’s really the main reason we stuck with Ray. We were all fans of Roxy Music’s Country Life, so for Quiet Life John was the first person we saw. We didn’t need to see anyone else, because we got on so well with John. Right from the start, he was very intuitive, friendly and relatable.

Steve: John had a pivotal role as the sixth band member, both as a producer and as a friend. With his knowledge and encouragement, we felt much more confident about the quality and direction of the work. The dynamic was pretty much ideal, with each person focused on their role within the band while also critiquing one another’s. All of that was taken on board with good humour and a willingness to learn and grow through the process.

SDE: What was the atmosphere like making the album?

Steve: We couldn’t have been more enthusiastic to record together. We melted into the isolated, calm atmosphere at Air Studios and shut out what had always seemed a rather hostile and difficult world. We were made to be insulated that way, it was the ideal environment for us. From the age of 17, literally from school with no other work experience, I existed in a workplace where you were free to explore your own creativity along with that of your closest friends. It was like a calling. By Quiet Life, studio work was second nature, but this was our first time at Air Studios. As it was George Martin’s own studio, working there you naturally felt you were right at the heart of the music-making industry.

Robert: Air was a really special place to record. The staff were easy to get on with, so it was a businesslike atmosphere but also a relaxed one.

Steve: Combine all this with our new working relationship with John Punter and the amazing engineers, all of the time recording Quiet Life was very happy. As you listened to your work playing back in the studio, you could watch the crowds milling about down below in Oxford Circus. It felt like the heart of London and it felt like home for the next four years.

Robert: We felt very confident in where we were going and what we were sounding like. We laughed a lot and joked around [laughs]. I know it’s hard to imagine Japan joking around. I can’t really tell you what the humour was, because it was just silly band stuff. If you were in the clique, you’d got it, but if you weren’t you’d wonder what the hell was going on. It was just a natural, relaxed atmosphere all the time and we’d go off to the pub.

Steve: Although it’s not what people see in Japan, we were old school friends and never failed to enjoy a good laugh. John was the perfect match for us, because he was continually good-humoured and often absolutely hilarious. He took the humour to another level. Quiet Life was the most enjoyment we’d had working together, and a large part of that was down to John’s warm and jovial nature.

SDE: What were the easiest and hardest songs to perfect on the album?

Steve: I think we probably started with something upbeat and immediate like the title track. No individual song was seen as the template for shaping the sound of the album, as each track is quite different.

Robert: ‘Halloween’ was one of the few we’d played live before recording the album, so in some ways that song had already been realised, though it didn’t have some of the keyboard parts.

Steve: Funnily enough, ‘Halloween’ was probably the hardest song to get right. It was the furthest removed from where we were heading musically and harked back to our previous work. From what I can remember, it was more difficult because we wanted to avoid getting rocky. Adding lots of Mellotron choirs seemed to resolve that, but it still needed dynamics, otherwise the rhythm section would have been overstated. So, in my opinion, ‘Halloween’ was the problem track. Everything else was a pleasure to develop.

Robert: I think the two orchestral tracks, ‘In Vogue’ and ‘The Other Side Of Life’, were the last to be finished. I didn’t know anything about strings being used until we were in the taxi to meet John Punter for the first time, when David said he thought it would be a good idea to have an orchestra on a couple of tracks. It was a surprise, but not a negative one. The scope of the songs lent themselves towards strings. The feeling was “Why not go big?”

SDE: Why did you cover ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ by The Velvet Underground and, shortly after, Smokey Robinson’s ‘I Second That Emotion’?

Robert: We knew ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, but David brought it in, playing it on piano while we played around with it. The songs that work best as covers are those which are fairly basically structured, so you can do a lot with them. ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ isn’t much more than a folk song – just chords and a voice. That was the case for ‘I Second That Emotion’ too. Both songs came together pretty quickly and just fitted.

SDE: What are your favourite moments on the album?

Robert: My happiest memory is of listening to the orchestra being added to our songs. Before the players were brought in, we had no idea what it’d sound like. There were no preconceived demos of what the parts were going to be, but it just worked and standing there listening to that for the first time was a great feeling.

Steve: I feel ‘In Vogue’ to be the standout track that best encapsulates the contribution of each of us, including John Punter, and for where the group was heading. This lamenting, somewhat romantic song set in place a subtle melancholy and introspective mood, which went on to exist in the background of various Japan tracks.

SDE: The band’s image changed a lot from Obscure Alternatives to Quiet Life too. How much of a conscious decision was that?

Steve: As young teens, it was a mix and match approach – experimenting with hair dye, shopping at street markets, girls’ stores, Biba, Kensington Market… It was a liberating time, if you were willing to brave it. If you were hanging out with likeminded people, who encouraged experimenting with fashion and appearance, it seemed perfectly normal. By dint of being onstage, you’re presenting a public persona and, at that age, it wasn’t difficult to carry it into everyday life, until it becomes a part of everyday life rather than an image. Almost everything presented to the camera was an extension of ourselves.

Robert: It was natural. As a band, you evolve as you go on and don’t even think about these things. We didn’t say anything about “We’ll cut our hair and dress like this.” It was a general flow of ideas and logical progressions.

Steve: In terms of personal appearance, for me there was a fine line. I preferred subtlety when it came to make-up: accentuating the ‘pretty boy’ features, but with no desire to look female. Once you go down the road of red lips, I think you’re into “drag” territory, giving the impression you want to transform your appearance into that of a woman, and it’s something I didn’t identify with. Unfortunately, there was the odd photo session where a make-up artist would be brought in who didn’t understand where that line was. The worst example for me was a photo session for The Sunday Times’ colour supplement. I felt as though I was kidnapped in that make-up room and was unfortunately transformed. Why I didn’t refuse to be photographed like that, I’ll always regret. I was young and just accepted what certain people around me were saying, that “You look fabulous, darling.” For me, this was where the image interfered with personal identity. I felt I was being misrepresented by a publicity machine looking to cause a sensation. Rare examples like that aside, I think we were each individually presenting ourselves to our audience in whatever form we were comfortable with.

SDE: Were you aware of how impactful that image was?

Steve: To be honest, I didn’t monitor it.

Robert: It was tied in with having more and more confidence in yourself and the music you’re creating. That came across when we were meeting people, which was down to a growing confidence within ourselves.

SDE: How enjoyable was the Quiet Life tour, as captured on the Live In Budokan album on the boxset?

Steve: We were so pleased when John Punter agreed to tour with us as our front of house engineer.

Robert: Having John there continued our friendship, and he was the best possible person for the job. The sound on those tours was just amazing. Whenever John was in charge, he knew exactly what we should sound like. Having John with us in Japan was great. The Japanese market allowed us to keep going, really. We weren’t making money in Europe at that point. It was purely the record company throwing money at us and hoping we’d be a success.

Steve: The Quiet Life tour is when we started to properly incorporate live backing tapes, to take on the instrumentation we couldn’t manage between the five of us. In order for this to happen, I had to learn how to play a click track through headphones. The click was on a parallel track to the additional live audio so, as long as I played in time with that, the right musical parts would start to play along with us at the right moment. Not many groups were doing this then, and we had to come up with a suitable monitoring system which would allow me and no-one else to hear that click track. It wasn’t long before I started to enjoy monitoring with headphones and playing to a click track. I’ve done it ever since. Now, in-ear monitors are commonplace.

SDE: Why aren’t there any unreleased demos or songs on the Quiet Life reissue?

Robert: We never recorded 20 songs to pick out the best eight. It was “These are the songs that are going on”, and that was it. We had two songs that didn’t make it onto Gentlemen Take Polaroids and were later changed, but that was the exception, not the rule.

Steve: When you consider we made three albums in three years, with touring in between, you can understand why there wasn’t any extra material.

Robert: The only things that could have gone on would be rough demos, which are probably too rough. Most fans would probably be interested in those basic ideas but, as far as the band goes, we’re a little protective of that sort of thing. There wasn’t even much of that either.

Steve: It would be wrong to include those older recordings with this release or anywhere, because they were never intended for release.

SDE: Will there be future Japan deluxe editions to follow Quiet Life?

Robert: I don’t know, that’s down to the record companies. I wouldn’t be against it. There’s a lot of support for the band through mediums like Facebook, probably more than we expected. I feel that support is growing, that there’s more people sitting up and listening, appreciating what we did back then. A lot of that is down to the musicianship. Japan’s music is something that is important enough to keep alive and give back to the fans after all this time.

SDE: What are you involved with away from Japan now?

Steve: Exit North are working on new songs for our second album. I would have been spending time in Sweden over recent months to significantly move things forward, but for obvious reasons that hasn’t been possible. As we co-compose everything, we allow the material to lead us. Our first album, Book Of Romance And Dust, was quite a classic singer-songwriter collection overall, except with a focus on musical passages to carry the listener on a bit of a journey. We feel this is what we achieve well together, and I’m sure we’ll be following on a similar path.

Robert: I’ve lived in Costa Rica for almost 30 years and I’m an illustrator of birds for projects like field guides. I’ve been into wildlife and nature since I was a kid, and that’s taken over. For a long time, I wasn’t interested in creating any new music at all, but the time came along to make it all click and I released three projects last year. With my friend Isaac Moraga, I made an album, Dimensions, as Light Of Day and we released an EP of some of its tracks sung in Spanish. I then did a mini-album, Triptych, of ambient pieces with Martin Birke. I certainly plan to make more music now. Once recording studios open up again, I can’t wait to get in there.

Thanks to Steven Jansen and Robert Dean who were talking to John Earls for SDE.

Japan’s Quiet Life is reissued next week across a number for formats including the 3CD+LP deluxe box set.

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Quiet Life - 3CD+LP deluxe box set

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Quiet Life - half-speed mastered black vinyl

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Quiet Life - remastered CD edition

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Quiet Life – 3CD+LP deluxe box set

CD1 – QUIET LIFE

  1. Quiet Life (2020 Remaster)
  2. Fall In Love With Me (2020 Remaster)
  3. Despair (2020 Remaster)
  4. In Vogue (2020 Remaster)
  5. Halloween (2020 Remaster)
  6. All Tomorrows Parties (2020 Remaster)
  7. Alien (2020 Remaster)
  8. The Other Side of Life (2020 Remaster)

CD2 – A QUIETER LIFE: ALTERNATIVE MIXES & RARITIES

  • 1. European Son (Steve Nye 7” Remix 1982)*
  • 2. Life In Tokyo (Steve Nye 7” Special Remix 1982)
  • 3. Quiet Life (Original German 7” Mix 1980)*
  • 4. I Second That Emotion (Steve Nye 7” Remix 1982)*
  • 5. All Tomorrow’s Parties (Steve Nye 7” Remix Version 1983)
  • 6. European Son (John Punter 12” Mix 1980)
  • 7. Life In Tokyo (Steve Nye 12” Special Remix Version 1982)
  • 8. I Second That Emotion (Steve Nye 12” Remix Version 1982)
  • 9. All Tomorrow’s Parties (Steve Nye 12” Remix Version 1983)
  • 10. European Son (Steve Nye 12” Remix Version 1982)
  • 11. Quiet Life (Japanese 7” Mix 1980)* [18/01/21]
  • 12. A Foreign Place
  • 13. All Tomorrow’s Parties (John Punter 7” Mix 1979)
  • 14. Life In Tokyo (Theme Giorgio Moroder Version 1979)*

Live In Japan

  • 15. Deviation (Live In Japan)
  • 16. Obscure Alternatives (Live In Japan)
  • 17. In Vogue (Live In Japan)
  • 18. Sometimes I Feel So Low (Live In Japan)

CD3 – LIVE AT THE BUDOKAN 27/03/1980

  1. Intro*
  2. Alien*
  3. …Rhodesia*
  4. Quiet Life*
  5. Fall In Love With Me*
  6. Deviation*
  7. All Tomorrow’s Parties*
  8. Obscure Alternatives*
  9. In Vogue*
  10. Life In Tokyo*
  11. Halloween*
  12. Sometimes I Feel So Low*
  13. Communist China*
  14. Adolescent Sex*
  15. I Second That Emotion*
  16. Automatic Gun*

LP – QUIET LIFE

Side A

1. Quiet Life (2020 Remaster)
2. Fall In Love With Me (2020 Remaster)
3. Despair (2020 Remaster)
4. In Vogue (2020 Remaster)

Side B

1. Halloween (2020 Remaster)
2. All Tomorrows Parties (2020 Remaster)
3. Alien (2020 Remaster)
4. The Other Side of Life (2020 Remaster)

*rare or unreleased

  • 1. Life In Tokyo (Original 7” Mix 1979)
  • 2. Life In Tokyo (Original 7” Mix Part 2 1979)
  • 3. Life In Tokyo (Original 12” Version 1979)
  • 4. Life In Tokyo (‘Assemblage’ 7” Remix 1981)
  • 5. Life In Tokyo (‘Assemblage’ 12” Remix 1981)
  • 6. Life In Tokyo (Steve Nye 7″ Special Remix 1982)
  • 7. Life In Tokyo (Steve Nye 12″ Special Remix Version 1982)
  • 8. Life In Tokyo (Steve Nye Theme 1982)
  • 9. Life In Tokyo (Steve Nye Theme ‘Correct Pitch’ 1982)

SuperDeluxeEdition.com helps fans around the world discover physical music and discuss releases. To keep the site free, SDE participates in various affiliate programs, including Amazon and earns from qualifying purchases.

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[…] Life is out now. Read the SDE interview with Steve Jansen and Robert […]

TCF

I just had a first look and listen to this deluxe Edition. Although the album sounds very good I must say that the soundquality of Disc 3 (Live) is unacceptable. It’s very very poor even for Bootleg standards. How this passed any quality control remains a mystery to me… Dissapointing.

musicoloog

Damn, got a message from UPS, I have to pay almost 32 Euros…stupid additional taxes/VAT!
Are there buyers (from the Netherlands) who had this message last night?
In the end it will be a very expensive Quiet Life box set….

NightFlight

Great stuff, looking forward to the box set arriving now.
Thank you for publishing

Andrew

Did anyone else see “McDonald and Dodds” on ITV last Sunday? Not only featured a Billy MacKenzie reference but “Ghosts” is played a couple of times. Strange, but true!

Andrew

I also came to Japan late (Tin Drum) and worked backwards. Though I don’t like the first 2 albums (they both seem to be finding their feet) but Quiet Life hit the ground running and was too far ahead of the game.

Sylvian was voted (with Paul Haig) as the most beautiful man in pop by Paul Morley! Unfortunately I find his solo work after Dead Bees inaccessible and pretentious. Which is a shame as post Japan, he could create some beautiful works of art that crosses pop with experimental music.

Jennifer. W

Thanks for this interview John, when you’re a Japan fan these things are rare. So glad to hear from Robert Dean. Remembering seeing him at the 100 club in London at the Japan fanclub/fanzine get togethers, once with Sinead O’connor – introducing her to the world. Its amazing that Steve was so young then, I was just starting out looking for my first job at that age! I was wondering where those rehearsal rooms in Willesden were, Plant Records?
Glad they did have laughs so refreshing to hear!

Dr Volume

Good read. I bloomin’ love Japan….pure class musically and visually they look cool as f**k. Japan, early Human League and John Foxx era Ultravox pretty much invented 1980s Pop in 1979.

Joe Momma

A great read … although my favourite track wasn’t mentioned (‘Fall In Love With Me’) …. Still got the original (gatefold) LP & have already pre-ordered the red vinyl version ages ago but might have to get that multi CD version too. RIP Mick Karn

Deanery

Great article….and great classic amazing pics I’ve never seen before…..are they included in this package at all??

I ended up special ordering this in an A&A Records I worked in….I knew when I saw the cover…..it lured you in and invited you onboard….why Fall in Love with Me or Hallowe’en weren’t a singles??? Who/How were singles picked?

Let us know what the sound is like on these.

It’s all so catchy…even the slow stuff.

Andrea

Oil On Canvas was my entry point for Japan and I’d recommend to anyone who’s still have to discover them. It’s a pity that David Sylvian is not much productive anymore, he’s a great musician and his voice is unique.
If you want to listen to some interesting music in the vein of Japan check a group called Eskimos Of Love (silly name, isn’t it?) they made an album which is very enjoyable and singer’s voice is close to Sylvian.

Marshall

Andrea, Thank you, thank you for turning me onto Eskimos of Love! I love it! Who are they, and how did you come across them? I can’t find ANY information about them online.

Andrew

Great insight thank you Paul. Really looking forward to getting my copy. I hadn’t really put Talk Talk in the same bracket before but since the article mentioned it it is so so true. Both incredible and underrated sets of musicians outside of their “set”.

Beechlander

Good interview. A massively underrated band in my opinion. Perhaps they weren’t around long enough. Looking forward to this boxset but more excited for “Gentleman” and the peerless “Tin Drum” sets (hopefully) to come. Always got David Sylvian and Nick Rhodes muddled up!

David S

Great to see Japan getting the recognition they deserve. Steve Jansen’s percussion is the beating heart of Japan – and of so much other great music (including most of David Sylvian’s solo work).

Matthew

Wonderful to have this interview on here, Paul. SDE never ceases to delight and impress. Thanks so much.

SDE Hall of Fame

Cheers!

Steve F

Paul, how lovely to see the name John Earls in print again. I booked & did sound for the first gigs by The Incredible Flight Of Birdman and The Dawn Chorus based upon his Planet of Sound reviews. I’ve lost touch with John over the years since. Please send my regards.

Musicoloog

Great interview!

Unfortunately it seems a few tracks/versions are left off this comprehensive box-set:
“I Second That Emotion” (John Punter 7″ Mix 1980) 3’46
“European Son” (John Punter 7″ Mix 1980) 3’40
“Quiet Life” (UK 7″ Edit 1981) 3’34

Scott

Without a shadow of a doubt THE most underrated and underappreciated British band of all time. Completely written off by the music press at the time as Bowie/Roxy clones, up until the release of Tin Drum. I still listen to Japan regularly today, they still sound absolutely incredible, not dated at all, far less so than many of their contemporaries.

John MC cann

The damned are the most underrated and under appreciated band of all time!
And solo Captain sensible especially his first two a&m albums with producer Tony Mansfield are two of the finest records you could ever hear!,,,,,imho

EW99

Thanks John, fascinating stuff there. Really enjoyed the read.

Jeremy k

Thanks for that.

A question – which is more useless in a box set: a vinyl album for which you have no interest or use; cds if you want vinyl; or the ‘obligatory’ poster (not in this set) which is folded and therefore not really mountable and probably too big for most people’s walls – plus if you want to keep resale value you will just squirrel it away. In short, why the poster?

Nico in PDX

Thank you for this fabulous interview!

Frustrated George

It’s a good album & no mistake. Greater though was to follow. For all those wanting more, listen to the words of “Brilliant Trees” from DS in 1984. That tells you all you need to know. What I do want is more proper solo stuff, I know it will never happen though & what happened to the follow up to the photography book series & the follow up to “Like Planets”?. Part of a trilogy, it was rumored. Is it coming soon? Can he not be arsed? I can’t believe they won’t make money on it so where is it? He clearly still has a very loyal following, I listen to his music a lot, actually probably more than anyone else but he makes Mark Hollis ( RIP) look prolific.

Frustrated!

David

A lovely interview with the two lads – and so refreshingly positive after all the melodrama of Mick Karn’s autobiography.
I also respect their decision not to include rough demos of songs with this classy package. Whilst they would not be without historical and technical interest to the die hard fan (particularly those of us who are musicians ourselves), they were never recorded with the intention of being made available to the public. Occasionally it does turn out that demos can sound great and be worth hearing, I trust their judgement that these were not!

One thing I do think is lacking is a bluray of the promo film for the Quiet Life single, and of course a surround sound mix would have been wonderful too – but you can’t have everything :)

Frederic Fadda

Thank you Paul for this!
Being a Bowie/Roxy/Japan/Duran fan (amongst many others…), this new release of Quiet Life is a real treat :-)
Can’t wait to receive this boxset!

David Robinson

Funny . David Sylvian almost conspicuous by his absence. Feels like the elephant in the room . I know it’s not pc to address such a sacred elephant – but why does he want no part in its promotion, what was the songwriting process , has he really left his past life behind. Japan was by no means just David – but naturally not Karn and unnaturally no Sylvian . Just a Bukodan audience recording – so the demos were never intended to be released ; was the audience recording then …. of course not. Clearly a band that still cannot completely come to terms with its past. Or at least one individual. Seems sad.

David

The Budokan recording is made from the audience? I assumed it would have been a multi-track line recording from the mixing desk (manned by John Punter) – certainly the ‘Live in Japan’ EP tracks do not sound like they are made surrepticiously by a fan with a tape recorder stuffed inside their jacket.

John MC cann

He also hated the name Japan!

John Earls

It’s a fair point. The reality is, David wants nothing to do with his past – not only does he refuse any part in promoting Japan, he won’t even promote his past solo career.
The relationships that’s left is complicated. Steve and Robert wanted to celebrate Japan’s achievements. It was interesting that they both, without prompting, said how much of a laugh everyone had recording Quiet Life.
It was the first time I – or pretty much anyone – had spoken to them about Japan in some time and they were both nervous in doing so. In those circumstances, it was best for them to go in depth on Quiet Life in ways they felt comfortable, rather than the bigger picture of Japan in general.
If there are to be further Japan reissues, hopefully Steve and/or Robert (maybe even Richard, who is in touch with both of them) would be more open to discussing David’s involvement.

moog_man

Thanks for your additional input, John.
Enjoyed your incisive questions, too.

Gary Hunter

A very enjoyable read Paul, nice to hear what a couple of the chaps are now doing too.

I preferred the “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” album, but “Quiet Life” is still a good album.

CJ

As a newcomer to Japan (had never heard anything by them until the initial announcement of this box here on SDE), I’m embarrassed that they somehow passed by me without my noticing in the 80s (though I guess I was young enough to not be paying attention). I’m even more embarrassed that I didn’t stumble upon them at some point since then–LOVE everything that I’ve heard, and have invested whole-hog in collecting all their albums and several compilation. Debated on getting this release, since I already bought a remastered version of the album, and am not a huge live album fan, so the only thing of real interest is the remixes. But I finally made the jump and just pre-ordered it. I’m more excited by the live material now after reading so many positive articles about their other live work.

Would love if they would put together a compilation of 12″ mixes from throughout their career.

Would Duran Duran as we know them have existed without Japan? The first time I heard Quiet Life, I thought immediately of DD.

Trash

To the question: “Would Duran Duran as we know them have existed without Japan? ”
I think the answer to that is a resounding ‘No’.
I believe it is much-reported that the young Duranies were obsessed with Japan and Sylvian in particular (you can definitely see that Nick Rhodes modelled some of his early looks on Quiet Life/Polaroids-era Sylvian).
Also I seem to recall reading (in the Anthony Reynolds book and other places) that Rhodes approached some members of Japan about producing their first album but the request was declined.
I think you can hear the influences in the first album for sure. No bad thing – if you are going to have influences make sure they are good ones :-)

As I was reading the interview I wondered if Dean and Jansen were interviewed at the same time or separately.

I also think it is a shame that Sylvian seems to have totally disowned his Japan work. I can see how the the first two albums might not be his favourite work (I quite like them) but the last three are certainly nothing to be embarrassed about.

I’ll never forget walking down the Kings Road, sometime in the late 90s/early 2000’s, and seeing Jansen and Sylvian walking down the street towards me and my then girlfriend. Being French she had no idea who they were and was surprised when I said they were quite famous musicians. However, as soon he realised he had been recognised Sylvian turned abruptly on his heel and headed in the opposite direction.
Jansen though was lovely to speak with, we chatted for a bit and he gave me his autograph. A lovely fellow. My girlfriend fell in love with him on the spot, stating that he had to be one of the best looking men she had ever met. I definitely couldn’t compete with that!.

Robert Dean

We live on different continents so for Steve and I to be in the same room would have been something of a miracle!

SDE Hall of Fame

Haha… thanks Robert :)

John MC cann

Nick took David’s look!

Noam Sane

“Would Duran Duran as we know them have existed without Japan?”

Duran Duran took something honest and pure and curdled it into disco narcissism. They ripped off Japan blatantly. So, no.

John MC cann

Duran sound nothing like Japan!
Play the Rio album twice and with the exception of the chauffeur you will be humming every song for days!
Now play Polaroids it will take about 15 plays before your humming ain’t that peculiar!

Andy Robertson

Hmmm…play the first DD album and try not to think of Japan….

John MC cann

Hmmm, play quiet life and try not to think of several other bands!
What Japan songs would sound similar to girls on film ,planet earth ,and precious memories for instance? And there was a catchy one about Georgi Davis or something,,, still didn’t sound like Japan to me ,stole the look not the sound

Lee Lawrence

Would love an SDE booklet on this (hint). As with all things Japan I’m pretty sure it would sell out in a heartbeat (another hint).

John MC cann

Or you could just ask Paul to do a booklet on this ,,,,,hint

Ken

Japan were just starting to create an exceptional band dynamic with a unique sound and dedicated fanbase when they split.A sad missed opportunity I think,as a commercial follow-up to Tin Drum would have been massive.Why do some great bands split and disintegrate just when they are on the cusp of hitting it big?The years 1982 through to about 1987 could have been huge for Japan if they had managed to continue their creative expertise and promoted it with some Global Tours.

Jono

The follow up is really the Rain Tree Crow album, which is an essential listen and very much recommended for anyone that hasn’t heard it. It shows how the band members had developed in the intervening years. It could have easily sounded like a Sylvian solo album, but instead is a real band effort.

Shawn

Rain Tree Crow is not a logical follow up to the sound of Tin Drum. It is a result of years of musical evolution of all members. In other words, a Japan studio album follow-up in 1983 would have been highly unlikely to sound anything like Rain Tree Crow. That’s not to say we all wouldn’t have liked to hear what might have been. But that would be at the expense of Brilliant Trees (and the amazing albums that followed, Gone To Earth & Secrets of the Beehive), a price I wouldn’t want to pay.

TCF

Hi Paul, thank you so for much for this fine interview. Didn’t expect that on SDE. A very pleasant surprise. I’m listening to Japan since 1979. And Quiet Life really was kind of a life changer. It influenced the music I was listening from then on, the Books I read, the clothes I wore. That would even increase with Sylvians first solo album (Cocteau, Kundera, Mishima, listening to music with trumpets in it). So I would fancy a SDE of Brilliant Trees………

John

One of my favourite bands ,I would follow there lead on looks and clothes, even if I got called a Weirdo ! Looking back it helped me find my selve

Duncan Bartlett

Well done for getting the interview. The half speed remasters of Tin Drum and Gentlemen Take Polaroids are great. I ordered a book about Japan called A Foreign Place and it’s pretty clear that there’s nothing much more from the archive to plunder although it would be nice to see Oil on Canvas get a proper remaster and maybe there’s some more songs from those later concerts. This Quiet Life box should be good though.

DJ Salinger

Great interview, and nice to hear from Rob Dean, too.

Really looking forwards to getting this next week – it was supposed to be out just over a year ago but the minor inconvenience of a global pandemic got in the way. ‘Quiet Life’ has always been a bit undersold before now (the 2001 BMG CD reissue was perfunctory at best) so this set finally gives it some respect.

Japan really were one of those rare bands who evolved at an astonishing pace and then called time at their peak. I’m afraid I still find ‘Adolescent Sex’ almost unlistenable, but from that point on they caught my ear for life. And one of the pleasures of listening to ‘Quiet Life’ in retrospect is spotting those signposts indicating they were about to get even better…

PS. There’s also a feature on the album’s making by band biographer Anthony Reynolds in the latest issue of ‘Classic Pop’ (plus a Richard Barbieri interview).

Trash

My favourite band (sometimes alternates with XTC) – Tin Drum and English Settlement being my favourite albums.

Haven’t read the interview yet – hoping it will be expanded to a keepsake at some point.

Looking forward to the release – even though I have most of the audio content already it will be nice to have it all neatly wrapped up in one place.
I suspect that Japan demos are pretty sparse given the way that they used to work.
I would love to hear the Music for the Penguin Cafe ambient piece(s) they created for Mick Karn’s restaurant. Apparently Barbieri has a DAT copy – would love to hear that.

Mikael

Very underrated band. One of the best things from the 80s. Just like Thomas Dolby, known only to a few.
Hoping for nice SDEs of Gentlemen and Tin Drum.

Mark

“By the time we were ready to record Quiet Life [their third album] when I was 19…”

Nineteen!

Chris Squires

I picked up on that too.

I couldn’t have found my arse with both hands and a map at Nineteen and these guys were on their third album. Inadequate isn’t the word…….

Steven Roberts

Good interview – a sense another collector’s booklet in the offing :)

Sean C. LaClair

Yes a collectors booklet would be great!

Pete

I still get chills listening to this band. To me, they sound like nothing that came before or after that time.

The comparison to Talk Talk is apt. Both bands made their mark and didn’t overstay their welcome. Sometimes less is more.

Can’t wait to get this!

Isaías

I’d ask them: Why include an exclusive 9-track ‘Life in Tokyo’ CD single with the box set “very very very” limited edition since it could be part of the whole package. I’m sure it’s an item EVERY diehard fan want but, unfortunatly…

I just HATE this kind of thing such as:
EXCLUSIVE, EXCLUSIVE, EXCLUSIVE

Phil Tate

I completely agree. Put the fancy extra bits and bobs with the expensive sets by all means but make all the MUSIC available to everyone, not just those with money to burn. This absolutely killed all the excitement of the Wildflowers and All The Rest release for me. (Wildflowers and Some Of The Rest Unless You’re Rich.)

Chris Squires

What to say: Thank you, that was a lovely read.
I know we all have our favourite artists and those that get talked about a lot here on SDE. Japan were a step above.
I was too young for the first two albums so didn’t have time to appreciate, dislike or ignore them. But Quiet Life was a game changer like no other album.

It’s a shame Japan were not prepared to release any demos as they are usually quite fun and maybe a disc of demos would have been a bigger draw than the free CD they “gave away” through their store. I would suggest that most fans (as distinct from appreciators) would want to hear those tracks, I have been listening to Oldfield’s demos a lot in the last couple of weeks and it’s lovely to hear ideas that never made it and raw material that was smoothed into aural perfection, compare and contrast. I get why the band would feel it was not right, and one has to respect that, but it is just a shame.

Mike the Fish

I enjoyed that. I ended up buying Quiet Life through being intrigued by the triple album with bonus remixes, etc.

Nathan Thomas

Thanks for this Paul.I’d never even heard of Japan but this article made me want to give them a spin. The same happened with John Mayall a few weeks ago – thanks for educating me !

Don Cooper

Sylvian looks uncannily like a young Patricia Hodge (Miranda etc.) in that b+w image.

I am eagerly awaiting the Big Box.

Used to beg Mr Rhodes to play Quiet Life at The Rum Runner, bitd.

Used to wind him up by calling it ‘Boys!’ :-)