Compiled by Tokuhiko Kise, Hiromi Karatsu (TRUCK)
Special Thanks : Masayoshi Yamazaki
We once thought quite seriously about opening a blues bar.
A little before first opening TRUCK, around the time when I met Hiromi, we found that there were a lot of things that we had in common, and one of the biggest things that we both shared was music. We even went to ukulele classes together. We would go to concerts, and on the way home after a show at a live house in Umeda called “Banana Hall,” we would stop by a blues bar called “Senba” close by. At that time, we only bought blues records. The kind of blues that we liked was Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller-style ragtime and country blues; music that we felt had just a little dash of fun. Masaki Ueda and Junji Ariyama’s song “Bochi-Bochi Ikoka” was one of our favorite songs, a blend of all of the styles that we liked. We talked about having Ariyama-san come and perform at our bar when we opened it.
1997. Before we knew it, the idea for the blues bar became one for a furniture store. Of course, I had already been making furniture for over six years, so it wasn’t exactly unusual that it turned out that way.
One day over lunch, we were talking and started thinking, “TRUCK may be a furniture store now, but wouldn’t it be great if we could have live performances there, too?” and we found Ariyama-san’s phone number on his CD and called it. Then, him playing at TRUCK became a reality! He came and for a time, our house on the second floor of the store and workshop became Ariyama-san’s temporary studio. The talented Atsuki Kimura would also come by with his guitar. When I heard Kimura and his “hoarse voice of an angel,” I just couldn’t keep working making furniture on the 1st floor – I had to stop what I was doing and come up the stairs to listen. Our beloved Labrador Buddy often sat next to Ariyama-san on the bench by the window while he played.
We had a record player at TRUCK and we also had a tube amp that was an original from a nearby audio shop. We often went to Tower Records to look for music to play in the store. I had been picking up all kinds of music ever since elementary school, so I was interested in anything that I hadn’t heard before, and would take a listen to anything I got my hands on. As I listened, I imagined in my head if the song fit in with the atmosphere of our store and would choose records based on that feeling. I liked going to the record store and picking out music, and was happy that a new door had opened up to me.
In upper elementary school, I was listening to YMO and Plastics, and there was a time in middle school where all I did was listen to Bob Marley’s “Legend,” a reggae cassette tape that I received as a souvenir from Bali from an older friend of mine. Around that time, I didn’t have any friends who listened to reggae. I heard that two bands that Herbie Hancock was in at the time, Rock It Band and Black Uhuru, were going to be performing in Osaka. Although I was nervous, I went to see them at a show called “Live Under The Sky” which was held in the wide open grounds of Expo Commemoration Park. I was like a grown-up kid. Whatever was popular with my friends was what I would go crazy about a few years later, like Motoharu Sano and RC Succession. In high school, I read novels by Haruki Murakami in which music is referenced to a lot. The references are casual, brought up in a way as if I should already know what they are, but because I didn’t know then, I wanted to know immediately. Since there was no Amazon or YouTube at the time, I would have to run to the record shop to listen and learn.
Hiromi is always singing inside the house – while hanging the laundry or cleaning – like songs by Yumi Arai, Yuko Hara, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Unicorn, and Happy End, or enka songs and gospel, or the theme songs from anime that she used to watch when she was a kid, or her elementary school’s school song… she can hum a wide variety of music. Although we have been together for 20-some years, I think it’s amazing that even now I hear her sing songs that I have never heard before. When Hiromi went to high school she joined a folk song club. I heard that at that time she was always playing the guitar too, either at home or school. Even so, she would forget how to make simple chords, asking out loud, “How do you do E again?” Her ears are great at picking up different sounds, so she loves harmonies and does them whenever she can.
Around the time that we first met, I would sing along to songs by The Beatles that I played in the car. Hiromi pointed out to me that I kept changing my voice to match John or Paul, so no matter how hard I tried to do a harmony, I just couldn’t. “I’ve never heard a person sing like you before!” she said, surprised. She was right, I just liked to sing the parts of the songs that I liked, and to sing them however I wanted to. Ever since then, I’ve understood how different our ears were. My sense is not as sharp, so whenever I try to sing a harmony with Hiromi, her voice pulls me in and I end up singing the same melody.
TRUCK, ever so bad at planning and organizing events, has never celebrated its anniversary once until now. Yet, this time we felt that we shouldn’t let our 20th pass by, so we made anniversary models of a few items and pieces of furniture, held events and a concert, and made a special 20th anniversary website just for the occasion. Thanks to those efforts, Kuroda-san from Universal Music contacted us, and luckily offered TRUCK the chance to release its very own LP record and CD. We are so thrilled, and thank you very much!
First, our song choices. We put our favorite songs, songs that we were attached to, and songs that reminded us of things, into a folder. Then we narrowed down our ideas for the look of the record and CD jackets. Just as we did for TRUCK’s catalogs, Hiromi took the picture for the jacket herself, inside of our house. Naturally the dogs made an appearance too. We worked on the design with our art designer of many, many years, Noguchi-san. It was fun, but there were times that I felt that somewhere, something was missing.
I have been living by making furniture. For me, it isn’t just fun to make furniture, but to make things. Writing is the same – I like creating something new by myself. But this CD and LP record wasn’t any of that, rather, it was just putting together our favorite songs. Not a musician but a furniture maker, I didn’t have any of my own songs to contribute. I knew this.
One day, I went to my good friend Takeuchi’s bakery, “Namaze Hutte,” and as usual, listened to his overflowing ideas for new types of bread. Somehow we ended up talking about how I felt that something was missing on the CD and record. He exclaimed, repeating, “You should put your own song on it! Definitely! No matter what kind of boos or reaction you get, it would be much more fun to do it than to not!”
It had never occurred to me before, but I soon started to like the idea, and that very night I strummed my guitar and tried to make a song. The next day when I let Hiromi listen to it, she said that the chords were off somehow. My eleven-year-old daughter Hina said the same. So Hina tried playing the piano, where she found new chords to add to the song. Hiromi knew we were onto something then. The women of this family have such good sense! And so the song we made as a family was put on just the CD at a low, modest volume.
TRUCK may be a furniture store, but for some reason, we know many musicians. We asked our friend of nearly fifteen years Masayoshi Yamazaki to make a few songs for TRUCK and our cafe, Bird. He knew what kind of music we liked and made us songs with his slick guitar and blues harp. Out of the songs that he made for us, we chose the one about Bird’s doughnuts to put on the track list. Masayan, thank you!
The songs we have put together in this album are from all kinds of genres – blues, ragtime, rock, reggae, soul, and jazz. Yet each song has something that captures and inspires us, so we keep them close at hand in our personal “drawer.” They are songs that are always playing in the background of our minds when we make TRUCK’s furniture and work in the store. I think that perhaps a little part of them is kneaded into our works. For TRUCK, these songs represent an important part of who we are.
And we would be happy if after listening to this album you will have found something new to add to your repertoire of songs to hum while hanging the laundry.