Chage & Aska Talkasia Transcript
LH: Lorraine Hahn
LH: Hello and welcome to a special edition of Talk Asia from Tokyo, I'm Lorraine Hahn. With me today are Chage and Aska -- the rock duo who has been a major influence on the Japanese music scene for a quarter of a century with such hits as "Say Yes" and "Yah Yah Yah."
Born Shuuji Shibata and Shigeaki Miyazaki, Chage and Aska first came to the public's attention by winning the influential Yamaha Popular Song Festival in 1979. Their first single "Hitori Sak"', meaning One Bloom, became an instant hit, propelling the duo onto a career that would see 12 number one albums.
In 1996, Chage and Aska became the first Asian musicians to appear on "MTV UNPLUGGED" and were among the few Japanese music acts to gain recognition in the U.S. and Europe.
The past few years saw both Chage and Aska experimenting with solo work both in and away from music.
LH: Gentlemen, welcome to Talk Asia. Thank you very much for being here. It's good to see you. You have just marked 26 years in the business, that is more than, you know, a quarter of a century; that's a long time for anybody stay on top of any industry. How would you describe your journey so far?
A: There are still a lot of things that seem new to me, things that we have not done. 26 years have passed very quickly and I have always felt that there are many things that we have not achieved. Actually I think it's important to feel that way, important to feel that there are still things out there that you want to achieve.
C: Essentially, I just really like music. So even though I've been doing this for 26 years, it doesn't feel strange or long. It actually feels rather natural.
LH: I know it all began many years ago in 1979, at the Yamaha Popular Song Festival. Can you remember how and why you decided to take part in this event?
A: At that time, it was the trend for students to debut as professional singers. There were a lot of talent contests in different places, hosted by different companies. The most prestigious was the Yamaha Contest, and that was the one I was most interested in. I was so keen; I actually wrote a song especially for it. I was so focused on the Yamaha Popular Song Festival that I didn't even consider participating in the other contests!
LH: Did you have to work very hard? I mean, did you put in a lot of practice, a lot of hours to prepare for this?
A: Yes, we did every day!
C: We did it for ridiculous number of hours! We probably practiced more for that contest than we'd ever done before or since! We practiced from morning til night, and we played that same song over and over again. Just that one song! And we did it for more than 10 days!
LH: Aska, I know you mentioned just now, that you wrote the songs for this particular event. Did you think then that you had a pretty good chance at winning?
A: I did! I wrote that song specifically to win the Grand Prix, that's the World Popular Song Contest that comes after the Yamaha one. We performed the song twice at the national competition, and we really counted on winning it all. In fact we were so sure!! But we didn't.
LH: Chage, you laugh, why?
C: (laughs) We really did think that we were going to win the Grand Prize! Everyone around us, the other competitors said "I'm sure we've lost this time. You guys are definitely going to win." So we were confident! But then at the actual event, he made a mistake! And all our hopes went up in smoke! (laughs)
But when I think about it now, it was really for the better.
A: (In English) Yes I made a very big mistake.
LH: Big mistake?
A: Big Mistake!
LH: What sort of big mistake?
A: Well, we'd practiced for 10 days so there was no way we could have made a mistake. But at the last minute, we had to change the duration of the song, and I got thrown off. While I was performing, the sound of the original version popped into my mind. And I started singing that tune! (In English) Very big mistake!
LH: How did you two get together? How did you meet?
A: I was a transfer student. I switched in the middle of high school to Chage's school. That's how we met.
LH: Gosh, that's a long time ago. (laugh)
C: 30 years ago! It wasn't a specially created meeting. During that period, it was common for every high school to have a cultural festival. Aska and I took part separately, but we often heard each other practicing in classrooms next to each other. That's when we started paying attention to each other. After that we also went to the same university. So we were friends and had a lot of experience playing and performing together even before the Yamaha Contest.
LH: What about the names, the nicknames, Chage and Aska? They're very different from your real names.
A: (In English) We aim for just simple, just simple.
C: (laughs) just simple!
LH: Something catchy?
C: "Chage and Aska!"
A: Yeah, like "Simon and Garfunkel!"
LH: So no hidden meaning?
A: (In English) No meaning. It's just a name.
LH: When you first got into music, both of you, what were some of your early influences, people that influenced you when you first started out?
A: I liked movie soundtracks, and listened to a lot of those. But there wasn't one particular artist that I was a fan of.
LH: Chage, did you have any early influences?
C: I really have a very ordinary, common answer, sorry! As expected, the musicians I was most influenced by when I was growing up were the Beatles. All through junior high and high school, I was completely taken with the Beatles and their music. To me, it was everything! I wanted to be the Beatles that was my dream!
LH: Right now, I've interviewed many musicians, and every one of them would tell me that it's very important to find a good writing partner, somebody that thinks on the same level as you, so it's not a forced fit. Do you find that you both are on the same wavelength?
C: Yes, absolutely! Right from the start, with the Yamaha competition, we had a hiccup but we didn't give up. I have to say though, something that's been very important to us, have been our live concerts. We have had many of our hit songs like "Say Yes" and "Yah Yah Yah" take on a life of their own. They are played on TV and Radio all day long and it feels like these songs have left our hands to begin walking by themselves. It felt like our songs were leaving us to become something else. But by performing live concerts, we've remained strong as a unit.
A: Yes, looking back, I think it was a lucky thing that we found each other. Good songs might bring us big hits, but we've been as successful as we have because we understand each other. That's more important.
LH: Chage and Aska, we are going to take a very, very short break. When we come back, we talk to Chage and Aska about upcoming solo albums. Stay with us.
LH: Welcome back to Talk Asia. With me today is Japanese rock icons Chage and Aska. I would like to talk a little bit about your solo works for just a little bit. Chage let me start with you. You produced a short film, missing pages, we heard a lot about it. You used a lot of photographs, not a film. Why not film?
C: My interest in photography started about 10 years ago. I've shot many of our live concerts, and a lot of our fans know about my interest and equate Chage with photography. After finishing our last Chage and Aska tour I felt that I needed a break. I felt "OK, that's enough for Chage the musician!" I wanted to present another Chage to our audience, a Chage who is holding a camera in his hand.
It seemed too boring to just publish the photos I'd taken so far. So I tried to come up with something more imaginative, something that hadn't been done much before. Then I got an inspiration! I collaborated with a Canadian, Jerome Olivier, and I asked him to make the still pictures move. I wanted to make a short movie, a short film with those pictures. I wanted the scenes to look like scenes in a real film, but only using still pictures. That was the key for this production. There are some clumsy moments, but at least it's a unique style of production.
LH: Chage, you speak so passionately about "Missing Pages". The inspiration behind the story, what was it? Was it a social commentary of sorts?
C: Yes, it is! But if I share my interpretation, it would be very powerful and it would influence the viewer. I think what each viewer feels after watching the film is very important. My opinion, if I share it, would characterize the film too much. So I would rather say that there is no single message at the end of this film. My ending and your ending could be very different and that's alright. It would make me very happy if viewers can see and feel something new from the film.
LH: And any plans to do some more?
C: No. Since completing this film, I've had the urge to go back to singing! Making the movie gave me a happy feeling that I want to savor for a while. So for now I want to sing and make music. But I do have some inspiration for the continuation of "Missing Pages." So I will work on that again some day.
LH: We are looking forward to the continuation, Chage! Aska, you have new solo album, "Scene". Tell me about it.
A: It's the first one in 14 years! It's been a long time and I'm actually quite anxious that people may not remember my other albums "Scene1" and "Scene2." This new album is an album of ballads.
LH: Why such a long hiatus? Such a long break? What were you doing for all those years? Are you thinking ideas or you were just busy doing something else?
A: I have no answer to that! I don't know why it's been so long, time just passed! I guess I've been busy with activities for Chage and Aska, and I didn't have time to think a lot about my own projects.
LH: As Chage and Aska, both of you, every time you go away, work on your solo project and come back again, do you find both of you have changed a little bit or working dynamics of both of you are different, as the years go on?
C: No, it's the opposite in fact! In my opinion, when we do solo work and come back to Chage and Aska, I find Aska exactly as he was before, which is comforting. I think it's good!
LH: You feel same say?
A: (In English) No (laughs).
LH: Why not?
A: Well, we are so often together, that we always see and experience the same things. If we stay that way, we won't be able to create anything different or special. When we do solo work, both of us going to different places to do our own things, we become like children who have been away from our parents. You know when a child goes away and comes back, he wants to show off new things, new skills that he's learnt. I feel that from him and I would imagine he gets the same feeling from me. Thinking about it gives me a chill! It's exciting; both of us want to show each other that we've become something better. I guess that's what our solo works are about.
LH: So you should call him Aska papa.
C: No, no he's not papa. But we have become brothers!
A: We are brothers trying to show off to each other after a period of absence.
LH: (laughs) Chage and Aska, we are going to take another very, very short break. When we come back, we will talk to Chage and Aska about Japanese music extraordinary appeal in Asia and what it takes to go global. Don't go away.
LH: Hello again, you are watching Talk Asia. And my guests are Chage and Aska. Both of you recently took a leading initiative with other big names in Japanese music to offer songs on I-tunes. Why? Is this a trend we see developing?
A: I think we've reached a new era in the music industry. It's not only about I-tunes. We are entering an era of digital distribution. Every trend that starts has to end. It's no use jumping on something when it's about to end. The way to go is to follow the flow, and do what's best for the people who want to listen to our music.
LH: I've read you are very active in social causes. You take time out for charities, and one of particular is "Save the Children". You help them from poverty and sickness. Why is it important for you to get into this sort of charity line and help out in this sort of way?
A: When I was living in London, Chage came over for some recording. I saw a lot of TV programmes there that featured musicians who were involved in charities. They talked openly about their activities, why they did it, how they did it. It looked very attractive. In Japan, it is very difficult to see something like that. Talking about being involved in charities isn't encouraged. But I was impressed with what I saw in London. So Chage and I decided not to hesitate. We said we should do whatever we can. If we can help, we should, if we can't that's ok. But we should take action. We told our staff and they agreed, so we went ahead!
LH: Gives you at lot of gratification to do something like this?
C: Besides feeling proud, I think it is excellent that people can be happy through music. It's brilliant that music makes people happy. It's so simple. Is there anything greater than this?
LH: Japanese music, J-pop, J-rock whichever has a very unique style.
A language, many people including me sometimes, I do not quite understand, but it has a huge appeal in Asia. I mean the people listen to these songs and want to learn Japanese and just go on and on. Why? Why is this?
C: The world has shrunk since the time we debuted. Thanks to computers and IT, we can now learn about things around the world in real time. So it's become easier for western people to listen to Asian music.
LH: Image, a huge thing here in Japan especially. Lot of singers sells not only their music but also their image. Like icons, how they look like. Can, do you think a good music prevail without sunglasses, without images, without clothes. Do you think? Can it sell?
A: It would be great if it could be done! But I think we're not at that stage yet. At this point you still need "style" to get noticed, to stay in people's minds. When musicians create their style, the audience associate that style with the musician. It's a formula -- the connection between music and fashion. If the music can go beyond fashion, then it will become a much purer thing. But most of us do not get to that pure state. The music is always associated with the fashion, so it is rather difficult to go without the image.
LH: Chage, Aska, you both have lots of international exposure over the years like Monaco music festivals for example. How important was it for you both as Japanese performance to break into American or even European markets?
A: I wonder how important it is. I guess we are in a situation where we might have to say that it is not that important! Ok yes, it us important, but as soon as we say that, we are not in the game. Do you know what I mean? It is most beautiful to be accepted into the international scene naturally. It is not smart to show your desperation to be accepted.
C: Our handicap is that we, Chage and Aska, are more focused on lyrics than melody. And we sing in Japanese. In western counties, it is important to sing in English. But the world is getting smaller. If Asian baseball players can go to the U.S. and play well, maybe the same thing can happen for us in music. I could be wrong, but my instinct tells me it will happen.
LH: What is next for both of you?
C: I guess Chage and Aska is next for us. I don't know yet if we will be presenting a new and evolved version of Chage and Aska next time the audience sees us. Or whether it will be something old and familiar. Hopefully there will be a bit of both, since our recent solo works should add new elements and meaning.
A: What's waiting for me next will be fun. It must be fun! That's what I tell myself every time. When you've worked for a long time, it's easy to start taking everything for granted. I always try to believe that whatever's coming next is going to be better and more fun!
LH: That is a wonderful thought. Thank you for both of you very, very much, Chage and Aska. That is Talk Asia for this week, a very special edition coming to you from Tokyo. My guest has been Japanese music icons, Chage and Aska.
I am Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.
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