December 12, 2018 Interview – Senri Oe
Sometimes we all need a little change of pace in life, or moreover, a new outlet to express who we are. A big time Pop star in his native Japan back in the ’80s and ’90s, an elder Senri Oe has turned his artistic attention to becoming a Jazz pianist in recent years, and he couldn’t be happier. A talented songwriter, the truth is Oe is in fact a classically-trained pianist, so a decision to pursue Jazz in his mid-forties is not as a curious change in directions as one would think.
Recently releasing Boys & Girls back in August, Oe continues to fulfill his creative muse on his fifth Jazz album, all while still paying tribute to his Pop-oriented past. Taking the time to chat about his life in music, he recently sat down for an interview covering everything from working in Pop music, and exploring Jazz, to making the big move to New York City, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for many years now, and attained a tremendous deal of success in your home country of Japan back in the ’80s and ’90s. More recently turning your attention to Jazz, how would you describe your journey as a musician?
Senri Oe – It was a very natural turning point for me. When I was a teenager, I first began listening to Jazz, so I’ve been a big fan of it for long time. I always thought that someday I should restart learning it.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear. As mentioned, you had a lot of Pop success in Japan during the ’80s and ’90s. To outsiders, the Pop scene is very strong in Japan, and fans are extremely devoted. That in mind, was the success at all ever overwhelming?
Senri Oe – Japanese music fans are so warm and devoted to any kind of music, and they still continue to support me passionately. They’re very faithful and loyal, and yes, my success was very overwhelming.
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. As an artist, you want to continue to grow, and you have done that, focusing on Jazz music. What inevitably led you to decide to change directions with your music?
Senri Oe – Because I love Jazz a lot…jazz is always fresh for me. It’s deep, thrilling and ever-changing.
Cryptic Rock – It is certainly a very liberating form of music with out many boundaries. You recently released your fifth Jazz record, Boys & Girls, back in August. A beautiful collection of solo piano material, what was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Senri Oe – Thank you so much! Boys & Girls has a ‘Pop meets Jazz, Jazz meets Pop’ concept which includes seven tunes in which I interpreted my Pop hit songs from ‘80s-‘90s into new orchestrations of jazz. Moreover, I added two additional brand new tunes.
As far as the process, it was really difficult for me, because I wrote all of the Pop tunes previously. Pop writer Senri doesn’t like to change his arrangements. He believes the original pop shape is the best in the world. So Jazz Pianist Senri tried to negotiate patiently with Pop writer Senri, demonstrating to him different arrangements – reshaping them so many times until he finally achieved what he wanted. That was the thorny path.
Cryptic Rock – As a pianist, you capture a mood with the music on Boys & Girls. There is a lot of subtly to playing an instrument. Not something the average listener ever really thinks about, how do you approach your playing style?
Senri Oe – The piano is just like a real human being with a body and soul. Each one has its own character and specific complexity built in, so I always try to bring out its charm and maximize its subtlety. I sometimes feel that I’m a doctor, or a some type of mystic. First, I figure out his or her condition, and then I make the decision on how deal with it. Tenderly? Or?
Cryptic Rock – That is a great way of putting it. You are now a New Yorker! That in mind, how would you compare the culture in your home country to America?
Senri Oe – I have been living in Brooklyn for seven years now. I can mention two things: first, people are basically same everywhere you go. We have family, friends , lovers, and our own god. We play music, cook, eat, dance, love and…sleep. If you are Japanese or American, it is the same.
On the other hand, we have different backgrounds, languages, customs, and the way to express ourselves. We don’t have the custom of tips, we respect harmony, we love a downbeat, we act and say something euphemistically like “It is all right” — even though it doesn’t always go right. We don’t eat turkey much, however, we have a similar Japanese thanksgiving day like America does…
Cryptic Rock – It is always fascinating hearing and learning about other customs, but like you said, deep down we are all very much the same. Seeing you have had so much success as a Pop star, do you find performing as a Jazz musician in more intimate settings to be refreshing and different?
Senri Oe – Absolutely. In my opinion, performing in an intimate setting is more difficult than in a huge setting like a stadium. We cannot pretend, lie, deceive, cheat in front of the audience in an intimate setting. On a large stage, we are surrounded by the various gimmicks, mechanics, technicians’ support…..so it is easier to emphasize our modulations, variations. I love both, though!
Cryptic Rock – It is wonderful to have been able to experience both like you have. Seeing your love for Jazz, what are some of your personal musical influences? Do they expand beyond Jazz as well?
Senri Oe – My personal musical influences are movies. I am huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies. My favorite is The Lady Vanishes (1938) from his early days.
Cryptic Rock –It is funny you should say that because on Cryptic Rock, we also cover movies – particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of these genres, what are some of your favorites and why?
Senri Oe – Of course, I love Sci-Fi movies like Blade Runner (1982), Star Wars (1977), Planet of the Apes (1963), and X-Men (2000). I love the Horrors like The Shining (1980), Psycho (1960), It (1990), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Thing (1982), Carrie (1976), and An American Werewolf in London (1981). The reason why I love these? The answer is simple. Thrill! Surprise! Tension and relief!