An interview with LO-FI

Lo-Fi are a Japanese music trio that utilise a range of genres, including breakbeats, hip-hop and soul. Previous performances have included the Mini Cooper Xmas event, a Starbucks anniversary event and also the Asahi summer beer garden party in Hokkaido. They have also scored the Japanese Indie film HYPO.

The band made their UK debut in October at the HAA – TO BII – TO [ハート ビート] event which was staged in conjunction with Aid For Japan to raise funds and also awareness of the organisation set up by Akemi Solloway to help orphans after the Japanese earthquake/tsunami tragedy earlier this year.

Lo-Fi’s lead singer 5 took time out from rehearsals for the gig to chat to J-Pop Go about the band and his thoughts on the Japanese relief efforts…

How did Lo-Fi come together?

It was initially started by me and Yosh, the drummer. We ended up going through maybe 25 band members until we eventually met Nori. How we met Nori, I was actually doing some support work for another artist and that drummer introduced me to the keyboardist because she liked this sort of jazz/hip-hop kind of sound and we did a couple of gigs with her and she said “Can I join?” and we say yeah, sure and that’s how we formed the trio. That was probably back in early 2009 I think. That’s how the band formed initially.

So the band has been going for a while then

I guess, 2 years and a bit. But since our release, it’s only been a year and a half I think. But yeah we’ve been together for a while. But with the drummer Yosh, I’ve known him since about 10 years ago when I first came to Japan. I actually started playing in a band, we played together on and off supporting other artists so that’s how it was.

Are there any particular bands or artists that have influenced the Lo-Fi sound?

Yeah definitely, there’s a lot. There’s so many that I can’t really talk about. But today we’re going to cover D’Angelo’s ‘Brown Sugar’. D’Angelo has been a very big influence for me I guess. Just the general groove.

The other day we went by Ronnie Scott’s and saw an ad for Pino Palladino and Chris Dave’s show – a big influence for me and Yosh. Nori was talking the other day, we did a tribute for a DJ called Nujabes and he’s been a big influence too on her sound and the kind of sound we like too. We’ve done tribute events for him too. It’s kind of like a live version of his style. So there’s a big influence.

What sort of reaction has Lo-Fi received in Japan?

In Japan I think a lot of people don’t really know what to make of our music. People ask us “What genre are you?” and we say “Oh, we’re like hip-hop, jazz, sometimes we’re like rock, like reggae”, and like too many genres. So I say just listen to our sound. I think particular people like particular songs that we do. We always have a very eclectic crowd for our shows, like some of the older generation people, really young kids too who like the club scene, because we play in clubs a lot too. Also we play acoustic sets and do traditional jazz, like almost jazz standards, to open some of our shows. So that attracts a completely different crowd so yeah, it’s an interesting response. I must say that the indie scene in Japan, a lot of it is dominated by rock, there’s a lot of rock bands out there.

The rock scene is quite big in Japan at the moment

Yeah, so I guess we’re not as popular as rock bands, but we do have a really supportive fanbase which is really inspiring. That’s why we do our music.

Can you talk a little about the records you’ve released so far?

We actually only have one record out as Lo-Fi. I made a mini-album by myself and Yosh participated in that and that did pretty well. I think it was ranked second in iTunes jazz album ranking surprisingly for a while. For a couple of weeks it was there, but it’s iTunes so it’s always moving! (laughs) And we released our album, I think it was the end of 2009? And that was our first full album, Stereo Soul.

We’re recording our next album which we really want to get out, but we’re struggling to get a deal with a record label or like a recording studio because it’s hard right now for us to invest everything ourselves, so we’re looking for a partner to work with.

Is it very difficult to work with record labels in Japan?

No, no, it’s not the record labels actually, it’s more of what we want is a little bit different. I’m sure you can strike a deal with a lot of people and have them fund your album, and you know just get it finished. But there’s a particular studio that we want to work at and there’s a particular sound that we want from the album.

Naturally I wouldn’t work with a label that’s like telling me to sing in Japanese or get a girl to do the lead singing, you should dress like this… because we feel that doesn’t have anything to do with our music. So we’re looking for someone that can understand the artistic side of what we’re trying to do. So I guess that’s reality. There’s no problem with the record company, we’re just asking too much all the time! (laughs)

Obviously Aid For Japan is what the Hoxton event is all about, lending support after the tragedy in Japan earlier this year. What are your thoughts on this and also the relief effort so far?

I think it’s really inspiring watching everyone trying to find something they can do to help other people. As musicians, when the disaster happened, you just feel completely helpless.

I was in Tokyo when the earthquake struck and when the tsunami came I was just watching on a screen and you can’t do anything about it. You really wonder, if you owned a construction company or something you could help remove all the destroyed rubble and stuff so they can rebuild quickly, but as a musician you can provide spiritual support. So I guess we’re waiting for the time where we can really help people.

Individually we’ve been trying to go out there and perform for people at the shelters. A lot of my friends have done that too. Like today, we’re trying to gather money for orphans as a result of the tsunami. So it’s sort of specific for the orphans. But yeah I think there’s a lot of things people can do. Musicians I guess gather people and also raise money, but also provide spiritual support with your music, your art. That’s what we think.

And finally, what are your thoughts on performing in the UK for the first time?

Yeah it’s really fun. We’ve done a couple of rehearsals in the studios here and today we have a guitarist Dan Baker with us and we actually met him in Tokyo when we were performing and it was really great seeing him again here. Also the sound here at the Underbelly was just really perfect. So yeah we’re looking forward to doing our first show. We haven’t seen the audience yet so I don’t know, I’m really looking forward to it.

J-Pop Go gives grateful thanks to 5 and also to Catherine at

Stereo Soul is available on iTunes: