DM014 / Interview / Kan Sano
2012.6.27(wed) 19:00-20:00 @RESPEKT
Interview & Text: Yasumasa Okada (DESTINATION / DESTINATION MAGAZINE)
English Translation: Danny Masao
Building on the jazz foundation he acquired from the prestigious Berklee College of Music,
Kan Sano explores different sounds and is always looking for fresh new ways to express his music.
He is a skilled musician, playing keys with several different artists including Mabanua's band,
and also a cutting-edge beat maker, with genre-defying aesthetics. His newest offering, "Sun Ya" is
an album released on Wax Poetics Japan's new label GruntStyle under the alias Bennetrhodes,
his new band project. On september 13th, he will be performing live at The Room in shibuya,
in DESTINATION MAGAZINE's new event "DESTINATION LIVE". A talented artist with infinite possibilities,
his music is definitely something to look out for.
DESTINATION MAGAZINE: First off, tell us a little about your background.
Kan Sano: I first got into music when I started listening to The Beatles in 5th grade.
We had a guitar and a piano in the house so I taught myself how to play.
I'd wanted to make original songs ever since I started playing.
DM: What kind of music were you influenced by?
KS: Up until junior high, I was listening to a lot of rock and pop music,
but around that time I started listening to Stevie Wonder. I got into black music in high school,
listening to everything from old soul music to jazz classics like Miles Davis.
I started playing in a band while I was still in high school, covering songs by Donny Hathaway,
Stevie, and Curtis Mayfield to name a few. Nobody around me was doing anything like that,
so I was playing with college students based in Kanazawa.
I was listening to what they called neo soul, like D'Angelo, around that time too.
DM: What made you want to go to Berklee College of Music?
What was that experience like?
KS: I was initially thinking about going to a Japanese music college, but I was't sure if I wanted to
study classical music. Then I talked to a guy who went to my high school and he told me about Berklee.
I'd wanted to study jazz properly, so I quickly made up my mind. Many different types of aspiring
musicians come to Berklee, from serious jazz people who study big band arrangements,
to rock guitarists, to even hip hop beatmakers. It was like a miniature version of the whole music industry.
There were some students ahead of me that became pretty famous later on, like Hiromi Uehara and
Esperanza Spalding. Also people like Motoharu from SOIL & "PIMP" SESSIONS, Cro-Magnon, Marter, and
Kotringo all graduated Berklee before me and made a name for themselves in the club music scene.
But most of my classmates were jazz musicians. There weren't many people interested in club music
or making beats.
DM: You were already interested in club music and making beats back then?
KS: Yes, I was already into that. From D'Angelo, I started digging into some J Dilla and
A Tribe Called Quest stuff, and eventually, it got to the point where I wanted to make that kind of stuff
on my own. Upon returning to Japan, I started getting involved with producing. Back then,
I didn't know anybody who made that kind of music, so I wasn't exactly sure of what I was doing,
but through checking out other beatmakers on Myspace, I got to know a few people, including the
Cosmopolyphonic crew, a.z, Dai Kurihara from Circulations, and it just evolved from there.
DM: We are interested in that sort of music ourselves, and we've done features on it in this magazine as well.
But considering how most people access the beat scene via hip hop, it is fascinating that you,
a jazz muscian and a Berklee alumnus, got involved. What artists do you feel the most connection to?
KS: Dorian Concept、Floating Points、Thundercat、Mark de Clive Lowe、and Madlib to name a few.
I really like Brainfeeder and Stones Throw. But when I first started making beats, I was really into Jazzanova.
Their intricate production style is something I strive to achieve.
DM: Jazzanova really has an original and sophisticated style of production. When it comes to originality
in beat programming, the Japanese beatmaker grooveman Spot also crosses my mind.
Recently, you had a chance to collaborate with him in a session sponsored by "Hennessy artistry".
That grooveman Spot × Kan Sano × Marter session was very impressive.
It was almost like an answer to Jazzanova from Japan.
KS: I really feel a connection with grooveman Spot's music. I'd love to jam with him again.
DM: You've released quite a few projects in a short period of time, starting with the "Fantastic Farewell"
album in April 2011, followed by two EPs "Cicindela Japonica" and "Bha", and then "Sun Ya" in June of 2012.
Has your approach towards music changed in that period of time?
KS: The albums before were really about exposing who I am, what I do, but recently it has shifted more towards
wanting to share what I create with people. Last year, with Japan suffering a massive disaster,
and a lot of things going on in my life, I did a lot of thinking. The Bennetrhodes project is a sort of a result from that.
With Bennetrhodes, I want to do live sets with a band, and share the experience with the audience.
That's a different mindset than I had before.
DM: What do "Bennetrhodes" and "Sun Ya" mean?
KS: They don't necessarily have specific meanings per se, and I chose them more for the feel of the words.
Fender Rhodes is an important instrument for me, and I wanted to put the word 'net' in there to symbolize
"networking" or "connection". As for "Sun Ya", 'sun' is a word that's included in a lot of artist names or
song titles I like, like Roy Ayers' "Love From the Sun", "Everybody Loves the Sunshine", and Sun Ra.
Also, if you read it as "Sunya", it means 'zero' or 'nothingness' in Sanskrit.
DM: I felt like you took more time into making each sounds this time around, especially with keys and vocals.
Describe the process behind making the songs.
KS: Actually, I didn't do anything differently on this album,
it was more like a culmination of everything I had done in the past. For example, when recording the piano,
I would play in different tonal range and record it in stereo, then stack them together. And then,
I'd record like 4 more in mono, and then pan them out and layer them on top to fatten up the sound.
I'd intentionally play each of them slightly differently, to make the sound more interesting. I don't sample at all,
so I try to recreate that fat vinyl sound. I layer sounds a lot, and I'm also careful about panning.
On this album, I wanted to make the songs simpler, and I started with the melody first, not the beats.
DM: This album has an uplifting, cheerful vibe. I really like the track "Wake Up Sauce".
These days at DESTINATION, we play a lot of slow BPM house tracks, so I can definitely fit
this song into my DJ set. It's a jazz funk joint but also approachable from a house perspective.
On other tracks I see Sky High Productions influence, with a vivid and sophisticated sound.
KS: I'm happy you say that. "Wake Up Sauce" is straight up jazz funk, inspired by my one of my favorites,
Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. As for the beat and the groove, I decided not to do too much to it,
and just went with a simple beat that feels right. As you mentioned, Sky High Productions have been
a big influence on my music. They used to combine piano and electric piano in their songs,
and that's something I do too. Other standout tracks on the album, for me, are "Electrified Feeling" and
"Sketch of a Dream". Both songs feature me on the vocals. I came up with the vocals as I was playing the
piano and creating the melody. The core element of the song sprouts forth from sheer inspiration,
and cultivating that is the difficult part, but once I got an idea going, it pretty much flows from there.
I end up making maybe 70% of a song in like 4 hours. The three songs I just mentioned were created
spontaniously in that manner, and I think I was able to captured that momentum.
DM: The video for "Joyful Spring" is also wonderful. Your songs have distinct, cathy melodies and it would
also be interesting to see people remixing or even sampling your tracks. Your musical background is jazz,
with Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock and Sky High Productions as influences, but at the same time,
you're also a Brainfeeder-inspired beatsmith. Not many artists can say that.
KS: I like MPC or SP404, but there are so many other guys who are amazing at sampling,
so I rather not sample when making music. I'd rather be the one being sampled. I can play the piano,
so that's something I want to use to my advantage. I constantly keep myself updated on
what other people are doing, including Brainfeeder, and I constantly ask myself,
"what can I do to improve my craft?" There are so many incredible artists coming out of Japan right now,
like Daisuke Tanabe, Himuro Yoshiteru and Bun who are all making a buzz globally.
DM: Tell us about your goals in the future. Where do you see your self heading?
KS: Right now, the music industry is struggling, and I think every artist is trying to find their way.
There's also the concern with the release format, like CD, digital, vinyl, etc. I'm always thinking about
what I need to be doing, but one thing I do know is that, I will definitely be making music for years to come.
I'm unsure whether I'll continue to live in Tokyo though. Nowadays, there aren't many reasons as to why
musicians need to be based in Tokyo. 10 years, 20 years down the line, where you live might not even
matter in the slightest. I will definitely never stop seeking new sounds. I do different things,
like solo piano concerts and jazz band shows, so it may be hard for some people to grasp what I do, but basically,
I just do whatever I feel like doing at the time.
DM: At a recent show held at Roppongi Alfie organized by Hiroko Otsuka, you played a piano solo as well as playing
with your band as Bennetrhodes. It was marvelous.
KS: Piano solo is something I've done since high school.
Otsuka requested a solo so I had to play even though I was a bit nervous. But the crowd seemed to enjoy it,
so I was relieved. I'm interested in the work Otsuka does. I think it's great how she unites jazz people with
club music fans. The members of my Bennetrhodes band are all friends from Berklee, and we've done
many shows together. I trust them greatly and I think our sound is going to get better and better.
DM: I'll be looking forward to that. Thank you for your time.
KS: Give "Sun Ya" a listen. I'm going to continue putting out projects, so follow me on Twitter,
Facebook and my blog at Wax Poetics Japan's site.
Born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa-prefecture in 1983. He started playing the piano and composing at age 11,
and left for Boston to enter the Berklee College of Music at 18. He studied jazz composition,
and got a chance to play in the Monterey Jazz Festival while still a student at the school.
He has played piano solos since the age of 16. As a pianist, he played with many artists including COMA-CHI,
Eric Lau, grooveman Spot, DJ KENSEI, Chikuzen Satou, Gentouki, Youmou to Ohana, Kenichi Hasegawa,
TwiGy Al Salaam, mabanua, and TRI4TH. In 2010, he attended the Red Bull Music Academy Basscamp where
he jammed with many talented beatmakers like sauce 81, RLP, mfp, Monkey sequence 19, Daisuke Tanabe,
and Marter and created a buzz worldwide when Gilles Peterson played his music on his BBC radio show "WorldWide".
Also in 2010, he released an album named "Kyou Mei" with guitarist Masaki Ishikawa,
which featured a completely improvised performance. His solo debut album "Fantastic Farewell" was released
via CIRCULATIONS in 2011, and he started his new project Bennetrhodes in 2012.
The album "Sun Ya" was released on June 6th by GruntStyle.
Bennetrhodes "Sun Ya"
"Everybody Loves The Sunshine"
"Cicindela Japonica" EP