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June 6, 2008
From their name to their artistic formula, Tokyo Bloodworm is not the type of musical project that is ripe for mainstream success of any sort. The group is, at its core, an experimental/drone/folk collective, helmed by two guys who hail from two distinctly climatological and geographical extremes of the United States separated by thousands of miles - the arid landscape of Scottdale, Arizona and the Midwestern college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. As unorthodox as those facts are, one could gather as much from a quick visit to the band's Myspace page; what can't be honed in on from a four-minute web stop is the depth and detail that Andrew Sanchez and Ryan Keane, the project's primary creators, have put forth on each of Tokyo Bloodworm's first two releases, their eponymous 2006 debut and this year's Living Language collaboration with Brael.

LAS staff writer Josh Zanger recently caught up with Keane to talk about the group's origins, how to decide what sounds "right" or "wrong" in Tokyo Bloodworm compositions, and their collaboration with the duo Brael.
---

LAS: On a couple of different websites, I found some interesting roster contribution details, such as that you do "spine, digestive tract" and that Andrew plays "fleshy membrane, teeth." Who currently makes up Tokyo Bloodworm and what does everyone instrumentally contribute?

Keane: We've always considered the project a collective effort, but at the core, Andrew Sanchez and I perform the main task of playing, arranging field recordings, and mixing. It started mostly as laptop-based electronics. The original formula has been Andrew writing half of the songs, and me writing the other half, but we both contribute to all of the songs. Plus, I typically play the keys (piano, MS2000), melodica, and flutes. In addition, Andrew handles some of the keyboards, vocals, and lays down some saxophone every now and then. Phil Shiozaki plays the twelve-string acoustic. We also wrote the bulk of our first album with Rob Burnett and Mark Leach (who still produce some really nice music together under the monikers Ellery and Indians on Mars) and Stephanie Flood (whose vocals are featured on Living Language and our self-titled album). And, my brother Evan appears from time to time on the mandolin and acoustic as well.

Our live shows have been known to include a mix of live instruments, analog electronic equipment, laptop tomfoolery and atmospheric turntablism.

How old are you guys and where are you all from?

Andrew, 26, is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Phil, 26, is originally from Texas. Evan, 25, and I, 30, are from St Paul, Minnesota, originally.

How and when did the band initially come together?

I was introduced to Andrew at a Mice Parade concert in Phoenix, Arizona, back in the summer of 2004. He was the only person I had met out here who could name artists from the beautiful City Centre Offices label. Right there we knew we had a connection. We started exchanging some of our favorite music. I treated him to some of my all-time favorite oddities like Muslimgauze, Arovane, and the Remote Viewer. Andrew gave me a copy of Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, which changed my perspective on folk music entirely.

At the time, Andrew had a solo project named Metakinetic. I had been trying to develop some music as well. From there, it just seemed natural to work together.

What sort of sound concept is being sought after when you guys make music? Was this always the goal?

Our basic concept was to push a sound that mimicked the natural order of things; where there is light there must also be darkness. We also have a deep respect for the primitive expression of life found in tribal and traditional music from around the world. Music can be the wind gusting, mixing with a bird's song, and off in the distance a construction crew's jackhammer rhythmically sets in, cracking away; sitting out on the porch and taking the time to hear how sounds connect to each other can be all-consuming. There is a pulse to it, which most of us have felt at one point or another. This organic presence still remains our goal.

Andrew and I both perceive music similarly in emotional and visual ways, so there's a sound that is in both our heads and we work to achieve whatever that collective sound is. Dark contrasting Light, with irony and narrative. We want to make visual music that opens the brain and tells a story.



What kind of music did you listen to while growing up? Is there anything that you can say has held influence on the Tokyo Bloodworm sound?

I listened to a lot of psychedelic rock, jazz, and classical. Even the grunge scene played a huge part. As for specific groups that influenced our sound, here is the short list: Pink Floyd's concept of rock ballads and their ability to make the entire album tell a complete story definitely had an impact. Miles Davis' A Silent Way provided such freedom in my mind as to the acceptable structure music had to follow. Plus, with the addition of Phil Shiozaki, his biggest influence has to be Nirvana. Their simplistic yet moving guitar style is something held close to our hearts. And lastly, Muslimgauze; Bryn Jones was a genius. If you haven't heard his music, we can't urge you enough to experience it.

Andrew was big into independent rock, folk and hip-hop; and then as he says in his own words, 'I imposed myself upon the Ann Arbor/Detroit house and techno scene in 2002. Fortunately, I hung out with people who had exceptional taste in music and I was introduced to the likes of Jan Jelinek and Boards of Canada. The progression from that time to now finds me just as happy listening to songs comprised of beeps and static pops as listening to Slowdive and Sonic Youth.'

I have a question about specific sound usage. In some of the first tracks I've heard from the group - for example, "Still Passage" from Expanse At Low Levels - there is tendency towards almost droning, repetitive, minimalist musicality. How do you decide what sounds "right" or "wrong" in compositions like this?

That track was one of the earliest pieces we worked on. Compositionally speaking, we stray from catchy hooks in our tracks. We like keeping a simple, yet subtly complex series of sounds per track. It sounded right in the case of 'Still Passage' when the track as a whole felt relaxing, and the scarce notes of melody in the track played off of one another. We are both OCD about details and sometimes we spend weeks at a time on one song and eventually we keep the stuff we are not completely sick of in the final mix. Hopefully in end, our time and attention to detail appeals to the patient listener.

How did the collaboration with Brael come about? It seems that project is at another end of the instrumental electronic spectrum...

Brael's sound is so broad, beautiful and organic that it worked out wonderfully. It started with both our groups appearing on the Rorschach Suite [LAS review] compilation for the Moodgadget label [LAS feature]. We recognized each other from afar as having a different sound yet still coming from the same creative place with a similar intention. We kept in touch and eventually played a show at a café in Ann Arbor together and found we worked quite well. We started sending unfinished songs back and forth and remixing each other and we decided to make an album.

The new album has a more melodic (poppy vocals, vibes, Moog), more formally structured sound than the previous material I've heard from the Tokyo Bloodworm catalog. Was this a natural cause from working with Brael, or was the collaboration an excuse to flesh out material of that nature that you had been saving up?

Brael definitely comes from a more rock- and pop-based sound. They write catchy tracks and great melodies. Our first self-titled album does have some more formal structure too it. But we also have a love for the meditative, the drone-based sound. Plus, we did have some songs in the works that were more in line with their sound. So we decided Brael's sense of structure could really add to this. Of course, the fact that Brael had a full set of vibraphones ended up to being a brilliant touch.

How did you go about creating the material for Living Language?

It began with an exchange of remixes. Then we turned to working on original songs. We began sending files back and forth from Arizona to Michigan to Connecticut.

How did Moteer figure into the equation?

We have long been obsessed with the Remote Viewer, The Boats, and the rest of the Moteer catalog. One day, early on in 2004, we vowed that we would make music for them.

What else is on the horizon individually for you guys and as Tokyo Bloodworm collectively?

We are finishing the second Tokyo Bloodworm album for Moteer. The new album, Palestine, contains no electronically made sounds. It's all found sound and we have two guitarists on it, David Marin from Miami and Phil Shiozaki. Plus Maureen Choi from Ann Arbor will be featured on violin. There is also a third TB album in the works, featuring some amazing guest musicians. We can't say too much at this point. Andrew's first Metakinetic album should be out in the near future, and Phil (Shiozaki 55) has an amazing solo project or two on the horizon. Brael is also working on their first full-length album.

SEE ALSO: myspace.com/tokyobloodworm
SEE ALSO: www.moteer.co.uk
SEE ALSO: www.moodgadget.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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