Tomoko photographed for the Los Angeles album
Photo by Masakazu Yoshiba

Hangin' out backstage

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Interview with The Brilliant Green

They might wear their influences on their sleeve, but The Brilliant Green are the best of American rock n'roll Japan has to offer.

We know one thing for certain. The music world does not need another Beatles-infatuated band churning out four-chord melodies in hopes of being coined the new Fab Four- whether they're in Britain, America, or Japan. It is only the rare few that have been able to make magic out of the usual guitar-bass-drums-vocals formula and an unhealthy George Harrison obsession. Perhaps that is why it seemed so unlikely that three young musicians from Kyoto would manage to make anything at all out of their love for all things Beatles and a guitar sound straight from Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins. But with vocalist Tomoko Kawase's raspy cutie-pop voice and Shunsaku Okuda's knack for writing unforgettable melodies, The Brilliant Green, known as Buri Guri to most Japanese, serve up an irresistible helping of psychedelic guitar pop that recalls only the best bands of rock n'roll.

The Brilliant Green's beginning was fairly typical of most bands- two teenage boys form band during high school, spot a cute girl singer, girl singer joins band, band records demo tape, band gets record deal. After releasing two singles on Sony Records in the latter half of 1997, The Brilliant Green would get their break when their third single "There Will Be Love There" was chosen as the theme song for a popular television drama. This ideal pairing sent "There Will Be Love There" flying up the charts, and by the time they reached number one, The Brilliant Green had become one of the most popular alterna-rock bands to hit the Japanese mainstream. The group has released five albums and a plethora of singles over eight years, leaving vocalist Tomoko with barely enough time to focus on her '80s synth-pop side project, Tommy February 6.

Chosen by Time magazine as one of the world's best bands in 2001, this tuneful trio has got the songwriting skills to rival most of their rock n'roll contemporaries. I interviewed Tomoko, Shunsaku, and Ryo over lunch in Tokyo's Minato district.

CCC: What jobs did you have before forming The Brilliant Green?

Shunsaku: I never had an official job; I was always doing part time work- mainly working for a delivery service company.

Tomoko: I worked in a clothing shop.

Ryo: I had a job where I had to replace the shingles on the roofs of Buddhist temples.

CCC: Who are some of your heroes?

Shunsaku: The Beatles- obviously! They have always been a big influence.

Ryo: For me it changes everyday, but right now I'd say George Harrison.

Tomoko: Leonardo Dicaprio!

CCC: That is so funny that you chose Leonardo because he seems to always come up in almost every interview I've done. Someone always seems to mention Leonardo Dicaprio!

Tomoko: But of course! (laughs)

CCC: If you could change anything about Japanese music industry, what would it be?

Shunsaku: That's a pretty deep question. Can I give a serious answer?

CCC: Of course.

Shunsaku: The royalty system has to change. There's an inconsistency between the royalty system in Japan and America that is very problematic for Japanese artists.

Tomoko: Yeah, definitely.

Shunsaku: It's shocking when you read about the money American artists are making.

CCC: What are some of the things you enjoy outside of music?

Shunsaku: I don't really have any specific hobbies or anything, but lately I like to water my plants.

Tomoko: Shopping!

Ryo: Washing my car.

CCC: Where do you most want to go on vacation?

Shunsaku: Los Angeles.

CCC: You named your third album Los Angeles, but you've never been to LA?

Shunsaku: I've always had this dream to go to Los Angeles. When we were recording the album Los Angeles, I was looking at a picture of LA in a magazine, and there were all these pretty cars and the streets and wow.... it really looks nice.

Tomoko: Hawaii, since I've never been there. All my friends who have been there tell me that they love it.

Ryo: I also really want to go to Los Angeles- the climate seems really nice.

CCC: Sony should send you all to Los Angeles- since you want to go so bad!

Manager: No, no, no..... you guys have to go to Asia! (laughs)

CCC: Are your records for sale in countries like Thailand and China?

Manager: Yes, their records are available all over Asia. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Korea. Well, only their English songs are available in Korea. (Editor's Note: Up until recently, it was illegal to sell music sung in Japanese in Korea due to issues that date back to World War II)

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