This interview is with Tomoe Ura, a baritone saxophone player, also known as “The genuine sax of Nankai.” These days she appears in TV in the Kansai region as the “meat” columnist: blogging about where to find good meat dishes to eat. We met with her at her bar “DIDDLEY BOW” in southern Osaka, where one can enjoy sake with records. What is the joy she finds in records? First, we asked her about her encounter with vinyl.
――When did you first get drawn to records?
I bought my very first record during my first year in college. I am from the CD generation, so I had never considered buying records before.
――So then, what made you buy one?
I used to go see live music a lot then, and so that is what led to it. I got to know a record shop owner named Yokoyama-san of JAZZBO RECORD-MART in Higashi-Shinsaibashi (Osaka), and started going to his shop.
――How was it going to a record shop for the first time?
I was so moved! [Laughs.] My parents had some records at home of Eikichi Yazawa and other popular music, but I had no idea that a totally different world of records existed. I am from a rural part of Gifu prefecture and there were no shops around, so that didn’t help either.
――And what kind of world was that?
Where the wall and shelves were crammed with records, I was like, “What is this?” It wasn’t like the few of them we had lying around at home. I bought a ‘50s Louis Prima album. At first it was the look of the jacket: the quality of paper and the color scheme. It was a total “Wow!” moment.
――The used record cover had an appealing paper texture?
Yes. It looked like it withstood the test of time and was still very present as a product. It was very impactful.
――Did you feel impacted by the quality of the sound?
Yes. I can’t really describe it that well, but it felt smooth. It had a very distinct charm and that was surprising. I think the volume coming from the store’s system also had an affect on it, but it was really incredible. I was moved emotionally, and thought to myself, “I never knew music like this existed…”
――And with that, you were hooked on the allure of vinyl.
Indeed. Whenever I found music that I liked, I would ask more about the same era and genre and I was able to understand my musical taste better. I also listened as a musician; I learned a lot from it.
――Was there something you weren’t familiar with when you first started listening to records?
I didn’t know anything. [Laughs.] The record shop taught me all about players, speaker cables and such. Each system is different, so just because it was vinyl doesn’t make it perfect. That was also the appeal: the fact that you can manipulate the sound to your liking.
――The influence JAZZBO RECORD-MART had on you is significant.
Absolutely. From there, I also learned how to go to other record shops. At first it was kind of awkward to walk into unfamiliar record stores. But I also learned that each record shop kept different genres and such.
――How often do you go to record shops these days?
I browse around maybe two or three times a month. It’s not like I’m digging for certain records regularly, so when I buy something it is more on the spot. When I want a specific one, I go to the nearby record store first. I want to be able to check the disc’s condition, too. If I can’t find it there, then I go online.
――Where do you frequent?
I go to Night Beat Records that my friend owns. Time Bomb Records is one, too. DISC JJ, because it’s close to my bar. Also, Disc Union.
――How many records do you have now?
I have about 1,000. My brain cannot comprehend anything over that. [Laughs.] I don’t own a lot of 7 inch. I am a sucker for the big LPs, after all. I like the big-size.
――Do you sell your records?
I sell them and buy them back. My hobby is moving, so I sell some of them about every two years when I move places. “If they can’t fit in my record shelf, then they must go!” Something along those lines... [Laughter.]
――What is your take on music streaming?
I think it works. But I’m more delicate than I look… [Laughs.] It is hard for me to listen to music through earphones on a mobile phone. Yeah, I prefer to have air in between.
――And why is that?
It’s probably because I also play music. Like a music venue, I find it natural that music is heard through air. It feels more normal. That is why I prefer to listen off the stereo.
――I see. How do you listen to your records at home?
At first I would sit up straight and… [Laughs.] I’m kidding, but I take in all of it, like the title and liner notes. I get so excited. [Laughter.] That part is the same as a CD, but since records only have about 20 minutes on one side, I can pause after side A and go do a load of laundry. [Laughs.] I can’t really concentrate for 50 minutes on one CD playing through. One side of a record, however, is just the right length. I am someone that takes good care of things, so as a precaution, I try not to put teacups and such too close to records.
――As a person from the CD generation, what do you think about the process of dropping the needle to listen?
It is different from just pushing a button that beeps. I think it is that one more thing you need to do, that going out of your way-feel that makes it even more intriguing.
――How would you describe the appeal of records to people who don’t know it?
When you go buy records, make sure to check out the texture of the record cover and its printing. Smell the record when you open the jacket. [Laughs.] That’s what I’d tell them. When you open an unopened record from the ‘50s, you can say, “Oh this is what the ‘50s smelled like.” Well, that’s probably not exactly true. [Laughs.] Either way, the fact that something that was put on the market over 50 years ago is still for sale - I think that is what makes it interesting. It also has an allure as a thing that has smell and texture.
――An antique that makes a sound...
Indeed. But rather than antiques that a collector accumulates, we mustn’t forget that it is something to listen to. As a musician putting out records, it is my wish that people listen to the music.
――What is your take on old records coming out digitally re-mastered on CDs?
I would choose the format that the album first came out on. It’s like pictures taken on film is better than digital. Sometimes you can hear way more on digital and it can be distracting hearing parts that you don’t really need to pay attention to. [Laughs.] In a record, I feel like the air of the recording session is also captured, but seeing all of those air particles in detail feels a bit off to me. Of course, there are people who want to listen to exactly that! So I guess it is up to the listener at the end.
――At the end, it is preference. Is that the same for meat?
Exactly. [Laughs.] Everyone has different teeth. [Laughs.] Some people with a strong bite don’t feel like they ate meat unless it’s really chewy. Some people complain that marbled steaks are too fatty.
――Which type are you, Ura-san?
I, of course, like marbled meats, and I like eating tough meat as if I were First Human Giatrus (a Japanese stone age cartoon). I also like Yoshinoya’s gyudon beef bowl.
――Price doesn’t matter, really.
Exactly. Records are like that, too. [Laughs.]
Tomoe Ura was born in Gifu Prefecture in 1981 and is a Japanese baritone saxophone and clarinet player. Her solo album Rocking Out At The Shokudougai (a food vender strip) was released in 2010. She joined the tour of EGO-WRAPPIN’ and has collaborated with many other musicians. In 2014, she released Ura-chan no Bengawan Solo / Best of Tomoe Ura, and in 2017 she released her fourth original album That Summer Feeling. Also in 2017, she teamed up with Akio Yamamoto and Takashi Kabashima to start a label that features instrumentals and exotic sounds that puts out only 45s called TONGS INTERNATIONAL. Recently, she is also active as a “meat columnist.” She resides in Osaka.
Interview Support: DIDDLEY BOW
Photography: Yuta Seki
Translation: Mika Anami