Kumagai, Keiko (Ars Nova) (August 2001)

Welcome To World Of The Android Domina - An Interview with Ars Nova's Keiko Kumagai

Keiko Kumagai (circa 1998)As Ars Nova are rapidly approaching the pinnacle of their 2001 tour in support of their recent masterpiece, Android Domina, I thought it was the right time to pick up the address of Keiko Kumagai and ask her some questions - just to let you know something else about this all-female band, something other than that they are one of the best prog combos of the New Millennium!

Igor Italiani: Hi Keiko. Can you start this conversation speaking (to us) about the early days of Ars Nova, especially when you entered the group? It's a bit strange that you're the most experienced member of the band, yet you're not one of the founders of Ars Nova?

Keiko Kumagai: Hi Igor. Yes, I had entered Ars Nova in 1985. At that time, the original members of the band were Kyoko Kanazawa (bass), Yumiko Saito (drums) and Keiko Tubata (keys). Keiko Tubata left the band in early 1985, after that I stepped in[to] Ars Nova as her replacement. In the early stages of the band we played some famous progressive songs of ELP, Yes, King Crimson, etc ... and a few originals as well. However, at that time, our original style of sound had not been built up yet ... and we played together rarely. The band was only one of our hobbies before 1990. Since 1990, I had been getting music composition gradually, and I also met Shingo (the owner and producer of Made In Japan Records), who advised me to compose more original songs in the future. I remember that he said to me: "If you do so, I'm sure I will release Ars Nova's first CD". So in 1992 we released our first CD, Fear And Anxiety, in Japan, for Made In Japan Records. After that, Yumiko had to left the band because of her impending marriage. I and Kyoko began to look for a new drummer, and Shingo recommended to us Akiko Takahasi. Unfortunately, in 1997, Kyoko Kanazawa also left the band, this time because she had another job to do. Now, as you know, we have returned as a trio, because we have Mika with us. That's the story so far, and as you say - even if I'm not one of the founders of the band, I think I am the mainstay.

II: Thank you for the summary. Given the fact that you have a concert in Tokyo December 16, can you tell me what's the situation of Japanese progressive today? I've read a recent interview with Numero Ueno [always Shingo, Ars Nova producer], and he said that the Japanese prog-maniacs look to a lot of foreign acts, but not at the ones of their homeland nowadays.

KK: Of course there are a lot of prog bands in Japan right now, but almost all the bands are of amateur level. They play for hobby, I suppose. At one time there were a lot of professional bands as well, but nowadays have almost all broken up. Some of them have reformed over the years, but not too many. Unfortunately the golden age of Japanese prog rock was in the '80s. The modern scene is not quite the same. I have to admit that Japanese prog rock is very underground music today.

Ars Nova - Android DominaII: OK, we return to Ars Nova. To me it seems that on Android Domina, your latest release, the sound has taken a different path from the past - the album seems to implement a lot of the modern coldness (portrayed very well from a music standpoint) that characterizes the new Millennium. Do you think this is true?

KK: Yes, I would like to break old prog symphonic style. I and our producer, Shingo, have been thinking that it's a bit out of date. Many prog fans like bands that sound like already famous prog acts, like ELP, Yes, King Crimson ... we also stated in press releases that Ars Nova is like ELP, but we used it in the meaning of the power trio. In fact Ars Nova are now keyboard-keyboard-drums, so we are not quite similar to ELP. Add to this that I obviously like old analog synthesizer sounds, but I enjoy digital sounds too ... well, recently I must tell you that I usually prefer the digital ones!

II: Another thing that stands out on the release is the new, sexy, SM look you have adopted as a band. Who had this idea and what's the reason behind this choice? By the way Ars Nova look really sexy in those outfits!?

Ars Nova 2001KK: The SM look was an idea that I had. I have been interested in SM as one of the end of the century taboo art. I like modern bondage costume, too. SM has both force and beauty, I think. I thought it would be funny to introduce SM taste as the latest album theme, because people say that Ars Nova's sound is heavy, aggressive, dark, massive, but also beautiful, melodic and classical. I think that SM really fits that sound ... and maybe, no one has ever adopted SM as an album theme to this day! However I and Shingo have also been thinking that it's not good that Ars Nova only play on stage. We have to show something to the audience as well, so we represent our new style by both the aspect of sound and visual [sounds interesting! - II].

II: Keiko, can you explain the usual process behind the creation of the Ars Nova masterpieces? How the songs take life and grow until they reach their definitive structure?

KK: I choose the theme in each album. I have always taken a theme in which I am interested in. I usually examine something, reading books, seeing movies, watching TV, go to the art museum, look at the pictures, go to concerts ... I just match some imagination to the theme and then I go ... and sometime a great idea comes to me. People say "Why?" but I don't know how to answer them. I don't have a clear explanation. I'm sorry that the answer is not enough.

II: One of the few bands that can be linked to the music of Ars Nova is ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) -- we already said that. Amongst the things that the two bands share is the fact that the most popular rock instrument, the guitar, is (almost) always outside the picture of the songs. Do you really hate guitar, or is it just a coincidence that Ars Nova have not a guitar (or guitarist) in their line-up? Do you think that in the future some sort of guitar could be added to the mix? It could be an idea to try something new (always considering that Ars Nova compositions already are new and courageous)?

KK:Well ... I like the guitar sound! However I have not been thinking that our sound needs guitar because I represent all the melody and tune with keyboards and sound modules ... and there isn't a good prog rock guitarist in Japan who goes along well with our sound. But I'm thinking of adding true guitar sound in our future albums, because it would be a new solution for us to progress. Well, maybe I'll have a guitarist (even not from Japan) who'll take part in our next opus. Who knows? [well, I must start these guitar lessons fast! -II]

II: Now we go individual a bit. Reading your biography, Keiko, I have noted that you have a lot of Italian prog bands amongst your favourites. How and when started this passion of yours (that continues with cinema, as you state that you also like Dario Argento's works)?

KK: I have liked horror movies since I was in childhood (strange kid, uh!?!). I have been interested in Italian horror movies, especially the soundtrack of Dario Argento's works remained in my mind. That's Goblin! I knew Goblin were an Italian prog band, so I started tracking other bands as well. Now I know a lot of Italian prog bands, and a lot of them are high quality and even better than some English ensembles.

II: Akiko, on the other hand, really impresses me with her knowledge of a plethora of instruments (guitar, violin, keys, drums!). How she became involved with Ars Nova?

KK: As I said to you earlier in the interview, Akiko was recommended to me by Shingo. She had already been a member of another band at the time of her involvement with Ars Nova, and it was not a prog rock band. Akiko was in a beat music band. She didn't know a lot about prog. However she is interested in a lot of instruments, as you said, and I know she has a lot of potential to unravel for Ars Nova.

II: And what about the new member, Mika?

KK: Mika is the keyboard player of her band, Triton. Actually she is both member of Triton and Ars Nova. She plays the piano well, and her voice matches perfectly with our melodic part as effect. On "Android Domina" and "Lacrimaria" she sung with English words. I think that her voice gives a different atmosphere to our sound.

II: However you're still minus a bass player. Why you have troubles finding one, and what's the solution on stage to provide for this shortage?

KK: After Kyoko left, I and Akiko have looked for a new female bass player, but we could not find a competent one. It is quite hard to find a female prog rock bass player, isn't it? We have given up to look for, but at the same time we were struck by this idea to create a keys-keys-drums trio. In fact the keyboard has bass, synth bass, contrabass, low tone of the piano, organ etc. At present Mika takes charge of bass parts by the piano and synth bass on stage.

II: Speaking of live gigs, what do you expect from the tour that you are starting right now? Is there a place you would really like to perform amongst the ones you still haven't visited? And what's the best place where you have already played?

Ars Nova on stage 2001KK: As you know we will play in Finland, Belgium, USA and Italy this year. We will represent the theme for Android Domina. Our appearance is SM look, and we will play: "Android Domina," "Horla Rising," "Succubus," "Pairi-Daeza," "Fata Morgana," "Morgan" and "Dance Macabre." Among the places that I would like to perform, there are Rome and Milan, and both of the cities will be included in our tour. So I'm happy about the locations, and I would like to play in your city, Pesaro [the home of classical composer Gioacchino Rossini - II], too. However, looking at past gigs, I think the best place has to be ProgFest '95 in Los Angeles. It was a good hall and there were many good people and great staff. About 1,000 people came there.

II: OK, Keiko. Before saying goodbye - I have always had a penchant for outrageous and particular things (in music anyway). For example, I would like to know what would be your reaction if you had the opportunity to work with another great musician taken from another music landscape ... I have in mind jazz mastermind Herbie Hancock, another great piano virtuoso, or Allan Holdsworth, the fusion maestro. Would you be exited to try and create something new with a player that has such a different background than you?

KK: Certainly I would be thrilled to have such an opportunity. I'm thinking that I would like to take in something new with some guest players on future albums. Maybe they will come from heavy or hard rock scene. Talking about the musicians you mentioned, I like their sound too, but unfortunately I have no jazz taste in my mind. My parents have loved classical music, so I have been listening to a lot of classical music since I was in childhood. The classical music has great influence on my music creation process.

II: That's all Keiko. Thank you a lot for your time and hope to see Ars Nova here on tour very soon. Something you wish to say to the Italian prog-lovers before leaving?

KK: Only that I love Italian prog and Italy a lot! Please come to our show in Rome and Milan in November! I'll see you there! Bye!

Fear And Anxiety (1992)
Transii (1994)
Goddess Of Darkness (1996)
The Book of The Dead (1998)
Android Domina (2001)
Lacrimaria (2001)
Biogenesis Project (2003)
Force For The Fourth -Chrysalis- (2005)
Altavoz Masterpiece Series 2006 (6-CD box set of all full albums) (2006)
Seventh Hell (2009)

Added: August 31st 2001
Interviewer: Igor Italiani

Artist website: arsnova.prog.com
Hits: 5035
Language: english

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