Extended Dance Mixes: An Interview with Fujiya & Miyagi
In crafting three EPs to make the basis of their new album, Dave Best walks us through what sudden fame feels like, how he doesn't really care about album sales, and the most irritating aspects of Postman Pat.
The trials and tribulations of a band can harbour many regrets and frustrations.
As the musical landscape shifts, new fashions and trends can account for many a band. For a band to stay the course and survive is more difficult than ever thanks to ever-changing buying habits, revenue streams and good old fashioned apathy. Nevertheless, Fujiya and Miyagi have done more than merely survive. Ten years after their debut Transparent Things the band are in the midst of the release of three EPs, with each one showcasing the breadth of their styles and influences from Italo-disco and Krautrock to funk and soul. It's an exciting summation of the band, one that sees the band thriving.
Speaking with frontman Dave Best provides a fascinating insight into the mechanics of a stable band that enjoy nothing more than just making music. There are no tawdry tales of sex, drugs and acrimonious break-ups. This is the reality of how a band is able to keep going, doing a job that they love. As Best explains, "There are some people, not a huge amount, who really like what we do."
With that knowledge and the freedom to keep creating, Best discusses the position of the band, reflects on the early rush of excitement of their early years and the mind-set behind the creation of the three EPs that will provide the backbone of their fifth album.
So how does he sum up a career that has lasted the best part of 10 years, a period of time that has accounted for many band and genres. "I feel very lucky," he notes. "I mean I've managed to stretch something that's very minimal. Whispering synths and awkward funk. To be able to take it this far is pretty good. It's what we love and it has to be really. I think if we were more successful early on it would have capitulated but by staying at the same level has meant we can keep going."
Like any emerging band the idea of cutting a record let alone anyone hearing it seemed ridiculous. "I think at the beginning it didn't even occur to us that anyone would even hear what we were making." With that in mind, it's fair to say that the band weren't overly careful when choosing what to dub the newly formed quintet, "It doesn't even make sense to Japanese people! It's like calling yourself Ben Nevis and Rowntree!"
Commercial success seemed to be on the cards for the band very early on when the song "Collarbone" was used in a Jaguar commercial around 2006. The impact of which was fairly huge for Best and the rest of the band. "It allowed us to leave our jobs. Before I was working for American Express in Brighton then doing some nights at the Post Office. Every kind of rubbish job." Best remains adamant that this early part of their career was fundamental in shaping the identity of the band, "I'd rather have done that than the new breed of those over entitled rich kids. It wasn't just a whim, it's always been my passion to be in a band."
America was particularly quick to embrace the band's brand of Krautrock-influenced modern dance music. "At the start it was kind of exciting because we were going to New York and selling out," he reminisces. "Little places, but we were selling them out before we were selling places out in Brighton or London. When that happened it was like 'Wow! This is alright!' At the beginning it was just so exciting."
The whole period was something of blur for him: "We worked so hard and did so many shows that we didn't really have chance to second guess it. The funny thing is that we played so many shows that I kind of have flashbacks. I can be doing the dishes and suddenly think of a show we did in Seattle. It's a really strange sensation."
Nevertheless, Best is certainly not one to wallow in nostalgia: "I'm not particularly nostalgic, no. I still think our best stuff is in front of us so I tend not to look too far back." However, Best is quick to draw parallels between that time and where he finds himself with the band at the moment, noting that "I kind of like this period now and the period around Transparent Things; my two favourite periods of the band in terms of how I feel about it for completely different reasons."
The reasons for his positive outlook for the future of the band stem from the fact that the band is now totally self-sufficient. "Now we've become our own label," he continues. "It makes sense to be the artist and the label. We are involved in it. It's not like we are working for someone else. The more we put into it the more it's going to benefit us." The result is that Best is more than content with where the position the band find themselves in now, noting how "People like us. Now we've got total control over it and we're not too fussed. My expectations are what they are but it's more about just making music. A cliché but fortunately it is true."
The fact that the Best seems content and isn't unnecessarily hung up on the commercial viability of their work has manifested itself into the writing of three EPS that will eventually be woven together to form their fifth album and follow up to 2014's Artificial Sweeteners: "With Artificial Sweeteners I was really pleased with some parts of it especially the song called 'Flaws' and that didn't really do much so it kind of dampened your expectations which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing."
Putting together a series of EPs rather than an album seemed to be the logical choice for Best and the rest of the band. "We've all got kids and stuff," hints Best. "What will invariably happen is that you come up with an idea but then you find two years have passed and that idea has morphed and changed into something else. So the album becomes not a cohesive whole. But with the EPs they are cohesive because they were done over a short space of time with a similar sensibility. Like the first one is kind of really indebted to Italo-disco and the arpeggios are really synthy. The second one is simpler and it was done as a band rather than just me and Steve."
At this early stage, it's hard to say what this means for their new album next year but so far Best is pleased with the reaction to the new material. "I think it went well. 'Serotonin Rushes' got a bit of radio which we don't normally get. Live it's gone down really well." This, despite the fact, that putting these EPs out can be confusing to the casual record buyer. "It's proven quite hard to cement itself in the psyche of the record buyer. When it is compiled as an album we'll get a better picture of if people are really into it." At the end of the day, Best has been doing this long enough to not concern himself with critical praise or sales figures: "If it does well and people like it then great but I'm not going to stop doing it so it doesn't really affect me other than financially."
Best hasn't always been so impervious to criticism. "For a while criticism really affected me. We'd take two years to do an album and then spend a year sulking and then do another one and then repeat the process." After surviving in the band for so long and keeping going despite ever changing trends, he now has a much more pragmatic response (to criticism). "I just kind of realised that if you believe in what you're doing then it shouldn't matter too much," he continues. "Sometimes people do have valid points but to criticise us for say my lack of vocal range is a bit like kicking a puppy that's back legs aren't working. It's not like I don't want to. It's just that this is the aesthetic and this is what it is. There are variations on it but this is what it is. If you like our band and delve deep we dip ourselves in lots of different pools. Lots of different things but it's filtered through a similar aesthetic so it always sounds like us."
Having full confidence in the band and where they are and where they find themselves makes it easy to write revealing songs like "EDM" from EP2. It's a stream of consciousness declamation or as Best sees it "a mildly passive aggressive rant" that systematically takes apart the entire career and image of the band. At times it can cut pretty close to the bone but, as Best explains, it's no mere piss-take: "It's pretty much exactly how I really feel. I just thought what would happen if I just said what I really felt. What would be the repercussions of this?"
He continues, noting that "the thing is with a band like ours is the people who think about it the most are the people in it. Cause now we do it ourselves and we have managed ourselves for quite a few years and we run our own label. It's kind of all-consuming that part of our lives. It does give you the tendency to overthink things. The result is that EDM probably."
Fujiya and Miyagi has always been a band for the fans rather than the critics and Best highlights the importance of their live shows in cementing the relationship with their fans. They certainly have no problem with playing the songs that alerted those New York crowds to their sound all those years ago. "Some bands have a hit they don't like. They are lucky to have a hit. I wish we did! If you are going through the motions then you are in the wrong place. It's about the adrenaline and the show. It would be a bit churlish not to play songs they want to see."
Despite that positive relationship with their old material Best is adamant that their best stuff is ahead of them. "I think it's good for bands not to be complacent and not be a greatest hits package but you also want people to really enjoy it. Luckily we've never been that popular." With full album tours en vogue at the moment, does he see any merit in playing Transparent Things in full? "I just don't like the idea of it. I'd have to sing 'Cylinders' on my own. It would be gutting like being asked to sing at school when you're eight and you don't want to!"
For now, the emphasis for Best and the band is finishing up EP3 and then assembling it into a cohesive whole for the resultant album release. Best offers an update on how things are progressing "The third one is looking more like disco. Pure disco. The third one might only have three songs. I'm just mucking about with the order now; they do strangely work together, even though they are three distinct moods and groups of songs. They hang together better than the last couple of albums do."
The overriding feeling is that Best is optimistic about the future: "It feels like things are on the up over the last year or so. We've got a different booking agent and we seem to be doing nice shows again. It feels like a rebirth in a way. It's fun, it's brilliant. We are really lucky. Loads have people I know aren't on their sixth record. They might not even have done one. I never feel like 'poor us.'"
That is not to say he is totally content. Like any parent there are things that frustrate him. Not least updates of popular '70s and '80s British children's cartoons. "The thing that gets me about Postman Pat is that when he worked for the Royal Mail he did a really good job and then when he went private he became a complete fuckwit. Like he'd have to deliver a piano and he would accidentally leave the back open and it would end up in a field and then he's spend the rest of the episode trying to get it. To make up for his mistake and then when he finished he'd say 'Mission accomplished!' like his was congratulating himself for his own mistake."
With that Best signs off to find out who won the Great British Bake Off and get down to the important business of rehearsing for a run of gigs before carrying on with the recording of EP3. Fujiya and Miyagi are a living, breathing testament to the joys of being in a band, playing music and doing something that you love.