Interview: Yukihide Takekawa – Singer/Songwriter And Godiego Frontman
Interview conducted by Spencer Lloyd Peet in October 2010.
Singer-songwriter Yukihide Takekawa’s dream for worldwide success came true after Godiego, the band he fronted and helped formed in 1975, released the album “Magic Monkey”, consisting of songs written for and inspired by the popular TV series “Monkey” (aka “Saiyuki”) which was based on the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”. “Monkey” first aired in Japan in 1978 and was comically dubbed into English a year later and became a huge success with audiences in England, Australia and New Zealand.
The album went to the top of the charts in Japan and established Godiego as being the most popular group in the country at that time, a string of hits followed and some chart success overseas. For many music lovers in the West, Godiego was the band that introduced them to J-Pop — they remain a national treasure.
Yukihide started his music career as a solo artist and has gone on to release over fifty albums (including those with Godiego). He remains a popular figure within the entertainment world of Japan where his infectious songs have been featured in films, television shows and computer games. A prolific songwriter, Yukihide is busier than ever and doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Thank God!
Is it true you started to play your first instrument, violin, when you were just five years old?
Yes it is. My brothers played piano at that time so my father chose a different instrument for me.
I actually wasn’t taught music by using Suzuki Method. At that time my father couldn’t find a Suzuki method teacher nearby. Only my youngest daughter, Ai [Takekawa], was taught to play violin using Suzuki Method. Ai’s violin teacher was not me, as I didn’t know much about Suzuki Method.
When did you realise you wanted to be a professional musician and front a rock band?
When I was six I secretly wanted to be a pop singer. When I was thirteen I formed a copy band of The Beatles. At that time I had a dream that we would be a worldwide famous band.
How and when was Godiego formed?
In early 1975 my first solo album, “Passing Pictures”, was released. On this album all songs were written and sung in English. Mickie Yoshino, who was going to be the leader of Godiego, came back from the US to Japan in the middle of 1974, met me and played six songs on piano and also arranged two songs on my album. After that he formed a support band for me and toured five or six concerts around Japan. Steve Fox (Bass) and Takami Asano (Guitar) then joined his group. In the middle of 1975 we started to record songs for my second album. At the end of 1975 we decided to create a new group together, Godiego. In 1976 we released my second album as Godiego’s first album. Tommy Snyder (Drums) joined our group in the beginning of 1977.
Why was the name Godiego chosen and what does it mean?
It was Mickie Yoshino’s idea. He hit upon the name when he was in the U.S.A. He told me the name the first day I met him. He said he found the name from his favourite Japanese historical Emperor, Godaigo. He changed the spelling from Godaigo to Godiego to put the meaning of Fenix, which is Go-Die-Go.
Godiego’s first release was “Salad Girl” (Boku no Sarada Gar) back in 1976. Two years later you and the band were rocketed to superstardom after composing music for the popular TV series “Monkey” (aka “Saiyuki”). How did the band get involved with this project?
First we were supposed to only play background music for the series. Then they asked us to write and play the background music. In the end we had to write and play the opening and the closing theme songs together with BGM. We don’t know why exactly. All the staff that supported us made a great effort I think.
The series was based on a classic Chinese novel called “Journey to the West”. Were you familiar with the story and have you ever read the book?
After the hits I hurried to read the book. Actually before that I didn’t read it, because all the people in Japan, including me, know how the story goes as a common sense.
How long did you and the band work on the project for?
We spent almost three weeks writing the songs, and spent almost two months to record them.
With each track on “Magic Monkey” telling a story and being connected to one another, it could easily be thought of as a concept album. The listener doesn’t have to be familiar with the TV series in order to know the story of “Journey to the West”. Was this the band’s intention or did the TV producers request it to be that way?
That was the band’s intention. The producer of the band needed a theme of the new album at that time. Mickie Yoshino had an idea of the album about Saiyuki when he was back in Japan and I had an idea of putting Asian taste to the next Godiego album. We were all happy to choose “Magic Monkey” as the next album’s theme.
Gandhara was a massive hit for the band and remains a firm favourite with fans, the melody is beautiful. Could you tell us a little about what was going through your mind when you wrote it?
At that time my songwriting style was like this: Yoko Narahashi, the lyricist of “Monkey Magic” and Gandhara, wrote the lyrics first. Then I put the melodies to them and choose the chords and record demo tapes at home by myself. In the case of Gandhara, first I tried to make a big movie tune like Goldfinger or More. I created big melodies for two paragraphs and then the Gandhara part came. But the word Gandhara made me create emotional, melodic and exotic melody and rejected anything different. I didn’t like the melody much at that time but we didn’t have the time to fix it. I recorded Gandhara of that melody and let the producer of the band hear it. He said only the Gandhara part was great and beautiful, and he asked me to change the other parts. I changed B part but I kept the beginning of the song that had the feeling of the big tune. After hearing the new one, he suggested to me to put a certain note between the second and third notes of the beginning of the song. That was when Gandhara was born. Whole parts became emotional, melodic and exotic.
Did the band ever shoot any promotional films for any of the singles released from Magic Monkey?
Did you know at the time that the series was going to be sold overseas? Was this the reason why the tracks were recorded in English as well as Japanese?
We all knew that this series would be on air in U.K, but we were not sure when it was going to start. February 1980 we were in UK for one night in transit from Tanzania to Greece. I heard Gandhara was in the charts, but it didn’t feel real to me. All the songs I wrote at that time were written in English, so all the demo tapes were also sung in English. And the songs on Godiego albums were all sung in English although they were sold mostly in Japan. From “Magic Monkey” album only Gandhara was sung in Japanese and released as a single. For Godiego, singing in Japanese was special.
Were you surprised “Monkey” had such an International appeal, and what are your thoughts on its success thirty odd years later, especially since it was the show that introduced many Westerners to Japanese pop music? Do you ever tire of being asked about the show?
Yes, I was surprised. It still doesn’t feel real that Monkey and our songs are famous abroad. We always competed with the Western bands in our hearts, although our songs were not heard abroad. At that time we had Western quality and Asian speciality too. Those two things made a miracle I think. Actually I don’t know much about the show, so people didn’t ask me about it. The only thing I am tired of being asked is the reason and the meaning of Godiego. Even Japanese people didn’t get the meaning of the name easily. I explained it over a thousand times in public.
Besides Monkey, you’ve written many songs for films, television shows and computer games. Do you find the task of writing a song easier when it is being purposely written for these forms of entertainment media, or do you find it limits your creativity?
It’s good for me to have a purpose when I write a song — I don’t feel any limits then. Moreover, I can find clues to create new things from the purpose.
Fans were delighted to see that fourteen Godiego albums were reissued last year in Cardboard Sleeves (Mini-Albums), each available separately or as a fantastic box set. Are there any plans to release a definitive compilation DVD, or perhaps a documentary film on the history of Godiego?
I don’t know of any plans for those.
In 1984 the band decided to split. What was the reason for this and what persuaded you all to reform in 1999?
In 1984 we didn’t have the reason to get together and create music anymore because we felt we had already made most of the music we could create and economically, we couldn’t keep ourselves as a band. In 1999 we could afford to get together shortly and were sure that we could create new things.
What are your fondest memories from the years you were with Godiego?
Ah, the concert in Nepal 1980. I am sure at that time Godiego was one of the greatest band in the world. Though the concert that we held was the first ever concert in Nepal, sixty thousand people came to see us. All the people who gathered there had never heard rock/pop music before, but they were excited about the show and the music all through the concert.
You’ve released Home Recording Demos Volumes 1, 2 & 3. Are these treasures from the vaults of your solo career or do they consist of Godiego rarities?
The demos on Volume 1 were songs that I wrote when I was 17 years old until the first solo album. The demos on Volume 2 were songs for Godiego’s first album and non-released songs of that time. But all the tracks were sung and played just by me, not with Godiego. Volume 3 consists of demos during the period of “CM Songs Graffiti”.
When you were going through your demos and deciding which tracks to include, was it a case of rummaging for hours through old boxes or are they all kept neatly together on file?
Whole things were neatly kept in my metal shelf; I must have a collector’s mind. I kept over a hundred open tapes and three hundred cassette tapes.
You’ve been in the music business for more than 35 years, to which your staying power must be applauded. You seem a very level-headed guy. Has there ever been moments during your career when life got a little too crazy and you found yourself going off the rails, exploring the darker corners of your psyche?
I didn’t have an experience of going down. These 30 years, or I should say these 58 years, I was always happy living fully surrounded with family, music, people, manga and all the things I love. I was really always happy.
You’re so prolific, having over fifty albums to your credit; do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
I was always afraid to be in such a state, so I created a few ways not to be like that. For example, during meetings of creating a song, I write down some melodies for a new song. A few days later I write down different melodies for the same song again. Then another few days later, I sing two different songs and decide which is better.
Do you listen to your own music just for sheer pleasure?
Not now. But there are some times when I have to listen to my own music. At those times I always can feel pleasure honestly.
Your daughter Ai is successfully following in your footsteps, you must be very proud! Do you ever help each other out when either of you gets stuck working on a composition?
She writes lyrics for me and I advise her on her music.
Besides music, you’ve also been involved in a variety of other areas of the entertainment business including travel programmes and even cookery, and you’re an author. It seems you like to try your hand at many different things. What haven’t you tried yet but would like to?
If I have time, I want to try to write a film script; I have many ideas.
What are your plans for the foreseeable future and what can fans expect from you next?
I’ve started to make a new original album, all written and sung in English like before.
Interview first appeared on J-POP WORLD