Japan & Beyond
With his seventh solo album, Three Part Species – perhaps his most stylistically diverse collection to date - out early next month (NB: this feature is being rerun to help promote the appeal for Mick Karn and his latest release is in fact The Concrete Twin - Ed), now seems as good a time as any to celebrate one of the finest bass players of his, or any other generation. Initially introducing the world to that beautifully fluid ‘stage-front’ fretless bass style in Japan he has gone on to create some truly wonderful solo material, proving himself to be a composer of no little skill, whilst also working with artists as diverse as Kate Bush, Pete Townshend, David Torn, Jeff Beck, Gary Numan and Natasha Atlas (most of which is now covered in his excellent new book - Ed). He also proved himself to be a sculptor of no little skill holding his first exhibition in 1981 and further shows in London, Japan and Italy. Andy Basire tracked down the bass playing renaissance man for an e-chat.
Total Music: Your family roots are in Greece, did that influence your musical background at all?
Mick Karn: I'd say it's been a major influence, but a subconscious one. My roots are in Cyprus actually, where the music borrows heavily from Middle Eastern scales due to it's location, rather than from the rest of Europe.
Total Music: You have a classical musical background, what led you to pick up the bass guitar?
Mick Karn: Desperation. As a trio with the brothers Steve Jansen and David Sylvian, we wanted to form a band so we could stay together once we'd left school. Steve already had his mind made up to be the drummer and Dave played acoustic guitar, which left me with only one option to make the rhythm section complete between us.
Total Music: What do you recall about the early days of Japan?
Mick Karn : We were no different from any other young, determined group of musicians, endlessly rehearsing, desperate to play to audiences that would give us a chance. We turned professional at the height of punk which made things particularly difficult.
Total Music: How difficult was it getting lumped in with the new romantics when what you were doing was clearly light years ahead of and removed from the likes of Duran and Spandau?
Mick Karn: It was very confusing. Up until then, we'd enjoyed not fitting into any current trend, but suddenly were hailed as the pioneers of a new movement. What was strange at the time, was that any new band that emerged was instantly put into the same bracket, whether they had any similarity between them or not, and by 1982 when it all happened, we were certainly not a new band. The Romantics always cited us as being one of their influences, in fact we'd met most of them at our shows before they'd come into their own. The most annoying part was that the press went about praising all these new bands for the very same things they'd never stopped criticising us for.
Total Music: Dali’s Car (a trio Karn formed with ex-Bauhaus vocalist Pete Murphy and drummer Paul Lawford) was a seriously overlooked project it must be frustrating to create something so good and then it fail to connect with the audience it deserves?
Mick Karn: I write primarily for myself. Anything more than that is a bonus. It was a shame Dali's Car wasn't a longer project as we'd originally planned [but] I wasn't expecting much more from a new band's first album [and] given that it was so uncompromising.
Total Music: Which is more important, your art or your music.
Mick Karn: They both offer me the same, a means of expression, a form of communication. I've never understood why people separate music from the rest of art. Aren't musicians artists?
Total Music: You are something of a musical magpie, working in many different style and genres, a freedom most musicians can only dream about, but you no longer reach the size of audience you did with Japan (sadly, for overlooked albums like the excellent More Better Different), is it worth trading sales for autonomy?
Mick Karn: I suppose that depends what you want from life, I only need enough to survive as a solo artist. I'm not looking for autonomy but rather something I believe in. More important than sales or autonomy is self respect. If I were to launch myself as a vocalist it would help increase audiences, or if I devised some clever gimmick that had me talked about in gossip columns but, at the end of the day, I consider that to be insulting to an audience's intelligence and to my own, I would be fooling myself more than anyone.
The Conctrete Twin is out on MK records now as is the book Japan And Self Existance and more details on these, the appeal, or indeed any other Mick Karn related subject, can be found at www.mickkarn.net