Some Water And Sun
Esteemed singers and players John Hughes III (Slicker) and Shin Tasaki (Spanova) are set to unleash their first joint project Some Water And Sun on Hefty Records. All My Friends Must Go represents the meeting of a Japanese (Shin) and an American (John) musician in an underground studio on the border of the Northern Illinois Forest Preserve. There the pair created an entirely new music -- part bionic lover's rock, part R&B braided microhouse, part Quiet Storm soul classicism-- that is utterly off the sprinkler head. With its sublime vocal harmonies and bionic beats, All My Friends Must Go is the sound of Shin and John in alchemical collaboration. The result is a sexy masterpiece.
Some Water And Sun is a project born of serendipity. In the fall of 2004, Shin traveled from his native Japan to Chicago to meet his label--without really telling anyone he was coming. His unassuming nature meant he spent a night camped out in Wicker Park before emphatically being brought to stay at the pad of his newly-met Hefty brethren. Meanwhile John was busy buffing out his studio, hanging his grandpa Hank's old wool Bears stadium blankets on the walls. With this repurposed sound padding in place, and Shin taking up residence, the stage was set.
"When I arrived in Chicago I had no exact plan," Shin says. "I slept one night on a bench in Wicker Park. After maybe 30 minutes I heard somebody's voice and there was a strong light like a UFO was landing. It was a policeman and he spoke to me through his patrol car. He said, 'Hey, wake up. Show me the ID! I showed him my international driver's license and he said, 'Welcome to the United States.'"
This outdoorsy encounter with a Jake's welcome wagon finds its tangent on the album, naturally, with "Introduction." Over an aqua fresh musical theme and a beat that personifies gentle precipitation, Shin's voice is an invitation to bloom: "Watering along until your little flower comes along. Gonna water 'til we go out tonight."
From the get-go then, the music of Some Water And Sun is grounded in the natural world. Lead single "Snowbreaker" taps into the air of expectation as a long cold winter must inevitably become spring. The song's syncopated funk follows the movements of "Aruku futatsu-no humanoids" (translation: "Treading figures of two humanoids")--perhaps a couple chums trekking up a bunny slope, dreaming of springtime and the consolation of warmth and renewal where "Yukidoke-no sukoshi mae-no miracle" ("A little ahead of the thaw awaits a miracle"). Later, that miracle arrives in full bloom on "Blossom," as Shin's super smooth flow delivers incredible lines like, "Fui-ni saite saite marude musu-no iki-na fireworks." (Translation: "Quick in bloom, bloom like countless dope fireworks.")
"I wonder where this nature influence came from," Shin says. "But I find a futuristic mood from nature. Some electric expressions. The image of nature's mixture is so perfect and dope. Maybe these feelings we're common for us. We created this theme without discussing it."
The natural world of forest preserve bordering John's studio informed the spirit of the music too. "One night we were watching bats off my back porch," John says, "and Shin told me that when he was a kid he'd go fishing with his grandfather, and he could actually hear the bats on their frequency and know that they were coming right before they flew over the lake. And then at some age he was no longer able to hear the bats."
The thick as bat shit texture of All My Friends Must Go comes on like hot breath on bark. This ambience was induced by sampling contact rides from needle hits on run-in grooves of old vinyl. "That noise off a needle drop creates instant nostalgia, a classic feel," says John. All the e.q. and compression was done with analog outboard gear and spring reverbs. There was also a Nord Modular, an EMS Putney suitcase and a Roland 303 in the mix. This combination, plus guitar, drums and dulcimer, creates the organic bionic sound of All My Friends Must Go.
The sound is exemplified by the title track, coming on like the Hallelujah Chorus transposed for video pong paddles. Water pings off pipes at hyperspeed as Shin and John double deliver a fast rap ("a few fast phrases it's so contagious/ the speed of growth is so outrageous") that would make Rob Base proud.
"Watering," meanwhile, is sure to delight suburban groovers getting out their lawn sprinklers and city kids jacking the pump. It's a voyeuristic love song about as Hughes puts it, "A woman watching a man watering his lawn." The jam was written before Desperate Housewives hit big, but touches on a not dissimilar, erotically charged atmosphere. "We wanted to capture the awkwardness of a married woman wanting to ask her neighbor...how he gets his lawn to look so good. She sees him watering, but wants to know more." The melody glistens through the misty prism of sprinkler spray -- the housewive's choice for a new generation.
Returning to the clouds, "The Rain" feels as if it's coming from high in the mist of a rain forest at night on a volcano, painted on a screen by the master Hokusai. The sound of the heavens cracking open during the song's rumbling break had an interesting gestation. John: "Sampled thunder sounded corny, so I took my daughter's toy refrigerator and filled it with wood blocks and hockey pucks. We were rocking the fridge and it sounded amazing with no effects. We just rolled off the high end."
The creation of All My Friends Must Go took place in October '04. While Shin and John had gone to a couple late season Cubs games, they now took breaks to watch the Yankees take the first three games from the Red Sox during the World Series. "During Game Five it looked like the Yankees were going to close it out, and then David Ortiz stepped up and hit that massive homer for the Sox. Shin was in the bathroom when it happened, so I Tivo-ed it back and when Shin came back into the room I played it like it was live. It was too incredible a home run not to experience together."
The excitement of the instantly legendary Series meshed with the John-Shin match-up. As Shin says: "I'll never forget John's words: 'Game 7 today!'"
The sessions, sometimes 17 hours at a clip, were fueled by Cafe de Luca lattes and Upsidedown 7Up. Hughes explains his go-to soda: "It's for when you want the coffee experience but you want it cold and creepy. It's green, but doesn't have the heavy, syrupy Mountain Dew aspect." Further nourishment included Shin's favorite, Portillo's fried fish sandwich. "We did go out for sushi. Shin was surprised to see Mexican chefs put mayo on sushi."
Rather than a jarring culture shock, the cross-pollination resulted in a sublime level of communication that transcended John and Shin's language barrier.
"My Japanese is terrible," John laughs now. "The whole record is basically me trying to be more Japanese about the project, and Shin trying to be more American. I was getting into appreciating nature and being one with everything, and Shin was singing in English." The language barrier is incorporated into "See You Next Spring," a language class speakeasy call-and-response track. Over a melody of pure soulflower wistfulness and a hitting beat, John asks "How do you say I can see my breath when I'm speaking" and Shin responds "Iki-ga shiroi."
Shin: "In my ordinary life of being in Chicago I felt problems with the language. But I didn't feel it in John's home. Everything there was so natural. And I also enjoyed the language barrier sometimes, because we had the same image without speaking. Those images we created are beyond words."
The cosmic corollary to the language barrier is in the fact that Shin and John immediately discovered they blend perfectly with their voices.
"Shin is the most musically extroverted person I've ever met," John says admiringly. "He has to express everything he's hearing in his head, so he'll beatbox, sing melodies, and work out harmonies at the same time. He flips the switches on his musical personalities effortlessly. I'd turn around, and Shin would have snuck away to the corner where he'd be throwing incredible shapes, dancing."
"A Oh" is a beautiful example of music inspiring effortless motion. While not a club banger in the aggressive sense, the song--whose only lyrics are its title, a breathily intoned mantra--induces loose-limbed movement by plying a rhythmic center deep inside the body. Hence John's core musical approach: "I don't like to go way out, I like to go way in."
Moreover, All My Friends Must Go is like an Easter egg hunt, with brightly colored treats tucked into the nooks and roots of the songs there for the discovering. It's fitting then, that lauded Swedish illustrator Jonas Banker of Banker Wessel created the album artwork, spry figurative images that evoke both origami and the jazz-inspired cut-outs of Henri Matisse. All My Friends Must Go is a complete artwork from Some Water And Sun.