Last week, in between their UK tour dates and a gig in Paris supporting Kit Sebastian, I caught up with Fujiya & Miyagi’s David Best at the Prince Albert and chatted about new album Slight Variations, Dub, Optical Illusions, playing at the O2 and the lost Fujiya & Miyagi album
Slight Variations has been brewing for a while – Feeling The Effects came out as a single in November 2020, and when I bumped into David Best outside Green Door Store at the Great Escape Festival back in May this year he told me that it was as good as finished. Although it looms large over all of us, and even though the second track is called Non Essential Worker, Slight Variations definitely isn’t a Lockdown album:
“It just felt like that’s the last thing anyone would want. We’ve all experienced the same things to various degrees – no one wants to re-enact that. It’s too soon, isn’t it? Funnily enough when we just started writing it before lockdown, when we were working on Feeling The Effects and the songs that later became Sweat and Digital Hangover, which were the first three, I kind of thought it would be quite introspective and be all about isolation but then the pandemic hit and I thought “I don’t want songs about this” so we had to rethink it”
“Originally Sweat was called Inner Space pre-pandemic, and it was about how as a musician unless you have a second job you don’t really see anyone during the day, you’re just left to your own devices. I really liked it how it was but it was just when the world changed it was like, nah. We’ll probably put it out at some point because it’s quite different. But the backing vocals stayed the same, so Steve’s backing vocals are from the old song giving it a different layer of meaning. It was originally a song about isolation, and what’s the opposite of isolation – going out to dance, so let’s have a song about that instead”
Before the album came out, there was an interview with the band which talked about how the track FAQ had been influenced by dub, and I feared the worst and that there would be a cod reggae track on the album. “Like with Sting’s Jamaican accent! Even the Kinks – and I love the Kinks – Ray Davis did some bad Jamaican accents. That would have been problematic.” Thankfully my fears were unfounded, and the influence appears in the production of the drums instead.
“Steve started FAQ, with some nice chords and gave them to me, I wrote the words and I did some of the treated guitar bits. We wanted to get drums on there – If we just had straight ahead drums it might have been quite bombastic and it’s quite an emotional song for us. But I was just listening to so much dub stuff – I read this really great book by David Katz, Solid Foundation, about the history of reggae – Dub and Rock Steady are my two favourite things. We were looking at how to treat it, how do we incorporate what we’re listening to, and trying to navigate those holes that you can fall into when you’re appropriating something that’s far flung from what you are. So we had Ed playing the drums, and Steve was feeding the drums into a delay pedal that I was manipulating to give it that feel. I don’t think Ed’s particularly playing a reggae beat, he’s just doing his thing. I think there’s room for us to incorporate this in future too– it’s so innovative. You could probably do some real good bangers with that feel to it”
I wanted to ask about Optical Illusions – The cover of the album is a Scintillating Grid Illusion:
“They can be a bit clichéd, but I really like Bridget Riley and things like that. I wanted it to be something that was deliberately a bit unsettling. When I first showed it to Steve he was “I like it but it makes my eyes go funny” and that was the point. I always thought we we’ve been a bit guilty of everything fitting in the right place musically, and sometimes I like dissonance. We don’t really do that, but I thought it would be nice to get that in the artwork. We kind of that that live more sometimes – we get a bit nastier. It’s tricky when you’re listening to it a million times because you don’t want to listen to dissonance a million times, but as a listener, when you’re listening to it a handful of times maybe you do. That’s maybe why a lot of groups – including us in the past – are guilty of smoothing the edges too much. You want to make it perfect but you don’t need to make it perfect, because there’s something there that’s better if you don’t.”
You’ve got a bit of history with New Order – covering Your Silent Face for a Mojo magazine cover cd ten years ago (the band’s only recorded cover version, fact fans), Stephen Morris remixing Daggers, and supporting them in Manchester and Dublin, but last year you supported them at the O2. That must have been incredible
“I loved it. The build up to it was a bit stressful, because if one of us had got covid we’d have been stuffed, and we hadn’t done a show for over two years, so we practiced like we’ve never practiced before. So it was quite stressful, but what an opportunity – I’m so thankful to them, Steven, Gillian and the rest of them just for giving us that opportunity. As a kid I was a massive Joy Division fan – Unknown Pleasures was one of the first records I ever bought and I’ve got such a strong memory of just playing the record and poring over the sleeve. I really liked the mystery of it – which is probably why we don’t have pictures of ourselves on our covers. And then I suppose that hybrid of songs and electronic stuff we fit that too. I LOVED playing on such a big stage. If anything, once you’re there, it’s less nerve wracking than it is playing to a half full place at Patterns, or here or something – it’s just a different sensation. It was like failure wasn’t an option. And everyone did play really well. It was amazing.”
Over the last few years you’ve reissued Transparent Things and Lightbulbs, but there was an earlier album which doesn’t really get talked about that came out twenty years ago this year. Is Electro Karaoke In The Negative Style your equivalent of the first couple of Kraftwerk albums?
“I wouldn’t go that far! It would be nice, some of those Kraftwerk albums are great – Ruckzuck and Ralph & Florian especially”
Do you think you’ll reissue it, or press it on vinyl for the first time?
“Personally I would, but Steve’s not that into it. The thing is that over the years we’ve been surrounded by people who do music who are probably more talented than us but never got anything done because they couldn’t let go of anything, because it wasn’t exactly how they wanted it – We let go of something that wasn’t exactly how we wanted it and that made us do the next album. So it is what it is really and it was just discovering we wanted to sound like, before we’d become a live band when we became something different”
And then the first live gigs were here (at the Prince Albert) in 2003…
“We used to play this night called Slouch, on Sundays, which was put on by some friends of ours. It was supposed to be a chillout night, but then we’d play Electro Karaoke for about ten minutes! So this was the place we always played at the beginning so there’s fond memories. That was when we became a proper band, and the first album is just me and Steve, with a few others including Bob Brown (formerly of Shrag), who’s worked on the latest videos with us all these years later”
Which takes us nicely full circle to the band’s latest video, for New Body Language, filmed initially by the band in their homes / studios then edited by Bob Brown, after the original plan for the video got scuppered by David rupturing his Achilles heel back in the summer. “There’s always recurring themes in our songs like body parts and injuries. Collarbone came about because when I was a kid I broke my collarbone twice and it’s nice to get something out of the bad things that happen to you. I think there’s a song called Rupture in me, because it’s such a nice word and you could roll your Rs – maybe a half instrumental banger – “Rrrrrrrrrupture”. That could be good…”