Marble Sheep interview with Ken Matsutani
Marble Sheep were founded in the late 80s by Ken Matsutani who had various of projects and is a label owner of Captain Trip Records. It’s hard to describe their style, but let’s say this is a true, non compromising psych-rock from Japan. Interview with Ken Matsutani about his career that includes industrial experimentation as well as different layers of psychedelic rock.
What got you first interested in music?
I was born in 1960. As a child I often went to the beach with my parents. I listened to “My Baby Baby Balla Balla” by the Rainbows at the young people’s beach party. After that I started listening to the Ventures. In the seventies I started listening to radio. It was the glory days of radio. I found out about T. Rex and Marc Bolan became one of my heroes!
Were you a member of any bands prior to the formation of Marble Sheep? You were playing in a band called White Heaven for a while…
My Industrial Music Days end of 70 to early 80s
After listening to a lot of radio, I became a big fan of rock music and started my own record collection. This was in about 1977 and punk rock music just emerged with bands like the Ramones. The Damned were my favorite. At the time a new band appeared called Throbbing Gristle and they completely knocked me out! I played guitar and drums with my school friends. After hearing many industrial music records that shocked me, I started to make noise music and record it on cassettes. The initial release was called Cement Woman. My friend Ando and I recorded some noise music in my room. My artist friend Tobita gave me the idea for a special package of the recording. It was an amazing idea. We recorded 46 minutes of cassette tape (2 sets). Tapes were covered by vinyl bags then with cloth and tied up with rope. Finally we covered them all with cement. The whole process was very difficult. We actually did 50 copies and sold some of them at underground record shops and art shops. This project was called ‘V’. After the Cement Woman, we recorded a new cassette. We collected the city rubbish and took it to the mountain and set them up (TVs, bottles, fluorescent lamps, refrigerators, etc.) and we three people we swatted them with a bat and recorded these sounds. They are very exciting recordings…and when we made notes…we made bloodshed…crazy funny days! For this cassette tape release package we made the frame out of old wood dust and attached cassettes to them like a photo. My ambient noise music was included on Conrad Schnitzler’s compilation LP (International Friendship, Syncord 1983) too.
After the ‘V’, I joined Keizo Miyanishi group called ONNA. I was their drummer. Keizo Miyanishi is a famous underground painter and he recorded a 7-inch single. It was very cool psychedelic music. That’s why I decided to join his group. At that time I was around 22 years old. ONNA did some live shows and a Japan tour. Les Rallizes Dénudés founder, Takashi Mizutani visited ONNA shows. It’s a great memory meeting him there. I met guitarist Michio Kurihara and he joined ONNA while he was still a teenager. Miyanishi and I had some drinking problems and I left ONNA. Then I joined WHITE HEAVEN as a guitarist. At the time they were called White Poppies. We played psychedelic punk music. We were influenced by Velvet Underground, Ramones, Television, Richard Hell, 13th Floor Elevators, Peter Ivers etc. At the time I was working at an underground record shop called Modern Music (PSF Records). White Heaven leader You Ishihara knew all kinds of music. It really expanded our musical base. White Poppies had one studio live show and soon changed its name to White Heaven. The new lineup saw Nakakosi leaving and being replaced by Little (little brother of Ando – ‘V). Members were You Ishihara: Vocal, Tetsuya Sakamoto: Guitar, Little: Bass, Ken Ishihara (Little brother of You Ishihara): Drums and me. We had some shows under the stage name of Electric Cool Acid. We also had a tour. My mid 20s are a great memory.
“Our concept was totally freak out session.”
Can you elaborate the formation of Marble Sheep?
MARBLE SHEEP years
After White Heaven around 1985 I was planning my new band with my school time (bad) company friend Fool (Takehito Haga). I made some basic tape music with a 4-channel recorder and some riffs. Our concept was a total freak out session. We had our first live show on July 1st 1987 at Tokyo Simokitazawa YANEURA. We played ANCIENT WIND and CEMENT WOMAN. Members were Fool, Michio Kurihara, Ike-Chan (Yasuhiko Ikeda) and me…..maybe more members…but I have no clear memories of the time. I played acoustic guitar. I used a powerful pick up and connected to Marshall amps. My guitar style was a success to get a hard edge and violent sharp sound. We played each live show with various members… like You Ishihara (White Heaven), Ken Ishihara (White Heaven) and Ike-Chang (Yasuhiko Ikeda) and some of my other musician friends. Our music was very rough so some people called us the Japanese Amon Düül. My idea was a bit far from Amon Düül’s music. We imagined Gong, Pink Floyd… more space rock freak out. But I am big fan of Amon Düül, so we didn’t mind. Actually we were happy! Anyway, I recorded my first live shows and released them on cassette tape and a Japanese music magazine who were Fool’s mates wrote our story and our name became known to people as Marble Sheep & The Run-Down Sun’s Children. We released around 20 cassettes from 1987 to 1992. We had no vocalist so we always printed on tapes that we are searching for a Marble Sheep vocalist. But nobody fit our sound…so I start to sing. You can listen to some of the early material via album Old From New Heads, Whirl Live and Live 1988 (Shinjuku Loft) where you can hear our music changing little by little. One riff session to some psychedelic rock. In the summer of 1987 we had a recording for German label Dossier compilation DEAD TECH II. This recordings members were Fool: Bass, Michio Kurihara: Electric Guitar, Hiroto Nakano: Percussion and me. At the end of 1987…we got our first consistent line up that included: Fool: Guitar, Chikuwa: Bass, Ike-chang: Drums, Hiroto Nakano: Percussion and me. We also had some tours across Japan and in 1988 we made our first flexi-disc 7-inch. It was a free present for Marble Sheep 1st anniversary live show on July 1, 1988. Flexi-disc tape was recorded in my house by Fool and I. We played acoustic guitars and some Indian, African and Asian percussion etc. In 1989 we started our first album recordings with some guest players. I love Amon Düül’, Grateful Dead and Pink Fairies…etc. their twin drum style so we had two drummers and a liquid light member for live shows. In 1990 we released our first album MARBLE SHEEP & THE RUN-DOWN SUN’S CHILDREN on Alchemy Records. JoJo Hiroshige is founder and manager of Alchemy Records. They were still a big independent label in Japan. We were friends with JoJo and he helped us to organize some shows and offered us to make a recording. Before the Alchemy release….we had a plans for a self-released 3 LP set. It was 1988 and we recorded some songs.. They are all long psychedelic jams… At the time none of us new a thing about the recording process so it was a real learning experience to be sure. A lot of trial and error. Around 1991 I made our second album recording and release offer to Alchemy records and they accepted. During that time Fool left and we were joined by Masaki Batoh (Ghost, Silence). Anyway we stated recordings for the album but it was rough going at first. The sound was two completely different styles–my style and Batoh’s style and JoJo knew that. I stopped recording and I paid all costs. During the late 80s to early 90s Tokyo underground was consisting almost completely of avant-garde, noise, hard & heavy and dark music and we started to experiment with ‘San Francisco’ sound in the style of Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service etc. We already had been playing heavy, dark, noisy music for five years now. It was enough for us. It was very good for our stoned brain to refresh and give a new style to Japanese psychedelic audience but our road was very hard. We could play a heavy sound but not a light sound.. Our technique wasn’t that good so we needed many rehearsals to change our style. We started to record new material in 1992 using a big studio and two drums set up. One on the right and one on the left. BIG DEAL became the first release on my label Captain Trip Records. It featured the long jam song “Fish”. It was also broadcast in the USA. At first, 500 copies were handmade in silk screen print. Our style did not fit the Tokyo underground scene and we lost many fans. Our audience changed. You can hear us on Tokyo Flashback 2 – P.S.F Psychedelic Sampler. It was the missing link in our changing style. We were happy to play this kind of music because we received a pretty good reaction from overseas (Radio, Relix Magazine..etc) and we had a new member…Marby (dancing sheep on the stage!) and we released our third studio album called TWIGA. In that time we played marathon shows between two and four hours. In 1994 my musical brother Chikuwa left the group to take a job offered by his father. He had played with me since 1987. I decided to stop Marble Sheep because when one member changed it meant having to teach our music history to a potential new one and that wasn’t going to happen. I gave up and our last S.F. style album was released called PSYCHEDELIC PARADISE. I started a family and devoted my time to Captain Trip Records. Occasionally I played guitar at live shows with a band called Captain Trip All Stars. In 1999 I started Marble Sheep again. This time as a psychedelic rock and roll group. Members included Kei Takeuchi: Guitar, Soichiro Nakamura: Drums (PEACE MUSIC studio owner who engineered most Captain Trip releases since Big Deal), Akiko Takahashi: Drums, Den Den: Bass and me. We got some shows and toured. We got back our exciting audience again. Unfortunately, Kei Takeuchi soon left the group because of his job situation. Rie Miyazaki then joined and played guitar. We recorded a new album STONE MARBY. This was the most straight up music in the Marble Sheep story. This line up did not last long and Rie changed to bass. We were alternating members, playing live shows and doing many tours. Rie became Marble Sheep’s main partner and my private partner too. Captain Trip Records started a distribution network with FünfUndVierzig/Indigo. We had a great relationship with Mr. Piet, boss of the label. In 2002 we had a chance to play overseas at Finkenbach Festival (Germany) organized by Mani Neumeier (Guru Guru). This was our first overseas show. We played for thousands of people and gave an interview after the show. The interviewer said that Marble Sheep sounded like New York Dolls playing Pink Floyd songs. Wow! Both are my favorite groups. I was very happy! That time MARBLE SHEEP were Rie Miyazaki: Bass, Yasuyuki Watanabe: Drums, Yukiko Yasuno: Drums, Brown Nose no.2: Guitar, Mecano: Synthesizer and me. Captain Trip staff Kaoru Koyanagi wore the MARBY costume. In 2013 German company FünfUndVierzig/Indigo released Marble Sheep with ○△□. ○△□, who are a Tokyo underground art & performance group whose founders are Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe. Mr. Watanabe (Kanto) was a member of Japanese underground famous group Murahachibu. These recordings were very strange… over twenty people in the recording studio playing, singing and performing something…one of my strangest recording memories. This recording time Marble Sheep comprised Rie: Bass, Yasuyuki Watanabe: Drums, Taro Arakawa: Percussion. and me. ○△□ featured Masayuki Ajima, Den Den, etc. We undertook a European tour and Piet introduced our tour band DRIVE BY SHOOTING from Berlin. We played many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Sweden. We also gigged in South Korea. But we (Rie and me) always had to recruit other members because Marble Sheep tour life is very hard compared to Tokyo life. We were always travelling to another country… So we released one album in the face of constant member changes. FünfUndVierzig relesed some MARBLE SHEEP titles between 2002 and 2006 including FOR DEMOLITION OF A SPIRITUAL FRAMEWORK, THE GATE OF A HEAVENLY BODY, MESSAGE FROM OARFISH, RAISE THE DEAD :2006 MARCH EUROPE. During these releases and touring time we worked with Brown Nose no2, Taro Arakawa, Yasuyuki Watanabe, Morihide Sawada and great drummer Iwamotor. We also released Berlin recording 7-inch “HOLIDAY/CROCODILE” on Captain Trip Records as well as some live CDR series from our European tour. We found a wider audience in Europe than in Japan. In overseas touring time we met some famous musicians and formed beautiful relationships. In Japan, we sometime played at NHK Radio live show program as well as playing with Damo Suzuki (CAN), Mick Farren (Deviants), David Peel, etc. These were beautiful dreamy times if my memory serves me correctly. After the long Europe tour, Brown Nose no2 left and we got a new guitarist, ZIGEN. In summer 2008, I organized Japan live shows for legendary German group Faust. They were Faust live in Tokyo! 1 day and 2 days Faust + Marble Sheep shows. The concerts were at capacity and we played legendary Faust songs. Everything was recorded. I talked to Mr.Peron (leader of FAUST)… after we released Faust + Marble Sheep live album and did a live tour. It was one of the peak times in Marble Sheep history.
In 2008, I left my family to set up house with Rie but she was in love with a Faust member and went to Europe. I was very disappointed and stopped all plans with Faust and Marble Sheep. At the end of 2008, we got a new member Baby as a bassist. Her style was sexy and wild and our style soon changed to a more high energy brand of hard rock. Drummer Sawada left the group soon but we were joined by Taro Arakawa again as a second drummer and we kept the twin drum style. We started new recordings. I knew when we released one album that members would change so we recorded enough material for two albums. They were called PURPLE and GREEN. FünfUndVierzig offered our new release, but I was not in the mood to accept a release offer from a German company at that time due to personal reasons. Now I regret that decision and offer my apologies. Anyway…PURPLE and GREEN were released on CAPTAIN TRIP RECORDS. Recording members: ZIGEN: Guitar, IWAMOTOR: Drums, TARO ARAKAWA: Drums, BABY: Bass and me. MARBLE SHEEP sound became more strong and hard and at times glamorous. After the Japan tour, Taro left and we got new drummer KOBU (from Kirihito). In 2010-11 we got our first USA tour (from Chicago to New York) They were great happy experiences for us. Unfortunately the CD glory time is gone and CD sales were not enough for overseas tour. After the USA tour KOBU left. We lost the two drummers dream and decided on a four member set up. This ushered in the MARBLE SHEEP psychedelic hard rock style. Each member had their own character, style and musical input. This member situation is my dream! We can keep our MARBLE SHEEP sound and we have no scary things. I asked DRIVE BY SHOOTING and undertook a tour of Spain. In that time I broke a bone in my foot and live show performance was a real chore but we did it and at the end of the Spain tour we got a recording chance at a Spanish studio. We recorded 2 or 3 songs in Spain. At first we thought that the 7-inch will be released by a Spanish company, but that didn’t happen and we used one song for our promotion of VTR (Count 5). After the Spain tour, we got a New Zealand tour. In that time we were joined by our Liquid light show man, Akira Satoh. We five members touring for the first time in New Zealand was amazing. Our live show buzz spread wide and for the last show we attracted a large audience. In 2013 I stopped Marble Sheep to tend to my family home situation. Last Marble Sheep members were: Iwamotor, Zigen and Baby and they were a perfect team! I’m very proud to have been able to play with them.
Besides MARBLE SHEEP
I played guitar ambient music in a band that I formed with Soichiro Nakamura (PEACE MUSIC) called THE MICKEY GUITAR PROJECT. We released an album FLOWERS in 2006. This is one of my best ambient music pieces. The Mickey Guitar Project had Tokyo shows and in Germany we did the Avantgarde Festival Schiphorst in 2007. As a Mickey Guitar (solo project) I released some CDR and a cassette tapes. In March 2019, I played and recorded my guitar solo work with my friend Haga. We went to the Indonesian island of Bali Island and played with gamelan and jegog music. It was very exciting. Now I started searching overseas record companies for a release. In around 2016 I formed The Mickey Guitar Band. This is more rock style instrumental psychedelic music. First members were Rie Fukuda: Synthesizer, Rie Miyazaki: Bass (she came back in 2010), Akiko Takahashi: Drums and me. We had a vinyl release THE MICKEY GUITAR BAND featuring The Gerogerigegege. From The Deep from German company Psych.KG in 2017 and I changed the members to Louis Inage: Bass (Majustu no Niwa) Hirochi Hasegawa (Astro): Electronics, Rinji Fukuoka (Majustu no Niwa): Percussion,Drums and me. This line up recorded an album From The Beaches released on label from France BAM BALAM in 2019. Also there was a 2LP+CD version release from German company Psych.KG
HEAVY METAL GLUE
This short time living my heavy rock band fantasies with my friend Negishi in around 2011 to 2012. Members were Yoshiaki Negishi (Nepenthes. G.A.T.E.S ex Church Of Misery): Vocal, Rie Miyazaki: Bass, Ken Ishihara (ex White Heaven) and me. We released one cassette tape and joined PSF compilation Tokyo Flashback 8.
Improvisation is a big part of your life.
Life is decided by our own choices. We have thousands of ways to choose from but life is only one time. Each choice is an improvisation!
About Music play. Improvisation is basic. When the player plays same as the musical score the player needs improvisation. All phrases need a player’s soul or mind so that is that. Improvisation is just only basic. Not special. All players must do improvisation.
You’re also owner of Captain Trip Records. Would you like to share the story behind formation of your label and what are you currently working on as a label?
I formed Captain Trip Records in 1992 for the purpose of releasing Marble Sheep albums. Little by little I added some other titles. Basically I am big fan of overseas music. One day my friend told me about Klaus Dinger’s independently released project Die Engel des Herrn. Back then it was difficult to get Neu!, La Düsseldorf, Néondian etc. As a huge fan of Klaus Dinger I wrote him a letter about distributing his Die Engel des Herrn album in Japan. Klaus sent me a fax and left his phone number on my answering machine! It was a miracle. I started working with overseas musicians. I bought a lot of music magazines from all over the world. When I found something interesting via reading interviews, I sent a letter to that music magazine for possible contact information. I also have a dear friend Bob Rogers who was living in Tokyo at the time. He was searching for members of Blue Cheer, Sky Saxon (The Seeds/Yahowa 13), Mick Farren (The Deviants) and David Peel, etc. All of these artist’s releases were Bob’s work. I also played guitar on both of Bob’s MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD CDs that we released on Captain Trip. I started organizing live shows for them. I didn’t know how exactly to start with organisation so I asked my friend Nanbu who has a big promotion company (Smash West/Smash) (famous Fuji Rock organizer) to help me out and we started live Japan series. Almost all of the artists were coming to Japan for the first time. Here we organized Blue Cheer, The Deviants, Amon Düül II, Cluster, Klaus Dinger (La Düsseldorf, Neu!), Guru Guru, David Peel, etc. Unfortunately not all of them attracted enough of an audience but I was very happy because I could meet my heroes! After a while I got a sponsor for our live shows. He’s the chairman of a very big company. He’s a huge rock music fan and he helped a lot. We arranged more live shows. Klaus Schulze, Cactus, Leaf Hound, Simon Finn, Mark Fry, Comus, Agitation Free, etc. I released some live material on CD but didn’t get a lot of sales. These days most of the people are downloading and not buying physical product any more which is kind of sad. I certainly don’t want to have my label offering download only releases. It’s like a toy play. No musical soul in it. No money for musicians. Very sad story. But real! Downloads killed music, movies and books. Sorry, this is old man’s blood pressure is rising, hahaha! Also we did many reissue paper sleeve work by Kaoru Koyanagi. You can see his amazing paper sleeve reissue works. Now he has his own label company called Suezan and is releasing some cult titles.
What are some releases you’re most proud of?
Klaus Dinger, Blue Cheer, The Deviants, Silverhead, Tuff Darts, Yahowa 13 and many others. Domestically Yurayura Teikoku helped a lot.
What are some future plans?
As a musician after Marble Sheep, I recorded my first solo album in 2014-15. Marble Sheep played a musical style…something….head outside feeling. This my solo is…to inside feelings…Folk/Rock album entitled AFTER THE RUSH and released from Captain Trip Records in 2015. Recording members were Taro Arakawa: Drums, Rie Miyazaki: Bass, Mitsutoshi Hoshiya: Keyboard, and me. We named our live show, KEN MATSUTANI AND… hahaha! In October 2018 Rie left again so we lost a bassist. We had a deal with Japanese major company TEICHIKU so I asked Louis Inage for recordings and as a guest bass player. He helped us very much. It was an entirely fresh start. We changed the group name to KEN & THE STRANGE MOON. We play psychedelic rock ‘n roll and this year saw the release of our new album KEN & THE STRANGE MOON/IN THE STORMY NIGHT from Teichiku Entertaiment. Recording members are Ajima: Guitar, Keiji Ronson: Guitar, Louis Inage: Bass, Ike-chang: Drums and me. For the CD release party the live show was full of audience and with Marby! The Strange Moon, The Mickey Guitar Band…We are ready to go and play overseas shows!
How do you like the current ‘underground’ scene in Japan? What bands would you like to recommend?
Sorry. I don’t know much about the Japanese underground scene these days. However, I will introduce some groups. They are Great. Majutsu no Niwa (Psychedelic), Nepenthes (Stoner Hard Rock), 9000 Sonics (Garage)…etc
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
T.Rex – Slider (1972)
New York Dolls – New York Dolls (1973)
Neu! – Neu! ’75 (1975)
13th Floor Elevators – Easter Everywhere (1967)
Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (1968)
The Deviants – Ptooff! (1967)
and VELVET UNDERGROUND, early PINK FLOYD, GRATEFUL DEAD, PINK FAIRIES… and more!
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Don’t ever lose the rock and roll spirit! Rock and roll saved me! Rock and roll is the spirit of life! Thank you!
– Klemen Breznikar
Headline photo: The Mickey Guitar Band 2019. Photo by Motoi Onishi