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|Article||Exclusive interview with Bentley Jones|
By Shito, on 2009-03-25 12:00 - Translation : Shito
Bentley Jones (BJ) : My nameās Bentley Jones, Iām from a tiny little town in England. I started my career as a producer doing a lot of remixes and producing for other artists. Over time I developed myself as an artist and now Iām starting to release my own work.
■ mimu : Let's talk about your career. European dance music fans may know you as Lee Brotherton, producer and director of the Remix Factory in UK. You've said to have sold millions of CDs under this project, doing remixes for Beyonce, Britney, Cher, Madonna, Whitney Houston and many others. I guess we can say you became quite big in thedance music industry, but then you chose to work on something else, some kind of "solo" project under the name Bentley Jones, where you still produce tracks, but also sing your own songs. Is that a good summary ? How and why did you start this Bentley Jones project ? What are you aiming for as Bentley Jones that the Remix Factory could not provide you ?
BJ : In the beginning the Remix Factory was great because it was a brand that I could contribute to and as a new producer, instead of people ignoring me, they paid attention because I was part of the āFactory. But the entire concept of the āFactory was a collective and over time I wanted to be known as an individual and be credited for my own work. My aspirations are constantly changing. Right now my focus is entirely on Japan with my current album and (hopefully!) my next.
■ mimu : You've been working on several soundtracks for the Sonic the Hedgehog video games. It seems it's been your first professional contact with Japan, how did it occur ?
BJ : I was working on an instrumentals project and some of the tracks ended up on the desk of Sonic Teamās sound director who invited me on board for āShadow the Hedgehogā which was my first game. Since then the fans have supported me which is probably the main reason why Iāve continued contributing to the series. Iām currently working on some pieces for a new game away from Sonic.
■ mimu : And then came this Jpop cover album project, that a lot of people are talking about these days. We can read here and there that you've been inspired by japanese artists for years, for example by Hikaru Utada; you also covered Shuuchishin's hit song a few months ago for a label demonstration. But some people also think that may just be a way to try do something in Japan after the success of this all Sonic thing, and as you were quite frustrated with the way your career as BJ was going in UK. So finally, are you a true Jpop fan or would you say you just had a good opportunity ?
BJ : Japan has always been a personal dream and my highest priority, but last year while I had UK management they seemed to have different ideas and were trying to promote me in my home country. When I left them last year the first thing I did was contact some labels in Japan. A lot of them were curious about me and I ended up signing a deal with EMI. I would like to think I am a ātrue J-pop fanā as Iāve been listening to Japanese artists for years and the J-music scene is something Iāve been interested in for a very long time.
BJ : The way the Japanese composers I worked with created their music had quite an impact on me, and it was shortly after that I was introduced to Ayumi Hamasaki. I was looking for Above and Beyond remixes and I came across their remix of āMā on YouTube. I thought it was great but one of the comments said āthe original is betterā so I checked out the original and I thought it was incredible! Nothing like anything Western and it had a very raw emotional quality to it. From then I was hooked. I just wanted more! Japanese music seems to be much more melodically based whereas a lot of Western music is much more beat and rhythm based. Melodic music is simply my personal preference and something Iāve always tried to incorporate into my work. As for my current favourite artistsā¦ at the moment Iām listening to JUJU and Koda Kumiās new albums, also some Erik Hassle, EXILE, Alesha Dixon, Namie Amuro. Iām very much looking forward to Utada Hikaruās new album.
■ mimu : About TRANS//LATION then, where does the idea of a cover album come from ? And how did you convince a japanese label (EMI) to release it ?
BJ : Haha! It was actually EMI who approached ME to begin withā¦ together we were trying to figure out a way to introduce me to Japan ā a country that probably doesnāt know much about me. It seemed a good idea to use all my experience in electronic music and remixing other artists, so the concept of a covers album came about. From there I could really define the concept of āTRANS//LATIONā: taking songs and turning them into something so different ā almost their opposite!! Iām not trying to compete with the originals because theyāre already great songs, but perhaps offer a different perspective and a new way of experiencing these songs.
■ mimu : You'll be covering big jpop hits from the mid-90s to the recent JUJU feat.Spontania collaboration, all originally sung by female popstars. How did you decide the tracklist of your album ?
BJ : I looked at some of the big J-pop hits from the past 12 years, then picked out songs that either I felt I could do something with, or were just my personal favourites! We then had to ask all the original writers and artists their permission and send them demos for approval. It was quite a long process, but getting feedback from such iconic musicians was very rewarding. A lot of hard work, but every single bit was definitely worth it.
■ mimu : You'll be singing mainly in japanese : did you learn the language in that purpose, or is it something "natural" for you as you've been listening and even singing to japanese songs for years ?
BJ :[/b ]Iāve been learning Japanese for a while now. It was always something important to me to be able to speak to fans ā even just a little bit ā when Iām over there. It also helps when talking to labels or press and it shows that youāre making an effort and respecting their culture.
BJ :These were two of my favourite songs and with the lyrics being rewritten we needed special permission from the original writers. Rewriting a Japanese song into English is quite difficult because Japanese particles seem to create a rhythm all of their own ā something that English syllables arenāt able to do easily. But again, Iām not trying to compete with the originals because I love them just as they are. My English lyrics are a sort of tribute to the originals !
■ mimu : When I read the posts on your blog, I had the feeling that this was really an important project to you, and that getting Ayu's or Miyahara's approval on your work did really have a big emotional impact on you. This is something that might be difficult to understand coming from someone who already has great achievments with international superstars. How do you feel about it ?
BJ : Iāve never taken any of my achievements for granted, but in the past itās always been second hand. Iāve mostly dealt with labels and managers and not the artists themselves, but for the first time this was coming from the writers and artists personally. Not only that, this is about my own writing instead of producing someone elseās work. To have my idols approve my own creative work is very bewildering ā even now it doesnāt always seem real!! And, of course, this project is very important to me anyway as J-music has been one of my ambitions for a very long time.
■ mimu : As I said at the beginning of this interview, I'm sure you know that part of the international Jpop fans community is a little cautious about your work. There have been many Jpop cover projects these last few years, and most of them were just ridiculous, even if a few artists also did a great job (Scott Murphy with and without his band ALLISTER for example...). The fact that you're covering typical jpop hit tunes from female popstars with an high pitched voice, turning them into dance tracks with a male voice singing in japanese, that is something that make people skeptikal, as you probably guess. However when I first listened to the excerpts of your songs, I've been really surprised by the quality of the music production : this is something that I had not been able to hear since the golden Ayu-Trance era with famous european Dance producers turning japanese songs into great trance anthems. And as regards the singing, well it seems it finally fits the arrangement quite well, as soon as you get used to the contrast of this european male voice on these Jpop tunes. As it seems you sometimes spend time on jpop forums, are you aware of the expectations that european and american fans may have on such a project just to consider it as "acceptable" ? How did this influence your work ?
BJ : I know that āTRANS//ā is a pretty unique concept and that some people might be skeptical about it, but that only made me more determined!! I put myself in their place and thought āwhat would it take for me as a J-pop fan to think this album was good?ā I concluded that, not only would the performance have to be my best, but also the production would have to be my best too. It made me put a lot of pressure on myself, but now that itās all finished I know that I have done my best. And if people like what Iāve done then thatās just a wonderful bonus!!! I like challenging myself ā I think it helps take my skills to the next level. And I couldnāt really ask for a bigger challenge than āTRANS//ā!!
BJ : At the moment my main focus is Japan. If I can find success there then it will give me many more opportunities and much more freedom to promote my Japanese work elsewhere. I would love to do more expos and conventions, but to do those in the future I need to concentrate on Japan now. But Iām well aware of my international fans and I always try my best to keep them informed via my websites. And as for the album, itās already available to import from various J-music websites such as CDJapan, HMV and YesAsia.
■ mimu : Honestly, when you started this project, weren't you afraid that singing japanese "kitsch" pop tunes would just destroy all your credibility as a dance producer on the international scene ? And if you were, why did you decide to do it anyway ?
BJ : Hahaha!! Not at all!! Even though some of these songs may be considered ākitschā theyāre classic hits for a reason: because theyāre great songs! And thatās undeniable, otherwise they wouldnāt be called āhitsā. Plus being my own producer Iām able to record in a style that I think is suitable for me. From the beginning my music has always been considered very commercial and very āpopā ā even my dance music ā and I think āTRANS//ā is a great sample of me and my sound. Iām not worried about my credibility because Iām hoping listeners will appreciate the way I have produced and interpreted these songs and the thought and preparation that has gone into the project.
■ mimu : What are your expectations about this album ? And what are your label's ?
BJ : I donāt know about the label, but Iām just grateful for the opportunity to be part of the J-music scene ā itās a dream come true! And hopefully it will be the start of me making more J-music. Anything else will be icing on the cake.
■ mimu : You wrote that Jeff Miyahara was so enthusiastic that he suggested you both could work together on an hypothetic second album project. Can we know a bit more about this ? And what are your plans for the next months ? Maybe live concerts ?
BJ : He suggested it, and of course I said āyesā!! How could I not?! Iām currently writing and recording with Jeff on some new material that is hopefully for a second Japanese project, but at this point nothing is definite. At the end of this month Iāll be in Tokyo promoting āTRANS//ā and maybe doing a live show or two while Iām thereā¦ Anything afterwards depends on the reaction to āTRANS//ā. If all goes well youāll be seeing a lot more of me...!
Thanks a lot to Bentley Jones for his time.
Photos : Ā© Bentley Jones - EMI Music Japan.
Any copy is forbidden without written authorization.
You may also want to preorder TRANS//LATION on CDJapan or Yesasia.