My Life (2007)
Hula Girls (2006)
Gently Weeps (2006)
Walking Down Rainhill (2004)
Sunday Morning (2002)
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Jake Shimabukuro Interview
"If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place." - Jake Shimabukuro
It doesn't take more than a few seconds of listening to Jake Shimabukuro's rendition of Why My Guitar Gently Weeps to realize you've discovered something special. For this Hawaiian native, the ukulele has become the ideal instrument to spread the sounds of the Aloha spirit around the world.
As a proud fifth generation Japanese-American, there could be no better place to spread Hawaii's famous feel-good music than Japan itself, about which Jake says: "I feel very connected to my Japanese roots. I travel to Japan a lot and I love the food, culture and people."
His latest CD, "Peace Love Ukulele" highlights the well developed depth of his performance on an instrument that might seem simple to learn, but in the hands of a true master, is able to conjure up the island spirits in song.On January 31, 2011 Jake Shimabukuro was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Jake Shimabukuro with credits to Danny Clinch, Sencame, Hisashi Uchida and Nobuyuki Itoh.
Let's start with the January 4th release of your new CD, "Peace Love Ukulele". What can fans expect to hear?
The new CD features the ukulele in a variety of styles ranging from friendly pop and hard rock to jazz and classical influenced pieces.
Who worked on the music with you?
I had the fortune of working with some amazing people in the recording studio. The rhythm section was made up of Dean Taba on bass, Noel Okimoto on drums and Michael Grande on keys. I also worked with Iggy Jang, concertmaster of the Honolulu Symphony, on a couple of tracks and my younger brother, Bruce, on a track called Ukulele Bros.
Robert Yamasato did the string arrangement for the opening track, 143, a love song inspired by the numeric pager code for I love you. Milan Bertosa, producer and engineer of Iz's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", was the chief engineer on the project and did an amazing job tracking and mixing the record.
What were the recording days like?
We'd usually arrive at the studio around 10am, have a small bite to eat and start tracking. We'd record into the late night, usually past midnight, and sometimes leaving the studio as the sun was coming up the next morning. But the studio was always filled with laughter and good times which made the time fly by.
How can fans find out where you will be performing this year?
I just launched a new website jakeshimabukuro.com and my performance schedule is constantly uploaded there. You can also download some free music there.
Btw, how did you get hooked up with YouTube to help with the CD launch?
YouTube and Google have been very instrumental in launching a touring career for me over the last six years. It all started with a little video clip of me performing While My Guitar Gently Weeps in Central Park. I think that video has received over seven million downloads. I was invited to Google Campus last year to perform for the Google and YouTube team. They're some of the most influential minds of today as well as some of the nicest people.
Let's get to know you a little better. Can you tell us about your hometown and what it was like growing up there?
As a kid, born and raised in Hawaii, I spent a lot of time at the beach surfing and fishing - when I wasn't strumming my ukulele. Hawaii is a wonderful and spiritual place. There's no other place like it in the world.
How did you first get involved with music and the ukulele?
My mom played and was my first teacher. I grew up playing a lot of traditional Hawaiian music. It wasn't until I was a young teenager that I began to experiment with different style of music. I even went as far as rocking out with distortion and wah-wah pedals through a Marshall stack.
On some of my earlier recorded songs like, Toastmaker's Revenge, Heartbeat, I've Been Thinking, and When You're Down, I used a lot of distortion on the ukulele.
How important would you say growing up in Hawaii has been to developing your musical tastes?
I think my traditional Hawaiian roots will always be present in everything that I play. Especially since I play a traditional Hawaiian instrument. I think Hawaiian music is some of the most peaceful and relaxing music in the world, so I hope to always embrace that in my performances whether it's obvious or subtle.
What type of high school kid were you? Did you already think you'd make music your profession?
I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do with my life. I loved playing the ukulele, but at the time, there was no such thing as a touring, ukulele player. Guess I got really lucky along the way and met some great people who helped me to get where I am today. The YouTube video of me performing While My Guitar Gently Weeps in Central Park, has also significantly helped my career over the last few years.
Tell us about the group Pure Heart.
That was my first band. I was just a teenager and we played shows around Hawaii - mainly weddings, birthday parties and lots of graduation events. Those were always a lot of fun.
Looking back now, how do you feel about the music the group created?
It was a wonderful time. We were all so young and trying to learn as much as we could about composing music and arranging songs. I guess it's the same now, only I'm not so young.
You then went on to form the group Colon. What were those times like in your musical and personal life?
That was another great chapter in my life. It was an experimental time for me with my instrument. Back then, I was using lots of electronics with my ukulele - like distortion pedals, wah-wahs, loopers, etc.
Do you feel you were searching for a different sound after you went solo?
In the beginning of my solo career, I was still using effect pedals with my ukulele. It wasn't until about 6 years ago that I decided to throw out the electronics and return to the natural, acoustic sound of the instrument.
Tell us about the DVD "Play Loud Ukulele."
That project was recorded years ago in Japan. It was my first video and we shot the entire thing in two days. It was such a funny experience, especially since the director and camera crew only spoke Japanese. Back then, the only Japanese word I knew was "sushi."
How has your view of the ukulele (and what it can do) changed over the years?
I'm always learning more and more about the instrument - everyday. It seems very simple on the surface, but once you start peeling back those layers, there's a whole universe of music inside.
You now play entirely with just your fingers. You used to play with picks and thumb picks?
I'm a huge fan of Jeff Beck, and after I heard the variety of tone color that he got with his fingers, I immediately threw all my picks out the window.
You play a Kamaka ukulele. Can you tell us why?
I love their instruments. Casey Kamaka builds my ukulele, and I tell people he's like the "Ukulele Whisperer." He can pick up a piece of koa wood, tap it a few times and immediately know what kind of results he'll get with it. Amazing!
We have to ask... how many ukulele's do you own?
I have five instruments. Four tenors and one standard.
Your rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps is amazing. How do you go about transforming a song into a "ukulele song"?
The most important thing to me is capturing the spirit of the song. The melody of course makes the tune recognizable, but it's the conviction of the performance that gives the song a life of its own. At that point, it doesn't matter if you're singing, playing the piano or strumming a ukulele - it's an expression of the human soul - and that's what makes it music.
Tell us about the Japanese movie "Hula Girls" and your involvement in it.
It was my first experience scoring an entire film. It was very different from recording an album because you're composing and arranging with your eyes. When you're just recording your own CD, you can do whatever you feel like doing. I really enjoyed it and I hope to do more. Recently, I took part in arranging music for Adam Sandler's latest film, "Just Go With It." That was such a wonderful learning experience for me.
As a fifth generation Japanese-American, how close of a bond do you feel with Japanese culture?
I feel very connected to my Japanese roots. I travel to Japan a lot and I love the food, culture and people.
Rumor has it you once jumped off the stage while performing in Japan. True?
That was when I was much younger and playing smaller venues - the stages weren't built as high back then. Sometimes, there wasn't even a stage to play on - just a corner of the room.
Please tell us you'll never light a ukulele on fire aka Jimi Hendrix? (Although it would make for an interested luau finale.)
I could never light a ukulele on fire. They are much too valuable.
Do you have a favorite place to visit in Japan?
I love Sapporo because they have the best ikura don.
Tell us about becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for Hawaii.
I was very honored when I was asked to represent Hawaii overseas a few years ago. I love Hawaii and enjoy sharing my wonderful experiences growing up in the islands with people all over the world.
You've toured in many places already. Do you have one or two shows that really stand out in your memories?
I really do love it all - but Japan will always be one of my favorites because they have the best sushi.
Do you have any rituals you do before a performance?
Not really. I try not to drink too much water before I go on stage - unless there will be an intermission. Haha.
Can you describe what it's like when you are playing for an audience and everything is going great?
I think it's the same feeling a surfer gets when he or she is riding that perfect wave.
What advice would you give to someone who has always toyed with the idea of learning how to play the ukulele?
Do it! It'll only make your life better.
Btw, how did you celebrate New Year's Eve?
I was home for the first time in five years for the holidays. I enjoyed it with my family and friends. My mom made ozoni (mochi soup) and soba to kick-off 2011.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I will be touring a lot and possibly working on a couple of film scores.
Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?
If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.
Do you have a final message to all your fans?Thank you so much for all your support. Hawaii ni kite kudasai!
For more info checkout Jake Shimabukuro's official site and Facebook page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments