Dean - Vocals, Guitar
Birthday: March 26, 1974
Birthplace: Dallas, Texas
Blood type: O positive
Susie S Kim - Bass
Birthday: February 17, 1977
Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA
Markkus Rovito - Drums
Birthday: March 18, 1975
Blood type: A positive (Just like my report card, bitches!)
World Class song sample
Play Dead (2006)
1. World Class
3. All to be Undone
4. Maddy and Josh
5. Never to Return
7. I Hate the Fucking Rules
10. Color of Destroyed
11. Hey There
12. Play Dead
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"I wasn't born with the name Tomihira, it was my mother's maiden name. I changed it in my early twenties to honor my grandfather and as something for my mother." - Dean Tomihira
Two generations ago a Japanese musician named Tomihira left his hometown to fight and die for his country on the battlefields of World War Two. Thirty years later his grandson Dean would be born, not in Japan, but in the country Tomihira had gone to war against. While young Dean's upbringing was a world away from his grandfather's, he has been gifted with the same love of music as the man whose name he now proudly calls his own.
Now joined by his band members Markkus Rovito on drums and Susie S Kim on bass, Dean is working on a follow up album to his 2006 debut, "Play Dead." With a voice that has been described as exuding "an amorous warmth" and a musical style inspired by the likes of The Cure and New Order, one can only wonder what his grandfather might have thought of his progeny across the sea.
On October 12, 2009 the members of Tomihira were kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Tomihira with credits to Tom Green, Ajay Kachwaha and Muhammad Asranur.
Let's start from the beginning. Dean, can you tell us where you were born and what your hometown was like?
Dean: I was born in Dallas Texas about 8 miles south of downtown. It was residential. There was a park across the street and the elementary school was just a few blocks away. My recollection of it was safe, but looking back I know why my folks kept me indoors at night.
What kind of kid were you growing up?
Dean: My school life fluctuated throughout the years but early on I remember being shy which I don't think the teachers really minded. I also remember never taking to math very well but I enjoyed writing and drawing.
You've said that your grandfather died fighting for Japan in WWII. Can you imagine if he ever thought that one day his grandson would become a musician in the US?
Dean: That's an interesting question... I often think of what he would have made of it all. I wasn't born with the name Tomihira, it was my mother's maiden name. I changed it in my early twenties to honor him and as something for my mother. I have a great relationship with both my parents but there was just something about his story. He was a musician and known around town for playing the guitar.
Tell us how both of your parents ended up living in the US.
Dean: My mom moved to the US in 1970. My dad was in the Navy and was stationed there where they met. It's a cute story. He only had enough money for one ticket back to the states and had my mom fly home while he worked on a merchant marine ship taking a month to get back to the US. Needless to say, she was happy to see him...
Can you tell us what influence Japanese culture had on your upbringing?
Dean: It had a great impact in ways that are perhaps less obvious. My mom didn't raise me with language but in terms of customs (ie. food, manners, household, etc) it was pretty much Japanese all the way. I think my mom really tried hard to make sure we wouldn't have trouble growing up because of our ethnicity. She learned English and helped with school work quite a bit. I'm lucky and admire how hard she tried to make sure she was aware and educated in American ways enough to always be there if I had trouble.
Do you speak much Japanese yourself?
Dean: I actually took two years of Japanese in high school. I know it's a cliché but it's true how fast it fades when you don't employ it! I still can piece together Hiragana and Katakana alright but can't really string sentences together without really thinking them through. A tour of Japan would give me the perfect excuse to brush up!
How did you first get into music? Do you remember the first album you owned?
Dean: When I was younger I enjoyed the pop music everyone synonymies with the eighties. Michael Jackson, Wham, etc but when I was thirteen I remember hearing The Cure's Inbetween Days blasting from an older brother's closed door bedroom and remember being really struck by how emotional and strong it was. I also heard Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order and after that, I was addicted. Here were records I could listen to over and over, they'd deliver this emotion. It was so reliable, and so consoling. I think that period planted the seed because up until then, nothing had captured me the way these records did. (Or more accurately, cassette tapes haha...)
How did you learn to play the guitar? Did you have any guitar heroes growing up?
Dean: I started playing bass in 1988 and by 1990 I bought my first guitar. Playing was great fun but I was always intrigued by how the songs I loved were put together. Around that time a roommate of my father lent me his four track recorder (Tascam Porta 1) and it really was the final straw. Laying down instruments and gluing them all together to see how a song can deliver an emotion was just the most exciting thing to me and still is.
When you were in high school what type of career did you think you'd have?
Dean: I was pretty much set on writing and recording songs. People always said it was "close to impossible" to do it as a living and my answer was always -- you said "close."
Tell us about meeting Markkus Rovito and how the two of you began performing together?
Dean: I moved from Texas to San Francisco in late 1999 and got a job at Jcrew as a stock manager. He was there as seasonal work and commented on what I was listening to in the stock room (I think it was a Verve disc). We got to talking and when he mentioned playing drums, as he would tell ya, I got a little animated ha! Up until then I'd been focusing on recording and the big task of figuring out my vocal (something that literally took all of my twenties to do). My idea was this was a good chance to just play with a live drummer and start playing all these tunes in a live setting.
Markkus, can you tell us how you hooked up with Dean?
Markkus: From my standpoint, I had moved back to San Francisco after a doomed relationship fizzled out in Philadelphia. It was 2002, and the economy was crap. I couldn't find a job in my field or collect unemployment. So finally when the money was running out, I started working at a JCrew store. Dean was working there and eventually we just learned that we had similar musical tastes. Once he found out I played drums, it was pretty much over. The next thing I knew we were headed to this studio he was using to play music. I was really rusty too, because I hadn't played much over the previous few years.
In 2006 you released your first album, "Play Dead." How long had you been working on the music?
Dean: The mixing and mastering of Play Dead was finished by February 2006. The songs on it vary, most were written in the last year and a half. A few, like Never to Return and Hey There were resurrected from the mid nineties but rerecorded with vocals and more instrumentation.
Can you tell us how the songs were recorded? Who worked with you on the production?
Dean: The drums were done in the studio; an awful lot was done at home. Looking back it's a bit funny, especially thinking of the run up to completion of the disc. I went for jury duty and wound up on a grand jury that lasted from Oct 05 to Jan 06 and, as common with lengthy jury duties, there were many days the jury couldn't convene for whatever reason and I found myself getting good chunks of time at home. It was amazing! It's safe to say the disc wouldn't have gotten finished when it did if it weren't for the entire days I got to spend tracking voice and mixing!
The lead track World Class has a pleasingly smooth, flowing feel to it. Can you tell us the story of writing it?
Dean: Yes! It started out as a song called Bright as the Sea which was basically a completely different song. It worked fine as a progression but I couldn't get the vocal right to save my life. I decided it needed a complete overhaul or I was gonna ditch it... I got drunk, retooled the music and had another go at a new vocal line. The verses flowed easily enough but a lot went into the choruses. The chorus melody was a vocal line first, then came the synth and bells. The lead guitar part (solo) was really hard to get. I spent a lot of time miking amps and trying different things. It's really hard to hear what your playing while your playing it, which sounds weird but a running theme with me is -- what feels good to play isn't necessarily what is good to listen to. So it's a process of playing and going back and listening. It's a balance to say the least but I'm sure most people that record would say the same thing.
Emotionally, as I mentioned before it's mostly to do with a relationship crisis where one just wants to call a truce, cut loose, and have some fun. The darker edge comes at the end with the line "just don't die with someone newer" which obviously exemplifies the desperate side to any quarrel large or small which is simply, please don't ever leave...
I was really surprised by some of the interpretations of this song... especially the beginning line. I've heard it described as castigatory which was far from the intent of the line... the song is basically about a relationship and how the big picture and depth of your feels about each other can be set aside so easily when there's conflict. The beginning line just describes a plea to just 'take it easy.'
World class when you're sorry
It's sooo ass and I worry...
But at last I was someone with you
Don't think, I would say that it's all me
Don't look up to this sad seat as just so perfect you are
And don't ante me up 'cos I'll bleed every drop out
'till I leave in the black zipper bag
Now I need you to shut up 'cos I make such a mess of
So just take a drink and we'll go to the pool
And this can't be that hard because I see where the clouds are
So why are we still down this tube
Just don't die with someone newer
And just don't die with someone newer
And just don't die with someone newer
The title track Play Dead has a more somber feel, featuring more extended instrumental parts. Can you tell us the story behind this song?
Dean: I'm so glad you asked about this song. It started out as a demo from 2003. It was very late at night and I was in the studio alone working on a number of other songs that had not been working. I took a break and went back in and did the guitar and bass line and I think all the emotion and frustrations that were going on in my life at the time just flooded out... I listened to it the next morning and it was immediately so dear to me in how closely it shaved to what I was feeling... it was so precious and meant so much to me... something that I've always been able to go back to... something reliable. Largely the property of music that is the dearest to me and continues to be the most impacting is its ability to console.
Your singing style has been described as exuding "an amorous warmth" and having a "sincere vocal delivery." How did you feel when you first started reading other people's reviews of your music and singing?
Dean: Oh I was completely elated! It's always a complete honor to kind words, especially on vocals because it was such a defining process for me over the years.
2Late has a different sound to it. Can you tell us the origin of this song?
Dean: 2Late is a cover of a Cure song that originally appeared as a B-side to the Lovesong single. It's such a special song on so many levels I was terrified to even try to do a version of it. I hope I did it some good by it if only in offering another representation of such a gorgeous tune with respect to all it has, lyrically and musically.
In 2008 Susie S Kim joined the band. Can you tell us about working with her and what she has brought to the group?
Dean: Susie has been quite a force since she's been with us. She's brought a thrust and energy to the group that took me and Markkus by storm! Musically she just fit perfectly in that she seems to intuitively know what the songs are about and is able to carve her own signature into them seamlessly.
Susie, how did you meet up with Dean and Markkus?
Susie: I joined the band in January 2008 through mutual friends, Foxtail Sommersault. I was referred to Tomihira and the journey starts from there.
Where did you grow up what kind of kid were you?
Susie: From Los Angeles and all throughout Southern California where it's sprawling clusters of suburbs. Pretty good kid. strong-willed, B average student, stayed away from drugs yet ditched a few classes and got into trouble here and there.
The music business can be a difficult struggle at times. What helps you all get through the challenges you've faced as a musicians?
Susie: Amidst the cutthroat business that goes in within the industry, I get sanity by being around positive musicians who love to play for the art of playing music.
Dean: How much time have you got? =) Playing consistently helps. I've always felt I was on something of a crusade to have a solid batch of albums that secure the closest form of emotion and emotional honesty possible.
Susie and Markkus, how did the two of you first get into music, and do you remember the first albums you owned?
Susie: Music runs in my family and goes back a few generations, I watched other kids playing "chopsticks" and "heart and soul" on the piano and wanted to take lessons right away, so my dad went and bought me a piano. First album I owned was New Kids on the Block's first hit album, something that was given to me as a birthday gift and something I wasn't really a fan of to begin with.
Markkus: The first album I ever bought was "Thriller" on cassette, and I still love that album. I can't say I really ever "got into music." I just always liked certain music that I would hear. When I listened to top 40 radio in the 80's the stuff I liked was always the kind of new-wavey, alt-pop that I still like today, or something with a little funk to it. When my parents listened to the oldies stations, I immediately picked out the Beatles, Doors, Rolling Stones and things like that. I always just liked beats; I can't pinpoint the origin of that. At some point around 9 or 10 I really wanted the Muppets drum kit from the Sears catalog or wherever it was, and my mom got it for me. I beat the shit out of that thing in a couple of days, and a few years later I had saved enough lawn-mowing money to buy a real drum set.
Dean, tell us about Vibraphone Records.
Dean: Vibraphone Records is a group endeavor consisting of four bands. Foxtail Somersault, Astral, Halcyon High, and us. The idea of banning together came not just from common interests musically, but as personal friendships. Basically we all get together as much as schedules allow and hash out what we're feeling with regards to what we can do as a group and to coordinate releases as well as combined efforts. We're currently working on a second compilation (please email for more info).
Markkus you have some strong views on the state of the music industry today. How would you like to see it change?
Markkus: I wish I could say that because it's music -- something spiritually moving with the ability to unite people -- that this industry would be different from a lot of the more mundane industries of the world, but it's not. The old-school music industry of today is a top-heavy, slow-moving behemoth that is steadily crumbling under it's weight, and the fat cats at the top are kicking, screaming, complaining and suing all the way to the bottom. Instead of worrying so much about intellectual property and making certain types of creativity illegal, such as sampling, and instead of fighting new technology that is unstoppable in the first place, the music industry should have jumped on digital distribution and made a convenient way to buy digital music early on. Basically, it should have created iTunes five years earlier instead of fighting it. Instead they waited around until a new generation of kids got so used to getting music for free that they don't even remember a time when people paid for it.
The old-school music industry screwed itself, so I say good riddance. The business plan of the major labels used to be to find the best music and present it to the world, because the best music around will sell. Somewhere along the line, the business strategy changed into propping up marginal talents who look good with giant media blitzes and basically tricking people into buying crappy, bullshit music. So we're supposed to care this industry is suffering?
There is a new-school music industry, however, that is using strategies that are working in other areas of business to try to make creating music viable as a profession. For example, the "Freemium" model (see Flickr, Indaba Music, many more) give some things away to all people to make yourself known, and sell things to the biggest fans to get your money.
The fact is that the entire world is becoming more DIY, and music is as well. And the thing for anyone to remember is that just like any other occupation, just because you make music doesn't mean you deserve to make a living at it. Let's say you'll never make a dime at music. Would you quit doing it? If everyone answering 'yes' to that question quit making music today, the state of music in general would probably be better tomorrow.
Dean: Wow, I'm going with Markkus on that one! So true!
Can you tell us about the latest music the group has been working on?
Dean: There are oodles of songs to be completed; some of them just need a few things and some need quite a bit more. With the amount of material there is and given the expanse of time, we're thinking it might be best trickling out a few online Ep's for the remainder of the year and then the full length early next year.
It's been contentious. I think I was really naïve to think we could get another full length done a year after Play Dead. I was actually terribly down about it not coming together in 2008 and in the winter of that year I'd gone on a skiing trip with good friends Maddy and Josh (song of the same name on Play Dead). We were going up a lift and I was complaining about how long it's been taking to get everything right and Josh said "Well, how long did it take you to write and finish the first one?" and I said "Oh about three years give or take..." and he said, "Well there you are. You can't expect be pounding out records of the same depth without the time." And it just became clear in an instant. It really was that simple and I stopped complaining!
Btw, what's the meaning behind the message on your MySpace page that says "ah..the blackouts again.."?
Dean: That's an allusion to the name of the next full length, Blackout. It also describes the state my life has become in regards to the mood of the record... really trying to push for something deep.
Can we get a peak into the romantic side of the group? What to you is a romantic setting?
Susie: Playing in close quarters in a dank, dimly lit room, with empty bottles of wine and beer and overshadowed by cigarette butts.
Any thoughts about marriage and children in the future?
Dean: I love children and I absolutely love being with kids but they're not for me. Having children is a lifestyle that would be really selfish of me to feel I could take on. I enjoy the idea of being an uncle hehe!
Outside of music, what are some of your favorite things in life?
Susie: Discussions about religion and progressive politics, eating food made with love, spending quality time with friends and family, getting out of the city to enjoy nature.
Dean: Hanging out with friends and loved ones... Seeing friends' bands play live is always a blast. I also really enjoy comedy, especially late night and I've gotten quite into camping lately.
Let's end with the big question: can you describe what music means to you?
Susie: What music means to me -- self-expression, to describe and set a mood, to grow and master your skill, to speak another language.
Dean: Music is consolation, escape, love, acceptance -- indelibly.
Do you have a final message to all your fans?
Dean: I know we're not the fastest band in terms of releases but, if you're here to stay, you won't be disappointed. Anything and everything that is put out has been crafted with every fiber of feeling we've got and we hope to be something you can rely upon.
For more info checkout Tomihira's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments