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Ryo Okumoto

Interviewed by Grant Hill
Interview with Ryo Okumoto from 2013
MSJ: So, it’s been a busy year so far for you.
Yes, it has been, and it’s going to be that way all year the way things are shaping up.
MSJ: First of all, you’re a married man now. How is married life treating you?
Good; great, as a matter of fact! I’m very happy.
MSJ: That’s good to know.  You’ve also put together the Ryo Okumoto Project, and you’ve had some gigs going on for a while, now. Can you tell me what that’s been like?
I started putting the band together a couple of years ago. We played in Mexico first, at Mexicali Prog. I decided to call it the “Ryo Okumoto Project” because the musicians are ever changing. I try to use the best players I can get in each town where I play, so it creates some diversity and makes every performance interesting. The first edition of the band included Joel Taylor, the drummer for Allan Holdsworth. More lately he’s played for Al Di Meola and Frank Gambale. We started with Ric Fierabracci on bass. He played with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. I then did about four shows in Japan with the same title on the project. I finished up in LA on February 23rd. That lineup included Joel, Mike Miller on guitar from Chick’s band, and Derrick Murdock from the Jay Leno band on bass. Also my wife, Keiko, has been doing vocals. Busy.
MSJ: Can you tell us about the style of the group? Is it progressive rock, fusion, or what?
Everything…we play everything; prog, fusion, Latin, jazz, rock. . . everything.
MSJ:
 Sounds great! Recently you’ve done some church work, too, correct?
Yes, I was the music director in a church for about two years. I finally had to give it up because the early morning commitment on Sundays was too difficult with a touring schedule. Musicians cannot get up early (laughs). Still, it was valuable and a good experience.
MSJ: For people who might not know much about your background, Ryo, why don’t you discuss some of the people who influenced you. Who inspired you to help bring you to this point in your career as a progressive rock keyboardist?
Well, definitely the first thing I remember was listening to Jimmy Smith. I was like, maybe six or seven years old. My dad bought a stereo system, and my uncle bought the recording. When I heard the Hammond B3 organ, I thought, “Oh, my goodness!” That was my first major influence. Then, when I was about thirteen, it was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I started listening to Keith Emerson and thought, “This is the s***!” Then Rick Wakeman, all that stuff. Yeah, that’s how I started.
MSJ: And you’ve had a strong R&B background, plus lots of fusion. You can hear those influences come across in your Spock’s Beard work, too.
Yeah, well, these cats can play anything. We can play any style of music. That’s the great thing about SB. The level of musicianship is so high; it’s so easy for the band to switch back and forth, you know, between different time signatures and styles. It’s unbelievable, almost, what these players can do.
MSJ:

In listening to the new CD (Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep), you can really hear that clearly. The way you guys voice a musical statement and then restate it differently reflects that. For example, Al (Morse) might restate a theme you just played on keys and then you and Dave (Meros) can do something different with contrary motion. Some of it ends up being a classical canon or a fugue, yet firmly progressive rock. Not many bands can do that.

Yes. The new CD shows this. Everybody should get it! And I have been working my a** off learning material for the tour right now. It’s two hours of material played straight through. That’s a lot of work.
MSJ: Plus, you’re covering many different voices with different keyboards, so that makes it extra challenging. How do you think the new material is, challenge-wise, compared to prior editions of the band?
Every CD we release is a great CD, and each one is the best we’ve ever released. That’s what I have to say about it; that’s what I always end up saying. I tell everybody each time, “This is the best CD!” The band just keeps getting better and better.
MSJ: Well, it does seem to me the band is advancing in some way each time there’s a new release. As players, you guys seem to integrate incredibly well. Nothing sounds out of place.
We are melding it together. We’ve been playing together for, what, eighteen years? We know what to do. We know how to get the Spock’s Beard sound. It’s pretty easy for us to do that now. Yeah, we just need good material, and we can do it.
MSJ: You’ve obviously had solid experience already working with Jimmy (Keegan) as a tour drummer, so I’m sure that was an easy transition bringing him into the studio. How has it been integrating Ted (Leonard) into the lineup as vocalist?
Oh, it’s great. Ted, oh my God! He’s a great person, and in the great person comes “magic and effect.” He sounds really good! And also, he’s a guitar player, so we really now have two guitarists in the band. That adds a lot.
MSJ: Your contribution to the album seems to be felt thoroughly throughout. In fact, to me it sounds like that for each one of you. It’s not just a series of featured solos for the sake of shredding chops. In fact, this whole album feels like a feature for everyone, at least that’s how it sounds to me.

That’s how the music is supposed to be put together. You’re supposed to be able to hear what each musician is playing. You can tell who is playing what, and hear why it makes musical sense. You can just tell.

MSJ: It probably feels good to have this CD released, because the feedback from fans so far has been excellent.
Really good! I don’t think the Special Edition has been sent to people yet, but the download has, so everyone can enjoy it now even before they have the actual CD. InsideOut Records has set the general release date as April First.
MSJ: You’ve got the tour coming up in May, correct?
Yes, we’ll be in the UK and Europe, and we have the CD release party in April in LA for two separate gigs. After we get back from Europe, we want to do a little more in the States in July. At least that’s what we’re trying to do. We need to play the east coast. We need to do New York, Boston, Philly, you know, if we can. The northeast cities are all within a day’s drive, but we have to find a good agency to pick us up in order to do it.
MSJ: One more question. Is Ryo still Rock and Roll?
Is Ryo still Rock and Roll? Ryo is Rock and Roll. No doubt. Nobody else.

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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