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Non-Prog Interviews

Tokyo Rosenthal

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Tokyo Rosenthal from 2013

It’s been a while since we chatted. What’s been going on in the world of Tokyo Rosenthal?

 Well first let me say hello and thank you for running such a great music site. That being said, obviously the biggest thing going on for me is the release of Tokyo's Fifth, my new album, which hit number four on The Euro Americana Chart and number 16 on the FAR. Besides that there's been a lot of touring including Ireland this past September which led to the song "Killaloe" on the new album and my being honored there this coming May for writing the tune.


What's ahead for you?

Lots more touring. I just finished a Mid-South tour, after some local N.C. dates I'm playing the Root 49 festival in Denver later this month, followed by Ireland/Scotland/UK in May, followed by Canada this summer, Deep South Tour in September, and NYC and the Northeast in November. Then you can stick a fork in me as I'll be done, (laughter)


What do you see as the similarities between your older work and your new album?

Some of the players are the same. Obviously myself, as well as Chris Stamey (dB's), Will Rigby (Steve Earle, dB's) and Charlie Chamberlain (my sometimes touring partner). There's Tex-Mex, some rootsy stuff, some political commentaries, some family eulogy and pet songs, which I think my listeners have come to expect from me.


What about the differences?

Several new people helped me out. A key person to the sound of this record is John Teer on fiddle. He's from Chatham County Line. He's featured on five tracks and was just great in my opinion. Logan Matheny played drums on four tracks and set up a contrasting rhythm section on the album which I liked. Andrea Connolly harmonized with me and blew me away. She's tremendous and this was the first time I ever had someone sing with me on record. I always overdubbed the harmonies myself. Well now she's spoiled me. Also I used clarinet and accordion (Matt Douglas and David DiGiuseppe) for the first time and they brought a new dimension to my sound. Finally I recorded my first cover, that being "Helter Skelter.” I was nervous because of the tune's pedigree. I'd been doing it live for years and had even cut a demo of it a while back. Chris said, “why not try it for real.” John and Logan killed on it! Reviewers seem to be diggin' it. I also played piano and organ more on this CD as I felt the songs called for it. Piano was my first instrument.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

I've been disappointed by several hard copy CDs I've bought just because of the artist's name and I won't mention who they are because that's subjective. I still go back to old music I might have missed like Thin Lizzy's version of "Whiskey In The Jar" and some acoustically leaning Led Zeppelin . I'm likin' the new Mavericks and Son Volt records. Can't go wrong with Alabama Shakes either.


Have you read any good books lately?

Pinstripe Empire, The List (about Rosanne Cash's making of that record), and lots of “Rolling Stone” magazine (laughter). Also enjoyed Keith's bio a while back.

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

I'm going to Son Volt this weekend, Bonnie Raitt a couple of months ago, but because of my own touring, ticket prices(which really make me angry), and my inability to watch without singing and playing along, I don't see many shows. Personally I'm just as entertained by acts that I share the bill with. I find what they're doing interesting and a lot more challenging as they are just "struggling" singer-songwriters like myself, with small indie labels behind them or maybe no label at all. These folks are really putting it down without roadies and tour buses. I also get to know quite a few of them at SXSW each year, too. We're competitive but empathetic, too with each other.


Do you have a  musical “guilty pleasure?”

British Invasion-'64-'65


What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Not sure what you're looking for here as my amp doesn't go up to 11.


If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

My Father (dead) for sure, Paul McCartney (obviously alive and a cliché but that's who I'd like to talk to), Phil Ochs (dead and somewhat forgotten topical singer -  songwriter, one of my faves, influenced my writing quite a bit)


What would be on the menu?

Carolina BBQ and Beer

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Yes, I'm never at a loss for words. I'd like to see your readers support House Concerts. With a shortage of Americana and Roots listening rooms in this country, House Concerts are the wave of the future. Bigger name acts like Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen, have been sighted doing one. Rod Picott was recently in my backyard, Durham, doing one. And of course I do them when asked. Most people don't know this is an option, that you can have some really great pickers and singers right in your living room, invite neighbors and friends, and have an amazing night of music in a great environment for a small donation per person and no guarantee to the act. And most of the artists that would do this are easily reachable through social web sites, etc. Someone needs to start writing about this and promoting it. That being said, it would be great to have more listening rooms and have the ones that exist promote a little better. You need to hit the baby boomers over the head to get them out of the house. These are the same folks that crowded Woodstock but now find it an effort to go down the street to hear some good music. Most of the time it's because they don't know about it. Gotta reach these folks and make them fans again! Most barely know how to download so you can sell them a hard copy.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at
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