Is Ars Nova progressive rock's first all-femme band? It doesn't matter: keyboardist Keiko Kumagai and her cohorts will make you forget about the rest! Since 1992, Ars Nova has championed the symphonic trio format, perking the ears of fans of keyboard-heavy music, worldwide. Keiko discusses what's on the horizon for Japan's bastion of girl-powered prog rock with Sea of Tranquility writer Elias Granillo.
Sea of Tranquility: Your first conceptual rock opera, Biogenesis is a tremendous recording. Some real heavyweights are onboard; Italy is more than well-represented by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, Gianni Leone of Il Balletto di Bronzo, and violinist Lucio Fabbri of PFM, along with ex-Leviathan vocalist Alessandro Brunori. Not to mention Arjen Anthony Lucassen, aka Ayreon, is on three tracks. Ars Nova performed "Trust To The Future" last Halloween, with Simonetti, Leone, and Brunori onstage. Will any effort be made to stage a portion of Biogenesis (or all of it) when you play in Europe later this year?
Keiko Kumagai: We regret to say that we have no plans to stage Biogenesis Project this year in Europe at the present time. It's difficult to gather all of the guests together due to their differing schedules.
SoT: How about a full-length concert DVD release. Is this a possibility within 2002 or 2003?
KK: We'll release the live double DVD, Chronicle, by mail order in August, in Japan. We also have a DVD release of the Halloween gig pending, and some other video products. Ordering info is on our website.
SoT: Considering the band's discography approaches ten albums, how many non-album tracks from 1992-2002 might surface on a future compilation? Have you recorded any solo compositions?
KK: Yes, there are some non-album tracks. But I'm not going to release them on an album in the future because I wasn't satisfied with the results. That's why they didn't make the cut. I did record a solo piece based on War of the Worlds—it's on Not Of This Earth, released on Black Widow Records (Italy).
SoT: Your "new" drummer, Masuhiro Goto, is on loan from Gerard for the upcoming live shows—is he playing on the next disc, too? Akiko Takahashi played drums on 7 albums, beginning with Transi (1995), and concluding with "Against The Meteors" on the new album. Are there any special circumstances surrounding her departure and [keyboardist/vocalist] Mika's?
KK: The new recording lineup will be Masuhiro, Panky on bass, and Gianni Leone will guest again. As you already know, Akiko left in March, but her reasons for doing so remain private. She's still drumming in another band, Danball Bat. Mika left the band last November because she wants to devote herself to Triton [the keyboard trio-styled band she formed prior to joining Ars Nova].
SoT: Panky is your first fulltime bassist since Kyoko Kanazawa left!
KK: Before I was in Ars Nova, Panky and I had played together in the same band.
After I became involved with Ars Nova, I lost track of her whereabouts. She just disappeared.
Then, a few years ago, Panky showed up at an Ars Nova gig in Tokyo, all of a sudden, along with some of her friends. She told me she's been a fan of ours since the first CD!
SoT: Panky's also credited with CD design on Biogenesis (which she didn't play on). Oh: is Panky that other girl on the cover of Android Domina?
KK: The girl on the cover of Android Domina is my friend, Chizuya. She's so beautiful! There's another pic somewhere on our site, that she's in.
SoT: Are Kyoko and Yumiko still involved in music, elsewhere? [Yumiko Saitoh played drums on the debut, Fear and Anxiety.]
KK: Yumiko left to attend a university in China. After she returned to Japan, she got married. Kyoko chose her job as an office worker over being a musician. She hasn't played her bass since! We're all still friends.
SoT: That's good to know! Naomi Miura (formerly of Rosalia) has helped you out several times for live shows when the band lacked a third player. Was she ever considered as a replacement for Mika?
KK: After Mika left the band, I couldn't find another keyboard player to replace her. Akiko and I had to find someone. However, there just aren't any good keyboard players in Tokyo. We had agreed to play at Baja Prog in Mexico, last March. So we got in touch with Naomi, again, and she accepted our request. Naomi likes to play live very much, but she's not interested in doing any recording, so she'll never be a formal member of Ars Nova.
SoT: Do you envision the band always being a trio, or do you think you might even bring in a guitarist (or another instrumentalist) at some point?
KK: Now I am not picky about being a trio, but we'll have some more guests in the future. Gianni Leone will be back for our next CD. Regarding a guitarist, I don't know whether I feel I need guitar on future recordings.
SoT: It's fairly obvious that Ars Nova and Gerard are stylistically similar, though you certainly have the edge when it comes to diversity. Does Numero (who also manages Gerard) encourage a healthy competition between the "guys & girls," or do you each view the other as your male/female counterpart, and leave it at that?
KK: These days Numero thinks he might be getting tired of [producing] Gerard's stuff. Surely, each member of Gerard is a very good player—however, the compositions, the sounds aren't very interesting. They're not always concerned with themes, etc. But Ars Nova has done some growing up, we've matured, and the compositions & sounds are very exciting. We're not necessarily good players, but our music is powerful and we push ourselves to our limits, creatively speaking. So Shingo is not going to let [Gerard & Ars Nova] compete.
SoT: Would you like to shed some light on your pre-Ars Nova career?
KK: Before Ars Nova, I was in some all-girl rock bands. Just cover bands. At the time, I didn't have any original songs.
SoT: Do you ever get the urge to do something different, in a purely classical or jazz context, for instance?
KK: Yeah, I'd like to record with other musicians, do some rock, classical music, and
soundtracks. Right now I'm mainly interested in soundtracks: horror, sci-fi, fantasy.
SoT: Bonus question! Seeing as how we both enjoy Goblin's horrific prog rock, and how you love skulls & skull art and horror, tell us what some of your favorite horror films are, by Dario Argento or any other directors?
KK: My favorite horror films include Suspiria II, Phenomena, Opera, Inferno, The Omen, The Shining, Halloween, Poltergeist, The Thing, Thirteen Ghosts.
SoT: Opera and Kubrick's The Shining are two of my absolute favorites. Thank you, Keiko, for being so generous with your time and for putting up with my glaringly investigative questions.
Ars Nova's next album is in progress, and Keiko, Panky and Masuhiro will be performing at the Prog Sol festival in Europe! Check out Ars Nova's brand NEW web site (the old one is still active, but this one is far superior) for tons of news, pix, live dates and merchandise!