TOWA TEI’s New Album LP And His Hardcore Love For Records

TOWA TEI, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his musical career, has released his 10th studio album LP. As we all know, an LP is a 12-inch analog record, a sound storage medium that also happens to symbolize TOWA TEI’s journey as a musician. In 2020, TOWA TEI stated to have bought more records than ever, reaffirming his affection toward them; for this interview, we asked him about his latest album LP and his overabundant love for records.

Listening to records and making records is my job

——I heard that you started producing LP in 2019.

TOWA TEI: Yeah. My original plan was to release this album in the first half of 2020 and then focus on another job. At the same time, I was also working on a soundtrack; my schedule for 2020 felt extremely busy, but since February of last year, a lot has been impossible to accomplish. As a result, I was able to concentrate on my work, but I didn’t want to spend too much time on it, so I thought I’d finish producing LP and the previously mentioned soundtrack by 2020.

——So it must’ve been a year of devotion to production, among the various restrictions for music-related activities such as DJing. 

TOWA: My only working function was to make music. In short, I gave up early. What happened in 2020 is like an industrial revolution, so it may be impossible to go back to how it was before. That’s why I decided to take a break from DJing; if this was a regular weekend, it would’ve been pretty rough for me. That’s why I can understand the feelings of those who believe that everything will go back to normal someday and are doing their best for that to happen; it’s a shame that we can’t go to the club. For people who have no other choice but to listen to music loudly with headphones, an environment where they can feel their body trembling with sound is a precious thing, and I think it’s terrible to have that stripped from their daily lives. In that respect, I feel luckier than most. 

——What do you mean by that?

TOWA: Even if it’s not as loud as a club, I have an environment where I can loudly listen to records, and I can fairly say that it’s my job. Listening to records and making records is my job. Also, in interviews, I’m often asked, “Did the virus have any influence on you?”; whether it’s the Coronavirus or not, there is nothing in life that has nothing to do with me. My music is an output of what is filtered by my body, so of course, the virus had an influence on my production. However, I’m not sure if the album LP itself will be affected. 

All the tracks in my new album are about records and DJing

——What about the lost song on the album, NOMADOLOGIE? I feel in the influence of the pandemic in its melancholic ambience, as well as in the title. 

TOWA: The title is based on a real-life experience: last year, right when Japan declared the state of emergency, I was on a cab from Roppongi to Nishi-Azabu. Normally, it would’ve been full of people around that area, but there was no one on the streets, and every store had a take-out poster upfront; I’ve never seen anything like that before. After that, as soon as I returned to my room in Tokyo, I made NOMADOLOGIE with my synths. At first, I was planning to use another track as the ending of the album, but I thought it would be good to have a song like this in 2020, so I changed it at the end. I wonder if that was TOWA TEI’s mental landscape for 2020.

——Natural Calamity’s Shunji Mori plays the guitar in NOMADOLOGIE, and Tomohiko Gondo, who also works with you in METAFIVE, also plays the flugelhorn in the track. 

TOWA: We made this song as a trio, me, Gon-sama, and Mori-sama. It sounds almost improvisational, but both of them instantly understood the kind of sound I had in my mind; it’s a pretty unique song.

——The album is full of uplifting beats since the beginning, so it was surprising to hear NOMADOLOGIE at the end.

TOWA: According to Dai Onojima, who officially interviewed me for the release of the album, most of the music released in 2020 by club artists was ambient music. I understand that feeling well, and I also felt a little synchronicity. Nonetheless, I’ve released beat-less music in the past: Raga Musgo from Future Listening! (TOWA’s debut album, released in 1994) happens to be the case, but I was 16 years old at the time, and I was overdubbing instruments on two cassettes; the only music I could manage to make was ambient or minimal. 


TOWA: The thing is, since I started my career as a DJ, I’ve been making repeat music the whole time. I didn’t want to make a whole album of ambient music, so I ended up making all the tracks about records and DJing: for example, RINGWEAR, which is the imprint of the disc on the aging record jacket. I love record jackets with visible ringwear. It’s the same with NOMADOLOGIE; at this point, everyone is probably just listening to records at home.

——The lyrics of the fourth song, MAGIC, also include the words “my yellow magic.”

TOWA: The first LP I’ve ever bought was YMO’s Solid State Survivor. For me, that was the reason I fell in love with music, and I accidentally remembered that it was a transparent yellow vinyl, so I wanted to use it for the lyrics. 


The “perfect” album as seen from a hardcore record “disciple”

——Did you decide on the album title as soon as you started producing it?

TOWA: Not at all. I realized that, since LUCKY, the number of characters in my album titles was gradually decreasing one by one, so I decided on a two-characters title (laughs). So, at first, I wrote “TT10” for the album’s folder name, and I thought “10” could be a good title since I make music digitally, like an “All or Nothing” kind of vibe. 

——Why did you change it to LP?

TOWA: Somehow, I felt that my love for records became more and more intense over the years. As I spent all my time at home, always having dinner by myself, I naturally had more time to buy and listen to records; I realized that all my love was going toward my records.  

——Listening to you talking about records, I can feel you have some sort of fetish-like love towards them. 

TOWA: I guess it is like a fetish. Sometimes I buy music digitally, but after all, if there’s an analog version, I tend to prefer that. I think that hasn’t changed since I was in Deee-Lite. At that time, even the jacket design for the LP would come first. You can even print on the LP itself; I mean, at this point, I’m basically a record “disciple” (laughs). There was a time when I was brainwashed by how convenient CDs and MP3s are, but around the time I made LUCKY, I returned to my true self and rejoined the hardcore record religion. 

——Haha! As an album filled with your love for records, I see it as your new personal best after LUCKY.

TOWA: I also feel like I’ve closed a chapter of my life. The LP of LUCKY, which was designed by Yayoi Kusama, is like a family heirloom for me; the album jackets after that one were designed by Tomoo Gokita, who is also an analog devotee. Actually, now that I think about it, I may have rejoined the record religion thanks to Gokita-kun (laughs). When I listen to records, I don’t have to think about anything else. I think that LP, visuals included, is close to being the perfect record. I want everyone to forget about the pandemic for about 40 minutes while listening to this.

In 1990, TOWA TEI made his US debut with the album World Clique as a member of Deee-Lite. Currently, he has released ten solo albums, three albums under the alias of Sweet Robots Against the Machine, and METAFIVE’s first album. In addition, since September 2013, he supervises the in-store music of the store “Intersect By Lexus – Tokyo” in Aoyama. In 2020, it was the 30th anniversary of his musical career. He released his tenth original solo album LP in March 2021.
Twitter: @towatei

Translation: Leandro Di Rosa

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Yuya Watanabe

Watanabe was born in 1983 in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. He is a music critic for publications including Music Magazine, QuickJapan, CINRA, The Sign Magazine, Ongaku to Hito, MUSICA, Natalie, rockin’on, soup., and other various media. Instagram:@watanabe_yuya_