Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cuba is Japan—interview with Cameron Potts

Cuba Is Japan is a band with a clear focus. “I had this idea of forming a band that would write about explorations,” says founding member Cameron Potts (also of Baseball and Ninetynine fame). “I’ve always been fascinated by them so I wanted to do a band that only did records about certain events in history.”
The band’s name (somewhat less predicably than the glut of other Australian bands with foreign place names in their titles) stems from Columbus’s first voyage upon which he reputedly mistook the land mass of Cuba for Japan. At the time there was no concept (in Europe) of the Americas or the Pacific and it was widely believed that Japan lay at the Eastern tip of the earth.
Their debut 7” is a beautiful thing. Comprising two ‘scenes’ from their forthcoming concept album about the great Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the globe in 1522, the package features a hand-knitted sleeve guard by Otto & Spike and beautiful artwork by Dylan Martorell screen-printed on boy’s school shirt fabric by Brisbane’s Matt Deasy. To cast your eyes on the thing is to need it. The run is limited (for obvious reasons) to 300 and will be available from the launch on April Fools’ Day.
“CDs are so redundant now,” continues Potts, purring and stroking the packaging of their own vinyl release. “I’m in a label [Alpine Areas] with a few other people that are into doing interesting releases—things that are really unique. With the miserable nature of downloads I think people these days appreciate something that’s a bit of a gift. We’re thinking about maybe a Pets With Pets [release] with Lego covers. A lot of bands are really keen to get on board.”
The 7” acts as a little taste test teaser for the group’s aforementioned forthcoming album Canvas, which judging by Potts’s enthusiasm will eclipse even the single in gorgeousness. “It’s a double album which will open out like sails of a ship and will be made of real sails,” continues Potts, eyes crazed with excitement. “There’ll be a Pacific side and an Atlantic side—all the stories broken up with intermissions, it’s gotta be done right.”
In line with the uniqueness of the sleeve design and artwork, Potts explains that Cuba Is Japan adopted a fresh approach to writing the album, which will be out in September. “We all researched it together [but] we all wrote songs separately, chapter by chapter in chronological order—like from go to whoa; leaving Spain to coming back. We all had a part in assessing it in our own way and bringing it all together as a band. Some of us just took sections, like I took the Pacific and Darcy [Pimblett] the Atlantic. We all had our own bits.”
Their music consists of soaring arrangements of violin, guitar, bass and keys. I wondered whether the grandiosity of the task they set themselves limited the arrangements to the bleak and murderous subject matter they were tackling? On the contrary, Potts says, Magellan’s journey—while tragic in its outcome, with a three-ship fleet of 227 men reduced to a dying crew of 19 upon return to Spain—produced many instances of triumph and wonder.
“There’s a lot of joy there,” he continues. “Like when Magellan found the strait that no one thought existed through to the Pacific, right down the tip of South America. They were six-months out and the crew just wanted to go home but he believed all that time that there had to be a pass and it almost sent his crew mad. Also when they first hit the Philippines after sailing the Pacific for four months, it was like the meeting of a first culture that would never happen again. It’s such a great canvas. If you give yourself a story, you can really stretch your musical abilities.”

Samson McDougall

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