ITW – Jakob Ogawa

Jakob Ogawa - let It Pass - Sodwee.com

I think we have some whisky too. How about that?

I arrive at Privatklub, Berlin, after a pizza from a nearby fast good place, just as Jakob and his band are starting. He has a full band on stage, including a very smiley drummer with a safari-esque drawstring hat and sunglasses. The set is mostly made up of previously unheard material but I recognise and sing along to his three beautifully tropical, lo-fi tracks which are already out.

After the show we begin talking about how the interview came to pass: a mutual friend of ours, the brilliant Josh Christopher (of IYES and WEIRDO+CO), set us up.

Jakob speaks delicately, has his long hair tied back, painted nails which are slightly chipped and exudes sincerity and curiosity. After meeting him in person and seeing his album artwork, I’m curious about what kind of aesthetic will be present in his music videos.

Interview and introduction by Conor.

You haven’t made a music video yet, right?

No, but I’ve given it some thought. I’m really into analogue photography: I bought an 8mm but I’m struggling to find cheap film (500kr for 8 minutes or something).

Isn’t that the standard price for everything in Norway? (Sverre, Jakob’s chirpy and vibrant manager chimes in with ‘Yeah, beer is like 2000’.)

Everything analogue feels more natural to me; tape machines etc. I’d like to make a video with a strong story behind it. Colour-wise, I’m really into neon.

An ‘Enter the Void’ type of thing?

Or something by Wong Kar Wai: ‘In the Mood for Love’, for example. I love the way the characters interact with each other in that film: a lot is said without words. The goal would be to have him direct a video.

That might be a bit hard for the first one, but you can certainly add him on Facebook. Steering the conversation closer to his neck of the woods, I ask him if he’s heard that Norway was named as the happiest country in the world, earlier in the day.

No way! I’m pretty happy right now! (High fives with Sverre)

I wish I could write good lyrics in Norwegian, but I think it’s hard to make it flow.

Do you watch SKAM?

I’ve only seen season 3, with Isak. I loved it! I also saw the scene in season 2 where Noora gives William’s brother a talking-to after the assault which she wasn’t sure happened. I saw that with my mum and I thought ‘we should have this kind of education in school’. It was so on point!

What are you drinking by the way?

Jäger’. You want some?

No, thanks. I’m not a big Jäger’ boy.

I think we have some whisky too. How about that?

(feigned hesitation) Ok, if you insist. (which he does)
LANY’s (who Jakob is supporting on their European tour) Australian merch’ dude comes in, wearing shorts on one of those equal parts Winter and Spring Berlin nights.You can take the guy out of Australia…

Back to SKAM! I’ve been to a lot of parties in Oslo and people are basically like that. I have friends who know some of the actors. That series is pretty much about ‘us’. I don’t know if I’m proud of it, but it’s us.

How was by:Larm (Norway’s main festival for up-and-coming artists)?

It was great. This Bergen artist, dePresno, came up to us afterwards and was like ‘I think you were fucking amazing!’. That was one of the coolest moments in this thing yet! You should check him out!

I did indeed check him out, and in fact, saw him play and interviewed him a week later.
Why don’t you make music in Norwegian?

I wish I could write good lyrics in Norwegian, but I think it’s hard to make it flow. I think the language is a bit tame.

The SKAM playlist on Spotify has a few good Norsk numbers (like ‘5 fine frøkner’ (click to watch) by Gabrielle). I’m trying to reconnect you with your roots.

Thanks. I feel like we’re a bit disconnected in Norway: we’re so advanced in so many ways, but for example, it’s hard to start a conversation with a stranger on the bus. We’re so private.

There’s also a lot of trust in Scandi society, though, no?

That’s true. If you’re part of the gang, life is cool. I think we should loosen up a bit because there’s so much beauty out there: every person has their own thing to offer.

We talk a bit about Norwegian cinema and he tells me that ‘Oslo August 31st’ is his favourite movie from his home country. It’s also one of mine.
I ask if he listens to lots of Norwegian artists.
Manager Sverre tells me about an electronic-jazz-fusion act from Norway called Jaga Jazzist while Jakob puts on some Bossa Nova. I start to wonder if he’s part Brazilian (that would explain his Pina Colada-infused dreamscape of a sound).
His artist surname is not his own and belies Japanese roots: it comes from a poster which hung in his childhood bedroom promoting an exhibition by a Japanese artist.

I listen to Edvard Grieg (a composer from the 19th century). You should mention him. People need to hear that!’

I also love The Beatles, Bob Dylan, DeAngelo and Prince (I’m very inspired by him). I also go to YouTube channels where there are no English words in sight and find old Japanese music.

Can you hook me up with some obscure stuff? (I want to dive head-first into Jakob’s Japanese villa’s swimming pool)

I’ll do that. You’ll dig it!

You’ve been compared to MacDemarco & Conan Mockasin. Fan of those boys?

I like their music. They’re not my main inspiration, but I see why people would think that.

I really enjoyed that new song you played tonight which started really high…

*singing* ‘Give it a tryyyy…’.

Can you tell me a bit about how you write?

Lyrics normally pop up when there’s very little going on in my head when I’m meditating for example. They just come like fireworks, just blow up! *claps hands once*

The beauty of it is that it comes really naturally for me. All my lyrics are personal and I don’t think too much about what the source of them is when I’m writing, but rather reflect on that afterwards when I look at them as a whole. ‘Let it pass’ is probably my most personal track.

If you want to say what it’s about, please do.

It’s about moments when you wish you’d thought or acted more quickly: like picking up the phone just as it stops ringing. It sounds like it’s about romance but it’s more about how we should be less caught up in ourselves.

Do you write a lot generally, like when you’re on the bus?

I usually write in my head. I put little stacks of lyrics somewhere in my mind & then I come back to them.

You can remember them?! (must be due to the meditation)

Yeah, I’m pretty good at that. I have a harder time remembering melodies.

Is meditation something you do regularly?

Yeah! My mother is very meditative and has taught me a lot of stuff. Being in touch with myself is very important to me.

LANY’s set finishes – we talked that long!

I think they’re doing another song. They’re always doing another song.

We stay a bit longer, although it doesn’t take long so we decide to move out of the green room to the stairwell. I leave my phone (still recording) on the table and go to the bathroom. When I reenter the green room, the LANY guys have arrived and lead singer, Paul Jason Klein is sitting on the sofa. On re-listening to the recording, I hear PJK say to a team member, ‘That was sick, right? It gets sweatier and hotter every night’.

PJK: Hey, I’m Paul.

Conor. Nice to meet you! I was just interviewing Jakob.

PJK: Awesome!

My denim jacket is lying on the floor by the sofa and so is PJK’s, as it happens.
Umm which one is which?

PJK: *pointing* That one’s mine. This one’s yours.

‘Great. Thanks! It would have been a real shame if you’d ended up with my wallet. But not too much of a shame if I’d ended up with yours’, I say, to his amusement.
Jakob and I leave the LANY boys and their denim jackets to it and head to the stairwell going almost to the top floor of the building.

Jakob: Very nice talking to you!

I lige måde! (Norwegian for ‘likewise’)
We’re in the midst of discussing our own meditation techniques when the stairwell light turns off, but we continue after the shock has worn off.

I honestly think it should be taught in school. We’re bombarded by distractions all the time, so I think it would be helpful. I think there are a lot of people who don’t know what to focus on.

My keyboard dude has no social media & he’s one of the happiest dudes I’ve ever met.

A post shared by Conor (@music_conor) on

Tell me about your musical background.

My mother is a theatre actress & director: she’s amazing. My father is a musician and he’s an amazing guitarist, so a lot of my guitar playing comes from him.

I got really into hip-hop in eighth or ninth grade and started making beats on Garageband before switching over to ProTools. Jazz & the Beatles etc. followed. I’ve never worked with a producer, I just can’t do it. I do all the production and mixing.

I think it’s easier nowadays to find inspiration because everything is available! I can find obscure Japanese tracks with seven plays, whereas just a few years ago, that was impossible. I normally listen to a track that’s well-known on YouTube then go to the related tracks, and after five or six clicks I’ve found something obscure. Normally the person who’s posted the track will have other great stuff on their channel.

Where can I find Papa Ogawa’s stuff?

Jakob: You can’t find it anywhere. You’ll have to come to our place in Trondheim where we invite people over and have jams. He’s one of my biggest inspirations.

I was mostly raised by my mother in Oslo, but my parents remained good friends. When I was a kid, my mother always played beautiful music like Michael Jackson or Prince, or classical stuff like Mozart. I started singing when I was about two years old.

Were you encouraged by your parents to pursue music?

I was honestly not encouraged to do too much. I was told to do what I wanted to do, so I started out playing football. I was pretty good at it – I basically could have had a career in football.

So you were a sporty kid and a musical kid?

I was pretty much only the football kid back in the day. Suddenly, when I was in 6th grade, I realised i loved playing music. I thought ‘Why am I playing ball with my feet?’. I thought football was fun, but music is in my bones.

What’s next for JO?

I’m going to release a new song soon: there are a couple of options on the table.

Expect it to be another beautifully crafted smooth but potent cocktail of a song.

Our chat didn’t stop in the stairwell but moved on to the bar across the street, followed by the pizza place where I started the evening. It turns out that his whole team are as genuine and easy to talk to as he is. They’re also generous – one of the lads makes it rain, buying five whole pizzas to share.

Jakob’s eloquent nature and clear passion for his craft give the impression that this is a guy with staying power. Let his sound catapult you too, from where you sit to a haven of relaxation where massages are free.

I hope one day to join the Ogawa clan as an extra by the pool in one of his Wong Car Wai-directed vids. Until then, I will let Spring pass into Summer, with his sweet sounds caressing my skin.

You can catch Jakob at Camp Indie at Rockefeller in Oslo on 16th May (the night before Norway’s national day, which is a big ol’ party).


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