I befriended Dustin Wong when he was in the hyperactive art school combo Ponytail, have watched him explode as an experimental solo musician, and was shocked to hear about him move to Japan and then team up with Japanese electronic music figurehead Takako Minekawa. How cool is it for a peer of Kahimi Karie and Cornelius to play with an DIY musician from Rhode Island? The unlikely yet perfectly matched duo have released two mind-blowing collaborations now, and have just concluded their first U.S. tour. I caught the L.A. stop–which was as fun to see as it was technically amazing–and then bombarded Dustin with questions…
I was surprised when you told me that your sets with Takako Minekawa are actually more improvisational than your solo gigs. Can you explain that a little bit?
Some songs are looser than others, especially songs like “Earth Drum.” There are motifs for each layer of sounds, melodies that can be interpreted in different ways. I’m not too sure but I think that’s what ragas are–melodies that can be played in different variations yet remain the same song.
So it’s been interesting playing and listening back. Our friend and sound engineer Erik Schardin has been recording some of our shows, and we can hear differences in every one. There are still parameters to each song, but they are subtly different every time we play them.
Is the set as much fun to play as it is to watch? You two look like you’re having a great time!
It’s really fun. I find myself cracking smiles, especially when Takako does something surprising or when the music as a whole does something that exceeds what we were going for. There is a thrilling element, too, where things can go wrong–and they have–and we try to keep the music from falling apart.
Is making music with her at all like being in a band again? Or maybe your dynamic more like being in a jazz combo?
It’s not quite a band and it’s different from the time I was in Ecstatic Sunshine (the guitar duo I was a part of for a few years) but, for sure, it’s way more fun than playing by myself! If you asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to explain this. It feels more like we are working on a machine or in a cockpit. In a way, it is a spaceship with all the gear connected together. I think my generation looks up to Han Solo and wants to flick switches, turn knobs, and go into hyperdrive.
What was it like playing indie places such as Pehrspace after hitting bigger venues with bigger bands like the Dodos and Beach House on your last tours?
The size of the venue doesn’t really matter to me, but the ratio of space and bodies definitely does. One hundred people in a 1,000 capacity venue feels kinda sad. But 100 people in a 80 capacity venue feels great! And the show at Pehrspace was kinda like that.
Although there is a buzz that you can get playing big and full venues, there is definitely magic in smaller venues, too.The sound systems are not that great, but Erik tries his best to work with them and does a great job of getting rid of the muddy frequencies.
Takako Minakawa must be tripping out on smaller venues, no? Is she cool with the clutter and blown fuses?
It was her first full-on U.S. tour, and she was such a trooper. I think I freaked out the most with all the crazy city driving in New York and the traffic from Los Angeles to San Francisco right after thanksgiving. She was so chill the whole time; I just feel bad for all the road rage she had to endure.
Did you have time to take her sightseeing at all?
We tried to see as much nature as possible but, of course, any tour schedule is a pretty tight one. We were able to stop at some spots, and had some beautiful moments in Canada. There is this place called Thousand Islands, where we happened to pull over out of curiosity and saw a pristine lake full of islands, and on each island, one house. I never knew I wanted a house on an island until that moment.
Actually, now that I think of it, we were able to see a lot! In Arizona we stayed with Willy Siegel and her parents took us for a walk through the desert. We checked out Enchanted Rocks in Texas, right outside of Austin. And the Redwood Forest, too.
How was your Thanksgiving?
We actually stayed in Arizona for Thanksgiving. It started with us watching the Thanksgiving parade, drinking some beer, and going to, of all places, a Teppanyaki restaurant. We watched the smoke plume come out of the onion tower and a shrimp doing 1080s on our plates. All in all it, was a great day!
Now that you’ve been based in Tokyo for so long, is there anything you miss about Japan when you’re in the U.S.?
Well, I feel like Japanese food is getting better in the U.S., especially Ramen, but I miss American breakfasts. We ate a lot of breakfast on this tour!
Moving to Japan seemed to really get your creativity going. Do you notice anything about the U.S. that you appreciate more these days?
A sense of community–I miss that a lot. Baltimore has an amazing community of creative and intelligent people. I miss hanging out with them, and being able to share ideas and hear people speak their minds.
Now the tour has ended, can we expect more collaborative work from you and Takako or are you digging back into more solo work? Either way, will we be seeing you again any time soon?
Yes, we are definitely going to work on some more songs together. Hopefully, we’ll be able to work on it next year. As for solo stuff, I need to experiment more before I can actually sit down and write. I really do want to come back to tour, though. Iit’s one of my favorite things these days.
Find out more about Dustin and Takako at thrilljockey.com. Bundle both of their awesome releases and save some dough!