Iconic Instrumental Ensemble Embraces Digital Age

Thursday, December 15, 2011 13:27

An Interview with Dan Kuramoto of Hiroshima

by: Casey Pukl

As we covered in yesterday’s interview with Frank London of The Klezmatics, these are challenging times for many artists, and particularly those in alternative genres. It can be especially challenging to navigate these changes for those who have been in the business since long before the days of the internet, social media, and digital downloads.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dan Kuramoto of Hiroshima this week about how the legendary group has been embracing the changes, and using them to create a deeper connection with their loyal following. The group’s latest release, Departure, is due out next month, and couldn’t be titled any more appropriately. Not only has the group parted ways with their label, but musically the album is also going to be a departure from many of their previous releases. Read on to hear about Dan’s plans for their “Hiroshima Community”, what you can expect to see at their holiday show here next week, and what’s in store for the next 30 years of Hiroshima!

CP: Hiroshima seems to have had a pretty incredible ride lately. Tell me a little bit about what you all have been up to since leaving your record label.

DK: You know, the business model is changing. And it’s not just changing for us— it’s changing for everyone, the industry as a whole. People forget now and I have to remind them, there aren’t record stores anymore. This changes everything. It changes how products are marketing, distributed, and the roles of the traditional record labels. We’re now reaching out to people who like our music or who we think might enjoy our music via the internet now. The web is the principal place for people to purchase music. It’s not even just music- it’s books as well. Everything is instantaneous now. It’s all electronic. I have a Kindle now too. Borders just went out of business, and I think that’s sad because I loved Borders, but this is the future. There are ups and downs to it. One of the greatest upsides is that as we grow and transition, we can offer things at a significantly lower cost to the consumer because of the lower overhead. There are no physical stores. Most of our music now is sold through iTunes, Amazon, Facebook, and our website.

CP: I know you recently left your record label for this latest release. What was that like, and what precipitated that decision?

DK: We were at Heads Up, and we really did love the label. But Dave Love originally brought us in, and he was really our key man. We loved his vision of not just being jazz, but being more than that. He was really into our diversity. A lot of times we’re listed as smooth jazz, sometimes we’re fusion, sometimes contemporary jazz. We’re more than those labels though. I mean, we were nominated for Grammy Awards in Pop and R&B! (Laughs). We’re not a band that can be pigeonholed into one genre, and a lot of other labels found that really difficult to get around. They’d tell us, ‘We like this, but we don’t know what bin to put you in.’ But that’s the music we make. It’s not just one genre. We make music that can emotionally and viscerally connect.

But leaving the label, you know, so many artists are doing that. Two thirds of the acts in this genre are self-producing now. The label has changed, and its role is different. The main functions of a label now are marketing, promotion, and distribution. Well, when you can distribute yourself through a website or Facebook page and iTunes, and you can use social media to market yourself, why do you need a label anymore? One argument would be for radio, but even that has changed. People under 35 aren’t even listening to the radio anymore; they’re streaming. There are less and less opportunities to be heard that way now, but more opportunities to reach the audience who already follows you.

CP: In the last year, it looks like as a band, you have really made an effort to make a personal connection with your audience through the internet and social media and really embraced the changes in the industry.

DK: Absolutely. We really believe that if we make an effort to bring people not only to our music, but also to other music we enjoy as well as art and culture we like, that it will build a stronger community and a deeper connection. We’re actually working right now on the Hiroshima Community. It’s not going to be overwhelming or spam or anything like that, we will be sticking with the Japanese tradition of emailing only 4 times a year. In Japanese culture, you want to greet each season. So we can send out updates about some of our favorite art, music, and even food. We’re starting to work on a piece for food on the road. You know, we’ve been touring for 30 years. We’ve found a lot of great food around the world. For instance, in San Diego, one block down from Anthology is this incredible burrito stand [side note: the burrito stand Dan mentioned is my favorite place to eat lunch. Definitely worth going to]. People don’t know about it. We want to share some of that with people for sure. But we’re really all over the map. I want to share food, music, gallery openings, you name it.

CP: It’s great to hear how personal you want to get with your fans. That’s really the trend of where things are going, especially with the rise in social media.

DK: Yeah, you know, it comes down to us wanting to creatively give people access to us. That’s the goal. We want to bridge the portal. That’s the future. We want all people to connect with the arts. It’s now about redefining how we approach our fans. People want the immediate dialogue now, and we just want to make that experience better. We, our band, we owe our fans that. That’s a big part of us leaving the label as well. There’s so much corporate madness that we didn’t want to be involved in. We don’t ever want to be dishonest about how we connect to people.

CP: That’s what being a musician is all about, no?

DK: Absolutely. We’re blessed. There’s no one out there like us. There are some truly incredible artists out there, and that’s what it’s all about. That is music. That is art. When we find each other, it’s just golden. There are songs that connect with people and help the healing or the celebration. That’s what it’s about. I’m going to tell you a quick story about that. Over the summer, we played at a Vietnam Veteran’s event. After the show, one of the veterans approached our bass player and told him that the first time he ever heard our music, the song “Do What You Can”, he had a gun to his head. That song connected to him, and helped him get through whatever he was having trouble handling at that point. God’ true story. People respond to that. People are looking for a connection, and we were there musically. It’s an incredible power and gift.

CP: That’s amazing. Tell me a little bit about your live shows, and what you’ll be doing here at Anthology next week.

DK: All of our shows are something completely different. We like to track what we’ve done in different markets and see what does well where. Then when we return we can give the audience what we know they already like as well as something a little bit different.

But this show at Anthology is going to be our holiday show, which is always just so much fun. We’re bringing two special guest artists with us- Terry Steele and Tetsuya Nakamura, which is going to be incredible. Tetsuya is just a complete genius. We’ve also added some new holiday tunes from the new holiday album we’re working on and debuting songs from our new record. We’ve received some early radio reviews that have been actually pretty embarrassingly great, so we’ll play a few songs from that. We’ll also have a few copies of that on sale early that are left from the promo release. And our percussion piece from last year that was nominated for the Emmy is going to be even better this year than last year! We’ve added some things to it, and it’s going to be a really cool show. There’s lots going on, and we’re really excited to come back!

Special thanks to Dan Kuramoto for his time and incredible insight into this ever changing business. As always, be sure to check out Hiroshima on Spotify, and don’t miss their show next week!


WHAT: Hiroshima Holiday Show
WHEN: Friday, December 23, 2011, 7:30 & 9:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$59 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile