NYC’s finest surf-rock band The Supertones strike instro gold yet again with their 2020 album Made In Japan. An album made in praise of the legendary Japanese surf-rock guitar sounds of the past, the 12-track Made In Japan CD takes its place among the many great Supertones albums. Subtitled “Play Japanese Pop Hits”, Made In Japan was inspired by the Japanese Ventures tribute band called The Mizusawa Ventures. Made In Japan features a number of unusual tracks that are for the most part unknown, although track 2 actually features a rocking Supertones cover of Hank Marvin’s 1965 Shadows’ classic “Geronimo”, a favorite still with surf-rock bands worldwide. Speaking about Made In Japan, Supertones guitar ace Tim Sullivan explains, “Yes, all these songs, with the exception of one song, “The Rocket Man”, are all songs I learned from this one Japanese Ventures cover band, The Mizusawa Ventures. Most are pop songs that were hits in Japan, either as vocal pop songs or as instrumental hits, but are all well-known in Japan. When I played some of them for one of my Japanese musician friends, she got choked up and told me the story behind this sad song “Goodbye Siberian Railroad”, which was kind of a Dr. Zhivago story. I became inspired with the idea of doing this album of all covers because of the emotional content of these great melodies and the performance by The Mizusawa Ventures. We had so much fun doing this album that we are now working on a Volume 2 with twelve more of these Japanese tunes. Some of these new songs are songs that the Ventures covered only in Japan —like “Ginza Lights”, “Kyoto Doll”, which the Ventures had hits with in Japan. Hopefully we can record them sometime in Spring of 2021.” On Made In Japan, Tim Sullivan continues receiving top-notch support from long-time Supertones members Simon Chardiet (bass, producer) and Seth Lipscher (rhythm guitar) yet for Made In Japan, the Supertones have enlisted the skills of a new drummer, J.J. Murphy, and he drums up quite a storm and, even sounding like a younger version of original Ventures drummer Mel Taylor. Recorded live in September 2020 at Oceanus Studio in Rockaway Beach NYC, the Supertones Made In Japan is right up there among the finest instrumental surf-rock albums of 2020.
mwe3.com presents the 2020 interview with
mwe3: You were telling me about The Mizusawa Ventures and their influence on the 2020 Supertones album Made In Japan: Play The Pop Hits. When did you start listening to The Mizusawa Ventures and do they have CDs out? You also told me that the title track “Sayonara Siberian Railroad” was something of a Japanese version of Dr. Zhivago story, in what way? What else can you tell us about this track and the band that inspired you to record it?
Tim Sullivan: These guys are one of the many Japanese Ventures-style bands out of Japan, that I came across them while watching a lot YouTube Videos of these incredible Japanese surf bands. The skill and their attention to details are amazing. What made this particular band stand out was their song repertoire. They played this one song that blew my mind and I had to figure out what that song was! It was a song I had never heard before and it had this emotional impact me that went right to my heart strings and so I had to learn it. That song was called “Goodbye Siberian Railroad”, which turned out to be a big hit in Japan from the 1980’s. So, from there I said, ‘man I should record this song and do an album of this band’s song repertoire’, which was not what any of the other Japanese Ventures-style bands were playing. Yes, they do all the Ventures stuff like “Walk Don’t Run”… etc. and they would cover a lot Japanese pop and folk stuff. So, from there I set out to learn 12 of their songs and record them live.
mwe3: Tell us about this lineup of The Supertones and about your new drummer J.J. Murphy. Is he a New York guy? Also was there a difference comparing in the way you recorded 2020’s Made In Japan with the last album Unknown, the 2019 Supertones album? Made In Japan has a unique sound to it and I really like the way it came out. Tell us how Matt Walsh helped the Supertones in the studio this time.
mwe3: What do you make of the fact that both The Ventures and The Shadows were so huge in Japan? Both bands made albums and EP’s about or recorded in Japan. The Japanese guitar market must be huge. Do the Supertones have a following in Japan and have you been to Tokyo before?
mwe3: Speaking of The Shadows, Made In Japan features a cool cover of the Hank Marvin composition “Geronimo”. You have a kind of fake intro with that big “Apache” beat and the track was recorded in a slightly slower, almost bluesy tempo. What key did you record it in? Has “Geronimo” always been one of your favorite Shadows tracks and is this the first time the Supertones have covered it? How does “Geronimo” fit into the Made In Japan scheme of things?
Tim Sullivan: That version is one that the Mizusawa Ventures do and it’s one that I have only heard them do. We never played it before this year and it was the second song I learned for this record. I kind of like this one more than the original even though I do like the Shadows version very much. This one, like you said, is more bluesy and it has more emotional content than the original. It’s in A-minor just like the original. It’s pretty much the same, other than it has more verses and that intro before the verses.
mwe3: Is “The Sun Is Alone” a Japanese pop song you redirected as a surf-rock instro? The title even sounds like a Japanese expression. I didn’t know that Japan has the oldest population in the world and Japan has recently been called the “loneliness superpower”. Maybe cyborg robots of the future will solve this crisis in Japan.
Tim Sullivan: This song is from an Italian movie that was really popular in Japan and the original version is much more jazzy sounding. This was the third tune I learned from them. And yes indeed the Japanese are very special. Their attention to detail is the best in the world, and they love those robots. Their problem is motivation they need to get inspired. I hear that their population is decreasing very rapidly and the Japanese have long lives so the elderly need to be cared for.
mwe3: “Night Sky Star” is cool. I was reading that there were several recent huge meteors that lit up the night sky in Japan. Some thought it might be the end of the world. Is that song related to an astrological phenomenon like meteors?
Tim Sullivan: It very easily could be. This tune is a Japanese pop song done originally by Terry & the Blue Jeans and was a big hit. It originally was a vocal number.
mwe3: “Message In Rouge” is a Japanese pop song. Was it originally a French song, hence the rouge element? lol I saw it was written by someone called Carole Serrat. It almost sounds like a Blondie song! Who hipped you to that track?
Tim Sullivan: Ha-ha… this a was big hit in Japan in the 1980’s and the song is about a goodbye message that was written with lipstick on the mirror. I could see Debbie doing it. The lady who sings the original version is kind of a Blondie rip-off and the video is pretty funny as well.
mwe3: Is “Blue Star Dust” related to the Stardust Blue fantasy video game created by game creator called Tempura? It sounds like a Ventures song. Where did that track come from?
mwe3: “Emma” sounds like a Ventures style track. It sounds very Japanese. Is there another side to the story on this track?
Tim Sullivan: This was another song that The Mizusawa Ventures covered and it is a Finnish folk song. All those bands up in Finland cover it, like the Quiets and the Mustangs.
mwe3: Is the song “Hula Girl” related to the Japanese movie from 2006? The movie won a Japanese Academy Award for best film of the year in 2007.
Tim Sullivan: “Hula Girl” is an instrumental by the famous ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro that I learned from The Mizusawa Ventures, again they’re the only Japanese band I’ve have heard who play. It is not easy.
mwe3: “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” is a famous track. I saw John Coltrane and even Bobby Darin even covered it. Same song? What is the Japan connection?
Tim Sullivan: Yes, it's a classic jazz song from the 1920’s that Terry & the Bunnys played, I learned their surf version.
mwe3: “The Rocket Man” has a familiar melody. Can you remind me? lol Is that a classical melody adapted to the Supertones surf-rock sound? Spotnicks connection and Russian classical theme too? What’s your take on the Japanese connection?
Tim Sullivan: All The Japanese guys love The Spotnicks and so we did the Spotnicks version, based on an old Russian folk song called “Cossack Patrol”.
mwe3: Is “Django” another Ventures cover that is quite big in Japan? Did the Mizusawa Ventures arrange it with the fake Shadows intro or was that your idea?
Tim Sullivan: This was a Song by The Cliffters. They might be a Danish band that we covered. We just like it and thought I would fit in well with the rest of the songs on the record.
mwe3: “Subway” closes the Made In Japan album. Was it inspired by the subway system in Japan?
Tim Sullivan: This was written by the lead guitarist in The Mizusawa Ventures. I heard their subways are the best in the world so yeah I would think so.
mwe3: Who designed the cover art to the Supertones album Made In Japan? What does the Japanese lettering say on the cover? Also you have a logo for the Chelsea Surf Club on the cover. Is that something new?
mwe3: You mentioned a Made In Japan Vol.2 album by The Supertones. Any clues or new plans for that album with other Ventures covers from their Japanese albums? You mentioned “Ginza Lights” and “Kyoto Doll” as possible inclusions. What other tracks might you consider for a volume 2 of Made In Japan?
mwe3: Any new additions to the lineup of guitar that you’re playing on Made In Japan? What was your main go-to guitar on the Supertones Made In Japan album? Has the pandemic helped or hurt you as both a recording artist and someone involved in the guitar world? I heard the birth rate will drop as a result of the pandemic.
Tim Sullivan: On this record I used my candy apple red Jazzmaster though a new Fender tone master Twin Reverb amp with a Fender Marine Layer Reverb and EHX Oceans 11 pedals. Yes, this pandemic has been a disaster for us musicians. I lost about 12 gigs this summer. One of the reasons I did this record was to give us something to keep us focused on and to keep us busy learning new stuff.
mwe3: I know it’s been such a crazy year. How did the pandemic of 2020 affect you and the Supertones? Not being able to perform live was such a killer for so many bands especially in the big cities, all over the world. Did all the adversities of 2020 help you grow as a musician? I know economically it was a real gut punch to the music world. What are you thankful for and what are you hopeful for as the world enters the roaring 2020’s? So what’s next album wise, the Made In Japan 2? Anyway, we should be grateful for such a fine new album from The Supertones!
Tim Sullivan: Oh, yeah, this year has been horrible for all the arts. Luckily, I’ve been able to survive and with this staying home thing I’ve been practicing a lot, learning new songs. The band plays one week here in the Chelsea Hotel so we are still playing. I can’t wait for this year to be done and be able to travel without all this hysteria and to play live music for my friends.