Interview: Ryo Nakata of Japans premiere funk orchestra Osaka Monaurail talks ahead of Australian tour

Japan’s Ministry of Superheavy funk, Osaka Monaurail, are returning to Australian shores this November. The nine piece funk band delivers world-class, authentic funk, thrilling audiences with their smart suits, sharp moves and twirling trumpets.

Dynamic front man Ryo Nakata grew up in Osaka and is now residing in Yokohama. He joins us today to chat about Osaka Monaurails beginnings, his musical journey and upcoming tour.

Let’s start by talking about how Osaka Monaurail began. You formed in 92 at Osaka University’s jazz society. How did you decide to put down the trumpet and become the front man of a funk band?

Having a funk band had been my dream for years since I was say, 16, but it was very difficult to find musicians in Nara Prefecture because it was pretty ‘country’, and then I always dreamed to be in the big city and of having a good band and performing shows and stuff like that as a high school student, but at the same time as I was studying jazz, and then after that I got into university and I was playing trumpet in the big band style, we were playing the music of Count Basie and thats kind of traditional. I’m not sure how many universities in Japan do that, (playing Count Basie music) but I’m sure, some universities in Japan, they do still. Many universities I’m sure, in the US, Europe, Australia, they do still play Count Basie music or Duke Ellington music or that music from the 50s and 60s – oh I would say 40s, that’s what I’d been doing, but I couldn’t really hit the high notes. If you’re a trumpet player you really need to hit the higher notes, so I decided to go for another route which had been my dream for several years, which was to have a Japanese funk band.

Was studying jazz a stepping stone?

Well, I would say yes but, I think if you’re just a musician, you really need to kind of study in Jazz, just a little bit at least, and like I said, I was really obsessed with American Rhythm and Blues music since I was 16 and after that, I discovered jazz one or two years later, so for me: funk, rhythm and blues first, and after that, jazz. When I was 17 my favourite album was Herbie Hancock’s ‘Head Hunters’.

When I was 17-18, I discovered that we had to learn how to play bee-bop which, I still can not play bee-bop, but some of the guys in my band, they play bee-bop so we have bebop songs in our show as well, so it’s really a combination I guess, we have to have bee-bop here and there in funk.

Some people might think that funk and bee-bop are two different kinds of music but actually, James Brown had bebop in his music here and there a lot, so I think we have to kind of combine all that together.

You started in 1992 and then released music in the year 2000, why didn’t you release music straight away?

There are two things:

One is that, around 2000, it was very difficult for musicians, for bands and artists to release a CD. Pressing CD’s got really cheap, like today, anyone can release a CD these days right? But around the early 2000’s, you had to have a deal with a label to release an album, so I guess that was one reason.

It took 8 years to get our name out in the Osaka area and I just made connections with the right people and there was a label called ‘RD Records’ in Osaka, and they discovered us and then we had a record out.

The 2nd thing I just want to say is that we, Osaka Monaurail, we enjoy playing music. I’m not really interested in writing our own material, I’m not really interested in being unique or different from other people, I just like to play the music that I love, so writing songs…it’s not very exciting to me, so I’m slow in that term.

I think it’s amazing that you spent 8 years focusing on playing music from funk legends like James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes.

Yeah, I think it takes 8 years, or 10 years, or 20 years to really learn music you know? Of course some people are really keen to release new material, so thats good, but funk musicians or jazz musicians, releasing new material is not very important in your life, what counts is your life is that you just enjoy playing and how good you become, I guess.

You’ve been to Australia a couple of times now, this time you’ll be playing 8 dates across the East Coast! What can Aussie audiences expect to see in your show?

We have a funk show. We will play, I would say, three, sometimes four of our original tunes, and besides that we’ll be playing a lot of funk classics, soul classics, jazz classics – thats a mixed show, thats a funk show, I’m trying to have a funk music show. But like I said, we wanna put a little bit of jazz here and there, a little bit of Rhythm and Blues  here and there, a little bit of southern soul here and there, funky soul and a little bit of modern disco beats and stuff like that. So we just combine all that together and call that a funk show – a funk Osaka Monaurail show.

When you think about visiting Australia, what are you looking forward to?

I’m really excited, I’m looking forward to coming back to Australia after 4 years I think. Playing in Australia is something that…well I would say that it’s challenging because people in Australia, they know the music, they know a lot about funk music, disco music, rhythm and blues music, they’re pretty familiar with the music so it’s kinda challenging I would say, so I’m very excited about coming back to Australia and we’re gonna have a good time.

With such hectic touring schedules and energetic live shows, how do you like to spend your down time and how do you recharge or relax in between shows?

No! We don’t really need to recharge, if we are on the road for two weeks we’ll play shows like..10,11,12 shows, we don’t really need to recharge, we don’t really need to have a day off here and there because the guys got to get paid *laughs*

Well, sometimes we have a day off when we’re on the road in Europe or Australia. I think we have one day off in that two weeks in November and some of the guys, they go out I guess, but I will just be staying in the hotel and just doing nothing, I’m that type.

But you know, sometimes it’s very hard to be on the road. Like any other musician, I think any other musician would feel the same way, if you are a musician you just go to the hotel, do the sound check, have a show and come back to the hotel and get up the next morning and go to the next city. Thats kinda the life that you have and I think thats ok, I like it.

Following the remainder of the year, what are your plans for 2019 and beyond?

We’ll be releasing our new material. Our new album is coming out and then we have a lot of projects coming up. One compilation is coming out in November and thats a compilation of our material from the past 25 years and also we have a special gig in Tokyo in December, we have a show with Mr Sir Joe Quarterman from Washington DC so thats a very special show for us. In 2019 we’re putting out a new album after 5 years I think. It’s gonna be a big album and we’re gonna have a tour in Europe in July hopefully, I plan to come back to Europe in July and yeah, you know, shows here and there. I think it’s gonna be a good year.

It sounds like it will be a good year indeed. Catch Osaka Monaurail on their Australian tour here:

Thursday November 15th The Triffid, Brisbane
Friday November 16th & Saturday 17th November – Mullum Music Festival, Mullumbimby
Sunday November 18th The Factory, Sydney
Tuesday November 20th Caravan Club, Melbourne
Wednesday November 21st Prince of Wales, St Kilda
Thursday November 22nd The Nightcat, Fitzroy
Sunday November 25th The Gov, Adelaide

For More Info Visit: http://davidroywilliams.com/tours/osaka-monaurail/