Quattro’s Yuichi Ushioda hits the sea for a solo album

by Ryotaro Aoki

Special To The Japan Times

“The philosopher Shunsuke Tsurumi said in an interview that, when you see something like a rainbow and feel moved by it, that moment is eternity,” singer-songwriter Yuichi Ushioda tells me at the 3rd Stone Cafe in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa area. “I want to be able to notice moments like that. These moments of fragmented eternity in between day-to-day life.”

Ushioda released his third solo release, “Mizu no Nai Umi” (“An Ocean Without Water”) last week. The album is his first to receive a nationwide release. Ushioda however, is no amateur. He is already an established guitarist for the rock band Quattro.

Combining blues rock, psychedelica and 1990s Britpop, Quattro is known for its catchy hooks and genre-crossing pop songs. The band has opened for many notable overseas acts, such as Feeder, Oasis and the Kooks. The group also performed on the Red Marquee stage at Fuji Rock Festival last year.

While perhaps better known for his day job, Ushioda was originally a solo artist who played acoustic music at venues such as the Penguin House in Koenji and Mona Records in Shimokitazawa. Unlike the genre-hopping pop rock of Quattro, Ushioda’s solo material is more low key and folk-influenced, with his quiet, soothing vocals accompanied by his meticulous finger picking.

“Mizu no Nai Umi” continues to showcase his techniques, such as on the absolutely beautiful “Monogatari” (“A Story”), a track that starts off with his guitar sounding like rapidly falling raindrops on a cool spring morning before slowly disintegrating into a quiet, almost free jazz middle section, before the guitars come dripping back all over again.

“I like to think about the vibrations of the strings when I write songs,” he says. “Contrary to what people think, the guitar can actually express things very subtly. I’ve been influenced a lot by people like John Fahey.”

The new album is also notable for being Ushioda’s first to feature instruments besides guitar and vocals, with flutes, brass sections and percussion coming into the mix. This adds flair to his compositions, such as on the lead track, “Yume wo Mita” (“I Had a Dream”). He attributes the added layers and backing members to having a bigger budget than on previous records, as well as a sense of clarity after performing in various projects over the years.

“I wanted to make it easier to digest. I’ve also become more relaxed about things,” he says. “When you play by yourself, you get so enamored with the details. But now I feel like I can see things more clearly. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, though.”

Instrumental tracks are also sprinkled throughout the album, providing a contrast to the songs Ushioda’s sings on, which according to him are more about grasping the sensation or feeling of something and “throwing it up into the air,” rather than having some sort of specific message. The instrumentals serve as metaphors for Ushioda’s recurring motif of spaces, themselves acting as links between the other tracks. His first solo album was called “Gen no Aida,” which means “between the strings.”

“The strings on a guitar are always parallel, they never cross,” he says. “But when they vibrate there’s a resonance between the strings. It’s almost like a miracle.”

Even the title for his new album, “Mizu no Nai Umi,” which may seem like a contradiction at first, is a reference to this theme.

“When you say something isn’t there, that means there was something there before,” Ushioda explains. “It’s like the ocean, where waves come in, and then they go out, and then there’s this time in between before the next wave comes. I find that idea really interesting.” The album isn’t necessarily about a longing or sadness about vacated spaces he says, but is more concerned with the idea of becoming free and everlasting within these moments.

“It’s this feeling of wanting to run away all the time, like I don’t ever want to be caught. It’s hard to do that real life though, so at least within my music I’d like to feel free.”

Yuichi Ushioda’s “Mizu no Nai Umi” is in stores now. The artist plays Jinbocho Shicho Shitsu in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, on March 19 (¥2,300 in advance; 8 p.m. start; 045-251-3979); Sakata Hope in Yamagata Prefecture on March 27 (¥1,800 in adv.; 7:30 p.m. start; 090-9539-2459); Niigata Goldenpigs on March 28 (025-201-9981); Fujiyama Nolla Cafe in Toyama (¥1,500; 7 p.m.; tickets are limited to 25 people, email ushiodayuichi@gmail.com for details); Fukuoka Art Space on April 13; and Takasaki Guild in Gunma Prefecture on April 26 (9 p.m. start; understand.ticket@gmail.com). For more information, visit onlyson.exblog.jp .