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‘Taka’ Hirose: Looking and playing the part

by Matthew Hernon

Contributing Writer

A veteran of the U.K. music scene, Takashi “Taka” Hirose has been playing bass guitar in popular British indie-rock band Feeder for more than two decades. As chilled off stage as he is energetic on it, the 50-year-old Gifu Prefecture-native reminisces about his time in the group, which began back in 1994 when he posted an advertisement in the English magazine Loot.

“I was eager to be part of a band,” Hirose says. “I got my first bass guitar in Japan at 14 and played a mixture of heavy metal, rock and black music at school. I then went a few years without playing until I moved to an arty district near Portobello Road in London.”

It was while sitting at a bar, Hirose was told that he looked like a musician.

“That was all it took to get me back into it,” he says. “I bought a second-hand guitar, placed the ad and did around 10 auditions. The problem was that there were lots of people ‘talking’ about future plans, whereas I wanted to start something immediately.”

The vibe he got from Welsh musicians Grant Nicholas and Jon Lee, however, was different. “They already had these songs and were ready to go,” Hirose recalls. “It was ideal. Grant was the singer-songwriter, Jon played the drums and they needed a bassist. I was given a demo tape and asked to play. That was when my career in Feeder began.”

Hirose, who worked at a guitar factory and a bar in Japan, moved to England in 1992 with the intention of studying graphic design. As courses proved too expensive, he took a job with the Japanese newspaper company The Chunichi Shimbun, which also publishes The Tokyo Shimbun, where he researched news stories in the U.K. and Europe.

“I enjoyed it, but as Feeder grew I felt the need to choose one or the other,” he says. “From the outset, Grant and Jon were very serious about making a go of the band, while I saw it as a hobby. I, therefore chose to quit the group and focus on my work.

“I planned to leave after one last gig, but enjoyed it too much and realized I couldn’t give that excitement up. With the support of my ex-wife and my former boss agreeing to reduce my hours, I continued touring.”

It proved a wise move. Feeder gained a cult following while on the road and the band’s early albums, while not hugely successful from a commercial perspective, received critical acclaim. Things really started to take off for the trio in 2001, following the release of the single “Buck Rogers” and the LP “Echo Park,” with both entering the U.K. charts at No. 5. That same year, “Just A Day,” initially a B-side, spent four weeks in the top 20 after featuring in the PlayStation game “Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec.” It was the group’s last single with Jon Lee, who tragically took his own life on Jan. 7, 2002.

“I remember my ex-wife answering a call from Grant at around seven in the morning,” Hirose explains. “Being so early, I immediately knew it was something bad, yet I was still so shocked to hear Jon had gone. I think, like all people, he had a darker side, but around me he was easy-going and we always had a laugh together. I know he was excited about spending Christmas with his baby and family in Miami and how much he hated being in pain, so I couldn’t understand why it happened.”

The news of Lee’s death hit both the remaining members of Feeder hard. Nicholas chose to exorcise his demons writing songs, while Hirose did some soul-searching in Japan. After his return to Britain, the pair discussed the situation and agreed to carry on. They recruited former Skunk Anansie drummer Mark Richardson, and in October 2002 released “Comfort in Sound,” a mellow album that touched on their anguish. Many regard it as the group’s best record to date.

“I’m glad we didn’t stop,” says Hirose. “Some people may have thought it was too soon to come back, but dragging it out would have driven us crazy. Rather than keeping things in, Grant could express his feelings through these songs. We first played them live at Reading Festival, where we headlined the second stage. While I’m usually calm before going on, that time my heart was pounding. It was a nerve-wracking, emotional time and the support was amazing.”

Boasting a loyal fan-base, Feeder continued to thrive. In 2003 it was named Best British Band at the Kerrang! Awards. CD sales remained strong and live shows sold out around the globe.

Hirose’s native Japan was often the country where they were most well-received and in 2011, following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Feeder released the single “Side by Side,” with all proceeds going to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal.

“Grant’s wife and I are from Japan, so we felt it was important to do something,” Hirose says. “I’ve lived longer in Britain than in my homeland, but my heart will always be Japanese. We (Feeder) recently toured the country with Asian Kung-Fu Generation and it was great. I love going back and particularly enjoy the camaraderie between bands that you don’t really see elsewhere.”

Wanting to play more in Japan, Hirose formed Muddy Apes with the Japanese band Luna Sea’s frontman Kiyonobu “Inoran” Inoue in 2012, while Feeder were on a hiatus. Other side ventures of Hirose’s include an English cooking website (www.cookmejapanese.com) introducing Japanese dishes ranging from chicken katsu (breaded and fried) curry to tofu salad, and ReBirth Custom Guitars, for which he rebuilds and customizes unwanted guitars and sells them for a small profit.

Feeder, though, remains his main passion and while sales are not what they once were, the band is still going strong. Last year it marked 21 years since the release of the debut record “Swim” with a 41-track greatest-hits package and the mini-album “Arrow,” featuring nine new songs.

“Relations between band members have always been good and that’s the secret to our longevity,” Hirose says. “We’re still enjoying it so there are no plans to call it a day just yet.”

Profile

Name: Takashi “Taka” Hirose

Profession: Musician
Hometown: Mizuho, Gifu Prefecture
Age: 50

Key moments in career:
1992 — Moves to the U.K.
1994 — Joins Feeder
2001 — “Buck Rogers” single and “Echo Park” LP enters U.K. charts
2002 — “Comfort of Sound” LP released
2003 — Feeder named “Best British Band” at Kerrang! Awards
2011 — “Side by Side” single released
Likes: Music, food and Jack Nicholson
Dislikes: War and many of the current world leaders