David: We both loved listening to music. We had a pretty big record collection. In the early 70s music seemed like it started to be all about guitar solos and bands playing in giant stadiums. It got kind of boring so it seemed like a good time to make our own. We were both visual artists so the idea of a band at first was more like an art project. We weren’t attempting to become famous musicians or anything. It didn’t seem the least bit important to try to play the way other people played. Thinking of it from an art project perspective, it never was about trying to sound like anyone else. It was about sounding however we wanted to sound.
I was influenced by artists first of all. I liked the amount of work that Picasso produced and the nontraditional approach that Matisse used. I liked the marketing genius of Andy Warhol and the inventive and playful aspects of Alexander Calder. Musically we loved the energy and excitement of the MC5 and the Stooges. But since we weren’t attempting to sound like anyone else, those influences weren’t as important as the more “artistic” ones which promoted a desire to create.
Once we started playing live there was a rock and roll influence that was huge for me. I read an article about Patti Smith. It was in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. It was very early in Patti’s carreer. I don’t think that Horses had even been released yet. But she said how much responsibility she felt for doing a good show. She said that when people come to see you, you are taking away an hour of their life...So you have to make sure that that hour is a motherfucker. I really identified with that comment and felt that if I needed to smash up guitars to make a more memorable show, then it would be selfish of me not to smash away.
K: Why do you think Half Japanese was never became widely popular? For example, Charmed Life was a truly great rock record with songs that could have been played on the radio, but never were. Why do you think that is?
D: I suppose it’s a marketing issue. We were told by one label that they weren’t interested in putting out our records because they estimated that they could only sell 50 thousand copies of anything that we did. So we’ve always been (for the most part) on fairly small labels. There are lots of things that I don’t understand in the world. Why most anything becomes popular would be high on the list
K: Who thought of the name "Half Japanese," and where did it come from?
D: When we started the band Jad and I were living in a big warehouse with a bunch of friends. It had been built to store motorboats during the winter months. The year before we moved in it had been a nursery school so it had a kitchen and a boy’s bathroom and a girl’s bathroom. (Although neither one had a shower). It wasn’t meant to be a living space so the landlord had it zoned as “commercial” or “industrial” or something. He was afraid that if it’s official zoning was changed to “residential” he’d loose money so we had to promise him that we’d name the building something and put it up on the billboard which was up by the road. We pulled two words out of a hat and named it “Bessie’s Paris”. We thought that it sounded like either a hair salon or a whorehouse. Shortly after that we formed the band. We decided to name it the same way. This time we pulled out “Half” and “Japanese”. We liked the way that it might seem confusing to the general public so we went with that. Plus we liked all the Japanese monster movies.
K: For those who are unfamiliar, can you explain your philosophy and method for playing music?
D: In the beginning it was just Jad playing drums while I played guitar or me playing drums while Jad played the guitar. As long as it was just one of us play notes we didn’t have to worry about matching them with anyone else’s. Pretty soon we added more band members who knew more about playing. I never thought that much about it. Playing ability seemed optional. It wasn’t bad to know it, or bad to not know it. A good attitude was much more important. My bands have always been made up of people who I wanted to spend time with. I would never add someone to a band just based on musical ability.
I think of my playing as the same as Jackson Pollock’s painting. Some people think that Pollock was just throwing paint and anyone could do it. Some people think that he was an amazing artist.
Some think that we’re just making noise. I think that I’m just making my own kind of music. Some people like it a lot and some think that it’s all a joke or that it’s the worst possible. Then it’s not for them. It’s a big world. I’m glad that there’s enough room for all kinds of music. I hope that the people who would like mine will find it, and I hope that the people who don’t care for it will discover some other kind that they like.
K: What sort of projects have you worked on since then, and how are they different from Half Japanese?
D: I tried to quit Half Japanese when I turned 30, because I felt that rock and roll belongs to the youth. It seemed embarrassing to see old guys doing it. I have changed that opinion over the years because I have seen young bands that don’t excite me and older ones that still do. And the other way around. I am forced to think that age is not a particularly important aspect. I have to go back to attitude as the key. But at the time I tried to quit. We played in Boston a few days before my birthday and I smashed my Fender guitar and poked the pieces through my marshall amp. I thought that I was done, but then our drummer left the band in the middle of a recording project so I moved over to drums and I actually enjoyed that even more so I hung around a while. I absolutely loved it and I absolutely hated it. After a couple more years I decided to form another band just so that I would have done something after Half Japanese and then I could leave it behind. I called it CooCooRockinTime. It was really all the guys from Half Japanese except Jad, who was in Europe at the time and we added in our friend, Charles Brohawn from my favorite band, The Tinklers. The idea was to record one album and then break up the band. No live shows at all. No second album. Somehow that has all changed. We have played out about a dozen times and we’ve started recording the followup album. Also a deluxe version of the original CooCooRockinTime album will be released in a few months. The entire album is being covered by six other bands. It will be insane. There will be seven complete versions included in the package.
K: Who is your favorite musican to work with? And, if you could collaborate with anyone, who would you pick?
D: I love the Tinklers. They both have joined CooCooRockinTime now. And the original big line-up of Half Japanese with Jad and me, John and Rick Dreyfuss and Mark Jickling is world-beating. The last couple years whenever Half Japanese gets together we also have John Moremen on guitar. I already am working with the guys that I want to work with. I recorded an album with my daughter, Harper when she was just learning to speak. I look forward to meeting new people as the years go on and I will enjoy doing projects with the people I enjoy spending time with.
K: What are your favorite artists and records of all time?
D: These are simply the ones that come to mind tonight.
The Stooges, The MC5, The Adverts, The Pogues, Jesse Winchester, John Prine, Patti Smith, Modern Lovers, Temptations, 4 Tops, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Lord Invader, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Rascals, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Tinklers, Old Songs, SpiderCake, Kimya Dawson, NRBQ, Yo La Tengo, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Howlin Wolf, They Might Be Giants, The Decemberists etc.
K: In a lot of ways, music seems to have hit a low point. What's your opinion on recent music, mainstream and underground?
D: I listen to the Blues a lot lately. Howlin Wolf is certainly the greatest blues singer who ever lived and maybe the greatest singer in general. He’s absolutely a top performer. But that’s not recent music. That’s music that I’ve heard recently. I don’t really know much about current music. I don’t listen to music on a radio and I am not the least bit interested in anything that MTV is offering. I think that maybe music gets exciting about every 8 years. I don’t care for modern country music and I don’t like the rap music at all. I can’t think of a mainstream artist that I’d want to see. I’m a lot more interested in underground music. I would love to see more alternatives. It would be great if people really had choices.
K: What do you think it is that makes a band a good band? Are there any new artists who have caught your attention?
D: Attitude and unique ideas. Attitude is the key.
K: Where do you think music is headed in the coming decade?
D: I hope that computers will know what I want to hear and send it to me in email attachments while I sleep
K: And, lastly, where is David Fair headed in the coming decade?
D: Jad and I are writing a tv show.
Half Japanese David Fair Jad Fair