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Guitarist/composer Kay-Ta discusses roots and winning IMA award
(Published: December 07, 2016)

Q: Your new album Arrival recently won the 15th annual Independent Music Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. How did that feel for you?

A: It is such an honor to win this award in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album Category. I cared so much about a somewhat dated format called "album" on Arrival. Not only did I cared about each song, also I cared so much about how this entire 49 minutes of music should flow. So winning this award in this particular category means a lot to me.

Also due to the development of computer software and equipment, also the variety of social media platforms and distributing services like CD Baby and Tunecore, the difference between major artists and so-called independent artists is becoming very slim, especially in the quality and creativity aspect.
For example this year's IMA's best R&B album winner was Macy Gray. She is a major artist; it is just her distribution of her product is not under any major record label. And I met so many creative people from all over the world at the award show in Lincoln Center in NYC. So I truly believe that winning this award secures the quality of my album Arrival strongly and I am proud of it!

Q: When did you decide to become a guitarist?

A: Unlike other guitarists, my very first guitar hero was Marty McFly from Back to the Future! I was studying classical guitar back then but when I saw the movie, it struck me like lightning!

Q: What is your favorite guitar and why?

A: At this point my favorite guitar is the one I am playing in most of the time, the 1968 Telecaster. Telecaster is an unforgiving instrument. You cannot hide anything with your Tele. It brutally reveals who you are, and this is a really important factor as a melody playing lead instrument.

Before I was making this album, I was wondering which instrument I should choose for the lead instrument. I thought about an acoustic guitar because it works as a melody instrument beautifully. But technically and stylistically there are certain limitations. Then I though about semi acoustic like Gibson 335 but it will be "too jazzy" for some of my compositions. So I chose the Telecaster because it speaks like a voice, yet rocks like what the guitar was born to do.

Q: What is it about the guitar that appeals to you the most?

A: Its tone. And the shape of the neck. Unlike the '70s Tele, the 1968 has a really thin neck with lightweight body.

Q: When did you become interested in jazz?

A: I used to hate jazz. Back when I was in Japan, all the jazz musicians looked snobbish and they treated me like shit. Back then I only knew '80s hard rock like Skid Row and shredders like Yngwie. I started to study jazz only because I wanted to get back at them! But as I learned more about it I started to love more about it. And Berklee College of Music has a lot to do with it. They have an amazing program. Although I cannot call myself as a traditional Jazz guitarist, the language of jazz helped me finding my own music inside of myself.

Q: What artists have had the greatest impact on you creatively?

A: I cannot thank enough Colby O' Donis, who is an amazing R&B pop singer/songwriter and a great friend of mine. We collaborated and co-wrote a lot of songs together. If I was just hanging out with jazz musicians I could have never made this album. He taught me how to write pop music.
In pop music you can never expect listeners to be "smart" and "knowledgeable" like jazz. It has to be instantly ear catching and uplifting and there are certain formulas to achieve that effect. Colby knew it by nature, and I learned so much from him.

Q: What is the jazz scene in Los Angeles like compared to that of Japan?

A: I would say in Japan technical jazz fusion type of stuff is still the core of the scene. It is mostly because of their mentality. Most of the live music listeners in Japan come to see the show to "be overwhelmed," not to "have a good time" or "chill." Don't get me wrong they are having a good time - but in a different manner.

Q: When did you first become interested in music?

A: Probably since I was born. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was 5 years old just like any other Asian family and that got me more interested in music.

Q: How would you say your music has evolved over the years?

A: Yes, it has evolved in my own way. In my early compositions I feel like I was writing them only from a subjective point of view. Now I can see and hear my music objectively.

I can almost foresee how certain songs of mine can be interpreted by the ears of others. And I am not trying to be the most cutting edge musicians or writers in the world. I just want to write and play music that makes people feel good.

Q: What inspires you as a composer?

A: One motto that I have is this. When you listen to the music and close your eyes, if the only thing comes to your mind is a bunch of guys staring at charts and playing their instruments in a studio, that music sucks.

To me, music should be able to provoke a certain scenery in your head or it should take you to somewhere else. And I still believe that kind of power in music and that inspires me to move forward.

More Information: http://www.kay-ta.com

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