Thai Hitmaker Stamp & FIVE NEW OLD's Hiroshi Talk Asian Music Trends: Interview

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Courtesy of Billboard Japan
Stamp and FIVE NEW OLD singer Hiroshi.

Leading Thai singer-songwriter Stamp released his first major-label album in Japan, EKAMAI DREAM 1, earlier this August. A household name in his home country, the 37-year-old artist -- born Apiwat Ueathavornsuk -- has expressed his affinity for and deep knowledge of Japanese pop culture and has performed many times in the country, including an upcoming first appearance at the annual Summer Sonic music festival this weekend (Aug. 16-18).

Stamp has collaborated with a number of J-pop artists, including Hiroshi, the frontman of the band FIVE NEW OLD, which featured the Thai star on a song called "Good Life" in 2018. The two musicians continued to keep in touch and got back together in the studio for Stamp's new album, collaborating on the song "Die Twice" for the project.

In turn, Hiroshi has traveled to Thailand many times after meeting Stamp and has performed there with his band. Shoichi Miyake spoke with the two artists about their recent collaboration, views on the current music scenes in their respective countries, future goals and more.

Billboard Japan: When did you two first meet?
Stamp: Two years ago.

Hiroshi: Right. We asked him to sing on our song "Good Life" from 2018. I saw him perform at a club in Tokyo and was drawn to the way he took his alternative, Beck-like influences at the base of his music and turned them into highly entertaining pop songs. I asked him right after the gig if he'd be willing to work on a song together, and he kindly accepted immediately.

Did you compare notes with each other on your musical influences before going in the studio?

Hiroshi: Yes. He and I both love video games, and we had fun talking about that. We also talked about today's hip-hop, like Logic's episode in the Netflix documentary Rapture, and also about rock in the U.K. like Blur and Radiohead. Stamp went to see Tyler, The Creator and Beck when they performed in Japan, and I think it's awesome how he's always on the go like that.

Stamp, were you familiar with Japanese pop culture from a young age?

Stamp: Yes. Japanese pop culture was everywhere in Thailand about 30 years ago, and I've loved it since I was a kid. Not just music, but games, manga, anime, TV shows and novels, too. Taking novels for example, there was a period when all the hipsters were into Haruki Murakami, and I was also drawn to his distinctly Japanese way of making beauty and compassion coexist in his literary style. In terms of manga, I liked Dragon Ball, Rokudenashi Blues, Slam Dunk, and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.

Those are all from Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.

Stamp: Music-wise, I listened to a lot of so-called "visual-kei" rock bands from Japan, like X JAPAN, L'Arc-en-Ciel, and LUNA SEA. I played in a L'Arc-en-Ciel cover band in high school.

Hiroshi: Now, that I'd love to hear. [Laughs]

FIVE NEW OLD has performed in Thailand a number of times after you met Stamp. What's your impression of the Thai music scene, Hiroshi?

Hiroshi: The sense I got from performing alongside local bands in clubs and music festivals is that Thailand is also up-to-date on current global music trends. Stamp tells me that hip-hop is also big in his country, and I noticed that many of the bands in the lineup in festivals played music that would be categorized as "city pop" in Japan. Another thing I noticed was that listeners in Thailand want music that they can sing along to. The local audience really sings a lot. They even sing when they're moving from stage to stage at a festival.

Stamp, what's your view on the music scene in your country?

Stamp: In terms of listening environment, streaming is becoming the mainstream in Thailand as well. About a month or two ago, my impression was that hip-hop was trending, but now it's already changing a bit. So much new music is born every day that people listen to, and it's impossible to consider them all in terms of a specific genre. People listen to music of various genres that's curated by the streaming platforms individually on their smartphones. So, 10 years ago, there used to be hit songs that everyone knew, but things are different now.

The same can be said of Japan as well. Within this context, Japanese bands and hip-hop acts have been making their way into Asian markets in recent years. Politically, tensions between Japan and South Korea have been escalating again lately and there are other countries that don't necessarily get along, but the cultural exchange in music among the younger generation is definitely encouraging.

Hiroshi: I think the world has been growing more and more divided since Trump became president of the U.S. With problems like Brexit, U.S./China trade wars and the current tensions between Japan and South Korea happening, the role of the arts, music, and entertainment is to overcome those obstacles to connect with one another. For example, as a fellow Asian, I'm really proud of how K-pop has become so popular globally, and we should also strive to deliver more Asian culture and music to American and European audiences.

Stamp: That's my goal as well, to deliver my music to a universal audience, though not in a calculated way. I'll be releasing my latest album in Japan first, but I'll be really happy if it's received well in other countries.

The songs in your new album, EKAMAI DREAM 1, display a wide variety of sound, with tracks containing elements of alternative, emo and tropical house, as well as modern boogie numbers and pop-oriented ballads. The diversity of your musical influences, and the way you cross over genres in your expression are showcased on a big foundation called pop.

Stamp: Thank you. I've always tried to keep a balance between alternative and pop when making my past albums as well. This time, I wanted some new elements on top of that, so I asked Hiroshi to contribute beats that don't exist within me in "Die Twice."

Christopher Chu from POP ETC plays an important role as a producer on your album as well.

Stamp: I met him in Japan, too. I saw POP ETC perform at Summer Sonic three years ago. We took a photo together backstage, which I uploaded to my Instagram. He texted me when I was on my way home and we've kept in touch since.

It'd be interesting to hear what you, Hiroshi and Christopher could come up with together in the studio someday.

Stamp: That's a great idea. I'm down for making my next album in Tokyo together.

Are there are any projects that you'd like to work on together down the road?

Hiroshi: If Stamp and FIVE NEW OLD and other Asian acts could tour North America and Europe together, that'd be really encouraging.

Stamp: I'd like to incorporate more Japanese sounds into my music. I think it might be interesting to ask Shun, the bassist of FIVE NEW OLD, to produce on my next album. I look forward to working with you guys again.

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