The Philippines is Shinji Tanaka’s musical nirvana
by rick olivares
The Man from Japan must be crazy. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, for most passengers riding one of those – famous or infamous depending on your perspective – jeepneys that sped across Manila’s traffic choked streets with the music of Deep Purple, Guns N’ Roses, and other guitar-driven hard rock bands playing at ear-splitting levels, it wasn’t exactly fun ride.
The Man from Japan? Why he was in absolute nirvana. He was so happy that one time he saved enough money to have his own jeep manufactured! He caddied as a conductor and on a few occasions when his driver didn’t show up, plied the Caloocan route himself while speaking pidgin Tagalog. Crazy, right?
“Yes, it is crazy. Never in a million years did I think I’d get to do all these,” laughed Shinji Tanaka when reflecting from his first few years in the Philippines. In addition to owning his own stainless steel Philippine jeepney replete with its blaring radio, Tanaka, through his recording studio, Sound Creation, has become one of the Philippines’ most sought after sound engineers and has worked with an eclectic and virtual who’s who in Original Pilipino Music – APO Hiking Society, Asin, Brownman Revival, Cynthia Alexander, Dong Abay, Eraserheads, Fuseboxx, Imago, Joey Ayala, Jim Parades, Narda, Noel Cabangon, Pedicab, Ryan Cayabyab, the Dawn, and Taken By Cars, among many others.
“And to think that I grew up playing air guitar and air drums to Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City” or “Black Diamond” before going to school,” added the bespectacled Tanaka with a laugh. “I loved Kiss, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and the bands of that era,” he shared of his growing up years. “Kiss was massively popular in Japan and I was a big fan.”
The young lad eventually fell in love with the drums that he would also pretend he was the Who’s Keith Moon or Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham (the respective drummers for both English bands). He eventually got his own drum kit where he would practice at home. However, one time, a neighbor complained and there went the drums.
“In Japan, it is forbidden to play loud music in public vehicles, malls, or even at home,” he lamented of his countries’ penchant for quiet, hence, its stringent noise reduction laws. “You can say that unless you went to a live show (as concerts are called in the Land of the Rising Sun), the music couldn’t be heard. It was boring.”
When Tanaka first came to the Philippines in 1987 following some prodding by a Filipino musician friend, he was pleasantly surprised that there was music playing in malls, elevators, jeepneys, and it’s pretty much everywhere.”
“I thought, I died and went to Heaven,” he laughed.
One time, he went to this record bar in Harrison Plaza where he asked if he could buy whatever Filipino music was popular. The promo girl promptly put in front of him cassettes of APO Hiking Society, Gary Valencia, Asin, and other pop acts. It is through these albums that he also learned how to speak Filipino (he still has all the original cassettes he purchased all those years ago). “There were lyric sheets,” he said of those lessons in the vernacular. In fact, he is so proficient and fluent in Filipino that he would rather converse in the native tongue rather than English.
One time, a musician friend brought him to a recording studio in Greenhills. “He told me that this is where many of my favorite Filipino records were recorded,” recalled Tanaka of the visit.
Eventually, he put up his own studio in his home where he could play his drums. It evolved from personal studio to a hangout for fellow musicians and eventually, into a full-fledged recording studio.
“We started out by recording campaign jingles then band demos and ultimately, to recording full albums for bands,” he said of his hobby’s evolution into what would be his life’s work. The first proper album to be recorded in Tanaka’s nascent Sound Creation – the Pin-Up Girls’ “Hello, Pain” followed by Monsterbot’s “Destroy! Destroy!”
Both albums were incidentally produced by Raimund Marasigan, one-fourth of the already legendary Eraserheads.
Aside from the fact that both Marasigan and Tanaka are drummers, they hit it off right away. Since then, Tanaka has recorded Marasigan’s other bands – Sandwich, Pedicab, Project 1, Squid 9, and Gaijin. “Raims,” glowed Tanaka about one of his best friends in the world, “is a genius. That is why he is a busy man. He has all these ideas in his head and he gets them done. Plus, he is very easy to work with. With him, he doesn’t have to be the main man. You can see him with Pedicab, he willingly takes a step back to allow Diego Mapa do his thing. He has so much respect for Diego who is like Raims, a man bursting with energy, life, and ideas.”
“And if it were not for Raims, I would never get to work with the Eraserheads (their two new tracks that were recorded for Esquire magazine in 2014),” added Tanaka who was able to check something off his bucket list.
Most recently, two albums that the affable Japanese sound engineer worked on were released -- Pedicab’s “Remuda Triangle” and Taken By Cars’ “Plagues”. He’s working on Calalily’s new album and is waiting to work on new material by Olympia Maru, the side project of Taken By Cars’ Derek “Siopao” Chua along with the band’s drummer, Bryan Kong, and We Are Imaginary vocalist, Ahmad Tanji.
“I think that’s the influence of Raims and Diego,” pointed out Tanaka with a laugh. “But it isn’t work because I am doing something that I love. I get to live my rock and roll fantasy by being a sound engineer and also performing with my bands (he also bangs the drums for Marasigan’s outfit, Gaijin).”
And there’s his own Japanese restaurant, Crazy Katsu, that he put up along with Pedicab and Sandwich drummer Mike Dizon and Taken By Cars’ Kong a few years ago.
“Not bad for a kid who played air guitar and drums to ‘Detroit Rock City’ as a kid before going to school, eh?” smiled Tanaka.
“If you told me that I’d one day move to the Philippines and own a jeepney, a restaurant, live in Marikina, and work with all these talented Filipino artists, I’d say you were crazy.”
Yep. That Man from Japan sure is crazy.