mikan music articles
Article Exclusive interview with Bentley Jones
By Shito, on 2009-03-25 12:00 - Translation : Shito
As his dance Jpop cover album project caught our attention, we contacted the english producer and now singer Bentley Jones to learn a bit more about him and his work on this project. Here is the full report of the interview we had with him.
Bentley Jones - TRANS//LATION
■  mimu : Hello, thanks a lot for taking time to answer our questions ! So first, could you please introduce yourself briefly, tell us who you are, where you're from, and how you came into music ?

Bentley Jones (BJ) : My name’s Bentley Jones, I’m from a tiny little town in England. I started my career as a producer doing a lot of remixes and producing for other artists. Over time I developed myself as an artist and now I’m starting to release my own work.

■  mimu : Let's talk about your career. European dance music fans may know you as Lee Brotherton, producer and director of the Remix Factory in UK. You've said to have sold millions of CDs under this project, doing remixes for Beyonce, Britney, Cher, Madonna, Whitney Houston and many others. I guess we can say you became quite big in thedance music industry, but then you chose to work on something else, some kind of "solo" project under the name Bentley Jones, where you still produce tracks, but also sing your own songs. Is that a good summary ? How and why did you start this Bentley Jones project ? What are you aiming for as Bentley Jones that the Remix Factory could not provide you ?

BJ : In the beginning the Remix Factory was great because it was a brand that I could contribute to and as a new producer, instead of people ignoring me, they paid attention because I was part of the ‘Factory. But the entire concept of the ‘Factory was a collective and over time I wanted to be known as an individual and be credited for my own work. My aspirations are constantly changing. Right now my focus is entirely on Japan with my current album and (hopefully!) my next.

■  mimu : You've been working on several soundtracks for the Sonic the Hedgehog video games. It seems it's been your first professional contact with Japan, how did it occur ?

BJ : I was working on an instrumentals project and some of the tracks ended up on the desk of Sonic Team’s sound director who invited me on board for “Shadow the Hedgehog” which was my first game. Since then the fans have supported me which is probably the main reason why I’ve continued contributing to the series. I’m currently working on some pieces for a new game away from Sonic.

■  mimu : And then came this Jpop cover album project, that a lot of people are talking about these days. We can read here and there that you've been inspired by japanese artists for years, for example by Hikaru Utada; you also covered Shuuchishin's hit song a few months ago for a label demonstration. But some people also think that may just be a way to try do something in Japan after the success of this all Sonic thing, and as you were quite frustrated with the way your career as BJ was going in UK. So finally, are you a true Jpop fan or would you say you just had a good opportunity ?

BJ : Japan has always been a personal dream and my highest priority, but last year while I had UK management they seemed to have different ideas and were trying to promote me in my home country. When I left them last year the first thing I did was contact some labels in Japan. A lot of them were curious about me and I ended up signing a deal with EMI. I would like to think I am a “true J-pop fan” as I’ve been listening to Japanese artists for years and the J-music scene is something I’ve been interested in for a very long time.

Bentley Jones
■  mimu : Do you remember how you got into japanese music, what is it you like in this music that you may not be able to find somewhere else, and who are your personal favorites artists and/or songs ?" (all time or current, just pick up what you prefer !).

BJ : The way the Japanese composers I worked with created their music had quite an impact on me, and it was shortly after that I was introduced to Ayumi Hamasaki. I was looking for Above and Beyond remixes and I came across their remix of ‘M’ on YouTube. I thought it was great but one of the comments said “the original is better” so I checked out the original and I thought it was incredible! Nothing like anything Western and it had a very raw emotional quality to it. From then I was hooked. I just wanted more! Japanese music seems to be much more melodically based whereas a lot of Western music is much more beat and rhythm based. Melodic music is simply my personal preference and something I’ve always tried to incorporate into my work. As for my current favourite artists… at the moment I’m listening to JUJU and Koda Kumi’s new albums, also some Erik Hassle, EXILE, Alesha Dixon, Namie Amuro. I’m very much looking forward to Utada Hikaru’s new album.

■  mimu : About TRANS//LATION then, where does the idea of a cover album come from ? And how did you convince a japanese label (EMI) to release it ?

BJ : Haha! It was actually EMI who approached ME to begin with… together we were trying to figure out a way to introduce me to Japan – a country that probably doesn’t know much about me. It seemed a good idea to use all my experience in electronic music and remixing other artists, so the concept of a covers album came about. From there I could really define the concept of “TRANS//LATION”: taking songs and turning them into something so different – almost their opposite!! I’m not trying to compete with the originals because they’re already great songs, but perhaps offer a different perspective and a new way of experiencing these songs.

■  mimu : You'll be covering big jpop hits from the mid-90s to the recent JUJU feat.Spontania collaboration, all originally sung by female popstars. How did you decide the tracklist of your album ?

BJ : I looked at some of the big J-pop hits from the past 12 years, then picked out songs that either I felt I could do something with, or were just my personal favourites! We then had to ask all the original writers and artists their permission and send them demos for approval. It was quite a long process, but getting feedback from such iconic musicians was very rewarding. A lot of hard work, but every single bit was definitely worth it.

■  mimu : You'll be singing mainly in japanese : did you learn the language in that purpose, or is it something "natural" for you as you've been listening and even singing to japanese songs for years ?

BJ :[/b ]I’ve been learning Japanese for a while now. It was always something important to me to be able to speak to fans – even just a little bit – when I’m over there. It also helps when talking to labels or press and it shows that you’re making an effort and respecting their culture.

Bentley Jones
■  [b]mimu : You'll also have two songs sung in english, with brand new lyrics. Both these songs have been reviewed and approved by their original writer (Jeff Miyahara for Sunao ni naretara ~FINAL NIGHT~ and Ayumi Hamasaki for Depend on you ~Depend on me~). Why these two songs in english and not any other ? What were your main concerns regarding the english lyrics you've been writing ?

BJ :These were two of my favourite songs and with the lyrics being rewritten we needed special permission from the original writers. Rewriting a Japanese song into English is quite difficult because Japanese particles seem to create a rhythm all of their own – something that English syllables aren’t able to do easily. But again, I’m not trying to compete with the originals because I love them just as they are. My English lyrics are a sort of tribute to the originals !

■  mimu : When I read the posts on your blog, I had the feeling that this was really an important project to you, and that getting Ayu's or Miyahara's approval on your work did really have a big emotional impact on you. This is something that might be difficult to understand coming from someone who already has great achievments with international superstars. How do you feel about it ?

BJ : I’ve never taken any of my achievements for granted, but in the past it’s always been second hand. I’ve mostly dealt with labels and managers and not the artists themselves, but for the first time this was coming from the writers and artists personally. Not only that, this is about my own writing instead of producing someone else’s work. To have my idols approve my own creative work is very bewildering – even now it doesn’t always seem real!! And, of course, this project is very important to me anyway as J-music has been one of my ambitions for a very long time.

■  mimu : As I said at the beginning of this interview, I'm sure you know that part of the international Jpop fans community is a little cautious about your work. There have been many Jpop cover projects these last few years, and most of them were just ridiculous, even if a few artists also did a great job (Scott Murphy with and without his band ALLISTER for example...). The fact that you're covering typical jpop hit tunes from female popstars with an high pitched voice, turning them into dance tracks with a male voice singing in japanese, that is something that make people skeptikal, as you probably guess. However when I first listened to the excerpts of your songs, I've been really surprised by the quality of the music production : this is something that I had not been able to hear since the golden Ayu-Trance era with famous european Dance producers turning japanese songs into great trance anthems. And as regards the singing, well it seems it finally fits the arrangement quite well, as soon as you get used to the contrast of this european male voice on these Jpop tunes. As it seems you sometimes spend time on jpop forums, are you aware of the expectations that european and american fans may have on such a project just to consider it as "acceptable" ? How did this influence your work ?

BJ : I know that “TRANS//” is a pretty unique concept and that some people might be skeptical about it, but that only made me more determined!! I put myself in their place and thought “what would it take for me as a J-pop fan to think this album was good?” I concluded that, not only would the performance have to be my best, but also the production would have to be my best too. It made me put a lot of pressure on myself, but now that it’s all finished I know that I have done my best. And if people like what I’ve done then that’s just a wonderful bonus!!! I like challenging myself – I think it helps take my skills to the next level. And I couldn’t really ask for a bigger challenge than “TRANS//”!!

Bentley Jones
■  mimu : Regarding fans abroad, is your label aware that your album will probably get easier attention from international Jpop community than from the japanese consumers ? Does EMI have any plan to make the CD available from abroad ? Or do you personnaly plan to promote your Jpop work in Europe, through events such as French Japan Expo for example ?

BJ : At the moment my main focus is Japan. If I can find success there then it will give me many more opportunities and much more freedom to promote my Japanese work elsewhere. I would love to do more expos and conventions, but to do those in the future I need to concentrate on Japan now. But I’m well aware of my international fans and I always try my best to keep them informed via my websites. And as for the album, it’s already available to import from various J-music websites such as CDJapan, HMV and YesAsia.

■  mimu : Honestly, when you started this project, weren't you afraid that singing japanese "kitsch" pop tunes would just destroy all your credibility as a dance producer on the international scene ? And if you were, why did you decide to do it anyway ?

BJ : Hahaha!! Not at all!! Even though some of these songs may be considered “kitsch” they’re classic hits for a reason: because they’re great songs! And that’s undeniable, otherwise they wouldn’t be called “hits”. Plus being my own producer I’m able to record in a style that I think is suitable for me. From the beginning my music has always been considered very commercial and very “pop” – even my dance music – and I think “TRANS//” is a great sample of me and my sound. I’m not worried about my credibility because I’m hoping listeners will appreciate the way I have produced and interpreted these songs and the thought and preparation that has gone into the project.

■  mimu : What are your expectations about this album ? And what are your label's ?

BJ : I don’t know about the label, but I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be part of the J-music scene – it’s a dream come true! And hopefully it will be the start of me making more J-music. Anything else will be icing on the cake.

■  mimu : You wrote that Jeff Miyahara was so enthusiastic that he suggested you both could work together on an hypothetic second album project. Can we know a bit more about this ? And what are your plans for the next months ? Maybe live concerts ?

BJ : He suggested it, and of course I said “yes”!! How could I not?! I’m currently writing and recording with Jeff on some new material that is hopefully for a second Japanese project, but at this point nothing is definite. At the end of this month I’ll be in Tokyo promoting “TRANS//” and maybe doing a live show or two while I’m there… Anything afterwards depends on the reaction to “TRANS//”. If all goes well you’ll be seeing a lot more of me...!

Thanks a lot to Bentley Jones for his time.
Photos : © Bentley Jones - EMI Music Japan.
Any copy is forbidden without written authorization.

You may also want to preorder TRANS//LATION on CDJapan or Yesasia.