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April 1, 2010

Jon the Dog/ジョン(犬)

Interviewed on March 24, 2007 for Chief Magazine @ Enban, a small record store/live house where you can hear a pin drop, in Koenji, my favorite Tokyo neighborhood. The interview took place following a diverse show with performances by Jon the Dog, guitarist Konjiki Yasha, old-fashioned singers Appalachian Sisters, and Meikyukai.


Good show!


So, Jon, you were born in Okinawa. When did you move to Kanagawa prefecture?

Right after I was born actually, when I was like 6 months old. So I’ve basically always lived in Kanagawa.

When you were little did you play music?

When I was little I played the piano, but I wasn’t really very into music, to be honest. Although I did like to sing, and I used to sing to myself a lot, but it was nothing serious!

So how long have you been performing as Jon the dog?

Since 1994.

Before you were a dog, you also used to be a cow, right?

Kind of. Up until 1997, I used to wear cow pajamas when I performed. And then in 1997 I finally had this dog costume made.

So how did you start out as Jon the dog?

I started out by making and releasing a cassette in 1994. I was able to get some decent reviews. And it was fun, so I kind of just went with it. At first, I had really wanted to form a band. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t happening. So eventually I just started to write down all these songs that I’d kind of been singing to myself for years, as Jon, without really thinking about it. I definitely wasn’t planning to play these songs in front of an audience or anything. But once people heard my songs, people started telling me they liked it. So it just happened. One of my friends let me play a show with them, and then I kept on performing.

So have you been called Jon from the start?

Yes… In Japan Jon’s a really common name for dogs. Jon and Taro are like the most popular. And, I – well, I was always miming a dog, like, pretending to be a dog, so I just started performing as one, too.

But in the beginning weren’t you a cow?

Oh, no! That was just Jon in cow pajamas, imagining he was black and white, like a cow. But Jon has always been a dog.

So tell me about your pipe organ. How and why did you decide to start playing it?

Well, I had always played the piano. And back when I first got my own place, there was an antique shop in my neighborhood where they were selling it. And I just thought it was so cute… I kept seeing it there all the time and I really started to want it. Since I could already play the piano, I assumed I’d be able to figure it out.

And I heard you can also play the ukulele?

Oh, just a little…. not well.

So how would you describe your music to a person who has never heard it before?

It’s like, imagine a little kid playing alone, and he is just singing whatever pops into his head, just playing around. That’s what my songs sound like, I think.

What are your songs about, and how do you write them?

I sing about Jon’s feelings. And Jon lives with a cat, so some songs are Jon talking to the cat about stuff. Usually when I write songs it’s not so much “writing” as much as them just happening. I’ll be humming a tune, and eventually it becomes a song.

During the show Jon mentioned [between songs] that tomorrow he has to do homework.

I have to write some papers tomorrow for work. Do you know uranai [fortune telling]? It’s homework for my fortune telling work.

How long have you been working as a fortune teller, and where did you learn it?

I’ve been doing it since 2000. At first I studied by myself, and then I also learned from a teacher.

And you work in Golden Gai in Shinjuku?

On Tuesdays, at a tiny little bar.

Why did you want to become a fortune teller?

A few years ago, one of my friends did a tarot card reading for me, and it was really accurate. I was a bit shocked. So, I got really interested in fortune telling and began to study it. I didn’t think it would become my job, but it happened naturally.

These days are you devoting more time to fortune telling or music?

These days, I think fortune telling, since it’s my job. But I would say music has been, is more like, my life work.

What kinds of people usually come to get their fortunes told?

Lots of women…

Your name as a fortune teller is Bianca, right?

Actually, now it’s just Jon.

So tell me about the time you went to New York.

Well, I performed at the Knitting Factory in 1997… ten years ago.

How was it?

Really fun! Everyone was, I don’t know, really warm. They were laughing at me, for sure.

Did you play with anyone?

Yeah, there was a free jazz musician… At that time, I had just released an album on John Zorn’s label, so he invited me to play in New York. I was there for a week in the summer, it was so hot. After New York I went to San Francisco. There were so many otaku and mania, I had such a good time.

And you’re going to France soon, too, right?

Yeah. There are tons of otaku and mania in France, too, so lots of people who are into Japanese culture. And in Nimes [where Jon is performing], they invite lots of Japanese performers for events. The guy who booked me used to live in Japan and knows lots of underground music.

So are you excited to go there?

No, I’m scared. I’m scared of traveling. Maybe because I’m shy. And I can’t speak the language…. But probably once I’m there it’ll be fun.

So could you tell me more about what kind of music you like?


Okay, like, what kind of music has influenced you?

I really like Jad Fair.

Cool. Have you ever seen him live?

Yeah. Actually, I got to perform with him a couple of times, in Shibuya, and at the Star Pines Café in Kichijoji.

What about Japanese bands and artists. Who do you like?

I really love Ruins. I love kawatta mono, strange things.

And other foreign music?

Hmm… it’s really tough to say. I actually like film a lot more than music. Like David Lynch. I love film music, and images… I used to want to make movies, too, but I can’t. I tried to make one but I couldn’t finish it. But a lot of the time when I am making music, I’m thinking about images from movies.

I just saw David Lynch speak in New York a couple of months ago.


Yeah… he talked a lot about coffee, and wood. He seemed really nice. What David Lynch movies do you like?

Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive…

Have you seen all of Twin Peaks?

Many times.

Who’s your favorite character?

Hmm… there’s this really old guy in the hotel… not a main character. At one point Agent Cooper gives him a thumbs-up and a smile. I like him.

My favorite is the guy dancing in the school when no-one’s looking. I think in the pilot. So what about other directors?

Jim Jarmusch.

Did you see Broken Flowers?

Yeah, yeah! Bill Murray was so good! And the music was so good too.

Yeah. It was kind of like a movie about a mix tape, in a way. Have you made any mix tapes recently?

Yeah, I used to, but…

Do you still listen to cassettes?

I do. But I can’t make mix tapes anymore, because no one can listen to cassettes anymore.

They can, can’t they?

I can.

I can too. I love mix tapes.

Oh, and I just remembered, but another musician I really like is Tom Waits, and he’s also been in Jim Jarmusch movies, too. Like, Coffee and Cigarettes…

Oh, yeah. Iggy Pop and Tom Waits.

Yeah, yeah…that was so good.

I heard that you were in a movie once too.

No, I’ve never been in a movie.

You weren’t in Sumie no Mori?

Oh, yeah! I forgot about that. How did you know that?

What kind of movie was it?

Hmm… I guess it was a zombie movie.

Oh, really? And who did you play?

A dead person.

Why does Jon wear a pink lei?

It’s his style.



Jon the Dog’s official site (Japanese)

Jon the Dog’s MySpace

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