Music Room Sessions

Session 2: Ian Gronow

Thanks for coming down this afternoon.

Thanks for having me. Though, it's almost my second home. This area was where I lived when I arrived in Japan.

Speaking of first coming to Japan, you're quite new to the scene, introduce yourself to us.

They know my name already, right? I arrived in March and it's the biggest place I've ever lived, as it's pretty much the biggest city in the world. I come from a small village originally, then moved to Bangor a small city in North Wales, after that I moved to a slightly bigger city than that, Manchester, then Prague which is a little bit bigger than that. It's a big jump from around a million people to 35 million now.

You've been here six or seven months now?

Five or six. Japan was actually my second choice, after Hong Kong. I wanted to give a big city a try, that's why I'm here.

What do you think of it so far?

I was less surprised than I expected. When I moved to Prague, I'd hardly heard of it before I decided to move there, I purposely didn't look up any photos I just wanted to see things for the first time with my own eyes. But, with Tokyo you can't really avoid learning a lot of stuff about it, you can always see pictures.

It's a world famous city for sure.

It feels quite like home now.

Always good to hear. Moving into music, how long have you been playing?

When I was about 12 I decided I wanted to start writing songs. All my favourite musicians at the time seemed to play acoustic guitar. I asked my parents if I could have a guitar and lessons for my 13th birthday. I got my first guitar on my 13th birthday, probably within the next week or two I'd started lessons in school. My teacher, who e-mailed me the other day, Michael Haworth was my first mentor really, and we're still in touch. We wrote a few songs together, Summertime, on my new EP, and Warm To You, for which I'm currently producing an animated video, with a view to releasing it in winter 2015.

How do you come up with your song ideas?

I tend to start with the chords, actually. The melody comes next, I start to mumble along until a melody appears and then the umms and ahs become words. It's kind of a different process to a lot of other people, they often start with lyrics and fit them into something later on. A lot of people write loads of songs and then pick out their best few to perform, if I have a song I'm not happy with it tends to stay unfinished for a long time. I've got so many ideas which are half done, which have a lot of potential but I'm not willing to commit to them just yet.

How long does it usually take you to write a song?

Some of the songs I've written, which I was happy enough to keep or even record, where finished in a day, like Warm to You for example. Others, which I still hope to complete, I've had these ideas for a good four or five years now and they've not seen the light of day. I want to keep them until I feel they're ready. 

Which musicians influence you?

The first musicians who got me into wanting to write, it's kind of embarrassing actually, I was really into the first era of Pop Idol and Darius. It's kind of embarrassing, a guilty pleasure. After he came back for his second attempt he released his own music, all self written, which is unusual for those reality people. I just saw him playing acoustic guitar, that's what made me want to learn. My first teacher introduced me to some other singer/songwriters. Jeff Buckley and Ryan Adams. Then it moved onto the more summery surfy types, like Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz, who is my current all-time favourite, but he's slowly being over taken by Newton Faulkner.

You've just recently released a new, 4 song EP. What feedback have you had on it?

It's been really positive. For me the songwriting is my strong point. But, I've had a lot of nice comments on my voice, which has been nice to hear. Some of the songs have been recorded before, however, I feel that this is the first time they've been done in near professional quality. I've had a good response to the videos as well. This is actually my third release, my first EP was in 2008 and it was a free download. The second album was my first full album, it had nine tracks, that was in 2010. I printed like 50 copies of it and I still have about 20 at home. In the end I was happy with a lot of songs, but there were a lot of fillers on it. I accepted donations on that album.

You joined up with a charity on this one, tell us more about that.

With this EP I wanted to give something away for free, but give people the option to donate. People can choose to donate in person or online, through PayPal. Half of the donations will go to a charity called Music as Therapy, which I thought was very relevant. They do exactly what's said on the tin really, they help people to use music as a means of communication, particularly those who are unable to communicate because of physical disabilities or various mental health issues. For me, especially during school, I could always turn to my guitar when I needed to escape, and that's still the case. They work in a lot of countries as well. I felt it was important to choose an international charity as I'm quite international myself now, having recorded the EP in Prague and the UK and now living in Tokyo.

All donations from my second album are going to this charity too.

Certainly a worthwhile cause, music's so important for helping people. How long did it take you to put the EP together?

I wasn't really planning on recording in Prague. Then I met one of my English students, Aleš Kobližek, in January 2013, we had our first lesson together and as an introductory lesson I used Warm to You. I brought in the song and did some activities, re-arrange the lyrics, asked them about the meaning of the song, that kind of thing. It's quite a metaphorical song. He knew straight away I was a musician and he told me about his band, where he played bass. As time went on we moved lessons from his work place, to the pub and then from the pub to music practice room. He had a great set-up as part of his band. At that point I wasn't sure how long I'd stay in Prague. We were aiming to perform, we had a trio going with a drummer, Roman Sabotka. Around Easter time I decided I wasn't going to be staying so it turned into a recording project. We put the demos together for these four tracks. The Riddle I wrote with Aleš and the other three were a bit older. We were both happy with the demos so I laid down my guitar and left them to it. They're all very busy people, we took our time with it. I later laid down the vocals at The Grand in Clitheroe, the town where I went to school, with the help of another mentor of mine, Paul Stuart Davies, who has supported me with my music since I was 18. The vocals were then sent to Prague and added to the mix. As it was very summery themed, it made sese to release in summer.

Are there any parts you're particularly proud of?

Yeah, as I said, Say What You Want and Summertime have been recorded before, now I'm satisfied with them, they're complete and finished. The Riddle is pretty spot on first time as well. With Summertime, for example, I tend to go back and say, I didn't quite like that bit or it should have this instrument here, but now they're done for me.

You shot a video for The Riddle. Where did you shoot that?

I knew that the EP was going to be just about ready, so I started thinking which song would have a video and what would the story be. I had a really nice idea for The Riddle, and it turned out exactly as I was expecting it. I knew I'd be leaving around March, so in January I started to meet up with a few film makers around Blackburn. The first guy I met was Sam Fenton. He bought into the story I had straight away, it's actually scary how in tune we are creatively. He made it come to life really, which is perfect. We got my family to be part of the video as well. We filmed it over two days, the first day was at Manchester Airport, around early March. A couple of weeks later, and less than a week before I left for Japan, we filmed the suitcase scene, which wasn't actually in the airport, but we found a room which resembled one. This is a secret now which I'm revealing! But, I'm not going to give away the suitcase secret! It seems like Sam and I are going to have a much longer lasting partnership, as we work so well together 

You've been out playing in the local Tokyo scene, how you finding that so far?

When I was in Prague I was aiming to perform there, but never really got into that scene. But, when I knew I was moving to Tokyo, and as I was releasing the EP as well, I wanted to get on the scene as soon as possible. I was fortunate to meet some guy, don't really like him much myself... Haha, no a really good friend and collaborator, who is yourself*. You introduced me to a few local gigs, where I met other great bands and friends. I then found opportunities to start playing myself.

You mentioned some of the local scene, who do you recommend?

Some guy, I can't remember his name, in a band called The Megaphones**. Mana Hardcore, my adoptive Japanese mother, Martin Leroux, who played at my EP launch. The Watanabes, I'm hoping to get together with them and play on the same stage. I'm lucky to have met people who have become good friends, but also happen to be great at the kind of music I enjoy listening to. There are other great bands out there as well, Tits, Tats & Whiskers and also The Good Things, who I've not seen yet, but have heard online. Takes me back to my indie kid days. 

You've played a few places, where do you want to play next?

I'm going to be playing Crawfish Akasaka, which I'm looking forward to, I've been to a couple of gigs there, it sounded really good. Anga as well, which I played at with The Megaphones, but I'll be playing my own solo slot there soon.

What's next for Ian Gronow?

Before meeting Aleš I was only planning on working on Warm to You. I had an animated video in mind, so I just intended on spending a day in a studio to get that produced. However, when I got back to the UK from Prague, I spent two days recording at The Grand, half was on Warm To You, the other half on he lead vocals for the EP. I managed to get Mike Boyd, aka Sword in Air, to play piano and synths and David Westell came in to do bass, one of my closest school friends who has always been a big part of my music. It was produced by Tom Peters at The Grand. The track is actually ready, but it's a winter song. It makes sense to finish the video and then promote as much as possible for a winter release, so we've got big plans for it. The video is currently in production by Ben Makinson.
I've also got a lot of ideas for a full album too, which I something I'd like to complete in the next two or three years. I'm planning on making it a concept album and I've a lot of big ideas! Hopefully, I'll be working with my trusted group of collaborators, Michael, David, Paul and Sam, once again.

Moving away from the music, what do you like to do in your free time?

I'm very lazy, which my parents will enjoy me admitting to. I watch a lot of TV, I've been watching a lot of The Simpsons recently. In the past, I was really into tennis, which is something I'd love to pick up again. Though, I'm really unfit now and never get back around to it. When I'm on my travels I'm always listening to music and when I'm at home I'm always watching TV.  I spend a lot of time following my local football team, Blackburn Rovers.

My last question then. Have you seen anywhere yet in Japan that I've definitely got to go take photos? Or anywhere else on your travels?

In Tokyo? Hmm. Prague definitely, it's a very romantic city, Jason Mraz filmed a video there. It would be great for a romantic song to have a video there. 

It's been great to have you down today. All the best for the EP and charity donations that go with that.

Thanks for having me, and as part of the series.

*I should note that I'm also a musician and play with Ian in a band.
** That is the name of our band.


Youtube: The Riddle




Download the EP Fine, Fine, Fine and donate to a good cause at

Have a look at Music as Therapy's homepage.

Here's some YouTube links to the other artists mentioned in the article.

Mana Hardcore - Freedom You Never Notice
Martin Leroux - Waiting by Hachiko
The Watanabes - Hot Water Hills
Tits, Tats & Whiskers - Three Days Before Friday
The Goood Things - She Called Me Baby



Feel free to look around