Hey Ricks! Great to have you on the series. How've you been doing these days?
Ricks: Hey there! It’s been great, thanks for having me. I have been working on Meitei’s Kofū II and ASPIDISTRAFLY’s Altar of Dreams non-stop since last year. Now that these albums are out, I took a little break before recently getting back to prepare our next couple of releases scheduled for the end of the year.
ASPIDISTRAFLY LP & CD released on Kitchen Label. Available here.
Congrats on the excellent comeback with ASPIDISTRAFLY! We assume it's safe to say that the album was made in your studio space? What was the writing and recording process like with Altar Of Dreams, did you configure the space differently or has it remained the same for a while?
Ricks: Thanks! I’ve been working so long on this album, so I’m happy to finally release it.
The tracks were originally written in our previous studio space on the 3rd floor of a Chinese-baroque styled shophouse. We had the guitars tracked first at the now defunct SAE studio in Singapore, and we brought these recordings to Japan to lay down the rest of the instruments. The string section and piano were recorded at Sound City Setagaya studio with Naoto Shibuya, a Japanese engineer we greatly respect. We also had a session at Studio Camel House in Yamanashi, where we recorded with our labelmate Haruka Nakamura.
The studio space
We moved to our current home the year before the pandemic happened, and we did most of the final mixing and vocals here. April doesn’t always find it easy to lay it bare at other studios, so our own space gives the perfect emotional space for her to sing in. It also takes that time pressure off the vocalist since we only have so many hours in the studios. So, optimally we can only be completely satisfied with the result of the vocal recordings that we have done here.
As a label owner, artist and music lover, you wear lots of hats and probably listen to lots of music in different contexts. Do you have different spaces for different things or do you prefer listening to music in the same environment?
Ricks: I do have different listening spaces for various purposes. Usually, the living room is where I listen to all kinds of music for leisure. My studio is mainly where I make my mixes, inspect vinyl test pressings and audition new works by my artists or demo submissions. Maybe it is how I like to segregate my spaces between work and leisure. Compared with the living room, the setup in the studio is built to approach a relatively flatter response for mixing and monitoring purposes. Whenever I need to listen to music from my desktop, I switch between my computer and hi-fi system with a Russian-made 2-way switch and volume control by Schiit Audio.
Run us through your hi-fi setup, we'd like to know everything! From the turntables and carts to amps and speakers.
Turntable: 2 x Technics SL-1200MK3D
Cartridge: Shure M44G
CD Player: Arcam Alpha One
Cassette Tape Player: Technics RS-TR515
Graphic Equalizer: Technics SH08046
Mixer: Technics SH-EX1200
DAC: Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Switcher: Schiit Audio SYS
Speakers: Yamaha HS5
Turntable: Audio Technica AT-LP5
Cartridge: Ortofon 2M Blue
CD Player: Marantz CD5005
Cassette Tape Player: Sony TC-WE475
Amp: Onkyo A-9010
Speakers: JBL 4312M
We've caught a glimpse of a very unique DJ mixer on your instagram. Tell us more about it!
Ricks: It is a Technics SH-EX1200, a classic mixer that is best known in the battle scene back in the day. I bought it in Japan, where they still have many of these pretty much brand new. The crossfader has an excellent cut, and the EQs with only bass and treble is better than anything else I’ve used. Also, It’s one of the best-looking mixers of all time. There is something about the minimalist design of this equipment that I admire.
Classic Technics 1200MK3D turntables with that rare Technics mixer
KITCHEN. LABEL releases beautifully presented music on all the formats! What have you chosen for your players of choice for each one?
Ricks: For vinyl, maybe I am just old-fashioned, but I'm still a Technics guy, so it's the SL-1200 for me.
For CDs, I inherited the Arcam Alpha One CD player from my family. Around ten years ago, the panel screen started to fade out, so I knew it was time for a little upgrade and got a Marantz CD5005 player to replace it. I still ended up using both players today, I have a soft spot for the Alpha One as it sounds very musical and "creamy" to my ears.
The Technics graphic EQ, Arcam CD player and Technics integrated amp
I have collected a few vintage dual-cassette decks over the years, and out of those, I prefer the SONY TC-WE47 because of the sound quality. I like the multiple music search function to skip right to the next song you want to hear. The excessive clunky mechanism sound of this machine's play and rewind buttons is also peak ASMR to me.
Ricks' living room rack
Let's have a peek at your storage solutions for different media. Also, how do you organize it all?
Ricks: There are about 700 LPs in my collection, and I currently use a Dieter Rams designed Vitsoe 606 shelving system and IKEA's KALLAX shelving unit for storage. I tend to separate my records. There, I make little sections: Ambient, New-Age, Japanese, ECM, Classical, Library Music etc., all stored in brand new inner and outer plastic sleeves. For each genre, the LPs are arranged alphabetically by last name and each artist's releases in chronological order by original release date.
Extremely well organized LPs in the classic shelving choice - the Ikea KALLAX
There is also a section for KITCHEN. LABEL LPs in the studio, while most of the stock is stored in our label's warehouse elsewhere due to the sheer amount of space they take. I installed a couple of wall-mounted records displays which I ordered online via Etsy from a woodworking couple in the US who solely crafts record storage and displays.
KITCHEN. LABEL stock on custom shelves
There is another area in the living room where the more basic records (for our dads who drop by often) are stored in our MUJI TV console. It has square compartments with glass door panels, and the dimensions are perfect for vinyl storage. April's dad loves the Casiopea Mint Jam LP!
I release CDs on my label, usually designed in non-standard custom formats and sizes. The discontinued IKEA GNEDBY CD rack is perfect because I could adjust the height of individual slots to fit my label's catalog. All the CDs currently on the GNEDBY, and some on the Vitsoe, are mostly obscure New Age albums (think Sound of the Dawn and FOND/SOUND) I have dug out from record stores like Red Point Records and QQ Music over the past two years. Sometimes I got them in lots, so I haven't listened to all of them, but there were a few rare gems like Toshiya Sukegawa Bioci Music series, L'esprit Far Journey and Don Harriss Vanishing Point. The CDs are loosely arranged by labels such as Innovative Communications, Sonic Atmosphere, New World Music etc.
The IKEA GNEDBY CD rack (discontinued)
My cassette tapes are all housed in a 100-slot wooden tape rack - just one of the many wondrous things you can find on Taobao!
A wondrous Taobao find for the cassette tapes
Do you have a philosophy or ethos about your music gear?
Ricks: I tend to have this romanticized idea that I have been transported to a listening room in the 80s since many of my favorite records were released in that era. Aesthetically and sound-wise, I started building my hi-fi setup around the iconic pieces of vintage gears I own, namely the Technics SL-1200 and JBL 4312M speakers. I'm very invested in the pursuit of discovering older lost music and digging out records from unlikely places. Similarly, I love to go to thrift stores and flea markets for all kinds of unique preloved stuff; the search for music gear is no exception. People must realize that truly outstanding gear doesn't have to be entirely new or cost a lot of money.
This philosophy which is based heavily on nostalgia, is shared with April as well. Her dad used to have a hi-fi shop and was a true blue audiophile in those days. We referred to some old photos of her dad's listening space in the 80s when we set up our own space.
Nostalgia on high
What kind of advice would you give to someone just starting out in their journey in sound?
Ricks: I'd say to start with a realistic budget to help you spread your money more evenly. There are many links in the chain, and there is this saying that the chain is as good as the weakest link. There are still quite a number of safe bets that offer good sound for your dollar. I found a Technics SL-1200 that works perfectly and costs only $500 at a HARD-OFF electronic thrift store in Japan. That, to me, is value. Certain products may not be new or the perfect jack of all trades, but they could well have a blend of sound aesthetics or functions you're looking for. So often, the little things can have the most significant impact.
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