Guitarist Zane Carney: “Japanese Audiences Allow Me to Be Myself”

The first time American jazz guitarist Zane Carney performed in Japan was with a high school all-star band in 2003. The second time he performed was on stage at the Budokan as the touring guitarist for John Mayer.

Carney, who says he loves Tokyo’s humidity and moisture because it’s good for his singing voice, returns for his third solo tour as the headliner. Coming off a September 24  show in Shimokitazawa with his new project Evan + Zane, a band formed with award-winning actor Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld), the American singer-songwriter brings his six-string to Good Heavens for a two-night stand this weekend.

Before heading off to perform at a military base, Carney, who will tour across the globe as the opening act for Jonny Lang following his Tokyo appearances, took time to answer some of our questions.

How was the Evan + Zane show with Evan Rachel Wood? Is it true you performed Radiohead’s OK Computer in its entirety?

In its entirety, front to back. The Evan + Zane project, we do thematic shows. We did the color blue in Nashville, so every song had to have ‘blue’ in the title or lyrics. We dressed in blue, the lights were blue, everything. We did a two-night stand in LA where we only played songs with names in them – ‘Sara, Smile,’ ‘Hey Joe.’ Normally the sets are very diverse genre-wise. We will go from Elvis to k.d. lang to Aerosmith. We did OK Computer, which is very different for us. We had to break some rules.

I told her I was coming to Japan, she said I’ll come and visit. Let’s have some fun in Japan. What if we do a show?

How did the collaboration with Evan come together?

Evan and I have been friends for 10 years. We met on the set of my old band’s music video shoot. We became close and immediate friends. Last February she said why don’t we do a small gig for Valentine’s Day? It happened very organically. I told her I was coming to Japan, she said I’ll come and visit. Let’s have some fun in Japan. What if we do a show?

Why is the album OK Computer significant to you? What’s your favorite Radiohead song to perform?

The reason we did that album, we pick themes based on cities we are in. Nintendo is from Tokyo, what if we do Nintendo songs? But there are no lyrics, what can we do? We started playing with it, and the technology is insane in Tokyo. We felt OK Computer represented that theme. Maybe ‘Electioneering’ was my favorite song from the set. My solo sets are very guitar-heavy, and ‘Electioneering’ allows me what to do what I do as a guitarist.

What brings you back to Tokyo?

The cocaine! No, just for the record, I am drug-free. The music listeners here are extremely respectful and passionate. When I am opening for Jonny Lang in America, sometimes people will talk through my set. With movies Lost in Translation, or PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, you have to be present and engaged for the entire film. Where a comic book film, you can have some popcorn and talk with your friends throughout the movie. I have spent so much time practicing my instrument and crafting my sets. Japanese audiences appreciate the nuances and allow me to be myself.

Your knowledge of jazz music is pretty vast. Japanese jazz fans are notorious for their devotion and encyclopedic knowledge as well. Have you had much interaction with Japanese fans? Has this been your experience?

You know one of my favorite things about playing to Japanese jazz listeners, is during my sets I sing. I enjoy singing and creating melodies and adding a new layer to the music. Yet Japanese listeners will say please play your jazz album, Amalgam. Why don’t you just play guitar for two or three songs? In America, they might say, we like the guitar, but it would be better if you sing. In Japan I’m singing U2 or original songs, and singing beautiful melodies, and they say just play guitar, and for me that is great, that is my passion.

I walk around Shimokitazawa a lot. That is probably one of my favorite places in the world.

How do you spend your down time in Tokyo?

I walk around Shimokitazawa a lot. That is probably one of my favorite places in the world. I go vintage clothing shopping. I’ll stop in the local restaurants and take chances with the menu. I have a friend who owns a vintage clothing shop called Riyad in Harajuku. I’ll go and buy rings and catch up. This time Evan and I had a great time. She is so adventurous. We went to a hedgehog café. We played taiko drum video games. We tried some new restaurants. So many things.

Obviously you care about fashion. What do you look for when you are in Tokyo?

I find a lot of things I can’t find in the States. There are a lot of one-off pieces you can’t find anywhere else. My mom is a jewelry designer so I grew up very interested in playing dress-up. I was also a child actor, so that kind of comes with the territory. My mom has a jewelry company called Fables. She has whimsical, cool, story-telling pieces. In LA, people are more concerned with how big and expensive their jewelry looks. In Japan, the pieces have stories to them, so I am on to this sense of fashion.

What guitars did you bring with you? How do you transport them overseas?

I only brought three this time. I brought the Hofner Zane Carney Jazzica, it’s a signature handmade, fully hollow archtop guitar. I brought a Montarado Viola Guitar made by a boutique builder in Colorado, then my Gibson ES-335. I used to bring everything in gig bags. I am playing several shows this time, so I need to bring more than one guitar. I need to make sure every show is perfect. I bought a flight case that is very lightweight and I bring them all on the plane. Someday when I have a guitar tech, I can have a guitar boat loaded with guitars, but right now I bring what I can carry.

Tell me about your new release Zane Carney: Live in Tokyo // The Bootlegs. What can people hear?

That is my Zane Carney vision. What I mean by that, I have different projects, Evan + Zane, a new project called Zinc – that is my hardcore jazz project. The Zane Carney project is my main thing. I’m singing the lyrics that are important to me. It feels most unique and true to me. The Bootlegs is the newest and most mature version of that vision. It was recorded in Asakusa at a venue called Gold Sounds and in Yokohama at 7th Avenue in 2017. It is fully live, no edits, no auto-tune.

Zane Carney: Live in Tokyo // The Bootlegs is now streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play.

Catch Carney’s shows at Good Heavens Bar, Shimokitazawa, on September 28 and 29.

Photos by Melissa Alderton Photography

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