If you caught Doug Koyama performing live, you might think the BC musician was singing in a language,
or languages, you don’t understand. You’d be wrong, and right. It’s not glossolalia, but just like speaking in tongues, Doug is inventing a language that can never be used more than once (at least, I don’t think it can – as he says at the beginning of this clip, “I’m gonna perform some songs that have never been heard before, nor will they be heard again. They’re just for you”), creating words out of sounds and syllables that you likely won’t find in any dictionary (though he does sing in English from time to time, as well).
Yet somehow, you understand the meaning completely.
As a musician, I do the same thing sometimes, when I’m recording a home demo of a song I haven’t written lyrics to as yet, and slur the unwritten words just so I can hear the melody. But you don’t want to listen to my home demos. For starters, they sound like they were recorded on an answering machine. You want to hear Doug Koyama. Doug has created an artform that seems uniquely his own. I don’t know if there are other artists doing something similar. I’m sure there are people who are doing things that can be considered “along similar lines.” But when you hear Koyama improvising songs from scratch, building them up hauntingly with a loop pedal using his own voice for melody, harmony and percussion, you’d swear he was hitting upon some unseen truth. Maybe that truth is simply the universal power of music, where you don’t need to understand the words or be familiar with the performer’s approach to creating it to be moved on a basic human level.
Checkout this great clip of Doug performing live at Milkcrate Records in Kelowana, BC, to get a sense of what his music sounds like and how he goes about creating it (you see him with the loop pedal on a table recording his own voice as percussion at the beginning to be used throughout the performance, then singing over it and building it up that way). Pretty impressive for one man (though he gets some help at the end of this clip) armed mostly with just talent, a unique approach and a bit of technology.
Or better yet, catch Doug Koyama live next chance you get.
Tinderbox had some questions for Doug, and he took the time to answer them.
How would you describe your music?
My music can be described as improvised A Capella with a looper.
It's more than that, it's the music of my heart.
It is my unique expression of the love I feel.
How much of your music is improvised?
I have a few songs that I sing that are not improvised. Boy for
from Oliver has been my shower song since 1973, I usually sing it and Cod
Fisher, a Joanna Chapman Smith song from her time in Lily Come Down. Sale
What languages do you perform in other than the improvised "invented language"?
I speak English only. I had a quarter of French in grade eight but carried little of that into adulthood. The language that comes out in the songs is all invented. I try sometimes to make it sound like Russian or French or whatever but generally I let it just be whatever it is.
How did you come upon the idea of using a loop pedal?
I had heard about loopers around the same time I took a four day improv singing workshop near my hometown,
. The workshop introduced me to
ideas and singing exercises that changed my trajectory significantly. Around
that time I was shown DubFX singing Love Someone in the street. I'm still blown
away by his mastery of his equipment. I knew right away that it was for me. Quesnel,
Why did you choose to use the Boss RC-50 Loop Station?
I started with a Digitech JamMan. It was a good pedal but I realized right away that it was not enough. From then I worked towards the RC-50. When the RC-300 came out I upgraded right away. The effects on the RC-300 are a great addition to my toolbox.
What other gear do you use?
I have a Digitech Vocal 300 and a little Peavey 8 channel board that has been the base rig since the start. Recently I added an Ipad running a bunch of interesting music apps and a Boss VE-20.
How challenging it is to build up a song using the loop pedal and your own voice as the instruments?
I find no challenge in it. I start making sound and loop it, then layer on it and then add interlocking sounds and then sing on top. My only challenge is remembering to break it up a bit. Although with that said I like the idea of a continuous set.
In what ways is recording your music in the studio different from performing it live?
I have not recorded in a studio yet, everything I have released has been either recorded with a mic on an amp or out through the USB on the RC-300. I am working out a couple of songs and plan to record them somewhere in the coming months.
Why did you decide to take your music in the direction you’ve taken it?
I'm not sure I have decided the direction.
A few years ago I learned that when I say yes things happen, when I say no things specifically stop.
I took the initial step to start saying yes more a few years ago,
I honestly believe that the universe has taken control of the direction.
What are some of the most rewarding shows you’ve played?
Each show has been a gift with many moments to treasure.
I think the most rewarding are at the Helen Dixon Centre in Quesnel
where my friend Sarah Wemyss runs a program for youth with developmental impairments.
I go there about once a year and sing for an hour or more.
The kids didn't sing along much in the start but have been more inclined to as time goes on.
I ask them for song names and they give me each others names
and then giggle at the funny words I make up describing their friends.
They squeal with glee sometimes, it's really fun.
I also find a lot of reward in small random connections with people.
A cluster of friends at 3 am in the green room of a festival with their heads down making long tones . . . . . It is magical and healing.
What are some things that inspire you, musically and artistically?
I am inspired by moments when I feel a connection with a person or a group of people through music.
I sometimes lead people at campfire jams in looping interlocking patterns,
have three people sing one note: Do, Do, Do, Do
and another group sing Whoaaaa over top
then add a solo with invented verse and chorus.
If you can get folks to engage in it for long enough
they will start to add their own inflections to their parts and it changes.
Artistically speaking I am more inspired by the passionate expression of art than the art itself. I have recently been exposed to the live painting process at music festivals where my friend Crystal Charlotte Easton painted a canvas over three days. The act of creating that art was very cool.
Who are some artists that you share an aesthetic or philosophical kinship with?
I can identify with Ray Charles, Bobby McFerrin and Reggie Watts for sure.
What other instruments do you play?
I've never learned any instruments.
What other artistic endeavors, musical or otherwise, have you pursued in the past?
I performed in six years of musical theatre in Kersley, a community south of Quesnel.
I also did HMS Pinafore in Prince George with Judy Russell's company.
What do you think people can learn from the music you create?
That anything is possible. I know it because I live it,
I manifest into my world the exact things I ask for all the time.
I tell people about it through the intention that I put in the music.
How can people stay in touch with what you’re doing?
My web site is at: www.koyama.bc.ca All the links to my social media are there.
What are your plans for your music in the future?
Music will soon be my sole means of support. I intend to continue to make music indefinitely. I am planning a collaboration with Samantha Scott from the
going to get together and see what comes out of a week at Avalon, a
studio/sanctuary in Dawson Creek . Beyond that I cannot see
Thank you. Big Love
Ambarish Maharaj for the Tinderbox