New York based singer/songwriter/artists and aspiring power couple Ara and Garrett James are ½ of Alt/Pop/R&B group, Lets Tokyo; the co-founders of indie publishing company Fish Boi Music as well as co-owners of their own record label, Make Life.
After meeting in 2015, the two began writing and performing together, and just released their full-length debut album, “Gemini.”
Kyle Warner: Back in 2009 Lets Tokyo was riding a ton of momentum, even opening for the great Lupe Fiasco, what was that experience like?
Garrett: It’s was a pretty magical time for all of us. From the beginning, there was an undeniable energy around what we were doing. Everyone could feel it. Scott, Stephen and I were living together during college, and our lives revolved around the group. We’d wake up at 6:00 AM every morning and trek up to the gym, then be back home to execute whatever master plan we had set for ourselves at that time. Sometimes we were looking more than a year down the line at where we wanted to be, then we’d work backward to figure out what steps we’d need to take in order to get there. Our days were scheduled out down to the minute, and there was rarely time and energy invested into anything that wasn’t helping to advance our career. The Lupe Fiasco show came at a perfect time, and really gave us a big boost on campus. Lupe was riding off the success of “Superstar” and the crowd that night was just insane! We had put together an unbelievable band for the event and even had break dancers performing, friends throwing merch out to the crowd and a full crew capturing it on camera. There was probably more than a dozen people on stage for our set, all framed between two enormous 8’ vertical “Lets Tokyo” banners we had custom made for the event. I can remember watching the entire crowd’s hands go up when the tee shirts came out. Kids were jumping up and down and singing along to songs they were hearing for the first time. It was surreal.
KW: With everything seeming to be trending in the right direction, what led to Lets Tokyo’s unfortunate breakup?
G: Honestly, I think it just wasn’t the right time for us. We were all still so young and had a lot of growing up to do before we were ready to take the next steps. At the time, it was devastating to feel like all that hard work just came to a grinding halt, but the truth is that we might have put ourselves in a bad position that could have ended things for good. We really had no idea what we were getting into and that’s a scary place to be if you’re not prepared. I think we’re all grateful that we were given the opportunity to grow more before resurfacing.
KW: What were the conversations and events that led to Lets Tokyo making a comeback?
Ara: Garrett and I actually met on Tinder back in 2015. I was living in Brooklyn and he had just moved to the city from Martha’s Vineyard. We immediately bonded over our love of music and began writing together shortly after dating. At the time, he was working on his solo EP “Love/Sick” but we knew that there was something special about our chemistry together. That summer, we started busking in central park as a duo and booking gigs throughout the North East. Performing provided us with an outlet to test our songs out and work on harmonizing together, but we both craved bigger shows with a full band. Garrett had always felt like there was unfinished business with Lets Tokyo, and it just seemed like the natural next step to reunite the group with me as an added member.
KW: It seems the music video has become somewhat of a lost art for a lot of artists. Certainly, not for you. Your videos are beautiful and it’s quite amazing that you film and direct your own videos. Do you feel a visual representation of your music is critical to the whole listening experience?
A: Thank you so much! I wouldn’t say that it’s critical to the whole listening experience, but we definitely thought it could enhance our outreach. As new, independent artists, it is up to us to not only create the music but also find the best, most cost-effective way of delivering it to as many people as possible. For us, that meant a multi-pronged approach of making sure we have content on various music sharing platforms, like Spotify and Soundcloud, and also visual platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Rather than make a lyric video or a static photo background with audio for YouTube, we thought it would be really fun and special to get creative and make our own music videos — especially since we weren’t playing gigs at the time. Garrett and I had just moved to L.A. when we started releasing music and we didn’t know many people. We realized that the videos could be a great introduction to our personalities and what we’re all about.
KW: Your music videos are so much more powerful than the Youtube lyric videos you see so often today, Is cinematography something you two have always been interested in?
A: Thank you! Garrett and I are both very visual people and always loved taking photographs, but making videos was pretty new to both of us. We taught ourselves as we went. We’ve actually gotten more into cinematography, directing, and editing because of our videos. Now when we watch movies we both analyze and dissect them from a more technical standpoint.
KW: Have you ever thought through the idea of directing music videos for other artists?
G: Yes, actually. We’ve talked about it as a part of a bigger idea to build a production company of sorts. We love collaborating with passionate people and the idea would be to cultivate a team of creatives who would work with us on developing our visuals and eventually be able to help other indie artists do the same. We know from experience how difficult and daunting it can be to start out as an artist on your own and it would be amazing to assist in bringing other people’s visions to life.
KW: Moreover, coming from a standpoint of a person who is always looking for new, great content – having such a plethora of diverse content makes Lets Tokyo that much more marketable and promotable. Is that something you keep in mind?
A: That’s awesome! It’s definitely something we hope comes across. As creators, we never want to feel boxed in. It’s extremely important for us to allow ourselves the flexibility to explore our range. The diversity of our content is a genuine reflection of the enormous variety of influences we have. One of our favorite things about being independent is that we can be uniquely authentic with each song and express ourselves however we want. We never feel like we have to hamper or restrict ourselves in any way, and that’s really freeing as an artist. When one of us comes up with a song idea that we love, our goal is always to serve the song the best we can. It’s difficult to do that if you’re stuck in one lane.
G: That’s one of the things we love about Songtradr — it’s allowed us to showcase our range of music beyond just “Lets Tokyo” songs. We created our publishing company, Fish Boi Music because we see publishing as a critical part of our success and we wanted to be hands-on with working our catalogue in different markets. We have instrumentals and songs from the past few years that don’t necessarily fit with what we’re doing as a band, but they have a chance to become a part of a much wider range of projects through your site.
KW: On your website, there’s use of Japanese translation. Do you have a big Japanese fanbase, does it have to do with the band name? What’s the story behind it all?
A: We don’t have a big Japanese fanbase yet, but we would love that! The use of translation was meant to be a friendly and playful way of paying homage to the city that gives us our name. We have a fantasy of being international artists and playing music all over the world – so going to Tokyo would be amazing!
KW: It’s really impressive you were able to accomplish everything you did all without a label. You have now created your own label, Make Life. What do you aim to accomplish with Make Life? Will this be something exclusive to Lets Tokyo or will you actively seek new artists?
G: 2017 was an incredible year for us. We’ve worked extremely hard to get to where we’re at now, and this is only the beginning. We started Make Life to provide a structured support for Lets Tokyo, but our vision is to expand the label as we move forward. In the future, we hope to use all of the knowledge and skills that we’ve gained over the years to assist up-and-coming artists. In a way, Lets Tokyo is the prototype — if we can build the kind of success we dream of for ourselves, then maybe we can do the same for others when the time comes. We don’t want to be artists that rely solely on touring as a means to generate a living late later in life. We’re thinking very long term. For us, the smarter move was to build a vertically integrated business model that works to our advantage on multiple levels.
KW: That’s amazing. You just released “Gemini” last week, what’s your goal for the album?
A: Our goal as artists was to simply make something genuine and beautiful! From a strategic standpoint, we knew we needed tons of content and a sturdy foundation to build our career upon. Starting from scratch, there was a lot to get done with just a small team and a low budget, but we truly feel that the best way to find your path is to put one foot in front of the other and just go. You’re never going to have all the answers or know exactly how things are going to turn out, but you can’t let that stop you from moving forward. “Gemini” gave us something specific to work towards. It gave us the chance to express ourselves while simultaneously gaining so much knowledge about how to function within the new music business. We still have a lot to learn, but it’s so empowering to look back to a year ago and see how far we’ve come. The album is an amazing representative of that and we’ll have it forever. “Gemini” will always bring back the memory of making it and that’s one reason why I love music and I love our first album baby. It’s a time capsule.
KW: What’s next for Lets Tokyo?
A: Well, first we’re going to find a beach somewhere warm to lay on for a few days and then it’s back to work! Garrett and I are moving back to Brooklyn in a few months, but in the meantime we’ll be pushing “Gemini” for playlists and sync opportunities, working on new material, and rehearsing our live show so we can bring “Gemini” to life when we get to NYC.
G: More of everything I suppose. But bigger. And better! I’m looking forward to collaborating with other artists and doing more co-writes. The live show is for sure one of our biggest focuses, and we’ve got our eyes set on festivals and the college circuit here on the east coast. Beyond that, we’re excited for whatever surprises the universe brings us!