What better place than a church to experience the transformation that music brings?
There’s a soothing, meditative quality in the sincerity of Hiroya Tsukamoto’s playing. It’s a quality that fits perfectly with the surroundings in which he’ll be performing. Through the gentle communion with his guitar — sometimes it looks as if he isn’t even touching it at all — he imparts a sense of warmth and openness in his songs.
Tsukamoto’s interpretations of Japanese folk songs, as well as his own original compositions, lend themselves exceptionally well to the outstanding acoustics inside a church. When asked recently if he’s a religious person, he replied, “I’m a Buddhist, because I’m from Japan — but I’m a casual guy [about it].”Considering everything going on in the world today, how does he himself stay peaceful and tranquil? “That comes from my personality,” he explains, adding, “I grew up in a small town in Japan, surrounded by mountains, so I think that’s also part of it.”
Is peace something you can carry within you wherever you go?
At this, he is contemplative. “Yes, I think so. Also, I live in New York City, and when I play music, I recall those moments as a child. I think that brings something to the audience, and hopefully they feel the same.” Playing in the big city also brought Tsukamoto to his most recent breakthrough: the courage to start a career as a solo artist. “I started playing as a solo performer about five years ago. That was a really big change for me. I was part of a big group called Interoceanico, which consisted of eight musicians from different countries. That was very hard — but at the same time, it was great to explore, to break through the walls.”
Thinking of the mountaintops of his youth, has there been a high point so far in his solo career? “I can be very natural, so this way, I can do whatever I want,” he says, explaining his process.“I think I can be very honest in my performance. Also, it’s economical [laughs] because traveling with a group is sort of impossible, moneywise, nowadays.”
Did he know he wanted to make music for the rest of his life? Was there a moment in which it all made sense? “Yes!” he enthuses, savoring the memory.“When I was a teenager, guitar kind of saved me because, when I was in middle school, it was kind of a rough time for me, and I didn’t have many friends. I was doing soccer, and I kind of gave up on that; and after that, I discovered guitar, and I really liked it.”
His interest really took off after one auspicious journey.“One summer, I went to Mexico with my dad and my brother, and I stayed with a family that had two boys who were almost the same age as me and my brother. They were playing guitar so well! That was a very big moment for me.”
Tsukamoto’s excited at the prospect of performing at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Santa Paula. It gives him a chance to reach an audience in an entirely different way.
“Lots of the songs are songs that I wrote in different places, with stories behind the music,” he says. “Most of the songs are my original music, and there are a couple of Japanese folk songs. I tell stories about Japan and different places in the U.S. and people that I’ve met — so that people can connect more with what I’m doing.”
Speaking of connection, what feelings does he share through the playing? “Depending on the songs, because each song has a different background, sometimes when I play a song that I wrote in Japan, I think about the moment I wrote the song. I try to make them very personal; I try to tell a very personal story and I think that’s a strong message to the audience. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
The Santa Paula Concert Series presents guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. at the Universalist Unitarian Church, 740 E. Main St., Santa Paula. For tickets and more information, call 525-4647 or visit www.uucsp.org.