I'm sitting shotgun in a big white SUV. Japanese guitarist Heday is driving, although we're not going anywhere—he's sipping a strawberries 'n cream Frappuccino and I've got an Americano. Valerie, keys, American, is sitting in the backseat with their drummer, Cam. The vehicle is parked in the lot at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station where I met them the day after their combined yet distinct vocals and overall charm rocked their first San Francisco audience at Japantown's J-Pop Summit Festival. Layla Lane's website describes the band's sound as "equal parts 1960's pop, gypsy swing, and good old-fashioned rock n' roll," and their infectiously upbeat Coca-Cola ad won the heart of one of the biggest record labels in Japan. Read on to hear their story from the beginning...
VOCALOID cosplayers can't resist dancing to Layla Lane's closing number.
Please introduce yourselves!
Valerie (V): I'm Valerie.
V: Hi. Hi Emily.
Heday (H): Heday. [This is pronounced like romanized Japanese hide.]
V: (whispers) That's Heday.
V: And this is Cam.
Cam (C): What's up?
V: He plays drums with us.
And there are some other people, too, right?
H: It's really us two. And the other guys are...just, how do you call it?
V: Support members.
C: Yeah, we show up, play great music, and have a lot of fun.
V: Very supportive, though.
V: Thanks, Cam, for your support.
C: Bigtime fan, longtime caller, of Layla Lane.
Whoo! So there's like one sentence on your website about how you two met, but can you…
—explain about that, yeah :)
V: Sure, we met through a mutual friend at a party. And uhm...
A party in LA?
V: Yeah, down in LA. Heday said—afterwards he told me I looked dorky enough to talk to.
H: No no, no, you gotta get the first part right.
V: Ok, why don't you tell it then.
H: Cute girls in LA tend to be snobby, but she was cute; however, she was dorky enough, so...
V: "Approachable," that's a better word.
H: Like if she was ugly, I wouldn't have approached.
V: So yeah, we just started talking at a friend's house, and he found out that I played classical piano, so a couple weeks later he called me up and had me come to the studio and record something for him. He had written a piano part that was too hard for him to play, so he had me come in and record it. And from there we started playing together.
So how did you get from classical piano favors to gypsy swing pop-rock?
V: That's a good question. I just—starting to play with this guy, he's all into the rock stuff, and before then I was really just doing classical. So, just playing with this guy, and, you know, it was something I always kinda wanted to explore, pop music, so.
[To Heday] And it says on the website that you've worked with Ringo Starr and other people?
H: Mm hm, Ringo, Jerry Lee Lewis, that's about it.
What was that like?
C: And Michael Damian.
H: Yeah, Michael Damian. Because…I was a huge—I am a huge Beatles mania[c]—like, that's the reason I came to America. That's the reason pretty much [that] I'm still playing music—I love the Beatles. It [was] really one of those moments [like] your dream came true, and I didn't—honestly, I didn't think that was going to happen. Like, the day before, I knew Ringo was coming. My friend was telling me, "Well, Ringo is showing up," but for some reason I thought, "Ok, he will say he'll come, but he won't come." And I didn't want to jinx it, so I didn't want to tell anyone, and I kept it secret till it actually happen[ed]. And he actually came and he came in... First he went to his drum set without saying anything to anyone and he played a little bit, then he went outside, and then he came back inside again, and he came straight to me and said, "Hey I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you. Jim—" Jim Keltner, my friend— "Jim told me everything about you. I heard you are a great bass player, a great guitar player, a great composer, and you dress well." So I said, "Oh, thank you."
C: You must've been like wow.
V: Ringo's never told me I dress well… That's pretty special.
H: So you know, it was a really important moment in my life.
Cool. So I'm wondering if there's anything specific to being a cross-cultural band that has caused any issues or any awkward moments.
H: All the time.
V: It's a big challenge.
H: Mm hm.
V: Right? I think on the surface you don't really realize, but just working with him for the past two and a half years, I realize how American I am and how different that is from Japanese—and we're total opposites.
V: In a lot of ways.
But you're still together!
V: But we're still working together.
H: I think in a way it's more difficult than marriage because—I've never been married, but this is what I think—if it's marriage, there isn't [an] absolute goal. Wherever it goes, you can convince yourself, "This is great; this is how it should have been," or "This was how it was meant to happen," but in [a] band situation if you don't make it, you don't make it. Cuz, at least to me, the clear goal was to make it, whatever "make it" means. For me, to make it was to get a record deal and become famous, you know, get money, and make a living out of it. So those clear goals, we have, or I have, and if we don't achieve them, that's a failure, basically. So I find that more difficult than just a regular relationship, cuz you know, if you're married and if you're poor you can still be happy, but if you are in a band not making anything—you don't have any fans, you don't sell any CDs—to me, I can't be happy like that because I'm not doing this as a hobby.
...that's pretty serious! [To Valerie] Are you on the road? You must at least be willing to pursue it, for sure.
V: You mean…
Are you as locked in?
V: I'd say probably yes, but I'm very different—like my mind thinks completely different than he does, I think.
H: She's in her way. She's doing it in her way.
So, I kept hearing yesterday that you got signed to a big label [in Japan], but I haven't actually figured out which label that is—
—and people here might not know it so can you explain a little bit?
H: Do you know Avex? That's where Ayumi Hamasaki, Exile, and from America they take care of—
V: Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers….
V: Yeah, it was funny when we went to our record label's office; there's some file folders, and it's "Layla Lane," and then "Miley Cyrus," and then "Jonas Brothers," like right next to each other.
Wow, kinnnd of adorable.
V: It's kind of funny—we're nowhere near as famous as they are, but...
H: Literally, you know, Avex is one of the top [labels]. They started out as a CD rental shop and now they have more than, how many employees?
V: They're huge.
And how did that come about?
H: That came because we had a Coke commerical. We did a Coke commercial, and that was played very frequently. Everyone knew the tune and they got interested.
That's awesome. And the Coke commercial, you said yesterday came about also kind of just through a random friend connection?
H: Yeah. Well it's not really random random because that's what I was going for, you know, when I go to Japan. See that's my problem. I think all my friends that I make nowadays, or people I really have fun hanging out with, are business related people because that's basically my life. It's not because I wanna make money or anything. I [just] don't have any boundary [between] private life [and] business life because I'm doing what I love as my business. So I'm pretty much most happiest…("Most..happiest?")
H: I'm the happiest when I'm doing something for music—networking, or anything, you know. So I would call them a friend, but at the same time they can be a business partner, so it's not really random, but... Yeah, I had dinner, a casual dinner, like friends dinner, with a Coca-Cola person.
V: She had him play a song for her and I guess after that she said, "I work for Coca-Cola. I'd love to use you for this Coca-Cola ad campaign." And after that he called me from Japan and he's like, "Oh yeah, they want us to do a Coke commercial." and I was like...
H: "Yeah right!"
V: Are you kidding me what are you talking about (lol) No, they don't.
Like, "By the way…"
V: I really didn't believe him, and I realized wait, maybe I should listen here. So he came back and it was right around Christmas time. I was about to go out of town. We had like two days to record, maybe even one day, I think...
H: Yeah, yeah.
V: It was one day to go in the studio and make this song, or you know—
V: —little demo for this and send it into Coca-Cola. So it was kind of a back 'n forth for probably a couple months, maybe a month or two. We made twenty-something different versions of this Coca-Cola jingle, and we were basically competing against a major ad company—
H: The biggest.
V: —the biggest in Japan, called Dentsu, and Coca-Cola normally does their ads through them, so it was kind of a political thing, and kinda got messed up.
H: It was political, and it was kind of a new thing, to use a new artist.
V: Right, cuz normally they would just go through the agency, and that's kinda their deal.
H: So even within Coca-Cola, there was this girl, Mia, who worked with us. Mia pretty much, at the end, was the only one who was going for us, right. And everyone else was like—they liked us, it wasn't they didn't like us—but they were like, "Oh, it's too much work; let's do it with that ad agency. It's so much easier, you know, that's how it has been already these last few years," but Mia and actually the boss of Coca-Cola, [Mr.] David, they really liked—
V: kinda fought for us—
V: —and made it happen, so we got the promotion.
[Here it is:]
That's so cool. And were you saying yesterday that this was your first time playing in San Francisco?
V: Mm hm.
What was that like…fun?
V: It was cool, but we were talking about it this morning—we didn't really even feel like we were in San Francisco cuz we didn't get to explore the city too much.
V: It might as well have been in Little Tokyo in LA (lol), but it was cool though. I love San Francisco; it's nice. And I dunno, I enjoy the drive up here, too; I know it's weird maybe…
Have you guys played shows in Japan?
V: Yeah, we've played a lot in Japan.
So do you notice differences between Japanese and American fans?
V: Definitely, huge differences.
Cuz I know just from going to concerts both places, I definitely see differences in concert behavior.
V: Yeah, it's so weird.
Can you talk a little bit about that?
V: They're so attentive in Japan, the audiences. Yeah! It's like, at first, it really caught me off guard, cuz I'm used to playing in bars here and going to shows here, and everybody's, you know, drinking and talking, and it's kinda loud like "[she makes noisy noises]," but in Japan they sit there and they watch you. And it's very polite, but at the same time it really caught me off guard cuz I didn't know... "They don't like this. Shit, they're not digging this at all!" You know, one time we played at a school, and I was so nervous because the kids were just so quiet and I'm more used to them being a little more rowdy, and a litte more like, showing if they like something, but then after we [were] done they just stampeded us and wanted our autographs. It's really funny. Oh, and in Japan they love autographs—definitely more than here. Did you notice that kind of stuff?
Yeah, I mean I've been to signing events there, so I guess…it does seem to be the case.
H: Yeah, autographs…
[To Heday] What about you for American audiences? Are you kinda used to it by now?
H: Well, I remember the very first time I performed in America was when I was 16. I was in Montana—
V: Yeah, Montana.
H: —[an] exchange student. Yeah, and I think because of them I'm still doing music. Why, I went there and I played a show and everyone went crazy. I just played "Johnny B. Goode" like "Yaaaa!" and that's exactly what I wanted to—
V: I hope you have that on video.
H: I actually do, I actually do.
H: [It] must be somewhere—
H: [It] must be somewhere, yeah.
C: Heday's first performance?
I want it.
H: Like "Yaaaa!" right? So I felt like, "Oh, ok, I can make it in this country!" High school kids, it was packed, whole auditorium. Yeah. Everyone loved us, loved me.
Cool. And your second album comes out next week, is that right?
V: It's…I guess…
H: It's our first full length album.
V: It's our full length album.
V: About two years ago, or a year and a half ago—I don't remember—we put out a little five song demo EP here, and then we released an album out in Japan last fall.
H: Mm hmm.
V: And this is kind of a combination of those two together; we put them all together on one full length. So there's 12 tracks on the CD, and now we're working in the studio, working on some—
H: New material.
V: —new stuff, new material.
H: Good stuff [is] coming.
V: It's good stuff.
V: Keep your ears open…
Uhm, I guess just some random questions. [To Heday] Your favorite food, is it still "french fries, well done?"
H: Yeah, I like french fries, well done!
Ok, do you put anything on it?
But not ketchup?
Ok good, good. High five!
H: Ketchup makes it soggy.
Da-da! Yeah! [We high-five.]
V: I'm not a big ketchup fan either. It's alright...
Honestly since being in Japan, I can tolerate ketchup now, just cuz it's used so often in different things, but I used to hate it so much.
V: They do use ketchup a lot in Japan, huh...
H: They do?
V: Yeah, they put it on everything.
They put it on spaghetti and everything, yeah.
H: They use mayonnaise more.
Mayonnaise! I die of mayonnaise. Everytime I go to Tokyo, I just die of mayonnaise.
C: Why do they like it so much?
H: Because it's different; it's good.
Is it still different, though, when you put it on everything?
H: No no, I mean—
I'm just teasing now :P
H: I mean, like mayonnaise itself is different from American mayonnaise.
Ohhh, it is.
V: It is.
C: Is it like the spicy chipotle mayo or whatever?
V: No it just…it has a different texture…
H: It's more like a very rare type of mayo.
V: Oh man, that's funny.
[To Valerie] And I don't think your favorite food is on the website. Do you have a favorite food?
V: Oh, what's my favorite food? I really…like I could live off red wine and cheese for the rest of my life.
Any particular cheese?
V: Oh, no.
H: But she's so particular—
H: —about red wine being warm.
V: Well, that's cuz in Japan they serve red wine chilled.
They do sometimes. I've also been caught off guard by that.
V: Yeah, I dunno…
H: Japan is good.
V: I love red wine and I love cheese…and dark chocolate, really dark chocolate.
All together? ;)
V: Oh yeah, all in one bite. I make like, a pizza out of it. I love pizza too—and french fries! (lol)
H: We had an interview [with] this girl, she was a black girl (lol) and she asked me, "What ice cream do you like?" or something, and Valerie said, what was it?
V: "If you were an ice cream flavor what would you—"
V: …and I said, "Dark chocolate?" and he thought I was making some comment because she was black—
V: —like some racist comment [Heday: (lol), Everybody: (lol)] like, "No, actually I just really like dark chocolate."
Dark chocolate is delicious.
H: It looked that way…
I have another question.
V: In Japan I love tofu.
Tofu's good, I approve!
[To Valerie] Uhm, you said you liked shopping at Rite Aid?
V: Aw [yeah], Rite Aid's the best!
What is the story?! Ok, I need the full—
V: Oh God, it's a little embarrassing. Ok—
It's on your website—I'm not making it up.
V: No, no, you're not. Rite Aid is so much better than CVS it's not even funny. The prices are better, the people are nicer, and the line system works better. Plus, you get—I'm a big bargain shopper, and, I dunno, I haven't actually been too much recently cuz they are kinda phasing this program out, but they had this rebate program where you get so much free stuff. You buy, like, toothbrush, toothpaste, and just enter your receipt and you get the money back. It's like everything comes out free. I've made money shopping at Rite Aid.
H: Valerie is really big on like…being cheap.
H: Like, I buy something expensive, and I'm proud of it and I say—
V: "This is this many dollars."
H: "This is…like 500 dollars," 1000 dollars, whatever dollars. Like, "GUESS HOW MUCH THIS IS?"
V: This wallet was three dollars!
V: Three dollars! I'm always proud if I get my good deals.
H: I [would] be proud if this was 1000 dollars and I bought it.
V: No, I'm proud of my good deals.
H: She loves 99 cent store[s], and I started digging it.
V: I dunno, it's just fun... I'm not crazy about it, like, have your seen those coupon shows, the crazy coupon-ers?
I've heard of them, but I haven't seen them...
V: Oh my gosh, they're insane.
You're not quite to that level? (lol)
V: They get like nine carts of groceries and end up paying like 53 cents.
V: Like in some ways I'm disgusted cuz they spend so many hours trying to figure out—you might as well just get a job or something.
V: [But] there's a little part of me that's just really impressed about how they can do that! Anyway…
H: You really…like that.
C: I need to see that show.
V: It's really… I mean it's just crazy.
C: I like saving money too.
H: The good thing about her is she likes to spend money for other people.
H: Yeah, she bought me a really nice jacket.
[To Valerie] You bought me coffee :)
V: I did—I mean, I'm really happy to spend money on other people. It's when I'm buying for myself that I get proud of my good deals.
H: She bought me a really nice jacket for my birthday, and I think that's probably the most expensive clothes she has bought.
V: He asked me, he's like, "What's the most expensive piece of clothing you have?" and I was like, "Probably a bra."
H: So that's a good feature.
Anything else? Is there anything else upcoming you want to talk about? Or…when's the next time you're going to Japan?
H: I might go back to Japan the end of this month—not this month, next month.
V: You mean September...
For work, or?
H: I wanna start up a project—a little, cool, secret project.
V: Uh oh.
Cool, secret project?!?!
C: In Japan?
She says "Uh oh;" is it a secret from Valerie too?
H: [To Valerie] Yes, you know. The project? [To us] It's not really secret. I realized even when you deal with major label people, or whoever, there are not too many people that are really creative and able to take initiative in the [salaryman] industry. Like, [in the case of a] major label, you feel like, "Oh, major label, right? [They'll] take care of artists," but after all, they are all [salarymen], [the] same, and they don't take initiatives, they do what they are told to do.
V: Yeah, there's a big divide between the business aspect, and the creative aspect.
H: Yeah, and we have to be creative in the sense of business, too. Like, if we wanna make it happen, I realized I have to take initiative—and those salaryman people are great because if we bring a good idea they say, "Ok, let's do it!" They will actually do it, so I'm taking this initiatve to make this project happen; I already talked to Avex and they seem to be up for it.
H: Because I know lots of people in Japan,  it's like a puzzle. I have all these parts, but I haven't put them together, and now I'm trying to put them together to see if it shows a good picture. Who knows?
Make sure to check out Layla Lane's official website, available in English and Japanese.