A Conversation with Ryo Okumoto

Ryo Okumoto releases his 5th solo album today, The Myth of the Mostrophus. I had the opportunity to meet Ryo over at his studio and have a little chat with him about the album, his new band ProgJect, the future of Spock’s Beard, and how he got his start as a professional musician. 

Hey Ryo! It’s great to see you today! Thanks for having me over.  Congratulations on your new album. It’s really fantastic!


How’s this one different than your other solo albums? 

This time I really wanted to focus on prog! Hard-core crazy MY kind of prog! You know people know me as a crazy motherf*cker.  I had a couple of hundred songs. So I sent some to Michael Whiteman, about 30 songs. I needed someone to write the lyrics, so that’s the main thing he did. He puts the lyrics on it, and changed the melody here and there. He’s a great singer, plays bass, guitar, keyboard. But mainly I would send the songs to him and he would put the lyrics on the top.

Were any of the songs supposed to be Spock’s Beard material? 

Yeah, they were. Every time we make a record, we listen to all the material and pick and chose which ones to record. And these didn’t survive. But Michael is a big fan of Spock’s Beard so he knows how to treat the material. There are a lot of chorus and background vocals. 

I googled Mostrophus and all that came up was page after page of Ryo Okumoto! (laughs)

Yep, it’s made up! Michael’s daughter came up with it when she was 5 years old. 

Who would win in a fight, Mostrophus or Godzilla? 

Well, we’ll see!  When I needed the cover, I sent Thomas Ewarhard a few tracks.  He’s the art guy at Inside Out and does all the Spock’s Beard covers.  The most catchy one was “Godzilla vs Ghidarah” from my last album so he first drew Godzilla-  But Godzilla has only 3 claws.   Mostrophus has 5 claws. 

Ah, so Mostrophus might be able to kick Godzilla’s ass with those 2 extra claws!

So, in the beginning, what drew you to playing keyboards, and how did you get started playing professionally?

Short one? Long one? Short one? 

It’s up to you… (laughs) 

It’s a long one. Well, the quick one is I had the opportunity to play with this group for the Courage Festival, I was 13. Then I became professional when I was moved to Tokyo when I was 15 and started playing a night club. And that was it! 45 years later, I’m still doing it!

You’ve performed and recorded with so many musicians like Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Asia featuring John Payne.   Is there a musician you haven’t got a chance to work with, but would like to?

Oh yeah, there are so many. Sting! I want to work with Sting so bad.  Pat Metheny- that would be really cool, that would be my dream. 

What’s it been like to be in your new band ProgJect? I heard you had an amazing Cruise to the Edge pre-show.

It’s fun, we do all covers, but the dynamic is different than your normal tribute or cover band. We put our own arrangements into it, that was the concept from the beginning. So it’s in a different category than a cover or tribute band. It’s so odd that the band allowed me to bring anything I want, play anything I want, and as many as I want. Usually the bands asks “can you cut it down to two keyboards”  But now I get to play six keyboards- that’s fun!   The CTTE pre-show was great. People know us as individuals but not as the band name, so on the tour, sometimes the crowd was just a few, but at the end we had 1200 people I think. So crazy!

Where does your passion for the prog-rock genre come from?

From everywhere! It’s totally unlimited!  I just like to be different and twist a lot. I like twisting a lot in a hard way, distorted way, a long way. I love that prog allows that. Maybe I’ll swing here. I can do Latin. It can be jazzy. Anything goes!

This is your first solo album since 2002’s “Coming Through”. I’m sure you have changed a lot as a person and a keyboardist.  What new qualities are in this Ryo and how do those qualities appear in your new album?

The one good thing, different thing is… I’ve been practicing.  I have not been practicing this much for a while. And especially when I joined ProgJect, I have to play so much.  I went from practicing a couple hours to 5-6 hours a day. It was perfect timing because then at the same time as ProgJect,  I started making this album. So my chops were getting better and better.   Now I have more focus and control.  I know how I want to present myself as a keyboard player so that people will recognize it. 

Was there someone that you were surprised to be working with on this album?

Mike Keneally… oh my God.  I heard him play a couple times a long time ago, but it’s way different when you play together. Woah, what did he do, his solos are like…  woah!! There are two type of musicians, one will give you a track and says it has to be this- you have to play as is , because I don’t want you to screw up my sound. But I send the track and tell him to do anything you want. And he just sends me back all the tracks and it’s like… woah!!!! He so expressive.  And Mark Bonilla… same thing… I send him a track, and he sends it back… Oh my God! These guys don’t care what I play, they just take over! haha Keneally, Mark, Morse. Oh my God.  They put these tracks in another dimension. Oh and Doug Wimbish, bass player from Living Colour!  What the f***! Jonathan suggested him, I needed to find an R&B bass player for “Chrysalis”. He played a lot of notes, and we kept everything he did. So good!

What was your favorite experience in recording this album?  

It was great having a team. Everyone was so helpful, and asking me “What do you need? What do you need?”  Everyone worked so hard on this. The record company too. Inside Out.  I can’t believe my album is coming out on Sony Records in Japan. It’s sort of unheard of for Japanese artists to come out on Sony.  I am so happy how it turned out, but I don’t know what to expect, how people are going to react.

I’m sure you’re getting this question a lot, but are there plans for Spock’s Beard to put up a new album or play live soon? 

Well, I don’t know about an album. I still have a lot of my own songs I’d like to record.  We were supposed to play HRH Prog in the UK this year, but that was postponed until Nov 2023. We’re booking around five UK shows around that time, then maybe 2-3 weeks in New York. Even if we don’t make any albums, there’s no reason we can’t still play. We don’t owe any money to anyone, so we keep it as is, we play when we like. And when they call us on a big festival or tour- we do it! 

Besides releasing this album, what have been your top three highlights of 2022?

The ProgJect tour, my son Sonny, and my other son, Sage. I got to be with him on tour, he was my keyboard tech, and there was only else the sound guy. So when Mike Keneally needed help, Sage also became his guitar tech. 

What advise do you have for young artists pursuing music? Or for someone wanting to play in a prog-band?

Listen to my album! (laughs) You gotta be able to play, not just fucking around on your computer. get serious and really exercise your skill.

What can you tell us about your future plans?

Well, I have a 3 album deal with Inside Out, so I’m going to start on the next one. I won’t take 20 years this time to come up with another one! (laughs).   Hoping  to do some shows. I’ve been talking to Michael (Whiteman) to do some shows in the UK… maybe just going over there to join his band and do the whole album. It all depends on how I do with the album sales! 

Well, it really is a wonderful album, and I hope everyone gets it!  Thank you so much for your time and congratulations again!

The Myth of the Mostrophus is officially out today! Get your copy here!!!

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