Interview: Kaz Kawamura (One Control, Animals Pedal)
Kaz Kawamura runs the Japanese gear company LEP International. In addition to distributing overseas pedal brands in the Japanese market (including past interviewees Dr Scientist), LEP has a few brands of its own: One Control, famed for its range of switchers and vast array of Björn Juhl-designed pedals; Animals Pedal, whose circuits are designed by such eminent names as Wren and Cuff and Skreddy Pedals; and Effects Bakery, a Japan-only brand of budget-friendly pedals.
Var Guitar interviewed Kaz over email in early 2021.
How did you become interested in guitar, and how did you get into the gear industry?
When I was in high school in Japan, I was very interested in Heavy Rock like Iron Maiden, Loudness, Mr BIG, etc. I love a lot of that style of rock music. When I started my band for fun, I played Electric Bass. Then I fell in love with the guitar pedal. At first I bought a used Boss BF-2 Flanger. It changed the tone color totally and changed my life. After this issue, I began to focus on tone to collect a lot of pedals, especially Japanese Vintage pedal gear. I had a lot of 70’s and 80’s BOSS, Yamaha, Ibanez, Guyatone, and Maxon pedals. I still own some of these pedals in my collection at home. I especially like the Roland Bee Baa Fuzz and and the Maxon OD-801 overdrive.
How did you start your collaboration with Björn?
At first, I contacted him 10 years ago to discuss pedal buffers. I sent a question to him on how buffers should work for the switchers. He answered me very clearly and I discussed it with him more deeply. Then I got the idea that if I could collaborate with him, One Control will be a more powerful brand.
What is the inspiration behind the custom-illustrated Animals pedals? How have they been received?
After the Covid-19 issue, I could not to go to concerts frequently. So I was always working at the office. Just I changed the One Control products design, I also got an idea to ask Japanese illustrators to do graphics for the Animals Pedal line, because it could be amazing. The reaction has been Incredible. At first I just got the idea to put Japanese illustrations on the pedals. But it is not for business, it is just for fun for me and some of our customers .A lot of people have given me positive feedback, so I decided to make more versions.
In your opinion, what would you say are the main differences between the Japanese and American guitar worlds?
A lot! For example, Japanese likes Booster style pedals, but the USA not so much. USA players love traditional Fuzz pedals, but Japanese players not as much as the USA. Also, USA customers are using MIDI control strategies a lot, but Japanese customers are slower to adopt this.
LEP brings gear brands from all over the world into the Japanese market, including Dr. Scientist. What characteristics must a brand have for LEP to work with them?
I love all guitar pedals and respect all builders for instruments. For my company, the most important things is to have a ‘unique’ something. The tone, concept, outlook design – anything is fine, but there needs to be a ‘unique point’.
What’s your favourite pedal from one of your brands?
This is a most difficult question, because I was always surprised by each new pedal idea from Björn Juhl. Early in our history, the biggest surprise was our Strawberry Red OverDrive. Björn made the schematic within 12 hours, I assembled the products, and already the tone was perfect and amazing. I was totally surprised by his brain and ideas.
What can we expect from your brands in 2021?
I have a lot of ideas, but I have also no idea how future will progress because of the Covid 19 issue. We made the One Control WING TAIL control app this year, and I will push how useful it is onstage. But still, some musicians can’t play on the stage right now. I hope it will be better soon and we can play rock again!
Many thanks to Kaz for agreeing to this interview. Follow @tomokazkawamura, @LEP_INTL, and @OneControlUSA on Twitter to keep up to date with what’s new with Animals Pedal, One Control, and Effects Bakery.