American singer, songwriter and dance producer Porter Robinson, from North Carolina, is a huge fan of Galileo Galilei, a rock band that hails from Japan’s Hokkaido region, and the tremendous influence they’ve had on his own expressive approach is well-known. Porter recently performed at Tokyo’s Toyosu PIT, one of the shows of his first Japanese tour in five years, and as soon as the curtain fell, he was finally able to meet Galileo Galilei and play with them for the very first time. The atmosphere in the studio, as they bounced ideas off each other, was intense, brimming with mutual affection and respect.

In the studio, Porter and the four members of Galileo Galilei were deep in discussion in the control room. Going into the studio session, Galileo Galilei had prepared a track and sent it to Porter. Porter had put his own spin on the track, and brought the results with him. The five of them were listening to the music and talking about what direction to take the song. The theme of the session was “Circle Game,” one of Galileo Galilei’s most famous songs, released in 2013 as the theme song for the movie Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. Porter adores the song. His track uses elements of “Circle Game,” but mashes it up with the essence of another of Galileo Galilei’s famous songs, “Aoi Shiori” (which was also the opening theme for the Anohana television anime series). The choice of the song provides a taste of the esteem Porter has for Galileo Galilei.

The five musicians kept on talking about Porter’s track. Guitarist and vocalist Yuuki Ozaki was deeply stirred by what Porter had come up with. Ideas flew back and forth — “what about adding some piano in here?” “I think maybe we could get rid of the outro,” “what should we do about the bass line?” The song changed, little by little, with each suggestion, remaking the song in real time. The process wasn’t one of everyone coming together to cover a song, but more like Porter had become a member of the band, and they were all creating a new song together. To be honest, when I first heard they’d be working together, I imagined a more laid-back, easy session. An artist was coming to Japan for the first time in years, meeting a band of which he was a huge fan for the first time ever. He’d probably join them in playing some of their standout songs — and that alone would still be a tremendously fulfilling experience. But Porter and the band had developed a powerful friendship over the years, online and through their music. The bond between them was far too strong for a mundane jam session like that.

After careful preparation, they began to play. The full-band sound of Galileo Galilei overlapped with Porter’s piano intro, and the song progressively became more involved and colorful. Yuuki’s delicate vocals intertwined with Fumito’s chorus and were joined by Porter’s singing, altered with effects. While the original “Circle Game” had a somewhat innocent and straightforward feel, over time, Porter’s additions transformed it into something more dynamic and emotional. Perhaps “transformed” is the wrong word — it felt like it had been that way from the start. The “Aoi Shiori” phrases that could be heard toward the end of the song, and the vocal samples from Porter’s own “Something Comforting” and “Trying to Feel Alive” were a testament to the powerful bonds between Porter and Galileo Galilei, and to Galileo Galilei’s musical history.

After finishing their first take, the five talked about their performances. Porter, an embarrassed expression on his face, blurted “I messed up.” Finding himself finally together with this band of which he was such a fan, he shouted, “I’m so nervous!” The studio burst into laughter. According to Porter’s tour manager, this was Porter’s first time taking part in a studio session with a band. Although he has performed with a live band onstage, playing in the confined space of a studio puts you under a different kind of pressure.

After awhile, they started into their second take. The mood was more relaxed than the first take — you could even feel the change in mood through the control-room speakers. Perhaps it was Porter’s previous exclamation that had broken up the tension in the studio. Whatever the case, it was a wonderful performance. “Circle Game” was written over a decade ago, but this fresh, modern spin made it feel new again.

After the second take, Porter drew out his smartphone and started taking selfies. He says that the session felt like being in a dream, so he wanted to capture the scene for posterity. This experience, which Porter had long dreamed of, had become a reality, and as the musicians melded their parts, the mood in the room changed. The five were communicating in a way that only musicians can. They began their third take. With each take, the sound became more lively and relaxed. Although they were playing the same song, arranged in the same way, the way the musicians felt completely changed the tone of the song. Just as I was reflecting on this, the session came to an end. All five of them beamed with satisfaction.

On behalf of Billboard Japan, writer Tomohiro Ogawa spoke to Porter Robinson and the four members of Galileo Galilei following the session.

How did it feel performing together here today?

Porter: During the second take, there was a point where I was about to cry. Just looking at Yuuki, it brought back memories of when I saw the “Aoi Shiori” music video a decade ago. It was really like a dream come true.

Yuuki Ozaki: That makes me so happy to hear. For us, too, it was like being in a dream. I didn’t feel nervous, it was more like I was walking on air, my head in the clouds. I’m so happy to hear it felt the same for you, too.

Kazuki Ozaki: I’ve always been a fan of Porter’s, and since I first learned about him, I’ve been imitating him, buying all kinds of equipment (laughs). It was a really wonderful day for me.

Fumito Iwai: Today really reaffirmed the power of music for me. This was all new for Galileo Galilei — connecting with an artist from another country, on a song that spanned the years, and creating something so wonderful. It was like we’d opened a new door, or got a glimpse of a new world.

Yuuki: It was a really stimulating experience.

Iwai: I almost lost it. We’re currently working on new music, but I feel like we’ll be able to use this experience in our new music, and in our live performances, too. It was like I got a peek at uncharted territory, something that’s clearly going to have an influence on our future musical activities.

Masaki Okazaki: For me, too, it was walking on air (laughs). I’ve watched videos of Porter’s live performances, and I’ve been really influenced by his music. I never expected to have this opportunity, and it still doesn’t really feel real. But there’s no doubt that this is going to be a precious memory I carry with me throughout my life.

Watching your session, it felt like “Circle Game” was reborn — or like it was given new life. The addition of Porter made you feel like a different band. It was like the five of you had already been playing together for a decade.

Porter: I’m glad you think so. I’ve been listening to them for such a long time, but I never imagined that they were inspired by what I was doing. I had no idea until today.

Yuuki: Today, the way we were playing together and exchanging ideas — it didn’t feel like our first time playing together.

Iwai: Yeah, I felt like there were a lot of similarities between us.

Yuuki: I really felt like we had the same feel, the same kind of tone, which came through in every little gesture and every musical expression. It was really moving, and it filled me with so much joy. Also, we all really love Porter’s music, and he’s been a constant influence on warbear, BBHF, and Galileo Galilei. To be honest, I imitate him a lot. Today’s session provided me with a better understanding of what draws me to Porter Robinson as a musician, and I think it was a wonderful chance to compare notes. When we started today, he asked us so many questions. He asked why Galileo Galilei broke up and why we’ve reformed. I think that’s because he wanted to get a proper sense of what the band feels like now. He makes music from the heart, and that really came across today. I found it very moving. 

Porter: One of the things I truly believe is that in your life, every few years, you’ll come across something that changes your perspectives forever. It could be a movie, it could be a band, it could be travel, it could be a change of environment. For me, those moments are indescribably precious. That’s why I want to express my profound gratitude to them, for being such tremendous inspirations, providing me with such joy, and creating music that completely changed my perspectives. I hope that we can continue to work together in the future.

–This article by Tomohiro Ogawa first appeared on Billboard Japan

Katie Atkinson
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