2 Minutes With … Ken Kobori, CEO of SURF Music

On Tiger Woods as creative inspiration and striving to break boundaries

Ken Kobori is founder and CEO of SURF Music. He's had success as a songwriter and music producer in Japan under the alias 2Soul. His career took off in 2005 with "Story" by AI, which charted in the top 10 on Oricon 73 consecutive weeks. 

Since then, he has worked with Earth Wind & Fire and Little Glee Monster, establishing himself as a creator guiding the careers of Japanese, Korean and American artists. Ken was also part of the executive team at Breaker Inc.

We spent two minutes with Ken to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Ken, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Kobe, Japan, attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, lived in New York for 10 years, and now I live in Tokyo.

Your earliest musical memory.

My earliest musical memory was hearing Oscar Peterson's "You Look Good to Me" on a JBL record player from the 70s. I still have the same JBL system at my house in Tokyo today.

Your favorite bands/musicians today.

I listen to so much great music on a daily basis but can always go back to John Mayer, Vulfpeck, Joshua Redman and U2.

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.

My favorite project is "Light Up Nippon.”

This is a charity project that I did in 2013 after the Tohoku earthquake. I gathered some of the biggest stars in Japan and wrote a song with proceeds going to fund firework festivals in the regions that were affected by the earthquake. We traveled to Tohoku every weekend with recording gear in a van to record 500 children in different areas. The project took six months to complete—and the memories are priceless. 

A recent project you're proud of.

The collaboration with Earth Wind & Fire and Little Glee Monster that I composed and produced.

One thing about how the music world is evolving that you're excited about.

I am very excited to see the progression of AI and how it will play a role in the music-making process.

Someone else's work, in music or beyond, that you admired lately.

Silk Sonic with Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak—that's amazing. When "Leave the Door Open" came out it was very refreshing to hear '70s music that I love becoming mainstream today.  

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

The Playlist on Netflix, which is the story of how Spotify began. It was inspired by the book Spotify Untold written by Sven Carlsson and Jonas Leijonhufvud.

An artist you admire outside the world of music.

Tiger Woods. I'm actually an avid golfer too, and watching Tiger play feels like I'm watching art in motion, and it has for a long time. He inspired me to start playing golf when I was in middle school.

Your favorite fictional character.

I'm definitely an Iron Man fan. If I want something that does not exist, I find a way to build it. Just like SURF!

Someone worth following on social media.

I would definitely recommend checking out Giacomo Turra, an amazing multi-instrumentalist from Italy who loops himself and jams out with different instruments.   

Your main strength as a marketer/creative.

I always try to break boundaries. That's what I've strived to do during my career as an artist and a producer, and what I think we're doing now with SURF.

Your biggest weakness.

I'm not very good at self promotion. I've always had a 'keep my head down and do the work' mentality, and never really put much effort into promoting myself.

Something people would find surprising about you.

I eat a Subway sandwich almost everyday for lunch. In Japan I order roast beef with bacon, salami, cheese and all veggies toasted on sesame bread. In the States I order an Italian BMT on hearty Italian bread, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and not toasted. 

One thing that always makes you happy.

My family.

One thing that always makes you sad.

When my son cries for any reason.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music business.

I'd be a Formula 1 driver. Love fast cars with a passion!

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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