Discarding Freedom, To the Outside World: The Determined Santa Maria
Kenshi Yonezu's first single "Santa Maria" releases May 29th. The titular song has a heavy rhythm and an echoing sound of pianos and strings, making it a dramatic middle number. Created primarily by Yonezu, it's his major debut with Universal Sigma.
All his prior work has been done alone; indeed, Yonezu avoided making things with others. About a year after the release of his first album released using his real name, diorama, he has become involved with many others and chosen to work in the field of major labels. In his second appearance on Natalie, he told us how he came to be in this position, spoke about his work as the Vocaloid producer Hachi, and took a look back at the change in his feelings since diorama.
Q. When you released diorama in May last year, using the name Kenshi Yonezu for the first time, it made 6th on the Oricon charts and was nominated for a CD Shop Grand Prize. Overall, it seems like it made a pretty big splash. Has the response affected you at all?
A. I don't think it did, but really, not much has changed since back when I was making music with Vocaloid. Sort of just stepping from one thing to another. My real life hasn't changed a bit, either; since I don't show my face, I don't get noticed on the street or anything. So I hardly notice things getting more heated.
Q. I suppose so. How was the reaction to the album?
A. I thought there were some big pros and cons that would divide people at first, but it felt like it was rather well-accepted, ultimately. Though... It sometimes felt like people were dodging the question a bit.
Q. Do you mean you want more negative comments?
Q. Why is that?
A. It seems to me that something's wrong if only praise is being heaped upon. You really need dissenting opinions... a wide range of opinions, or there's no balance, and it ends up becoming very distorted.
Q. Suspicious of the lack of negativity?
A. Yes... I've always been that kind of person.
Q. Well, diorama was, in a sense, an album that took away the filter of Vocaloid to reveal the raw you. Since it was so readily accepted, couldn't that attempt be deemed a success?
A. Indeed, I'd weigh it as more of a success than a failure for a variety of reasons. Though in a way, diorama took everything I'd done, with Vocaloid and all, and packed it into one album. Even looking at it from that perspective, it was a success. And I'm satisfied with that.
Q. Did you have a clear vision of what to do next after the release of diorama?
A. After the release, there wasn't much of anything going on. For a while, it was just time spent thinking "Well, what next?"
Q. Did you think of returning to Vocaloid?
A. I didn't. I realized that if I was to keep going with music, there was a hurdle I had to get over... There were imperfections in my metaphorical body. If my soul were considered to be the songs I made, then performing them for concerts and such would be my body. But those things were always far away, because I remained in Vocaloid.
Q. Since the "body" was covered by the Vocaloids.
A. Right, right. The girls took care of that part, coming out in front as pop icons. But I felt that was almost unhealthy. When making music, I felt like I was unavoidably losing my balance. My soul swelled, and my body couldn't hold it, you could say.
Q. You had a feeling of wrongness.
A. How do I put it... I thought about how I wanted to have a strong sense of self. Because whatever happened, I would be a Vocaloid producer. I went by the name Hachi, and why were these cute idol girls the ones coming out in front? The identity of a Vocaloid producer is starting to establish itself, and I don't mean to knock it, but I saw problems with it. I couldn't bear the guilt, the worry - the "this isn't good for me, is it?"
Q. And why was that?
A. Well, I have to say starting off with Vocaloid had a major drawback. When I first learned of Vocaloid, it was just fun, so I said "Hey, this is nice," and was optimistic going in. But unconsciously, I knew I was imperfect, which is probably why I went with Vocaloid. I was worried that if I didn't better myself, I couldn't make good music anymore. ...So in a sense of taking off my shackles, I decided I'd try stepping away from Vocaloid.
Q. And that was diorama.
A. Yes. But I still wasn't quite satisfied. So I haven't returned to Vocaloid because, well, I haven't given a whole lot of thought to it.
Q. So are you saying farewell to Vocaloid?
A. Farewell... well, I wouldn't go that far. If there's a chance to do it, I think I definitely will. But when I see big questions before me, I don't think I can be heading to Vocaloid.
Q. Because it would void your reason for making diorama?
Q. It's not that you've simply lost interest in Vocaloid?
A. Not at all. I've been thinking a fair bit about how I'd like to if I have the chance. But now just doesn't seem like the time.
Q. How did events progress from there?
A. First, I worked hard on the song Pandemonium - which is now on Santa Maria - intending it to be the next song after diorama, but something about it just didn't stick. As I was wondering if this should really be the next song after diorama, I found there was a lot about it that didn't please me. So I thought about what to do... and put Pandemonium aside for the time being. I like ubiquitous, poppy things, so I started collecting things that were recognized as such.
Q. You thought Pandemonium wasn't ubiquitous enough?
A. Well, not necessarily... I just wanted to make something beautiful. After taking another look at things, I thought, "I have to keep looking ahead." Perhaps spurred by that, I made Santa Maria to embody my feelings.
Q. Personally, I was surprised by your major debut, Yonezu-san. After the solely-made diorama and its impact, I would have thought you'd continue along similar lines.
A. I didn't feel so strongly about changing tracks either, but... I ended up wondering about creating with others. Making something with people who understand my music well, and who are on the same wavelength seemed like the best way to go. Luckily, there happened to be such people in a major label.
Q. In the previous interview, you told us that you can't communicate well with others. But in a major label, surely there are people you'd have to speak with, and furthermore who intervene in your music. Did you find that troublesome?
A. The thing is, I wanted that difficulty. I'd been making everything alone. So I could act and do anything on my own accord. I could wake up anytime, start on a song anytime, or give up on one anytime. I continued that nomadic life for a long time. But as it went on, it started to get a little unpleasant. I felt like I was given enough rope to hang myself with. So in order to proceed in just one direction, I needed some way of keeping myself on track. Otherwise, I'd be all over the place. Unable to make up my mind. It really isn't sanitary... It's weak. I wasn't taking any responsibilities.
Q. Since you always avoided making things with others, this must have been a big change. Was there a particular impetus for this? Or was it just the constant thought of it being unhygenic that you kept trying to ignore?
A. Perhaps it was something like that. I've worked alone since middle school or so, and I didn't have any problems then. I simply enjoyed doing things alone, so I kept going that way. Thinking on it now, I'm sure there was some amount of evasiveness there. But by continuing alone all that time, perhaps my initial urges weakened. And I saw that staying in the same place was no good. So I stopped trying to be evasive.
Q. You decided to look ahead.
Q. This was your first time doing band recording. What did you think, Yonezu-san?
A. Right. It began soon after I decided I'd try working with various others. I like the band sound, so I said I might as well have an actual band.
Q. Sorry, but to bring up the previous interview again, you said that having guest musicians, if they ran the slightest bit counter to your design, would take away your excitement. Were you able to escape from that line of thinking?
A. Well, no, there was a fair amount of that. That's mainly due to my own imperfection. But if I train myself for that, I can make do.
Q. Train yourself?
A. Just get used to it. It's like being thrown into an unknown land, and at first the food tastes all different and disgusting, and the water seems dirty. That sort of thing will always come with a change in environment. But you gradually get used to it the longer you're there. I was lost very often, it being my first time, but I told myself to just keep going and manage.
Q. Though you were lost, you didn't think "I don't want to do this anymore."
A. Right. I had to do it.
Q. Did you feel it was fun, too?
A. Definitely, yes.
Q. What did you think of the band members?
A. BOBO (drums) was really enjoyable to be around. He would always be talking to himself. He was considerate as well, and easy to work with. Mafune (bass) was sort of a support-from-below, a very bassist-y bassist. He oversaw from beginning to end and helped me stand. A lot like a mother, actually. (laughs) He was a very tender person.
Q. How did production go?
A. First I gave [the members] a demo, and after about two rehearsals we worked out a mutual understanding with our words and bodies. Once we saw a landing spot, we did the real recording. When I gave them the demo, I didn't say much, just "Do what you like." But looking at the end result, not much had changed from the demo, not even the arrangement.
Q. Really? Did you not want to be surprised by an idea you probably wouldn't have thought of yourself?
A. Well... Had I gotten that kind of surprise, I might have rejected it. Seeing as mostly-unchanged was the way it just naturally ended up.
Q. There are still things you won't hand over to others in that regard.
A. Quite a few. But even though it's almost the same as the demo, it became a work that had the thoughts of others in it, which feels a little off to me, personally. I think that's another imperfection in me, but this could also be considered an experiment to see what the reaction is when it goes out into the world.
Q. Have you felt that you might want to record all your future songs as a band?
A. Hmm, I'm not sure about "all" yet. At this stage, I'm not even sure if I'll return to a band at all. Not every song I finish will necessarily be a song that suits the band style. It might be electropop or something. But I am giving some thought to making something that I couldn't complete all on my own - something that couldn't exist without others.
Q. I'm sure more and more people are looking forward to concerts now. Why haven't you done any yet?
A. Like I've said before, my body is still imperfect. Music, my soul, just keeps getting bigger, and my limbs can't keep up. It's a problem of my own thinking, so perhaps others would say "What the heck are you doing?", but doing concerts is a tall hurdle for me. And I feel that I can't do them for superficial reasons.
Q. It must be hard to keep your resolve firm.
A. Perhaps I just have to sit and wait for my mental state to change. Well, I say sit and wait, but it'll be through trial and error. Only time will tell, I suppose.
Q. You don't know yourself how your feelings will change.
A. No clue. But I look forward to it. My mental state changing, that is.