Kenshi Yonezu Speaks on "Post-Vocaloid" Pop Music: "I Want to Get Closer to Listeners"
After releasing many famous songs as the Vocaloid producer "Hachi," then switching to his real name to cut out a new world of his own singing, Kenshi Yonezu is releasing his second album YANKEE on April 23rd. One unique characteristic of this album is the introduction of band performances. The performance is a dynamic one which adopts the essence of his "Hachi" works, and differs even from his previous album "diorama." In the first part of this interview, he speaks on his move from the home-recording style of the single "Santa Maria" to band performance, his aim for "universality," as well as his imagined target listeners.
- "I Didn't Like Meddling in the Things I Made"
Real Sound: Your new album YANKEE has more of a band feel than the previous one. First of all, in what way did you begin making it?
Yonezu: I made one song after another, then I had songs built up so I decided to make an album. So it was a completely different approach from last time.
Real Sound: So diorama began from a concept?
Yonezu: Last time I decided on the concept of a "town," and started from there. Not so much for this one.
Real Sound: Was there any reason why you made them as individual songs this time?
Yonezu: How should I put it... For one, I thought since the last album was conceptual, I should go a different route next. Though of course, diorama was made all by myself in my own home, so it wasn't something I conversed with others to make. Then starting with Santa Maria I began with the band approach, and was able to invite musicians. I thought, "I need to build familiarity with this." I didn't know my left from my right, I had never done anything like it before. I figured I needed some amount of time and experience to accustom myself to it. There's a bit of a feeling of the album being an experiment or practice to reach that point.
Real Sound: Since Santa Maria, even the arrangement has become band-performed. What were your discoveries?
Yonezu: At the time of diorama, I didn't like meddling in the things I made. I didn't think the meddling of others would make the work worse, or that other people's sensibilities were bad, and objectively speaking I thought it was better to have others, but there was a clear demarcation inside me. Maybe a big ball of ego, but a line between what I would and would not accept. If you presented me something that went into the "not acceptable" part, I already wouldn't like it. Thus I made things myself. But staying that way forever, I'd just end up repeating the same things, and I have limits to what I can make myself. So I thought, even if it required a bit of force, I had to get out of that rut. As I was making Santa Maria, I began to gradually accept more. I really didn't like even the slightest change in sound from the demo, but I gradually became able to accept more.
Real Sound: Why did you become more forgiving?
Yonezu: Well, I think it's at least a change in myself. But handing over a nearly complete demo with drums, bass, and guitar arranged, and then going through the process of recording... That really got me to understand, you know.
Real Sound: Your interaction with the players is a big part of this album, then. I certainly liked the secret-room-esque feeling of diorama, but the sound and sense of rhythm have a new side to them here. What kind of sound were you seeking during this album's recording?
Yonezu: The big change I was determined to have was making it "pop that lots of people can easily grasp."
Real Sound: So sound that goes more directly to listeners?
Real Sound: Yet your music has a very original quality. I don't think there's anything else with its sense of speed, its flair, its density.
Yonezu: I was dedicated to making for an easier understanding, but there's no point in doing the same thing as others. So I gave high regard to when I should go with that context and when I shouldn't.
- "I Had Interest in Universal Things"
Real Sound: Even in the lyrics, aren't there lots of parts that dig down deep?
Yonezu: I guess I want to get closer to the listeners, you know. If I might say, I didn't pay much mind to that in the last album, since I was focused on actualizing this "town" that existed in me. You could say it came from the theme of "easier to grasp," and it would be true, but... I wanted to make more that was simple and honest. Or maybe I should say, I decided try to extract a high concentration of the stuff that makes people think "this is fun" or "this is beautiful."
Not that this album was meant to be anything particularly "beautiful," just "easy to grasp." This might be taken in a very pessimistic way, but I certainly don't mean it that way; this is just how I break things down in terms of types of expression. Like "What'll happen if I do this," or "Can I do that kind of thing?" There's a spirit of challenge to it.
Real Sound: Both pursuing easy-to-grasp, and delving into a personal world. Did those seemingly contrary desires come forth after your last album?
Yonezu: I had interest in universal things from a little bit earlier than that. There was a time when I was thinking about what "universal" meant at all, that being the period between finishing diorama to making Santa Maria. I was in a search for "What can reliably be found in people's subconscious that they don't have to bring in their conscious mind for...?" Something very mysterious, like you don't know why you know it, but you do. There was a time where I picked up such things in me and laid them out on the table. And I thought, "what will happen if I combine this and this?"
Real Sound: Going through possible combinations to find something universal sounds interesting. Do you aim for that kind of thing while writing lyrics and songs, too?
Yonezu: Yeah. I find them as I'm actually creating. ...I can't concretely put it into words, and it's different from, like, the inherent goodness of humanity, but I think people are born holding a sphere. It gets whittled away as they age. They gradually lose parts of it. And what goes away, the missing parts, makes for personality.
Real Sound: So being hurt is a key element to making personality.
Real Sound: About the title "YANKEE"...
Yonezu: It doesn't have any super deep meaning. I've always liked the word "yankee." I even used it in some lyrics. So one day, I thought "What does yankee mean, anyway?" In Japan, it's used to mean "a young delinquent," but I looked into where the root word was from, and it seems to have the meaning of "migrant." I'm a migrant who moved to the music industry from the soil of the internet, so I thought "This is a good fit."
Real Sound: You're migrating, and you're also on the move.
Yonezu: That's right.
- "I Want Kids in Elementary and Middle School to Listen"
Real Sound: This work can really be perceived in a number of ways, I think. In one sense it's a religious work, and it's also party music.
Yonezu: I'm steadily changing. Just comparing diorama and YANKEE, it seems right to call diorama a single work, whereas YANKEE is like a present or a letter. I guess I have a strong sense of it being something I'm giving to someone while imagining their face at receiving it.
Real Sound: Is your desire to deliver something to listeners stronger now?
Yonezu: To lots of people, actually. The people I was mainly thinking of with this album, personally, were children. I want kids in elementary and middle school to listen. I made it wondering whether they would be pleased and accept it.
Real Sound: Like the pop music they get so into at first.
Yonezu: I'd like to hold that kind of position for them.
Real Sound: But I feel like it's also for adults as well.
Yonezu: I sort of look up to elementary and middle school children. Children are smart and sensitive, so I feel like being accepted by them should make me very happy.
Real Sound: Do you think you have a sort of inner child?
Yonezu: I want to... I guess, but... (laughs)
(Continued in part two)