"Lately I've Watched the Online Community From Afar": Kenshi Yonezu Looks Back, A Creator's Connection to the Web
The second part of our Kenshi Yonezu interview for the release of his second album YANKEE. In the first part, he spoke 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. In the latter part, he speaks of his time posting videos to NicoNico Douga, his change of creative stance in YANKEE, as well as his thoughts on the online community.
Real Sound: The final song of YANKEE is Donut Hole, a cover under the name Kenshi Yonezu of a song you made under the name "Hachi."
Yonezu: Donut Hole, I suppose perfectly naturally, is something totally different from the songs I made before I started singing under my real name. I mean, even though I have the names divided for convenience, maybe the boundary is becoming more ambiguous. So, I thought while making Donut Hole that I wanted to sing it as well. That absolutely wouldn't have been the case before. Before I put out diorama, the staff around me were saying "What if you made an album with covers of the songs you made as a Vocaloid producer?", but I firmly did not want to do that. That was different when it came to Donut Hole. I suppose it's a change in my mental state.
Real Sound: What's the biggest difference between your Vocaloid songs and the ones you sing yourself?
Yonezu: There's a place called NicoNico Douga, which is like a space for posting videos and listening to one other. Thinking back on the time when I posted to there, I felt like, not in any weird way, the community was making me create. Or to rephrase, I was making for the community. Maybe it's that kind of place.
Real Sound: The boundary getting ambiguous must mean that community-serving music and your music must be getting closer. Certainly, after listening through this album, I feel it has a side to it of amalgamating your career so far.
Yonezu: I think the strong sort of self-consciousness I felt when making for the community has been going away, maybe.
Real Sound: You're gradually working on resolving that self-consciousness issue?
Yonezu: That's right. I'm in a state of slowly approaching a resolution. But that kind of awareness will always be there, so even while making this album, I worried over lyrics. It definitely does get in the way, that self-consciousness. So I'd rewrite lyrics two or three times... that kind of thing happened so much. It was a lot of trouble, but as a result, I get people drawn into the songs. It's sort of a "belief of language" - the idea that once you put it into words, that becomes the truth. So the song stands in front of you, and takes you with it.
Real Sound: I'm deeply interested in hearing about that "making for the community" era of Hachi you mentioned. This phenomenon of online music has really heated up in the past six or seven years, a new page in the history of pop culture. What are your thoughts on it?
Yonezu: I think I still address my music to Hachi-era fans. And it's the same feeling toward those who became fans post-Yonezu. ...I personally really love music, and like to think of myself as someone who really digs deep into it, but not everyone does that. For example, when people go to the convenience store, most of the things they buy will be the same. They don't really think too deeply about the things they buy, and it's enough if it satisfies them. I think people who aren't really interested in music think similarly. These days, I want to make things that reach even them.
Real Sound: What led you to that thought?
Yonezu: Perhaps a large part of it was no longer making music alone. When I finished diorama, I couldn't get any motivation. I lived sort of a half-disabled life. Then I was just like, "No, this is bad!" (laughs) I had to look ahead. For some reason, I still have that sensation in me. That people can't be left alone in dark places. (laughs) I wondered if communicating with people, talking about this and that to make something was the way it should really be.
Real Sound: Maybe it was because there was a time when you were cooped up at home that you had those ideas. So about that pop music which anyone can enjoy and casually pick out, like in your convenience store example - what do you personally think of it as a listener? Is there a balance between that and seeking deep music?
Yonezu: I'm on both sides. I like music that's popular and everyone knows, but I also like music that's basically only known by me.
Real Sound: Did you mainly realize that through the web?
Yonezu: Right. So I like everything, more or less.
Real Sound: What do you think about the idol genre that many listen to?
Yonezu: Well, Vocaloid might be considered one of those idols too. Of course, I'm someone who did that sort of thing, but I've never had much interest in flesh and blood idols. ...Personally, I really love Ghibli, and always have loved it since I was very small. It's almost like animation that defines our nation. So I want to aim for that kind of thing. I want to make things which are for the general public, and which are also niche.
Real Sound: Was this album an attempt at that?
Yonezu: Eh, maybe I'll find out only three or so people are actually listening to it. (laughs) But I was at least satisfied when I was finished with it.
Real Sound: What role does the internet play for you right now?
Yonezu: I was in the internet vortex during my time as Hachi. Although it really was something I was quite intimate with. Lately I've been more keeping my distance and watching from afar. I watch how it moves, and how it changes. But I don't think it's good to get too far away.
Real Sound: It's been a characteristic of yours since your NicoNico Douga days, but your artwork never disappoints. What differences exist between representing things visually and with sound?
Yonezu: They have the same roots. I first have the image of the music I want to make, then it's a process of making that into sound. So if I look for the root, maybe an illustration could come out of it instead. Art liked me first, after all. So the difference is if it happens to become art, music, or art and music.
Real Sound: The illustrations this time are cute, but have a bit of a horror element too. Similar to the sound on the album, I feel.
Yonezu: They were kind of just stream-of-consciousness. (laughs) When I was done, I'd think "Why did I draw this?", I was going so fast. I just "drew," and this is what I ended up with.
Real Sound: So the "YANKEE" theme, illustrations, and sound are all tied together in you.
Real Sound: After this, you're planning to do a live performance at Daikanayama UNIT on June 27th.
Yonezu: It's kind of another thing I "have to" do. I made this album while thinking of the people who would listen to it, so it feels necessary to stand in front of those people and perform live. It's not about whether I want to or not, it feels like a necessity.
Real Sound: It's possible that concerts may become another big pillar in your future activity.
Yonezu: Yes. I'll do concerts with the members I recorded with. I was in a band in my student days, but I felt like I wasn't good. But also, I can't hear own my voice singing. I don't know if it's a monitor problem or what, but whenever I do a concert, I can't hear. Not knowing what I was even singing, I was like, "What's so fun about this?" But now, I think it's something I have to do.