Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - Every Day

Kodansha, May 29th, 2024 (Original Article)

Kenshi Yonezu's Rebirth as a Musician - Does Distilling "What Even is My Life?" Into "Every Day" Demonstrate His New Mode?

It may be that Kenshi Yonezu is aiming to be born again as a musician. Stating "I felt it was necessary to go back to being a baby," he seems to be facing what lies ahead with a notion of getting back to basics. As his theme song for the NHK TV serial Tiger With Wings, "Bye Now, See You Someday!", continues to receive high praise, he's already released another new song, Every Day. Following up LADY released last year, this track is again being used for a Coca Cola Japan "Georgia" commercial, and is a pop song that evokes a cheerful and metropolitan feeling. With Yaffle being brought on for the arrangement, it uses an entirely digital sound. Its rhythmic tempo and desperate-feeling vocals leave the biggest impression, and the repetition of the words "every day" brings about just a bit of dampness (and stimulation).

And just as symbolized by the opening lyric "Every day, every day, every day, every day, I've just been doing the best I can, and yet," beneath the upbeat sound, there seems to run a sense of resignation and prayer. In this interview that opens with a discussion of Every Day, we had Kenshi Yonezu speak on topics from the changes in his creation process since Globe, to the very nature of his works. Every Day must surely reflect both his musical mood, and his impressions from the past few years.

— "Bye Now, See You Someday!" is being broadcast as the theme song for the NHK TV serial Tiger With Wings. Do you have any new thoughts about it, now that we're some time out from its release?

It's extremely good fortune that the show's being received so well, and getting to have ShiShi Yamazaki-san make such a wonderful opening sequence also feels very fortunate. Truthfully, before putting the song out, I was a little fearful, I guess - it's a work where feminism is a central aspect, so I had misgivings about whether it was okay for a man like me to be involved in this way. But as it turned out, the song was rather well-received too, so I was put at ease.

— And following from LADY, a song for a Coca Cola Japan "Georgia" commercial, your new song Every Day is also being used for a new commercial. How did the creation of it progress?

Being a song for a commercial, I set out trying to make something that would suit that purpose. But the concept of "The everyday can be quite dramatic" remained the same as last year's, so it was quite difficult to make a new song for it. Making LADY had fully formed an image in my mind, yet it wasn't like I could just make "LADY 2." So it felt like I had nowhere else to step to.

— I see.

I tried making all sorts of songs, but I just ended up being like "this isn't very morning-ish," or "this isn't cheery," going "wrong, wrong, wrong" because it didn't match the image I had. This was also a period where I had many other jobs going on, so I was spending my days sitting at a desk making music and not taking so much as a step away. Despite it being the life I'd wished for, feelings of "what even is this life of mine?" bubbled out. What am I doing day after day?, I started to think.

— Just like the lyrics of Every Day.

Exactly right. I decided I'd make that into a song directly, that feeling of being stuck included.

— The lyrics and your way of singing do also produce a "desperate" feel.

That's true. Like "what point is there thinking about it anymore?"

— It feels like a song pulled along by rhythmical percussion to move forward rapidly. Where did you get the notion to have this sort of structure?

I truthfully don't really remember. At the start, I came up with the line "Every day, every day, every day, every day, I've just been doing the best I can, and yet," and dragging that out led me to here, is how it feels. The rhythm is done in a way where it suddenly changes midway then goes back to normal, but even that I would say wasn't done intentionally; all I can say is that at some point, I realized it had ended up that way.

— So the song took you along unconsciously.

That's pretty close to how it feels. I did the arrangement with Yaffle, and while Every Day ended up being heavy on sequenced sounds, I think the arrangement I made at first had a bit more in the way of live elements. I started with a stomp*-esque, boom-clap-boom-clap sort of energy, but as things went on, it started to become like this. I just went with the flow of "So Yaffle's approach is like this, OK, got it," and it ended up in this form. (* A dance involving intense stomping done to jazz music)

— Why did you make the offer to have Yaffle-san do the arrangement?

For the past 3 or 4 years, I've always done it with (Yuta) Bandoh-kun. The first thing we made together was Ghost of the Sea, and that had a huge impact on me, and made me feel he had incredible talent. So we continued making things together like a three-legged race, and after making the Ghibli theme song Globe and Final Fantasy XVI theme song Moongazing last year, which were songs I personally really loved, I kind of felt the urge to try changing characters. It's not that I disliked who I had been up to then, but it felt so strongly like a cut-off point to me. I wanted to try feeling a different breeze for a bit.

— In your eyes, what sort of music would you say Yaffle-san makes?

It gives a metropolitan impression, I guess. There's a slight mischievous feeling, while also having a strong urban smell. Indeed, I'm just not from that sort of place, having been someone who ran around in forests in the remote countryside, so I had a fundamental desire to work with someone who could compensate for what I lacked.

— Incidentally, there's also some keyboard included.

That's all digital, too.

— Has it been a long time since you've made that sort of song?

It may be. Before doing it with Yaffle, I was thinking I'd record the piano. But as we went along, we concluded it'd be fine to just make it all digital instruments. In fact, for "Bye Now, See You Someday!", I recorded piano, strings, and drums, yet it brought into relief some ways in which they can't beat digital.

— Like what, exactly?

The drums feel real. Compared to sequenced kicks or snares lined up all separate, recorded ones inevitably have less defined outlines. I can't declare it as a rule or anything, since it also depends on the arrangement, but in a way, you'll always lose to the force of digital sound unless you really do it well. Indeed, listening to recent K-pop, or digital music in Europe and America, imagining them with a lineup of live instruments just feels like it would be to their detriment. With live instruments, you do get a warm feeling, and they have their own virtues, but digital instruments are incredibly stoic. There's something completely different about them.

— You said you started writing with the opening line of "Every day, every day, every day, every day, I've just been doing the best I can, and yet." Even when it's a work you struggle with, is it quick to finish once you start to see the light?

That truly was how it went this time. To the point that I hardly remember anything after writing that first line, I decided I would let the momentum from that propel the song all the way through. Just run through on momentum, even have the chords just be a simple loop instead of anything complex, and push that through to the rhythm. I wanted to make a song that was done with before I knew it.

— Between the sound and the lyrics, it feels like a song characterized by repetition. Regardless of the fact it's made for a collaboration, did making a song with that flavor overlap with your current musical mood?

I think that might be a strong notion in my mind lately, yes. Until about 2 or 3 years ago, I was big into complicating my songs. Doing repeated key changes, getting detailed with the notes and attempting things I'd never attempted before. Recently, it's a bit like I've gotten tired of that. Like there's no point in trying to do that sort of thing, so how pleasing can I make it while staying simple? That might be what my current mode is.

— Finishing Every Day, does it feel like a new door has opened to you?

I wonder. The feeling might be more like returning to the past. I mentioned earlier that finishing Globe felt like a cut-off point, but I had never even imagined I would get to make the theme song for a film by Director Hayao Miyazaki, who I'd adored since childhood, yet that I made it happen in my life meant I could see my life as an absurdly exceptional one, and figured that I could expect no greater honor to happen to me for the rest of it. In thinking "well then, what sort of life should I live as a musician now?", I decided I'd try going back to being a baby. Though it's not like I'm changing what I normally do or my lifestyle, I felt it was probably important to have a mindset of getting back to basics. Maybe that's the kind of thing I've been thinking about.

— Your first release after Globe was the song preceding this, "Bye Now, See You Someday!" Which means that since then, your terms have changed a bit.

That's right, yes. I believe I'd like to approach things as if, after Globe, I'm living a new life.

— Given that, both Every Day and Bye Now, See You Someday! have a refreshing feel.

I wonder what it is... I felt as if I've been doing things a bit too seriously up until now. Wrestling with things too earnestly. I suppose that's not a bad thing, but it's just, you know, I also don't think it's automatically good because you confronted it seriously. I've come to feel a desire to make "junk" songs, for better or worse, like how eating a strict vegetarian diet for too long might give you a craving for hamburgers from a chain restaurant. It might be a rebound.

— This could be said of both Every Day and Bye Now, See You Someday!, but not only do you tell a story via your melodies and lyrics, changes in tone and how you're singing also give an impression of changing scenes. I feel that does a lot to increase your music's charm, though are you actually singing that way consciously?

I'm not that conscious of it. Still, I do think there's more I've become able to do as I've grown older. I started going to voice training about a year or two ago, where I've learned new ways of using my voice. And also, there was the shouting in KICK BACK - I think gaining that as an option has been huge.

— Did you start going to voice training because you wanted a new weapon as a singer?

More than that, it's that I've hardly ever studied under someone in my life. When I was in school, I didn't study, and slept all through class, and didn't set one foot outside my own interests. There was no one in my time as a student I considered a great teacher to me, and I didn't have any superiors afterward either, and have barely ever gotten to associate with senior colleagues, so I have basically no experience being taught something by someone. It occurred to me how what I need right now might be to say, "Please just earnestly teach me everything, starting from baby steps." When you're learning something from square one, I feel it isn't about aspiring to the heights, but the experience of learning from someone itself, and that's fun. I feel like those sorts of relationships, that aren't friends, coworkers, or family, are pretty important.

— The repetition of "every day" is something everyone experiences, so this song, by way of its commercial, will reach unknown people of all backgrounds. Do you have any desire to know society better, or know what people far removed from your own life are thinking about in their lives, or things like that?

I do, and perhaps more than most. For a long time, since childhood, I lived like a fish out of water... As a kid, I felt this sensation of having no idea what the people in front of me were saying. One thing I vividly remember was watching my classmates in elementary school do a conversation relay [i.e. person A speaking to person B, B to C, C to D...], and having no idea what was going on. It really just felt like I was watching Super Saiyans fight each other. It's almost like my life began from a point of "Why do I so badly not understand this?", and because I couldn't get used to it, the practice of thinking deeply about it became stuck to me like a habit, and I might still have that feeling even now.

Kenshi Yonezu Has Been "Too Serious" - Realizing His Own "Hopelessness" in His Thirties, Does It Call For Acceptance, Defiance, or Trickery?

— What kinds of music are you interested in currently as a listener?

Basically anything that meets my eye, I'll listen to once. Though that said, I come from the field of rock, so I love indie rock. Bleachers, Wallows... I was absurdly into Bleachers just a little while ago. It feels kind of nostalgic... though it's not my generation.

— Still, I feel like I get that. Even the album "Bleachers" they put out this year had a nostalgic ring to it. Do you feel a commonality with sounds that evoke a nostalgic feeling?

"Nostalgia" is kind of a large part of my essence, or at least one thing I value. Sentimental homesickness feels like an origin point of my creative work. As an example, I like reading diaries from prisoners sentenced to death, and thinking about how they must have lived - people may have their differences, but there are things basically all of them have in common. One of them is praying to God.

— I see.

They learn the teachings of a missionary, someone who comes to teach a particular faith, and confess their sins to God. Another one is writing poetry. One of the few things available to them as communication with the outside world is apparently writing books of poetry, such as haiku. They write poems with that intention, and they generally tend to be one of two things: poems which are themselves about being in a cramped cell, or poems recalling the distant past and imagining beautiful scenery. Praying to God, writing poetry, being in a cramped cell, and imagining distant, nostalgic, beautiful scenery - these four things are all nigh-identical to my life.

— Listening to you say it, I was thinking of asking about exactly that.

Right, and that's why I probably do feel a kind of sympathy there. Though of course, I'm someone who's entirely free to go outside.

— Why do people pray and want to see beautiful things, I wonder?

Why indeed... Probably because "it'd be boring otherwise." Not so much in the common sense of "boring," but truly "without this, it would be unavoidably insipid" - a life so boring that you can't even feel any meaning in being alive. Without things like that, it becomes something tasteless and odorless. Maybe I want to cling to God so I can get away from that.

— Speaking of Every Day, after the line "I've just been doing the best I can," it continues "All these things haven't changed a bit... Can I still love them, I wonder?", which feels like it makes the nuance slightly more positive. Is that your own prayers coming through naturally?

Whether I can love myself or not is an extremely important question to me... Who could say why, but I was someone who had a pretty hard time just openly loving himself without reservations. I mean, I say "was" - I have an awareness that I was just born that way. "Is it okay for me to love myself?", or else, "Am I permitted to live in this world or not?" - it's nothing to do with wanting to die or anything, but I've always had that sense of seeking someone's permission to live. In that way, I repeat through days where I can love myself and days where I can't, like doing repeated side-to-side jumps back and forth... It's kind of like this: I have this picture of a line of lightbulbs connected in series, which I've been installing one by one since the moment I was born. Which is to say I'm just likening my daily accomplishments to lightbulbs. Anyway, it's like I'm holding the switch for that long chain of lightbulbs in my hand. Depending on the day, I might turn that switch on or turn it off, and since they're in series, turning it on makes all the bulbs glow at once, but turning it off makes them all go out.

— I see.

When it's on, everything in my life thus far shines, and I think "what a beautiful life I've had," but if something prompts me to turn it off, it all goes out, and I think "was everything in my life a mistake?" And that's decided solely by the will of my thumb... That's what I feel "can I or can't I love myself" means. With just one switch, I can affirm everything ,and I can also deny everything. Asking myself that as I live feels like an incredibly important part of my life.

— The protagonist of Every Day feels sort of like he's giving up on something. Yet even saying that, it's like he can't go without believing in something in his life. I got a sense that he's striving to make his life at least a little bit better.

That's true. "Resignation" might be the closest word, and maybe you could also call it "defiance." Turning 30 definitely feels like a turning point; I imagine I'll continue having similar experiences every 10 years at 40, 50, and so on, but... It felt like when you change stages in The Game of Life - stages of life like childhood, adolescence, college, adulthood - and this chairman guy shows up, says to you "This is what your life so far has been like," displays a bunch of stats, and tells you "That's how your life is shaping up. Okay, please carry on." And when something like that happens, there's no getting around having to confront it. I imagine that's sort of why some people "give in" the moment they turn 30. You start to see clearly which parts of you have grown as you've become an adult, and which ones haven't matured at all, right?

— I absolutely get that.

Seeing the aspects that grew is great, but what am I supposed to do with those hopeless aspects? I find myself naturally thinking "if they're still hopeless at 30, maybe they're hopeless period?" It feels like I have to give up and brace myself to carry on through trickery, to do it defiantly. And I think "things you can't do anything about" is a problem everyone has. A while ago, the term "parental lottery" was going around; it seems the sense that your life is partly decided by what you're born into has really spread through the world lately. Your community, your parents' funds, your education - it's almost all established by the starting sprint. Some time ago, there'd be the illusionary viewpoint opposing this that said "Still, if you put in more effort than most, you'll make it work!", but when you get down to it, the blunt reality is that people born in fortunate circumstances are more capable of putting in effort. I think about how to confront and overcome that reality, but as much as I think it over, all I can come up with is "even if doing your best won't do anything, you just have to do your best," which it itself a blunt reality.

— So all you can do is be defiant.

Still, it's not like being defiant will purify or erase those things nothing can be done about... My thirties have had lots of thinking about how to best get along with not having my way, so Every Day might be a song that manifests those feelings.

— You talked about how you're starting over with the feeling of going back to being a baby, but what sort of activities do you want to pursue from here?

I want to be lighthearted. I want to be able to lightly overcome things one at a time. To forgive myself, to an extent.

— Is that a feeling that overlaps with "being too serious" the past few years?

That's true. Living not too seriously, not too unseriously. Going "Doesn't matter one bit!" It may resemble the "defiance" I mentioned, but as I repeat those things bit by bit, I want to approve of myself in my own way, and rather than walking with heavy steps like an elephant, run around lightfooted like a small animal.

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