The First Step After Santa Maria: What Kenshi Yonezu Put In His New Single
Kenshi Yonezu will be releasing his second major single, "MAD HEAD LOVE / Poppin' Apathy," on October 23rd.
After working as the Vocaloid producer Hachi and releasing diorama, the first album under his real name, Yonezu made his major debut with Santa Maria in May of this year. He states that after his major debut, his "approach to expression greatly changed."
How was the single to follow Santa Maria, the "two-sided" themed MAD HEAD LOVE / Poppin' Apathy, conceived? And where is he headed as a creator? We got the details from him.
Q. What was the impetus for this single?
A. I was just thinking about what to do next after Santa Maria. Santa Maria was a very plain song, in the end, and while it wasn't necessarily in reaction to that, I thought I'd make something with a stronger taste.
Q. You say that Santa Maria was a huge turning point for you.
A. Indeed it was. So staggeringly huge that I've come to think of most things as "before or after Santa Maria." To blow it completely out of proportion, it's like before or after the birth of Christ. (laughs) Santa Maria has that kind of role now.
Q. Of course, it was your major debut single. But in what other ways is it a significant song?
A. There was about a year between the release of diorama and beginning on Santa Maria. After making diorama, I felt a little burnt out. I'm a person who has strong desires to be recognized by others, so that's a large part of my will to work. Releasing diorama was one way to fulfill that. It had been one of my aspirations since childhood to make a CD with my own singing and have it heard by people all around the country. So when the album was complete, I felt some accomplishment, but also thought deep down, "Is that it?" So my desire to make songs dropped pretty significantly.
Q. That was before you started making Santa Maria.
A. Yes. Between diorama and Santa Maria, I did very little, just read books and thought about myself as the seasons went by. But as it went on, I thought "This won't do, I can't live such a barebones life or I'll never come back from it." So I thought about making songs again, but I didn't know what exactly I'd do. That was a time for re-examining myself, I now realize. By doing that I saw my many imperfections, and knew I couldn't sanitarily make music unless I did away with them. And I made Santa Maria to do that.
Q. So Santa Maria was like an answer to your own internal struggles.
Q. That single was more of a straight "beautiful" composition, compared to the style of your Hachi songs and the diorama songs. That's a big departure. Did making that song satisfy you, and relight the fires of your passion for creation?
A. Santa Maria was indeed something completely different for me. But making it didn't satisfy me in a musical sense. And I understood that, when I released it, it wasn't exactly what people who previously had come to like my music were hoping for. So I felt that was inexcusable, but on the other hand it added to the force to propel me forward. So I felt it gave me the strength to move on, in a good way.
Q. You talked about feeling like before and after completion of Santa Maria was a difference like "before and after the birth of Christ." What kind of change was it? Does the "Before Santa Maria Era" include the contemplation after diorama, as well as the time posting songs as Hachi on NicoNico?
Q. So then what changed from then to "After Santa Maria Era"?
A. Before, I lived a life where what I was extremely faithful to what I wanted to do, had fun doing, and was pleased to do, saying "I won't do anything else," "I don't care about anything else." But after releasing Santa Maria, I put some constraints on myself. Rather than naturally let things play out, I had to make things happen intentionally. So the clear difference between before and after Santa Maria was one in my own feelings. Not so much clear change in my musical expression.
Q. With that said, let's talk about your new single. First off, these two songs are completely different from Santa Maria. Is that perhaps because, after such a significant song as Santa Maria, you were concerned that you'd be asked to keep pumping out similar songs?
A. Indeed. I simply couldn't do that.
Q. So what made songs like these?
A. Santa Maria had been something totally different from before, so next I thought I'd run wild within my sphere of talents. And that's how they ended up once I was done.
Q. Actually, I'd like to analyze your "sphere of talents" from a musical perspective. I feel the songs you make stand out in the way they combine chords. You use sounds that would normally be considered dissonant. And it often clashes with the rhythm, too. But it's not noise - it's simultaneously stimulating yet comforting. I think that's one of your musical weapons you've wielded since your Hachi days.
A. I see.
Q. Would you say there's anyone who influenced you or taught you in those ways?
A. In terms of dissonance and things, I can't think of anyone or anything which clearly had an influence on me. So if you ask me where it comes from, I couldn't begin to tell you.
Q. In your first interview with Natalie (for the release of diorama), you said you listened to BUMP OF CHICKEN often during puberty. But that feature of your music we just discussed is something clearly lacking from BUMP's music.
A. First of all, there's no helping doing the same thing as someone else when you make music. Also, I suppose I'm glad I started with making Vocaloid songs. When I worked digitally, I could have drums, bass, anything. There are some songs I made as Hachi where you'd need three arms to play the drum parts. (laughs) And I didn't actually know, for instance, what real drums were like, so some things came from that ignorance. I didn't even recognize that these songs, with their mess of scattered sounds, would be something impossible to do in an ordinary real-life recording. And even from the time I didn't know anything about the proper mold (in a good way), I was raised in soil where people watched me. Perhaps subconsciously, I felt like I could simply do whatever I liked.
Q. So what about your melodies? I think they have some definite uniqueness. To be frank, they're less about drawing big arcs and more about leaping up and down. Does that not have any particular origin either?
A. Right. I just have the feeling that I've made a good melody. And even when making Vocaloid songs, I was aware of the big oscillations in them. Others told me I had great consistency, and that "I understand what you made in one go." But when they said there were certain unique qualities, I didn't really understand.
Q. So did those melodies come from making what was comfortable for you, or what felt psychologically good?
A. Well, if it's not something that psychologically feels good, no one's going to like it, anyone will say that. It's a weird way to say it, but I think people call my melodies unique thanks to my "feel-good points." Basically, I guess what I thought felt good, others saw as peculiar... I suppose I'm blessed with that. But still, poppy things, those so-called "mainstream" chord progressions feel good too, so I want to have that in my songs as well.
Q. How did the theme of this single come about? I suppose the idea to make two songs that were one was there from the beginning.
A. Indeed. I thought at the start that I'd make two songs that represented two sides. Poppin' Apathy, the gloomy negative song, and MAD HEAD LOVE, the positive... well, maybe it's odd to say "positive," but high-energy song. They both dwell within me, so I felt like this was the right time to make them.
Q. And MAD HEAD LOVE was themed around "love," appearing many times in the lyrics.
A. Right. Because I had the thought that loving someone isn't always in the generally-accepted "supporting each other" sense.
A. I've always made songs alone, so I know very well what it's like to be alone. It's very... lonely, obviously. You strongly feel "I want to talk to someone." And more than that, you become indifferent to everything, and summer can turn to autumn before you even realize. I've felt that's such a waste, and I wish I could share in love with someone... though that was long before I made the song. So basically, I wanted to be connected to someone, no matter the form. The relation didn't have to be mutual sympathy or mutual wound-licking. As written in MAD HEAD LOVE's lyrics, even getting in a fist fight with someone you vehemently disagree with, or quarreling about how what they say is absolutely wrong, are relationships to be envied.
Q. Because you can't do that kind of thing if you're alone.
A. I felt that for people to live passionately and with hope, they need to get bloody and dirty like that. Myself, I've stood by waiting for things to happen, putting off direct kinds of contact until later - I couldn't face things head on. I noticed that living like that for too long makes your lifestyle very warped. So I wondered if when people who are very upfront talk to each other, even if it's to bitterly say things like "You're wrong" or "You're a terrible person," it could be called "love."
Q. I see. Poppin' Apathy's theme is "emotionlessness" and "indifference," so it's absolutely the other side of the coin.
A. Indeed. For example, sometimes I see people who have all-out brawls, punching each other and pulling hair and all. While I do think "What morons," it's also very beautiful in a way. In that moment, those fighting two are in their own world. All self-consciousness is pretty much out the window, and nothing is left but hate for the other. The beauty of absolute honesty, I suppose. Anyone self-conscious person can think "How will people view me?" and "I won't say this because someone might think such and such." But people who barely do that are beautiful. A person who can laugh, get mad, and cry without a care in the world is wondrous. MAD HEAD LOVE is a projection of that ideal.
Q. After what we've heard, perhaps distinguishing MAD HEAD LOVE and Poppin' Apathy as "positive and negative" isn't quite right. Rather, MAD HEAD LOVE is the water boiling on top, and Poppin' Apathy is the nearly four times as much water sitting at the bottom of the lake.
A. Ah, yes. That hits the nail on the head.
Q. Furthermore, I think of MAD HEAD LOVE as a love song. But most love songs out there are a "moderate temperature." MAD HEAD LOVE is a true boiling love song.
A. Absolutely. I did make it as a love song in a sense, but I doubt many people take it that way. Oh well, I suppose. (laughs)
Q. MAD HEAD LOVE was recorded with a band, in a studio with musicians. Meanwhile, Poppin' Apathy was all made yourself. The difference matches the themes of the songs nicely.
A. Though at the beginning, I hadn't thought it through to that point. I had a sense in my head of lively drums and bass that I found I couldn't get by clicking in a program. Poppin' Apathy, on the other hand, I did it all on the computer because I wanted to have a more digital feeling.
Q. MAD HEAD LOVE's recording crew was Hiroshi Nakajima, Masaki Hori, and Yuu Sudou. What was it like working with them?
A. It was really great. In particular, Nakajima (on guitar) is a friend of mine I've known since elementary school. He lives in Osaka now, but I called him over to take part in the recording. I started making music with him in high school, and he'd play things out on guitar. So it was fun doing a sort of extension of that while working out the arrangement. And then I brought Hori (on drums) and Sudou (on bass) on. I found they'd recorded three or four songs before MAD HEAD LOVE... but I proved myself as a person who wouldn't allow the players to make the slightest deviation from the demo arrangement. (laughs)
Q. The song was already completely laid out in your head.
A. But with MAD HEAD LOVE, if the players did change the arrangement slightly, I was able to think "That's good." I'm still not sure if that's because I was on good terms with them or if my feelings had changed. But it's for that reason that I feel MAD HEAD LOVE's recording turned out well.
Q. MAD HEAD LOVE and Poppin' Apathy are shown on the cover with red for one side and blue for the other. Was that artwork done after the sound was complete?
A. The red and blue contrast was there from the beginning, but I drew the illustration after the songs were complete. Originally, the title song of the single was just MAD HEAD LOVE. But while I drew the cover for that through trial and error, I also came up with a design for Poppin' Apathy where the MAD HEAD LOVE characters were facing the other way. That happened while I was drawing. By then I thought, well, it would be weird not to treat them the same way. So it partly became a two-headered single because of the cover illustration.
Q. And not so much "two headers" as two sides of the same coin.
A. Indeed. If either of them were the title song, they'd be seen as the A-side and B-side. I stressed that they were both one. I couldn't approve of anything else.
Q. I feel like the two songs aren't a "moderate temperature," but going to extremes.
A. Indeed. In terms of premise I'm basically bragging about what good songs I made, but I definitely think I went to extremes. But like I said before, I want to do "pop" and "mainstream" things as well. But of course, that's very hard... Aren't mainstream progressions out of style? So it's becoming a self-conscious battle inside me. A conflict between "this is lame, but it feels so good." How I'll resolve it will be a theme of mine for the future.
Q. A theme? Incidentally, are you making a song now?
A. Yes. It's a very busy time for me.
Q. Taking it one step at a time to figure out where you're going after Santa Maria?
A. Right. If I get too intimate with a single song, I start thinking "What the heck kind of song are you, and what part of me did you come from?" Like lovers who don't understand each other after too long a honeymoon.
Q. I see. Well, I look forward to what you produce after overcoming that.
A. Thank you very much. My next release may be a little while, but there are some things I need to do now. I think I'll need to face those first.