New Challenges Born From Self-Denial
Kenshi Yonezu has released his new single, "LOSER / Number Nine."
This album, about a year after the release of his biggest hit yet Bremen, contains new challenges in the form of Number Nine - a theme song created for the Louvre's special exhibition "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, the Ninth Art~" - and LOSER, the music video for which shows off full-blown dancing.
Including his work with Yasutaka Nakata (CAPSULE) for the theme song to the film "Nanimono," Yonezu is currently working on many new collaborations. What exactly is it that spurs him on? According to our interview with him, it was a sense of surprisingly powerful "self-denial."
Q. There are three songs on your new single. What order did you make them in?
A. Number Nine was first. Since I started writing it when the Louvre Museum contacted me last year. So Number Nine was there first, and thinking about what to do next resulted in LOSER, and once I had those two really good songs, I decided that to finish I would make whatever I liked, thus "amen." That was the order.
Q. Last year, you released the album Bremen. I think it must have been a very successful work for you, but how did you view taking the next step from there?
A. At first, I wasn't thinking about what to do next at all. I just kind of passed the time while thinking "huh, I wonder what I'll do." Then the request from the Louvre came in, so I made Number Nine with an attitude that pretty much just answered to that, rather than asking myself what I wanted to do.
Q. To put it differently, you were pretty grateful to be given that starting point?
A. That's right. Before, when figuring out where to go, I had to decide everything myself from 1 to 10. But it was a new experience being given a direction to go in, and a lot of fun to do.
Q. "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, the Ninth Art~" was an exhibition themed around manga and bande dessinée, so I imagine in that sense too, it seemed to resonate with the artistic sense of Kenshi Yonezu.
A. Right. I've been influenced by so-called bande dessinée from a while back. And there were a lot of manga artists who influenced me tons among those featured in Louvre No. 9. To the point where I wondered if I was the only one who could conceivably add music to this thing. My first thought was, this is a perfect fit.
Q. So, what kind of things were you aiming for in making the song Number Nine?
A. I considered it as continuing what I did in Bremen to some extent, but with an update, or going in a slightly different direction. Simply put, like the place you go next after Bremen.
Q. There are links to Bremen in the feel of the sound, but the song construction is fairly different.
A. Number Nine had mananua (Ovall)'s help in the arrangement. I've never worked with any sound producer sort of person before except Koichi Tsutaya; mabanua had a totally different approach, different feel. So that was new too.
Q. The song starts out with "in a desert, Tokyo Tower in the distance." In other words, an image of Tokyo as ruins with civilization collapsed. Where did this come from?
A. First, a major factor is that I have a fondness for deserts. Also, in my mind, deserts have a bande dessinée-ness. Mœbius, a master of bande dessinée I've liked a lot and thought was cool since my teens, drew a lot of art with a desert motif. I think that probably gave me an idea of "bande dessinée = deserts."
Q. What you do think "Tokyo Tower" serves as a symbol of here?
A. Just as a scene, "Tokyo turned into a desert" was the first thing that came to mind. I think looking at that scene objectively, you'd think it's a place with no hope or anything. But even with things gone to heck, maybe the people who stick with it and live there would be relatively cheerful? As messed up as the situation may be, maybe the people living there just find it natural and don't have a problem. I don't think that's too different from myself living in Japan now. You're happy and all, but if you look closer, you see you're living in a pretty messed up time. So I thought I'd make the song Number Nine itself have a bright tune and a pop rhythm.
Q. How about LOSER? What ideas did you have in making it?
A. Since I made Number Nine by continuing Bremen in a sense, I thought to make something completely different next. Experimental, or thorny... something that seems to have a totally different air on first listen.
Q. This song contains some rap-like singing. What about that?
A. I didn't really intend on doing rap. It's strictly rock, just with an added nuance of that kind of hip-hop. But I remember changing direction a fair bit while making it. I originally asked someone else to do the rap portions, but ultimately did them myself. I feel pretty bad about inviting and then dropping them, and think I'd like to invite someone to make a song together some other time.
Q. In the song's video, you do some pretty sharp dance moves. I was surprised. How exactly did it come to be?
A. Those were... hellish days.
Q. Hellish days?
A. I was given a dance instructor, and he taught me every day for about two or three weeks. But the last time I did any proper exercise before that was in middle school tennis. For someone who hadn't done any exercise at all since then, it was basically hell. (laughs)
Q. By the way, who taught you to dance?
A. Tomohiko Tsujimoto. In the Japanese video for Sia's song "Alive," Tao Tsuchiya dances, and he's the person who did the choreography for her.
Q. So it was some rather intense dancing. Why did you take up the challenge of dancing?
A. I've actually wanted to do it for a while. I liked dance since around high school, and I thought it was cool watching my friends dance, so I thought I'd like to do it myself. But, you know, not very seriously. Then I started making music, started using Vocaloid, started being able to draw my own art... I released Vocaloid albums as Hachi, and for one of them, decided to sing the last song myself. And in the comments for the crossfade video, people said things like "all that's left now is dancing." That kind of stayed in my heart. (laughs)
Q. So that was quite a while ago.
A. Yeah. I always had that interest, and it's in my personality to try a lot of different things, so I thought I'd try it someday.
Q. Honestly, I doubt there can be very many people who can do everything like that - make music, do art, dance. Since I think visual art and performance art are entirely different categories.
A. When making the video for LOSER, I first said "I want to make a cool video." In talking with my manager about "okay, so what do you mean by a cool video?", we got to "it's cool when the person dancing is the same person who made the song," and it sort of inevitably ended up as me dancing.
Q. By the way, Number Nine's trailer video was rather fresh too. Where did the idea for it come from?
A. Luckily, I'm able to draw, so it started from "maybe it'd be interesting if I drew in the air and recorded some video," and ended up like that.
Q. Even among creators, I don't think many people have experience in the field of drawing on air.
A. It was an exploration of the unknown. It took me a while to get used to at first, but it was fun.
Q. I just want to ask about "amen": Like you said earlier, you made it in a straightforward manner without any aims once Number Nine and LOSER were done?
Q. It's dark, but I think it has proper edge and appeal in its expression. How did you go about making it?
A. The starting point for this song was really nothing whatsoever. Usually, while idly listening to music on YouTube, I have a practice of adding my own melody to the music. While doing that, the lyrics and melody for the first line of this song came up, so I thought "this is good" and expanded it, making it naturally end up this way. I personally think it might be the darkest of the songs I've made, but I think that might be a kind of rebound.
Q. A rebound?
A. After making Bremen, I was often told it had become pop, or gotten cheerier. There's no doubt about that, and I expected I'd probably be told so while making it, but I'm contrarian at my roots, so maybe I was thinking "I can make this songs like this too."
Q. The lyrics contain the phrase "Tokyo is a scene inside a flask." Just like Number Nine, it mentions "Tokyo."
A. Previously, I wouldn't use words like that. Because I was writing lyrics for a fictional scene, and the lyrics described events taking place in a fantasy, so I didn't want to use physical place names or specific locations like "Tokyo." But I do in fact live in Tokyo now, and there's the society I live in. So I guess maybe I have to be involved with that. Though before, I thought "that's a pain, I don't wanna," and only considered escaping into fantasy. Now I think I need to properly put out the fact that I'm here now.
Q. On October 5th, your collaboration with Yasutaka Nakata for the theme song of the film "Nanimono" will also be released. What kind of experience was it contributing lyrics and vocals to Yasutaka Nakata's composition?
A. It was very new for me. It really was my first experience adding words to a song I didn't make and singing them. It was fun.
Q. Did Yasutaka Nakata give you any stimulus regarding how to be a creator and musician?
A. First of all, it became evident we had completely different ways of making things, so I thought "Oh, we're completely different, I guess you can do it this way too." So there were things different from myself, things that made me go "aha." I saw how he really was an amazing person.
Q. With LOSER's dancing and your collaboration with Yasutaka Nakata, you're challenging a lot this year that goes beyond just finishing works all on your own. Have you had a clear sense of that?
A. I have. I feel like I want to keep opening up. At any rate, for a long time, I've had a strong feeling of "It doesn't matter where, I want to go afar." What kind of nature you have as a person, what you're good at and bad at, aren't those things decided in elementary school or so? I had that kind of thing inside me as well. I think I understand very well "I'm this kind of person," but I want to go further out, at least one step further from that. Especially lately, I really feel like I'm acting solely on interests totally opposite from me. I talked about the use of the word "Tokyo" earlier, and that was partly because I started to find finishing everything up as just events in a fantasy dull. I think it might be a kind of self-denial.
Q. The possibilities ahead of you are growing greatly. Or rather, I think it's at a point where it's hard to tell when you'll really go. For instance, when you first started doing concerts, I expected you'd keep getting better at singing and instruments, gain courage on stage, and appear at the Budokan as part of a band. But now, separate from what you actually think you want to do or anything, there's even a possibility that I'll see you dancing center accompanied by a dozen people in black suits. (laughs)
A. That's true. (laughs) I wonder what it is? I feel like everything's disagreeable. People like me are disagreeable, people the inverse of me are disagreeable... To take it to an extreme, I don't want to do anything. I don't want to do music, I don't want to dance, I don't want to draw. I just kind of think about staying in my room looking at Twitter, watching people I don't even know on Twitcasts or Nico lives doing whatever for a year or two, and just dying like that. But that won't really fly...
Q. Well, if you really did that, you wouldn't have made this album.
A. Yeah. I'm not sure how to say it, but I don't want to be categorized into anything. I'm a rock-born person, and I think others often look at me like a typical long-haired member of a rock band. I sometimes feel distaste toward that, but at the same time I can't escape it since I am that kind of person to an extent. Both the things inside me and the things opposite that, I don't want to trust whatsoever. There are moments where I dislike myself, and even dislike people who say they like me... A really intense feeling of disliking everything.
Q. I see.
A. In some ways, I feel that I dislike everything, so I'm desperately doing whatever, and it doesn't matter what.
Q. So a powerful self-hate and hate of those like you is actually working like an engine that drives you?
A. Yeah. To say anything, you need to have a standpoint of "here's where I'm at." Because I'm standing in that location, I can properly say my intentions and such. But I don't want to stand there anymore. I just want to keep floating around endlessly instead.
Q. Because there's now been established a character and impressions of Kenshi Yonezu, you don't want to live there?
A. Yes. I really feel like I want to be like a mollusk that can be dyed with anything, or like an amoeba. If you unravel it, there might be a person named Kenshi Yonezu underneath, but he's not any particular kind of person. I want to be like an avatar. Like "I can change into any kinds of clothes." That's what I want.