Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - Every Day

Men's Non-No, May 31st, 2024 (Original Article)

Kenshi Yonezu: "I Want to Leave the Awkward Parts I Can't Control Somewhere." The Making of Songs "Every Day" and "Bye Now, See You Someday!"

Is it not the charm of Kenshi Yonezu's songs that the moment you hear them, not only do the sounds and words seep into your body, a deep sense of "Yonezu-ness" sticks in your memory? Following up "Bye Now, See You Someday!" from April, "Every Day" was released on May 27th, making for two consecutive months of releases. They're the theme song for an NHK TV serial and a commercial respectively, songs that will be heard frequently in people's daily lives. This time, we visited Yonezu to ask about these two masterpiece songs and their the stories behind their creation.

— Your new song Every Day was written for a currently-airing commercial for the coffee brand Georgia. Following LADY from last year, what are your thoughts on making another commercial song?

A bit before I was approached about composing for the commercial last year, I started drinking more coffee myself, and while that's a meager coincidence, it felt a bit fateful. Getting called in for a repeat makes me feel like I managed to be of some use, so I'm glad about it and grateful.

— How did you go about making Every Day?

The tagline for this commercial was the same as last year's: "The everyday can be quite dramatic." Despite thinking that the energy of what I was making should be fundamentally the same, it wouldn't do to just make "LADY 2," so I searched around for other forms of expression. In doing so, I found myself down a dead end, writing all these songs and going "this isn't right" over and over, ultimately becoming half-desperate and getting this feeling of "what am I doing day after day?"

Faced with sluggish work that wasn't progressing at all, sitting in front of a desk for hours with the windows shut, I thought "what even is my life?" and "I'm just repeating the same things every single day," then went "I should just make this into the song" and starting writing. It was sort of like my soul screaming out. I essentially just made my real-life "daily feeling," reflecting my emotions at the time, into a song as-is.

— Then the lyrics have quite a bit of your personal side projected onto them?

In the sense of "projecting myself," that's true of any song - every one of my songs is both me and not me. Lyrics are words, so they have concrete meanings, but when it comes to whether they're just actual experiences I've had, some parts aren't really, and some parts are. I feel like I'm making lyrics and songs with even my own mind being muddled, trying to shape them into expressions I can be satisfied with.

The percentage of it varies from song to song, but this time I had the sense that starting from the words "Every day, every day, every day, every day, I've just been doing the best I can, and yet," which played like a monologue in my head, I was able to just stretch those out to make the rest of the song, so I believe it is a song closer to my daily life than usual.

— If you say this song was made by "stretching out" that feeling, are there any parts that you feel contain especially personal feelings?

It felt like I was practically making it unconsciously, so about all I can say is that after finishing it, it occurred to me there were some incidental coincidences in places. It felt like having written something I wouldn't have even thought of. But perhaps the things I've been thinking about since turning 30 just came out naturally. "Some parts of you have grown, while others have been no good. Some haven't matured one bit, some things you couldn't overcome - these can be understood as your characteristics. You just have to understand this, resign yourself, and be defiant. Doing your best won't do anything about those helpless aspects, but you just have to do your best." It's a blunt reality, one I've been thinking about how to live with.

I imagine this is true of everyone, but as I get older, my daily lifestyle's changed, and I feel clear "cut-off points." As per usual, that sensation fell upon me when turning 30. The sensation of somebody like the chairman from The Game of Life showing up at the end of each period - childhood, adolescence, adulthood - and announcing that you've reached a turning point like "This is what your life's been like so far. Your academic ability is A, your physical ability is C, you have this much money. Well then, please carry on."

When that happens, you get a clear view of your life, like "I've come running this direction and grown up like this," but what's also made obvious is the things you had to give up on. I've lived as a musician, and have been fortunate enough to have a blessed career, yet at the same time, I think "what if I hadn't chosen my current path?" I wanted to be a manga artist at first, and have drawn since I was a child, and I'm sometimes struck by the thought "if I'd put all my time making music into drawing art, I'd probably be better at art." It would be an exaggeration to call them "regrets," but there is a slight vexation of "if I had done it like this, what would've happened?" Year after year, I get more feelings of "if it were like this, then what?"

Passing age 30, my "music ability" has grown pretty high. But my "art ability" isn't all that great. Even when that reality is thrust in front of me, there's nothing I can do about it, so I can only live my own way keeping that in mind and not prattle on about it. This song ultimately feels like it's packed with that kind of "nothing you can do"-ness.

— With Every Day having been written in that way as an outpouring of what's inside you, is there any particular line that personally hits for you?

The part I'm most fond of is "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday." You might say "that's just you listing the days of the week!" I feel like "just listing them" succeeds at carrying a number of meanings. It comes down to my own senses, so I'm not sure if it'll come across, but accounting for the context, I feel I wrote a really good line there. I'm very glad I was able to write that line.

— Aside from the lyrics, how was the song made?

Much like the lyrics, it felt like I just made it and it ended up like this. During recording and such, I talked about "desperate false bravado" as a keyword, but even that's sort of after-the-fact, a realization after I was done that it's that sort of song. I thought it could work as a morning-ish song that would fit Georgia, so it might be just right.

— I felt it was incredibly cheerful. What sort of value do you see in making collaboration songs with a brand or product? For instance, have you experienced gaining a new perspective, or being able to put out something you normally lack?

That happens to me repeatedly, every time. Basically, when I'm making a song collaborating with something else, I begin by looking for the common points between me and that work. I look for parts that overlap just right on the Venn diagram, and while creating with that as a starting point, those overlapping elements spread outward. After I'm done making the song, it feels that much more like I've found a new me, and can live with a new perspective I didn't have before. In the first place, a fundamental function provided by creating music is releasing my prior self to become a new self, which is through those repeated experiences.

— What an intriguing sensation. You also drew your own cover art again; is this the "cat who picked a fight" that appears in the lyrics?

Not exactly... While I was at a loss about what to draw for the cover, one of the staff said "this song's kinda like "Stepped on a Cat" (Der Flohwalzer)." That remark stuck in my head, and I decided I had no choice but to draw a cat.

— To think it came from "Stepped on a Cat"! You've worked on many a song used for commercials at this point; what sort of picture do you have of such songs?

I think commercial songs are very stoic pieces of music, whose goal is to stick in people's memories. I think that stoicness is cool, yet it's also a fierce battle, because you have to achieve that goal in just 15 seconds... all told, I feel they're pretty amazing.

I'm a creator of pop songs, so I suppose my music being "poppy" is at the forefront of my mind. I think that can expressed in various ways, such as being "universal," but I personally find it important to attempt to hit at "things you unconsciously remember," or even "things all people have from the moment they're born."

If you take an advertising-style creative approach to the extreme - though it may do just fine as an advertisement - the listener won't get the sense of an "other." To rephrase that, the more you focus on advertising, the existence of the creator as "another person" becomes more and more transparent to the listener. Indeed, with TV commercials, you often have no idea who made them. For as incredibly stoic as that is, it's undeniable that there's no "other" included there. So while I do want to make pop songs, I also feel I want to put myself in the songs as that "other person."

For instance, things that people look at and go "what's that about?" I want to include things like that - rather, I wouldn't be satisfied not including them, and that's just the way I make pop songs. It's going out into the world as an advertisement playing in a commercial, but part of me can't assume that level of stoicness advertising has. I think balancing the seasonings of "poppiness" and "sense of the other" is rather important to me.

— It's an interesting subject, how you balance something made to be widely accepted with the feelings the creator is putting in. Are there any commercials over the years that have stuck with you?

Do you know "Nunokame's First-Aid Kit"? Didn't that air in eastern Japan? As a kid, that played on TV all the time, and in Tokushima at least, I think 100% of people could sing it. Oh, apparently a staff member from Kyoto can sing it too. I might be misremembering, but I want to say there was a time it played three times in a row... The song included, it has an intense staying power.

— Moving on, let me ask about "Bye Now, See You Someday!", created as the theme song for the NHK TV serial Tiger With Wings. Tell me about your thoughts when you received an offer to do the theme for a morning drama.

Part of me felt "am I in a position now where I'm being entrusted with morning drama songs?", and I also see myself as not being someone who's very suited for the morning, so I honestly wondered if it was okay for it to be me.

— In your official comment, you stated "I greatly endeavored to make "a song you could listen to every morning," while also thinking upon the protagonist's way of life and carefully considering how I, as a man, should be intervening in this story." How did you approach that story when making the song?

Tiger With Wings is a story that has feminism at its core. Feminism isn't out to exclude all men or anything, so I think there is validity to my involvement, but I did wonder what the idea was, having a man like me sing for a story centered around women. In a meeting with the staff, I asked "Why is it you chose me, a man, for this?" and they replied "As someone who's always made universal music, I want you to make a song that looks at these women's story from a bird's-eye view, and encompasses it in your own way."

I began to make it based on that, and after thinking it over, I came to the personal conclusion that it was impossible to make the song from an objective perspective. If I were to make it from an objective view in this case, it would at best amount to "I'm giving a hearty yell for your hard work." That felt like it would be an incredibly irresponsible form for it to take. Just watching peacefully from the outfield doesn't give a sense of it having anything to do with you.

Making a song that looked at women objectively and sent them a cheer of support, by the nature of how I make songs, felt like it would come off as praying to them. It would end up as a total deification of women. But I think idolization and derision are the same at their root. So while I do think it's its own kind of violence to equate myself with women, who have a different nature from my own, I decided to go with an objective form of expression. Maybe if someone else had done it, they could have made a good song for the story while staying objective, so it's not like I think what I did is the only right answer.

— I felt you weren't just watching from a distance, but singing things you felt yourself. With it being an "objective expression," is the title and lyric "bye now, see you someday!" meant to be directed at someone?

"Bye now, I'll see you someday!" appears in the song three times, but I intentionally wrote it to have a different impression all three times. I wanted it to carry a sense of "the consecutive nature of human actions" across past, present, and future.

Tiger With Wings is a story modeled after a real person from about 100 years ago, who was the first woman to become a lawyer. For as much as she had to push through the thicket and pave a path, leaving a great accomplishment, these days women apparently make up about 20% of lawyers. Though I imagine there are still plenty of difficulties that remain. It may be an easier time to live in compared to back then, but there are aspects of society that essentially haven't changed, so we have a duty to pave the road for the next generation. We've taken the baton from people 100 years ago, and will have to pass it on again to people we don't know; I feel that the continuity of humanity's deeds is an incredibly important element of the show.

— I see. So you're expressing how people connect each era to the next. How did you make the song?

In order to have it be something you could listen to every morning, I wanted to make it, for better or worse, just smoothly flow by, lightly passing through without feeling too tensed up. It starts with an intro melody that weaves together staccato piano and strings - I was pretty conscious about making something with a steady rhythm, that maintained a feel-good four-on-the-floor lightness.

The idea itself came to me quickly, and I was able to put together the basic shape pretty easily, but in recording, it was really difficult to balance the piano and strings; I remember struggling with that up to the end. All told, I feel I balanced them very well. I get the sense that they gave the entire song a lighter impression, so I was glad to have made that intro.

— Truly, when that intro starts, it gives you a very refreshed feeling.

— KICK BACK received a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and in the RIAA Class of 2023, which compiled all artists' activity that year, you made history as the first and only Japanese artist selected. In addition, Globe, created as the theme song for Studio Ghibli's "How Do You Live?" (The Boy and the Heron), marked your 100th song under the name Kenshi Yonezu. What are your thoughts on your works reaching far and wide to people around the world, and being able to continue making pop songs?

I'm a person thoroughly seeking to make pop songs, so it's nothing but an honor to reach so many different people. It's a great honor to have gotten so many listening to me and be involved in bigger and bigger jobs, and it makes for a stimulating life, but when I think back, I'm like "when I started music, I wasn't really thinking about any of that," and "this was good, this was fun."

Recently, though it's not exactly going back to basics, I'm thinking about making things more lightheartedly, without too much serious pondering, in a good way. I want to go about things as if I've gone back to being in kindergarten, facing music in a fun way that's not so formal. Ever since assuming that sort of mindset, making music has been lots of fun. I'm thinking I want to take this feeling as far as it can go.

— Rather than overexert yourself, you're lightheartedly enjoying the music in front of you.

It's a similar feeling to "don't try to forcibly control the things you can't control." It's difficult to express since it's such a personal sensation, but... Personally, if I see a delicate pile of a bunch of things that anyone can accept, very well made without any defects like incredibly smooth balls, I find it kind of hard to sympathize with... Of course, there are things I find beautiful for being perfectly round, but it's like I said before - I don't feel that precious sense of "another person" from them. Just doing things in your own territory, in a region that you can control, I feel that "sense of another" becomes diluted.

Thus, when I'm making music, I want to leave the awkward parts I can't control in there somewhere. Rather, I feel a desire to always stay in an environment where I can't avoid being awkward. That's what it means to face someone else, I think. In doing that, I think I'll get to face with lots of other people. Looking at those things I can't control and finding ways to incorporate them into my work has been lots of fun lately.

Interview List