Kenshi Yonezu Tells All About His Masterful Album BOOTLEG
To you all, my self is a sham, like a big ball of garbage. But I wanted to prove that I could make an album this beautiful out of it.
Kenshi Yonezu has completed his latest album, BOOTLEG. The beauty of the compositions, the lyrics that sit on a higher plane, the strength and certainty of the vocals, the acuteness of the sound, its grand scale as an artistic work, and its poppy charm - it's all overwhelming. Even the critical aspect of labeling it "BOOTLEG" is fantastic. A masterpiece that can easily convince you that Kenshi Yonezu is musically leading a new generation in the Japanese pop scene.
Following his previous album Bremen, Yonezu found himself doing many commissions and collaborations, work that put an emphasis on involvement with other people. Starting with Number Nine to accompany a special exhibition at the Louvre, he did "orion" for the anime March Comes In Like A Lion, Peace Sign for the anime My Hero Academia, a collaboration with DAOKO called Fireworks, and Sand Planet (under the name Hachi) for the 10th anniversary of Hatsune Miku and the 5th of Magical Mirai...
This was an essential process for Kenshi Yonezu, who started with a solitary viewpoint of "people can't understand each other," announced that he would leave that behind and set out on a new journey via his last album Bremen, and then sought to head further beyond. "Connections with others" have brought Kenshi Yonezu racing out into pop music, taking him far. And from this, 14 beautiful songs were born.
That is what this album is. A documentary of breaking out into pop while meeting many different "you"s - that is Kenshi Yonezu's latest, BOOTLEG.
We spoke about the road he traveled from the beginnings of this album up to its completion. Next month's issue will continue with an interview interpreting all the songs on the album; we'd like to use these two months to throughly explore this masterwork.
I've come to picture many people's faces in my mind when I'm in the middle of making music. Before, "you" was often just my ideal, but it's gradually become more physical.
Q. Oh, you've finished the visuals for the album cover!
A. Yes. Though the colors are still a bit iffy.
Q. Can I take a peek?
A. Sure, no problem.
Q. Wow, this owns!
Q. For the opening photos of this interview, we were thinking of doing the shoot on sand dunes. If this were an album that presented a concept and a world, then I figured using sand dunes would be a sure thing, but when I heard the title "BOOTLEG," I was like "Oh, guess it's not that kind of album."
Q. That being the case, we thought something like an ordinary town, but with Kenshi Yonezu being put there in an out-of-place way, might be more fitting. So we made a sudden change.
A. I was unsure about the title myself. Couldn't decide whether to go with DUNE (like the movie) or BOOTLEG.
Q. DUNE? Ah, so we got the exact same idea. Because of Sand Planet.
A. (laughs) That's right.
Q. It's a fantastic album. Really.
A. Yes, thank you very much.
Q. It's a stale way to put it, but I think you could call it "Kenshi Yonezu's first pop album." At the same time, it feels like a really realistic documentary.
A. Right, right, right.
Q. Seeing the both of those accomplished by the same album made me go like, "That's our Kenshi Yonezu! A real forefront of the times."
A. Thank you.
Q. And to give that album the precise name BOOTLEG... It's like saying "I know," you know?
A. (laughs) Maybe I might know?
Q. I mean, just how well you handle every little thing. The way you could just easily grasp "what kind of thing this was" struck me really hard, for real. Well, even though you only just finished it. (laughs)
A. Yes, that's true. (laughs) Even I'm wondering what I should talk about.
Q. First of all, what are your feelings on having finished, in brief?
A. Recently - in fact, two or three days ago - I finally finished all the mixing. Next week will be mastering. So I'm dangling in midair at the moment. I'm really worn down at this point.
A. But, well, in terms of creation, I first started to focus on the album when I was making Sand Planet and Fireworks, around February. Those took so much longer than I expected - a pace of about 2 months for Sand Planet, 2 months for Fireworks. I was thinking about a lot of things during that time, scrapping and rebuilding. To be frank, I think I've been making songs aaaaall through this year. And now, I've finally finished, and I think it's gonna be really tough to get my normal nerves back.
Q. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
A. Hahahahaha. What can I say, I'm like a husk now, really.
Q. You say that, but actually, about 10 days ago, I was sent the songs with the message "We're finally done. Sending the tracks now. Glad we could make it in time for the interview." But then I got another message after that saying "Er, he's saying he can squeeze in another song."
A. (laughs) Yes.
Q. So I figured you must have been in quite a creative mode, despite being exhausted.
A. I guess so. I suppose after all my worries and trial and error with Sand Planet and Fireworks, it felt like I found a missing part of myself as a result. It felt like my stage as a musician, as a composer, rose higher. After that, I still did plenty of trial and error for sure, but compared to those four months of hell, it was tons of fun, like I'd figured out what I had to do with what. So I could keep cranking out songs one after another. With my last album too, there was a song I slipped in at the last second, Blue Jasmine. And the extra song this time has more or less the same kind of role. It's like drawing the other eye on the daruma. I felt like I needed to include this one thing that represented the album BOOTLEG to the extreme, to be like its core. I really had no time, and yet I slipped it in there.
Q. So it's like you spent all this time working, thinking "This album's going to be like this," and then at the very end, you tossed in that very notion of "this is what it is" as an extra song?
Q. Blue Jasmine was the same way. It must make you happy when you're able to pull that kind of thing off. Like instead of ending like "I don't really get it," it feels like you've really grasped it.
A. Yeah. I had that definite feeling of "it's done."
Q. And I think it's a masterpiece, really. Bremen was a fantastic album too, but this is like 16 times that.
A. (laughs) 16 times?! That's such an exact number.
Q. So, one more thing I want to ask early on: now that you've finished it, what is this album to you?
A. Hmm, what is it...? Well, you know, to be exact, maybe Number Nine is when I truly started making this album. That song was done on commission. I was asked to make a song that went along with the Louvre's exhibition that presented manga as the newest form of art. Following that was LOSER, which wasn't commissioned, but then there were theme songs for March Comes In Like A Lion, My Hero Academia, and Hatsune Miku's Magical Mirai 2017. Then Fireworks after that.
In other words, a ton of songs that were created out of connections, be it with people or with media. If you asked me to describe them in a word, I'd call them "homages." For March Comes In Like A Lion, I wrote an homage to the series, and the same goes for My Hero Academia. As such, I feel as if it's an album born out of connections. I put pins in the things that are in common between myself and the source material, and build a song out from that axis. As the song is born, all these points get linked together, and maybe my own self can be found in the blank space. That's what was on my mind the whole time I was doing commissions. So I think of it like an album that deeply expresses those kinds of ideas.
Q. You used the word "homage," but I think it's like other people open you up. By working with other people, a bunch of your drawers slide open one after another.
When you're making something for a purpose, you have to feel like you're giving a present. But having lived a very self-centered life, I lack that perspective.
Q. And after that opening-up, what did you discover? The answer is, a documentary about meeting a "you" unlike what you knew before. That's what this album is.
A. Hm, yeah.
Q. In that sense, it's true pop. It documents the life of a person who's being opened up by various things, which ultimately lets them meet something new. That's what I feel the album is about. So when I listened all the way through, I got major goosebumps.
A. I did open up a fair bit. I even did a duet, after all.
Q. That's right.
A. I never would've even considered doing a duet a year ago. That was just a thing that happened spontaneously. In that sense, I look at my own changes with a bit of surprise and wonderment, like "Ah, so there's a part of me that wants to do that."
Q. I see. Well, I'd like us to start discussing your works, while also looking back a bit. After finishing Bremen, a season of commissions began. But how did that begin in the first place?
A. Yeah, what was it? I guess there's this desire, this ambition I have, to always keep on changing, to open myself up... I definitely think of myself as a person born from the internet, who's taking it one step at a time to move forward and open up more. In that sense, doing commissions allows the music I make to reach people somewhere completely different, who I'd never be able to reach living as usual. That being said, I can't just do whatever, and have to strike a balance between what I'm 100% into and what I'm asked to do. Making something that someone else asks for... that's a super essential step for myself a musician. I feel like that's more fun, in fact. So it's music with a sense of connection. Identifying what lies between two things and expressing it well is something I've wanted to do for some time, and relates to my desire to make universal music. It helps refine my sensibilities as a musician, and my skills.
Q. In practice, the songs came out quite different. What was that experience like?
A. What indeed... Well, I worried a lot. The responsibility I held was apparent. I couldn't just do whatever I felt like.
Q. Yeah. Since before then, you acted like a real non-team-player who does whatever he pleases. (laughs)
A. (laughs) Right. I vividly remember those moments where it felt like things that weren't my own were creeping in. I remember thinking, "when you're making something for a purpose, you have to feel like you're giving a present." But I'd never done anything of the sort before. I really didn't have much perspective on like, what would make this person happy. It was honestly just "what I think," because I'd lived a very self-centered life. So I worried a ton over whether I actually did things right. But the notion I finally arrived at was, unless I thought it was 100% beautiful, it would just be a bother for the recipient. So I kept scrapping and rebuilding, and ultimately, I did what I wanted. (laughs) As long as you can properly see the common points between myself and the work, there's no harm in doing whatever else. That's the simple conclusion I came to.
Q. That sounds like a very honest way of opening up to pop, and one very suited to Kenshi Yonezu. Especially "orion": that song is written in a pure way, likening the happiness you're given to the heart-fluttering of romance. As a result, it can make both the creator and the listener very happy, just like a present - it induces that kind of experience, right?
Q. Peace Sign is the same. When you think about what that collaboration was, it's a conversation with your younger self, going out to meet him. And it ended up being a gift to many people in the form of a superb anime theme. It really makes you feel like "Kenshi Yonezu made a successful pop transformation!"
A. Yeah, yeah.
Q. So I was wondering if you felt any pushback doing that.
A. It was pushback through and through. (laughs) But really, though, I think it ended up being a super good album. Sure, maybe when more time has passed, I'll think "I should have done it more like this..." But right now, I feel something right between a comfortable happiness, and an emptiness like letting go of your child so they can set off on their own. (laughs)
Q. Toward the end of your aforementioned season of commissions, you made a duet with DAOKO, and a Hatsune Miku song under the Hachi name. Which, as you mentioned, was quite arduous. What kind of experience was that, exactly?
A. Well, first I was making Sand Planet. I was asked to do it, for Magical Mirai, the Hatsune Miku party held once per year. And the request I received was to make a theme song for Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary, and the 5th anniversary of the event. At first, I really questioned what I should do. I'm not the kind of person who'll make a happy song just because it's the 10th anniversary, so I looked back at what I did in my "Hachi" days. I was thinking about what I needed to do to return to being Hachi. Like, "should I really just do something that happy?" In truth, I have made a few songs like that, but just making a Vocaloid sing one of those didn't feel like something Hachi would do.
As I was turning it over in my head, I observed NicoNico Douga. If I were to break up Vocaloid into eras, I'd say I'm part of a second generation. That era was the most chaotic of all. There was a boom making it huge and exciting; it was a time where the scene started becoming more of a gradient. With all these genres mixed together, I think it was the most uncertain era. After that, it became more standardized in some ways. In other words, it became a burnt field. Traveling through Vocaloid's history, remembering how there were songs like this and songs like that, I came to think "Man, it's like a desert." (laughs)
A. I'm a fan of the "desert" theme, and I kept thinking "it's a desert, a desert" in my head. So I thought "Well, maybe it'd be okay if I took that idea and expressed it as sort of a necessary evil?" And so I made this song. Some of my most popular Hachi songs, like Panda Hero and Matryoshka, were "F the world!"-type songs as well, so it's the same kind of nuance. That's peak Hachi to me, and my own variety of anniversary. Well, of course a lot of people got really pissed at me for it. (laughs)
Q. Huh? Really?
A. Even some of my friends got mad at me. Not too long ago, I had a fight with someone that lasted literally 2 or 3 hours. (laughs)
Q. For people who have an attachment to Hatsune Miku, I suppose it's like "Hold on, are you seriously taking that angle?"
A. Yeah. Plus, I totally snubbed the people who are doing Vocaloid now, no doubt. So I understand why they feel that way.
Q. I had no idea there was such a conflict.
A. But what's interesting is that, as a result of submitting that as the theme song for a fan creation event, there were... a ton of fan creations. If only for that moment, it felt like it had returned to the 2009, 2010 Vocaloid scene I was most active in. I was able to look at it and go "Ah, how nostalgic."
Q. Do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?
A. Hmm. I guess that's for everyone to decide.
I was confident I was the best in Japan at constructing a beautiful melody line. But I couldn't make a melody without words.
Q. I see. But in the end, I think it's a good song. After that was your duet with DAOKO. What kind of personal ambitions did you have with that?
A. While ultimately it ended up being a duet, I originally made it as a song just for her to sing. But as it turned out, it was really difficult to find a melody line and lyrics that would work when sung by people besides myself. And I knew I had to make proper use of DAOKO-chan's unique characteristics. And it's the theme song for a movie; I had to make something with enough intensity to stand up against something worked on by many hands. With those constraints - and I don't mean "constraints" in any bad sense whatsoever - it felt like a balancing act where I had to thread a needle through a very small hole.
And I found that I don't know myself very well. I finally realized that I can't make music without lyrics. Which is why at first, I was just trying to think up the melody line, but without the scene and the words to put on it, nothing would stick. Until then, I thought making the melody line was the most important part, and I truly felt confident I was the best in Japan at constructing a beautiful melody line. I had used that as a basis to create my songs. But trying to make that song, I found I couldn't make a melody without words. So that was those two months: finally realizing something I didn't even know about myself.
Q. That's big.
Q. But if you hadn't gotten in talks with DAOKO, that song would surely never exist. From that angle too, your connections with others cause things to open up.
A. I think that's what "homages" and "tributes" are about. Even with Fireworks, written for the movie, I was watching the source material as I made the song. It's an homage to Shunji Iwai-san's TV drama, and also an homage to DAOKO-chan. It's entirely ordinary, but it's done while paying respect. There's a part of me that tries to step in that direction amid these connections. Stepping closer lets me see more things I could never see before. So while I intended to give it to people as a present, there's also a ton that I get from it as well, looking back on it. I strongly feel that I made this album by extracting the essence of others and making it my own.
Q. Very interesting. But that's only the first half of the story. You took some approaches you'd never done before, but it wasn't like you were headed toward songs for this album. How did you progress from there?
A. After that was "fogbound." I started making it right after finishing Fireworks. There, I decided to do something I wouldn't have even considered a year ago: I had a guest vocalist provide a backing chorus. That's another kind of connection at work. It feels like the whole album was an unbroken chain of that kind of thing. I'd always done everything myself, so I suppose I gave that impression to the public. Coming here, pulling in people from unimaginable places, and involving them in my songs was very stimulating for me, having been that kind of person.
Q. Not to mention a song like "fogbound" is one that, previously, would have definitely been thick with your own flavor.
A. I believe it would've been thick-flavored and clammy.
Q. Thick and clammy is your strong suit. (laughs)
A. (laughs) Yeah.
Q. The prior collaborations certainly had a theme of opening up in various ways based on your commonalities with other people, yet this song has an incredibly lonely feel. I have to wonder if you had some strong motivation for bringing in another person for a song like this.
A. Actually, it was a very natural thing to me. I feel certain that the song wouldn't have worked without this particular person. By having the guest vocalist provide a backing chorus, by making a harmony that hangs over the melody I'm singing, the loneliness the song carries stands out all the more. So it was an entirely necessary occurrence for me.
I was really into the idea of telling that cult of originality to piss off. Like, "Then what is this "real deal" you're talking about? Come on, tell me."
Q. Ah, I see. How did the new songs after that come about?
A. I think the key turned out to be Sand Planet. The rap-like part in the second verse includes homages to Vocaloid songs I liked, and monumental songs from my era of Vocaloid. I uploaded the song to NicoNico Douga at the end of July. And people told me, in reference to that bit, "Don't just use other people's songs like that." During that fight I mentioned earlier, they said "Wouldn't you be mad if your stuff just got used by somebody else?", and I was like "Why would I get mad about that?!" I think that lurking behind this attitude are extreme beliefs about "originality." And I really didn't care for them. I felt something wrong about the way people used words like "originality." Like they'd only accept things that no one had ever seen before. If you actually went all the way to make something no one had seen or heard before, I think you'd end up with something devoid of meaning. Imperceivable stuff, like Webern's piano pieces, that doesn't make any sense. Such things don't have any context.
Music is made with many contexts, with many molds - be it rock, or punk, or jazz. We do our best to swim as freely as possible within those molds. But as near as I can tell, there are far too many people who don't understand this. They say things like, "art isn't something you study." They're people who want things to be all about individual sensibilities. I've listened to all sorts of music, read manga, watched movies, and been influenced by friends and others on top of that. So I process those things inside myself and reconstruct them. And I feel confident that I can create beautiful music by doing that.
Anyway, I was really into the idea of telling that cult of originality to piss off, after I made Sand Planet. Like, "Hold on now, what's this about "genuine"?", or "Then what is this "real deal" you're talking about? Come on, tell me." I'm thinking, if you say a flower grown in a plastic greenhouse isn't beautiful, then what is beautiful? I made music on the internet for a long time, music that began and ended on a screen, but people like to say stuff like "if it's not live, it's not real." So, speaking in those terms, I'm like "Okay then, I've been a fake since I was born." To you all, my self is a sham, like a big ball of garbage assembled like a collage. But I wanted to prove that I could make an album this beautiful out of it. That's why, though I'd been waffling between DUNE or BOOTLEG until then, I decided the title had to be BOOTLEG.
Q. While I'm surprised to hear about that, it must have been a driving force that made you set out to make this album beautiful. But the style of the album itself wasn't necessarily influenced, was it?
A. Er, I mean, I was intentionally making it to be that way... Like Nighthawks was made as an homage to BUMP OF CHICKEN and RADWIMPS.
Q. I didn't know this lore!
A. (laughs) Really?
Q. Well, for instance, what is Monster's March in those terms? I thought that via your connections to others, it drew out various things in you, and so you could say with honesty things you would've previously said in a contrarian way. That's the story I interpreted behind this song.
Q. And the lyrics are amazing, anyway. "I was born so that I could meet you," "From our joy of believing each other, let's start once again," "And so I'll sing, I'll sing of love; it's good to be with you..." It feels like lots of non-Kenshi Yonezu words are pasted in there.
A. (laughs) That's definitely true. This is another song that I never would've written in the past, born out of an effort to open up. But that's only part of it - it's a hybrid.
Q. Ahh, I see!
A. Alongside those lyrics and the sense of making something more open, I set out to make a song like The Cure or The Smiths. I digested the "neo-acoustic" genre, as it's known in Japan, to make it my own. So it's also an homage in that way.
Q. Sort of "pop to the point of irony"?
A. Yeah, yeah. The Smiths songs feel super good, but you're also like "What the heck are you singing?!"
Q. Like "this is completely sick."
A. Yeah. (laughs) I wanted to mix those things together.
Q. In that respect, this song's melody is almost unnervingly like a melody you might hear over a commercial on TV at a family gathering.
Q. So, what about Spring Thunder?
A. Spring Thunder is French pop.
A. Hahahaha. That's what it is to me. I wanted to do a song like Phoenix. I felt like doing something I hadn't done before.
Q. I saw the composition as a variant of Melancholy Kitchen, setting out to purely depict a moment in which something steals your heart -
A. It's also that.
Q. So they're always hybrids?
Q. Yikes, complex!
A. Ahahahaha. But really, truly, it's about pure romantic feelings. I pulled those things out of myself, so it can simply be that kind of song as well.
Q. Melancholy Kitchen's lyrics had something of a story to them. Like it was about remnants in a room you used to live together in. But this assumed more of a pure form.
Q. To go back a little, when you made this album, you had a lot more friendly relationships compared to past Yonezu.
A. Hahaha. I sure have made more.
Q. Are those "changes in the individual" relevant to this album?
A. They're very relevant.
Q. Why did you decide to make more friends all of a sudden?
A. If you ask me why, the answer is ultimately going to be like "for the sake of music." But I just like to do things I haven't done before. This is my fundamental driving engine - I want to go afar. One answer born from that engine was consciously talking with other people, starting a year or two ago. I think that's what led to this incredibly thickly-colored album. I mean, even the song 爱丽丝 (Alice), I made with friends. The arranger, the drums, the bass, these people were all drinking buddies. While drinking and talking, we decided it'd be fun to make a song with this balance between us. That's where that began.
Q. Then there's a meaning to that.
Q. The lyrics have this quality I've always seen as Kenshi Yonezu-like: I feel like I've wandered into this world, and my time here is temporary, and that's why I can have such fun. So I figured arranging with your friends was the main focus, and the lyrics were written pretty typically.
A. Well, I made the lyrics to incorporate the moments from when we're drinking. "Staggering and spilling brandy" is rather direct. (laughs)
Q. (laughs) Then the whole thing was about making a song with them.
A. Yes. Even the title 爱丽丝 (Alice) came from seeing a temporary tattoo my friend made that said that, and thinking the Chinese looked cool. So it's a song of connections between friends. There's a lot of that on this album.
Q. What I'm hearing is, there are parts of this album that come from commissions and connections, and parts that came about like this one did with your drinking buddies. It's all about connections with people, in a very direct way. But going another layer deeper, I felt that the message of the songs has also changed.
Q. This is an abstract way of putting it, but although "you" have been singing all this time, now you have a remarkably clear sense of body. What do you think?
A. I definitely think that's the case. In the past year or two, I've come to accompany various people - as a result, I've also experienced a lot of hassles. I really hated that kind of stuff, so I lived my life wanting to be alone as much as possible. But I've made an effort to undergo it, hassle and all, since I think there are things I gain by letting these "inefficiencies" into myself. Through this, I've made friends, and even when I'm making music, composing, writing lyrics, I've come to picture many people's faces in my mind. There used to be a big part of me that referred to this objectivity, this ideal, a vague thing of "this is how it should be," as "you." However, I feel it's gradually become more physical. Hence my dancing, too.
I've always had a strong desire to make universal things. I want to be a person who can somehow represent the flow of the times. Because I think that's the most stimulating and beautiful.
Q. Right. Your means of expression have changed. After all, at the very start, you were like "people can't understand each other."
Q. So this "you" entity started to appear in your songs as a theoretical thing based on your ideal. But now, that "you" is sung to in a very real way. The lyrics for Nighthawks are like "If there's one thing I want, it's to hold your outstretched hand, and it's fine if it isn't clean - I'd like it to be a little dirty." It feels now like you're referring to a "you" that really exists.
Q. And in another song, it's like you're singing about a childhood friend. For instance, Gray and Blue. You sing "If we could meet again, I'd want to meet you as if passing you by." That felt really realistic. And it feels like that realistic "you" has come into view due to your connections with others opening you up.
A. Perhaps... yeah.
Q. So it's not simply "I've opened up, I'm pop now," it has a much tougher feeling. It does a proper documenting of you as a person.
A. The things I have in common with others... To use a musical analogy, good friends and others are like a rhythm or a BPM: there are parts of them that line up with you. In talking to various people, naturally you're going to be faced with those who have an unmatching BPM, and the totally wrong sense of rhythm. As you keep looking, you eventually have to be able to find the parts in common between people's rhythms, the things that are universal. Thinking back on that now, there are parts of me that are like "armchair theories." They feel as if they're more rooted in real life. They're the result of aiming to make more and more poppy things, following my own will. I've always had a strong desire to make universal things. I want to be a person who can somehow represent the flow of the times. Because I think that's the most stimulating and beautiful.
If there's a part of me that tries to connect with others, there's also the response: a part of me that tries to make universal things because I want to connect with others. Though there are aspects there I'm not sure about myself. Loving uselessness, perhaps? Things that I definitely don't need, that are useless to me, I do anyway - even if they're disadvantageous for me, this is how I want to be, so I want to love them, and will love them.
Q. I see.
A. Like, prattling on with other people is useless, surely? (laughs) It's not very high up on my priorities, at least. It's just something I think I should do as part of living. Things that are unnecessary and useless to me, I try to love, even though I don't need to. That's reflected in my music. And the moment I think it's being reflected in my music, it's no longer useless to me. Not that I've made many conclusions about that. But now that I've started to talk to people, and now that my body stands out more, one answer I've arrived at is loving useless things. Useless things, and dirty things. Because the things that aren't, aren't interesting. You could just focus solely on necessary things and make them yours. That approach is very efficient, productive, and wise. But the question is, can simply doing that create beautiful things? Thinking of it that way gives me a lot of doubts. So I keep unnecessary things in the cracks in my body, and regurgitate them into music. That's the kind of thing I've been doing a lot of this year.
Q. If I could reword that my own way, I think you're embodying true pop. Normally, pop embodies things common between people. "Ooh, this melody is so good!" "Yeah, I think it's good too!" "It's so pop!" Case closed. But rather than that, you're birthing something from a totally unrelated place, and with it bringing joy to this person and that person.
Q. I think that's real pop. You're not just believing in common points, but having two people face something in a place totally unrelated. There aren't many people doing that kind of thing in Japan, and I feel like the sense of pop this album exudes is born out of that. I'm being very abstract, but... (laughs) Anyway, I definitely feel like that's what you're doing, Yonezu.
A. Right. I think I get the idea.
Q. I also wanted to ask about concerts. You've been scheduled for two days at the Budokan. How are you feeling about taking that challenge?
A. Actually, I have absolutely no attachment to the Budokan. [Suffice to say, most musicians/etc. consider performing there a huge deal.] But it was announced, and a lot of people on LINE told me congrats. That was when I first felt like "oh, is it that amazing?" (laughs) Well, sure, I suppose I think of it as an achievement. I'm still kind of hazy about it. It's this closing achievement I should go do, to follow the release of this album BOOTLEG. I'm thinking about what exactly it entails with an empty head.
Q. You did only just finish the album, after all.
A. (laughs) Yeah.
Q. Do you have a vision of where you want to go next as a live performer?
A. At the Tokyo International Forum last time, I felt like I finally grasped something about my singing. I had a person giving me vocal direction that time, and I think recording with that person gave rise to something in me. "I don't have to swing my arms that much" - that's the sort of feeling I grasped at the Forum. With that in mind now, I wonder how it'll go when I start doing shows with that new feeling. It's my first time ever having this feeling. My previous shows felt like "something I have to do," but now I have this feeling like next time I can do things I haven't done before, and an actual desire to do them. I want to test things out, I guess. Previously, I felt like I was struggling just to do the minimum, so now I feel quite a bit more free.
Q. Japan's music scene is very individual, closed off, and cut off from the movement of the world. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, and I've always felt it would probably remain this way, but it can feel suffocating.
Q. Things are happening all over the world, but nobody will breathe that air, or look at those sights. I genuinely feel the only person in this scene capturing the feeling going on overseas, that dynamism, is you.
Q. In a very fundamental way, you can see "So basically, this is what's going on right now?" and represent it as a Japanese artist. So I suspect your future approach to concerts will look similar.
A. I suppose.
Q. Take Chance the Rapper for example. Lots of pop groups, rock bands, rappers, and idols are being more freeform. I feel like you might bring that feeling to the Budokan. And this album, too, is that kind of album. There isn't a shred of "I'm doing EDM! Isn't this so worldwide? Isn't this a modern scene?" And it's not "I'm doing a bunch of hip-hop songs" either; the rap just comes up naturally. With masterful use of various materials, you're making music efficiently. In this album, you're superbly doing the things that the new generation around the world considers natural.
A. In that respect, it's a tug-of-war. I'm balancing between Japanese contexts and the things unfolding across the ocean. Though as a Japanese person, I make music for Japan. So while I think the local market with its "Galapagos syndrome" is beautiful in its own way, I also give it some of my own thought. Interesting things are happening overseas, so I make them my own, and find a good place to be in the middle of the two ends. Looking at myself objectively, that's definitely the position I think I'm in.
Q. That you are. Just like you say, you want to go afar. That "far" can be read in several ways, but in a musical sense, you're wondering how far you can go from this place where all these musicians are. I look forward to seeing what you attempt.
Q. I think this is an outrageous album. I really believe it'll represent a generation, and we're thinking of doing an interview next month to get commentary on all the songs.
A. Oh, sure. I'd like to do that.
Q. In broad strokes, it's really all been self-expression up to now, hasn't it?
Q. But with this album, you've made something very poppy.
A. Yep, yep.
Q. I think this is a big first step. I really feel like something's starting here.
A. Yes, I think so.
Q. I can't wait.
A. I'm looking forward to it myself. (laughs) There's still plenty I want to do.
Q. How old are you again?
A. I'm 26.
Q. Yeah, I'll bet there is. (laughs)
A. Oh, you haven't seen anything yet.