Just what manner of creature is Kenshi Yonezu? A man with bottomless creativity, a perspective of the world as a miniature, and ever-changing catchy melodies. A rare Vocaloid-using, net-leaping, net-exceeding, self-deprecating, communication-seeking man. A man with a cool-headed perspective on the world and the times, hating the word "artist," who mutters "There's no point in not looking ahead." The ideas put into the two sides of his second single, MAD HEAD LOVE / Poppin' Apathy, make for a powerful message on the natural distortions of the heart in the age of the internet. Kenshi Yonezu. Those songs well-informed with pop strongly shake the emotions of those who listen to them, their existence directly thrusting forth an extreme awareness of real issues.
Q. With your last single Santa Maria, you moved to a major label. What changes did you feel?
A. As for as definite huge changes go, there weren't really any. Since I put out that first single thinking "I need to change." In a sense, I think it's better to say that I'm "always changing."
Q. Santa Maria was superb. Like an offering to the god of music.
A. Thank you very much. Ever since I made songs with Vocaloid, as I came to start singing for myself, I felt my weakness come spouting forth... The awareness that "I need to change" became very large. So I put out Santa Maria, and now I feel like I need to keep changing.
Q. It's hard to imagine Santa Maria being sung by a Vocaloid.
A. Indeed. I think a song like Santa Maria wouldn't be very good at all if done with a Vocaloid. I set out to make a song that wouldn't have come together without a human singing. Though in that sense, I feel like maybe MAD HEAD LOVE could have been done with Vocaloid too.
Q. Perhaps. But it definitely has a different feel from your Hachi Vocaloid songs. How did you create that MAD HEAD LOVE?
A. For this song, I changed the way I wrote lyrics. They're quite distinct. I decided that to avoid any roundabout implications, I would do what I could to choose words that could only be taken in one way.
Q. Why is that?
A. Why, hm... I thought, I can't be ambiguous. Because looking back on how I've lived, I've been very ambiguous about things. I thought it was fine if I just had fun, and didn't do things I should have done. I was aware that I needed to do them, but I pretended not to see it and did things ambiguously. I despised myself for that, and thought I needed to be more direct in my expression.
Q. So that "people can understand"?
A. Right. I don't particularly like things that are hard to understand. I like pop and mainstream stuff, but looking at what my own creations are, I figured they're probably not those things.
Q. Perhaps you never even notice the things that you're born lacking. What you're thinking now must have come from an internal urge to be more direct.
A. Right. Also, I started to dislike making things alone. I thought that I wouldn't get much of anywhere, make any new developments working alone. It's in my personality to make the issue ambiguous too. And I figured, I can't mature like this.
Q. You're very strict on yourself. Impressive. I probably would have flowed toward the enjoyable, myself.
A. By flowing toward the enjoyable, it estranged my body, so to speak... In my heart I thought this way, but my body wouldn't move like that. It gave birth to awkwardness.
Q. Ah, I see.
A. It became a conviction inside me. I always think about wanting to go in the direction of fun. But if you do fun things all the time, you think, how fun is my life really? As a result of going with the fun flow, it was there convincing me of the reality of how I'd ended up.
Q. Well, you don't have to go that far.
A. That's a kind of declaration of intent. Just saying "I'm going to do my best" is positive, but it's also a kind of resignation. I came to think "I can't do whatever I want."
Q. Would it be something similar to, when you graduate and go out into the world, a children's rules becoming adult rules?
A. I don't think I carry any extra bad karma than others, not particularly. But everyone has walls they run up against, I suppose.
Q. Finding that there's resignation and loneliness despite their positivity is something a lot of people have experienced, I'd say.
A. I think the most correct thing in me is my feeling of "There's no point in not looking ahead." Though saying it's "correct" is selfish, I know. If people don't get slapped in the butt by the dark things behind them, they can't look forward.
Q. I see. So in that sense, you're "still changing."
A. Right. I'm en route.
Q. So then, MAD HEAD LOVE. A splendid love song. How many times do "love" show up in the lyrics, exactly?
A. I didn't think I'd ever be singing so much about love. (laughs) This will be the first and the last.
Q. But you wanted to call it out repeatedly here?
A. Yes. Like I said before, I felt that I can't be ambiguous, and it's no good to keep working alone. I used to have a process where I uploaded music to the internet and that was the end of it. I didn't do concerts, and I never met face to face with anyone who liked my music, really. That kind of thing got tiring... It was fun, sure, but being able to meet face to face would surely be moreso, I thought. When I looked at myself objectively, I thought to myself that gathering from the flood of information on the internet all alone got very lonely. So I thought it would be more fun to be with someone, even if it were for a fistfight.
Q. And that's in the lyrics. "Yes, I'm with you [...] / in a fray of puncher and punchee"... "With the violence we call love, / I want to quarrel with you."
A. It's not that I'm alone because I don't like being hurt. I'd rather live with someone, even in a fistfight, even covered in blood. So that's where that comes from.
Q. So while it is a man and woman in love, it began as a deeper question of the lifestyle of fellow humans.
Q. I definitely understand. What you say and the lyrics match up perfectly. Since the theme was so clear, did writing the lyrics go quickly?
A. Yes. Though I'm not a one-shot lyric-writer, but a multiple-revisions person. But there is a process of initially having the thought, and manually working to embody it. Like I'm pushing it out.
Q. As a result, it came out looking like a love between a man and a woman. If I might say, the lyrics get kind of... erotic.
A. Yeah, I guess. (laughs)
Q. Was that intentional, or did your hand slip... (laughs)
A. Right, well... (laughs) ...Romance between a couple, in the sense we're talking, is just about the most intimacy you can get between people.
Q. Ah, true.
A. You're living together with someone else under the same roof for years, decades. That's quite amazing. I tend to think that's more a pain in the neck than anything, or if I feel like being more blunt, "it ain't good for nothin'!" So I want to change that way of thinking... sometimes.
Q. You want to be "in a fray of puncher and punchee," or "a mayhem of trickster and tricked."
A. Right. That's it. As I thought, I can't live alone.
Q. That's the key phrase, "as I thought."
A. There's simply nothing good about living alone. (laughs)
Q. Is that right? It isn't comfortable? But then we're back where we started. (laughs)
A. It's comfortable, true. But it's no good, always going for comfort. That's my personal opinion.
Q. The theme is "love," and the chorus goes "baby, baby-by, I love you." I felt it very Kenshi-esque to go with a title like MAD HEAD LOVE, daring not to translate it into Japanese. (laughs) Even though you repeat "love" over and over, you won't settle for normal love.
A. (Whispering) I say I like mainstream, but maybe it's not mainstream...
Q. Ahahaha. You said it! Or whispered it. (laughs)
A. I have a lot of contradictions like that. Really, I want to make something like One Piece.
Q. A definite mainstream example. (laughs) What's the deal there?
A. I want to make One Piece. That's just how things ended up in the process. (laughs) Not much I can do about it, it's in my nature.
Q. Hey, I think it's mainstream in the sense of being a cool, cutting-edge song. The tune is like fast ska - was that always how you imagined it?
A. Indeed. I wanted to make something with a sense of bodily motion... something physical.
Q. And the guitar, bass, and drums are live.
A. They're very good. Everyone's so good at their craft. Nakajima, on guitar, is actually a childhood friend. We've been together since middle school, and we were in a band together once. I called him over from Osaka and he came and did it. There's quite a bit in the guitar arrangement which was that kid's idea. I did the framework, but we talked it out and I ended up leaving the vague details to him, to "do what you want."
Q. Truly a band, then.
A. Indeed. Though, after all the work I do on the demo, even if the players follow it without any awkwardness and all that, the way they handle all the little details can feel different between them. It's only natural, but it's something I just can't accept. Yet with these members, that didn't happen. Particularly with Sudou on bass - I gave him a lot of freedom, but somehow I was able to accept it. That was a first for me.
Q. So of course, that must mean the players played well. But I suppose there's also a side to it of Kenshi Yonezu gaining some experience points and increasing his item capacity.
A. I suppose you might be right.
Q. Now, there's another song on this album placed on the same level as the first. Poppin' Apathy.
A. Originally, MAD HEAD LOVE was the title song, and Poppin' Apathy and Wanna Be A Bird At Least were the coupling songs. But I made them as one in two to begin with, and the cover ended up as a "front and back" deal. I thought it wouldn't do to have it any other way than a dual-header.
Q. They were a pair from the start - does that mean in lyrics, tone, everything? But "love" doesn't get mentioned even once in Poppin' Apathy. (laughs) I'm having doubts...
A. If MAD HEAD LOVE is my wish, "I want to be with someone, even if in a fistfight getting bloody," then Poppin' Apathy is who I've been. That's how I made them.
Q. Ah, I see.
A. The front and back are the gloomy me, and the high-energy me. That's the two-sided image I have.
Q. Going by the lyrics, Poppin' Apathy is clearly in the past. Everything you've said is in there. "I can't even have clear intentions," "I've always covered my eyes," "I've finally come to realize"...
A. Right, definitely. I just wrote what I said earlier in the lyrics. That's it. (laughs) There's not much poetic expression to it. And that's how I wanted it to be.
Q. In a sense, it's a confession, almost a repentance. Though I have to wonder if it hurt a bit writing this.
A. Hmm. I don't remember it being that much trouble. Though like I said, there's a physical labor that goes into creating lyrics that match the melody. It wasn't particularly emotionally taxing.
Q. I feel it's a song of determination. Once you've said this much, there's no looking back on the past, just moving forward.
A. I have no choice but to slap myself on the butt. I'm the kind of person who quickly retreats to leisure if he's not constantly being slapped on the butt. Though I also feel that applies to people as a whole, not just me.
Q. I agree. I think many could sympathize with that.
A. Poppin' Apathy is a "pessimistic" song, but it's extremely simple to be pessimistic. Particularly when you're born into a world with the internet, it's very easy. People in this age are overly self-conscious. Well, I think that of myself too.
Q. Hmm. Is that right.
A. When you're too self-conscious, you shut yourself away, and it's very easy to become pessimistic. But there's nothing interesting about that, and it's not productive. So it became a song about how because of that, you need to look forward.
Q. Which leads into MAD HEAD LOVE. Truly two sides of the same coin.
A. I really don't like that feeling of being too self-conscious.
Q. And yet you were there.
A. I was, but... Well, this is some more self-loathing. When you soak in social media like Twitter, it's incredibly easy to become aware of yourself. When you experience that since you're young, you'll absolutely be self-conscious. So you get servile, and can't be passionate. That's a huge loss for humans, and it makes people boring. On the internet, overly self-conscious people act in a way that evades being spoken ill of. But that's not what life is.
A. Living a life of perfect conduct doesn't mean avoiding every single germ and seeking a sterile environment. To be extreme, there's value in people being hurt. It's part of communication, and self-conscious people run away from it. I can't call that living, personally.
Q. Your music is a fight to take back life, then. I feel there could potentially be many comrades in that endeavor. Then this is an important single. A turning point that recaps the past and present, and heads for the future.
A. I have to do it. There's no point in not. And on top of that, I'm thinking how much more relaxing it'll be. (laughs)
Q. So you do want to have fun after all. (laughs)
A. The desire to flow with the fun is in my roots, but I won't succumb to it fully. That'd be really bad.
Q. All right, I'll slap you on the butt from time to time. If that's okay.
Q. And thus you can mature from that spanking. Finally, do you have any vision for where you want to go next?
A. I want to be an craftsman. I want to have firm skills with which to realize the things I think up. Good sense is key to creation, but you can't make things happen without the skill to go with it. So I want to be an craftsman.
Q. I see.
A. The word "original" is bizarre in the first place. People are a mishmash of the others they come into contact with from birth, so it's odd to think there's such a thing as originality. You can't make 1 from 0 - you need ten 0.1s to make 1. To make a song, to make anything.
A. So I don't tend to think about "making something original." Though true, I don't think it's very interesting to do the same thing someone else is doing. I don't like the word "artist" in the first place. So in a sense, that's why I'm saying "I want to be a craftsman."
Q. And do you want to provide entertainment that pleases the people who listen and watch you? Even as a craftsman.
A. Indeed, I do. It's not much use if I'm the only one having fun. I also think of it as a kind of communication tool. Personally, I don't have much in the way of high-minded emotions for my own works, yet I'm often told about those which others feel. I think it's good to use them however you like. That's how I've started to see it.
Q. I think that's what a good pop song is. I hope this single can reach a lot of people.
A. Right. I hope it does.