For Kenshi Yonezu, 2014 marked a major turning point in his career. Continuing from his first concert in June, "Last Homeroom," in December he held a tour spanning Osaka, Fukuoka, and Tokyo: "Last Homeroom: The Sequel." Seeing him find a new perspective on himself on stage, climbing steps one at a time, has frankly been moving to see. With the powerful driving force of his new single Flowerwall, in 2015, Kenshi Yonezu will surely pick up more speed yet, attain more freedom, and create innovative music.
Q. You had your first tour, if only to three places. How was it? Thoughts after it was over?
A. It sure was fun... That's the number one thing. There were many lacking aspects - should have done something a little more like this, etcetera - but I wanted to go a little longer. Since it was only three stops, if I had gone even a little longer, I'd probably have different impressions. Right now I want to rack up experience.
Q. Good. I was worried you might say "I've had enough of 'em." (laughs)
A. That's the last thing I want to say. (laughs)
Q. Between Osaka, Fukuoka, and Tokyo, did you feel differently each time?
A. Yeah, I did. The audiences had very different attitudes, and while I intended to do the same things, certain parts went completely different. Some things I did here but didn't do there. And I was like, ohhh... so this is what it's like doing the same thing at multiple places.
Q. Was there any particular goal in your attempt at a tour? Like, "I want to make sure of this," or "as long as this goes well, it's a success."
A. I wanted to know where I was. I hadn't even stood up there yet, so I wanted to know exactly what step I was on. So for my first tour... Hmm, how do I make this sound right... I wanted a plain show, I didn't want to make it anything special. I wanted to just appear on stage in the flesh once, in my most familiar way, not doing anything special. That would allow me to tell from the results how much I could and couldn't do. And I learned that for myself. I have a general idea now of "Now that I'm standing up here, what should I do?"
Q. What could and couldn't you do? Can you be specific?
A. What I could do is not be scared anymore. The big thing was being able to actually enjoy it. What I couldn't do is... well, more numerous than what I could. But it's technical aspects. Like lacking the proper senses for providing vocals.
Q. Anything of note about the set list?
A. Panda Hero was the first Vocaloid song I put in. I was pretty nervous about how to present that. I wondered, would people who knew about it even come to the concert? But as soon as the intro started, everyone got really excited about it, and I was like "Thank goodness."
Q. Did you put it in simply because you like the song?
A. I wanted to do a Vocaloid song at a concert. I wanted to see how I could perform it now. But getting one into the previous show didn't pan out.
Q. Speaking of differences from your first concert, you didn't do Santa Maria.
A. Yeah, that's right.
Q. I really love that song, so I really wanted to hear it, personally...
A. Last concert, Santa Maria had the positioning of Flowerwall - the first song of the encore. That's because I intended for Flowerwall to be the "next" song after Santa Maria. So I didn't do it this time.
Q. Ah, I see. Any comments about emceeing?
A. Emceeing... Well, before the first day in Osaka, I was thinking about what I should say to some extent. But I realized I'm not really suited for that stuff at all. It's not for me to come up with something to say in advance. I tried that in Osaka, and I just couldn't get going with it. I really didn't like that, that feeling of preparedness. So I gave up on it and decided to just talk on the spot. I think that was better.
Q. You did say that. "This is my MC time. I haven't come up with anything." (laughs)
A. Yeah. Yep. (laughs)
Q. When you suddenly said "You know, there aren't many good things in life," everyone started buzzing. What's this guy saying?, we thought.
Q. But what I'm trying to say is, it's really fun to look back at it now. (laughs)
A. When I'm really not thinking about anything and open my mouth, that's what comes out. When I talk haphazardly, it goes weirdly. (laughs)
Q. Another thing I recall from your emceeing was the part like, "There was talk of a larger venue, but I wanted to build up one block at a time. If my exterior goes out without following what's inside, I'm just a cardboard cutout." Those were some really good and frank words.
A. Yeah, that's the way I think. I don't trust my own ability, in that sense. I don't think I'm capable of anything that's a big deal, and before having these concerts, I figured I probably wouldn't be able to enjoy them myself. But I don't expect to be able to do everything from the start, so everything I do think I can do, I'll do to the best of my ability. As a result, the audience had fun, and so did I, and that's great. ...What was I talking about again?
Q. Building one block at a time.
A. Oh, right, so, I don't want to do something worthless and petty. For instance, I have no belief at all in the dream of performing at the Budokan. In fact, I didn't even know until very recently that performing there is a mark of high status. I always wondered, why does everyone want to go there so much? That's how little knowledge I have about concerts. I've never had the urge to play somewhere big. So I thought I should go with somewhere I could imagine wanting to play.
Q. Also, while I was in the seats, I really felt the other guests wanting to cheer you on in your new endeavors. Like they wanted to prop you up... or maybe that's not the right phrasing. That was really great.
A. There was an interaction there. That really helped me a ton.
Q. So let's talk about Flowerwall, your new song you also played at the concert. You made this to be a single, correct?
A. Er, well, when I make songs, I always make them like they're singles. So if you're asking if I intended to release it as a single, then the answer is yes. But the staff I work with ultimately decides, and I don't particularly mind what's a single or not. In that sense, then I can say "not particularly." This song... I moved in the summer. The reason for my move was that I couldn't really write any songs. Not that it's rare, but it can be for periodic and emotional reasons, so I tried moving for a change of pace.
Q. Ah, to change up your environment.
A. I figured moving would also change my mentality, and after moving, I could write some amazing songs. (laughs)
Q. Ahaha. That's a fast-acting effect.
A. Of the ten or so songs I made then, that was one of them, Flowerwall.
Q. Owe it to good feng shui, maybe? (laughs) Did you get a bigger room?
A. Bigger room, and a better view. My previous place had an apartment right in front, and I couldn't even open the curtains. My current room feels much more liberated, so I really think that's part of it.
Q. Might be.
A. I mean, it's not like the songs came about instantly. There was still a lot to think about, but the thing was, I didn't at all worry whether I "should" make such and such song.
Q. The arrangement was Koichi Tsutaya and Yonezu. What was that like?
A. When I worked with Tsutaya before, he made something really good, so it was just a natural decision to have him on again. I first provided a demo with an exact arrangement and gave it to Tsutaya to fix. Then I'd fix that.
Q. What changes most with a method like that? From the first step to the last.
A. Fundamentally, the final is the same as my demo. But something is added to it... supplements in minor places that I would never be able to provide myself. I could look at it and see what he'd done, so it was a good learning experience, and I honestly just found him amazing.
Q. For example?
A. I started by making and submitting the best demo I could muster. Listening to the track I got back, I found the characteristics of my creation left as-is, but made properly pop, in a way. A properly good song, even. Tsutaya has a phenomenal comprehension, including an understanding of my past, of having long created and arranged all alone. So he told me when he sent his version, "You can fix it however you like, Yonezu." I thought "Okay, then let's do it," and I tried, but I couldn't. Because it was really made very logically, there was a balance there - if I changed one sound, something else wouldn't work, and if I fixed that, something else would break. Was there nothing I could do? I was stubborn, though, and tried again and again to make changes, but I couldn't "fix" anything. (laughs) That was the best part.
Q. I think it's an incredibly good song, though. There's a steady and level rhythm like a heartbeat, and emotions rise and fall, but eventually go back to level. It strongly implies an image of firmly walking forward step by step.
A. During the stage where I threw my demo over to Tsutaya, I talked face to face with him. And I told him, giving him a keyword, "I want it to be EDM." I thought EDM had a kind of frivolity, of rapid changing, so maybe it would be good for this song? What I got back after that was, well, very EDM. (laughs) I really liked it for what it was, but it ended up in its final state after a subsequent search for the right flavor.
Q. Yes, it had a lighter feeling before. Listening to the final version, I hear more of a firm stepping on the ground in it.
A. No, that's how it always was. So it just ended up back where it started. In my mind, I wanted it to be EDM, but that didn't fit so well. There was one attempt, then "Looks like I was wrong."
Q. When you include the lyrics too, it's a song that spits out heartfelt thoughts, so I feel like a frivolous beat wouldn't fit. But maybe you wanted just that? To keep it from getting too deep.
A. Yeah, I didn't want to get too heavy with it.
Q. I can definitely understand the feeling.
Q. Did the lyrics stay the same from start to finish?
Q. They're extremely direct lyrics, so maybe they don't need much explaining... How did you come up with them?
A. The first lyrics were the first chorus. From "A wall made from a rainbow of blossoms stands before us now" to "We went on always walking hand in hand." Those served as the axis of the song.
Q. A wall standing before you is often used as a symbol of difficulty and worry. But it's a wall made of flowers. I think that's a really interesting image.
A. It in itself isn't good or bad. And ultimately, there are very many things like that.
A. A thing in itself has no inherent value; it's only humans who look for value in it. Like with jewels, say. Your perception changes the way in which it's perceived. You're just living normally, but you can become unsure if you're in heaven or hell. You may think one moment you're in heaven and incredibly happy, and in the next moment, you think you're very unhappy. I think there are many things around us we can't define all by ourselves.
Q. Ahh. Yes.
A. I found that the "Flowerwall" was ideal for representing that sort of thing. If there were a huge wall of flowers in front of you, it wouldn't be happy or unhappy, I thought.
Q. But it doesn't seem to be something scary. The lyrics don't present it in that way. I think they're rather positive.
A. I made music alone for a long time, even doing the art. That was due to my inability to trust others' creations. I believed that what I created was magnificent for a long time. But if I were still working alone in that situation, I think there's a lot I wouldn't know. I wouldn't be able to decide: is the Flowerwall a blessing or a curse? So I wanted to clearly define where I was. I wanted some other person to do that for me. Having another person tells me where I am, making a former dot into a line. I can learn a lot about my shape. Once someone besides me is there, for the first time I can think of the Flowerwall as a blessing.
A. Though back then, I never would have written the song.
Q. Hearing this, I really see how it's the "next song" after Santa Maria. In that song you laid yourself bare, and now this one advances it further. The "you" mentioned in the lyrics could be the listener, or the supporting staff. I guess it's a love song in a major sense. A large part of that is probably because you said "I won't let go (of your hand)..."
A. I have no desire to go backwards. That seems pointless - making things all alone, doing things only by my own standard. I had that method of making music with diorama, but after I finished it, I didn't want to do anything anymore; nothing I did made me feel relief. I read my favorite books, I played games, but I didn't find any of it fun. I had nothing to do. I don't know if I should say it was my intent, but I distinctly decided that was the end of that way of creation. I can't do that anymore.
Q. It's all over, huh. Before you could even really recognize it.
A. That's over now, so this is the only path I can live on. That feeling is stronger than ever now.
Q. A slight digression, but I think there are quite a few young people who aspire to Hachi. When you listen to the music by those people, can you tell? Like, "they're still in their own standard," or "they've moved past that now"...
A. Oh, sure. I can really tell. But that's fine, I think. I don't think what I do is the sole right thing. People will accept and personally enjoy "self-absorbed" music, so that's great for them to do it, but I get the sense it has nothing to do with me.
Q. That said, in your case, was there a motive, like wanting to get into the band scene? Or did you strictly follow your heart, and end up here? I'm deeply interested in where you're going next.
A. Where am I going, indeed? (laughs) I don't think there was an absence of such motives, no. But while I thought about wanting to do it someday, that wasn't an objective. If I start thinking of "objectives"... it gets ugly.
Q. I think you're in a very interesting position.
A. I sometimes think about what I ultimately want to end up like. I haven't given it a lot of thought, but currently, I think it would be nice to be an "unknown" of sorts. As someone who makes songs and lyrics, there's no greater glory than seeing that stick with people even if they don't know the author. That's the highest rank I can attain. So I think I'd really like to achieve that.
Q. Before, you said you wanted to be a craftsman. Is it a similar thing?
Q. Give us some comments on the coupling songs. First, Repentance Town. This one has a simple and light band sound, like it's straight out of a concert.
A. I made the lyrics, chords, and melody all in one day. I personally think it turned out very well.
Q. What was your basis for the lyrics?
A. I see it being the other side of Flowerwall's coin in some ways. The Repentance Town itself isn't good or bad, it's just plain there. For instance, when I went back to my hometown and walked around once, the park I used to play in seemed so tiny. The alleys and paths to school seemed really narrow. That's obvious, and the places hadn't gotten smaller, I'd gotten bigger. But thinking about that made me feel the irreversible flow of time that I couldn't go back against. "And what would have happened if I'd done that then?", etcetera. If I'd turned that way at that corner, maybe I'd be living a much nicer life. You get more thoughts like that year by year. Memories in themselves aren't good or bad. They're neither, but you can look at them in a good way or a bad way. If Flowerwall is a song about being able to think you're blessed, Repentance Town may show the other possibility.
Q. Yes, you're right. That reminds me of what you said at the concert. "If I hadn't made a decision then, I wouldn't be standing here now; that feels really miraculous."
A. Right, right. All I have is the decisions I make at the current point in time. I've been thinking about that a lot lately.
Q. What about the other song, Petrichor? Some really pretty, peaceful techno/pop sound.
A. It may be accurate to call that a song that passed through no filters. Flowerwall and Repentance Town were songs that had some views like "It has to be this way" or "It should be this way." That doesn't mean they're distanced from my true essence, but this song just came about without those filters affecting it.
Q. I see.
A. I don't want people to think "this is my true self." Since the filters are also me. Though, there is an experimental aspect in seeing what would happen to make a song I personally like in the way I like it.
Q. I think it's a very beautiful song. I'd like to hear a collection of songs like that. Just because you've started doing concerts doesn't mean you have to make everything like it's made to be played live. So I suppose you'll keep making a variety of sounds.
A. Right you are. Finishing YANKEE and my first concert cleared up my complex regarding that, and my anxiety toward the unknown. I feel like I'm a bit more free.
Q. Well, now that it's 2015, what are you thinking about?
A. I'll do concerts this year, and bang out lots of songs. On top of that, I'd like to do new things as well. I can't say anything for certain yet, though.
Q. Things unrelated to music?
A. Unrelated, yes. I want to try out a lot of things.