Interview with Yuuki of Jinkaku Radio

interview - 03.28.2010 20:01

Jinkaku's Radio's vocalist shares his opinions about his process for composing, the new album, the music scene and the goals of the band.

This is the continuation of a two part interview with rock band Jinkaku Radio. After a long break spent working on songs for a new album, the group has returned to live activities and announced a new single, Taiyou to be released in April. Here vocalist Yuuki talks about lives, composing, his goals and the future for Jinkaku Radio.

Could you please introduce yourself?

Yuuki: I’m Yuuki, vocalist and guitarist of Jinkaku Radio.

Yuuki, you are known for making fun of everything and joking around a lot, but at the same time your lyrics seem quite deep and meaningful. How would you explain this contrast?

Yuuki: I’m human so of course I have emotions. Some people might say musicians should express in their songs everything they want to say, but I don’t have that mentality of old musicians. It just so happens I’ve been continuing music, so I express myself in music, but I’m not skillful enough to express everything in music. But I want to express all my emotions, even if it’s not just in music but in other places too, like MCs. As for love, sadness or anger, I can express that in songs, but I don’t think I can be objective. I don’t have have confidence that I could express all my happiness through my voice. Thinking about a single live show, I want the excitement to escalate and then quiet down, like waves, I want it to be entertainment. So I express one of my emotions, happiness, in the MC. (laugh)

So you express your deeper, darker emotions in the songs, and you express your brighter side in your MC?

Yuuki: It wasn't something I was doing consciously, but when I think about it, that's the explanation I come to.

You write about social problems and the ugly parts of humanity in your lyrics. Is that what you think about and feel in your daily life?

Yuuki: Basically, the lyrics don’t start from such large issues. It’s just that I’m not good at expressing what’s inside me really directly. For example, I have a song called Shoku (Food) that highlights the irony of people who are against buying furs because animals are cute and they sympathize with them, but those same people eat pork and beef. It’s not always that big, it's just whatever I feel and think about things around me, and it’s often a little ironic. But for a single song I don’t want to end on a cynical note, so I put in some relief somewhere. That’s how I make songs.

Is it difficult to write lyrics about a reality you want to turn your eyes away from?

Yuuki: My difficulty comes out inevitably because writing songs is difficult for me. (bursts out laughing) That’s not limited to songs, I can do whatever other people can do. I’m good enough to do that, to be average. I just don’t have the stamina, the willpower to persevere and get to the top (laughs). But for making songs, that’s something I have to get over, no matter what difficult wall I run into, even when I feel like I can’t do it. For example, with our first album Shouko (Evidence), we hadn’t released an album before so everything was new, I could endure any difficulty. But as I kept making more and more songs, the sounds became limited and I’d think, “that sounds like a song we’ve done before.” I want to make songs in every category, so there are limits and I run into walls and feel like “ah, I can’t do it this way.” (laugh) That’s the environment I’m making songs in. There’s so many things I can’t do, so basically it’s a depressing time, making songs.

But when you finish making it, you feel a great sense of achievement, right?

Yuuki: That's true. The greater the difficulty, the greater my sense of achievement.

For fans who don't understand Japanese, could you tell something about your lyrics? Is there any theme you follow?

Yuuki: My rule is to only write lyrics in Japanese. For any song, there are probably English phrases that would fit in easily, but I don’t want a mix of languages. If I write in English, the whole song will be English. If I write in Japanese, it’s all Japanese. If I slid in some English words, people would ask me if I can do an entire song in English, but I can’t write that much in English. So I stick with Japanese, I fuss over it and look for the most beautiful sounds in that language. Even if it’s something I really want to say, I’ll replace it with other words if the sound is better. I think about the lyrics a lot, trying to find the best fit, so people probably think there’s a deep meaning in them. It’s like a word game for me. Once I have what I want to say, it’s complete, I don’t need to convey it to anyone else. I’ll change what I want to say to make it sound better. However my lyrics are interpreted, I was thinking something specific as I wrote them so they’re complete for me. Afterwards, people are free to interpret it however they want.

If the words are different, people interpret them in different ways?

Yuuki: Right. Sometimes a person will bring a particular phrase I wrote without much thought, and they tell me their interpretation. But.... it's a little weird for me (bursts out laughing). I appreciate all the thought they put into it, but... it's a little scary that it's out of my control (laugh).

Nowadays there's a lot more information online, so there are probably more interpretations.

Yuuki: It's always that way when you put your opinion out there, and that's not limited to singers. Whenever you stand before the public, you get more supporters and opponents, without even knowing them. I don’t care how I'm received and interpreted and I'm not really looking for meaning. I take what I want to say and then I expand from it vaguely, so I don't have songs where I say things really directly. I'm writing things that will make people feel like it's hard to understand, because what I originally wanted to say isn't really there.

So you're not consciously writing messages for the listeners?

Yuuki: I'm not sending messages outwardly, I'm just completing something within me, like self maintenance. I put that on display like it's a show, so it can be a little irritating. For me, expression through songs is just a release for myself. I don't make songs so people will understand me. I just sing what I want to express and when it's concluded, that's enough. That's how I make songs, so it becomes a very internal process.

You play guitar and do the computer programming by yourself, so when you make songs, you're able to conclude by yourself, right?

Yuuki: Yes, I think so because for original songs, I have to complete them. From there, when we do our lives, the songs grow up and walk by themselves gradually.

Where do you draw the inspiration for your songs from? Do you write using what you feel every day?

Yuuki: I get a lot of inspiration from articles. I don’t usually listen to music much. I’ll listen to music in the car or in the train but not at home. I read novels and visualize the scenes, thinking about what music would go with it. I don’t really watch movies much either, they’ve already done everything.

So you write from the images you get when you read novels?

Yuuki: Not just that, I have some favorite stories and I keep those stories and certain trendy conversations in mind. Then there are things going on in my everyday life, there are melodies that sound good to me and when everything links together I can finally put it out there. If there’s one thing lacking, I can’t make it. I get inspiration from articles because I’m motivated when I think the story is good. But that alone isn’t enough. It has to be linked to my personal experience, and when everything links together, then I feel like I can do it. So it’s a difficult process. It’s not like I absolutely never listen to other peoples’ songs, but I don’t usually listen seriously. Sometimes something will stick, I’ll think it’s something I can use and then link it with everything, and then a song will come out unexpectedly.

So there's no specific music that influenced you, like when you started the band?

Yuuki: Of course, when I was teenager I was absorbed in music. So I feel an even bigger gap, wondering why I don’t listen to music now.

Do you try not to listen to music because you are afraid your images might be compromised?

Yuuku: Hmm, maybe. All the stuff I want to hear, I've already listened to a lot. I really like Radiohead and I've listened to that since I was in my twenties, I aim to be like them. There was nothing I want to listen to after that, so I thought I'd go ahead and make music.

What is the ideal situation for you to compose in?

Yuuki: Hmm, it’s difficult to say. (laugh) I’m not in a tight schedule, I don't have a bunch of lives, interviews, and deadlines, so it's like I can't see in front of me. I want to start working but if there is no deadline I linger over my work. Last year, I took a break for a year and composed songs, but my work didn’t progress that well anyway, so it’s hard to say which would be best. However, if I wasn't engaged in music, I'd be lost.

Is it easier to get into music more when you do a lot of lives?

Yuuki: Uhm… I can’t make songs if I’m not impressed by something, and that's not just limited to music. When I’m active, doing lives, I’m impressed by something everyday. But if I there's nothing moving me, I get sluggish.

Do you ever confine yourself to your room to make songs?

Yuuki: Well, I’m not the type to do that…but I’m trying to (laugh). When I'm able to make songs, it’s just in that moment. I don’t even know what goes on, what connects together, in that moment.

Do you use your computer to compose?

Yuuki: Yes. I basically work using my personal computer. But I’m changing how I compose. In our last album, Shouko, I made everything from an orchestra, I didn’t care about melodies at all.

The melodies of Jinkaku Radio are beautiful and dramatic, but you made music from an orchestra?

Yuuki: Yes.

We hear a wide range of variety in your music, including, rock, pop, folk and so on.

Yuuki: These days, we want more exposure so I think about melodies more. I don’t make songs from the orchestra any more.

Do you think about how you could succeed in the mainstream?

Yuuki: (laugh) Well, these days that's not so good. (laugh) I’m a little bit lost, wondering if it'd be better to keep doing things my own way.

Even though your music and The Beatles-like appearance are not typical for visual kei, you are usually found at visual kei events and in visual kei magazines. Why is that?

Yuuki: (laugh) I don’t know why. There was a time when I dressed up and wore showy costumes and I'd put on bandages without any reason.

Like when you debuted?

Yuuki: Yes. I was in a visual kei band before I started Jinkaku Radio, but I couldn’t explain why I was dressing up like that when people asked me. At that time, I couldn’t say clearly it was a way to express my music. When I thought about why I couldn't explain that, I realized I was concentrating on the display but not so much on the music (laugh). We were performing in front of people and had to show off a nice look, so we decided to wear orthodox suits in this band. I had been a vocalist in my former band though I was a guitarist originally and I did lives thinking about showing beauty. I'd think, “this song is composed like this, so I want to have this kind of expression and the lighting should be like this” and so on. Now I don’t dress up because I’m not satisfied at all if I don’t sing desperately, but it's fine if I look unattractive or whatever. In that sense, our being in the visual kei scene is strange, but it’s also fitting, I think.

Why do you think it's fitting?

Yuuki: I think people who express themselves in public are all visual kei more or less. You even see old male announcers put greasepaint on their faces. If those elements of their appearance can be persuasive, I think they should probably do it. For example, if a salesgirl in a cosmetic store who's really sunburned recommends whitening cosmetics, it’s not persuasive at all, right? (laugh) I think that's what we're doing now, we think our appearance could be persuasive so we wear the suit style. Well, even if we put on armbands we wear normal suits. Maybe people can’t imagine what kind of music we play when they see the two of us wearing suits, but suits are a good style for public appearances. That’s important for us. We put our songs out there, and I think the suits have meaning and persuasive power. We don’t dress up, but we have a sort of formal look, we express ourselves through songs and create a new world view, and that's what visual kei does.

You draw people’s attention, making them wonder what kind of music you do because your image is far from conventional visual kei.

Yuuki: I don’t know, that’s an opinion people may have. It’s probably true, since the visual kei people around us are comparatively colorful.

I think there are also people who might be a little put off because you are visual kei. Are you particular about being in the visual kei category?

Yuuki: Visual kei is a strange word and it’s not a musical genre originally. That’s something I want to emphasize. (laugh) It’s a little ironic somehow. I think the songs we play are persuasive now, so I have confidence, no matter what I wear. On the other hand, if songs have their own worlds, wearing costumes could be disruptive because it would be like saying, “you wear this, but your songs are like that?” I thought our appearance was basic and our songs could develop from there, so we didn’t need to dress up any more. If you want to call us visual kei, that's fine with me. Of course, I recognize that we are different from what people normally think of as visual kei. Well, honestly speaking... dressing up is such a hassle now (bursts out laughing). Yeah, that’s a big reason. We aren’t tired of wearing suits because the standard is the best.

What is something we should know about Naoki?

Yuuki: Naoki acts as our producer and he arranges the songs I create. I'd worked in the same way with other people before, but when I explained things like “I don’t want you change this part" or “I want you to add here," they would rearrange my rough drafts and the songs would come back completely different and strange. But with Naoki, even if I don’t explain anything, he gets it and arranges it the way I want. So I trust him a lot, I feel like he understands me.

The musical chemistry is right for you both?

Yuuki: Yes.

How are you guys outside of music?

Yuuki: We probably don't fit (laugh). I was born into a merchant family, so I think like a business man.

You calculate figures?

Yuuki: Yes. I really care about loss and gain (laugh). I don’t see things optimistically. I tend to think about the worst case scenario and unwittingly invite it. (laugh)

That's a strange tendency.

Yuuki: Well, I don’t want to cause a trouble, of course. However, I tend to go there. (laugh) Naoki is a good old band man who has the toughness to be able to say 'no' to what people should say 'no' to in this world and he also has a positive attitude. He tries to pick up good points from what he rejected by saying 'no'. He lives in a totally different place from business obligations and has a confidence to turn things down. I’m rather chicken-hearted about that, I say 'yes' when I should say, “it should be this.” (laugh)

So you complement each other, right?

Yuuki: I think so. We are well-balanced. It's not like we don’t understand each other, or dislike each other, or have trouble getting along. We know and understand each other somehow. But our ideas are quite different.

I imagine he stops you when you're headed somewhere dangerous and says, “Don’t go there.” Right? (laugh)

Yuuki: Yes, yes, yes. But there is the opposite case too - although it's rare. (laugh) It's just the two of us, so when one person goes rushing off, the other has to be the side of restraint.

What sort of songs can we expect on the new album?

Yuuki: Before we paused our activity, we wanted to make a 'concept album', but I couldn’t get it. I thought, “what’s a concept album in this world?” I wanted to make an album with one big pillar, with stories coming from there, all unified by one world. It would be like the main story wouldn’t change even if the main actors did. So the concept album would be unified by lyrics and so on for me, more than by sounds. Then I would try to gather different stories related to an "amusement park", but I'd never made songs in that way before…. so I just realized I'm really bad at it. (bursts out laughing) I learned one thing through this work, which is that I can’t stand working under a rule. I’m a spontaneous person! (laugh) Anyway, we already started, so I've been making music however I want, and I think Naoki will bring everything together in a particular way. While some songs may be all right, if the melodies are boring, the music won't be able to save it - the song won't be good. So I'll be working a lot on the melodies.

Do you add the lyrics later?

Yuuki: That's the last thing I do. Actually, adding the title is the very last thing. I expand from obvious things, add some orchestra, and think about what fits with the orchestra. I don’t have any songs that start with the thought “I want to write this.” Most of my songs are not about what I want to say so much as coordination, what fits most beautifully in the song.

Are you planning to write English lyrics in future?

Yuuki: Well, it’s hard to say. For mid-tempo songs, it’s no problem to write only in Japanese, but for the really energetic, wild songs in our lives, it’s hard to have it only in Japanese! (burst out laughing)

I know you want to shout in English.

Yuuki: I made a rule and I try to keep to it, so I try desperately to just use Japanese. But recently I've started to feel like it might be better to use some English, rather than strain so hard for Japanese only. Even in our daily life, it's impossible to speak only Japanese. It’s unnatural nowadays, and I wonder if it’s necessary for me to strain for English or Japanese like this. But, I don't think I have the talent to mix Japanese and English well.

You don't?

Yuuki: Well, I don’t know because I haven’t tried yet. (laugh)

Oningyousan is a really outstanding song because of its fast pace and the way it's performed. What is the story behind the title of the song and the dolls you use during lives?

Yuuki: Most of my songs are inspired by my real life experiences. I have strong memories from my childhood. I remember the exact details of how old I was and why I fought with my older sister, how I was injured by her, what I told my parents, and how I asked them to scold her.

That’s horrible. (laugh)

Yuuki: I made Oningyousan from one of those memories. As I grow up, my parents get older. It sounds strange, but historically, there were ‘mountains where old people were left’ in Japan, they correspond to ‘homes for old people’ in the present day, and I wanted to describe how those are linked together in me. But when I make songs, I'm purely looking for sounds that fit, so I don’t care so much about the lyrics. As for Oningyousan, I made it all in about ten minutes.

How did the performance come about, with the doll on the stage?

Yuuki: That came out of a chat I had with Naoki. I told him the song title, and he said, “in that case, Yuuki, sing it with a doll.” He didn’t say anything about waving it around. I thought this would be a good song for fans to do choreography to, but the first time we performed the song, the audience didn’t seem to know quite what to do, so it didn’t go so well. At that time I was still bad at doing lives, so I thought about how I could make them run well… and I got angry! (bursts out laughing) I was thinking “you guys, do something!” and I hit them with the doll maybe two or three times. Now people tell me to hit them, and I’ve become like Mr. Inoki (famous Japanese pro wrestler) in the visual kei world.

So they'll feel disappointed if you don't punch them? (laugh)

Yuuki: Well, I know it depends on the place and situation. The doll is made of cloth, and it’s a special situation where people are glad to be hit by it. Once we did a secret live - we'd been using synchronism systems in our lives, so when a real drummer joined our band, we wanted to practice before our first live with him. There were other bands beside us, there was an audience of about ten people in the live house, and they all knew we would appear that day. They were really getting into it, and when I hit them during Oningyousan…. they ran away so fast, to the back of the hall! (bursts out laughing) Then I though “ah, I got it. People have no choice to enjoy it because they can’t run away. But if they can run away, they will.”(laugh) But I chased them and punched them… at eye level! (burst out laughing)

What a terrible scene! (laugh)

Yuuki: It wasn’t something I clearly wanted to do from the beginning. I just happened to punch, in expressing a complaint, and it's continued since then.

I can imagine you would be getting tired of doing it.

Yuuki: You are right! They often asked me to punch them, so I thought “OK, I’ll punch you until you can’t say that any more" and “because it’s made of cloth, it's not painful.” So then I put rice into the doll! (bursts out laughing) I punched it lightly and it was very heavy and painful, so I thought “OK, they won't ask me to punch them so often any more.” The live started and I hit the audience, then….. I put so much power into it that the doll split at the seams and rice splashed out, like a rice shower! (bursts out laughing)

The audience might think it was part of your stage performance. (laugh)

Yuuki: It was a situation like “I don’t know why, but something grain-like is flying!” (laugh) But there was an awareness in me that I was showing something, and I think I both answered and betrayed the audience expectation. For this song, without getting to eccentric, I thought I’d try to do what they wanted. Sometimes I worry about it and think maybe I shouldn’t do that song. I don't want Jinkaku Radio to be equated to Oningyousan because I think all of our songs are masterpieces. However, if a band has a masterpiece it's probably a good band, so I'm thankful for that now, because people around me perceived it as a masterpiece.

The song Bangyaru shoukogun is basically a parody about fangirls that go a little overboard, and you perform this song with furitsuke and lolitas on stage - something you don't usually do. What inspired you to write this kind of song and do this kind of stage performance? Was it a personal experience?

Yuuki: I have had some personal experiences meeting ‘bangyaru’ (girls who are absorbed in their favorite bands) and I exaggerated the stories, but the song itself was made before that. The rest was just a matter of time.

You made the song before?

Yuuki: Yes. I made it just for fun, I didn’t make it for people to listen to. I know I should appreciate that people have the image that Jinkaku Radio plays dark moody songs that sometimes sound like folk songs, such as Gogo no rakka, Nejimakidori, and Wasurenagusa. People have a certain image of Jinkaku Radio, which indicates a king of success for us. However, I didn’t want people to say “it’s not Jinkaku Radio” when we played hard songs like Oningyousan and Dekiai in our lives. I wanted to say “if we sang songs in enka style, would you still complain about that?” I wanted people to recognize whatever songs I released, they were nothing but Jinkaku Radio. I fooled around making the song and released it in an important moment, when we would be on a big stage soon. I wanted to break the image that “Jinkaku Radio is like this.” People around me, like our manager and my partner Naoki really opposed it. They said, “why do you want to do something like that now?!” (laugh) I just purely wanted to say that whatever I release is Jinkaku Radio. Well, but I love bangyaru basically.

Your bangyaru are so excited as they're waiting for you at live houses before and after the show.

Yuuki: There are fans like that in other music genres, but bangyaru are looked down somehow. To put it bluntly, visual kei bands are bad. Japanese visual kei bands are looked down on, and people from other genres ask us why we wear make-up. Originally I didn't really like visual kei, so I want to change its image. I want to work hard in visual kei and convince people. Then, people who like visual kei could be legitimate.(laugh) They wouldn’t be looked down on any more, and they could stay on the same level as the girls chasing Johnny's. (laugh)

So you want to say you don’t just count on your appearance but you do music seriously. Then you want to gradually elevate the people who support you, right?

Yuuki: Yes, yes, yes. But I can’t say that openly, so I made those lyrics… but they are real in a way.

How was the reaction when you released it at that unexpected time? Were they surprised like “is this really Jinkaku Radio?” Or did they feel like it was consistent with you?

Yuuki: Uhm... I don’t remember too well, but I think both reactions were big. As a result, people say it’s a song that's representative of Jinkaku Radio, so it was a success.

For that song, you wear Lolita fashion and do dance choreography. Did you think from the beginning you would perform the song that way?

Yuuki: Well, Naoki said, “since we’re doing this, let’s do it all the way.” He opposed me sometimes but he understands my good points, so he comes back to me! (bursts out laughing) We had an in-depth discussion for two or three hours about the mentality, how it should be, and he finally said, “I understand! Let’s do it on a large scale!” He told me I don’t need to explain it to anyone else, all that mattered was he understood. “We’ll do it all the way. We’ll get dancers, we’ll make costumes, we’ll do it on a big scale.” This song has an impact, so people who think we are shallow probably saw the image on YouTube. But if that was the only image I had in me, I wouldn't have done it. I was able to do it because I had other songs. I can’t joke around without also having my serious side. Otherwise, I don’t feel the meaning in goofing around. I have a firm base so I can go off the track.

It’s your contrasting aspects, like you said before, right?

Yuuki: Yes.

Have you thought about any negative consequences that might occur if some fans could take this the wrong way, like they might get angry or cold toward you?

Yuuki: I don’t know, that might happen. But I don’t care. (laugh) They don’t have to listen to it then, right? (laugh) I won't speculate about specific people.

In general, Jinkaku Radio's release pace is pretty slow. Why is that?

Yuuki: Well, I don’t make many songs… yes, I’m bad! (laugh) That's the only obstacle.

Once you start making songs it goes quickly, but until you get to that point, you can’t make great things unless different elements are put together with good timing, right?

Yuuki: Well, I'd like to say I can make songs if I'm told to take short cuts... but I can’t make them even if I take short cuts. (laugh)

I know you don’t like to make songs that are similar to your previous songs. (laugh)

Yuuki: I hate it! (laugh) If I’m told “you may compromise the work. Make ten songs right away and we’ll choose from them”, I can't make them that way.

If you’re in the process of making the songs, aren’t you completely rejecting them? If there’s a part you don’t agree with, you dislike it.

Yuuki: Yes, I think so too… but I think I don’t have talent! (bursts out laughing) A talented man could walk ahead quickly. I always look back and I'm fettered by my previous works. Even if I say it positively, like “I want to release something I've never released before", I’m still fettered by my past. People who don’t care about that can say “this is a different song" even it's like their previous works.

To put it another way, the artist who releases similar songs is one we can recognize quickly once we listen to their songs.

Yuuki: That's their color and they answer people's expectations, so I don't condemn them. But personally, I don’t like it. It's not in my nature.

You have been friends with Shinichirou of Jully for quite a long time, and in 2003 you released a single together under the name Kasu. Will we hear something from this project again?

Yuuki: I create songs and Naoki decides whether we’ll do them or not. For example, if he can envision something while he’s arranging it, we’ll do it. Usually when he says we won’t do it, I’m resigned to it. But there were just two songs Naoki rejected that I really wanted to do. Shinichirou seemed to be getting poor (laughs) so I told him, “let’s make some money.” I don’t have many friends in bands. I can't be bothered to get along with them.

Which means even without those people, you can get along just fine.

Yuuki: I don’t need friends in bands, I’m already satisfied so I don’t really take it upon myself to try to make friends with them. I’m not great at singing songs but Shinichirou, when I saw him at an event, he was purely good at singing. I got to liking him, he has a somewhat masochistic character (laugh) and my way of connecting to people is sort of sadistic, so there was a good balance. We thought it’d be interesting to play together so we tried it. If I would have good songs to work with, we might do it again. We punned a little bit, 'yuzu' (citrus fruit) to 'kuzu' (junk), and 'kuzu' to 'kasu' (scum)! (bursts out laughing). We are scum, aren’t we.

Please leave a message for our readers.

Yuuki: I’m Yuuki, known as “Bae Yong Joon” in Japan. (laugh) I only sing in Japanese, but I treasure the beauty in my country’s language and I make music with pride. So I hope you will listen to Jinkaku Radio and enjoy the sound of Japanese.
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