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This band is never satisfiedEdit
We’re right in the middle of this year’s summer music fest season. I saw you at the “RISING SUN ROCK FESTIVAL” the other day; it was incredible.
Taka: Oh really? I’m glad you liked it.
The entire audience, all the way to the back of the field, were oddly excited.
T: The truth is, when you see it from the stage you don’t really get what’s happening, but when you see the clips later you’re really surprised by how amped everyone it. It was really annoying. (laugh)
What was annoying?
T: We got a really late time slot (1:40am), and the switch exchange was really difficult. We had food in Sapporo, then got on a bus, got into the festival ground, and just stood around kind of like, “Okay, what do we do now?” (laugh)
Is there a difference in feeling between performing at a one-man live and at a festival?
T: One difference from a one-man live is that, at a festival, you know that the people there didn’t necessarily come to see you. They’re just waiting to see who’s next. But because of that, you’re on the offensive and always make the best music that you can. You really conveyed that attitude of being on the offensive at “RISING SUN.”
T: Before us was Elephant Gun Kashimashi... And before us was BRAHMAN, and before them was Maximum The Hormone. So the tension was well-warranted. (laugh)
But at the same time, you gave the impression that your performance was fun.
T: It was a dream come true. To be able to stand on the main stage at “RISING SUN.” But now that we’ve done it, we have the sense that we want to try more things that we haven’t tried before. Now that we’ve been able to play at “RISING SUN,” we want to soak in experiences that are even more overwhelming.
Like you’re not satisfied?
T: We’re probably never going to be satisfied. We’ve come to understand that now. I was wrong about what would end up on the album
How did the A-side of your new single, “The Beginning,” come to be?
T: To tell the truth, we already had this song when we created our album “Zankyou Reference.” The demo was basically done, we just didn’t have lyrics. But I was wrong about what would end up on the album.
Why was that?
T: This song hits more closely to the mark than anything I’ve written up to now. So I didn’t want it to be just another song on the album.
You held it back.
T: Yeah. It was also chosen as a movie tie-in [for “Rurouni Kenshin”]. The star of the movie, Satou Takeru, was at the same management company as me that year, and we got to be close friends. It makes me happy to be able to provide the theme song for the movie he’s working so hard on. Because of that, this song has a slightly different feeling from our others; I wanted to put 100% into expressing it.
So when it was decided that ONE OK ROCK would provide the theme song, did that influence the song itself?
T: Yes, substantially. As I wrote the lyrics, I wanted to incorporate the feelings I had upon seeing the movie.
But isn’t it difficult to tie in the images from a movie?
T: No, even the supervisor said that he liked what we did with it. I was ecstatic. Normally they say “Please write this kind of song” or “Please write that kind of song.” But this time they told us from the beginning that they wanted a “ONE OK ROCK” sound, so we wanted to give them the best theme song that we possibly could.
But I would think that doing this kind of big tie-in would have it’s difficult parts.
T: There will probably be people who say negative things about it. (laugh) And even if that kind of person listens to it...I think we tried to create a song that you can’t speak ill of. It’s very simple, but it has a narrative structure.
Just a moment ago you said that “The Beginning” hits more closely to the mark than anything you’ve written up to now. How specifically does it “hit the mark?”
T: First of all, we’ve had the piano on there since the demo. We always write our songs with guitar, but for this song to be created with and retain the piano is really big for us.
Did you take down the piano melody in the band sound?
T: Yes, I thought that it would be good for the piano and vocals to form the foundation of the song. You don’t need the guitars or bass or drums. Having the piano and vocals there from the first draft all the way to the production version, we were able to create a good balance between them.
You mean that the band was able to do its best with it in the arrangement?
T: Yes, we were able to make the best of both the band arrangement as well as the expression of the piano itself. First of all, more than anything else, this song is incredibly simple. We probably don’t use more than four chords. But we create a narrative structure within that simplicity. It’s not just that there are guitar riffs coming into the song, it’s the octaves and arpeggios. And power chords.
I see what you mean, now that you mention it.
T: So with this timing and that kind of shape, we were able to create a song we’re satisfied with. It was like achieving the goal we’ve been reaching for all this time.
It’s not just that it has catchy riffs, but it’s hard to pin down what you want to say about it. Despite that, it has enough strength for repeated listens, like how you can just keep eating dried squid [without being able to explain why it’s good].
T: Exactly. You can listen to it over and over. We really like that. Usually you want to put more flourishes in the music. But that this song could reach completeness without having to do that made us happy. We won’t release a song until we conquer it.
But even though the song is simple, there are a lot of parts that required vocal power. Was it difficult to record?
T: Yeah, it was really tough. (laugh)
What parts in particular?
T: I set the bar pretty high for myself. So even though I worked hard and did my best, it took a lot of time. It seemed like recording would never end. I think I’ve probably sung this song through a hundred times.
What level were you aiming for?
T: Conquest. Of that song.
T: In terms of our sound, I don’t play drums or guitar or piano; I have to decide whether it’s a good idea to trust my intuition. But in terms of our finished sound, I record as though I’m battling the music. If I’m unable to conquer the song - to come out with something I think is cool - then we’re not done. It’s only after I’ve beaten the song that you can say it’s done. So I’ll face off with the song for however long it takes to beat it.
So what did you think of this song when you first heard it played back?
T: It’ll be pretty detailed; are you sure you want to hear this?
Yes, please tell me.
T: Well, there are two distinct hooks, each with a different beginning. Usually I think that having two hooks just diminishes the impact of the second, but I kept searching for a way for the second hook to be just as cool as the first. And, this is super detailed, but before the hook there’s a guitar phrase where it goes “kee!” and that signals the start of the second hook. When the vocals enter at that point, I really need to put explosive power into my voice, and I don’t know how many times we had to redo it. We were very calculating about that part.
T: And then in terms of the lyrics, I was thinking about how well I sang them and how complex they are.
Ah, so you weren’t thinking about what would make it better.
T: Yes, the pitch was off, but I thought that the “flavor” was good. So my voice was good, and the song was good. This way... How do I say it? The way you sing to bring out the humanity in it... I had to redo the opening and the hook over and over. Also, we noticed that when the opening transitions into the A-melody there’s this “Western music” quality that remains.
So you choose which hurdles to overcome based on the direction you want to go.
T: Exactly. And if we can’t overcome our hurdles, we don’t release that song; it’s our rule. (laugh) We’re not obsessive about our lyrics
--I’d also like to ask some questions about your lyrics. In “The Beginning,” you start out singing everything in English, but then you suddenly insert Japanese lyrics into the middle of the B-melody. I was really surprised.
T: Really? Thank you.
--The balance between the Japanese and English is just perfect.
T: We thought it would be fine even if all the lyrics were in English, but that would have had a slightly different feeling to it. And of course I’m Japanese, so I don’t have perfect pronunciation like a native English-speaker, so more than anything I thought about what English words I could say.
--How important did you originally think the lyrics would be?
T: We’re not really that obsessive about our lyrics. I don’t think at all about whether I’m saying something good. I don’t have any talent for writing lyrics.
T: I always say the same thing, ever since we first started the band.
--I think your lyrics are good.
--And they’re a little weird. (laugh)
T: (laugh) I hear that a lot.
--A lot of popular rock bands have a cool signature phrase or a powerful saying that they usually use in their lyrics. But your lyrics tend to use words that people would use in conversation. They feel authentic.
T: I guess so.
--Is that how you feel about it?
T: No, like... I don’t have that sense of it at all. I’m jealous of the people who can write lyrics that pierce with a single word. There are a lot of lyricists who can do it, but I have no idea how.
--How do you write your lyrics?
T: Usually I try to think of something that’ll work with the melody. I don’t really think about writing “good” lyrics. If there’s something on my mind, I just add it to the song. I really don’t write good lyrics. I don’t really write that well at all. (laugh)
--A lot of people say that the lyrics just come to them...
T: Not me. (laugh)
As the vocalist, I want to sing my own words
--But, just like your vocal work, the lyrics still pose a bit of problem for you, right? Doing something that doesn’t attain the same quality as your past work would be bad.
--They don’t pose a problem? (laugh)
T: I don’t know. I mean, I want to write lyrics that are comprehensible when people read them, since I myself am an idiot. (laugh) I don’t really understand a lot difficult words, and I want to speak as politely as I can. I just write what I can understand.
--On this single you have a song called “Ketsuraku Automation.” It has a line that goes something like “Jibun wo kasane awasete mitari nanka shichattari shite” [“I try eclipsing myself and doing something”].
T: (laugh) I couldn’t help that one. The melody for that section already existed. I wanted it to be “Jibun wo kasanete mitari shite” [“I try piling on myself”], but it didn’t work with the melody, so I thought, “Well, I’ll just add more syllables.” So it’s not really “lyrics writing...”
--But you took something you wanted to convey and put it down in words.
T: That’s true. But rather than seeking to “convey” something, more often than not I simply write down the feelings that I’m having at that moment.
--But ONE OK ROCK’s lyrics are often passed around. The lyrics themselves, more than the melodies or performances, are the most powerful, resonant lyrics there are.
T: I’m glad that you say so.
--You don’t get that reaction from fans?
T: No, well... We don’t often have people telling us things like our lyrics “saved” them. (laugh)
T: We don’t really get people saying “These lyrics changes my life.” More often than not we get “ONE OK ROCK always makes me happy,” and that’s what I prefer.
--So lyrics really aren’t your strong point?
T: Not really. I think I just write because I’m the vocalist. It’s just that, since it’s my voice communicating with the audience, I have to use my own words. If I ever quit being a vocalist and play guitar instead, I probably won’t write the lyrics.
Melodies are no trouble at all
--How are the melodies? Do you have as little trouble with them as you do with lyrics?
T: Yeah, melodies are no trouble at all.
--It’s amazing you can say that with such finality. (laugh)
T: I think that’s my only “signature move.” I can always come up with a song. Even when Toru [guitar] makes a demo, I try different melodies on it until he likes something.
--Are you thinking about what your voice is capable of while you’re creating melodies?
T: No, I don’t think about that. My ideas expand more when I’m not thinking about my voice or the way I’ll sing a melody. Recently I’ve been daring to try things that don’t seem like they’d suit me.
--That’s a surprise. Listening to “The Beginning,” I thought that there aren’t many others who could sing it, and I felt like it had to have been created specifically based on your voice and style.
--It felt like a singer-selected melody.
T: That could be true. I like Western music, so I think of foreign singers when I create the melodies. For example, I’ll think about singing like Nickleback. That’s how I write the melodies.
--Like you’re offering a song to the artists you want to be like?
T: Yeah, that would make me really happy.
--I see. You don’t create a strategy around your voice or style, and instead come at the music from a high-level point of view. So when you sing, that must be when you run into trouble.
T: Hey, that’s probably true! (laugh)
We want to climb impossibly high mountains
--You must have your own personal reaction to this single. Like the point where you knew it would work for the band.
T: Yes, I’m glad we made it. And...How do I say it? One day people will say “ONE OK ROCK isn’t as good as it used to be, huh?”
--Like when the next generation comes along?
T: Like, the groups who the older generations say are awesome... I don’t think all of them are that good. So someday we’ll probably be in the opposite position we are now. The next generation will have raised the bar on Japanese music, and they’ll take the Japanese music world away from us. And because of that, I want to keep making music that I think is cool. There’s no point to making music that appeals to the market but that we think sucks. That’s my sense of it.
--So you’re thinking about how to create music without any regrets.
T: I’ve been thinking about that a ton lately. (laugh) Um... Our time is short. Because of age and physical fitness, we probably won’t be able to do performances like we do now once we pass 30.
T: Of course, I’m sure there are cool things that you can’t really do until you’re that age, but what we’re dreaming of now aren’t the sorts of things you can do in your 50s and 60s. We’re thinking about how we can top the high level that we’ve already established, and how to get back down.
--Are you already worried about that? (laugh)
T: No, I mean that I want to be able to come down from the impossibly high summit that I climb. If I only have an hour to climb the mountain, then I spend 30 minutes going up and 30 minutes coming back. But rather than climbing the mountain a regular person can climb in half an hour, I want to climb a distant mountain and return. I want us to go to overwhelming places as a band.
We want to convey our vivid emotions
--But even so, ONE OK ROCK is doing fine.
T: No, I feel like we still have more to do. I want to do more overseas.
--You’re pretty hard on yourself. (laugh)
T: It’s because I’ve always been an idiot. There are some people whose attitude changes very quickly. I think there are bands like that. We can be like that, too: we see a possibility, and we and the people around us think, “Well, that’s probably not possible.” But we also think to ourselves, “But someway we’ll be able to do it.”
--You mean things like holding a live at a bigger venue?
T: Yeah. But at the same time, size isn’t everything. We want to perform at a big venue, but there are more important things.
T: Like conveying our vivid emotions to the audience. We’re always thinking about how we can do that.
--But it’s harder to convey your emotions clearly to every person in the audience when you’re performing in a large venue.
T: I think the other band members don’t really want to perform at large venues for that exact reason. They’re like, “It’s too big,” and “The acoustics suck,” and “We couldn’t get anything across in here.” But I want to take down a big venue. It’s true that the acoustics suck and it’s hard to convey your music to the audience, but I think it’s the kind of thing that you have to just jump into headfirst. So I want us to play in bigger and bigger places.
--Like Tokyo Dome?
T: Yes, we want to try and get our music across to people at Tokyo Dome.
--And so you’re starting your live house tour in September.
T: That’s right. We created this single for the tour. We want these three songs to be the central focus. We want our fans to come to the tour, listen to the music, and have a great time.