We always felt a little like going against the flow
--In July of 2010, ORANGE RANGE started their own independent label, “Super Echo Label.” This is the first time you’ve spoken with us, so I’d like to ask how it felt to separate from your old label and start your own.
N: We were of course thinking a lot about whether we’d be able to convey the novelty of our situation when it came time to put out information and music. I mean, before that, when we were at our previous label, if we made music they didn’t like it wouldn’t be released, and we wouldn’t be able to play it in anticipation of a release date. But now that we have our own label we can release anything we want to do. That’s obviously a huge difference. If we think to ourselves “We want to put out some music today,” we can just up and announce it. We can play new music at our lives right away, and then release it later. When we make music, we want people to hear it immediately. Our listeners can can be in lockstep with our feelings from day to day. It’s invigorating.
--And at that point you decided to join forces with SPEEDSTAR RECORDS.
N: Yes. We thought we could do some interesting stuff with another label, and when we were talking to other labels about it, SPEEDSTAR seemed the most promising. That is to say, it was in our own best interest because SPEEDSTAR has a lot of artists that we like. That’s a lot of the reason I went for it myself. (laugh) We thought we could do a lot with it.
--Who are the artists that you particularly like from SPEEDSTAR?
N: UA! I’ve always loved UA.
--That’s rather surprising. You haven’t worked with her before, right? It seems to me like the stereo imaging that you use for ORANGE RANGE and delofamilia [Naoto’s solo project] would be really odd together with her work.
N: Yeah, I suppose so. I’m just one listener. Other than UA, I really like Quruli.
More than us being worried, everyone was very encouraging
--Immediately after the Tohoku earthquake, on March 26th, ORANGE RANGE released “one” for free download. What were the listeners’ reactions like?
N: There were a lot of different comments, but the one that had the greatest impression was “I want to do something.” There were a lot of comments like that. I’d thought that I just wanted to release a song. And even though I couldn’t do anything else, everyone kept thinking that they should do something because we’re all connected through some time or some place. I was really happy that people were aware of that, even if only a little.
--I see. You were happy that your song made people think.
N: After that, there were a lot of people talking about wanting to do something, even if most people couldn’t. But because of that, more people became aware of the predicament of others, even if it was only a little bit... So, yeah. We were saying that it’s okay to do something small, and to remember that we’re all Japanese, and that it was more than just an earthquake, and that we needed to come together.
--You also used the title “one” for your tour and did a live in the area that had been affected by the disaster. What was it like to visit that area?
N: At first we were very worried, wondering how it was that people were getting by. But the victims were very positive; we didn’t even have to give them any encouragement. On the contrary, they were telling us to do harder music. (laugh) So it wasn’t the song choice that mattered; just having the live there was important. More than us being worried, everyone was very encouraging.
Both new pop and standard
--You’ve now completed your new album “NEO POP STANDARD.” It’s very interesting.
N: Yeah, my thoughts exactly. (laugh)
--(laugh) When was it completed?
N:Honestly, the final work and mastering were completed at the beginning of February. We were using the same studio in New York as always.
--Free downloads of your song “Anniversary Song ~10th~” started on 2/22. So you must have been scrambling to complete it. Having done that, you probably didn’t get much time to listen to it objectively.
N: I don’t know about listening to it objectively, but we’ve listened to the completed album quite a lot.
--But this album is the first to contain only music that you’ve created since your major comeback. ORANGE RANGE is getting a taste of the real world, you might say.
N: It’s true. (laugh) The title sort of reflects that feeling...
--Where did you get the concept for the title?
N: First I put out a bunch of ideas, and everyone chose from among them. But this time I really wanted the words “pop” and “standard” to be in the title. But if I put in “pop,” the hardcore pop people wouldn’t have it, and if I put in “standard,” then the people who listen to “standard” music wouldn’t have it. So I hoped that by adding “neo” I could avoid both circumstances.
--But by associating these three words with one another, they take on a grand sense like “new pop and standard are both here.”
N: That’s what it seems like. A lot of people have said that. (laugh)
We decided to break up the band
--On this album, all the songs were created with programming and step recording. This is explained in the album materials, and this kind of experiment is a first for ORANGE RANGE.
N: Yes, it is. Up to now we’ve have two or three songs like these per album, but having an entire album of step recorded songs is new for us.
--Why did you decide to go that route?
N: Well, I thought of it in October of 2010, while we were on our nationwide tour after the release of “orcd.” The band really stank during the live. It’s partly because the setlist centered around songs that were sparse and raw, but it was also because we weren’t in step with one another as a band until things had settled down after the live. I think people who are in bands could probably see it. Since then, decided to break up the band, and pushed the restart button on ourselves. On this album we really sensed one another. It’s really cool. Really...rock.
--I think that the sense of unity felt by attendees at an ORANGE RANGE live is the same as at a rock concert, but I think that sense of unity increased around the time of the “orcd” tour, don’t you?
N: Yeah, it was really manly. It was really boisterous. (laugh) More than a sense of unity, the audience was screaming “Yeah!” while we were performing.
99% of what I do is taking the lead on the melody
--Creating all the songs through programming seems like it would be very natural for you, considering the way you work. Did you encounter any resistance when you had this idea?
N: Yeah, of course. And again when we made the demo.
--Did you find that your usual process changed now that you’ve tried an entire album of step recording?
N: Yeah, up to now we’ve always created the music together. Our usual method is to start by recording us humming the song out, and when melody is done we put chords to it on the piano, and then we add the beat at the end. Ninety-nine percent of what I do is taking the lead on the melody. Ever since the beginning. I just play the original melody on the piano while singing “Na na na na.” (laugh)
--People may say that most of your friends are artists are in bands, but you also have a lot of friends in the techno world. Your process seems similar to theirs.
N: Yeah. I’m starting to like Denki Groove, and it’s not that weird. I think I’ve been playing piano ever since I was a kid. It’s just that I get my ideas at the piano, and from there I figure out what I want to do, and ideas like adding strings will suddenly strike me. Sometimes my draft will disappear as this happens, sometimes the melody changes when I add the beat. In this way, the direction of my work improves little by little as I go on.
I stick my notes on the fridge
--Since you started your label, ORANGE RANGE has seemed very casual and light-footed. I really enjoyed it as soon as I saw it. I think you’ve also become more prolific as a result. I could see you offering more songs to the band, and putting more forward to your solo project.
N: My name has probably come out more often because of it. The pace at which I create music hasn’t really changed.
--I see. You’ve been working with HOME MADE Kazoku, CHI-MEY, LOVERSSOUL and others, as well as releasing a lot of different kinds of music for delofamilia. It seems like your brain holds quite a lot, and like you’ve been able to expand your knowledge over these past two years. I’m sure you must be aware of the different flavors your work takes on all your different projects.
N: Yeah, as soon as I’m done with one thing, I have a vague sense of the thing I want to do next. I don’t talk about my next vision; it really is just a feeling. I gather those feelings up, then I think about what would be best to do next. I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder. So it doesn’t seem that impressive to me.
--Is there a different starting point for music that someone else has offered you than there is for the music you create yourself?
N: There’s more order to making a song for someone else. They’ll tell me things like “This is what the hook should be like” and “Our band uses timings like this, so it should be this kind of song.” I have a discussion with them, but for ORANGE RANGE and delofamilia the music comes in a flash... I start working when I get a flash of insight, and I follow it to the end.
--I see. When do you get your flashes of insight?
N: That hasn’t changed in 10 years. I get a lot of my ideas in the bathroom. If that doesn’t work, then the bathtub. (laugh) And if that doesn’t work, it’s while I sleep. And if I can’t get anything like that, I quit on that particular idea and just try another one I’ve been wanting to work on.
--So considering that that’s your method, you don’t create music and keep it in reserve, do you?
N: No, I’m one of those people that doesn’t. But I write down the things I want to try. Stuff like “4 beats” and “ballad.” Just some loose notes.
--Do you write your notes on music paper?
N: No, I just scribble them out in pen on note paper. (laugh) Like I’m going to stick them on the fridge door.
--That’s... (laugh). I want to see your fridge now.
N: I stick it right next to the expiration dates for my food.
Give me a dispassionate hook
--The backtracks of the songs on “NEO POP STANDARD” are very crisp. The sound is thin. It’s been said that your work with HOME MADE Kazoku* also had a minimalistic sound. That is to say, it seems that your trend lately has been to pull back on the sound. There also seems to be a tendency toward “subtraction” in the international dance music scene. Would you say that you’re aware of this trend, or does this kind of “minimizing” just come naturally to you?
N: It comes naturally. There are a lot of times when the other ORANGE RANGE members ask me to pull back on the sound, too. It’s because the sound on our very first demo was really jumbled. Afterwards, when we were recording, we were saying “Wow, this is really hard to sing to,” so we decided to minimize the music. We decided that with these kinds of songs, the more clear the sound, the easier it is to hear the lyrics.
--And so you tend to have just a few sounds. There are spaces of four bars where it’s only vocals and synth drums.
N: But the majority of tracks haven’t really changed from what we usually have. Minimalistic songs aren’t the most common type on the album. Even so, taking some of the sounds out during arrangement and recording are something that we do every time. Somehow when we add the lyrics there are some sounds that can afford to be cut.
--Hiroki, Yamato, and Ryo work together on the lyrics. So, do the four of you decide what sounds aren’t necessary once the lyrics have been added?
N: Yes. We go back and forth over email, I look at the lyrics they’ve done and make suggestions.
--You don’t meet face-to-face when you work?
N: We didn’t this time. We usually have a whiteboard to work and write on, making the music as we talk it out. But this time we’d broken up the band, like I said before. So we used a different approach to create the music.
--Is it strange to intentionally stop making music together?
N: No, it’s surprisingly popular... (laugh) We’re all like “Wow, this is really easy.” Of course, that’s because we can look at it objectively. We’ve all written what we wanted to say up to now. Without looking at how everything balances. When you see the lyrics sent and resent over email, you get an idea of how they flow.
--Have any of the other members complained about it being difficult?
N: It’s all step recording, so even though the song is running when the three vocalists are recording, it’s a hard fight. Especially on the four-beat songs. Well, it took them one or two days at the beginning to get used to it. But one way or another, when the three of them are singing, one person’s voice will come out of synch and that’s hard. When the band performs we’re running all over the place, but in that kind of situation we feel like it’s not a big deal. Even though they’re like “Am I falling behind?” it’s still okay.
N: Um, we had an interview back when we didn’t pay as much attention to the music, and Hiroki told me “Give me a dispassionate hook.” Not that I remember that. (laugh) Hiroki writes a lot of the lyrics for the hooks, and he always seemed to say it. “Do the hook abstractly.” On the other hand, I need to put passion in the A and B melodies. He’d always say that when I added them to the song.
They only have two hours to enjoy this other world
--The lead song, “Hello Sunshine Hello Future,” is a very refreshing song. Why did you decide to make this the lead song?
N: Well, first....usually....
N: It’s refreshing. If there was any song that we had hoped would become the “lingua franca” of our listeners, this is the one. We wanted a refreshing atmosphere; we hadn’t done one in a long time.
--At the beginning of the song it feels like you’re singing about summer, and about Okinawa. But that’s not actually the case. The listener doesn’t know it yet, but I feel like it’s a song about how great ORANGE RANGE’s new start and new music are.
N: We’re starting on a new decade, and we wanted a song that would somehow give the listeners an idea of what to expect. I think a live show is an escape. I don’t mean that in a bad way. You’re in a great atmosphere, dripping with sweat for two hours, and even though you’re on stage you can only just get it across to the audience. We feel like: we only have two hours so it’s better for the audience to forget anything bad about it, right? We want everyone to feel like they’ve been transported to a different world, and they’re having a good time. That’s always our overarching theme. We even sing “Junbi ha ii ka” [“Are we ready to go?”] in the lyrics [of “Hello Sunshine Hello Future”].
--I see. This song is a representation of an ORANGE RANGE live.
N: Yeah. There’s this song, “Beautiful Future” by [Scottish band] PRIMAL SCREAM. That song says some really good things. When Bobby [Gillespie, lead singer] says “future” so languidly, there’s no sense of reality to it. I love the feeling of that song. There’s absolutely no passion, but it still feels like he’s singing “Let’s go to the beautiful future.”
The artist that listens to last year’s music
--By the way, if you had to give us one song, or just one collection of songs you heard last year that influenced you, what would they be?
N: Hmm.... I mostly listened to WILCO. I’ve always liked them, and I listened to them a lot when they were switching labels, and their live at FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL was good. It’s not just that the tension was good or that Jeff Tweedy is a good singer, but that there were a lot of really cool parts. THE FLAMING LIPS are the same way.
--Despite that the sound is completely different, I thought of James Blake for some reason when I was listening to “NEO POP STANDARD.”
N: Oh, yeah, I heard it. That was a good album.
--The sound is pulled back and back, like perfection is in eliminating the music.
N: Nothing but a voice. (laugh) Oh, yeah, and Lupe Fiasco. He’s picking up rap where Kanye West and Jay Z left off. I’ve listened to his new release (“Lasers,” released April 2011) quite a lot. It’s hip hop and pop that sells well. People always said that [people who sell that music] are just after the money. (laugh) It also has some R&B flavor, but I don’t like it just because it’s all vocal and beat; it’s really very good.
It doesn’t end with the CD; it becomes a song that we expand upon
--You’re also holding a nationwide tour for this album release. With “band breakup” the theme of the album, what are your plans for the lives?
N: Hmm, good question. What should we do...?
N: Right now we’re starting to think about the arrangements of all kinds of songs, and it’s really interesting. Because the band puts out this kind of song, it doesn’t end with the CD; it becomes a song that we expand upon. We release the CD, go on tour, perform our lives, and that’s where you hope you can do the song. Up to now, we’ve been able see the final form of our songs as we perform them on stage, but this time the feeling is different. However it is that I’ve changed the songs, I enjoy it.
*Naoto co-produced HOME MADE Kazoku’s new single “Kohaku-Iro ni Somaru Kono Michi Ha”