If music can overcome national boundaries, than age is no boundary either
--“Kirakira Hikare” is an uptempo song with an impressive Ramones-esque beat. This is the first time you’ve put together a fast song like this.
Eriko: That’s right.
Akiko: This song was produced by Goto [Masafumi] from Asian Kung-Fu Generation, but when we asked him what kind of song he wanted us to do, he said that he wanted us to do something fast. So we did.
--Up to now Chatmonchy has done a lot of songs that are about self-encouragement, but this is a song for the people around you, a yell commanding people to face the future. What sort of emotions did this song come out of?
A: We wanted to make a song directed at children. The image is like a nursery rhyme or a picture book.
--The lyrics are all in hiragana*, too.
A: We’ve always wanted to do a song that could be understood by both children and adults. I handed off the lyrics to Eriko. When Goto decided that he wanted a fast song, Eriko said we could do it, and she had these lyrics for it. (laugh)
E: I thought it would be interesting to do the lyrics all in hiragana, and I thought it would be even more interesting to attach them to a really fast song. I thought the contrast would be unusual. So I put this song together with these lyrics immediately.
--The lyrics are also easy to understand. They’re broad in scope, and make you want to pass it along. In particularly, I felt that the line “Atarimae nado hitotsu mo nai” [“Nothing is obvious”] came from your experiences with the earthquake.
A: Yeah. Everything changed after that. I was of course very worried about the children, and not just because of the earthquake, but also about the situations children are in all over the world. I’ve been doing music all this time, so I thought it might be a good idea to write a song about it.
--As part of the “musicians’ mission?”
A: It wasn’t for that, but I thought that if music can overcome national boundaries, than age is no boundary either. I think that’s what I wanted to convey with this song. Having said that, I don’t think I said it very directly. But even if you don’t understand the meaning, it’s a good song. It was originally meant as a children’s song.
--Indeed, it’s a song like “Anpanman* March.” And when you read the lyrics a second time, it really chokes you up.
A: The Ten-don-man song is also really awesome. It’s really long, but you should listen to it.
E: Is it dark?
A: No. This isn’t the dark Yanase Takashi [author of “Anpanman”]. Of course, I think Ten-don-man is awesome. I feel like he says these deep things, but without saying them...but still saying them.
--I’ve heard the song, too. Incidentally, I have no idea how to tell Katsu-don-man and Ten-don-man apart when they have their lids on.
E: Hahahah! Yeah, if they just sprung out on you you’d have no way of knowing. (laugh)
--(laugh) Back to the topic, when you said that you were worried about the children, did that come from a sense that, after a disaster like this, that all the people still living are in a terrible position?
A: That’s not quite what I meant. We Japanese are anxious about the quake, but...How do I say it? Originally I went to college to become a teacher, and having the opportunity to reach so many children was the foundation. Anyway, what I was trying to say was that even adults are happy when they can make children smile. I wrote this song in a moment when I believed in the strength of children.
We had a powerful desire to have tons of people see what we could do together
--I see. And this song was produced by Goto from Ajikan, as you said at the start of the interview. Did you feel that his approach is to extend the good parts of Chatmonchy? Or do you feel that it was to put forward new flavor and colors of sound?
A: I felt like it was more “Go with what you’ve got” than “Do new stuff.”
E: Yeah. At first Goto liked Chatmonchy, then we developed a plan to work together, and we’d ask him how part of the song was and he’d give us advice on what he wanted to hear.
--There’s a good feeling about it because you could say it’s from a fan’s point of view.
A: But it’s not a condescending feeling, it was more like Chatmonchy and Ajikan were doing a recording together. Recording is a very personal process, and you don’t really know how other bands go about it. It’s like going to the scene of the crime. This is our first time having someone from another active band produce for us, and we learned a lot.
--Did you have any requests for Goto?
A: Not really.
E: We talked with him first, because we wanted to know what kind of sense he had for the project. To that point we’d only exchanged greetings; we hadn’t had any serious talks. Even when we were doing “Alright part2” [collaboration between Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Eriko in 2011] it felt like I showed up, sang, talked a little, then said goodbye. (laugh) I wondered what they felt about it. I think that would have been good to know.
--Goto created the second song on the single, “Karisome Soddo,” but I thought that the melody and score were both very Chatmonchy-esque. On top of that, I thought that there were some parts that expressed new feelings.
A: It was like he gave us a glance into a new world. (laugh)
E: When Goto first gave us a singing demo, I thought that it was very Ajikan. After that, when I started adding the lyrics I thought about how I would sing it. For example, if I thought that the sound should rise, then I’d do it. I changed it just a little, then sang it.
--It’s only been about eight months since you became a two-person group, but you’ve been releasing quite a lot. This is your fourth single this year. Why do you think you haven’t experienced an interruption in the creative urge.
E: When the band shrunk to two members, we decided that this would be the year that we do the things we’d always put off to “next year.” We went forward with our plans like that. (laugh)
--But, even though you decided that, when you can’t write you can’t write. That is, creative urges and actual ability to accomplish those creative urges don’t always align.
E: I’m a sore loser. (laugh) When we went down to two members, we thought we’d make a lot of nostalgic songs. We put out a lot of songs that were made by just the two of us, and we had a powerful desire to have tons of people see what we could do together.
--I see. Just like The White Stripes is a unit made up of the same two people that formed it. Did you think of them?
A: We didn’t so much think of them as find out about them. We tried to be more aware of them than we had been before. And the people who are making music solo. There are people who do whatever they want all by themselves. We already understood how to record music via multiple recordings to a certain extent, but we wanted to see how those kinds of people get a sense of their footing musically.
--Were there any people in particular that you thought were awesome?
E: Bob Log III.** We took courage from him. We were like “Holy crap!” (laugh)
--(laugh) Did he make you want to buy helmets***?
E: The handset is too much!
A: It would get fogged up inside. (laugh)
E: Yeah! I take courage when I see a person like that. You can see that even performing alone is possible.
I feel like I want to hug them all! (laugh)
--(laugh) When it’s just two of you, though, you always work together. Isn’t it normal for the relationship to progress in such a way that you get closer, then you start to ask more of each other, then you get to know one another almost too well and get bored of one another? What a question, right? (laugh)
Both: (burst into laughter)
A: I wasn’t expecting that! (laugh)
E: Our relationship between one another hasn’t changed from what it was before Kumiko left. The fundamental connection hasn’t changed... From the beginning we weren’t a two-piece band - there were three members. That’s decreased by one person, and [people tend to think] that means things are different for us.
--So you’re able to do something new without any issues.
--Having known one another for so long, is there anything left that surprises you about one another?
E: Yes. Akiko is very active, and I feel like she’s twice as alive as me. Maybe three times. That’s always surprising.
A: Even knowing Eriko as well as I do, there are still a lot of things about her that I’m surprised by. It’s not like “I’ve never seen this side of her!” It’s more like, “Oh, huh. Okay.” (laugh) Like how you can throw her off with USB.
A: She doesn’t get it at all, and she’s scared of it so it throws her off. She’s an idiot. (laugh)
--Hahah, that’s cute. (laugh)
A: It’s super cute. (laugh) There’s a lot of stuff like that that surprises me. Makes you wonder if she’s really 30.
--When you’re deciding which kind of songs to do, do you feel it’s more important to go with things you’ve been wanting to try, or to stick with what you’re good at?
E: New things versus old things... Hmm... It’s about 80-20, I guess. We won’t change. It possible to be unaware that you can try anything, but it’s also possible to try something new too often. So it’s not just about doing something new all the time.
A: We’ve been able to throw ourselves into new things. If we couldn’t do that, then we couldn’t do what we love all the time. Because there are plenty of risks in that direction.
--What’s considered a “risk” for a musician?
A: Change. Changes to your customer base, and changes in what you write for them. Personally, I think that when we were a three-piece band we stoically sought out new stuff. We felt like we had to find something new, rather than letting the music pour out of our hearts. But while we’re keeping the same things we had up to now, searching for new things is allowing us to increase what we have at our disposal. It’s very hard. If we didn’t have our resolve, it would be impossible to move forward. And while I say that, because we’re working we’ll naturally see differences in enthusiasm [between the band and the individuals that make up the band]. But for all the people who have helped us along the way, and for all the people who still love us even though we’ve reduced in size, I feel like I want to hug them all! (laugh) I don’t want to make those people uneasy or sad. That’s different from a risk. It’s knowing that we have to do something for all the people who’ve believed in us.
--That’s what I was thinking. The things that came from that resolve were enjoyable. Well, we’re starting into music fest season. This year you’ll be participating in the Fuji Rock Fest for the first time, as well as appearing in the Rising Sun Rock Festival in Ezo. Does it feel different to play in a festival than it does in a regular live?
E: It’s fun, but it’s hard.
A: At an indoor live, it’s really hard to see the audience’s faces, but at a festival you can see all of them! You can even see it when they’re reaching for their cell phones. (laugh) You’re like “Hey, quit it!”
E: Heheh. These festivals will be the first time people get to see us as a two-member band, and I want to give them a great show.
*Anpanman is a popular cartoon for young children, and Ten-don-man is a supporting character.
**American one-man band. He sings and plays guitar while playing drums with his feet on a drum set especially customized for him.
***Bob Log III sings while wearing a special-made helmet with a telephone handset attached to the front.