It feels like a huge spoiler
--So you've completed "2012," your first album in two years.
yasu: Yes, thanks to all my fans. During 2011 I was recording and writing songs at my house; it felt like I was always working on this album. It took quite a while.
--You were also constantly releasing singles.
y: That's right. To be honest, I had planned for an earlier release but it was delayed by various things and single releases were irregular, so I was worried that even my fans would forget about me. (laugh)
--I don't think that would happen. (laugh)
y: There are seven singles on this album. So it feels like a huge spoiler for the people who were good enough to buy all those singles; they know half the album. I was worried that that's not okay, and I thought really hard about what I could do to increase their enjoyment of the other half.
The story is pretty easy to understand
--What specifically did you do to increase their enjoyment of the other half?
y: I set up a concept for each album with ABC. I create a story for the entire album, and I publish that story in the booklet. And I was just as particular about the packaging this time as I always am.
--It's a crucial part of Acid Black Cherry's album creation process.
y: The story for my second album, "Q.E.D," took up a lot of space and the theme was a heavy one. I think in terms of genre it was mystery/suspense, but I felt like it was a little hard for a person that doesn't like ABC to get into. So this time I wanted to do something that would be easy to understand. I wanted to make the entrance big, like a picture book, like a fairy tale. That was my objective from the beginning.
--It's an original story, so you can feel the worldview strongly. How do you go about creating your stories?
y: First I create the plot. I collect the songs that I already have, and while I'm looking at temporary lyrics I tie the songs together [with the plot]. It's like making a movie; the creation is very fun. My favorite type of movie is the kind that grabs you from the beginning, and it's all tied up by the end. You understand, like "Oh, that's what was going on!"
--Is that how you develop albums for ABC?
y: Well, that's where it gets hard. The songs are tied together as the story is constructed, so I progress by looking through the songs and saying "I don't need this piece," or "This component is important." But it's not like I'm planning on mistakes from the beginning. There's a lot of change and seesawing during the creation stage. So I have a unique method from the start.
I want people to feel the same way about the entertainment ABC provides
--So how was the album looking when you released "Re:birth" in August of 2010?
y: I hadn't even looked at it. (laugh) Because I didn't start thinking about the story until that November.
--But you constructed the entire meaning of the album to include those seven singles.
y: It would be good if it turned out that way. But a single isn't just a shot in the dark. You'd think that the various lyrics would reveal the contour of the songs, but when they go into an album they form a new, single piece and the listeners can see them in a new light. It's the same with a plastic bottle. When you look at it from the top it's a circle, but when you see it from the side it's a rectangle. What I'm saying is, the listeners interest in a single grows the same way, I think. Well, I don't know if that's all that I want to convey to my listeners. Because how the listeners are feeling is everything. So I think it's my job to put the most effort into it that I possibly can.
--Why did you start putting an original story in the album booklet?
y: First of all, but I want to place importance on the CD packaging. Right now downloads are the norm. Honestly, they're really convenient, and even I download quite a lot. But in the environment that I was raised in you have to turn over the record or cassette, you looked carefully at the jacket while you listened, and you really appreciated the music. Lately you can get music whenever and wherever you want; it's really easy. I'm not trying to say that's a bad thing, or that I want people to listen to their music the same way that they used to, but if people suddenly took more interest in the packing itself, wouldn't they look at the lyrics and hold the jacket in their hands? If that happens, I think the CD will have more depth for them. If people look at the story in the album, like in this one, they'll begin to understand how the lyrics link together, and why the songs are placed in the order they are. Step by step they'll be taken into the world of the album.
y: I'm that way myself. For example, when I see a movie I like, I also want to see the making-of and the interview with the director. I learn a lot from it, and when I watch the movie again it becomes interesting in a different way. They're not shoving it down your throat, they just expand on the parts that people would be interested in learning about. I want people to feel the same way about the entertainment that ABC provides.
I wanted to make an album that could only be made in 2012
--Tell me about the meaning of the title "2012."
y: There are a lot of reasons, but it boils down to me wanting to make an album that could only be made in 2012. It all comes out in the story, but 2012 is the year that the world ends in the Mayan calendar. There was also the news in January that the Doomsday clock was set five minutes from midnight, and I'm really into that kind of historical stuff, so I worked it into the story of "2012."
--It sounds like the story might be influenced by how life has been since the Tohoku earthquake.
y: There will of course be people that catch that meaning, and I've included a lot of delicate questions about it, so I've been very careful. I think there will be a lot of different reactions to this album. Some people will think it's good, and some people will find it uncomfortable. Because of that, I think we have to have faith. I also really think that you have to convey your message through subterfuge.
--What do you mean by "through subterfuge?"
y: It's like how something loses it's coolness when you notice yourself thinking about how cool it is. When people ask me about it, I can't say that I'm doing everything aboveboard. This story isn't only influenced by the real story of the earthquake and ensuing disaster. But the weeks after the earthquake happened were full of fear and anxiety and I wondered what it would be like if you couldn't talk about any of it. Right after the earthquake Yoshii Kazuya said, "At a time like this, no matter kind of music you sing, you wonder what your true value as an artist is." I really sympathize with that feeling, but I'm of a contrary disposition, so I thought, "I want to encourage people without coming right out and saying it." I wanted to give people encouragement, but in a different form than telling them to "hang in there." Music has the power to energize and lighten the mood, and I think ABC's music is the same way.
I couldn't have done "2012" without "Sono Hi ga Kuru Made"
--In the story of "2012," angels are tainted black and it's become impossible to sing songs. There were a lot of artists that felt this same way [after the earthquake]; what were your thoughts?
y: In the end, music is pleasure. It's still okay even if it's not, but it's better if it is. I thought, what should I do that's beyond my simple occupation? I think I definitely have various roles, but if you mistake your roles it's very troublesome, but I couldn't do anything but give it everything... That's what I thought.
--By the way, you could say that the 10th song, "Sono Hi ga Kuru Made," is the axis of the album. In this song you sing "Kami-sama oshiete... Owari no toki ha ima sugu ja nai to ikemasen ka?" ["God, tell me... Can you move the end from this very moment?"].
y: This is a song that I wrote right after the earthquake. I originally created it that March. So I had to write a song, but I didn't worry about the creation, I just continued on. I asked myself over and over, "Is it okay to do this kind of thing?" After that I proceeded forward and the first thing I created was this song.
--Is it the song that helped you to face music again?
y: It is. Honestly, there was no announcement. I stuck with my provisional lyrics. Originally I didn't really like singing the song like this. But the staff that heard it had various thoughts about it. In terms of the results, I couldn't have done "2012" without this song.
I'm a vocalist, so I want the singer's melody to be good for the song
--In terms of the music itself, you've drawn an extraordinarily diverse sound.
y: Yes. I wanted to put in as much musical variety as possible. I wasn't thinking "I don't like anything but this or that particular kind of music." I listen to all kinds of music. I like heavy rock and I like pop. Consolidating all of that, as always, I want the people to hear it to enjoy it.
--The flavor of the melody is also very broad.
y: Is it really? Honestly, I had the feeling that it was really narrow, and I was wondering how to dress it up. (laugh) I like songs that have the melodiousness and catchiness of J-pop. I also like the cool sound of a band, but I really want the singer's melody to be good for the song. It's because I'm a vocalist. If the melody isn't good, then it's a pain to sing. It's as simple as that.
--Lately J-pop has been linking up with foreign sounds, and I feel like that's becoming the mainstream. What are your thoughts on it?
y: Of course you're always facing the cutting-edge in terms of the sound, and it's only natural that music experts are attracted to a foreign sound. But for me, it's good old Japanese music and I wanted to place importance on having a good melody. In Western rock there are impressive riffs, and often those riffs are what expand the song Japanese music isn't like that; we expand the song from chords. In my music there are naturally a lot of chords. So, however you want to say it, I prefer Japanese music.
--So the way ABC's songs are composed is like popular songs.
y: Well, you say it that way, but I have the rock sound, so I think it's a little underground in Japan. That's not something that I think I have to power to change at all. Of course, I like the style I have right now, and I want to keep doing it forever.
Being particular about the packaging is part of ABS's identity
--In conclusion, let me ask you a little about ABC's plans for the future. Your sense has completely come through in ABC's musiciainship, including the worldview. What do you think about having a good balance in the implementation of the things you want to do?
y: It's not just about my saying, "I wanted to do that!" Instead, it's better to say "This is the best form to take in order to do what I want."
--So then, is it possible for that form to change?
y: It is. I said it at the beginning: if there's one thing that I don't change, it's being particular about the packaging. Even if people don't buy the CD, I think it still makes a good tool. I want the people who buy it to feel like it was a good purchase. I don't know how far I'll go with the contents [of the packaging], and sometimes the CD doesn't even exist yet, but I always want to give my all to the packaging. It's part of ABC's identity.
--I understand. You're starting a nationwide tour on May 4th; what will you be doing for those lives?
y: For the lives, at a minimum I want to show the fans my worldview, and it'll be a good rock concert. That is to say, rock concerts are good. (laugh) I think it'll be a huge performance both for me and for all the other members of the band.