The producer’s innovative tracks and songwriting chops produce universal pop songs from his core musical style rooted in electronic music and hip-hop. His latest offering is the theme of the original new animated series from Sunrise and Asobisystem. Artiswitch called “Tobu, Saihate”, featuring 21-year-old J-pop singer-songwriter Kana Adachi. In a new interview with Billboard Japan, Yonkey sat down with writer Tomoyuki Mori to discuss the new single, his musical influences and more.
You’ve diversified a lot lately.
I am asked more often now to produce or remix tracks in a variety of genres. I research these respective genres every time, and I feel like this process is becoming my strength. I used to do a lot of electronic music type tracks, but with “NAINAINAI” by ATARASHII GAKKO !, for example, I used classic hip-hop methods and put the beats together by sampling.
So your style broadens with the variety of job postings you receive?
Right. I also studied the history of hip-hop. I watched documentaries on NWA and Eminem 8 miles, to only cite a few. I also learned how breakbeats were born and researched the synthesizers that were used in songs at the time. Like the 808 [Roland TR-808 drum machines] are featured in today’s trap scene. I’ve collected software that models the real synths and drum machines of this era and use them in my own songs. It’s as if I can now make meaningful choices and combinations while still being aware of the context and history of these sounds, instead of just relying on how they sound.
Your last track, “Tobu, Saihate” with Kana Adachi, was written for Artiswitch, the original fashion, art and music-themed animated series set in Harajuku. My impression of the song was that it’s a pretty solid pop number.
Thank you. This is precisely the kind of song I wanted to do. I often do my songs first on a computer, but with “Tobu, Saihate” I played the piano at home and recorded it on my iPhone’s voice memo app, and I have took the chords and melodies that I liked to build the basis of the song. A really good song is good even without the extra track and sounds. Like “Let It Be” by The Beatles, I wanted my song to be stand-alone with just voice and piano.
When did you learn to play the piano?
I took classical piano lessons until I was 3 or 4, but didn’t start studying music theory until around 19. I learned musical grammar and the construction of compositions in the school I attended. I had just been chasing notes until then and didn’t even understand the concept of chords, but that’s when I learned things like chord scale compatibility. When I do songs, however, I put theory aside and try to be aware of what has the most emotional impact.
What can you tell us about the lyrics to “Tobu, Saihate”?
I read the script of the animated series to capture the image before writing [the lyrics]. I fixed the number of words I would use first and I considered the lyrical link between the “A melo” [verse] and “B melo” [bridge]. I wanted to make it clear the time and place, where the protagonist of the song was and what he was doing, so I focused on how I was using the particles as well. It was like putting together a puzzle.
I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lyrics lately. I read [the late prolific Japanese lyricist] Yu Aku’s book Sakushi Nyumon (“Introduction to Lyric Writing”), and he also used to set the number of words he would use, and then put his sentences around. I listen to his famous songs thinking how good his words sound and have a deep meaning as well. They are truly works of art.
Your track with a trippy electro taste coexisting with the sounds of real instruments is also effective.
First I got the lyrics and the melody, then I thought about the sounds that would accompany them. Artiswitch takes place in Harajuku, but it contains elements of fantasy. I think I was able to select sounds in my own way, with electronic music at the base and adding music box sounds and the like. The drums are different from my other works. I usually choose sharper sounds, but with “Tobu, Saihate” I sampled real drums. It’s also a choice I made while thinking about the concept of the animated series.
The song features J-pop singer-songwriter Kana Adachi on vocals. How did the collaboration go?
I had listened to her music before and thought her voice would match this song, so I asked her if she would be interested. It was the first time I had met her, but she was super nice. The mood in the studio was serious as some of the people involved had come to watch, but the mood became sociable because of her. His voice was beyond my imagination. It was fabulous.
Of course you conducted the recording, right?
Yes, I had the honor. [Laughs] I explained how I wanted Kana to sing each section of the song, and not only did she understand perfectly, but she also gave a lot more than I asked for. Of course, I had done my research and asked to collaborate with her because I felt she had potential, but there were times during the recording where she went way beyond what I had in mind. head, and I was like, “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that! That’s what makes producing fun and rewarding.
Artiswitch is like a showcase for some cutting edge J-pop artists including Hakubi, Hakushi Hasegawa, Moe Shop, Toriena and Yukichikasaku / men. How does it feel to be part of this range?
Hakushi Hasegawa, Moe Shop and I are about the same age, so I’m happy to be able to work alongside them on the same project. Each episode uses a new song by a different artist and the animation matches the style of each track. I’ve never seen such an animated series before and it’s really new.
Many new artists with new values and styles have appeared in Japan in recent years. Do you want to launch a new scene with this generation of artists?
I really do, actually. We all want to make better music, and we share DMs on social media to comment on each other’s songs. I think it’s good that we respect each other instead of withdrawing into ourselves. The genre doesn’t really matter, and everyone is like, “If this is good music, then that’s what’s important.” Personally, I don’t care about genres either, and I know a lot of people who say, “I rap now, but that’s not the only thing that interests me. There is this expression, “[the music] crosses genres ”, but I don’t think there are any clear lines to“ cross ”in the first place, you know what I mean? [Laughs] I think the fact that streaming has become ubiquitous and that we all have everything at our fingertips is a major factor.
The fact that you’ve collaborated with a mainstream pop artist like Kana Adachi shows how much you don’t focus on genre categorization. Have you ever listened to mainstream J-pop?
I love J-pop! GReeeeN’s “Kiseki” was very popular when I was in elementary school, and it was played during lunch break almost every day. Everyone in our class knew that. When I went back to listen to it after studying the music well, it sounded even better. The arrangement reflects the style of the time, but the melody and lyrics are really fabulous and it still amazes me. For me, it’s one of those songs that goes for generations, and I also want to write songs like that.
Finally, tell us about your future projects. I heard that you are currently working on [yonkey’s band] Klang Ruler’s new project.
I am. It goes without saying, but writing songs for a solo project and in a band are completely different things. I’ve been writing songs on my own since last year, but recently I’ve been jamming with the band members and it’s so refreshing. Phrases I wouldn’t have thought of keep coming back, and the pace is fast too. I am convinced that we are doing something right, so it is rewarding. The band will have something to announce in the year, so our fans can look forward to that.
Solo, I’m currently remixing tracks from Shin Sakiura and 80KIDS. This balance of solo and group projects is probably the best way forward for me.