Some readers might have thought of the notorious song that John Lennon dedicated to his wife Yoko Ono when reading this post. On the occasion of our chat with Rie Mitsutake aka Miko and Will Long aka Celer, who teamed up for this brilliant project, we spoke about that possible connection as well. “I Love You…”, their debut album, includes 14 lovely songs, which mix together synth folk, homemade pop nuances and lo-fi electronics by means of vintage electronics, acoustic instruments, classic microphones, found sounds and toys. It captured and translated into music many moments of a simple home and city life, but let’s dig deeper into it…
Chain D.L.K.: Hi guys. How are you?
Will: I’m fine. It’s hot in Tokyo right now, but it’s nice to have some free time to enjoy the summer.
Rie: I’m suffering a bit from the summer heat, but I’m fine.
Chain D.L.K.: Something tells me your band has some connections to the FabFour…
Will: Actually I didn’t have any idea who FabFour were until I looked it up. The connection with the Beatles and our band is really very small. When we first started making music together, some of the source material was centered around recordings of Beatles fans being interviewed before a concert in the 1960’s. It didn’t really have any significance other than that the conversations were kind of cute, and silly.
Chain D.L.K.: What was the importance of Yoko Ono inside Beatles from the perspective of a Japanese band, who quotes her and a song Lennon dedicated to her?
Rie: I admit that I like Yoko Ono and respect her a lot in many ways. I’m glad we have a band name somehow associated with her. But actually we didn’t pick the name especially to dedicate the band to her nor to that song. I think the name happened to come up to us when we were talking about old videos of Beatles fans’ interviews.
Chain D.L.K.: How did your musical and artistic paths intersect?
Will: We started talking over email about a collaboration in 2010. We had both released on the labels PLOP and Spekk which are part of the same company, so we were familiar with each others music. We met for the first time when I came to Japan for a tour in late 2010, and soon after that I moved to Japan from the United States to live there. We’ve been together ever since.
Rie: After Will moved to Japan, we have played some shows together as Oh, Yoko in Tokyo. We also toured in Australia together in 2011 as Miko and Celer. I felt comfortable working on music with Will from the beginning, but as we spent more time together, I think, our collaboration became much more natural and spontaneous.
Chain D.L.K.: Even if I don’t understand Japanese language, your music speaks by itself and evokes a certain feeling of nostalgia… which more or less glorious part of the past would you relive or do you miss?
Will: For our music we tried using as many acoustic and vintage instruments as possible, to give it a more pure, real sound. I think for us, it’s more of a nostalgia for the musical instruments themselves. For me it’s very inspiring and fun to use older instruments. Being stuck in front of a computer all the time to make music is really sad and overwhelming to me. It’s fun for me to use these old instruments, and actually have to learn how to use them. It’s more than just downloading plugins. Even if they are bulky and heavy, they have character, and a style of their own, and it takes a lot of work to learn how to use them properly. The meanings behind the songs, and the reasons we made them are more in line with our daily lives, and things that happen in the everyday.
Rie: Using vintage instruments might be a big reason for creating a nostalgic feeling, as Will said. Every instrument we used had strong character and they are sometimes strong enough to lead us and control the music as if they have some kind of feelings. We were just playing instruments as if we were led by instruments, and recorded them. We didn’t do much editing to them. Sometimes, I feel playing instruments is like chasing the time passing away, wanting every moment to stay. If our music reminds people of their lost times or forgotten feelings, I think, it means great success for our music.
Chain D.L.K.: Even if I cannot say vocals prevail on other elements in your lovely musical formula, do you think the fact that some listeners on this side of the world have some problems with Japanese could be an obstacle for spreading your music? Do you provide any translation of your lyrics somewhere?
Will: I think the themes and feelings can still be found and appreciated, regardless of understanding the language. But in this case, understanding the lyrics makes it more insightful and special, I think. The CD does contain both English and Japanese versions of the lyrics, also.
Rie: For me, as a listener whose language is Japanese, most of the music I listen to normally is sang in foreign languages. But personally, I don’t think the lack of understanding of lyrics always hs negative effects when you listen to and enjoy music. But yes, the CD does contain English translations. I hope it will help people appreciate our music in different ways. Singing in English is still difficult for me, because it’s not my mother tongue and sometimes it doesn’t match with the melodies and rhythms that spontaneously come out of me. But I want to practice and write English lyrics more.
Chain D.L.K.: For instance, what’s the meaning of the lyrics of songs like “Radio Days”, “Grand Prix” or “Love Song”?
Rie: In “Love Song” , I am singing in “unknown language” so there are no lyrics for the song. For the other two, I”ll just give you the English translations instead of explaining them.
I was waiting for the dawn, and came to see you
In the corner of the town, on a broken planet
Searching for your shadow
I’m waking, without knowing the answer
I waited for someone then ring the bell
I can see the countless stars
I stopped, and hear something
Beyond the echo of my footsteps
I will be there someday
I will be there someday
Without knowing where, I go
Walking around the dimly-lit town at midnight
Nothing, nowhere, nobody, no one
Without knowing where, I go
Colors change outside the window
From the radio, from the car stereo
The music is playing as if it’s escorting me
Everything becomes clear,
I can go everywhere
My longing, twilight, greetings, romance,
I’m throwing them away from the window
I just wanna be dancing now, if it’s a dream
Chain D.L.K.: Japanese music is hitting so many audiophiles hearts and there are so many interesting releases coming from your country… do you think that the old cliché according to which Japanese are just talented copycats is (finally) fading away or not?
Will: I wasn’t aware of a talented copycats cliché, but I guess that can be pinned on certain kinds of music for sure, but equally to other countries as well. But to me, Japanese music has always been a wide variety to explore. The Japanese music that gets overseas is very random sometimes, but I think it’s because many Japanese labels and musicians are content with only releasing and distributing within Japan. It’s something very different from the outlook of the United States, or Europe for instance. Maybe this is changing more over time, but it still seems apparent to me. Since coming to Japan I’ve discovered far more music than I was capable of from the US. Music changes so often it’s difficult to see where it’s going, but within Japan it feels very strong and creative. There’s a lot of history, and for me it’s a great discovery.
Chain D.L.K.: Besides the Internet, is there any specific reason which might explain this back-firing of the Japanese music engine?
Will: I would think that the internet, if anything, opened up the Japanese music scene more.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you find John Lawrence’s report for “Newsbreak”?
Will: Quite randomly, while looking through old newsreel footage. In fact, I guess that is one of the few remaining connections to the Beatles on the album. But it has more to do with me, actually. I was born on the day John Lennon was shot, so it’s more a connection with that coincidence than the subject.
Chain D.L.K.: Keio line inspired so many musicians – I remember a full album by Merzbow and Richard Pinhas inspired by it… why is it so inspiring in your own words?
Will: Keio line became associated with that song almost by chance. I used to live close to the Keio line, and would take the train to Shibuya in the center of Tokyo often. Rie and I would actually meet there, since she lived in Yokohama. When we were making the album, I made a loop that resembled the Keio line theme song (that plays right before the train leaves the station), and we had been around the Keio line area that day, so it came from a very everyday, unexpected connection.
Chain D.L.K.: Where did you record “Song with Coyotes”? Are there any coyotes in Japan?!?!?
Will: Actually, the coyotes howling were recorded in Wyoming. I lived there for a summer, in the middle of a national park, and very often the coyotes would bark on the hilltops, just a short distance from my house. The rain in the track was recorded in Tokyo when I lived in a really small apartment, during my first year in Japan.
Chain D.L.K.: You managed Normal Cookie and Bun Tapes labels together. Is there a different philosophy or concept behind these two labels?
Will: Normal Cookie is more of Rie’s label for only our Oh, Yoko releases, on various formats. We thought it would be good to release our Oh, Yoko material completely ourselves, controlling the design, distribution, and schedule.
Bun Tapes is much smaller, for hardware synthesizer-based music, released only on cassette, and is more of a community label. Our graphic designer for Bun Tapes also lives in the same town we do.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring “I Love You…” on live stage outside Japan?
Will: Hopefully. We’d love to tour through Korea, Europe, and the United States.
Rie: We are looking for sponsors!
Chain D.L.K.: What part does music play in your life?
Will: It’s a creative hobby, but something that is fun that can be a central point in bringing lots of different creative formats together, such as photography, art, or writing. All those things interest me, but putting them together to form a whole thing makes it much more special. Truly though it’s just something that can be fun, and it’s a good way to use creative energy. It’s very fun playing and making music together, just like it’s fun cooking a dinner together, or going on a trip.
Rie: It’s just fun to play and create music, and for me, it’s also one of the important means to communicate with people.
Chain D.L.K.: Were there any funny stories which occured during the recording of your album?
Rie: One day, we were taking a long walk to our neighborhood town, carrying our cassette tape recorder with us. We were walking across a park and we found there was a small airport behind. We sat by the fence and were recording the noise from the planes. Then we happened to record a conversation between a boy and his father. They were doing Banzai Sansho (three cheers) after the plane took off and it was so cute. I think Banzai Sansho is something older people do and it was funny that such a little boy, maybe 3-4 years-old was doing that. I guess his grandpa taught him how to do that. Anyway, we liked the recording and used it in our “Take-off” song.
Chain D.L.K.: How would you describe your own aesthetics?
Will: I just want to make music and art that is representative of my life, events that happen, and things and people who are important to me. For Oh, Yoko, it’s a challenge to make more pop-based music, but an inspiring challenge. It’s too easy to get stuck doing the same thing all the time, and while it’s good to have your comfort areas, some challenging for yourself is useful. We just want to make simple and fun music that tells stories from our life, and helps us find a more peaceful, simpler life.
Rie: Being simple is becoming more important to me too. I always want to be honest to myself, and it also means keep changing.
visit Oh, Yoko! on the web at: www.normalcookie.com