J-Rock Band RADWIMPS Talk Making Music For Critically Acclaimed ‘Your Name': Interview
It isn't until I mention my interview with RADWIMPS to a few friends from Tokyo that the immense presence—and massive fanbase—of the band in their native Japan really sinks in.
While the Japanese indie-rock group, who met as teens in Yokohama in 2001, haven't achieved nearly the same level of recognizability in the West as similar contemporary post-punk, alt-rock acts like The Maine, Yellowcard or Imagine Dragons, in Japan RADWIMPS—Yojiro Noda (vocals/guitar), Akira Kuwahara (guitar), Yusuke Takeda (bass) and Satoshi Yamaguchi (drums)—rule the Oricon charts, often selling out huge, rollicking stadium shows.
The band launched independently in 2003, later making their major label debut on Toshiba EMI in 2005. Ten years later, the J-rock band played their first Western tour in the U.K., kicking off with a gig at the O2 Academy in October 2015. They followed up their big year with an even more impressive one in 2016, releasing not one, but two brand new albums: Human Bloom and Your Name, the Oricon No. 1 soundtrack to the smash hit Japanese film.
The genre-busting, globally-minded rockers were tapped to provide the soundtrack for the critically acclaimed, record-breaking, award-winning anime movie last year—Makoto Shinkai's emotional body-swapping tale about two body-swapping teens has since become the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, as well as the 8th highest-grossing animated film worldwide)—throttling them onto an international platform like never before.
As Your Name finally hits North American theaters in April, the band is primed for introduction to a new generation of would-be fans. With their particularly glistening brand of edgy, emotive indie-rock, the language barrier should present few limitations for RADWIMPS to break stateside: the heart and soul of their music speaks for itself, not translation necessary.
To celebrate the release of the film, as well as 15 years of music-making, I spoke with Yojiro, Akira and Yusuke about their new album, writing songs in English, their favorite films and the cinematic juggernaut that is Your Name.
How was the writing process different for you guys working on a film soundtrack as opposed to a general album?
Yojiro: It was totally different. In making my own album, I have to express everything all by myself, only the music. But for the movie, it’s more comprehensive. The music has its own role in each scene. For some scenes, you don’t have to stand out and just be the background. You're letting the animation tell [the story]. And for some other parts, you lead the whole story.
Akira: It was really difficult to arrange music to fit the animation by the second!
Yusuke: Except for the vocal tracks, we divided parts and assigned a member to be responsible to complete that part. So the process was mainly individually and separately done at our homes or studio. We never do that for our original album.
Why do you think "Zenzenzense" has connected so strongly with listeners?
Akira: With the collaboration of the song and the scene from Your Name, it really connected more and stronger [with listeners].
Yusuke: I think it’s the lyrics and the rhythm of those words and how it expresses the atmosphere of the film.
What do you think it is about Kimi No Na Wa [Your Name] that has made it so popular with viewers? What do you personally enjoy about the film?
Yojiro: I think the animation is very high tech and very sharp, but the story itself is universal, and fundamental. The current era and this film crossed over at a perfect time. People were looking for this kind of story. It's not too far from their lives.
Akira: I think it’s mainly word of mouth. Since the movie is so good, I have confidence that it will be a hit... but I didn’t think it would become this big.
Yusuke: My favorite scene is where "Sparkle" comes on toward the end of the movie. During the last chorus, the comet strikes. It gives me goose bumps every time I see it.
What are some other Japanese films you like that you would recommend to international fans?
Akira: Crayon Shinchan Movie 9: The Adult Empire Strikes Back is great. I recommend it.
Yusuke: Innocence and Ghost in the Shell—the original anime version of the Ghost in the Shell movie that just came out this year. If you like that movie, I recommend that you also watch the original anime.
What were some of the musical inspirations behind your new album, Human Bloom?
Yojiro: It was basically made while we were making the score for the film, so it was very much influenced by [the movie]! Compared to our past albums, it was more open, but not too complex.
Akira: There was no particular inspiration but because we were writing this album while working on the soundtrack, I think they had good influence on each other.
Yusuke: And the songs on Human Bloom made me realize the happiness of being in this band.
How did you come up with that title and the playful album art?
Yojiro: It was the best words to express the present state of mind when we were making the music: Open, clear, focused on the joy of playing music and expressing our feelings... And also the joy of having our listeners receive our new music!
"Sparkle" is such a beautiful song, and it has such a peaceful, hopeful sound. Can you tell me your thought process behind the lyrics?
Yojiro: There are many common sense rules in the world we live. Somehow you get used to it. But there are times that you can just jump away from it and forget about it. Sometimes you have this feeling that you can be the ruler of this world. Maybe falling in love is that time when you feel this way. It’s an experience that most people go through. I wanted to put that kind of feeling into this song.
Another favorite song for me is "Lights Go Out!" Why did you decide to record this one in English as opposed to Japanese?
Yojiro: I came up with the guitar riff, and I came up with the lyrics [in English] and the melody at the same time. Since that was unusual for me, I just let it go with the flow to see how the song turned out.
What's been the biggest challenge for you as a band over the years?
Yojiro: Maybe from this year going forward is going to be the biggest challenge! We’re going to have the longest tour around the world, and through that process, I’m looking forward to see how our songwriting will change.
Akira: When Satoshi went on a break, it really challenged me. Other than that, I panicked when my pants ripped during a show one time. That’s about it.
Yusuke: Our European tour was scheduled a month after our drummer, Satoshi had to leave for a break due to illness. With the limited time we had until the tour, we had to find a support drummer and rehearse. We were exhausted but the tour turned out to be a success. It made us a lot stronger!
Are there any international artists or bands you really like, or who have influenced you as musicians?
Yojiro: Radiohead, Bjork, Elliot Smith, The Flaming Lips, Hiromi Uehara, John Frusciante, Ringo Sheena and Chara. I tend to get influenced by female singers. I think it’s because it’s something that I cannot be. Also I like neutral, genderless vocals and music.
Akira: Red Hot Chili Peppers and Oasis, but I like all bands. Personally, I was a fan of Mr. Big. I admired how they played their instruments so fast!
Yusuke: Red Hot Chili Peppers!
You've been creating music for over 15 years now and your fans love you more than ever! What do you hope to achieve next?
Yojiro: I’m thinking of writing more English songs. For the past few years, I was focused on writing in Japanese, searching for the possibilities of the Japanese language. But now, I’m interested in English songs and how to express these feelings as a Japanese person, in English.
Yusuke: I want to just be myself and express myself [through our music].
Akira: I want to do lots of cool things to surprise everyone!
Human Bloom is available for purchase on iTunes and to stream on Spotify. Your Name is now playing in select U.S. theaters nationwide.
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