With My Bloody Valentine announcing their headline slot at the Alan McGee-curated Tokyo Rocks, McGee launching his new label with a Tokyo-based partner and the IFPI declaring that the future of music will be found in Asia and South America, the spotlight is swinging towards the emerging Japanese rock scene.
A far meatier and more promising prospect than the current tide of J-Pop, it’s spearheaded by Yojiro Noda, singer with the 3 million-selling Japanese rock sensations Radwimps and the closest Tokyo has to its own Thom Yorke – mysterious, damaged, philosophical and rarely interviewed. He’s set to launch his new solo side-project Illion, an intriguing blend of Local Natives, ‘Pyramid Song’ and chiming rock often sung in English, and he’ll be invading the UK in 2013 and beaming footage of him playing new track ‘Brain Drain’ onto screens in Piccadilly Circus. Ahead of this J-Rock invasion, we bagged a rare-as-a-Starbucks-tax-bill interview with him:
You’re a Japanese superstar who rarely does interviews – why?
Yojiro: “It wasn’t my intention but I found out that because I don’t do a lot of interviews people think I’m more mysterious. I don’t mind if listeners don’t know about me, I have my own blog and I’m pretty open, I write about having fights with my girlfriend.”
Were you drawn to the mystery of bands like Radiohead and Oasis growing up?
“When I was little we didn’t use the internet that much so I didn’t know too much about Oasis, I knew the music but I didn’t know which songs Liam sang or Noel sang. So when I first went to the live show I was surprised that when they played ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ all of a sudden Liam left the stage, so I thought they’d started fighting.”
Why have you decided to start the solo project Illion?
“First, if I’m going to do music I want to do it outside Japan as well, and I want to start that while I’m in my twenties. I want to do it to present Japan.”
What was restricting you within the band format?
“It’s not like there’s restriction or anything, I love the band. Playing outside Japan is my dream, my goal, not the dream of the band.”
Is there a sense you want to go and start again somewhere else, to prove yourself again?
“Ever since I started a band I like to play in the environment where it’s not our home, away. I lived in America when I was younger so I had the sense of minority when I lived in America. I always had the sense of minority, I don’t feel comfortable being a majority.”
How has success affected you? Have you been tortured by it or taken it in your stride?
“I feel numb about the success. I’m happy that I’m making a living just through music but if somebody tells me it’s all died tomorrow, I’d believe it. It’s just music, that’s what I like about it, it’s just music. I write the music and if somebody tells me a million people bought the CD I’m not actually seeing it. Maybe I’m a bit scared.”
There’s a lyric about sticking fingers down your throat, where’s that coming from?
I do that. The more and more I get happy I get scared thinking about losing all the happiness, so feeling pain is the easiest way to check that reality. So I do that, it’s not like I have an eating disorder.
When you write about things like this, do you get lots of fans writing in to you with their own experiences?
“Yeah, especially from girls. I’ll never help them, never, never write them back. For instance, some fans will send me pictures of them cutting their wrist or some fans will say ‘I’m a pathological liar lying to my husband and kids when really I want to marry you’. I get those kind of letters but I feel like somewhere inside everyone hates themselves for a bit, so it might be just a little unbalanced in those people, we’re not that different. The fact is that they’re all living, now, today, so it’s not a big deal, it’s just a little difference, we can live today and tomorrow. Maybe not the day after, but they have the power to live today. They’re okay.”
Are you writing songs like this for yourself or to relate to those people?
“It’s just for myself, that’s why I started it.”
Are you familiar with Manic Street Preachers?
“I’ve never heard them.”
You have fascinating ideas on religion, claiming that you’d like to “dial down” the perfect body from God – does that come across on the album?
“I’m definitely interested in religions, it’s always something in my mind, both consciously and subconsciously. Actually I don’t believe in any religion, I’m an atheist, but if there is an ideal religion I’d love to join. Because I don’t believe in any particular religion, sometimes I can sing upwards or downwards, I feel like I can freely talk to the ‘Gods’. Free-er than the people that are actually religious.”
Why do you sing so much of the Illion album in English?
It’s definitely the universal language that most people understand in the world and I like the way the English language sounds. I feel English language is an instrument that pulls out the melody that I can’t get with the Japanese language.
Are you looking forward to playing in the UK next year?
“I’m very nervous. A lot of Japanese bands know a hundred times more about British music than I do, but I started from Oasis and I love Thom Yorke. I don’t feel like I need to listen to so much music so I don’t really go deep, but even from the famous people I take a lot of inspiration.”
Do you see yourself fitting in well in that world?
“I think so, I hope so. The inspiration I’ve got from those musicians and also as a Japanese artist, my own things, my own ideas, how they would react to it, that’s the thing. If I wasn’t a musician and I was just one of the audience and I liked Thom Yorke and Oasis, I think I’d love this music too.”