J-pop band FIVE NEW OLD released its second studio album, Emulsification, on Wednesday (Sept. 11). The title expresses the band’s desire to deliver music that makes life richer by allowing people’s troubles and thoughts to co-exist with the joys of enjoying music.
“Emulsifying” is also the key word in understanding the band’s current stance on the blending of languages in their songs and making music together as a group. The members — HIROSHI (lead vocals, guitar), WATARU (guitar, keyboards), SHUN (bass), and HAYATO (drums) — spoke to Shoichi Miyake, and shared their thoughts on the album’s concept, making music as a band, and how they view pop music today.
It’s been a year and a half since you released your debut album, Too Much Is Never Enough. It must have been a busy and fulfilling time for the band. Can you tell us what you were thinking during that time, and how you got started on your second album?
HIROSHI: After putting out our previous album, it was gratifying to be able to work in an awesome major-label environment, and after SHUN officially became a member, it was great being able to move ahead as a four-man band. We simply enjoyed making music, and I think that was the best part about it.
We also got to know a lot of other artists, and while we were inspired by them in various ways, we also became keenly aware of the things we lacked. We discussed how we should go about changing that while traveling around on tour after the release of our first album, which has brought us to where we are now.
While a lot of different musical influences can heard on your latest album, you guys did a fine job of not going overboard with it.
WATARU: Yeah, we tried to be aware of subtracting. A single note has the possibility of creating breadth, so we made sure the aggregation of those notes became a clean circle. I think it reflects our experiences up to that point.
Our English lyrics became simpler, too. We toured Asia after releasing our first album, and felt stronger about wanting to deliver our songs to a global audience, so the songs on our second album are more aware of that.
HIROSHI: Speaking of subtraction, I used to try to aurally express the song that was ringing in my head by adding layers of vocals during recording. This time, though, I came to the conclusion that maybe I didn’t need to do all that, and that listeners could supplement the rest with their imaginations. That they could sense something in the margins, if you know what I mean. Though I guess that sounds a bit incoherent, wanting to gain popularity but entrusting listeners with margins in the songs.
No, as an expression, that’s really sincere.
HIROSHI: I thought it was more civilized that way, too.
After all, “be civilized” has been one of the band’s mottos from the start. How about you, HAYATO? You must have experienced various changes as a musician.
HAYATO: There were lots of changes. In terms of drumming style, I changed my setting completely. There was a lot less rock-oriented drumming after our first album. The first song on our second set, “Fast Car,” is about the only song with that flavor left.
Alternative and kind of emo.
HAYATO: Right, a taste of alternative rock is left in this song, but the overall album is influenced by elements of black music, and I’m aiming to be a player in a band that excels in pop music.
I think there are more songs on our new album that are fun to sing along to. Like WATARU said earlier, they’re songs with simple English lyrics in the chorus that people can sing together. I don’t think (Japanese) fans nowadays will shy away from English lyrics, either.
I personally like catchy melodies, so my fave is “Please Please Please,” and also ballads like “Always On My Mind” and “Set Me Free.” We were able to try various approaches.
Those three songs do represent FIVE NEW OLD’s way of interpreting popular music. Meanwhile, you also incorporated marching and tribal beats into “Keep On Marching,” which is another ambitious approach. The way you naturally mix English and Japanese lyrics is another key point as well.
HIROSHI: We’d incorporated elements of gospel into our songs in our own way before, which led to the marching [drill-team] beats. From there, we eventually ended up being inspired by African, continental sounds. In my mind, Childish Gambino‘s “This Is America” was another influence in our sound production.
Regarding the fusion of English and Japanese in our lyrics, I asked myself: “What kind of Japanese words do I want to put to music right now?” I like [mid-20th century Japanese poet] Noriko Ibaragi’s works and read them a lot, and was inspired by the somewhat outdated words she uses and wanted to incorporate the beauty of vintage Japanese into our songs along with English words. I think that’s another aspect of “Emulsification,” the title of our album.
SHUN officially joining the band must have been a big change, and you’re probably now also the de facto producer within the group. That must have influenced the new album in a major way as well.
SHUN: I really felt like I got to know the other guys better after For A Lonely Heart, the first EP we released after I officially became a member. I tend to view things from a panoramic perspective, so in terms of striking a balance between “I should just do this myself” and “Maybe I should hold back,” I find myself voicing my opinion and doing the necessary work more than I did before I joined. That way, HIROSHI can concentrate more on songwriting.
What do you think are FIVE NEW OLD’s strengths, and is there anything you feel can be improved?
SHUN: I’ve always loved J-pop, too, so I thought the “Japanese popular song” aspect of our sound could be strengthened, and the result can be heard in “Please Please Please,” for example. I think we were able to tackle more songs that audiences can sing along to. On the flip side, I don’t have much background in alternative rock or emo, so the other guys helped me catch up on those genres.
Solo artists are on the rise in J-pop today, but FIVE NEW OLD appears to be pursuing the possibilities of creating music as a band. What are your thoughts on that?
WATARU: Bands have a kind of chemical reaction. The components that each member has mix together, and something unimaginable sometimes emerges. That energy itself is fascinating. I think bands have the potential to pursue expression where anything goes.
HIROSHI: “Emulsification” is the key word again here. Not to attempt something new, but to accept what we’ve been doing up till now and “emulsifying” from there, if you know what I mean.
When I thought up this title for the album, I was thinking about how humans can prove that they’re human in an age of artificial intelligence and a society that increasingly values reason. And it occurred to me that things like irrationality and inconsistency are what prove our humanity. I think we’re in a band because there’s that momentary, ephemeral spark that overcomes the pain-in-the-ass factor.