Polyvinyl Records Nearly every story written about Asobi Seksu contains the…
- Posted on Feb 16th 2011 1:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Tell All Your Friends
The real switcheroo came on 'Rewolf,' also released in 2009, an album that found Asobi multi-instrumentalist masterminds James Hanna and Yuki Chikudate reaching for pianos and acoustic guitars and revealing the breathy jazz-pop tunes that had long been lurking beneath the effects.
On their fifth album, 'Fluorescence,' out now on Polyvinyl, Asobi goes electric once more, blending the abrasive guitars of 'Citrus' with the glistening synth sounds of 'Hush.' Speaking briefly with Spinner on the eve of a US tour, Hanna explained Asobi's return to loudness.
Did the experience of doing an acoustic album affect how you approached the writing and/or recording of 'Fluorescent?'
It's funny -- I was just talking about that. This record is really electric, so maybe the acoustic record got all the piano and stuff out of our system and made us want to play electric guitar and keyboards.
When you're writing a song, do you start with a melody or chord progression, or do you begin by thinking about the kinds of textures -- be they guitar or synth -- you want to use?
It really varies depending on what we're playing. Sometimes I play guitar and Yuki plays drums, or I play drums and Yuki plays guitar. It always starts with some kind of vocal melody or rhythmic feel, and a lot of the keyboard textures [on 'Fluorescent'] were done right away. A bunch of songs were written with me playing drums and her on keyboards. It always varies.
It seems like this album combines the noisiness of 'Citrus' with the glassier synth sounds of 'Hush.' Do you feel like it's a summation of everything you've done to this point?
Yeah, maybe so. It has a lot of both of those records in it. I don't know. It wasn't really our intention. I guess it just happened naturally. Somewhere after 'Citrus,' we started getting really into synths and we wanted to rock a little more, and it happened on its own without that being the intention.
You guys met at the Manhattan School of Music, so you obviously have a fair amount of training. Do you feel like a lot of bands use noisy guitar and keyboard effects to cover up for a lack of musicianship or songwriting ability?
I don't think so. There are bands that do that are loud or lo-fi that are great, and there are bands that are just boring, too. I've got to watch out, because me and Yuki are music nerds, and we don't want to prog-rock-out everything too much. I like really simple music. That's what got me into playing music in the first place.
But do you think your training has given you guys more songwriting tools, or maybe a broader palette of sounds to work with?
One thing we always wanted to do is make sure we don't write just one kind of song on a record and that we don't write the same record over and over again. But I really love crappy punk bands that every song is the same. There's something to be said for all your songs sounding exactly the same.
You've now worked with producer Chris Zane on three albums. Going into 'Fluorescence,' did you have any conversations with him regarding how you wanted to change up the sound?
This time, I think we had Chinese food once and played him some demos. He said, "That sounds good," and we just started. That's the benefit of working together. We also have the luxury of having a decent amount of time -- not anything crazy, but we were never really in a rush working on it.
Is that how things had gone on past albums -- you'd have one quick conversation with Chris then start working?
There was more thought [on past albums], but there had to be. With 'Hush,' the idea was to do something so studio-based, or whatever, and that required a lot more talking about. And 'Citrus,' we'd never worked together before. We had to make sure we were really on the same page. It was a matter of necessity the last few times.
In past interviews, Yuki has said that you're the more experimental songwriter, and that she's always trying to rein you in. Has that changed over time?
I don't think so. She's a lot more conservative than me, for sure. I do it as much to antagonize her as anything else. We usually end up siding together.
That combination of your experimentalism and her pop sensibility seems to work for you guys. On 'Fluorescence,' there are songs that go on for six-plus minutes, as well as simple pop tunes like 'My Baby.'
Really, we were just like, "We want to simplify." We just figured we'd write 14 or 15 songs and put the best 11 or 12 of them on the record. It's just the way it worked out. On 'Hush,' we had all these plans. [This time], we didn't want to have any plans: just write songs. If a song was seven minutes, that's cool. If it's just a stupid three-minute pop song, that's cool, too.
You got Vaughan Oliver, who's done artwork for numerous bands on the 4AD label, to create the cover for this new record. Were you at all worried it was going to lead to more comparisons with the Cocteau Twins?
I don't think there's anything we could possibly do to make more of those comparisons happen. We love that music, so getting the chance to work with [Oliver] was just cool, no matter what.
Another interesting thing about Asobi Seksu has always been the vocals. Yuki sings in Japanese and English, and even in the case of the latter, the lyrics can be hard to make out. Do you care if people are able to decipher exactly what you guys are singing about?
We don't really. This was actually a [contentious] thing between me and Yuki. I like the mystery of people not knowing what the songs are about, and she's more into putting the lyrics on the record. But I won.
On some songs, Yuki seems to be singing about girls or using female pronouns -- "she," etc. I know you share in songwriting duties; are those lyrics that originated with you, maybe?
I've got to think about that one. One song that I know is like that is because I wrote it that way, and she sang it. I think that's fine -- just mix it all up. It makes it more interesting.
It adds to the mystery, right?
It's a good effect, whatever the hell it is.
Download Asobi Seksu's 'Trails' for Free
Download Asobi Seksu Songs | Buy Asobi Seksu Albums