- Posted on Mar 7th 2011 6:15PM by Kenneth Partridge
While people may think they have Asobi Seksu figured out, founding duo James Hanna (guitar) and Yuki Chikudate (keyboard and vocals) have always maintained an air of mystery, infusing their music with an ethereal noisiness that often obscures the vocals and meanings of the songs.
No strangers to SXSW, the pair returns to Austin this year to promote their recently released fifth album, 'Fluorescence.' In an interview with Spinner, Hanna talked about the new record, explaining why sometimes, the best plan is having no plan at all.
It seems like 'Fluorescence' combines the noisiness of 2006's 'Citrus' with the glassier synth sounds of 2009's '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 where every song is the same. There's something to be said for all your songs sounding exactly the same.
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.
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.
Catch Asobi Seksu's SXSW Set on Saturday, March 19 at The Parish (214C E 6th St) 11PM.
Keep Austin Weird: Fun Things to Do at SXSW | SXSW Survival Guide: Advice, Tips and Tricks From Artists | SXSW Road Trip Guide | Top 100 Bands at SXSW 2011
Latest SXSW News | All Things SXSW