It didn’t take long after the release of Bunched Birth for The Yellow Monkey to get signed to a major record label, and finally got on the path that they’d wanted for years. Their concert attendance shot up, and they barely had to be shopped around to record companies before they reached the point where there were two viable labels to choose from: Columbia Records and For Life Music. The choice between them was made in a very unconventional way.
The reason we chose the record company that we did wasn’t because of what they were offering, the amount was basically the same. Our staff thought they were both good choices, and they both had very successful artists signed to them. Columbia was a very old fashioned company, and For Life tended to have a lot of folk music artists, so I really agonized over the choice. But for some reason, it ended up coming down to me to make the decision. Up until then I’d just said “Oomori, you pick one”. But then one day, Hibari Misora appeared to me in a dream and said “I’ll leave the rest up to you”. So the next day I told him “We’ll go with Columbia”, since that was the label she was on. Granted I was half joking, but I’ll never be able to forget that dream.
But “making their debut” was not everything that Yoshii thought it would be. In fact the circumstances surrounding the recording of Night Snails ended up resulting in an album that Yoshii isn’t particularly proud of the sound of, at least when it comes to his own singing.
But when we actually made our debut, things completely changed. In the 6 months between making Bunched Birth and getting signed to a major label, I felt invincible. I just had so much energy. But I didn’t feel anywhere near as much happiness when recording our first album on that major label. It felt so much more dull. I wasn’t such a good singer during the recording of Bunched Birth, but it all felt so good. But the songs on our first major label album were actually painful to sing, and I didn’t do a very good job at all. It’s not that I couldn’t physically sing them, but more like it just never came out right when I did. The pressure of actually being on a label was mounting.
On top of everything else, he even ended getting married right around this time, which created a very interesting situation for him.
I actually got married right around the time we debuted on our new label. We met just before, because she actually made our stage clothes for us. She was originally with an older guy, and he was pretty complicated. She told me “I’m in a bit of a complicated relationship right now, and he doesn’t give me too much freedom. He hits me sometimes too”. She also told me that all she wants is to have my children. “I want to run away from all this and just live my life working and living in an old inn out in the country, pregnant with that child”. I was going from woman to woman at that time, so I told her “Yeah, okay”. Then the guy she was seeing came to one of the venues we were playing at to look for her. I thought I was done for at that point, but I didn’t want to break things off just because things were getting a little scary, so I said “Let’s get married!”. We could just call the cops if this guy tried anything, and I loved her.…
As we were wandering around Suginami, that guy she was seeing at the time was out looking for her. When we ran into him he confronted me too. He said something like “I’ll kill you, asshole!”, and I backed off a little bit. Hey, I’d heard that he kept a bunch of guns in his closet! I’m not making this up! Though maybe my wife did! I’ve since thought that it might have been a plan of his to say to her “Look at what a wimp he is, what are you doing with him?” But I was happy to feel like I was a necessary part of her life, and thought to myself “I have to help her”. And I prayed everyday “I won’t do anything bad anymore, just please make this guy go away”. And I actually would look out the peep hole every day before I left to make sure he wasn’t waiting there.
All of this wore on Yoshii so much, that even the concert held at Shibuya Club Quattro to celebrate their debut (called “The Convention Live”, and was aimed at people in the music industry) he feels didn’t go well because he just wasn’t able to get excited due to his life situation. And it seems like the end result with an album that was received just as poorly as Yoshii’s own feelings about it, both in terms of sales and the public opinion of their previous fans.
I got the impression that things weren’t supposed to have turned out the way they did. But we did have a weird band name, and it definitely didn’t sell enough copies to be popular. During Bunched Birth we thought “The album we make after we get signed is going to be awesome! We’re going to be a sensation and be big stars immediately!”, but that’s not what happened at all. There was no sensation, and our promotional videos made us look like a cavalcade of insects or something! The only places that wanted to talk to us were visual key magazines, even though that’s not really the kind of music that we played. I knew that what was inside of me was much more pop than that, but I was frightened and very worried…
When I listen to them now, the songs on that album were very frightened ones. Because I was so scared of something or other, I wasn’t singing from my chest. Was it a case of “The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean”? Everything was beyond my control, and my surroundings were no longer familiar. Thinking about it now, the president of our record company was probably wondering how he could possibly sell that album. Even people who liked us in our indie days criticiszed us and said things like “They got signed and now they suck”.
This is an incredibly harsh reaction to Night Snails. I don’t think Night Snails is a great album (particularly compared to later works), but it’s much more put together and with much better written songs than most of what was on Bunched Birth. It’s hard to imagine someone who was familiar with Yemon in their indie days looking at this and not realizing that they were growing, while still staying very true to their glam rock roots. It can even be argued that this is way more of a glam rock album than Bunched Birth was, with songs like Pearl Light of Revolution, Subjective Late Show, and Romantist Taste. They even turned up their glam rock look higher than it was before. It’s also hard to argue that lyrically this album wasn’t a pretty big jump up in maturity, at least on the average.
But while those factors may explain why it doesn’t make much sense that old fans would hate the album, they also explain why the album didn’t sell incredibly well to a mass market. While glam rock still had a healthy club scene in Japan at this time, it probably wasn’t doing too much in terms of record sales anymore, and Yoshii’s writing may have still been a little too think-y or weird for your average person to really grab onto at this point. And while Romantist Taste was a good choice for the single of this album (it was released about a month before the album was) in terms of representing what the band was at that time, it may not have been the best choice for pulling in a new audience and selling a lot of albums. It’s hard to say if things would have changed if they’d made This Is For You or Pearl Light Of Revolution the single instead, but I could see one of those as being a better choice for mass appeal.
Mikako Tsuchiya and Shinobu Fujita were featured as female backup vocalists on this album as well (they appeared previously on Bunched Birth), and at this point were still credited as being from the band Tyrannosaurus. Akiko Iwamuro, also of Tyrannosaurus, previously played keyboards on Bunched Birth, but did not reprise her role on this album. Instead that role would be filled by Takashi Furukawa (he also helped Yoshii with the strings and horn arrangements). Not to be confused with the notable Japanese soccer player by the same name, this Furukawa is a keyboardist and music arranger/producer. As a result his name is all over a lot of things (most of them are post Night Snails) in the Japanese music world: Everything from Megumi Hayashibara, to Gackt’s debut single, to the soundtrack to the NES/Famicom game Ninja Gaiden II. I haven’t seen his relationship with Yemon ever really discussed, but he was their studio keyboardist for their next two albums, and partly on the one after that (they’d then find a different regular keyboardist who would tour with them as well).
The Night Snails And Plastic Boogie has some great songs, but also some real bummers and mediocre ones too. And even though that probably puts this in the bottom half of Yemon’s catalog in terms of quality, it was a very important step in them building toward who they’d become as a band when they finally achieved big success. It also holds a lot of nostalgia for me, despite its flaws. This was the second Yemon album I ever heard, and I listened to it after “8”, their most current album at that time. This made for a particularly jarring transition as far as their sound (not just in terms of the recording quality, but also what Yoshii’s voice sounded like) and just how goofy a lot of the songs were. Everyone has to start somewhere though, and Yemon were definitely on an upward curve.