The other three band members are just plain old stubborn artists
Is this a backup band for Kazuya Yoshii? Is everyone replaceable?
A look inside the rampaging machine of love and hate, The Yellow Monkey
Interview: Takako Inoue, Photography: Takeo Ogiso
(From Rockin’ On Japan Vol. 71, 04/1993)
The Yellow Monkey were incredibly cool at the 2/20 Power Station concert. They were only on for a short 30 minute set, but sounded more powerful and promising than ever amidst many fans from the other bands on the bill, such as Der Zibet and The Silver Doggs. Their raw emotional power is front man Kazuya Yoshii’s desperate cry to be understood.
But everyone has an initial reaction to people so expressive: With pop-y finishing touches on to their music, they deliver it in raw and gaudy words, playing their characters with makeup on as though they were actors. Yoshii in particular believes that this balance of strange sensations is necessary. Making the crowd laugh, acting perverted, acting defiant as though saying “I don’t care if you don’t understand me”…all of this makes his true nature indiscernible. It also is mistaken as just being a strategy that he’s devised. But they had no room to falter during their 30 minute set, so that’s why Yoshii’s earnest cry of “Understand me!” came through loud and clear.
To be clear, their music isn’t easy to approach, and won’t be agreeable with everyone. That’s why I feel slightly guilty recommending them. There’s a sense of tension about it, like when you’re invited to go to a gloomy cafe on a roadside, or when your friends find out a deep dark secret. Will they be understood, or will they be scorned? That’s the sort of exciting guilt that I mean. But isn’t that the way things should be with rock? But The Yellow Monkey definitely has something that’s been lost in today’s Japanese rock. And that’s The Yellow Monkey’s righteousness. It’s the start of the real relationship between “You” and “I” that’s much more real than the broken monster that is media.
This is the first interview with the band to be conducted without front man Kazuya Yoshii. Because he’s an intense key-player in the band as the composer, lyricist, and vocalist, the Yellow Monkey puts band image before sound. How do the other band members feel about this? How do they feel about a song like “yonsen tsubu no koi no uta”, that’s an enka ballad about a drag queen? These are the sorts of questions we threw out to them.
Bassist Heesey is the oldest member of the band, mediator, and the first one to toast. He came from the American-style hard rock band MURBAS. He’s also the very picture of a Tokyoite. Guitarist Emma is the former guitarist for KILLER MAY. The intoxication he possesses on stage as a member of a dangerously feminine looking band is a holdover from his time with that group. His younger brother and drummer Annie also comes from the same group. He can usually be found nude backstage, the towel wrapped his waist showing him as a dangerous but gentle wild man.
What were your impressions of Yoshii when you first met him?
(Heesey) “Careful! This guy’s going to get me into trouble!”
(Emma) Hahaha. He was a pretty odd one.
(Heesey) …Probably because he was so young. He used pretty rough language and wasn’t very refined, but he seemed like a really genuine guy. He was somehow really precise and had very strong feelings.
Like he had a twinkle in his eyes?
(Heesey) Yeah! We were like brothers, he’d come over to my place to hang out and always had this kind of “Alright, do it!” attitude.
Did he have an idea as to what kind of band he wanted to form back then?
(Emma) I think he did. He was vague about it at first, but there definitely seemed to be meaning in what he was doing.
Were you not part of it originally?
(Annie) Right. He was very vague about it all.
(Emma) I just ended up joining at some point (Laughs). I joined without even hearing the songs he’d written.
(Heesey) “It’s hard to see what’s under your nose”, right? (Laughs) Yoshii was playing guitar at the time. But then he said “I wonder if I should start singing…”, and he did. But he couldn’t do it while he was playing, so he looked for another guitarist. He said “I can’t find anyone, none of them are any good…Oh wait there is, Annie’s brother!” (Laughs). He asked Annie to bring his brother by, and Annie drug him in, like a captured alien.
So then it all happened very spontaneously?
(Heesey) Yeah, you could say we all just got caught up in the moment. When he’d say “Let’s do these kind of songs at the next show”, we’d get all excited too and say “Yeah, let’s do it! Let’s do it!”. If all four of us hadn’t fit in with Yoshii’s concept for the band, it all would have turned out much differently.
I’d like to ask about your own feelings. Have you been unsatisfied with the music that he writes or the image that he has for the band, from the standpoint of being the ones who are produced, so to speak?
(Heesey) …Well the person who writes most of the songs and produces the band is also the face of the band. Kazuya Yoshii is probably the person who comes to mind when you think of The Yellow Monkey, and we know that he’s the one who’s best suited for that role. Doesn’t he write good lyrics, sing them in a cool way, and act very characteristically? Having a person with that powerful of a presence out in front really makes a big difference.
So then this all began with you recognizing Yoshii’s charisma?
(Heesey) That’s right. But it wasn’t like that at first. It took him about 3-4 years to get his song writing together. He had all those good qualities to begin with and just had to polish them up, so that’s why we wanted to back him up. So I think we were all in the same place.
So you didn’t just want to do this all together from a musical perspective, but rather as people too.
(Emma) I think that’s how we all feel.
I see. So now I’ll change the subject over to your second album “Experience Movie”. Compared to your first album, which was very glam rock with a strong sense of pop, this time around you’ve got a harder sound that I think shows the true essence of the band.
(Annie) To tell you the truth, when we released the first album we had misgivings that it only showed one aspect of The Yellow Monkey, and that we couldn’t make it big off of just that.
(Annie) I wonder if I worded that a little strangely.
(Heesey) It’s fine, it’s fine.
(Emma) This is the order that they had to be in though. If this album had come first and Night Snails had been our 2nd, people might be asking “Is this what The Yellow Monkey has turned into?”. But because things progressed in the way they did, I think people will say “Oh, this is what The Yellow Monkey is!”.
So there are three ballads on this album, possibly based on Yoshii’s own private feelings. Can you empathize with songs like that?
(Heesey) We get asked that question often: Are we underrepresented in or against him writing most of the music and lyrics, or isn’t it difficult to work under those circumstances? But actually they’re very easy circumstances to work under. If we were talking about music that had no emotion behind it, I think any of us would probably duck out and say “Sorry, I can’t do this”. I don’t think we’d be doing this if there wasn’t so much fun in him bringing in new songs and saying “This is the kind of song this is”, then us saying “Alright, how about this?”.
Right, maybe he’s not so much just an expressive person as he has the key characteristics of a musician?
(Heesey) And the three of us are more just like bone-heads with workman-like characteristics.
(Emma) Hahaha. Bone-heads!
(Annie) But we’re very responsive (Laughs)
(Heesey) I wonder if that’s how we come off?
Ahh, so it’s exactly as I thought.
(Heesey) It’s like the style of bands from awhile back: The Doors or T.Rex had a front-man who was also the main composer, the Rolling Stones have both the guitars and vocals coming on strong, and then you’ve got Aerosmith, etc. That’s the kind of thing we like.
(Annie) We have to feel like we have power as a band, after all.
Apart from your sound, do you feel as though you’d like for yourselves to be understood from a character perspective too?
(Heesey) Sure. I’m fundamentally a guy who wants to be understood anyway.
Do you think you’re accurately represented to those around you?
(Heesey) I think there’s some misunderstanding there…I’m often told that I’m scary (Laughs)
When that happens, don’t you want to explain it by saying “I don’t mean to be!”?
(Heesey) Well as a character I aim for being the villain. I don’t know if it’s the cool factor or what…
But you’re saying it’s still like there’s a beam of light that comes from your back that says “I want to be understood”?
(Heesey) Right. Like “The Red Ogre Who Cries”!
Hahaha. That’s right, The Red Ogre Who Cries!
(Heesey) My hair looks like his, right?
(Heesey) Bit I used to think that if you were the captain or whatever, it just meant that you were the oldest of the group. But recently I’ve come to realize it’s actually a role that involves elevating those around you and being a “mind-maker” by saying things like “Alright, let’s go guys!”. I’ve thought lately about how Yoshii can be uncool even when he gets super focused, but he lifts us all up.
Does it feel like everyone can finally your reason for existing now?
(Heesey) …That was a little bit too cool of a way of putting it. Sorry everyone, I’ll apologize later!
(Laughs) How does everyone else perceive their own characters?
(Annie) I’m the youngest member of the band, so I act it. I’m the only one who’s younger than Yoshii. You might say I’m the one in the unique position to be told “Hey, this is how things are”.
(Heesey) I’ve definitely said that to him before (Laughs)
(Annie) So I may be the only one that feels this way, but we have kind of a strange sense of trust, or like a brotherly relationship between us…
Even though your actual brother is in the band with you!
(Annie) Well because he’s my real brother, the bond with him is obviously strong. And I really feel that kind of bond with Heesey too though.
Wow, I didn’t realize that there with these kinds of deep bonds within the band. What about you Emma?
(Emma) I feel like I’m Joe the Condor from “Gatchaman” or something.
(Heesey and Annie) Ahahaha!
(Heesey) You really are, Emma!
(Emma) Yeah, that’s how I’d like to be seen.
Like as the Blue Ranger from “Go Ranger”?
(Emma) Yeah. Something like that would be good.
(Heesey) 002 from “Cyborg 009”.
(Emma) Yeah, yeah (Laughs)
(Laughs) That’s right on the money
(Annie) From the character perspective, we’re a well put together band aren’t we?
You’re like the “Go Ranger” team without a Pink Ranger.
(Emma) No, Yoshii is the Pink Ranger.
Ahh, I see!
(Heesey) I’m the Yellow Ranger, since I like curry.
(Annie) Beautiful, we’re a very well put together band.
So in seeing you all up close, you definitely shouldn’t be seen as just Yoshii’s backup band. I’m wondering what you think about that as members of the band…
(Annie) I think that he even thinks that he’d be lacking just by himself, but we realize that we can’t all be the ones out in front.
(Heesey) Like if Emma all of the sudden wasn’t the guitarist for The Yellow Monkey anymore, I think people would be surprised.
(Annie) Yeah, it’s hard to imagine that.
(Heesey) I’d like everyone to understand this a little better.
There’s just one song on the album that you wrote, Emma. Are you satisfied with that?
(Emma) I am because I wanted a song like that on the album, so I wrote it myself.
(Annie) And when any of us is thinking about a song we want to write ourselves, we just bring it. And if we’re thinking that there’s something missing from it, we bring it for everyone to work on.
As we can see.
(Heesey) But I think that sometimes we do write songs with our egos in mind.
(Emma) Hahaha, yeah we might do that.
(Annie) Yeah. For example on a given song you might for one reason or another just say “Let’s not use this here”. You might be thinking you want to use it as a future solo song, or something like that.
I wonder if this is an example of The Yellow Monkey’s ideals, or something. Your viewpoints on what you think is cool are the same.
(Emma) I see. That might be the case.
I’m not sure how things will turn out next time, but this time I think they’re very much the same.
(Heesey) Yeah. We don’t know what lies ahead.
(Heesey) But there is one thing I do think: If I don’t want to do it anymore, then I won’t. I’ll just say that I quit (Laughs)
(Emma) Me too, then the band would just shut down (Laughs)
(Heesey, Annie) (Laughs)