Interview: Aya Yokomori
Photography: Shin Watanabe
(From Vicious vol. 10, 01/1995)
The 4th album from The Yellow Monkey, “Smile”, is being released on 02/01/1995. It’s a bit different from those before it, in that it’s more pop sounding. But could that be because the band has had a bit of a change of heart?
Getting right to the point, why is the new album called “Smile”?
(Lovin) We wanted to make a more refined album this time around, because of course we’re very refined people (Laughs) Anyway, it may be that we have a rather suspicious side to us. Our identity has been a bit unclear up until now, and we’ve had sort of an elusive sense to us, right!? I think that’s why people perceive us as being unapproachable. We wanted to change that a bit, even down to our logo. We wanted to make it all a bit more stylish. Sort of like the magazine Non-no (Laughs)
Huh!? Like Non-no!?
(Annie) No! He just saw the Non-no logo today and said that it looked similar (Laughs) That’s all!
(Lovin) Anyway, we wanted to make a good album with a simple yet refined sense of taste. Our last album, Jaguar Hard Pain, had a rather heavy theme about war. This time around we wanted to make something about peace, heart, and…smiles.
Ahh, so that’s why it’s called “Smile”.
(Annie) I feel that there’s a more hidden meaning behind “Smile” too. Like it’s emphasizing the “suppressed” part of a “suppressed smile”.
(Lovin) To put it a bit strangely, there are people who have lived through war, even though they’re living completely normal lives now. And those people have nightmares about war time, I’m sure. You could think of this as that sort of an album. Things are peaceful right now, but you never know when there might be a war, and when you might need to say goodbye to your significant other. But all we can do for the moment is smile…it also has that sort of hidden meaning to it. Many different types of smiles appear in the lyrics.
About the lyrics, I got strong tones of them being about feelings toward women this time around…
(Lovin) Because I’m always taking notice of them. I think the lyrics feel that way because there are a lot of personal expressions in them, like “you” and “I”. Most of the lyrics in our songs up until this point have been singing to someone of the opposite sex. There have been some where women were singing to men, but this time that’s not the case. Singing about women in songs suits me best, and lyrics about those things just come naturally. Even though they say all I can sing about is sex anyway!
Is this something akin to being defiant?
(Lovin) Maybe it’s more like not caring anymore (Laughs) I mean, this includes the other members of the band too. We all like women, and we all like sex (Laughs) Don’t you think that people are always conscious of the opposite sex? Whether it be when they’re choosing clothes, or putting on makeup.
(Annie) Everything said up until now has been fairly indirect. You could say that the lyrics are much more straight forward this time around compared to when Lovin wrote the lyrics on Jaguar, or when he’s tried to sing from a woman’s perspective. I think he expresses himself in a much more true way this time around.
(Lovin) Right, in more day-to-day sort of words.
Why did you decide to make that sort of a change? Is there any particular reason?
(Lovin) Not really, there’s always been aspects of my writing that have been this way. Now they’ve matured, and reached a point where I can do things a bit more freely. We’ve gotten better as a band too, so things just came out in a way that’s easier to understand. We’ve been together for five years now, after all. And this is the culmination of that five years together. We really just didn’t have anything particularly difficult in mind.
(Heesey) Right, we weren’t really thinking of smashing the image that people had of us and showing them something new, or anything like that. It’s really just an album that we made without thinking too much about it.
(Annie) We wanted to make music on a bigger scale, something that feels like you’re driving in a car.
(Lovin) The 3rd album didn’t really have songs that were good for listening to in a car, did it?
True. If I had to put it into words, it felt like the kind of thing I’d want to listen to thoroughly, and in private.
(Emma) The last album was a concept album, and I think there were parts where personality came out. But because it was a concept album, doesn’t mean it equates to being full of personality. I think this album emphasizes that personality much more strongly.
(Heesey) We really were able to just relax while we played.
(Annie) Tensions usually run pretty high before recording, but this time we did it in a much more relaxed way. For example, my shoulders always really tense during recording. But this time they weren’t at all (Laughs) I think we might have a more straightforward sound than usual because we were able to play like that?
It certainly doesn’t have that garish feeling to it anymore, but in a good way.
(Lovin) Right, you could say that it’s lost that freaky feeling.
The first song, “SMILE”, has a very holy sound to it.
(Lovin) That’s because I’m a god.
What are you talking about?! (Laughs)
(Lovin) I didn’t actually want to make it sound like a hymn, I was going for more of a Brian Eno vibe. But it ended up sounding more like a hymn, because I’m a god! (Everyone bursts into laughter at the same time) It’s probably because we used a very pipe organ-like sound on the synthesizer.
There are really amazing lyrics in the song “I”, like “I live for your caress”. Since you of course wrote all of the lyrics Lovin, so this might be more of a question for you. But with “I” in particular, I thought that it might supposed to be something like your soul crying out? (Laughs)
(Lovin) My soul crying out? I’m not Kamachi Yamada (A well known poet and painter that died at the age of 17) (Laughs) Well, there definitely is some amount of desire in those lyrics, a man’s real intentions.
I see. But there haven’t been any changes between all of you, and the album wasn’t made that differently than usual. But yet I can’t help but feel like that’s something different about it…
(Lovin) To put it simply, we were just aiming for a more everyday sort of pop sound. That’s why it might be off-putting to some people who have been listening to us up until now.
(Annie) There really is nothing funny going on. It’s a little troubling that people are so suspicious!
Alright, well was there anything difficult about recording?
(Lovin) Probably that we had a lot of events going on while we were doing it?
(Emma) Yeah, it was all scheduling problems.
(Lovin) We had the time, but it was a bit tough since there were a lot of summer events going on. I was a bit careless about taking care of my voice by just singing as much as I wanted, and my vocal patterns reverted back to what they used to be. It’s easier to sing that way, and it’s easier to bring the distinctive qualities of my voice out. (He suddenly starts talking like a TV host) Thank you coming on our show today, Yellow Monkeys! (Everyone bursts out laughing) Please give us a message for the audience!
(Heesey) We’re mixing some everyday elements into our funky music!
(Annie) Me? If I can be serious for a moment, I hope all sorts of different people listen to this album. Whether it be people who are already aware of us, or people who haven’t heard us yet, please given it a listen! That’s what I want to say.
(Emma) I want this album to be associated with The Yellow Monkey, when someone thinks of us.
(Lovin) I see. Well, there are definitely a lot of people who regret not listening to us. There have even been people who have said they don’t listen to us because it seems like they might get too into us. And telling us something like that isn’t exactly going to make us happy (Laughs) Anyway, whether you listen to Smile, the second or third albums, or even go all the way back to our first album, I think we’ve summed up things nicely here today…
Thank you for your time!