Kazuya Yoshii + Youichi Hirose: Western and Japanese Rock Mixing Together is So Cool!

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Cover

Interview: Tetsushi Ichikawa
Photography: Junichi Oono

(From Ongaku to Hito, 02/1995)

According to reader feedback, Ongaku to Hito continues to be particularly cold toward The Yellow Monkey.

(Yoshii) I was thinking the same thing.

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

I was challenging myself with The Yellow Monkey, saving their strength for the perfect opportunity (Laughs) I was hoping we’d be able to put to rest the one-sided viewpoint that Yemon is a perverted rock band, largely due to Yoshii’s marriage con-man like act, along with Heesey. Perhaps by evaluating your personality as a band.

(Heesey) I always come up whenever the bad side of the band comes out (Laughs)

The bad side?

(Heesey) Yeah.

(Yoshii) Are you the band’s genitalia, or something?

Your last album was a big period concept album. (Laughs) And just when I was wondering what crazy thing you’d come up with this time, it looks like this new album is a rather straightforward one.

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Main Image

(Yoshii) We wanted to try making a pop album for our fourth.

(Heesey) Yeah.

(Yoshii) Though it may seem strange, I ‘d been asking the band to let me make the third album the way I wanted to from the time we were signed. And it feels like…how to put this…I took it to extremes in order to make it abnormal. In terms of sound, we’ve been pop this entire time, haven’t we? So one way of looking at it is that if the third album was us performing something abnormal, the fourth album is going to go back to our focus (Laughs) Because I’ve always thought of us as a band who broke through with pop songs, and wants to make that type of music.

(Heesey) We were thinking about what the fourth album would be since we were making “Jaguar”.

This is a bit abrupt, but is Yemon the sort of band that discusses concepts and direction among yourselves?

(Yoshii) We do.

(Heesey) It’s not like we fight over our respective opinions, because we all at least pretend to be adults.

(Yoshii) I butt in with my vague ideas all the time, and I watch everyone else go pale! (Laughs)

From an outside perspective, it seems like Yoshii keeps bolstering his reputation of being a marriage con-man, and the other three members very generously tolerate it.

(Heesey) But isn’t that kind of actually how it is? (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Everyone in the band is an adult but me.

(Heesey) We’re just pretending to be.

If The Yellow Monkey weren’t a good band, your act would consequently be pretty lame. So I assume, in a manner of speaking, Kazuya Yoshii is propped up due to everyone else’s superior abilities?

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Yoshii 1

(Yoshii) That’s right. If I thought we were a bad bad, I wouldn’t be acting the way I am. I think I dote on them quite a bit by saying things like “You guys are so awesome, you can make any piece of music sound good” (Laughs) Yeah, I dote on them quite a bit.

Even though you’re doted on quite a bit yourself.

(Heesey) I’d rather not play in a band who’s constantly reassured about how good they are!

(Yoshii) Constantly reassured about how good they are! (Laughs)

(Heesey) Instead of showing off though, I’d rather have the vocals be emphasized over the instrumental parts. That’s how I bring more of myself to it.

That’s actually an interesting band composition in a different way from a band like Kinniku Shoujou Tai, where the front-man and band members were going in completely opposite directions. But I learned that first hand from listening to your new album.

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Heesey 1

(Heesey) I puzzled over what had changed from before “Jaguar”…and it was thinking that we couldn’t really call of this “personality” yet. Everyone around us always said “The Yellow Monkey has a distinct personality”, and I was never sure whether that was good or bad. And so being conscious of that…

You wanted to refine yourselves even more.

(Heesey) Right. Up until Jaguar we may have been making too many adjustments. But after Jaguar was done, there was this whole new part of us. And so then our outlook turned more toward being one of loosening up and just playing more naturally to let that personality come out.

Previously I told Yoshii that I wanted to hear The Yellow Monkey’s take on Group Sounds

(Heesey) Don’t we kind of already do that? (Laughs)

Sure, but….The Yellow Monkey is a very easy band to understand. To liken Yemon to a sugar candy (konpeitou), it’s fine that the bumps on the surface were all you could see from the time you debuted. But you haven’t actually shown us the sugar candy itself yet.

(Yoshii) I guess so. I’ve come to that same realization too.

You were performing on a micro level at first, but now for your fourth album you’re performing on a macro level…it’s weird that you’ve done it in reverse order (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Right, right. I wonder if we weren’t able to expand our listener base that easily because your average person doesn’t delve into music too deeply. So all of our fans ended up being more of the obsessive types.

(Heesey) The people who know about those bumps on the sugar candy are like “Oh, the bumps!” (Laughs) But the people who don’t are like “What’s this?”.


(Heesey) And to the people who are like “What’s this?”, it’s like we’re saying “No, try to understand us!” (Laughs) So that’s why you could say we’re changing our own point of view as well.

Featuring things like hermaphrodites, effeminate men, or right-wing “virtual” love stories as your bumps on the surface was something of a personality for the band.

(Yoshii) He-he-he-he-he

(Heesey) You said a “virtual” love story, right!? (Laughs)

(Laughs) During Jaguar you went all in on your reasoning that “This is my masculinity” or “This is rock”, Yoshii. And though maybe those remarks weren’t that pointed…tears were running down my cheeks as I read interviews where you said those sorts of things in other magazines (Laughs)

(Yoshii) A-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ahh, I see. I suppose if you listen for it, this album might be considered masculine too. At least in some ways.

More precisely, this album is masculine in the very pure stance that it takes. Whereas Jaguar was an album that was actively showing masculinity.

(Yoshii) Putting it that way makes it sounds really homosexual! But, well…that’s kind of what I was going for (Laughs)

Maybe I should say that it’s a delusion that homosexuality itself is a symbol of masculinity (Laughs) Though only men can be homosexual in that specific way.

(Heesey) Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!

(Yoshii) That’s true. If you look at this next album as a “normal performance”, it really takes on a feeling of the 1977-1978 era pop that’s inside of us.

Is this just yet another bump on the surface?

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Yoshii with one cigarette

(Yoshii) The musical compositions are (Laughs) But when I was writing them, they came out very naturally. We didn’t have a lot of time to put into arrangements, so all of us put everything we had into our performances. That’s why they may have come out in a way that’s easy to understand, without thinking about them too much.

(Heesey) If we’d had more time, we might have fiddled around with them too much though (Laughs)

(Yoshii) And you’d be thinking “This again?!” (Laughs) But these songs were…made with sort of a gentle feeling though (Laughs)

Gentle feelings are the “I’ll fool you even better into being happy” ironclad rule of a marriage con-man.

(Yoshii) Right. An even sweeter trap (Laughs)

The lyrics are definitely gentle, with words that are simple to understand. And a lot of them seem to be love songs…even though you just laughed in sort of an unpleasant way.

(Yoshii) (Laughs) Yeah. Even though the only love songs I’ve ever been able to sing were indirect ones.

You don’t like direct ones, right?

(Yoshii) That’s right. This time around, I decided to sing about sex. I include my own personal point of view in how I sing about it, but I think that’s because it makes me look better that way (Laughs)

(Heesey) He-he-he-he-he

(Yoshii) I’ve come clean this time around. There are no themes or concepts, so in writing the songs I thought I might sing about sex in different situations.


(Yoshii) If it makes it easier to understand, I was actually thinking about sex while writing.

…I’m starting to think that the definition of easy to understand for Kazuya Yoshii is just “sex” (Laughs bitterly)

(Yoshii) Yep.

Well for someone who’s experienced, it’s a universal action (Laughs Bitterly)

(Yoshii) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Heesey, in regards to this front-man/vocalist/song writer who’s been a bit of a crooked character up until now…

(Heesey) You said…”crooked character”, right?! (Laughs)

What do you think about this crooked character and the way he’s portrayed?

(Heesey) Hmm…

For example in a magazine photo he might be sticking his face in the freezing cold ocean, or smiling with honey smeared all over his face. Anyway, the fact that society seems to respond to that as “perversion”.

(Yoshii) I’m not putting on an act just because I want to! (Laughs)

With these interviews that he’s gone a bit overboard in, he’s created this world of perversion. And what’s more, Heesey is suddenly thought of as one of it’s head people.

(Heesey) It’s amazing…he’s actually showing his true self, isn’t he? You could say it’s a great example of human expression.

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Yoshii with two cigarettes

(Yoshii) It’s more like since I didn’t know anything about how the system worked when we got signed, part of me just did what I was told. I was just playing the part: “Stick your face in the freezing cold ocean!”, “Well, I guess I should give it a try…”. “Smile with this honey smeared all over your face!”, “Alright, that’s fine…”. But there’s always a question mark at the end of me agreeing. This isn’t an attack against any specific magazine, but rather all sorts of media. I was always thinking “It’s not actually about me being a pervert, it’s just me being made fun of! Why doesn’t anybody realize that?!”. And people around me have finally started questioning all of this lately, so I can refuse these kinds of things and give my own opinions. Two years have passed since we got signed and I know how the system works, so I no longer let myself be misunderstood. It may have been my own lack of vocabulary or insufficient explanations.

It’s just the opposite: You explain things too much.

(Yoshii) Ah, it’s too much then! (Laughs)

Yemon leaves behind too many clues. You distort the projections and then explain it all away. And that makes it harder to recognize that there are too many.

(Yoshii) That’s true. It’s because I thought things like “This should have more impact” or “It will probably make the magazine publisher happy”, even though they were just photos. Things have gotten a lot more simple lately: Our music has changed, things have changed internally with the band, the situation with those around us has changed…So it’s a fact that we’ve changed since Jaguar. How we’re seen as a rock band has finally been formed.

It’s certainly true that a concept album that tells a story like Jaguar can’t help but be misunderstood.

(Yoshii) Right, right. That’s why for me, it’s about true love and a soldier…

So it was misunderstood to be your “declaration of Yoshii-style rock that you put your heart and soul into”, and now you’re here saying that it’s “about true love and a soldier”? (Laughs)

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Yoshii) (Laughs) No, but this is my image of it that goes against that kind of a weird image of it. I’ve thought before that if a Japanese person presents a theme that makes me think “Alright, time to get a little bit serious about this”, it might change yet again.

See, your way of saying “presents a theme” already sounds so unnatural. It’s like saying “This time I’ve got this sort of plan that goes in this sort of box. Here you go!” (Laughs)

(Yoshii) But this is all about things I started by making mistakes at the beginning…I guess you’d call it following? (Laughs)

I guess what I’m asking is even though you have ideas that are good enough to get any other band through their first, second, third albums…you go out of your way to do things differently each time…So what if you acted in a way that was more true to yourself?

(Yoshii) Because I don’t know how to relax. But…this is how our fourth album turned out…I wonder if that’s alright? (Laughs)

What a way of putting it to make it sound like someone else’s problem! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Well it was only two years between when we formed as a band and when we got signed.

(Heesey) I guess it’s sort of a you won’t be satisfied if you don’t get it all out there kind of situation (Laughs)

(Yoshii) It may just be something I couldn’t have learned without getting signed. And it was probably also me wanting to polish up certain facets.

Music-focused rock band members typically aren’t fond of those aspects used for entertainment value, but for Yemon it seems to be a specialty.

(Heesey) Yeah. I feel like a vocalist can be too intense if they don’t have those aspects to them. The more of those elements a vocalist has, the more it works to their advantage.

Did that kind of understanding come with age?

(Heesey) I’ve always felt that way. I kind of don’t like it when a vocalist doesn’t seem like they can do anything.

(Yoshii) Keep in mind that Gene Simmons, the most stand-out bassist/vocalist that there is, has always been his favorite! (Laughs)

(Heesey) He-he-he-he-he

Speaking of, the band that Annie and Emma used to be in, Killer May, were also that kind of a showy metal band as well.

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Black Face 1

(Yoshii) That’s what I’m saying, they get agitated at me too! They’ve been telling me “You’d better not just sing normally!” ever since we were an indie band! I use singing as a tool and they seriously tell me “Don’t be just another vocalist!” (Laughs)

(Heesey) We have, but I wonder if you’re actually the one who feels that way the most of all. Didn’t you want to be a vocalist who had more tools than just singing?

(Yoshii) I’ve had a complex about it from the very beginning, because I started singing later on.

(Heesey) Ah! That might be it.

(Yoshii) I don’t even want to write lyrics that a normal person would, for example. All of them are that way. I’m not particularly skilled as a singer, so I feel like I need to sing about weird things.

That sounds like it borders on obsession.

(Yoshii) It really does. I’ve gained more confidence in my singing lately, so I’ve started thinking that maybe I don’t always need to be singing about weird things.

And there goes your tendency to over-explain things again (Laughs)

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Yoshii) It’s because I’m in the entertainment business (Laughs)

You’re clearly blessed by having band mates that don’t get angry no matter how you act. They’re not sure whether they’re getting a hollyhock-engraved pill box or a sword! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) A pillbox (Laughs). Yeah, I am blessed.

(Heesey) Yeah, but…I think that’s one of the band’s tools too, for sure. We’ve all got different personalities, and we each play our own parts. That’s not something you can achieve just through effort alone.

(Yoshii) If one of us starts acting out, someone else just naturally ends up stopping them.

Is that the kind of thing that usually happens?

(Yoshii) …This isn’t really that big of a deal, but when I shaved my head during Jaguar, they all said “What are you doing?!” (Laughs)

(Laughs) Oh, that’s right! And now that you mention it, I don’t really know the whole story of how Yemon formed as a band.

(Heesey) I guess you could say we all knew each other from playing at the same places?

(Yoshii) We were a part of a hard rock movement based out of two Tokyo clubs: Rokumeikan and La.mama. X Japan was a part of it too.

You were originally a part of Urgh Police, Heesey was with Murbas, and Annie and Emma were with Killer May.

(Heesey) The only thing we could say we really had in common with the people we were in bands with then was “Yeah, we’re in a band!”. It might be the same with people in those kinds of bands now too, but one day we realized that maybe sometime in our 20s that we’d stop and say “Hold on, it’s good that we broke up, but what direction do I go in now?”. Not just musically, but as people. I think we were all going through that phase around the same time.

(Yoshii) We all came from metal bands so we all had that same little complex.

Coming from a metal band means you have a complex?

(Yoshii) You know? You start thinking seriously about your music and think that you just can’t continue on with metal anymore. It’s strange to say “can’t”…more like you get tired of it, I guess. It’s like being a bousouzoku, in a way.

(Laughs) I think I get what you mean.

(Heesey) Part of you just can’t find a way to keep it up.

(Yoshii) Right. We all had our roots more in hard rock, and we started thinking no matter what we did it was always going to come back to that. So it was a time where we were searching for just what it was that brought us to the metal we were listening to at the time.

It seems like you were all concerned about the same thing back then. So naturally you sort of combined punk and metal, added makeup, and joined one of the most prosperous movements of the time! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Ha-ha-ha-ha! There were lots of people who went for the Being (a record company that bands like B’z, ZARD, DEEN, WANDS, etc. were signed to) sound too.

That may be more of a plus for the characteristics of Japanese metal, and not as much for Yemon. Unusually…

(Yoshii) Maybe it’s more of a division than a plus? We were all in different bands, but glam rock was definitely something older guys were into. Most bands thought about it that way.

(Heesey) Back then, yeah they did.

(Yoshii) They were putting on makeup, after all. At least if they were trying to be like the New York Dolls or Mott the Hoople! (Laughs)

I wonder if glam rock is particularly suited for Japanese people.

(Heesey) That might actually be true.

(Yoshii) …Though we ended up sort of being glam rock, didn’t we? (Laughs)

Don’t put it like that! (Laughs) So did the four of you determine your direction as a band as soon as you got together?

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Black Face 2

(Yoshii) No, we went through some trial and error. When The Yellow Monkey first formed, we were more…of a candy pop glam rock band, like the Bay City Rollers.

(Heesey) Bubble Glam.

There were no English dark or goth influences, like Bauhaus or anything?

(Yoshii) Nope. Back then I played guitar, and we had a different vocalist. Candy pop suited him best, so that’s how we started out. But then we had differences of opinion, so we started looking for another vocalist. I was still trying to play guitar in a very unruly way.

(Heesey) Hehe

(Yoshii) I thought I was Johnny Thunders or something (Laughs)

I think all Japanese people are convinced they’re Johnny Thunders when they play guitar.

(Yoshii) Fu-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Yoshii) Yeah, I think that’s the syndrome I had too. We couldn’t find a new vocalist, and then I decided that I was just going to try doing it for now.

“For now” (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Yeah. So we brought in Annie’s brother Emma on guitar. But after a week he called me up and said “No, this isn’t working for me, I’m gonna quit” (Laughs) I think Emma’s mission was to get into a New Wave band, back then.

Ahh, that’s an easy trap for a metal guy to fall into! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Yeah he tends to get into things unintentionally.

Maybe sometimes he misunderstands what he’s getting into a bit.

(Heesey) Yeah, that might be true.

(Yoshii) We’re only saying this because he’s not here (Laughs)

Ha ha ha ha ha!

(Yoshii) Around that same time I was listening to Love And Rockets and The Mission, so I smelled glam rock on him. And because of that the hallucinations began: Us turning into a band that played dark music (Laughs)

(Heesey) Dark (Laughs)

(Yoshii) But we always had a bit of an old pop music sound too.

(Heesey) Less and less people came to see us play, so we quit going in that direction after about six months (Laughs)

(Laughs) So did all of you have something within you that lended itself toward older pop?

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Heesey 2

(Heesey) Yeah I think so. A long time ago I really liked to do weird bass covers of those songs. It was totally ripping off western music, but in a lot of cases I liked the Japanese pop versions of songs better than the western ones.

They really did rip off western songs, didn’t they.

(Heesey) Yeah, but they did it in such a cool way. There was a lot of ripping off going on back then.

(Yoshii) There were a lot of cases of some of those songs being more cool, even if they weren’t done as well (Laughs) I like Saori Yuki’s “Yoake no Scat” better than Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”.

(Heesey) I think we’re a country that copies other countries just to look cool and not to deepen our own culture (Laughs)

It becomes more clear the more copying you see.

(Heesey) Right! (Laughs)

Surely that’s the basis of this new album then.

(Yoshii) I suppose so. So in a way, we’ve returned to our roots with this one.

Normally this kind of album would be a band’s first one.

(Yoshii) (Laughs) We like to count backward. This one is our debut, Jaguar is our second…so are we going to break up after The Night Snails And Plastic Boogie? (Laughs)

Ha ha ha ha ha!

(Heesey) But there’s something kind of amazing in going back to our roots after trying so many different things…

(Yoshii) There is something pretty deep about that, isn’t there? (Laughs)

(Heesey) At least I think so! (Laughs)

Getting back to the previous conversation about the band’s history, how did you get away from that dark sound?

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Yoshii 2

(Yoshii) It was London Boots Night (a regular event held at Shibuya La.mama that featured a bunch of up and coming rock bands). There were glam rock bands like Love Missile and Tyrannosaurus on the indies scene at that time. I’m not sure why we didn’t cross over with them more, but when we’d sometimes appear during London Boots Night with them I’d think to myself that I should really write a really cool glam rock song. I guess that was us going back to our roots yet again (Laughs) And the song I wrote ended up being pretty good.

So all of your predispositions to glam came together for the first time.

(Yoshii) Right. And some of the darkness in our songs from before was still there, which gave us this kind of strange wet feeling (Laughs)

(Heesey) No matter how you thought about it, we really started to stand out at those events. And people realized there was a band like us in that scene.

(Yoshii) And then we got confident about it as a band.

(Heesey) We started thinking we could really make it.

(Yoshii) And then things really started moving and the band got big in the year up to us getting signed.

I’d describe your sound back then as “sensible glam pop”.

(Yoshii and Heesey) Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Heesey) There are definitely bands out there who haven’t taken shape yet, and that’s really too bad. I’d encourage them to to somehow try to figure that out. They may all be thinking about the same things…but even so there may be some of them that aren’t going to make it with that line of thinking! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) I like how you’re being reserved about saying what you’re really thinking (Laughs)

(Heesey) But there are bands that are like that!

(Laughs) Maybe you could have rephrased it. But Yemon are very sensible as performers. You aren’t confused or timid about it at all.

(Yoshii) Human nature is very much reflected in sound. I don’t put any stoppers or limiters on myself at all. I play and sing with more of a “Keep going!” attitude as opposed to a “It’ll be awesome if I make it this far” one.

To expand on what I mean, I feel like all four of you have different views on what Yemon is.

(Yoshii and Heesey) Ha ha ha

But you acknowledge the viewpoints of the other three. Even apart from the stuff that Yoshii likes to bring to the table, like the homosexual and androgynous stuff…you all respect each other’s points of view.

(Yoshii) (Laughs) Yeah, we’re a very democratic band.

(Heesey) We are. But I also think that you can’t have a good band sound without conceding individual tastes just a little bit. Everyone can’t have what they want 100% of the time.

Even when performances seem like they’re going a bit sloppy, in reality there’s a lot of really good understanding going on there! (Laughs)

(Heesey) That’s right! (Laughs)

That’s why this album feels like the one, and if this doesn’t work then nothing will.

(Yoshii) Absolutely (Laughs)

(Heesey) But you have to keep on going in order to get to that point.

Your usual obsession with western rock music is all over the songs on this album too.

(Yoshii) We’re a combination of western rock and old Japanese pop, after all. We’ve already explained our sound and the details around it.

(Heesey) Your Japanese-ness didn’t really come through there!

There are a ton of bands that just rip off phrases, tones, and melodies. But for Yemon it’s like you’re importing album concepts themselves, and are reconstructing them and offering them for a Japanese audience (Laughs)

(Yoshii) I mean Japan isn’t very cool these days, that’s really what I think. The Japanese music scene could turn into something much more, but right now there’s just something not very cool about it.

This is just something I realized: Yoshii you’re criticized as being a pervert or good-for-nothing, but that’s actually the same as people looking up to the charisma of western rock stars like David Bowie or Peter Gabriel. In other words, I think it’s actually tremendous praise.

(Yoshii) Right.

But since you’re Japanese person performing this and adapting it for Japan, you’re being treated as a weirdo.

(Yoshii) Treated as a weirdo! (Laughs)

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

That’s just my analysis of course.

(Yoshii) I see. To be fair, I did used to perform with a very provocative kind of attitude (Laughs)


(Yoshii) Well this country is still what it is, so this time we’re not doing anything bizarre. As the album title and cover suggest, we’re just smiling. But now that we’re only doing that, people might say it’s weird! (Laughs)

That’s your predicted response then.

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Heesey 3

(Heesey) Why is the guy who was saying things like “A soldier is really close to what my image of rock is” and “The relationship between the Vietnam War and 60s rock is like the Pacific War to a Japanese person” now grinning? Of course people are going to ask “What are you smiling at?” (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Heesey) When a regular band smiles, the reaction would be “Oh they’re smiling, they look so cool” or “They’re really cute!”, right? But when we do it, it’s “What’s up with this?”…

(Yoshii) “They must be making fun of us!” (Laughs)

(Heesey) Right, right! (Laughs)

Now that I think about it, compared to your Yukio Mishima look from last time…

(Yoshii) It has an impact, right? (Laughs)

It may be that regular conversation about you has always been so twisted, that you just get this kind of reaction and are treated as a pervert when you put out an album.

(Yoshii) I see. But I think that have to say that, since this is an interview (Laughs)

So you’re saying the huge difference between this album and the last is because there’s just no connection between the two! (Laughs) Is there really no connection between them?

(Yoshii) There isn’t. And Jaguar…I’m going to talk about this since it’s in the past now…I think it may have been an album we made for our own sake as a band, or to get to what we’re doing now. If the third album would have been the same as the first and second, I don’t think we would have played a two night show at Nakano Sun Plaza. I’m glad we got to bask in the attention that a concept album like that generated, and perform it in a way to match. So when we finished those concerts at Sun Plaza earlier this year and we all thought “What are we going to do now that Jaguar’s over?”…I think it’s really great that what’s happening after was a pop album like Smile (Laughs)

I admit I’m not sure if this all a strategy or a real desire.

(Yoshii) It’s both. You could call it a “stragire” or a “destrategy”! (Laughs)

If Yemon didn’t play really great pop-rock or wasn’t the world’s first western-japanese rock, I’d be worried.

(Yoshii) I see.

Yemon’s best quality isn’t that you adapt western rock for Japan in a very straightforward way, but that you’re able to reconstruct it through your own lens, as Japanese people yourselves. And don’t misunderstand what I mean by that.

(Yoshii) I didn’t think we’d get such a compliment from you! (Laughs)

Oh shut up. It’s a weird thing to say, but if decadence gets mistaken for something else, it turns into some new kind of dance where you make people strip naked and slit their wrists.

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Yoshii) I don’t think that kind of thing is very Japanese though. It feels like something that would be set in some unknown country in a bad shoujo manga. If it’s a Japanese person confronting rock aesthetics head on without any hesitation, then the setting has to be Japan. So it’s a very Japanese thing in that way, not to mention I feel that as a band we have aspects to us that are kind of like nationalistic rock.

(Heesey) We definitely do.

(Yoshii) I think manga is really important, particularly the manga we read when we’re kids. If you grew up in America then obviously it was American comics, but in Japan you had a lot of very bloody manga. Bloody and masochistic. Because after all, The Yellow Monkey loves…Tensai Bakabon.

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, Bakabon!

(Yoshii) It’s weird to like Bakabon, isn’t it…it’s going to make us look bad if this gets out!

(Heesey) Fu-fu-fu-fu-fu!

But after the middle of its run, Bakabon really turned into an amazingly absurd and experimental manga, didn’t it? At various points it was drawn left handed, dramatized, run without any dialogue, run without any art…it was pretty avant garde and incorporated themes that were masochistic and philosophical. No one ever bled or died though.

(Yoshii) That’s true…there was something very different about it.

Now that you mention it, Fujio Akatsuka (creator of Tensai Bakabon, and numerous other popular manga) is very Yemon.

(Yoshii) Stop it!

(Heesey) You just got turned into Fujio Akatsuka! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Or maybe Mitsuyoshi Furuya (Started out as Fujio Akatsuka’s assistant and is the creator of Dame Oyaji, etc.)

(Heesey) Or Kazuyoshi Torii (Another former assistant of Fujio Akatsuka’s, went on to create Toilet Hakase, etc.)


(Heesey) They’re all associated with him! (Laughs)

(Laughs) It’s just a group of Fujio Akatsuka’s former assistants.

(Yoshii) Throw some Noboru Kawasaki in there too, for some right-wing romanticism.

(Heesey) We’re into sports manga now! (Laughs)

Speaking of nationalistic things, love for pop music is a very easy thing to understand. It’s criticized as being “rehashes of western music” and as lacking originality, but it seems like Yemon feels that the correct interpretation of it is more like “No, because even covers can have their own sort of originality”.

(Yoshii) Yeah, it ends up being something like that. In the end.

(Laughs) What does that mean?!

(Yoshii) Not everyone in the band has Peter Pan syndrome…(Laughs) But I think there might be a good amount of it between us. When Heesey was young enough to not know how to masturbate, he’d yell by the river bed “Please god, do something about my penis!” whenever he got a boner.

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Yoshii 3

(Heesey) …Did I tell you to talk about that?! (Laughs) Looks like you really don’t have any Japanese-ness after all…I’m about to get a boner from looking at a nun right now (Laughs)

(Yoshii) A nun fetish huh? (Laughs)

(Heesey) That’s what this has turned into! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Sorry (Laughs)

What low standards you guys have! I wonder if your complexes are cancelling each other’s out right now?

(Yoshii) I think everyone has some kind of a complex though. It’s just a matter of whether you put them on your back and run away with them or move forward as you try to squash them like you’re playing whack-a-mole. It’s different for everyone. I think I’m the type who squashes them…but they end up on my back anyway.

But having a complex where you smile and talk at the same time isn’t actually a complex.

(Yoshii) Sometimes embarrassment can be your greatest weapon.

But as soon as you stop smiling, you suddenly start again.

(Yoshii) …Maybe that’s why it’s called “Smile”…

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Cut it out with the weird jokes! Next you’re going to tell me you weren’t ripping off Suede with the album cover, or something! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) …You must really think I’m an idiot!

But these days don’t you think Suede is thought of as being cool and talked about like they’re a statement of being gay or of getting back at a society that’s had contempt for you?

(Yoshii) The Japanese media that covers western music really hypes up how popular they are, but I have no clue if they’re actually that popular in the west. They might be thought in the same way that we are! (Laughs)

No way, I think Yemon is way better than Suede. That’s why they’re trying so hard! (Laughs)

(Heesey) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

You mean you aren’t even a little bit mad at me for implying that Yemon isn’t trying hard? (Laughs)

(Yoshii) No. But actually…I was just thinking that you’re understood through imitation, then it’s fine to present yourself that way.

There are probably quite a few bands imitating Yemon and Suede.

(Yoshii) There are. Or at least that’s what I let people think! (Laughs)

Is this you telling me that it’s about time you change the way you’re talked about?

Ongaku to Hito 02-1995 - Heesey Biting Ear

(Yoshii) There’s that, but the people who know will laugh and the people who don’t will think “Oh, that must be a joke” (Laughs) I think that’s the most important thing that I need to change about myself. Of course that’s all our…or should I say my own responsibility.

(Laughs) Good luck, marriage con-man!

(Yoshii) Even if I deceive them and make them give me money, they still won’t hate me.

The one who pays is the one to blame, right?

(Heesey) …This is going in a really bad direction! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Maybe it’s actually the ones who buy our CDs are the ones to blame? (Laughs)