Where is Yemon Going? Youichi Hirose + Kazuya Yoshii Interview (Ongaku to Hito)

Interview: Tetsushi Ichikawa
Photography: Megumi Seki

(From Ongaku to Hito, 08/1996)

Maybe it was during the incoherent conversation from the interview with the Kikuchi brothers in our May issue, but I was invited by the band to “come to some show on our tour”, so I figured it would be interesting to go to one in a location where rock bands don’t usually tour in. The odd name of “Yamaguchi Kudamatsu Starpia” stood out more than all of the other entries on the tour schedule. Just when I joked that Yamaguchi might be a good show to go to, there I was actually stuck going to Tokuyama on 05/24. And it was really far away: five and a half hours by Shinkansen. The tour itself was much more “rock feeling” than the previous For Season tour was, with an onslaught of ensembles full of raging and booming sound. And nearly all of the songs on the setlist were fast and energetic, which made for a really cool feel. And by evidence of Annie later saying “I felt like I was going to die after the fourth song”, the intense rock spirit present there was truly overwhelming. The first song was a new one called Ave Maria, with the second song being their new single Spark. And with the feeling of violence (in a good way) that slowly developed on stage with their work of art of a new song Tengoku Ryokou, and it’s amazing phrase “I’m a lonely man who uses up women”, it was a show full of a very rock style of maliciousness. It seems as though Yemon has finally found the path to being a rock band.

Wow, that really was a concert that moved so fast that it would give a grown man a nosebleed. It was the most frantic rock concert I’ve ever been to.

(Heesey) You say “grow man”, but… (Laughs)

(Yoshii) We thought we’d make this tour one that would be interesting for people who are intimately familiar with the band, and new fans alike. It might not have been much fun for those at an intermediate level…but I guess I can’t really say things like that, can I? (Laughs)

Even so, the fans are really just getting younger and younger.

(Yoshii) That’s true. Many of them probably aren’t too familiar with rock.

Where as the last tour was “rock-like”, this tour drops the “like” part of that and is basically the embodiment of rock itself.

(Heesey) That’s very deliberate.

(Yoshii) Conceptually it has a feeling of us wanting to get away from that previous tour a bit. Though it’s not exactly like we’re forsaking it or anything.

And then you make the first song a new one, and what’s more it’s called Ave Maria! (Laughs) That’s going to scare people away!

(Yoshii) (Laughs) But it’s not a cover, it’s an original song!

But that was really some choice for a song title.

(Yoshii) Maybe I should have called it “Abe Shizue” (Shizue Abe is a Japanese actress and singer who was popular during the 1970s. The pun here is that “Abe” is romanized the same way as “Ave”)…I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, that was a horrible pun! (Laughs)


(Yoshii) Abekawa Mochi (A specialty dish to Fukui Prefecture which involves mochi coated with sugar and kinako)

(Ignoring the pun) Anyway, these must be very difficult concerts from a performance perspective.

(Heesey) They are. We can’t really pull them off without really rehearsing.

And your new song “Tsukushi” is really great.

(Yoshii) It’s not called “Tsukushi”! It’s called “Tengoku Ryokou”!

It’s been awhile since you’ve written an art rock song like that.

(Heesey) Art rock! Hehehe

(Yoshii) To think you’d call one of my songs “art rock”! (Laughs) I’ve really made it!!

Oh shut up. But no matter how you listen to it, there’s absolutely no trace of it being written to sell: It’s unapologetically 70s rock. It really made me laugh and ask myself “What the hell are they thinking?”

(Yoshii) (Laughs) I put some restrictions on myself for writing this one: I thought it would be nice to write a song not necessarily focused on getting released, but focused on being playing live. And when we played it, it came out as art rock! (Laughs)

The song developed all on its own.

(Yoshii) Stop it! (Laughs) Stop talking about it already! When I was writing it even I was laughing about it and thinking “This is so verbose!” (Laughs)

The lyrics are tear jerkers though. But some people in the audience did laugh at the lyric “I’m a lonely man who uses up women”. I think they thought it was a joke! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) That part of the lyrics just ruined it all for them! (Laughs)

(Heesey) It was really funny seeing the faces of people in the audience holding back from laughing because they thought they shouldn’t! (Laughs)

You’d been saying “We want to start writing more twisted songs like we used to” and “We want to give the weird songs that were never able to find an audience before another chance” since the time you finished Four Seasons, but things actually seem to be going in that direction.

(Heesey) That’s true. We’ve learned a lot of things since then. And I really like our new songs since they were written based on all of that experience. We’re not really thinking about it as us writings songs like the ones we used to.

(Yoshii) And Jam was the most recent one, so that leaves us with a sense of security that makes us feel like we can do anything.

For sure. But Jam has a long tail on its sales, given that it’s finally crossing 500,000. It’s going to be your biggest hit.

(Yoshii) And that’s why people who came to our concerts because of hearing Jam are sometimes like “What’s up with these guys?”. “I heard they were a bit weird, but I didn’t think they were THIS weird!” (Laughs)

But up until now you’ve brought that weirdness into your stage performances and your MCs, so this time it’s more musical weirdness. It’s not a gimmick.

(Yoshii) That’s exactly what I was going for! (Laughs)

Ongaku to Hito 08-1996 - Yoshii and Heesey 1

You’ve finally arrived at this point after 5 years.

(Yoshii) It did take 5 years. All you indie bands, keep pushing!

(Laughs) Now this time around I thought I’d feature just the two of you, since Heesey protested to me that he was being discriminated against since we always take such cool photos of the Kikuchi brothers, but we just put him on the cover eating bread and smiling.

(Heesey) (Laughs)

What do you think Heesey’s best qualities are?

(Yoshii) Musically speaking…let’s talk about song writing, for example. It’s really effortless, because he makes even normal things weird.

(Heesey) (Laughs)

(Yoshii) No, but I mean that in a good way. Having a really weird bass line in rock music makes it much stronger. So it only makes sense that the bassist himself would want to be the same way.

It’s true that Heesey’s bass seems regal, but actually there’s something just a little bit off about it.

(Heesey) Oof! (Laughs) Bass is the only instrument I can play, so I’m always thinking that I have to assert myself and concentrate it down into what seems the most like me. Maybe I should just play normally, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. Because if I play excessively, there’s actually something I can cut back on later. I just don’t know until I try!

What do you think the most distinct part of your personality is?

(Heesey) Hmm, let’s see…

(Yoshii) I’d say it’s harassment! (Laughs)


(Heesey) That’s terrible! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Whether it’s fashion or hair styles, he’s fundamentally a harassing person! (Laughs) He causes a lot of trouble.

(Heesey) (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Everything I see or hear him do causes trouble. He expresses his assertion through harassment, so I think he’s fundamentally a harassing person.

(Heesey) Harassment huh? I see! (Laughs) I guess it’s because I want to assert myself one way or the other.

(Yoshii) And that’s why you’re such a treasure.

He’s been promoted from a harmful insect to a treasure?

(Yoshii) And then there’s the aesthetics of that harassment. Heesey’s basically totally Gene Simmons, after all. And Gene Simmons is the human representation of harassment! (Laughs)

(Heesey) That might just be true. It’s like “Why are you the way you are?” (Laughs) It’s not like I really took the way I live my life from being a bassist, and sometimes I wonder why I came to like acting that way. All I can think of is that it’s in my nature or something.

Looks like it actually annoys the other band members!

(Heesey) I’m sure it does! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) But oddly enough, he’s still the type of guy who only takes out the garbage on garbage day. He’s always on time, and doesn’t do anything that gets in anyone else’s way, typically. But when it comes to music and concerts, his harassment comes out! (Laughs)

I wonder how the younger fans view that.

(Heesey) Well the women fans find me scary, though I’m not sure why.

(Yoshii) I think between all of us, we strike a really good balance. Though I’m not sure what it looks like from the outside…since I’m sort of unable to do that! (Laughs) For example, Emma is the cool one right? He’s the Joe The Condor (a Gatchaman character) of our group. And I’m next to him doing the Awa Dance. Then when you look at Heesey as you think about how weird it all is, he’s the regal and wild rocker. Then in the very back there’s someone who seems like a fine young man, at a glance. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at how we all seem to each other! (Laughs)

Have your positions changed very much over time?

(Heesey) I don’t think they really have.

(Yoshii) He’s always been intimidating. He was imposing and always had a scary look, because he was in Murbas! (Laughs)

(Heesey) There was never anyone in front of me when I was playing at La.mama or wherever, because it was too dangerous.

What do you mean by “dangerous”?

(Heesey) Because I’d swing my bass around.

(Yoshii) That’s exactly right! (Laughs)

(Laughs) But was he really that intimidating back then?

(Heesey) I guess I’ve always had a rebellious streak. “You think you know me? You don’t know a damn thing!”. I wanted people to know me, but I’d be like “You don’t know a damn thing!” That’s what I always used to do, and then one day I guess I made an image for myself with it, or took it on as my character little by little I guess.

So then the two brothers are the most marketable.

(Heesey) That’s what the nerdy magazines are pushing! (Laughs)

(Laughs) What an amazing allegation that is!

(Yoshii) It’s fine, we’re the fatties after all! (Laughs)

(Heesey) Yoshii and I are the fat crew! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) We’re Bonzo and John Paul Jones, after all! (Laughs)

(Heesey) The president of our management company isn’t particularly fond of our looks either. He says “At least slim down to Emma’s build”! (Laughs)


(Yoshii) “At least shave as much as Emma does”

(Heesey) “At least be as cool as the brothers are”

I wonder if you’re all fully aware of how mature the band itself has become, between the four of you.

(Heesey) We’re expressing it pretty well. I feel like the way we do it has ingrained itself into me in a way that something like playing perfectly all the time just never could have.

(Yoshii) I don’t want to do anything excessive that we don’t need to.

Funny to hear you say that, given that you’ve been the king of excessive up until now! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Hehehe…the king of harassment and the king of excessive. Oh no, that’s starting to sound like the title of something! (Laughs)

(Heesey) Just add some dandelions around it! (Laughs)

But by not wanting to do anything excessive, you also mean that in terms of Yemon’s future fundamental concepts.

(Yoshii) No, I’d even say as of right now. We don’t have the time or the ability, so we want to cast as wide of a net as possible.

But I heard a rumor that on the London concert in your fan club tour, you played a lot of songs from Jaguar Hard Pain for the first time in awhile.

(Yoshii) We play a lot of excessive things though! (Laughs)

How did you feel about bringing Jaguar back?

Ongaku to Hito 08-1996 - Yoshii and Heesey 2

(Yoshii) I mean, it was amazing. It felt like the audience was realizing that we had this whole intense album from before. And it just feels so cool to play songs from it now, totally different from what it did back then. It gets me thinking that we could make some of those songs a lot more popular if we tweaked them a bit live! (Laughs)

It’s very odd that though Japan’s music industry is gradually moving further away from rock as a whole, Yemon has been getting more popular as you become more and more rock oriented.

(Yoshii) Back when we debuted we were called pop rock, and now…

Wait, weren’t you the one who said that though?

(Yoshii) (Laughs) Well I do like pop rock. I didn’t want for us to be misunderstood, but I’ve always liked the hodgepodge of Japanese and western music that we ended up becoming. But we haven’t been very conscious of that as of late.

(Heesey) I guess maybe you could say we made it our own? That’s how we’re able to do it unconsciously.

But from a normal person’s perspective, Jam and Taiyou ga Moeteiru are excellent pop rock songs. So they decide to go see you live, and you end up playing this over the top rock. What a great way of trolling them! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) It’s harassment! (Laughs) But it’s a good thing that while most popular band’s bass lines are very plain and the bassist just kind of sits there and bops around a little…ours just comes right out with a bang! (Laughs)

(Heesey) I really do think that we’re different. I watch other bands perform on TV or whatever, and we really are completely different from them.

(Laughs) Yeah, yeah. I mean, I was really listening carefully to your new song with the “tsukushi” lyric in it, but I could barely hear the lyrics over the booming drums and bass! (Laughs) The only one I could make out was the “tsukushinbou” lyric in the lyrics, hahaha.

(Heesey) That’s the only part where there isn’t much bass! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Now that you mention it, what are you even doing during that part?

(Heesey) Pretending to play and just generally performing! (Laughs)

(Yoshii) You’re thinking about if you can do something to harass us.

(Heesey) Like taking a shit or something? (Laughs)

(Yoshii) Yeah, let’s ask the stage director: Can Heesey spit fire during the “tsukushinbou” part? (Laughs)

Special effects during “Tsukushinbou”, I love it!

(Yoshii) Yeah…and it’s not called “Tsukushinbou”! It’s “Tengoku Ryokou”!! (Laughs) But I do actually want to use special effects as gags at some point. Like having confetti just pop out when I tell a really bad joke during an MC or something (Laughs) It’s the ultimate wasteful act.

But since that would make this tour that much more exciting, it would really make the next album that much more exciting too.

(Heesey) The current tour is still going, so we’ll have to do it.

But don’t go putting “tsukushi” into all of your songs!

(Yoshii) But if we play “Tsukushi” ahead of time at all our concerts, it’ll make it that much easier when the next song comes out. “They really liked “Tsukushinbou” out in the sticks, so it’ll be fine. They get it, they get it.” (Laughs)

That’s asking for trouble.

(Yoshii) Yeah.