America and Japan both have their own views of the common Japanese artist. But through their idiosyncratic, indie pop releases, Japanese band yahyel creates a space for themselves outside both countries’ restricting stereotypes.
Since forming in 2015, yahyel members Shun Ikegai, Miru Shinoda, Wataru Sugimoto, Kento Yamada and Kazuki Ooi have made their own twist on Japanese music. After the release of the albums Flesh and Blood and Human as well as six singles, yahyel is still finding new ways to introduce their narrative to both the Western and Japanese music scenes.
The Daily Texan sat down with the indie pop quintet to hear more about their feelings as artists from a Japanese and Western perspective.
The Daily Texan: What’s the meaning behind your band name?
Shun Ikegai: Oh, it’s actually a funny thing because it’s in a cult in the United States. Our band name is yahyel, which means … how do you describe it Miru?
Miru Shinoda: Alien.
SI: The meaning is actually ‘alien.’ So this cult has this weird saying that human civilization is actually going to meet alien civilization in 2015, and the (alien) is supposedly to be called ‘yahyel.’ We called ourselves alien just because being Japanese artists is always kind of alienating. Once you go anywhere outside of Japan you have a lot of expectations to be Japanese. We appreciate that people enjoy it, I guess, but it's a little bit dehumanizing for us. So we ironically call ourselves aliens.
DT: How was yahyel formed?
SI: We shared a same point of view on music nowadays. The music industry in Japan has been very domestic. Music is always written towards the people inside the country. There hasn’t been so much music that’s reaching out to the outside. We wanted to start a band that matched what we were listening to. We wanted to prove that we can create music that’s international as well.
DT: Do you ever feel intimidated making music so different from the societal norm?
SI: It’s always like that in a way, but that’s the fun part of doing it. Even at SXSW, people were expecting, ‘Oh, it’s just Japanese people.’ But once we starting playing music, they were like, ’Oh, that’s interesting. They were playing very American, Western music.’ We like to see minds changing in an audience. It’s kind of the reason we’re in it.
DT: What are the differences between performing for American and Japanese audiences?
SI: I think American people are much more energetic. That might also be because it's SXSW. People are just pretty open to new music and whatever comes, they just really enjoy it. People will just come up to us talking about music. In Japan, they appreciate everything, it's a very nice audience but they're not so energetic.
MS: They’re very shy.
DT: Your sound is very unique, nothing like we’ve heard in the United States. What’s your songwriting production like?
SI: So basically we can actually just make songs on our laptops. I'm writing songs as a basis, melodies, bars and stuff like that. Still sort of basically like I'm writing songs as a basis. Then I kind of just throw that to the others and we build the data. We're adding a lot of files on a laptop and create the sound. And then think of how we can play as a band.
DT: This is your second time performing at SXSW. What’s the biggest thing you’ve gotten from performing here?
SI: I think it's an amazing thing just that what we do in Tokyo can be totally relatable for the people in the U.S.
MS: We've gotten a kind of confidence from that.
SI: I guess Japanese people nowadays have a lot of pressure to act out Japanese character. We've seen that a lot with Japanese artists, and they stick to this business model. We're not going to act (that) out, you know? Seeing everyone here fully appreciate that is a confidence-building experience.
DT: What are your upcoming plans?
SI: We’re writing new songs and we’re hoping we can produce something this summer. It takes a long process, but I’m hoping we can find some American labels. I think it’s very important that we can speak to the American audience directly. I’m really wishing that it’ll be very soon.