Interview with Yoko Hamasaki of Urbangarde
Urbangarde is best described as a “Trauma techno pop” band based in Tokyo.
Description from their profile:
Urbangarde is “Trauma techno pop” band that acts in Tokyo of the 21st century.
A jazzy piano, a heavy metal style guitar, and a man and woman twin vocal are pop and a popping unique sound is diseased pop in the electronic sound of which it goes mad.
It is a girlie by the pain.
Yoko, it is a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up? Were you always interested in music and singing when you were a child?
How do you do? It is my pleasure that you are interested in URBANGARDE music. Both of my parents love music and I’ve been listening to many kinds of music since I was a kid. French pop, jazz, rock, progressive, funk. There were many kinds of music in my house, regardless of its genre. When I was in kindergarten, I loved the Beatles, because of my dad. I see old pictures of mine, singing something, but actually, a singer was the last thing I wanted be after my ego developed a little more than that time.
I was so shy to sing in front of other people. And I started learning ballet, so I wanted be a ballerina for a while. I felt comfortable, believing, If you lead a normal life you will never be a singer, but funny how it turns out sometimes. Music are playing all the time in my head. I would write it down. In retrospect, I was doing a sort of composing and I played the piano often.
Even in school, I got a very good grade, only for, on music and arts and many praised the way I sing. However, I didn’t like my voice, so I didn’t take it seriously. Because of an injury and several other reasons I gave up the career for ballet. At that time, I felt empty. Then all of sudden I wanted be a singer. Maybe it was a spark of God. We had a family meeting because I started saying that suddenly and I met my song master, a chanson singer.
Were you in any bands before URBANGARDE?
When I was in high school, I was in a light music club and played among them but I never organized or joined a real band. I preferred to do recording in my house. URBANGARDE is the first band I belonged to.
How did you get to know URBANGARDE?
I love techno-pop music and I checked Japanese indie techno-pop artists so I naturally knew their name beforehand. Probably seven or eight years ago. We had many mutual friends and I thought we would meet someday but I never tired to contact them myself.
Tell us how you started singing with URBANGARDE.
The ex-URBANGARDE-singer left the band and they were looking for a new singer. Tenma Matsunaga sent me a mail though social network. He said that he knew and thought about me for a while but had given up because I was living very far away from him at that time. But he gave it a chance anyway in the spirit of “nothing to lose”.
He wanted me to be the URBANGARDE singer for a long time. Though I was happy with recording in my house I also wanted to do something with someone else to sometime. He took me very seriously, so I decided to join the band.
How would you best describe URBANGARDE music?
I tried to sing like words in a book. Everybody has different feeling. I tried to be a singer who gives some space for one’s imagination and show the world of URBANGARDE.
Depends on the song, I have my personal feelings, but it would be nice to let listeners have their own imaginations and have their own opinions.
Who are the members of the band?
They are bastards in short. (S) Including me, we are the ones who cannot communicate with people or society well. So twisted. (S)
Like in shool, those ones who eat lunch alone. Or when the teacher says “make a pair with your classmate”, the one ended up to be with the teacher, the one who never was chosen.
Tell us a little about the making of your first album “Girl You Only Live Twice”. What was the creative process you went through?
I was composing and arranging “Potential enemy” and “Strawberry Murder” together. Especially for “Waterdrop Syndromes”, I said no for hundred times, and they still have a grudge about it. (S)
Mental Hell” went up to #15 in the Oricon Daily Chart and rose to #41 o the weekly chart. How did you feel about the great response you got?
We tried to make songs for more people than we do now, every time we release an album, we receive more response. I feel like I am being accepted. At the same time, though, Japan itself maybe changing since this kind of music is becoming more accepted.
How do you think your music has changed from your first album to your newest one?
Music-wise, the biggest difference came when Kyoichi Kagiyama, who plays drums, joined the band after our major debut. During indie days we released three albums but all the drums are by sequencer, never had a drummer in the live shows either.
Since we had a drummer, Urbangarde music became more physical in a way.
Your video, “Idle Sick” is very interesting. How did you come up with the lyrics and storyline and what was it like to make the video?
All the URBANGARDE words are written by the leader Tenma Matsunaga.
We talk about the theme, and sometimes he writes things from our daily conversations.
With the Japanese music scene, they say it’s warlike age of idols. We have many idols leading the scene. The song is about those idols and wanna-be-idols and others who just struggle with their own lives. “Idle Sick” spotted the dark side of the idols.
Our leader Matsunaga used to be the director and editor of the music video. But for the first time, we had a director from the outside. We had meetings and told him about the way URBANGARDE sees the world, “Idle Sick”, and the scenes we wanted to have. He did a great job. Now we know URBANGARDE world could expanded further when we have someone from the outside.
What is one of your personal favorite songs?
Hard to pick up one. But I really respect Serge Gainsbourg, and “Lemon incest”, singing with his daughter Charlotte, is my favorite.
I love the Japanese singer Seiko Matsuda too. I like to watch her video before our live, and it lifts my spirits.
Tell us a little about some of your live events. I know you played at Shibuya-Ax. How was it and what were the fans like?
Unlike ordinary rock bands, URBANGARDE live is like a theatrical performance. We have a script which has lines, and the set list goes along with it.
In Shibuya-AX, we had some happenings, and I personally have something to regret, but it became one of the shows you never forget for your entire life.
Fans were waving the merchandising polka-dots flags, and it looked like a sea of red and looked beautiful from the stage.
People see our show for first time might feel weird. We have ones dance like crazy, some are waving the flags, some are totally self-absorbed but I feel they are all united.
Who is the large baby that we see at some of your events and in your videos?
His name is “Toshio (in Japanese “toshi” means “city”, “o” means “boy”)”. That’s a post-modern like expression of an unborn baby.
You are also involved with other forms of art and you design your own graphics and write as well. Can you tell us a little about the members in URBANGARDE’s interests besides music?
We have a relationship with a writer Mizuki Tsujimura, and in his book “Order-made Satsujin Jiken (Made-to-order murder)”, there is a character listens to URBANGARDE music.
Also our friend sci-fi writer Chohei Kanbayashi, in his latest book “Bokura-wa Toshi-wo Aishiteita (We loved the city)”, he said he was inspired by Urbangarde song ” Earthquake will happen tomorrow?”.
As the only female member of the group what is it like working with men?
Basically they think I am a man. So no bother. (S)
Apart form sex, I am communicating with them as one performer to another, there is no problem music-wise. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with it physically-wise though.
What is the music industry like in Japan today?
Not only in Japan but CD’s do not sell good world wide.
Some say there is no music that anyone wants to buy, and some say CD’s are just out of date and there are many other ways people can listen to the music. Younger people are used to downloading songs they like.
URBANGARDE, also many other bands and artists, care about tiny details of CD jacket and booklet designs. So it would be nice if they take it in their hands directly.
Also I wanted them to know we care about the order of the songs and even the blank time between the songs on CD. Some songs are only available form the album. Pity if you are losing its opportunities. I know there are many forms of entertainment nowadays and people have budgets. That is the way of our time but I consider this is a chance to produce the music in any way, even if it is out of the ordinary.
Adverse circumstances could be your chance. I think this is an interesting era that you can try your own ideas freely.
How important is fashion and style to URBANGARDE and what would you say your personal style is?
Fashion is the fastest way to express yourself.
I think fashion is very important since we are suppose to give people a dream. The classic ballet influenced me too, in that sense, to show the way we see the world.
I am the icon and vocal of URBANGARDE. I want to express our music by fashion also.
Are there any musicians that inspire you? If you could collaborate with someone in the future, who would it be?
Like I said, Serge Gainsbourg inspires me all the time. Music collaboration would be nice, but I also want to work with someone from art. It’s a big dream. I would be very happy if we can work with Yayoi Kusama, Pipilotti Rist, or Pierre et Gilles. Collaborating with music and art.
What are your dreams for yourself and for URBANGARDE for the future?
As an URBANGARDE member, I want to have more people listen to our music.
I want to work in overseas too. I would like to produce something out of music genre. I want to keep doing it. Whatever the forms are. My personal dream is releasing a solo. Nothing more.
Where can we go to find out more about you and URBANGARDE?
Please take a look at;
Official web site: http://urbangarde.net/
Our label, Universal Music’s: http://www.universal-music.co.jp/urbangarde/
Twitter (connected with the web site too)
Yoko Hamasaki’s: http://twitter.com/macaron_gall
Tenma Matsunaga’s (and official Urbangarde news): http://twitter.com/urbangarde