Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interview with Asobi Seksu's Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna

When Asobi Seksu turned away from swirling guitar noise for a gentler, dreamier sound with 2009's Hush, they still maintained an expertise at crafting richly layered and textured soundscapes. With the acoustic album Rewolf, Asobi Seksu continue to defy shoegaze-pigeonholing and reveal that underneath the layers lie melodies that are strong enough to stand out on their own on these stripped-down reinventions. During their recent acoustic tour, vocalist and simultaneous player of the glockenspiel and toy piano Yuki Chikudate, and guitarist James Hanna sat down to chat about what to expect from their next album, Dumpster diving, and even their Spinal Tap moment.

What inspired the decision to record Rewolf?
Yuki Chikudate: Well, we were reluctant, but our label guy in the UK, Derrick Birkett of One Little Indian, it was his brainchild, it was his baby; he really wanted us to do it and we're really glad that he, you know, encouraged us to do it and set it up and he booked us up at Olympic Studios in London..
James Hanna: One day on our day off during the UK tour.
Yuki: Yeah, on our day off.
James: With Ladytron.
Yuki: Yeah it was the Ladytron tour, that's true. And it was just really great. I'm glad that he had that idea because then Olympic Studios closed right after we went in there, so it ended up being a pretty special day, so that was why Rewolf was made and why we're on this acoustic tour.

So what are you listening to while on the road for this tour?
Yuki: Silence.
James: We've had silence and we can't find our thing to hook up the iPod to the car. I left it in California, so we've had a lot of silence.
Yuki: Did you really forget it?
James: I don't know. Or maybe I threw it in a bag.
Yuki: I mean, this is coming from a person who dropped...he thought he lost his keys to the car and was convinced that he'd thrown it in a Dumpster. So he's about to climb in the Dumpster and jump in. Okay, we're like "before you do that, let's look a little bit more because that is a decision that is going to affect all of us." (laughs)
James: I wasn't going to go in the Dumpster.
Yuki: I know.
James: I was peering over the edge...
Yuki: Oh, okay. Well, we were scared that maybe you were going to go in.
James: Just because we had a flight and it was like three o'clock in the morning, that was the only reason I was considering the Dumpster. I don't know, we've really been listening to regular stuff. We did Pet Sounds in the car; we listened to the whole thing.
Yuki: Really? Was I asleep?
James: You were asleep. We listened to real classic stuff. George Harrison - All Things Must Pass all the way through.
Yuki: Really, where was I?
James: Just conked out.
Yuki: I love that album. I missed out, apparently. Okay, when we were home for four days I listened to a lot of Shugo Tokumaru, which is great, I love that album [Exit]...yeah, the first song "Parachute", it makes me so happy, it's great. And Snapper. We listened to a lot of Snapper for a while. And you were listing to a lot of Dead Sea.
James: I was listening to a lot of Dead Sea.
Yuki: Yeah, all right. And Larry [Gorman] listens to a lot of everything, our drummer, he just...
James: A little big on Joe Jackson recently.
Yuki: (laughs) That's true, that's true. And Billy [Pavone] has been listening to a lot of Air.
James: He always listens to Air.
Yuki: Always.
James: Air and Grizzly Bear.
Yuki: I mean, I love Air, I do, and I love Grizzly Bear, but...
James: He's killing it for us.
Yuki: He's killing it. He's got to move onto something else.

Nowadays, more and more people are downloading music for free and record sales are plummeting every year, but your recent fundraiser on Kickstarter was a success. What is your take on this apparent contradiction?
James: I don't know, I think it's a really cool model. I mean, we need to find...we need to find a new way, a new system. It's definitely a transitional stage because you can't keep going the way things are going 'cos no one's making any money and everybody's touring eight months a year and is going to have a nervous breakdown. (Yuki laughs) But there has to be some system where fans contribute to the band, and it seems cool, actually. I don't think we were reluctant to do it. We didn't want to seem like we were, I don't know, we didn't want to be opportunists about it or something.
Yuki: Right.
James: But actually, it worked out really well.
Yuki: It really did actually fund our tours, you know. We really couldn't have done the White Lies tour in England and this tour that we're on now, the acoustic tour without that Kickstarter fundraiser. So we're really grateful that there is that new format for us to connect with fans and have them support us. And I really have faith in music fans; I don't think that they don't want to support the music. It's just that I think that the way they support it is changing, and that's fine. We have to figure out a good way where we can communicate and work with both sides.
James: As long as it's easier to steal something than buy something, everyone's going to steal it. It's actually a lot less effort to steal.
Yuki: It's just harder when there's no stores for people to go to.

Do you plan on doing another acoustic tour?
Yuki: I think this is it. I mean, I...
James: In a few years.
Yuki: Yeah? Okay. Yeah, you're right. I don't want to say definitely, but this was, for now anyway, a one-time special deal. We're just surprised that people wanted to see it.
James: Every show's, well...
Yuki: Yeah, can't speak too soon.
James: Well, let's say every show has been good. One bad one.
Yuki: It happens.
James: It happens to the best of us.
Yuki: It happens. But...what was the question again?
James: Are we doing it again.
Yuki: Oh, are we doing it again? I don't know, I mean, ideally we'd like to incorporate some of the elements of what we did tonight into our regular show. To be able to have more dynamics, more nuances, more subtlety would be great to be able to just vary what we do is kind of our goal. But for now..
James: If we do it again, I'm growing a mustache again
Yuki: Oh fuck. (laughs)

Recently on Facebook, you posted that the show at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City was your favorite. Is there a particular reason for that, and what's the worst show?
James: The worst show is so...
Yuki: I like that you jumped to the negative first.
James: Last night was just a good vibe. I thought it's the best show we've ever done.
Yuki: I don't know what it was like for the audience, but for me and I guess I don't know for you or for the others, but for me, personally, it was just my favorite because it was a hometown crowd, for one. And it just felt special, and I don't know what else to say. I don't know how we sounded, but it just felt really great and the fans are just so loving.
James: It's very flattering to sell out a decent sized venue playing acoustic; it felt really good.
Yuki: The acoustic tour in general has been such a great way for us to connect with the audience and connect with our fans, and I'm just seeing how passionate and loyal our fans are. We love our fans so much. They've supported us for so long, for so many years, and I feel like this is a great way for us to have a more personal relationship with our fans.
James: Yeah, we actually talk to the audience.
Yuki: (laughs) Instead of just like (makes explosion sound) which is great, too. And that's fun, too.
James: We'll be back there.
Yuki: Oh yeah, we're not going to give that up just yet, but this is just another side of us, and I feel like it's nice to have that intimate, more personal setting. Oh, and our worst show ever, right? There's so many. I know...I know mine.
James: Go ahead.
Yuki: It was very early on; it was on Long Island and it was at a...
James: Puppet show.
Yuki: (laughs) Well, it was a Spinal Tap moment because there was a community play, and they were putting on Little Shop of Horrors, and they still had the backdrop, and the fucking talking plant on the stage.
James: It was our third or fourth show ever.
Yuki: And we had to play in front of that to really confused Long Island children.
James: We put a moratorium on Long Island shows.
Yuki: Yeah, we were like "okay, that's the end of that." I mean, there were other weird ones, for sure, like when we were in New Orleans and this trucker was like "y'all play Chinese rock and roll music?"
James: That show wasn't that bad.
Yuki: No it wasn't.
James: The show was kind of fun.
Yuki: Okay, I guess I just remember that I was kind of scared.
James: We're Chinese rock and roll!
Yuki: (laughs) Apparently! Apparently KC the truck driver in New Orleans thinks that we're Chinese rock and roll.

So what's next for Asobi Seksu?
James: Make a new record.
Yuki: Yeah, this is it for a while tourwise, and we're just going to go home and work on a new record.
James: A few gigs here and there.
Yuki: Yeah, we might go to Indonesia; that'd be cool.
James: That would be sick.
Yuki: We're just not going to say much about it and not going to think about it too much until it becomes official. Because I don't want to get excited and have it canceled. It happened already, it got canceled once.

Will the next album be a further exploration of the softer side of Asobi Seksu or a return to noisier roots? Both? Neither?
James: Both. We're ready to rock again a little bit. I got a little rock back in me.
Yuki: Apparently he has a little rock back in him. (laughs)

A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll?
James: Yeah...
Yuki: Yeah, well, no no no.
James: Actually, we don't know what the hell we're going to do.
Yuki: No, well..
James: Tell the truth.
Yuki: The truth is...
James: We don't know.
Yuki: Okay, we don't know for sure, but we are ready to make some more noise. We are excited about textures and loud guitars.
James: All that stuff. Yeah, back on guitar.
Yuki: We're not going acoustic or anything.

So what hopes and goals do you have for the next decade?
James: I can't think about ten years, that's my answer. I can't think about that. I'm just trying to make the next record and see how that goes.
Yuki: I know. I'm not very good at looking past the next couple of days to be honest.
James: I want to get from this place that we just played to our hotel, being outside as little as possible. That's my goal.
Yuki: True, true. And not getting frostbite, that'd be good. And eating some food would be nice.
James: Eat some food quickly, get to the hotel.
Yuki: Yeah, those are our goals. Your goals have to be very small when you're in a band. Baby steps, baby steps. But it would be great if for the next ten years we could just continue to do this and tour.
James: Make music.
Yuki: Yeah, make music.

Photos from Asobi Seksu's show at Cafe 939's Red Room in Boston:

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