Interview: Yoshihiko and Nao of heidi. on alpha and More… [日本語あり]
heidi.’s main song-writing duo, vocalist/lyricist Yoshihiko and guitarist/composer/lyricist Nao met with ROKKYUU to discuss their exciting new album alpha with an extra special corner for the overseas fans!
69: Autumn is here at last, so why don’t we begin with your self introductions and a fond memory from the summer?
Yoshihiko: I’m heidi.’s vocalist, Yoshihiko. Thankfully, we were very busy this summer. Although I didn’t get to do any summer activities, of course our unique yukata live was very summery. That was the best.
Nao: I’m heidi.’s guitarist, Nao. I also did nothing particularly summery but since I got to eat watermelon, that was enough, I think.
69: Since we have the two of you together… You have a special group together. Could you introduce it for us?
Yoshihiko: Which means…?
Nao: Oh, you mean Gokigenyo?
Yoshihiko: Oh, that! Just the two of us live together… Could we call it a unit?
Nao: Kind of like an acoustic unit. We performed at the yukata festival we put in summer. [To Yoshihiko] Let’s continue together in the future.
69: Were there any parts in the acoustic arrangement that were difficult?
Nao: Not really. All of heidi.’s music has a simplicity that can be played on just one acoustic guitar so it was rather natural to suggest doing an acoustic version. There was nothing particularly different about re-arranging into acoustic. Right?
Yoshihiko: That’s right. We gave away a free copy of “Star Rain” which was recorded quite basically. Acoustic really focuses on the vocals, don’t you think? It’s just voice and guitar, so on the other hand I was really able to focus on singing and leisurely go at my own pace. Acoustic is refreshing and there’s a side of it that’s more fun. We did it last year, too, so I hope we can continue with Gokigenyo every year.
69: Gokigenyo is taking on a summer image but when you think of “heidi.” and “summer” of course, “Natsu Ichizu” comes to mind.
69: So if “Natsu Ichizu” is for summer, what songs would you consider to be for autumn?
Yoshihiko: Autumn would be “that.”
Yoshihiko: Don’t you think of “that” right away? Or is it [English] only me?
Nao:Ahhh! I get it!
Yoshihiko: Oh, but which one! There could be two…
Nao: Ah, but it would be “that one,” right?
Yoshihiko: Then why don’t we try saying it in unison… Ready, go:
Yoshihiko: No, way! “Yuuyake?” Well “Yuuyake,” too, I guess.
69: So “Yuuyake to Kodomo” for Nao and-
Yoshihiko: I was stuck between “Hyururi” or “Orange Drama.”
Nao: Oh, yeah, there’s “Orange Drama,” too.
Yoshihiko: That’s right. Yet somehow we were totally different.
Nao: So obviously we have some autumn songs, after all.
69: So speaking of autumn, your new look is quite autumnal.
Yoshihiko: Do you think so?
69: Particularly with Yoshiko’s new fly-away hairstyle. Could you introduce the highlights of these new costumes?
Nao: Mine is that I never incorporate anything seasonal. [Both laugh] Oh, and it’s easy to move in! I went with something with mobility with lives in mind.
Yoshihiko: Saying that, this visual kei scene really isn’t very seasonal.
Nao: That’s right. Even in summer.
Yoshihiko: I was thinking about that. You see, we always do the shoots in advance, right? If it’s an autumn tour, we choose and shoot the costumes in summer. So I’m thinking that could be why it seems like there’s no seasonality.
Nao: That’s not it.
Yoshihiko: It’s not?
Yoshihiko: Oh. Well, I really like jackets. I prefer a tight style over loose. I wasn’t really thinking about autumn, but I went with a patterned style shirt beneath which I’ve never worn before. I wanted to challenge myself with alpha so even with the clothes—clothes and style. I don’t really like showing my forehead but I thought I wanted to give it a try—I thought it was now or never and so this is how it turned out.
69: Without seasonality, you’d end up wearing jackets et al in the middle of summer. Isn’t that tough?
Yoshihiko: I really feel that during lives. “Ah, I just had to pick this.”“This is hard to move in,” or “This is hot!” but well, I’ve already been at it for seven years so I’ve gotten used to it.
69: Along with this image change, you’re about to release a new album, of course! As with the rest, it’s a very new, fresh sound for heidi. Could you tell us about this new sound and concept?
Nao: For the first time, we worked with a producer and the original mixing was carried out in America which was a big change for us but I feel we also put a lot of effort ourselves into a new process of making music for his album. I think it’s evolved enough to the point that anyone who has listened to us up until now might go so far as to say “Oh, this is different.” Even if there’s a change in our sound, the melodies, the re-arranging of the music and our composition method haven’t really changed so I think people will continue to listen as always.
69: It doesn’t have to be your personal favorite, but could you each introduce a song from the album?
Yoshihiko: This is the song on the album I had the most trouble with, it’s called “Ao no Sekai.” I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like it. I’ve never sung this kind of melody. At first, before recording, I tried a few different things and frankly, there were places that didn’t quite click but this time we brought a producer in and he judged my vocals down to fine details. By myself, I’ve sung songs on previous albums that I thought were my best work but the producer would say, “No, try singing that more sweetly” etc. This song brought out the most of those discoveries For people who know heidi., it’s a song of which can clearly be said “Yoshihiko’s vocal style is really differently for this song.” I really felt this was the song I had the most difficulties with.
69: It’s a very beautiful melody.
Yoshihiko: It is. It has a sense of translucency.
69: The lyrics were written by you?
Yoshihiko: That’s right. The music is very soft and light so I in thinking over how to bring it to life—I used the phrase “Ao no sekai” a lot but that was what I aimed for in order to wrap it all up. My strategy for writing these lyrics was to fill my head with a “blue world” to bring it together.
69: And your recommendation, Nao?
Nao: For me, it’s the last song, “Kanata” because on any album, the first and last songs are the ones I fixate on most intensely. I wondered what would work best for this album but we had played this song live once before and the nuance was really amazing then. I felt the final product would be the most suitable to bring the album to a close. It’s truly the one I’m most into, with that bitter-sweet heidi. ballad sound. Listening through to the end, you can be soaked in the resonance of the whole album. I think it’s turned into that kind of song.
69: It seems you both really love the ballads.
Nao: Yeah, I guess I do.
Yoshihiko: Especially live, the songs that really flare up inside me—how should I say—that really excite me are usually the slow numbers. So I guess I really do like them.
69: Well then, for a look at the up-tempo numbers, there’s “Another Fish” which has a very dance-y feel to it.
Nao: Yeah, well more “club” than “dance” but I had a vague image of wanting to write a four-on-the-floor type of number. The guitar wasn’t so bad but the bass was pretty hard, I think. At least, it seemed that way watching the recording. The song has a strong drive from start to finish. I wanted one song that pushes the refrain phrase so I wrote it with that image in mind.
69: That kind of club-like song is very unusual for heidi. although you recently made a cover of Flow’s “Days” which has a similar dance-y style. Did that have any influence on “Another Fish,” I wonder?
Nao: Despite that, the cover came later, actually.
Yoshihiko: Ah, that’s right.
Nao: Those kinds of up-beat dance numbers tend to be what we all like so we thought it would be nice to have one on the album.
69: This time, the two of you have split the lyrics down the middle. It seems like your lyrics have evolved a lot, Yoshihiko. There’s a notable change in the vocabulary and concepts in them.
Yoshihiko: Sorry for repeating myself but I took on this album, alpha, as a challenge—for the costumes and for the lyrics as well. Up until now, Nao took on a much greater percentage of the lyrics so for those in my charge this time, I tried writing the lyrics with a variety of concepts in mind. For something like “Another Fish,” I’d imagine it was a tropical fish, for example. I’m really bad at detailed imaginings like that but I thought it might be fun this time to input my own details like that without shying away so a lot of different variations came up for me and I feel very satisfied.
69: As for Nao, your lyrics for “Aware Haijin” seem to deal with a new set of imagery.
Nao: I wanted to try writing this kind of song with more of a focus on vocals, thinking it would sound a little more fresh. Personally, this song came to me easily. Since I didn’t have any hardships with it, the writing process was… It was really straight-forward for me. This kind of song has been in all of our albums so far so all I worried about was being careful not to let it sound too similar to those of the past.
69: How do you divide the lyrical responsibility between you?
Nao: It’s completely based on the atmosphere of the song. Now, I generally hand all of the songs where the vocal melody is in the foreground, the brighter songs and the straightforward songs to Yoshihiko. The rest become my responsibility, I guess.
69: On the musical side, mainly guitar for you Nao, of course, there’s yet more of that “new” sense with elements such as Western-style guitar riffs etc. Did you work any new skills etc. into this album?
Nao:I haven’t really thought that far. I don’t often start writing from the riffs. I always write the guitar phrases in response to the completed melody line. Was there really that much of a Western feel to it?
69: In places. For example, in “Tsuioku.” The guitar line sounds particularly Western.
Nao: Ohhhh. Yeah, if you say that I can see it but the song itself just kind of had that atmosphere, I guess. As I said earlier, we worked with an American mixer and producer and the composition process had a dryness to it which I also supposed could come off with a sense of Western music. Those points could sound that way, I think but I never purposely tried to give the guitar lines a Western sound. [Laughs]
69: This album has two or three songs with music videos. Recently, “Kumorizora ni wa koimoyo” was released urgently before the album. It’s a completely different video to anything you’ve released so far with a lot of strange, mysterious images but is there much meaning to it?
Nao: It’s a mystery to us, too!
Nao: You see, the producer I mentioned gathered a team of video production specialists—for all the album jackets etc., too—the flow was all in the hands of that production team. The director was also from overseas. Well, we didn’t appear in this video-
69: That’s rare for heidi.
Nao: I think the director had this image all set in his mind
Yoshihiko: Yeah, he did.
Nao: We only saw it after it was complete.
69: So what was your impression of it then?
Nao: First and foremost, it was really high quality! Although there are places I don’t really understand how it links back to the lyrics etc.
Yoshihiko: He said he designed the video after thoroughly reading the lyrics. So I thought I might just be able to understand it… [Lauging] and I tried really hard… but it’s really abstract! I don’t dislike the atmosphere of it, though. Why not?
69: On the other hand, there’s the very straight-forward, heidi.-style “Landscape” music video.
Yoshihiko: That’s right, a full performance scene.
69: Were there any note-worthy incidents in filming for the video?
Yoshihiko: [To Nao] The sound. Does that count?
Nao: Well it was certainly unexpected.
Yoshihiko: Usually we shoot music videos with the sound turned up really high but the speakers were too small and Kiri’s drumming totally drowned it out. So, being unable to hear anything but the drumming, it was really hard to get into the mood of the song. That was the most notable incident. Although it did get fixed by the end.
Nao: Well, rather than “fixing it,” the environment came right for putting out sound at the end. We lost a lot of time, though.
69: How long did the filming take?
Yoshihiko: Actually, it doesn’t seem so long if you say it. From 9am?
Nao: Until about 7pm.Just filming the video.
Yoshihiko: About a day.
69: Well then, from here on is a corner for the overseas fans. Since you’ve probably be asked which country you’d like to visit more times that you can count, [Both laugh] we’ll go for some pinpoint questions. First of all, excluding Japanese food, what is your favorite cooking?
Yoshihiko: It’s gotta be steak. Is there Kennedy’s overseas?
Nao: Hell no.
Yoshihiko: Oh, there isn’t? Well, our manager recently took me to this steak place with massive 350g to 500g steaks. It really brought back memories of when we went to America. “This meat is incredible!” I thought. Since we’re going overseas again, I can eat those massive steaks again.
69: Could you eat the whole thing?
Yoshihiko: I gave up and gave the rest to Kiri and our manager. I just wanted to see what it would be like so I ordered it and then gave the rest away without finishing it.
Nao: It’s true that when we went overseas there was this sense of wanting to see what the volume was like.
Yoshihiko: It’s like “I’m eating meat!” I love it. If I don’t eat meat at least once a day, I can’t settle. That’s how much I love meat.
Nao: I’m more of a fish person.
69: What world cooking do you like, Nao?
Nao: It’s a stereotypical answer but I like pizza etc.
Yoshihiko: Oh, that’s good, too.
69: So, Italian?
Nao: We’ve never done a live in Europe so I’m really curious about the food culture over there. There’s this image that America = meat and Europe = pizza. There’s no vegetables, though, it seems. Not like in Japan. We searched everywhere for salad in America.
69: Next up, what country’s fashion interests you?
Nao: I’m really into UK fashion. It’s handsome and classy.
Yoshihiko: How so?
Nao: Yeah, that’s it.
Nao: Kind of snappy.
Yoshihiko: Oh, like suits?
Nao: Suits… For starters, if you really like jackets… it’s that kind of image.
Yoshihiko: Oh, then I guess I’d like UK fashion, too. [Both laugh] I like crisply dressed people. Clothes, I mean. [Laughs]
69: From a sightseeing perspective, what world sights do you most want to see?
Yoshihiko: I’d like to see the Statue of Liberty just once.
Nao: I wonder. I’d just really like to see an Italian countryside town.
Yoshihiko: Very fashionable.
Nao: I don’t want to go where there’s lots of people. [Yoshihiko laughs] I want to see a vineyard or something.
69: What animal would you like to see in the wild that can’t be seen wild in Japan? The zoo is cheating.
Nao: In that case… an elephant.
Yoshihiko: Elephant…Lion? I want to see a lion up close from inside a van.
Nao: That’s a safari park. [Laughs]
Yoshihiko: Yeah… I want to see a wild lion.
69: heidi. is about to play in Atlanta very soon. Is there anything you hope for or want to request of the fans who come to see you?
Yoshihiko: Well since we’re going overseas, I just want everyone to have an amazing time. I don’t care how they react, just as long as they enjoy listening to our music. That’s the best.
Nao: Since our CDs aren’t sold over there, I hope they’ll listen to our music on YouTube or the internet. I’d love it if they could learn to sing along! [Yoshihiko laughs]
69: To finish up with, I’m going to give you a moment for free-talk to say anything you want—anything goes.
Yoshihiko: You can hear alpha through YouTube, right?
Nao: That’s right, you can.
Yoshihiko: We’ll be going to America right after the release so it will be our first live since the release.
Nao: Now that you say it… that’s true.
Yoshihiko: I don’t think there’s anyone as lucky as the people in Atlanta.
Nao: That’s true!
Yoshihiko: This time, it will be a long set, too. Also, please recommend good places to eat!
Nao: Oh, that’s good!
Yoshihiko: Write to us and say “Please go ‘here!’” or something.
Nao: We’d love to receive some famous items from Atlanta.
Yoshihiko: [Laughs] “Oi, give us stuff?” [Both laugh]What’s famous from Atlanta?
Nao: Well, at least recommend good restaurants.
Yoshihiko: Places to eat and places you can drink tasty alcohol.
Nao: Bring us something like the Michelin Guide.
Yoshihiko: Let’s enjoy the food and the live!