At Asobi Seksu gigs the tiny Yuki Chikudate stretches out her arms to play her huge keyboard. Its sounds, and her voice, float above a wall of noise created by cohort James Hanna on guitar. One Little Indian released Asobi Seksu’s eponymous debut album and its follow-up Citrus in the UK in 2007 and the band are now touring Europe to promote their works.
We caught up with Yuki during their stopover to play at London’s ULU for some quickfire Q&As…
Who came up with the idea of calling a band Playful Sex?
It was brought up in casual conversation and James liked the way it sounded in Japanese.
You sing in Japanese and English, and with guitars washing over and wailing under your vocals. Is your voice more of an instrument than a tool to communicate lyrics to a listener?
I suppose that it is hard to discern the lyrics through the wash of guitars and synths, but we put an effort into them just the same! 🙂 We do enjoy layering sound though more than word play.
I guess in Anglophonic music, or even just here in Europe, we rarely hear Japanese sung in rock music. Is that because Japanese-speaking bands don’t tour here much or because it’s assumed we won’t want to hear songs sung in another language? Are there other bands with Japanese singers, or Japanese solo artists, that you’d recommend us to listen to – from the States, Japan or elsewhere?
Yeah, I don’t really know many bands formed in the US or Europe that sing in Japanese. Just Deerhoof and Blonde Redhead come to mind… There are plenty of great Japanese artists from Japan that sing in both Japanese and English. I was inspired by Cornelius, Kahimi Karie, Takako Minekawa, Pizzicato Five, Boredoms, etc. I really like Green Milk From the Planet Orange and kiiiiiii right now.
Asobi Seksu make very loud music. How did you first form the band and write and rehearse your songs? Did you have a soundproofed garage somewhere, or just really indulgent neighbours?
Our first “practice” was in James’ parents’ basement. THAT NEVER happened again. His mom was very unhappy! From then on, we just went to an hourly rehearsal space.
Many musicians, from LCD Soundsystem to Santigold, Hercules And Love Affair to yourselves, say you’re from Brooklyn, rather than NYC. Bands from parts of London rarely say they’re from Camden or Bromley or Ealing, or wherever, so I wondered if there’s a perception that Brooklyn is somehow a different place from the rest of NYC?
I don’t really know… I guess it’s because it does feel separate. People here really identify with the borough and the neighbourhood they live in. I used to live in Manhattan but moved out six years ago because I couldn’t afford the rent anymore. It’s funny to think that when I first moved to Greenpoint it was “the last resort”!
Why did it take so long for the debut album (and, to a lesser extent, Citrus) to get a full release outside of the US?
I think it took about a year. Nobody really knew us until Citrus came out in the US, so there was a bit of a lag.
As the albums have been out in the States for ages already, has it been difficult to focus on promoting them all over again? Are you making any new music for a third album yet? Are there any new songs written and/or recorded?
We are in the process of demo-ing our new songs. It feels great!
How have you found your writing and performance developing over the years since the band formed? Do you write with band members and their instruments in mind?
Absolutely. Lots of touring and the numerous shows really plays into the writing process. You learn what works, what doesn’t, how you want to sound in the future. James and I write the songs and before we record we map everything out in charts!
You finally got to tour in Europe at the end of last year, and we caught you at the Luminaire in London. What did you make of reaction to your live set here in London, compared to back home in the States? Was it your first time to Europe in general? Did the tour make you want lessor more of the old world?
It was our first time touring the UK and Europe. It was an amazing experience. In general we have found that London audiences are great! We also have had awesome shows in Scotland and Ireland. You guys in the UK are fucking fun!
What makes a good gig from your point of view?
I love that crowds in UK move!
“I don’t look at my shoes, or shoos, since I don’t have any pedals anyway.”
– Yuki Chikudate of Asobi Seksu
You’re supported on your ULU, London date by Ulrich Schnauss, who you’ve referred to as an influence. When and how did you get into his music?
We had read something on him in a magazine and started listening to his music. We were so excited that he was a fan of our music as well! When we finally met him in London, it was great. He wore this blazer with a sheep sown unto it. I knew then we would be friends.
He cites My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive as amongst his influences: original proponents of a type of music that over here became tagged as “shoegaze”. Do you think that’s a term that accurately describes their music and, if so, are you happy with your music being described as “nu-shoo”?
What the hell is nu-shoo? It just looks like mu shoo. I don’t look at my shoes, or shoos, since I don’t have any pedals anyway.
You’ve said you get a lot of Cocteau Twins comparisons. Are they amongst your influences?
Yes, we are big Cocteau Twins fans.
When you’re not touring, do you go to other people’s gigs? I’ve heard from some bands (from Brooklyn!) that going gigging on nights off sounds like work.
It depends, you know. I love going to shows and seeing live music. We try to go as much as possible, but sometimes after a long tour it can be hard peeling yourself off the floor. Recently I saw Spectrum, Cornelius, and I’m going to see the Evangelicals/Headlights show, Boris, and Caribou. I was so excited to finally see Cornelius. If he comes to the UK, you should go! The show was amazing!
Asobi Seksu’s albums Asobi Seksu and Citrus are out now through One Little Indian.