INTERVIEW: SMALL COLOR: TOKAFI (2010)
Some of the best things in life can be so simple: "I thought that Yusuke's guitar was so delicate and perfectly matched my nostalgic sounds like the accordion or toy piano. So I asked him to have a group together". This is how Rie Yoshihara describes the process of starting Small Color, whose second full-length In Light on 12k was a firm favourite with critics and audiences alike at the end of last year. Even though the album, with its folk-tinged guitars, jazz-inflected licks, pop-sensibility and heavenly hushed vocals has a timeless feel to it, the inclusion of dreamy electronica and the occasional drum computer robotics also added a naive retro-futuristic element to the equation, resulting in an album which felt entirely up to date. Even the duality of vocals in both Japanese and English comes across as warm and organic here, as does the juxtaposition of melodic instrumentals and shy, but charmingly catchy songs. Influences abound, but quite a lot of the most tangible ones stem from outside the music-world: Architecture and design play an important role, as do cooking (Rie is about to publish a long awaited book with recipes this year) and the visual arts: "I actually picked up the name Small Color from a photobook by Uta Barth", Rie explains, "She is my favorite photographer. Her works never use more than a few objects and a reduced timbral palette.They are always calm, quiet and beautiful. It is a very sensitive world. I think we can imagine many things from her photos because she doesn’t show everything. That’s exactly what I love about them. And in our work as a band, I found the same idea as in her works: We don't use many different kinds of sounds. We try to select the sounds for our works." This process has translated to a powerful album-statement, carrying the listener far away over the course of just 37 minutes and spanning a narrative which can be enjoyed regardless of whether one is able to understand each word and decode every metaphor. Now, the duo are taking this confidently fragile sound to European stages for the first time and expectations have consequently been high. If they can match the intensity of their shows at home, however, conquering the old continent will surely be just as simple as founding the band.
You must be extremely excited to be able to take the material of „In Light“ to European audiences ...
We are really glad that we can play in so many different countries. For us, this is the first time that we're playing outside of Japan as Small Color'. We got so many reviews of the album from all over the world and every reviewer wrote such kind words about our sounds. So we want to play in other countries and feel the reaction of the audience directly, because we love to play a show just as much as recording. We can't wait this tour because it is also going to be a good opportunity to show aspects of our style which we could not include on our CD.
What will the concerts be like?
Some songs are very close to the sounds of the album. But many of them are just a little bit different, because we like to gradually rearrange the songs. Every time, we are challenging ourselves to come up with improvements. Sometimes we will change the arrangement during our show according to the feelings of the audience. It is enjoyable to change the face of a song and we can continually refresh our pieces.
How are you integrating the electronic parts of the music in your live performances?
Yusuke is a really good at using delays and loops. He is always creating all kinds of sound-effects and loops by playing guitar. The sounds he makes are essentially just the same as the electronic sounds on the record. As to my part, sometimes I will use some effect devices like the Chaos pad with playing the accordion, xylophone and so on.
How much space is there for things like improvisation and taking risks during your concerts?
It depends on the song. Not all of them need it. If it is necessary, however, we enjoy these improvisations. It is important to take care of the balance when adding or subtracting something. So we use it with great care during our shows.
Is your drive for continuous improvement also the reason why it took so long to come up with the follow-up to your debut?
We were so busy accompanying or collaborating with other musicians as a guitarist and an accordion player. We have many shows and recordings for other artists and sometimes for movies and art animation too. Actually, it's fun to work with other people because we also get the chance to learn about other things. Actually, we can write songs pretty quickly because we love doing it. But we take a lot of time mixing them, because we want to explore every possibility for the tracks.
In which way have these recent live shows been an influence on the songs of In Light?
It's true, we love to play live shows. When we do shows, we feel what the audience are feeling, we will change the tempo or sometimes musical instruments depending on the reaction of the audience. By doing so, the music itself changes, it evolves to a higher level. So our audience has a lot of influence on most of our songs.
Where do you mainly see the differences/development between your debut album Outflow and In Light? In which way do you feel you have progressed as a band?
was basically made and intended just for us, as a sort of introspective album. In Light
, on the other hand, is the result of four years of combined musical experience, working with new music and other musicians. So In Light
is our way of sharing with the people what we've been experiencing and doing over the past four years after Outflow
. When we were recording the record', we could see clearly the direction we should take. That's a great progress, we think.
You're singing both in English and Japanese on the album. Are there differences in themes and topics when you're singing in one language compared to the other?
In my Japanese lyrics, I often use a lot of metaphors. We Japanese like the truth to be wrapped up in an oblate. We don't particularly like showing it openly. In English, I usually write more clearly than in Japanese. Simply I don't know the English words because I am not a native speaker.
Are there differences between the way you approach writing lyrics for your solo project trico! and Small Color?
In my own solo project, trico!, I want to write about me and the things around me. It is personal. There are so many beautiful things, such as flowers, nature, family and love. These are always so exciting, so I have a lot of things to write about in my songs. In small color, I want to write to someone else. People can sympathize with our songs when they have had similar experiences. When I have something to tell and think together, I first write a particular song with Yusuke in mind. And then, when he sympathizes with my thinking, it is going to be a song for small color.
Even though I can unfortunately not understand the Japanese vocals, I was under the impression that, in general, your music seems to be guided by the idea that there can be no happiness without sadness ...
Oh, that's such an interesting question. It's true, I don't sing sad songs but one can't say they are particularly happy either. For example, in ''Hikari no Hana'', I actually sing about a friend of ours who passed away when she was so young. But I used so many metaphors, you know, almost no one will be able to tell that it is a plaintive song. For our friend, we wanted to make a bright song without sadness. So your impression is right.
One of the most striking features of the music are your hushed, yet very intense vocals. Do you need to get yourself in a special mood to record them?
I am so glad to hear that my singing is characteristic. The way I sing is so natural. It is not always necessary that I am in a special mood. But the recording of all vocals was done in my living room - it had quite a good effect on my singing because I was so relaxed and natural.
How are duties distributed in the band?
Yusuke and me sometimes write a song together, but usually we write them separately. Mainly, Yusuke will consider the whole arrangement. He is a trained musician, so he will understand immediately which instrument is best, or how to play it, or how long the song is going to be. And then I add some ideas like colors, atmosphere and images from the impression to what he did. Sometimes it is going to be the suggestion of using other instruments, or the clothes we wear during our show, or the photos during our show. So Yusuke is in charge of music, in the other hand I am in charge of art directions.
"Design and architecture" have been named as influences on your music. In which way do they become part of the music?
When I see some awesome architecture or design, I feel an urge to do something. The detailed design of a building is a huge motivation to create for me and can present an opportunity to review the structure of the music again. And a good design of musical instruments is also a good motivation to play the music. So we are influenced by design and architecture.
You love cooking. A friend of mine saw a lot of similarities between chemistry and cooking. Do you, likewise, see similarities between cooking and composing?
The process for music and cooking is indeed very similar. I always begin creating from scratch. For example, when I see carrots, a carrot-recipe will simply enter my mind. Same as when I play the accordion, the melody will just come out naturally. So you see, they are almost the same.
What's your favourite recipe?
I have so many delicious recipes and create some every day. If I have to chose the best, that is just so difficult ... But I recommend braised potatoes and dry prunes with soy sauce. Braised potatoes and meat with soy sauce are traditional and extremely popular in Japan. But to use dry fruits in cooking is not so popular. So many Japanese are surprised to taste these fruits with soy sauce. It is absolutely delicious, I can really recommend it!
By Tobias Fischer
Image by Mikio Shuto.