Interview with Asobi Seksu
Brooklyn four-piece Asobi Seksu first grabbed our attention at the back end of 2006 thanks to the dazzling neo-shoegaze of second album 'Citrus'. Subsequent live shows proved that they were an even more exciting phenomenon in the flesh, so when they announced they would be returning to UK shores in November with Ladytron, Contact couldn't wait to meet them and find out what the future has in store.
Tonight they're on a night off from being tour support, and will instead be playing a rare headline show at Nottingham's Bodega Social. They've just finished soundchecking, and vocalist/keyboard player Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna are eager to talk to us about the impending release of forthcoming album 'Hush'.
Your new album is due out in the UK in February 2009. Do you see it as a progression from 'Citrus'?
Yuki: Sure, I mean if it were not so different from what we've done before I wouldn't see the point of making it. I mean, with hindsight it's not about us going in an extreme direction from what we've done in the past, but it's definitely a natural progression; a little more controlled, perhaps.
James: Well we just didn't want to do the same textures and stuff like that so we thought we'd approach the whole process of writing and recording 'Hush' in a slightly different way.
I can see why you'd say that. The band do seem to have found themselves attached to the whole shoegaze scene, yet in some ways that could be considered as being stifling, would you agree?
James: I suppose so, yeah. I mean, the influence is definitely there, yet I don't think its invalid to say that we don't sound like a totally shoegaze inspired band either. We like all that stuff, but there's an awful lot of other stuff that drives us on as a band too.
I think the dreamy vocals and reverb-laden guitars are the most obvious reasons why you're seen as a shoegaze outfit, but with recent single 'Me And Mary' you seem to have discovered a more accessible pop side too. Is this prevalent throughout 'Hush'?
James: You think so? I thought 'Me And Mary' was a weird single in some ways. I think it's definitely the poppiest thing on 'Hush', but at the same time it's also the heaviest moment on the record and in some ways, the closest throwback to 'Citrus'. I think you'll be surprised by the rest of 'Hush' as it isn't like 'Me And Mary' or indeed anything else we've done in the past.
Yuki: The album as a whole is a lot weirder than 'Citrus'. Not lyrically as such but certainly in a relative way as far as differing sounds go.
How do the songs come together? Music first or the lyrics?
James: No, the lyrics always come last and we usually fight about who's going to do them! Me and Yuki wrote all the songs ourselves, so some days I'd be playing drums and Yuki would add guitar.
Yuki: Ha Ha Ha!!!! If I played guitar it would sound awful!
James: No, I mean Yuki playing keyboards. I'd do most of the guitar parts, Yuki adding some of the drum parts as well. We tried to build it all up in the studio beforehand this time.
Yuki: We actually demoed the stuff this time which we've never done before.
So have the previous two albums been completed in one take?
James: Not as such. They were built up in a way too, but not as concisely as we tried to do with 'Hush'. They were more about using layering techniques rather than mixing and re-mixing.
Does this mean you've pretty much self-produced the record then?
Yuki: No, I wouldn't say that.
James: We work pretty closely with our producer Chris Zane.
Yuki: If we tried to produce it ourselves without any input from Chris it would be an absolute disaster!
James: I'm not so bad; you speak for yourself!
In terms of producers, do Asobi Seksu have a wishlist of people they'd like to collaborate with in the future?
Yuki: Well, we tried to get Brian Eno for this record. Everyone gasps in amazement or laughs out loud when we tell them but why not?
James: Yeah, he's definitely the number one guy we'd like to work with.
Obviously that would be something to consider approaching again in the future. Where do you see Asobi Seksu heading both musically and sonically in years to come?
James: Right now I have little to no idea. We just wrote and recorded all the stuff that's on 'Hush' and its probably going to take us a full year just to get to grips with playing that stuff live. I don't think we'll start writing again for at least another 12 months.
Do you plan to release any more singles off 'Hush'?
James: Yeah, we're putting out 'Familiar Light', which I think is the second track on the album, early next year just before 'Hush' comes out. It's a little different to what we've done in the past, a little darker maybe.
James: I hope so.
Yuki: I think we get a lot of our stuff played on BBC 6 and XFM actually. We got on BBC Radio 2 once and that was a big deal to our record label.
You're currently touring with Ladytron. How did those shows come about?
James: We were looking for someone to tour with and they offered us the slot. It was kind of a mutual thing to be honest as we're both big fans of each other's bands. We've only done a couple of dates with them so far but they're really nice people. It's really exciting to watch them after we've played.
Are there any other bands that you'd like to play or work with in the future?
James: Yeah, there are a lot of really good bands that are based around New York at the moment. A Place To Bury Strangers for instance.
Yuki: We've known them for about seven years right back to when they were all in previous bands. Its pretty strange actually when I think back to those days as that whole sound - shoegaze noise or whatever you want to call it - was considered very uncool, yet now there are a lot of those bands with similar influences all making interesting stuff in the city at the moment.
James: Well I suppose then it was all about the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs so bands with textured, atmospheric sounds weren't exactly fashionable.
It seems like the New York underground has had a production line of really amazing bands for the best part of a decade.
James: I don't know what it is. I mean, we all feed off other in terms of influences but I wouldn't say there is a lot of unity in the scene as such, in that we don't all hang out together or anything like that.
Yuki: We're friendly with a lot of bands but not that many back home.
Bearing that in mind, would you say Asobi Seksu are better received in Europe than America?
Yuki: I don't know. It's hard to say really.
James: We just did a tour around the US and it was pretty good and the big city shows ended up being quite busy so.
Finally, who came up with the band's name (Asobi Seksu means 'playful sex' in English)?
Yuki: I guess I did.
James: Yuki's got a dirty mind!
Yuki: It works!
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Q&A Part 1 (Live on the Honda Stage at the iHeartRadio Theater LA)