Interview by David Cirone
October 30, 2017
It’s been over a year since the release of Yoko Hamasaki’s second solo album, Blue Forest, and both the album and performer are still going strong, with even more solo events announced in Japan and increased attention from overseas fans.
J-Rock fans have been privy to 10+ years of Hamasaki’s daring, provocative, and intellectually challenging URBANGARDE alter-ego “Yokotan”, but Blue Forest revealed a multi-layered energetic and emotional persona. Hamasaki is already planning her follow-up album, with even more surprises and deeper personal revelations in store.
Why did you wait so long after Film Noir to release another solo album?
Hamasaki: It had been six years since my first solo work, Film Noir, and I started thinking about doing another one almost right away, but it took a while for the concept to really become focused in my mind. On top of that, URBANGARDE has been so busy, too. But finally, when the time was right, my manager and I decided to move forward. We said. “Let’s do it.”
From that “go” point, how long did it take to put the album together?
Hamasaki: Writing and recording, all together maybe four to five months. At the same time, we were working on [URBANGARDE’s album] Showa 91.
These were two very different projects. How did you split your focus? How did you keep your URBANGARDE voice and your Blue Forest voice separate?
Hamasaki: They’re both parts of me, so I didn’t worry.
These songs on Blue Forest, they’re almost exclusively about love. Was that your goal from the beginning, to make a “love” album?
Hamasaki: Yes, love and sex. In URBANGARDE, my point of view comes from a character, it’s fiction. But in Blue Forest, I wrote about myself. Yoko Hamasaki is a real woman, and I wanted to bring out a woman’s complexity in the lyrics and performance. This album is the real Yoko.
If this is the real Yoko, you’ve had many, many love problems…
Hamasaki: Yes! (laughs)
“I fall in love too easily” (“Lost Blue”), “I want to take a break from loving and being loved” (“Bed of Glass”), “Bad things happen when I fall in love” (“Angel Suffocation”)… Do all love stories end in sadness? Do you still have hope for happiness?
Hamasaki: Love isn’t easy. I feel that the one true goal of love is marriage, so every love affair is destined to end in heartbreak unless you get married. And even then, sometimes marriage ends. I’ve had many experiences where love doesn’t end well, but they gave me inspiration for these sad songs.
So these are all true stories?
Hamasaki: Yes. Even people who know me, sometimes they were a little shocked. Maybe I let out a lot of secrets. For example, “Forever Us” – that’s a story about my love affair with a woman, but that affair’s over now.
Of all the songs on Blue Forest, those lyrics might be the most sexual. The imagery is deliberately colorful, too: red lips, white skin, flowers…
Hamasaki: That was my intention. A woman’s skin is soft, smooth. And men are jealous of how a woman can touch another woman. So when I wrote this song, I wanted men to feel that erotic charge and be jealous.
Let’s talk about the title, Blue Forest.
Hamasaki: Blue is a sad color, but in Japan, blue is also a trademark color for youth. A lot of teenagers wear blue in high school, so I see it as immature. My love is still immature. And when you think of the word “forest”, you might think of nature at first, but I pictured a skyline, like Ginza or Shinjuku. Lots of light, like a glittering forest, a city full of unrequited love.
Blue Forest has many electro-pop, dance-oriented songs. How can you dance if you’re sad?
Hamasaki: You can’t. For me, that digital sound is cold, heartless. I don’t dance. When dance music is playing, many people are dancing and happy, but I’m not. When I hear that sound, I feel blue. It feels chilly to me, and sometimes decadent, so it fit the sad songs perfectly.
In your music video for “I Like Chopin (Amaoto w Chopin no Shirabe)”, we get to see that sexual side you were talking about. Your look, your movement style is more fluid than the stiff, regal Yokotan we see in your URBANGARDE videos.
Hamasaki: Really? I honestly didn’t notice, because they’re both me, They’re the same human being. During the “Chopin” filming, I was just thinking about how cold I was…
But then the music video for “Angel Suffocation” is completely abstract.
Hamasaki: I was really excited about “Angel Suffocation”. The lyrics were written by a man, but they felt so feminine to me. An angel is beautiful, but there’s also a devil side too – it’s the same duality for a woman, so my vision for the music video was to create the feeling of being a woman, and the pulsing red colors are blood — they symbolize a woman’s biological cycle, but also the up and down nature of a woman’s feelings, too. “I like you… but I don’t like you…” A woman’s emotions are so difficult, and I don’t know my own heart. That’s why I have so many love problems.
Why did you choose to cover Toko Furuchi’s “Dare Yori Suki Na Noni”? How did this song fit into your concept for the album?
Hamasaki: In today’s music scene, there are no female singers like her — she wrote about real love. Many women are fond of her music because she understands a woman’s heart. I felt we were a good match. Today’s music scene in Japan is so different — everything is safe, and there no sex in Japanese music today. Sex is taboo.
Is that something you’re going to explore in the next album?
Hamasaki: I’m already working on the songs for the next one. The theme is “dangerous love”.
Physical danger? Emotional danger?
That’s going to be exciting news for your fans. Will it be like Blue Forest — all true stories?
Hamasaki: Hmm… maybe… Half and half. (smiles) You’ll have to guess which ones are true.
Yoko Hamasaki Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/urbangarde_yoko
Yoko Hamasaki Twitter: https://twitter.com/macaron_gall
Yoko Hamasaki on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/hamasaki-yoko/id331871770
URBANGARDE on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/urbangarde/id263314261
URBANGARDE on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/urbangarde
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