Interview by Shannon McNaught
May 8, 2018
umbrella is a band that you may be familiar with for different reasons – maybe you’re into a darker side of Visual kei. Maybe you followed vocalist Yui from his previous band, Loki. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few to see them perform at Anime North or Otafest in Canada. If you’re hearing about umbrella for the first time – well, you should get to know them.
In our first interview with umbrella, members spill about their beginnings, their view on the Visual kei industry as a whole, and details of their first full album being released on May 30, “Darwin” (which you should most definitely pre-order right now).
-Since this is our first interview with umbrella, could you start by introducing yourselves?
Yui: I’m Yui on vocals and guitar.
Shu: I’m Shu on guitar.
Hal: I’m Hal, the bassist.
Sho: I’m Sho, the drummer.
-How did you come together to form umbrella?
Yui: I was in another band before umbrella—Loki—and I started this as kind of a sub-project. I had another guitarist and drummer at the time, but that’s also when I met Hal. Then umbrella started up as a full-fledged band. A lot of our fans at first were also fans of Loki. We lost the original drummer and guitarist within our first year. A little after that, Shu joined us. Finally, Sho joined the band and completed the line-up we still have today.
-So, how long have you had this current line-up?
Sho: I joined the band in 2012, so it’s been about 6 years.
Yui: As a band altogether, this is our 9th year.
-Does that feel like a long time to you?
Hal: I’m not sure. When you put it into numbers, it seems like a long time. There aren’t a lot of bands now that last this long. But personally, I think that because we’ve just been doing things that we want to do, it doesn’t feel like a lot of time has passed.
Yui: Like Hal said, it doesn’t feel like a long time has passed because we’ve just been doing what we want to.
I think that today’s music industry expects a lot from bands in a really short amount of time. They want you to produce results almost immediately. They set certain goals for you to meet in the span of a year, like releases and tours. It’s not a lot of time.
umbrella isn’t that kind of band. I don’t think you’re honestly pursuing music if you quit within a year or two. But to me, umbrella is a part of my life. Hard times in your everyday life can become fodder for your music, you know?
-So, you don’t follow the same pace as other bands, and you’re not trying to copy anyone’s style. We think there are a lot of bands lately that try to copy each other.
Yui: There are a lot, yeah.
Hal: We feel that way, too. Japan is a country of creators, and I think a lot of its citizens tend to copy others’ completed works.
Japanese people don’t like to be disliked. They don’t like to stand out. I think a lot of Visual kei bands feel that way, too. As long as they mimic someone that’s popular, they won’t be disliked.
We’re not saying this makes us better or worse than others, but umbrella’s way of thinking is different.
Yui: In the end, even if you copy something good, you won’t end up with something original. I think we’ve made it this long as a band because we’ve been doing only what we want. We haven’t swayed in our beliefs. If you go along saying, “Let’s try to be more like so-and-so next time,” you’ll start to lose sight of what you want to do.
This whole cycle of, “Let’s do this for the first half the year and this for the second half of the year” might work for some bands, but not for us. The fact that we don’t work at that pace is what makes us stand out. To be honest, I think our pace is the normal one. I think it’s the music industry that’s messed up.
-We got the sense from your live show that the individual members aren’t the focus of an umbrella concert – the whole atmosphere is.
Sho: Yeah, I get that.
Hal: I’m glad you felt that way.
Yui: We played a few songs that we haven’t played in a while.
-You played some of the songs* that will be featured as remakes on your new album coming out on May 30, “Darwin,” correct?
Hal: Yes, we played two of those songs: “Samidare” and “Yoru no Curtain.”
*Editor’s note: This interview was conducted after umbrella’s show at the end of April.
-How did those remake songs turn out? Do they sound completely different from the original?
Shu: I think they sound more similar to how we play them live. The guitar sounds that way, anyway.
Yui: They’re different from the original version overall, regardless of merit. I never considered the original version of “Samidare” to be bad. I like how it encompassed our first intentions as a band—since it was our first single. It’s a good song with a lot of passion and emotion.
I wasn’t sure at all if we would be able to further improve it by remaking it. After recording it with everyone, though, I realized that we made it something entirely new—not necessarily an improvement of the original. The sound quality improved a lot, and the changes in musical phrases that we made changed the entire expression and meaning of “Samidare.”
As for “Yoru no Curtain,” I think created a new version of the original. It’s completely different.
-How do you think fans will react to such dramatic changes?
Yui: I wonder. They are pretty different.
Hal: I want people who have the original singles and the new album to be glad to own both. Or, for fans who don’t have the original versions, I want the “Darwin” versions to make them wonder how the originals sound. I want them to enjoy the differences.
-Do you think you can see umbrella’s growth reflected in these remakes?
All: [in English] Yes.
Yui: I mainly write and record all the music in umbrella. So, I’ve been recording all the members parts for 8 years—6 years for Sho. I understand the limits of their playing abilities. I think that through the process of working together so long, we’ve created some musical phrases that are completely unique to umbrella. I can recognize when something is new and ours.
It has gotten to the point where it’s not necessary to directly tell the members how I want them to play something. They know what kind of sounds I like, or how certain phrases should sound with certain moods. I especially understand that since I handle the recording. I know each member’s good habits and bad habits, and how to work with those. I can tell when they’ve stopped a certain bad habit or when they’ve changed style completely – I can see how they’ve grown.
-So, this is your 9th year as a band. You’ve released only singles and mini-albums until now. Why did you choose this timing to release a full album?
Hal: I think it takes us a lot more time to make music than other bands. The pace of releases in Visual kei is really fast, right? I’m not sure if this is okay to say, but I think that makes them rush through the creation process. It causes them to not spend as much time making music.
Anyways, it takes us a long time to make an album.
-How long did it end up taking you to complete “Darwin?”
Hal: We started recording the drums in January of this year. We haven’t 100% completed the album yet. If we didn’t utilize all of our skills, it would have taken even longer. That’s why I think this album shows how much we’ve grown. We were able to create an environment where we could concentrate on creation. Part of that is thanks to our fans.
Yui: Sometime last year, Hal and I were in the car together, and we talked about how we wanted to spend 2018 doing things we haven’t done as a band before. Making a full album, going on a solo tour, playing at bigger venues…We decided to do big things. I think completing “Darwin” means we checked something off of our list.
The industry has been telling us to make a full album for ages. Right?
Hal: Yeah, they were always telling us.
Yui: But from the perspective of a songwriter, even though I really enjoy listening to albums that other artists write, I felt a bit conflicted about doing the same thing. I like to release the songs I spend time making as singles because then every song I write seems like the main track, you know? I’m not sure how it is outside of Japan, though.
Hal: In Japan, the first track on a single is the main track. It’s the one that has a music video.
Yui: And then—this isn’t a very positive light to paint it in—the second track ends up being “the extra song.” It’s not the main track. That makes me a bit sad. I want every song I make to be the main song. That’s part of what made me not want to make a full album for a long time. If anything, I wanted to create a mini-album where every song was featured as “the main song.” (laughs)
Then one of my friends suggested we release a best-of album, so that all the songs would be featured as important.
-Did you create a lot of the songs specifically for “Darwin,” or were they already written?
Yui: A lot of them are stock songs – songs we eventually wanted to release as singles. I’d only written the general framework or just one chorus for most of them. I think maybe one or two of the songs on “Darwin” are brand new. I can’t remember.
-So, does “Darwin” have a concept?
Yui: Personally, I think “Darwin” is based on the concept of “human relations,” or how people interact with each other.
-Are they based on your personal experiences?
Yui: I think it’s more based on my philosophy of human relations.
-Changing gears a bit – you’ve played overseas before, correct?
Hal: Yes, in Canada.
-How was it?
All: Really fun!
-Are any of the members good at English?
Shu: I am, sort of. I haven’t spoken it in a long time, so I don’t think I can speak it well anymore. I used to study a lot.
-Do you want to play overseas again?
Sho: Yes! I want to go!
Hal: We really want to go.
Shu: Music is a global thing, you know?
Yui: The way fans react to our music overseas is completely different.
Shu: I’m really happy our overseas fans like our music, even though it’s in Japanese, and they get into it. It makes us happy as musicians.
Hal: Even in Japan, I think there are maybe hundreds of people that like our music but don’t have the opportunity to come see us live. Maybe they don’t live near a city, or they don’t have the means to go to a live, or they’re too young. They can’t come for a lot of reasons. But as a band, we want to help alleviate those problems even a little by going to as many different places as we can. That goes for outside of Japan, too. We want people who listen to our CD’s to also have the opportunity to see us live.
-Are you going to any out-of-the-way places on your upcoming Japan tour?
Hal: Yes. We’re going to Okayama, Fukuoka, Niigata, Kobe, and Yokohama for the first time. We want a lot of people to come to our shows [in cities], but we also want to give others a chance to see us. We’ve been together for 8 years, after all. We want everyone to be able to see us.
-Do you get a lot of comments from fans on social media like that? Like, “I want to go to your shows but I can’t…”
Hal: Yeah. Around the time we released our first mini-album [and toured], we really started to understand that there we have fans all over Japan.
-That must have made you happy.
Hal: Yes, very happy.
Yui: A lot of people told us “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Hal: Social media makes it easy to hear from fans now. It makes us want to see as many of them as we can.
-Do you hear from fans overseas a lot, too?
Hal: Yeah, we do.
-If you could play overseas again, where would you want to go?
Yui: I want to go to Toronto again. And Calgary.
Shu: I want to go to America and the U.K. because of the music scene.
Sho: I really want to go to the U.K.! And Germany. They have good beer.
Hal: I want to go to other Asian countries, like Indonesia and Taiwan. Indonesia has a lot of people, and it’s started to develop as a nation recently. The music industry as a whole has been turning their focus there because there are so many people. I also want to go to Turkey. Actually, I want to go all over the world. (laughs)
Shu: I want to go to Taiwan, too.
Sho: They have good beer.
Hal: Why are you only thinking of beer? (laughs)
-umbrella, unlike a lot of Visual kei bands that we feature on S-T.net, is based in the western Kansai region of Japan (not Tokyo). Do you notice any differences between Tokyo bands and Kansai bands?
Shu: I think there are more specific categories of Visual kei in Tokyo than in Kansai. Like, darker bands will play at events with other dark bands.
Yui: The range of variety in Tokyo is totally different.
Sho: And the population is different.
Yui: I think Osaka bands make up maybe only 10% of all Visual kei bands, and they’re decreasing. Osaka bands also tend to collectively lean towards one style of Visual kei, like bright and poppy bands, or heavy bands, or dark bands like us. We’ve seen them go through the trends and end up disbanding. There are very few bands that play the same style as umbrella.
Hal: There are more people who just drop by to see us in Tokyo.
Shu: Yeah, like on their way home from work.
Hal: Like, say it’s a Monday night at 7 p.m., and you just want to hear some live music even though you’re still in your work suit. That happens a lot more often in Tokyo than Osaka. I think that’s wonderful.
Honestly, I think Osaka fans don’t have much energy lately. But that comes in waves. I don’t think this slump will last. We’re in an age now where our music can reach fans worldwide, even though we’re in Osaka. I think the energy will pick up again.
-At least you’re looking at it optimistically!
-Finally, could you give a message to your fans and our readers at S-T.net?
Yui: I think most of you reading this interview are hearing about us for the first time. Maybe we seem a bit selfish, but umbrella is a band that holds tight to its unique identity. We’re not following any fads. We are making music simply because we enjoy making music. I think the age where bands like ours will be truly appreciated is coming, so I’m glad you’ve found out about us.
For those of you that already know about us, we’ll continue to make music with confidence. Don’t worry and stick with us.
Shu: In this age where the Internet is used by nearly everyone, we want to find ways to help you listen to our music. I want you to look forward to what we’ll bring next. I think there are ways to hear “Darwin” in your country, but we’ll find ways to show even more people what we have to offer. Please give us your support.
Hal: In this current age, it has become very simple to communicate with fans overseas. I think it will soon be more common to have concerts streamed live worldwide. We’ll continue to make good music until that time comes, and then we’ll be able to show you our music face to face. We’ll try our best, so please give us your support!
Sho: Some of what I want to say overlaps with Hal. I really want to play a show overseas again. I think an age will come where we can do that easily. umbrella just enjoys making music and we want to share that joy with you. I want us to have a fun time together. Please support us!
Originally published by Shattered Tranquility. Reprinted with permission.