Interview by Shannon McNaught
June 2, 2018
An up-close-and-personal interview with sleepyhead, the project headed by Takeru (ex. SuG).
-First off, what made you decide on the name “sleepyhead” for your solo project?
Takeru: Even in the real world, I won’t wake up from my dreams. I’m always dreaming. But I’ve heard from non-Japanese people that “sleepyhead” is kind of a cutesy name. (laughs)
-Yeah, we guess so. (laughs)
Takeru: Also, there’s an artist named Passion Pit that I really like. They have a song called “Sleepyhead.” I really like that song. That was partly why I decided on the name “sleepyhead” for my project. And after thinking about it a bit, I realized that—even after the band I’d been in for 10 years disbanded—I’m still not going to wake up from my dreams.
-Is that the reason why you started sleepyhead?
-It must be hard doing everything on your own.
Takeru: It is. I forgot about how hard some things were…like answering e-mails…(laughs)
-Has anything turned out to be more difficult than you originally thought?
Takeru: Communication with the hardware side of things—sending data and turning it into CD’s—was really difficult. Like, what data I want them to make it with, the type of CD, how many centimeters I want the CD to be, how many pixels…
-That sounds like it took a long time.
Takeru: It took a long time. Even adding the credits to the CD jacket took a long time. It has also been difficult to write news for press releases.
-You’re writing the news yourself?
Takeru: Yeah, I’m writing it. I wanted to see what it was like to do the work that other people normally did for me. When I start to ask other people to help me again, I’ll truly appreciate their work.
I also don’t have to worry about burdening others right now. No matter how hard things get, it’s all on me. Before, I would be concerned about putting too much work on others.
Being this busy makes me want to put effort into playing a show overseas now more than ever. I’ve been preparing for an overseas tour.
-We’ve heard there are possible plans for a Europe tour…are those plans finalized yet?
Takeru: No, not yet. The event organizers over there are a bit scared to take me on. Since it’s only me, they’re worried about how many people will actually show up to my concerts.
Part of the reason, I think, is that I haven’t joined music subscription services like Spotify yet. That will change on June 20, when I release “DRIPPING.” If a lot of people listen to my music on Spotify and leave good reviews, and keep up with sleepyhead’s Facebook page, it will be more possible. With Facebook, event organizers will be able to see how many fans come from certain countries.
Takeru: That’s not enough to convince them, it seems.
-Do you think it’s fair to say you keep your overseas fans (as well as Japanese fans) in mind while creating things as sleepyhead?
Takeru: I think I’ve always done that [even before sleepyhead]. I studied English little by little, and our Facebook was constantly updated in English. I also speak English in the videos I upload on there.
I don’t want to draw a line between “Japanese fans” and “overseas fans.” Everyone is the same. A lot of people only focus on Japan because that’s where the music market is best for them, but I want to focus a little bit on everywhere.
-Where do you want to go overseas in particular? Both as sleepyhead and personally.
Takeru: Personally, I want to go to Egypt and Turkey. As sleepyhead, I’m looking into touring Europe and South America. I’ve toured Europe before, and I want to see the sights there again. I want to see people who have been supporting me even that far away from Japan.
-What about America?
Takeru: America’s too big, and my fans are too spread out. It would be difficult to pull off a successful tour there right now.
-Turning to music talk: what kind of sound can we hear on “DRIPPING?”
Takeru: I’ve always liked music you can dance to, whether it be by a band or EDM. I like catchy music that’s a little dark.
-We think you can hear those elements on “DRIPPING.”
Takeru: I think my sound has gotten a little darker and closer to EDM than when I was in a band.
-Your previous band’s concept was “heavy positive rock,” correct? There’s a strongly positive image there, but “DRIPPING” has some darker songs. How do you think fans will react?
Takeru: It is a little dark, but I’ve just altered the amount of darkness. In my band, it was maybe 70% brighter songs and 30% darker songs. In sleepyhead, it’s the opposite. It’s 70% shadow and 30% light. The lyrics usually end on a positive note, but there’s more darkness and pain in the music itself.
In terms of my previous band, “Howling Magic” and “Sakura Ame” are songs that I wrote. Even “LOVE SCREAM PARTY” was a bit like that; most of the song was poppy, but the melody was a bit sad. I think I’m better at writing sad melodies. Since there were five of us in the band, most songs would end up poppy. Now that I’m on my own, I can focus on the kinds of melodies I’m good at.
-What song on “DRIPPING” do you really want fans to listen to?
Takeru: All of them. Seriously, all of them. I wrote more songs than are featured on the album, actually.
-Right! We heard you wrote at least 40 songs?
Takeru: Yes, I made demos of at least 40 songs. I thought about it over and over before deciding which songs to put on the album. Even then, I fully recorded more songs than the ones on “DRIPPING.” It was after recording was finished that I would decide, “No, not this one,” and not include it on the album.
-Do all of the songs on “DRIPPING” follow a set theme or a concept?
Takeru: No, there really isn’t a concept. “DRIPPING,” is like, you know, drip coffee, but with the things inside my head. They come out in drops. It’s happening right now, so that’s why I chose “DRIPPING” instead of “DRIP.” I’m not thinking about the end result when I put out my songs – they drip out as they are, in drops. I didn’t fix them up or try to make them nice.
-So, how did you choose the songs to include on “DRIPPING” in the end?
Takeru: By feeling. With 40 songs to choose from, I couldn’t think it over too much. I naturally decided, “I want this song, and this song, and this song…”
I guess I did have the image of me making a comeback after my break from music when I chose the songs, though. “MY FORTUNE FADED” is about how my fate turned completely black, and then in “Yamikumo”–“blind”–not being able to see the future ahead of me. Then in “Kekkyoku,”–“finally”–I decide to try again. I thought about that progression when choosing the songs for “DRIPPING.”
I think “Meitei” describes how I feel right now. It’s the result of me deciding to try again and show who I am to the world.
-How did fans react to the “Meitei” music video?
Takeru: They were really surprised. I think there’s a lot packed into this song. It has some EDM elements, some Visual kei elements, some darkness, and even some K-pop elements. It’s also a little sexy, and there’s just a bit of guitar in there. It’s like a mash-up of all of the music I listen to. This is who I am right now.
-Did you play and record the guitar parts by yourself?
Takeru: No, I asked other people to play those parts. I did the vocals.
-Do you find it more difficult to write music or write lyrics?
Takeru: This time around, writing the lyrics took more time. It was a while before my heart and my mind were ready to write them. Arranging the songs was also difficult. I wrote all of the music and lyrics myself, but I asked six different people to do the arrangements for different songs. That meant I had to talk to everyone while also keeping a balance with the sound. But thanks to that, I was able to mix in elements from different music genres into my songs. I’m glad I decided to take on that challenge.
-It must have been hard to communicate what you want to six different people.
Takeru: It was. It took a really long time. I spent so much time talking to each of them.
-How long did it take to complete the music for “DRIPPING” from start to finish?
Takeru: It’s been six months since I created the initial demos, but three months since I decided that I was really going to do this and started to work to complete it. I rushed like mad to finish it. In the end, I thought, “Wow, I actually can finish it in this amount of time!” (laughs)
-In the beginning, did you want to quit music altogether?
Takeru: I did.
-What made you decide to keep going?
Takeru: There were a lot of problems [in my previous band], and it was disappointing to me that even though I started music purely because I loved it, my band ended for such strange reasons. That feeling of frustration that made me want to start again. Even after the band was over, sometimes I would see updates from people that became friends through listening to our music. That made me really happy. It also gave me the strength to try again.
Takeru: I want to go on a world tour. It’s not just a “maybe someday,” kind of thing. I’m actively working towards that goal. That’s why I think joining music subscription services like Spotify is really important to me. So [when my music is available there] tell all of your friends about it! (laughs)
I’m thinking of making Spotify-only songs, but it’s just a thought right now. I want to include English and even Spanish lyrics in my songs, if only in the chorus. Maybe I could make an English or Spanish version of just the main chorus and release that as a Spotify-only version.
-We think that’s a good idea! Are you studying Spanish?
Takeru: No, it’s a little too difficult for me, so I think I’ll only use it in songs.
-Are you still studying English?
Takeru: It’s less that I’m studying it and more that I’m speaking it from time to time.
-How well can you speak it?
Takeru: I can more or less express what I’m thinking. More or less. English is difficult. But I think I can do things like concert MC’s in English without a problem. Maybe I’ll try to sing in English after all…
-Are you confident in your pronunciation, too?
Takeru: No, it’s hard. (laughs) But I think it’s important to speak it as much as possible. You won’t get better if you don’t talk. I think K-pop artists do a good job of that. They speak Japanese and English as much as they can. It’s a way to express love for that culture. I want to be more like that.
-You seem to respect K-pop artists a lot.
Takeru: I do. I think they’re very professional.
-Are there any artists you want to collaborate with?
Takeru: We’ve entered an age where you can create music with artists even if they’re in another country, so I want to try that. Like with a rapper. I also want to collaborate with illustrators; I know of a good one in South Korea.
-Do you think those are possibilities right now?
Takeru: Maybe not now, but once I start touring and meeting people that live in those countries, then I can make some progress. I think the best way for me to get noticed by them right now is to sing in their native language.
-Switching gears a bit – recently, you created sleepyhead’s fan club S.A.C.T using funds from a Campfire campaign. Your original goal was to raise 3 million yen (around $27,390 USD), but you ended up raising over 10.2 million yen (around $93,126 USD). Did you expect to raise such a large amount of money?
Takeru: No, I didn’t think it would raise that much. I’m grateful to my fans.
-Some of the reward packages included events like a fan interview with you. How did that go?
Takeru: It was refreshing to be interviewed by fans.
-What kinds of questions did they ask you?
Takeru: Things like, “Why did your band break up?” Thanks to those kinds of rewards, though, I was able to start up S.A.C.T. I’m in the process of making a music game for them. I want to do things that normal fan clubs can’t do.
-In normal fan clubs, you can get access to special contents or fan club tickets for concerts, but S.A.C.T is also different in that it has missions, correct? It’s like fans are more like street team members.
Takeru: That’s what I’m aiming for. They’re my agents.
-Fans must be happy to feel like they’re actively helping you out.
Takeru: Yeah, especially since I don’t have any staff. I’m asking my fans for help.
-Finally, please give a message to your fans and our readers at S-T.net.
Takeru: Right now, I’m combining music, fashion, and culture and showing that all in my music videos. I also have plans to make my clothing available to overseas fans. I want to go out into the world not only with my music, but also with my culture and fashion. It will take a lot of effort especially since I have no staff, so I want everyone to help out as much as they can.
Also, if any Korean event organizers are reading this, I’m waiting for your offers! (laughs)
Originally published by Shattered Tranquility. Reprinted with permission.