Interview by David Cirone
August 10, 2019
URBANGARDE vocalist Yoko Hamasaki surprised fans in July with the simultaneous release of her third album BLIND LOVE (produced by Toshiki Kadomatsu) and a remastered, bonus track edition of her self-produced 2010 debut album Film noir, now dubbed Film noir ultime. While URBANGARDE has made their reputation tackling dark corners of Japanese society, Hamasaki’s return to solo activities brings the singer back to the world of daring personal experiences, sexual awareness, and private emotions.
With both BLIND LOVE and Film noir ultime released at the same time, it feels like we’re connecting with both two sides of your persona — your past identity and the person you are now. Why was it important to go back to Film noir and go forward to BLIND LOVE at the same time?
Hamasaki: Film noir ultime was completely unexpected. I’d never even thought of releasing a past work with remastered songs and new songs added on top of that. But working with such a strong producer on this new album made me re-evaluate the work I’d created in the past on my own. So dealing with Film noir ultime at the same time kept me focused on the measure of my own growth, and in a way, pushed me to challenge myself even more.
How was your approach to the new album different than your work on Blue Forest?
Hamasaki: It feels like a totally different person, yet it’s the same human being, the same spirit who created Blue Forest. If anything, my confidence as a vocalist has increased, and my desire to add even more nuance and emotion to each song comes from that.
And working with producer Toshiki Kadomatsu gave it an even more special touch. You’ve already demonstrated a strong artistic vision, so how did the final version of BLIND LOVE we’re hearing now changed from your original vision as a result of collaborating?
Hamasaki: None of the songs came easily. It doesn’t mean there was conflict, but together we checked for every moment that could be better, more detailed, or have a deeper resonance. But all that effort gave me so much more confidence in each song, in its writing and its performance. I created one of the songs, “Haru no kyousei fuan”, with a standard 8-beat rock rhythm in the demo version, but then Kadomatsu-san told me his mind flew to South America after listening to it many times over. That would never have occured to me, and now I can’t imagine the song any other way.
The visual styles of your new music videos “Forgive Me” and “Bible” are different in almost every way. Was this a deliberate move to display two sides of yourself?
Hamasaki: I wanted to present the visual world of “Bible” in a dark study, a place where you could be absorbed in your own delusions. I told the director that we should pursue “beauty” with the aesthetic of a cosmetics commercial. The thrill of romantic danger is unpredictable, so there are shadows, but I’m comfortable in that darkness. In “FORGIVE ME”, I wanted to express the sparkling feeling of the sound visually and present myself in street-like clothes that I usually don’t show very much. It’s clothing from my own fashion line, so wearing these on camera is an ultimate expression of myself, too.
The lyrics on BLIND LOVE are extremely personal. Where do you feel you revealed the most, and now that the album’s released, how do you feel about being so vulnerable?
Hamasaki: The song “Kore wa Namida Janai” was written specifically based on my feelings for a single person. My romantic experience with that person had a strong impact on my life, and I felt like if I couldn’t express my feelings through a song, then I wouldn’t be able to go forward.
In both the lyrics for “BIBLE” and the album’s promo image, the blindfold is an prominent symbol. There’s sexuality tied in with that, too. What type of emotional experience are you trying to evoke in your listeners?
Hamasaki: Humans live with the five senses. I feel that even if I lose that sense of sight, my sixth sense would become sharper. The blindfold imagery expresses the desire to cherish what you feel beyond the physical world that you can see.
In the lyrics, the Bible is burned. That’s also something that’s likely to elicit a strong response. How did that image initially come to mind?
Hamasaki: The Bible isn’t really a physical thing you’d find in a church, but it’s a symbol of personal rules that are created for you. In the moment when that person’s Bible is burned, it represents the passion of “you” burning through into the heart of “me”. It’s a true expression of my feeling of falling in love.
Your new song “Shinjuku 3-chome” brings you back once again to Shinjuku. Urbangarde has sung about Shinjuku before in “Shinjuku mon amour” and “Tokai no Alice”, and one of the new songs on Film noir ultime, “Tokyo, gozen 4ji” also visits Shinjuku. What’s your emotional connection to this area in Tokyo? How has it affected your view as an artist?
Hamasaki: Shinjuku is the first place I experienced in Tokyo. Although there are so many people crossing paths everywhere, no one knows me and I don’t know them either. It was shocking to me at first, and it seemed like no one cared about anyone else, but then I learned about all the human feelings and connections that were beneath the surface. Shinjuku is my favorite city and I usually spend time on the third street. It’s a place where race, gender, occupation don’t matter. Shinjuku is a city where I can be my natural self, though I really don’t know who that is yet.
Forbidden love is the central theme of “FORGIVE ME” — why is “love that breaks the rules” an interesting topic for you?
Hamasaki: I think everyone is strongly attracted to things that are forbidden… and those are moments you can’t always control. Only you can decide what is right for you and whether you can live with those decisions.
Why did you add three new songs to Film noir ultime instead of BLIND LOVE?
Hamasaki: Two of the new songs, “Maybe Not Love” and “FORGIVE ME” were originally outlined for Film noir, but as I was working on BLIND LOVE, I felt so transformed by the experience that I wanted to create song about this theme that I produced myself, and that became “Tokyo, gozen 4ji”.
You’ve carried over the theme of “FORGIVE ME” to name your own fashion brand, and your first collection centered around the concept of revealing your “dark history”. Most people want to keep their dark moments a secret. Why is “confession” important to you right now, and why is that the theme of your brand’s first collection?
Hamasaki: I think everyone has a part of their past that they could label their “dark history”. But those moments also shape who you are now. I was inspired to create “FORGIVE ME” as an expression of accepting those moments, without denying or hiding them. And there’s also a strength in being fearless about “confessing” — saying “these are the things that are exciting to me”… and if it’s me alone, that’s OK. But it rarely is. When you show your true self, somewhere there’s a connection waiting.
Yoko Hamasaki on Spotify: http://bit.ly/YokoHamasaki_Spotify
Yoko Hamasaki on Apple Music: http://bit.ly/YokoHamasaki_AppleMusic
Universal Music: https://www.universal-music.co.jp/hamasaki-yoko/
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