yahyel held a solo concert, “THE CHOIR” on August 27th at Liquid Room in Ebisu, Tokyo. Every person in the audience partook in the live performance as a band member for the day and this is what made it so unique. They played solo (with no supporting act) for the first time in around two years. The last time they had played in front of an audience was in June of 2019 at a festival. Front man, Shun Ikegai, spoke to us about how the two-year period was a time for them to have more clarity on how they could better express themselves as artists. In other words, they adhered to the maxim of staying true to oneself. We looked into where yahyel currently stands by talking to Shun after the event.
Drifting apart from each other before the pandemic
――The last time you played onstage was in June of 2019 at a music festival called “FFKT 2019” at Kodama no Mori. What sort of situation was yahyel in from that point up until now?
Shun Ikegai (hereinafter Shun): During that year, we were performing at festivals and shows; we even went to China to play. I actually get a strange feeling looking back at that time. It almost doesn’t seem real. It even feels like a dream. To be honest, towards the end of last year, all of our heads were scrambled because we didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what sort of vision we wanted to create as a band, nor did I know what sort of direction I wanted us to go in. This sense of not-knowing existed before coronavirus. It felt like we didn’t even know how to communicate with each other anymore. That’s just how bad it was.
――Was working on the band’s next project or artwork the source of that conflict?
Shun: No, it was about us four as human beings. To be more specific, there was a communication issue between all of the band members. During the latter half of 2019, all of our moods started to change and we drifted apart in an unprecedented way.
――You started 2020 with the weight of the band’s difficult situation on your shoulders, and then the whole world changed due to coronavirus. In Tokyo, the emergency announcement regarding the pandemic was lifted on May 25th and now we’re all trying to adjust to this new lifestyle. In the music industry, music festivals and tours are being inevitably cancelled or postponed. Could you talk about the sequence of events starting from the outbreak of the virus to the band’s solo concert?
Shun: For me, it was heartbreaking to see how divided society was becoming. In terms of the band, it did feel suffocating at times. Perhaps that’s the most personal example of something coming undone. When it comes to communication, I’m not good at waiting for the other person to respond. The speed at which each band member thinks, and therefore responds, is different, yeah? Depending on how you look at it, in a way, I think it was a good opportunity for each of us to organize our thoughts and feelings during a time where everything came to a halt. Now, I feel like we’re starting to have the emotional capacity to ask questions such as “what can we do to help?” or “how do we want the world to look like?” It’s hard to put this into words… What I want to say is, this unit we all refer to as a band is something that can’t be run by one person’s will. I can’t explain it well but sometimes, things can move forward or change according to a certain vibe, like “there’s this mood in the air.” So maybe it’s not even about coronavirus to begin with. Through spending some time in solitude, we were able to work through that feeling of uncertainty and stagnation we started feeling at the end of last year. That led to us being like “hey, we should get back together as a band soon.”
――Are you saying that everyone was able to come to their own solution due to communication between the band being cut off?
Shun: In a way, yes. Also, I saw so many people in the music industry have a rough time and it made me think that the situation was just so outrageous. It made me feel like the industry was left way, way behind. A lot of people have spoken about this so I don’t think I need to really explain it too much, but when you look at music as one form of entertainment, you realize that nobody is there to help you out. When I saw people struggling, I started to ponder what I could do as an individual as well as a performer. The band was like, “let’s do this one step at a time” and so the overall motivation was there. We started creating music as yahyel again and we were all just so sincere at that point in time.
The ultimate reasoning; “because we want to”
――What do you mean by “sincere”?
Shun: We were in our head way too much until recently. We used to be like “this is the kind of band we want to be like!” and “this is where we should be at right now as a band!” Once we got rid of that line of thinking, we were then able to create music after thinking about what we could do as a “four-piece band who has something to say.” Of course, this leads to other pertinent questions such as “what does it mean to be a musician? What does it mean to be an artist?” but what I want to do is simple: to say what I want to say. Towards the end of last year, there was a period where we really had to put up with being in the band. I had thoughts like “human beings are so difficult” running through my mind back then. In hindsight, I reckon we reached a point of sincerity thanks to being able to endure and overcome this phase. The same thing applies to performing live. It’s not like there’s only one correct way of doing music and such, because culture is created by a wide array of individuals. And so, we started to wonder, “wait, so why aren’t we playing live again?” We were able to return to this simple, humble mindset; “we want to have a concert,” “we want to create something as artists and deliver that to people in a proper way.” That was also a source of motivation for doing the event. However, we knew that there were a lot of risks involved. We also knew that there was a chance we were going to cause trouble, so we really thought about whether or not we should go through with the event until the very last minute.
――I see. So you began to have real, genuine feelings. And you had concerns but decided to have a live show.
Shun: Having a live performance during a time like this is just pure selfishness. But ultimately, that’s what being an artist is really all about. It’s about doing something simply because you want to. You can’t blame other people either. It’s not like we did this because of the current circumstances and we also didn’t have a political motive. We didn’t blame anyone or make excuses. We really wanted to make this work but we aware of how the situation was incredibly difficult. What does putting on a show in good faith look like?- I feel like it’s okay to have this sentiment as the ultimate reasoning behind playing in front of an audience. That’s how I confront all these questions I myself have right now. It’s another way of me expressing my thoughts. To go one step further, perhaps there was a part of me that was purging this anger I felt towards different things during the pandemic.
――Is playing for an audience a natural thing for musicians?
Shun: If I were to say that, I might be met with comments like “it’s not natural. You don’t have to do it.” I won’t shoot them down, but that would mean we wouldn’t even need artists. I’ve been feeling that sort of pressure during the pandemic in a big way. Around the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, people debated about whether or not artists were necessary in the first place. There were people that tried to show how their existence was meaningful. I reckon it’s a wonderful and positive thing for artists to take action after reflecting on their position in society. But I dislike how artists need to prove their worth, in order for them to be able to continue existing the way they do. Yes, the process of questioning things like significance and value is important but at the end of the day, those things don’t even matter. Just do what you want to do. It could be that I want to reimagine what it means to be sincere.
――Do you think you were able to express that reimagination through your show as well as new song?
Shun: I do. For me, it really is a simple matter. I was able to sit down and really look at each song I wrote. There’s an element of fun that shows have in that process. Also, I’m more in tune with my feelings now; it could arise from how my body’s doing or having a heightened sense of emotions. Now I’m able to unlock feelings that I never even knew I had before. All I’m doing is reacting to any given realization like, “so that’s what it was all about.” It’s a natural occurrence. Besides, isn’t that what being true to oneself is about? Instead of making decisions based on what other people think, you react to your own self. It’s like an intuitive, instantaneous response. In regards to the live show, we prepared thoroughly for it and achieved a feeling of satisfaction. On that stage, we were being real and open. In retrospect, the event itself was simply about that.
――Now that the event’s over, do you want to do this again?
Shun: There’s no reason to hold back too much and I personally want to do this again. But a band’s a band, you know? Like I said before, you can’t run a band all by yourself.
――Could you talk about what you want to do in the near future?
Shun: I don’t have a clear idea right now. I wish I could say something concrete… But don’t you think there really is no clear answer to that right now? Thinking about that isn’t good for one’s mental health. With the coronavirus crisis in mind, aside from wanting to create something authentic, I don’t have much of a guideline. I don’t know what to strive for as an individual right at this moment. What should musicians in Japan aim for? I sometimes think about what other motivations there are aside from wanting to make something sincere but it seems like everyone is struggling too. The more you think about it, the less you know. But I mean, I don’t mind not knowing.
――It does feel a bit unclear when it comes to what the world should work towards.
Shun: When I heard the word “diversity” for the first time in a while, it made me think about how the actual state that the word points to is inconsistent. People aim to reach a state where there’s a diverse range of things or people, but they don’t actually want to create a world where that very word has any weight to it. I think in its truest form, diversity is not supposed to belong to anyone at all. And yet, people cheer, “let’s all have diversity” in a celebratory manner. Ironically, it feels a bit uniform. This word is being thrown around everywhere but in terms of music, it seems like we’re losing the magic of people putting their individual touch on their work. Also, I think no matter how well-intentioned a person is, when someone talks about justice, they inevitably give birth to two opposing cult-like extremes. It might sound hypocritical of me to pose this question because I’m a musician living in the current era, but does art cease to be art without an audience? As of right now, I feel inclined to keep these thoughts to a minimum because it leads to the topic, “what is the goal of diversity?” To bring it back to sincerity: isn’t that something more intangible?