As the coronavirus rages on, the spark of nightlife is at risk of going out. But in a time where it feels as if we are awaiting the next wave, FNCY is playing their music once again. A hip-hop trio consisting of ZEN-LA-ROCK, G.RINA, and Chinza DOPENESS, FNCY’s sound is peppered with homages to dance music from the ‘80s-90s to today. The group presents a nostalgic yet fresh sonic and visual universe, bringing a fresh style to the music scene.
FNCY BY FNCY nonchalantly shakes off the oppression and uncertainty of today’s world. And if you let the trio’s new album calm your worries, let their music and voices carry you away—you will naturally find the excitement of the dance floor that we once saw and will see again someday. It’s as the members of the band sing on the album: “The night is young.”
TOKION talks to the trio about their thoughts on everything from their formation to their latest work.
After performing together individually, the three formed a group
ーーWhere does the group’s name, FNCY, come from?
ZEN-LA-ROCK (Hereinafter ZEN-LA): I think RINA came up with it. The three of us used to go to kissatens [Japanese coffee shops] a lot, and we came up with a countless number of ideas. But none of them really spoke to us at first.
Chinza DOPENESS (Hereinafter Chinza): Then, when we were talking about what the three of us had in common, we thought maybe it was that we liked fancy stuff. All three of us have a “fancy filter.”
ーーHaha, I see.
ZEN-LA: Then, we took out the A in “FANCY” so it was spelled “FNCY,” and we were like, “Oh!” I believe someone told us to do that, too. I think it was Ishiguro (Keita Ishiguro, a designer who works in a variety of fields and led the art direction for FNCY’s first album)? Although Ishiguro might say, “It wasn’t me.” (laughs)
ーーIn any case, what was the main reason that you three formed a group despite having your own separate careers?
ZEN-LA: We’d all performed with each other individually, so when the three of us collaborated on a song for my fourth album (Heaven) and uploaded the video, it got a good response. Even though we only had one song, the three of us kept being invited to perform outside of the city together, and our time spent traveling and eating together was fun, too. So I mustered up the courage to ask them. (laughs)
FNCY adds a modern touch to a nostalgic feeling
ーーAt the time, had you already decided on the direction of the group to some extent?
Chinza: Basically, it’s hip hop.
G.RINA (Hereinafter RINA): It’s a different approach from all our solo work, but when it’s the three of us, we can be even funnier and more entertaining. We were able to see that our audience was happy from the beginning, so I think it’s like our songs were created from a feedback loop; when we do something like this, our audience enjoys it, and then that’s fun for us, too.
ーーDid you find that there were many things you guys shared on an instinctive level?
RINA: I think the three of us have the ability to add a modern touch to a nostalgic feeling, and maybe our tastes for nostalgic music are similar.
ZEN-LA: And we first took a stab at it by making “AOI Yoru.”
ーー “AOI Yoru” is FNCY’s first single, right?
RINA: People liked the ‘80s feel of “SEVENTH HEAVEN.” So we thought it would be nice if FNCY’s first song was an extension of that and made “AOI Yoru.” We also thought we could make it pop by adding rap to the kind of song that would be all singing in the ‘80s.
ーーSo that’s how the model for the group was created.
ZEN-LA: I guess that’s true. Because that song was why we started the group.
ーーThe “nostalgic feeling with a modern touch” that RINA mentioned earlier is also clear in the music videos and visuals, isn’t it?
Chinza: From an objective standpoint, there’s an element of play when we’re producing something. The process is much more important than the finished product, and that [“nostalgic feeling with a modern touch”] is connected to that process.
ーーWas the artwork for the 7-inch singles, which paid homage to past classics, examples of that play?
ZEN-LA: That’s why a lot of people are saying our latest album jacket looks like YMO, but that’s not really the intention.
ーーPerhaps the light-footedness we’re seeing with the various merch—T-shirts, mugs, lighters, etc.—and in the development of collaborations, is also, in a sense, an extension of that play.
ZEN-LA: That’s my true talent. I have too many connections with all kinds of business people. (laughs)
ーーFNCY sold a limited-edition original beer that coincided with the 7-inch release of “TOKYO LUV,” and there was also a basil growing kit that came with your latest album.
ZEN-LA: With that [the beer], I asked the two of them, “I got this offer, what do you think?” With the basil growing kit, someone from the label brought it to us saying, “Apparently, basil is popular recently.” (laughs)
FNCY delivers a broad definition of dance music
ーーYou mentioned earlier that the process is important. Is this the case for songwriting, too?
Chinza: Yeah, definitely. Until we complete a song, we talk and try things. It starts with someone saying, “I’ve been thinking about this lately,” or (seeing the words on a plastic bottle in front of us) “Huh, ‘the biggest exhilaration.’ That’s kind of catchy.” If that works with music, we try recording it once, and after one person records it, someone else layers something on top of it. When we start to see an idea forming, then it’s like, “Let’s change this part like this.” That happens pretty often.
RINA: That’s true for the lyrics. With the sound, it’s not like we’re playing instruments right there, so we bring home what we talked about and think of music that might go with it or choose something that might match the theme from several options. Sometimes, I might make my own suggestion, like “How about this?” But that’s generally how it goes.
ーーRINA played a central role in producing the group’s latest album, FNCY BY FNCY, as she did with the previous album. RINA—in terms of production, was there anything different about your mindset this time?
RINA: With the first album, as well as when I worked on “AOI Yoru,” I thought that no matter what, I had to make a song that would get people excited. I also thought a lot about what the group needed. But this time, thanks to the fact that we already had “TOKYO LUV” and “Minna no Natsu,” I figured that I could go for more variety. And I think I was able to add variation that shows the sort of music each of us likes besides hip hop, and that we’re capable of this sort of thing.
ーーIndeed, while the externally produced tracks such as the Jengi-produced “TOKYO LUV,” “Minna no Natsu,” and the new track, “FU-TSU-U (NEW NORMAL)” are a continuation of FNCY’s style from the last album, the songs you [RINA] produced add variety to the album. There’s the UK Garage style “COSMO,” “THE NIGHT IS YOUNG” which is reminiscent of the famous early 2000s Riddim “DiWali,” and “REP ME,” a spin on hip house.
ZEN-LA: Actually, having a broad definition of dance music was one of our group’s first concepts.
Matching each other’s moods
ーーAlthough that concept carries over onto this album, there are also some songs where you can see the effect of your current situation and mindset since the pandemic.
RINA: Our cycle of going to shows and talking there to start writing a song has stopped, so it’s like we had no choice but to just write songs. We can’t help but record this situation, and we want to record it. I think that’s what hip hop is all about.
ZEN-LA: But there aren’t too many things that have changed from before. Unfortunately, we have less input and it’s definitely hard to get in the mood when the things we used to do every week have completely disappeared. I think everyone is in that situation though, and nowadays, I’ve grown a bit used to it. But in a separate interview, we were told that our recent album is more put together than our first. It’s true that it’s a bit calmer, and that probably has something to do with the mood of society. That wasn’t the case at the time of our first album.
ーーThat being said, it’s not a heavy album. I think that lightheartedness is what defines FNCY, and in a good sense, it’s music that doesn’t make you feel the struggle of its creation.
Chinza: When the three of us work together, it’s not so much a struggle to create, but more like, “Hm, I want to try something like this.” It’s more like a challenge, I guess.
RINA: Aside from time-related things, we’re able to have fun with FNCY, right?
Chinza: I can sing and then rap, so I can show many different versions of myself.
ZEN-LA: That’s true.
ーーDo you ever make requests, like asking each other to do something in response to an idea someone brings?
Chinza: We don’t really make demands of each other, do we?
RINA: I rap too, but the two of them have been rapping for longer. I’ve been waiting and wondering when they’ll point something out, but they never do. (laughs) There are times when I haven’t decided something should be a certain way, so I actually want them to say something.
Chinza: RINA says that, but it’s not like that. I’m good with RINA rapping and it being natural, and even when I hear something she rewrote, all I can say is, “That’s interesting, you went in that direction.” (laughs)
ZEN-LA: I’m not even sure when and how to point things out in the first place. (laughs)
ーーSo do you ever compare what you write with each other?
Chinza: Yeah. It’s not so much about the message. It’s fine as long as each person’s verse makes sense, and I think we each reflect the experience of the moment into our music. Forcing it all to fit together is more like a band, I think. Our music is simple—we sing over a beat.
RINA: Even if the three of us have slightly different ideas in a song, it’s just like, “Oh, you feel that way.”
ZEN-LA: And even if there isn’t a clear theme, like “Let’s do it this way,” the three of us make songs together.
ーーIn that regard, it might be similar to a jam session, so to speak. I feel like that shows FNCY’s view of hip hop.
RINA: There’s a moment where we all come together around the music, but when we leave that space, our lifestyles and the stuff we normally think about are probably completely different. But that doesn’t turn into, “That’s wrong.” Because we started our group after we had already become adults.
ZEN-LA: It might be nice for the three of us to say the same things, but it’s normal for us to be different from one another. But we have a group together, so it’s not like we’re totally different.
ーーI think in that sense, you could say that your individual gradients are what color FNCY.
Chinza: That’s why we’re trying to match the mood rather than the message. We try to match each other’s vibes and put that into the music.
ZEN-LA: So we don’t get that out of step. And we understand each other’s moods.
Chinza: Thanks to that, we make new discoveries that aren’t a one-way street, and I’m sure we’ll understand our relationship years from now. Like, “This relationship is funny.”
ZEN-LA: Like, we’ll become grandpas and say, “We were so young back then”?
Chinza: I want to get together when we’re 70 and make an album. (laughs)
RINA: We have to stay healthy to do that.
ーーCan you guys see that far into the future with this project? (laughs)
RINA: No, it’s all very unplanned, so we’re like, “Wow, we put out a second album.” It’s a very laidback collective without any goal of getting to a certain point.
ZEN-LA: It’s pretty much like—after the second album, maybe there’ll be a third? (laughs)