For almost a decade since its formation in 2012, Wednesday Campanella has been at the forefront of Japanese pop music. However, in September 2021, the iconic face of the project, KOM_I, suddenly left the group. Although the news sent shock waves through the scene, it was announced in October 2021 that Utaha would take over a role as a lead performer and singer of the project.
“Alice / Buckingham” was released at the start of the second chapter. Triggered by this, the activities of the reborn Campanella were accelerated through YouTube and live performances. In February 2022, they released their latest song, “Maneki Neko / Edison,” through which the outlines of the new chapter of the project began to stand out in clear relief.
Currently twenty years old, Utaha also works as a freelance model and is an it-girl who symbolizes Japanese pop culture as an icon who embodies today’s notion of “Kawaii”.
We spoke with Utaha, along with the founding members Kenmochi Hidefumi (composer, arranger) and Dir.F (Director) to find out about the reborn Wednesday Campanella.
Utaha’s great knowingness and comprehension even makes us feel like we shouldn’t be left behind
——In October of 2021, it was announced that Utaha would become the second lead performer and singer. From that point on, you have been working together under a new structure, but have the three of you grown closer?
Utaha: In the beginning, a part of me felt that I didn’t quite fit in the group yet, but as the number of my songs and shows increased, I really felt that I was becoming a part of Wednesday Campanella.
Kenmochi Hidefumi (Kenmochi): Utaha understood what Wednesday Campanella is earlier than we had expected. We have only played seven or eight shows so far, but two of them were done at the large venues like Zepp [ The Zepp music halls are a group of music halls covering every area of the country. The capacity of each hall are more or less than 2000 ]. From a commonsense perspective, I think she has fit in with us at a tremendous speed.
Dir.F: At first I wondered how things would go, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easily she has fit in with us. Utaha’s great knowingness and comprehension even makes us feel like we shouldn’t be left behind. Moreover, as songs were being created one after another, we felt a sense of mission to not only deliver the songs, but also to convey the true charm of Utaha.
——Was there anything you have tried to enhance the cohesiveness of the three of you?
Kenmochi: There is no specific communication for this, but I thought it was very typical of Generation Z that she could take her own stance without it. For example, in a typical company in Japan, it would be difficult to go home if your boss is working overtime even after you have finished your own work. But with her, the moment the recording or meeting is over, she says, “I’m going home!” (laughs). I think I need to learn from that mindset. I heard that you (Utaha) recently learned to play Mahjong, so invite me next time.
Utaha: Yeah, I will (laughs).
——Do you feel there is a generation gap between you and them?
Dir.F: Of course there is. In my opinion, the set of values of each generation change on about a 10-year cycle. When Wednesday Campanella first started, I was 30 years old and KOM_I was 20. I felt a gap even at that time, but 10 years have passed since then, and now we have a 20-year-old Utaha.
In the past, there were times when we would say, “I think this is better,” in response to KOM_I’s opinions. But now we dare not say that. 20 years apart in age, we naturally see things differently, don’t we? Nowadays, it is rather right to look at things from Utaha’s point of view. By learning to see things from a new perspective, I think we will be able to see things from multiple angles, and as a result, it will be easier to create new things.
——Utaha, I think you are one of those who are categorized as a part of Generation Z. How do you feel about that?
Utaha: I think the impression of the word Generation Z varies depending on how the word is used and who uses that. I think it is good to use the words that make it easier to understand the differences in thinking, saying, “This is the right way to think for us because we are of this generation.” But as for myself, I am of Generation Z naturally. I hope the term “Generation Z” is not misused in a strange way (laughs).
——If someone were to ask you to define Generation Z, how would you explain that?
Utaha: Umm… It’s difficult. I think one is the generation that can say “I want to do this”. As Kenmochi-san said, I think people of the older generation were often unable to clearly refuse their bosses’ invitations. I don’t intend to make a judgement about whether this is good or bad, but it was just normal. But from our generation, we have come to be able to refuse it clearly. But I feel that we are not necessarily saying it is right to refuse it, but rather that we are saying that there is nothing wrong with refusing it. In any case, I think we are a generation that can express our own will.
——Do you think that this kind of feeling is shared by your creative process as well?
Utaha: Yes, I think so. What do I want to do? What do I want to be? I think it is impossible to do anything to address these questions unless you understand your will best. I think it is difficult to create one’s own future and move forward, if you do what others tell you to do or take all-too-common path.
I think creators and artists, in particular, can really move forward only because they are able to seize their own choices and make decisions on their own. There are more and more artists of the my generation, and I feel that those who have that mindset will move forward.
Kenmochi: In our generation, we have kind of accepted without question what people in their 50s and 60s, who were older than us, told us “this is the way to do it”. We may not have been able to establish our own way which would fit naturally with us.
I have always thought that things would change when we become those generations(in our 50s and 60s), but before that, Generation Z came along and said, “This is the way it should be!” And we were like, “Yeah you guys are right!” I hope that they will continue to change things, since we are the generation that could leave nothing behind.
Utaha: Of course, not everyone of the our generation thinks the same way. For example, there are many people who were told by their parents that “it is important to be in tune with others,” and they take it for granted. Regardless of which side is right or wrong, I think it would be easier to live if people of all generations realized that it is okay to assert how they feel about things.
The first requirement was to have her own words and message
——What criteria or conditions did you set in having Utaha as the new lead performer and singer?
Dir.F: As for the creation of songs and lyrics, that is Kenmochi’s responsibility, but when we recruit a lead performer and singer, someone who just sings or just performs is not enough. Since the one who does not have her own identity would get swayed by our music, video, and the project itself, the first requirement was to have her own words and message.
It is rare that three of us get this kind of interview together, so the performer needs to speak properly (about herself and us). And if she can’t speak in her own words, she won’t be able to develop her own following. It is important for the audience to have someone who makes them want to follow this person. I checked during the interview whether Utaha could do that.
Kenmochi: Basically, the personnel selection for Campanella depends entirely on the eye of Dir.F If there was someone who met his criteria, I would meet with this person at the end of the interview and say, “Nice to meet you!” That’s how it goes. With KOM_I, we also decided to recruit her without listening to her voice beforehand. My role was to make the best use of the material given to me. Therefore, I did not judge Utaha based on her singing voice, but rather on her personality and on the fact that Dir.F recommended her because she was unique and interesting to talk to.
However, in the process of actually producing the music, we found a charm that is quite different from the quality of KOM_I’s voice, so we are exploring a new form of Wednesday Campanella now.
Being myself = liking myself
——Utaha, you have been active as a model, but now you have added music as an expression to your career. How do you feel about this?
Utaha: I never imagined myself doing music in earnest, but I used to play guitar and vocal in a band when I was in high school, so I like singing itself, and I am not afraid of being on stage.
However, I didn’t know how to show the good side of myself through singing at first. But as I performed more and more live shows, I came to be able to interpret and understand each word of the lyrics. Now I think I came to be able to sing in my own way.
——What factors are involved in your motivation for expressing yourself?
Utaha: I’ve always been the type of person who is willing to seize every opportunity that comes along. I have been a freelance model for a long time, and I have always thought about what photographers and readers like. I have wanted to give more than what is asked of me, to make people like me even more.
The desire for having people like me is the need for approval. But simultaneously, as a person who is in a position to be viewed, I have a feeling that I want to face each and every one of fans. I want to express myself to the best of my ability for that purpose and communicate with them in a way that would make them like me.
——So you are conscious not only of how to show your performance, but also of how it is seen.
Utaha: Yeah. (For example,) I also want the music video to be something that people will never get tired of watching, so I think it will be better if I perform after breaking down and understanding the director’s intention in my mind rather than just doing it as you are asked to.
——In the Wednesday Campanella project, are there any rules as to how much of Utaha’s personality she is allowed to show?
Dir.F: Well, this was one of the things we talked about in the initial interview, but I would like a character who can act with consideration for those around her, and who can be supported by the staff and the media. Rather, there would be no rules at all for those who can do those things. I thought that having Utaha pursue her own style in terms of costume and makeup would ultimately lead to overlap the character of Wednesday Campanella as well.
——Utaha, what is your own style?
Utaha: At the root of what I am conveying now is a self-affirmation. It is about taking care of yourself who like yourself. So, I think that being myself = liking myself.
——Have you always had this sense of self?
Utaha: No, there was a time when I hated myself. When I was a student, I had trouble with interpersonal relationships because of myself, I had no self-esteem or self-confidence, and I looked normal. I know there were ways to get someone to help me when I was having a hard time living, but I decided to help myself. Then I made a huge difference to appearances, and that became my identity as well.
I began to think about how to convey in a short time an addictive quality that would make people want to listen to it over and over again
——The latest song “Maneki Neko / Edison” is the second song released under the new structure. How did “Maneki Neko” come about?
Utaha: There were several choices for the title, and in the end I recommended it (laughs).
Kenmochi: Based on a speculation about what kind of music people would like to hear, I wanted to make a pop song for the current era. In the past, I would have put my own ego as a creator into a certain part of the song that I particularly wanted audiences to hear, but this time I was more interested in having Utaha’s generation listen to it.
However, if we released this song as the first work with the new vocalist, it would be far removed from the image of the group in the past. Therefore, we decided to release “Alice / Buckingham” first, which has an affinity with the past works, and after that, we released this song which would be more accessible for Utaha’s generation.
——Kenmochi-san, I know you were into Chicago juke for a while, and the sound of “Manekineko” seems to reflect some of those elements.
Kenmochi: The approach to the beat is similar to those sounds in some ways, but the most important thing is the melody and song structure. It was about how we can make the song pop.
——By the way, what elements do you mean by the notion of pop music today?
Kenmochi: One the elements is a song that can be understood even if you only listen to it for 15 seconds, as used on TikTok and YouTube, where video lengths are getting shorter and shorter. So I myself began to think about how to convey in a short time an addictive quality that would make people want to listen to it over and over again.
——Utaha, you are the one who recommended the title of the song “Manekineko.” What are your thoughts on this song?
Utaha: The previous song “Alice” was a girlish song, so this time I thought it should be cute, but not so girly. We also discussed the tempo of recent songs in terms of singing style. The recent songs are speedy, but they tend to change suddenly in tempo. It is hard to sing “Manekineko” because there are no rests, but it is also fun to sing because there are many different twists.
Kenmochi: The songs these days are so difficult that I wonder if they don’t want people to sing them. YOASOBI has set a high bar for pop singers (laughs). Now I am going back to the basics and learning from the younger generation.
——I think “Edison” is also a song that is filled with nowness.
Kenmochi: The idea with this one was to loop the lyrics and melody in a way that would stay in my head forever. I thought that even in a well-composed song, it is one phrase that stays with you forever. So, as long as we could create that part, the song would be pleasant. Moreover, no matter which part of the song is cut off on TikTok, it can work well.
——In an extreme case, a song that consists of only one phrase in a loop would be fine.
Kenmochi: Yes. And it is important that the phrase starts right from the beginning. I have been working in the field of instrumental music for about 10 years, and I have written songs with 30 seconds of introduction, and people would say, “That’s too long! ” (laugh)
Against this background, as I face the music of today, I realized that neither a long introduction nor a structure of the song that has melody A, melody B, and chorus is necessary. Of course, I would make them if they made sense, but for this song, I made a conscious effort to make Utaha’s vocals stand out from the beginning to the end.
Utaha: One thing I found interesting about it at first was that the words “Edison and Jisonshin [a Japanese term referring to self-esteem]” rhyme. Moreover, I wondered if Kenmochi-san is using the word jisonshin (self-esteem) as the word that is associated with me. Did you mean to imply that sort of thing intentionally?
Kenmochi: Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you….
Utaha: What ……, I’m asking if the song is about self-esteem because I am the one who is singing it!
Kenmochi: No, I wasn’t particularly aware of that.
Utaha: That’s what I thought. I wasn’t conscious of it either, so I thought it was interesting that some listeners took it that way and read too much into it.
——It’s true that the lyrics may reflect Utaha’s personality. We can read them in that way.
Kenmochi: What is interesting about Campanella is, unlike a manzai (Japanese double act comedy) or a comedy sketches that try to convey all the fun, that we rather leave some surrealistic part, instead of trying to tell everything. We stop at the point where we wait for the listener to freely interpret them. We are doing the funny things but there is no straight man who is pointing out them, nor are we intentionally trying to make people laugh.
Utaha: Fans have also interpreted the other songs in many different ways, and I’ve often been convinced by those interpretations. The same goes for music videos, where the director sometimes creates a new interpretation of the story. So we try to leave room for imagination.
——I know that you sometimes sing songs that KOM_I used to sing at your live performances. Is there anything you keep in mind?
Utaha: Before my first live performance, I watched KOM_I’s videos to learn and tried to interpret them in my own way. Because of that, however, I think I ended up sounding somewhat similar to her, or even making my singing style close to hers in some ways. But now I believe that the way of expression changes depending on who sings, and the same song can certainly become a different song if the performers change. For example, I perform dances choreographed for “Momotaro” because they are fun and I want to do, but I don’t try to inherit or imitate everything (that KOM_I was doing). I decide the way of expression based on what I want to do and how I want to do it.
——Emotionally, do you feel like you are having fun?
Utaha: Yes, that’s right. The most important thing is the fact that I am having fun. Even with the songs KOM_I used to be singing, I do things that I enjoy doing, and focus on having fun.
——Okay, so please tell us again what attracts you guys to Utaha.
Dir.F: In any case, once you meet her, you want to see her one more time.
Kenmochi: She is a person with an aura. Moreover, it is amazing that she has found her own charm in the last few years and is able to utilize it so well, despite the fact that she is not the person who has been active in this kind of activities for a long time.
I am convinced that we can definitely have fun together in any country
——Now, the second chapter of Wednesday Campanella has gone into high gear. What is your vision for the future as Wednesday Campanella?
Dir.F: In terms of live performances, our largest capacity venue to date has been the Nippon Budokan, so we would like to perform at larger venues in the future. And I would like to keep doing this for as long as possible, so maybe I and Kenmochi will be replaced by someone else (laughs).
Kenmochi: But seriously, we were able to smoothly go through the biggest change this time, which was the change of a vocalist, so there is nothing to worry about the replacement of us two us (laughs).
Dir. F: Actually, I think that the more people understand Wednesday Campanella, the more people who can take over our roles, which is interesting to me personally. I believe the band can even remain in that way.
Moreover, since the lyrics and subject matter of our music do not have a strong message, the main character can be replaced, just like in a manga or movie series. Each of us can suggest one wants to do in response to the big theme of Wednesday Campanella. So, no matter how the band is structured, I feel that we can keep updating it in line with a vague image of “the personality of Wednesday Campanella.”
——Utaha, what kind of future do you envision at this point?
Utaha: It’s a gratifying situation for me, but as for Wednesday Campanella, I am not thinking about surpassing the past or anything, I might just want to enjoy myself and have fun with everyone else.
Dir.F：There are some difficulties due to the situation right now, but in the future, I would like to broaden our scope to an overseas music market as well. I think it is dangerous in the future to only focus on current Japanese music market. The market structure has changed from the one in which the artist earns money as long as people buy and listen to CDs to an another one in which it is difficult for the artist to earn money unless people continue to listen to the music. This change is simply proportional to the population and the culture of how people listen to music, so I think it will inevitably become more difficult unless we also look overseas.
Of course, earnings from artist activities do not come solely from music, but there should be more opportunities for us to get fans through music, so I would like to take on this challenge with an eye to overseas markets as well.
——I would love to see Wednesday Campanella perform overseas.
Utaha: I have never been abroad, even on vacation. I can’t even imagine it, but I’m sure I’ll have the chance to go. I want people outside of Japan to find the Japanese language, which they have never heard of or don’t understand the meaning of, interesting. I believe that music can convey my wish.
It is not as simple as translating Japanese lyrics into English. Even if they don’t know what we are saying, they will possibly look the words up because they find them interesting. And it’s fun to see Japanese culture spreading through music in this way. That’s why I want to go abroad soon.
——I guess the key will be a communication for sharing an enjoyable place together, whether it is in Japan or overseas.
Utaha: Yes. I am convinced that we can definitely have fun together in any country. I am 20 years old, but I think I look like a very small girl to people outside of Japan, so I am sure they will take good care of me (laughs). Instead of trying my best to act like an adult, I would like to go abroad with a childlike spirit, learn many things from everyone, and give something in return for the lessons I learn from them. Anyway, I think it will be more interesting when people of various generations, countries, and races gather in a large space. I want to create a place where everyone can enjoy themselves in such a way.