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KEITA TACHIBANA――From idol to creator. w-inds. pioneering the cutting edge of pop music in Japan and Asia

Interview / Asia Hundreds

Expanding the musicality of J-POP

Shiba: In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of producers and performers in Asian countries sharing a sense of incorporating global music trends in real-time.

Tachibana: I think so. It has completely changed, which is a bit of a shock. This may be an odd way to say it, but when we first performed live in Asia in 2004, I thought J-POP was amazing music. Every country we went to liked it, but other Asian countries are also incorporating world trends and continuously growing musically. When we saw this with our own eyes it made us start to wonder if J-POP remaining as it was, was the right thing. It made us think that maybe J-POP also needed to start incorporating some new sounds and musicality.

A photo of Tachibana during the Asia Hundreds interview

Shiba: Is that connected to the threatening feeling you just mentioned?

Tachibana: Yes. Our music represents Japan so I would be really disappointed if people thought that Japan was uncool because of it. I wanted to create music that could compete on the same playing field.

Shiba: What do you think is the reason for the increase in cool music when you look at the performers and creators around Asia?

Tachibana: The popularization of the internet and social media. Before you had to go to a club to get the latest music information, and the people playing the music had to get their information from somewhere so it took time for the information to actually spread. But now, it's faster to look on social media and the internet than to do the footwork yourself. This was true when I was studying songwriting as well, because you can watch and study every aspect of the music making methods of overseas track makers. This is the shortest route to gaining knowledge and it is now available to everyone around the world. Track makers, video producers, and stage set designers can all learn a vast amount of cool things. So I think it is only natural that the overall quality then levels up.

A photo of Tachibana and Shiba during the Asia Hundreds interview

Shiba: But the threatening feeling you felt was because your impression was that it was just J-POP and Japan that was falling behind.

Tachibana: Honestly, that's how I felt. When I think about it now, I think J-POP sold so well in the 90's that it became the standard. But complying with that standard is something I feel a little regretful about. When I create music, it is always with the desire to stretch the musicality a little further.

Shiba: You debuted as a dancer and vocalist and have built up a career since then, and now you are involved with writing your own songs and producing your own sound. When did you begin to feel the motivation to do that?

Tachibana: Originally, I had an interest in track making and bought a synthesizer and started playing around writing my own songs. But, I started doing it for real in 2012 when I made my debut as a solo artist. At that time, I worked on collaborations with various people and my interest really grew. Writing my own songs is the best way to ensure that my image is communicated as accurately as possible. It was then that I started really studying hard on my own.

A photo of Tachibana writing music.
Hard at work writing music

Shiba: Do you feel fulfilled when you actually write music?

Tachibana: Yes. I think it suits my personality. I like to really concentrate on one thing. If I look at the finer aspects, there was a time that w-inds. bought its songs from overseas track makers. But the demos we received and our own arrangements of those songs that we actually sold were very different. It wasn't just the vocals, the sound had a light feeling. When I think about it now, I didn't really have any expertise back then but I knew something was definitely different. So I think in that sense, I am suited to this.

Shiba: The first song you were involved in writing and producing the sound for was "We Don't Need To Talk Anymore." Since that song, your listener demographic has expanded beyond those who were already w-inds.'s fans. What do you think of that change?

Tachibana: I'm simply happy about it. "We Don't Need To Talk Anymore" was the start of my song writing, but the musicality and direction I wanted to take prior to that point remained unchanged. I'm glad that song was the trigger for what came after.

The mood in Japan has gradually changed

Shiba: I assume this direction is the implementation of global trends in musicality rather than, as you just mentioned, J-POP that remains the same. My own impression is that the sound of J-POP is somehow different from that of K-POP and other sounds from Asian countries that incorporate these global trends.

Tachibana: It is completely different. It was easiest to see this at festivals and when we performed at major venues. When you play really loud, the way the music echoes is completely different and the difference becomes glaringly obvious. For example, if you are listening through earphones on your iPhone, there are sounds that you don't notice, but when you listen in an environment where the music is really loud you find that it is completely different. I wanted that music to spread throughout Japan as well so made our own attempt at it. I have really strong feelings about that.

Shiba: However, it is my impression that the mood has gradually changed now in Japan in 2018. For example, it seems like people such as Daichi Miura, Nariaki Obukuro, who was produced by and debuted under Hikaru Utada, and the underground group yahyel who are inspired by global music trends and then able to skillfully refine that with a purely Japanese style are increasing these days.

Tachibana: I too think they have greatly increased, and that makes me genuinely happy.

The concept is genre-less pop music

Shiba: Please tell me about your latest album 100. You were involved in producing the sound for all the songs on the album. Is this something that you had always wanted to try doing?

w-inds. album artwork
13th original album 100

Tachibana: Yes, I wanted to try it. The title 100 comes from adding all of our current ages, 33, 33, and 34 together. In other words, the title is symbolic of our lives, so I thought if it was something we made ourselves then it would be a powerful album. I wanted to make an album that could stand up to the title so I produced it all.

Shiba: My impression after listening to the album is that it's not really one genre, but more that you tried a variety of different pop music styles. What was your concept or theme?

Tachibana: The concept was truly genre-less. I wanted to create a broad ranging genre-less pop music album.

A photo of Tachibana during the Asia Hundreds interview

Shiba: There is the indie R&B song, "The Love," tropical house*3 , and future base*4 . There are a whole variety of genre in the songs on your album, but conversely are there any genre you decided against doing?

*3 Among house music with four beat rhythms, it is comparatively slower and incorporates live-like sounds. It has a lighter, more relaxing feel to it.

*4 Dance music characterized by bright synthesizer sounds and finely processed voice sampling. Perfume's "Mugen Mirai" is a representative J-POP example.

Tachibana: There are several songs that I wrote but we didn't do them. In general, I create music while imagining performing it live, but there are some songs that we eliminated because we just couldn't imagine doing them live. For example, we really wanted to do a Trap music style song, but we couldn't picture it live so we didn't do it.

Shiba: You went on tour soon after the album was released so it must have been really important for you to imagine performing the songs live.