This is a translation of Takuya Ooyama’s interview with Taka for the release of The Beginning. It was originally published in 2012 on the Music Natalie website. While it’s an old interview, it’s interesting to hear Taka’s thoughts back then and think about what they’ve accomplished since. The original Japanese article can be found here.
This band is never satisfied
We’re currently in the middle of the summer festival season. I saw your performance at “RISING SUN ROCK FESTIVAL” the other day. It was great.
Yeah? That makes me happy.
Even the people at the very back of the field were really into it.
To tell you the truth, I can’t see very well from the stage so I’m not aware of it at the time, but I get surprised when I watch video of it later. That (performance) was really tough. (laugh)
What about it was tough?
Our time slot was really late (1:40AM), so it was hard to flip the switch. We ate dinner inside the city in Sapporo, then rode on a bus to the venue. Like how am I supposed to get pumped up after that? (laugh)
Are your emotions different when confronting a solo concert and a concert at a festival?
Unlike a solo concert, the audience at festivals aren’t wanting to see us that badly. They probably see us and think, “Oh, it’s that recent band, yeah?” But that’s exactly why we feel we should go at it hard, and it’s why we can always perform with flare.
Indeed, we could tell that you were on the attack at RISING.
After us was Elephant Kashimashi…… Before us was BRAHMAN, and before them was Maximum the Hormone. We were definitely really nervous. (laugh)
But at the same time, it looked like you were having fun performing.
Because standing on the main stage at a festival was our dream. But when you actually do it, you start getting feelings of, “I wanna do many more things”…… If we’re going to be going onto this stage then we want to learn something impressive.
Do you still feel that something’s lacking?
This band will probably never be satisfied. I think that’s something we realized with this.
I felt it wasn’t right to put it on an album
How did the song for your new single The Beginning come about?
This song was actually already there when we made our Zankyou Reference album. The demo was almost done, but we hadn’t put lyrics to it yet. But I felt it wasn’t right to put it on the album.
Why is that?
Of all the songs I’ve made until now, it was the one that “clicked” the most for me. That’s why I didn’t want it to become just one song on an album.
You carefully kept it warm in the oven.
Yes. Then we got an offer for a movie tie-up. The lead in the movie was Takeru Satoh, who is with the same agency and also the same age as me. We get along really well. It made me happy that I could make a theme song for a movie that he’s working so hard on, so my feelings towards it was a little different than usual. I wanted to be able to express that to 100% of my ability.
So, does that mean that this song becoming the theme song of the movie had an effect on the song?
Yes, considerably. I wanted to put as much of my feelings after watching the movie as possible into the lyrics, and wrote the lyrics with that in mind.
On the other hand, was it difficult to write being bound to the theme of the movie?
No, the director told me that I could do as I pleased. That made me most happy. I suppose we’re usually told, “Please make a song like this,” but this time we were told from the very beginning, “With ONE OK ROCK’s sound,” so I also wanted the theme song to be the best song.
With such a big tie-up like this, a lot of different people will listen to it so I would think that brings with it some difficulties…
I think there will also be people who listen to it and say negative things. (laugh) I thought about creating something that even those people couldn’t call “utter crap.”
It’s incredibly simple, but has an intro, development, twist, and conclusion.
You said earlier that The Beginning is a song that “clicked” for you. What exactly about the song clicked?
First of all, the demo was made on a piano. Usually we make it on guitar, so for us to start off on piano and for it to be able to come full circle to the band, that was really big for me.
You applied a band sound to a melody that was born from a piano?
Yes. I’m the type of person who can basically get by with a piano and my vocals. I don’t need a guitar, bass, or drums. That’s why if I start making it on piano then I’ll go all the way until the end with just a piano and vocals, but I was able to strike a good balance with this one.
Does that mean you were able to make a good band arrangement from it?
Not just the band arrangement, but I think we were also able to express things that you can only express on piano. In any case, this song is incredibly simple. We probably use only four chords. But with just that, we were able to properly create an intro, development, twist, and conclusion. There’s no guitar riff. It’s just octave and arpeggio. And power chords.
Now that you mention it, that’s true.
Right? That’s why I’m really pumped up to be able to create a work that satisfies me at this time and in this manner. I feel like we’ve reached one of the goals we’ve been pursuing until now.
Indeed, there aren’t really any catchy riffs, and if I had to say, there’s isn’t anything that really stands out and pulls you in. Yet, it’s a song that grows over time and has strong repeat listen value.
That’s right. It’s something you can listen to many times. That’s what I like about it. Usually we’ll want to add a little extra oomph, but it makes me happy that we were able to complete this without doing that.
I can’t release until I’ve won against the song
But, precisely because the song is simple, I think that makes the vocals a lot more demanding. Did you have a hard time recording?
Yes, it was very difficult. (laugh)
Specifically what aspects?
In my case, I think I set considerably high levels. That’s why it takes so much time for me to reach that level and the recordings take forever. I probably sang the beginning of the song about a hundred times.
What level do you need to reach for you to give the OK?
Until I win. Against the song.
I can’t play any instruments in an orchestra so I just use my intuition to determine whether or not we were able to create something that I can believe in. So each time I approach recording as if I’m fighting against the orchestra that has been made. I can’t complete it if I can’t win against something that I think is cool. But if I’m able to win against it then that’s the first time that I can say that the song is a masterpiece. That’s why I confront it with the intention of singing it many times until the day I die.
Are there any aspects of the vocals that we should pay attention to?
It’s going to be really specific, is that OK?
Please tell us.
Well, there’s a first and second chorus…… The beginning of each is different. Usually when there are two choruses then the impact is lessened, but I’ve always been searching for the methodology where having two choruses makes it sound even cooler. So, and this is really getting into specific details, but there’s a phrase where the guitar goes “kii–” before the chorus, and this is included in the second chorus but not the first one. We redid this part many times so that when the vocals come in, there’s an explosiveness to it. That part especially was highly calculated.
As for the lyrics, with the first 5 lines, I put a lot of thought into how well or messily I should sing them.
Oh, so it’s not just about singing well.
Right. The pitch is off, and I think that gives it a nice twist. So it’s like, do I carry it with my voice, or do I carry it by how well it’s sung. In this way, like… How do I put it… I wondered what kind of singing method would bring out the humanity in it…… That’s why we redid the beginning and the chorus many times. We also paid special attention to whether or not the western-ness was preserved when it goes from the beginning to the first verse.
I’m not too particular about the lyrics
I’d like to ask about the lyrics. From the beginning it’s all English lyrics, but from the second verse, there’s suddenly Japanese lyrics. That took me aback.
Oh yeah? That makes me happy.
The balance and position of the Japanese and English lyrics are exquisite.
It would have been fine to have all English lyrics, but I felt like that wasn’t quite right. Also, I’m Japanese so I can’t pronounce words like a foreigner, so I also thought about the kinds of English words I’d choose while keeping my abilities in mind.
Just how important are lyrics to you in the first place?
I’m actually not too particular about lyrics…… I absolutely don’t think that I’m saying anything profound, since I don’t really think I have much talent for writing lyrics.
Is that so?
I’m always saying the same thing ever since starting the band.
But I think your lyrics are great.
Also, they’re somewhat odd. (laugh)
Ahaha. (laugh) I get that a lot.
I think generally when people say a rock band’s lyrics are good, there’s often some cool signature phrase or a powerful catch phrase. But your lyrics rather feel like you’re speaking normally and stringing those together.
That could be it.
How do you feel about that?
Well, like I said, I don’t have a knack for those things. But I am envious of people who can write lyrics that pierce through you with one phrase though. There are a lot of people like that around me, and I wonder how they can write like that.
How do you write lyrics?
I usually just write what I think and put it to a melody. It’s possible I don’t put too much thought on writing great lyrics. I feel like it’s enough if there’s one part in a song that piques interest. I actually do want to write good lyrics. It’s just that I can’t really. (laugh)
People often say that “the lyrics just came” to them……
That doesn’t happen to me. (laugh)
As a vocalist, I want to sing my own words
But similar to vocals, I’m sure you have set some kind of hurdle for yourself with lyrics too? Like if the quality doesn’t pass a certain level then it’s no good.
What, you don’t? (laugh)
I wonder about that. Well, I want to make it so that anyone who reads them can understand. I’m stupid, afterall. (laugh) I’m not too familiar with difficult words, and I do try to carefully convey what I want to say. I guess you can say that I write in a way that I can understand.
(laugh) I couldn’t help but write it that way because the melody came first. I actually wanted to end it with something like, “Jibun wo kasaneawasetemitarishite,” but when matching it with the melody, it was like, “OK, let’s add a little to it.” This is why it’s kind of hard to talk about lyrics……
But you have something in you that you want to convey, and you’re putting it into words.
Yes, but rather than convey it, it’s more like I’m singing it to myself. More often than not I’m putting exactly what I feel at the moment into words.
But ONE OK ROCK’s lyrics really resonate. Rather than the the lyrics themselves, the melody and performance become one and when they reach you is when the lyrics powerfully resonate the most.
I’m happy to hear you say that.
Don’t you get that kind of reaction often from fans?
No, I wonder about that. I don’t think there’s really anyone who has said that they were “saved by the lyrics.” (laugh)
What, they don’t?
No one’s ever said anything like, “My outlook on the world changed because of these lyrics.” More often people say, “ONE OK ROCK’s lyrics always put me in a good mood.” Actually that makes me more happy.
So writing lyrics isn’t really your thing?
Yeah. I think I write with myself as a vocalist singing it in mind. It’s my voice who conveys it to the audience, so it has to be in my words, and that’s really all there is to it. That’s why if I were to quit being a vocalist and became a guitarist instead, I probably wouldn’t be able to write lyrics.
I don’t have trouble with melodies at all
What about melodies? It’s not as hard as writing lyrics?
No, I don’t have trouble with melodies at all.
It’s pretty amazing that you can say that so confidently. (laugh)
I think that’s the only thing I’m good at. That’s why for each song I come up with several patterns. Even with demos that Toru makes, until he gives the OK, it’s like, “How’s this? What about this?” and we just keep coming up with different melodies.
Do you think about how you’ll sing it in your voice when you’re making melodies?
No, I don’t imagine it at all. There are actually more possibilities when I don’t consciously think about my voice or how I sing. Recently I specifically try melodies that don’t seem to suit me.
That was unexpected. For example, I feel like your voice and the way you sing this song, The Beginning, makes it what it is and it wouldn’t work if a vocalist other than you sang it.
I feel like it’s a melody that chooses who sings it.
You could be right. I like western music, so sometimes I imagine foreign vocalists singing it when I’m writing. For example, I want Nickelback to sing this. It’s possible I wrote this with that in mind.
Like writing a song for an artist you admire……?
I’d be really happy if I could do that.
I see. You write at a high level without thinking that you’ll have to sing it, so when it comes for you to sing it, you have a hard time.
Ah! I think that’s probably it. (laugh)
I want to climb an incredibly high summit
From what you’ve told us, it sounds like you yourself have a lot of expectations for this single, as if you’ve reached an arrival point as a band.
Yes, I’m very glad we were able to make it. It’s like, how do I put it, one day people will say, “Haven’t we had enough of ONE OK ROCK?”
You mean like a generation shift?
For example, right now, I don’t think the people that the generation older than us think is amazing are all great. One day we’ll probably be in that position where the next generation will raise the level of Japan’s music, and they’ll be the ones who lead the Japanese music scene. That’s exactly why I want to continue creating things that I think are cool. If we made songs that we think people would like but we didn’t like ourselves, then there really wouldn’t be any meaning to making music. It’s kind of like that.
So you don’t want to regret it in the future? You’re already thinking about that?
I think about it a lot lately. (laugh) Um…… Time is really short. Once we pass 30 years old, age-wise and stamina-wise, I don’t think we’ll be able to put on the same kind of performance that we do now.
I’m sure there are some cool things that we can only do at that age, but our current ideals and what we seek aren’t things that we can do when we’re 50 or 60. I think it’s about how we exceed the high level we’ve set for ourselves, and then later how we tone it down as a band.
You’re already worrying about things slowing down? (laugh)
No, I want to start going down only after climbing a crazy high summit. If you only have an hour left, you would take 30 minutes to get to the top and 30 minutes to get back down. That’s why I wouldn’t want to come back until I’ve gone even further than the peak of what a normal person would reach in 30 minutes. As a band, I want to go to some place incredible.
I want to strongly convey raw feelings
But ONE OK ROCK has always been steadily advancing.
No, we still want to be on the attack. We want to perform more overseas, for instance.
You seem to always have a low assessment of yourself. (laugh)
That’s because people didn’t take us seriously at first. There are now some who’ve turned their attitudes around. I think there are other bands out there like that. But if there’s the possibility of changing like that, I feel like we can do things that people around us say are impossible.
Does that mean you want to have concerts in larger venues?
Yeah, but at the same time, a large venue isn’t everything. Of course I want to perform at large venues, but I also think there are other more important things.
Such as what?
Strongly conveying our raw feelings to the people who come to see us. That’s something I really want to achieve.
But the larger the venue, the harder it will be to properly convey your feelings to everyone in the audience.
I think that’s why some bands don’t really want to play large venues, like because it’s “too big,” “the acoustics aren’t good,” or “doesn’t connect with the audience.” But I want to overcome that. It’s true that at large venues the sound might not be as good and it’s difficult to connect with the audience, but I think it’s necessary to have the courage to go at it head on. That’s why I want to perform at bigger and bigger venues.
Like Tokyo Dome?
Yes, I want to aim for that once we’re able to connect with the audience more.
Well then, first off it’s your live house tour starting in September.
Right. The Beginning is a single that we created for this tour. I want to make all three songs the main leads of this tour. I’d be happy if you listen to the songs without thinking of them as coupling songs and attend our tour.