Interview & text / Mikiko Ohashi | 2012.7.9 13:27
When you mention the name Taro Kobayashi, you might say, “You're the guy who plays Flying V, right?” His first independent album Orkonpood, which unleashed him onto the music scene in 2010, captured the ears with its unique song titles such as 'Yasuda-san' and 'Misako-chan', as well as the power of his one-of-a-kind songs. Two years have passed since then. After playing in bands and other activities, Taro Kobayashi found a new ground for his music and his first major label EP 'MILESTONE' was born. What changes in his state of mind have led up to this point?
—When you released Orkonpood, I didn't feel that you were obsessed with whether you were major or independent or anything like that, but what about now?
KOBAYASHI: A lot has happened since we released Orkonpood. But through that experience, I've come to a settlement within myself, and at this point in time I feel like I've finally come to understand who Taro Kobayashi is. It was a time when I felt like I could finally get down to business and make some kind of sound, and that coincided with my major label debut. I think it's great that I was able to make the best record I've ever made in this situation, a record that broke out of my shell.
—What do you think was the biggest thing that you “understood” after your previous work?
KOBAYASHI: There is a flow that leads up to that point, so it's difficult to say “what” in one word.
—Well, can you tell us about the flow?
KOBAYASHI: In terms of musical activities, you had two albums released as a solo artist, and then you became active in a band.
—What was the reason for being in a band?
KOBAYASHI: I wasn't sure whether solo or band was the best way for me to present my music. The appearance and songs on stage are a bit different between solo and band, and the way I write songs is also different, but I wanted to be lazy and try both. So the tension was the same for me in both activities. Then last year there was the earthquake. People in my position were sending out messages in their own way, but I couldn't do anything. But I couldn't do anything.
—Why is that?
KOBAYASHI: I couldn't do anything because I didn't even understand myself. I thought, “This is a bad idea.” Even with that thought in my head, I was trying to decide whether it was better to be in a band or a solo artist, and I was desperately trying to be in a band. In the end, the band broke up because each member was capable of writing songs, so we decided to do individual activities. Then what about me?” I thought. That's where I had to think about it again. I'd spent about a year facing up to the things I'd been thinking about while being in the band, but now that I was on my own, I had to face those things head-on again.
—What do you mean by “things I've been thinking about somehow”?
KOBAYASHI: It was about why I myself started doing music. It wasn't because I had something to say or anything like that. I didn't have a message I wanted to convey, and I didn't feel like I could say something cool like other artists. When I thought about why I was doing music, it also highlighted the fact that I didn't understand myself. I really didn't understand.
—When we released Orkonpood, we were talking about that too. You said, “I don't have confidence in myself.”
KOBAYASHI: Yes. I'm not confident at all (laughs). But whether I was confident or not, the first problem was that I didn't know who I was. To some extent, I wanted to understand and be satisfied with myself. That's what I've been thinking ever since I started music.
—You wanted to go to a place where you weren't just doing music because it was fun?
KOBAYASHI: Yes. I felt like there was a reason why I was doing music, but I didn't understand it for a long time. But then one day I thought that if I didn't know this much, then the goodness that I had wasn't mine. If it was mine, I would know the details, I would know the whole picture, I would have control, and I would be able to do whatever I wanted, but it doesn't apply to everything. I feel like being in music itself is so big that you can't even see the whole picture, you can't control it, you can't do whatever you want. Then I thought that the musical talent I have is not mine.
—What do you mean by that?
KOBAYASHI: Up until now, I've had all sorts of people say all sorts of nice things about me, like that my songs are good, that my voice is good, or that I stand up well at shows. But they've only said those things about what's inside me, not about me. It's just about the goodness that I have. My goodness, my talents, and so on, were given to me by something other than myself, and I myself am just a vessel to receive them. So I thought that the reason I'm doing music is to give back what I've received to someone other than myself. Even at live shows, I don't just put myself out there, but I go straight for 'my goodness'. I don't know what 'my goodness' is because it comes from somewhere else, but if I get the hang of it, I can bring something out of it. I felt like I could give something back. That's what I have to do, and I think that's the only reason I'm doing music.
—That's a great realisation.
KOBAYASHI: That talent was only given to me because I was lucky. So I have to give back as much as I can in my own small capacity. Then I can put all my energy into it. Until then, I thought that I had to give meaning to what I created. But now I've come to think that it would be good if I could make it better by giving it meaning, but maybe that's not the case. You have to present what you receive in its original form, without doing anything to it. If you put a stick on it or cover it with a piece of cloth, you're only getting in the way of its original goodness. If something comes out of your senses, it should be continuous, and things should be made in areas you don't think about. I think that's what it means that what is given to you comes out straight away. That's why I think that as much as possible I should not do anything unnecessary, but be like a traffic controller, a mediator, a vessel. I was able to settle my mind in that way six months ago, when I started making this album, 'MILESTONE'.
—So it was really great timing.
KOBAYASHI: Yes. Various gears meshed and it felt like the first shot in the right direction. So the next thing I had to do was to showcase the talent of Taro Kobayashi as he was.
—But you can't do that with that in mind, can you?
KOBAYASHI: That's right. You can't think about making it better, and it's impossible to make it better in the first place. What comes out straight away is good, so I just had to leave the rest to my senses. I understand what I've been struggling with all this time, and now I feel really refreshed.
—I can feel that when I watch you live. But ...... means that the words depicted in “MILESTONE” are naked.
KOBAYASHI: That's right. I haven't really connected the words in the past. With this album, it was easier to express my current state when I was writing. In the past I had saved it, but this time it's just the current situation. All I'm writing about is moving forward (laughs).
—(Laughter) – I can see why the lyrics are like this, though, when I hear what you just said. Isn't it difficult to talk about how songs are made when you're doing things without thinking? (Laughs)
KOBAYASHI: Yes. I don't think about anything when I'm writing, but when it's finished, I can think about all sorts of things and it's fun.
—(Laughs) – There is such a thing as unconscious awareness. It's something we naturally have in common.
KOBAYASHI: That's right. It's easy for me to just put it out there, but I wonder how it is for the listeners. I'm putting myself out there as it is, so it would be a problem if they said, “It would have been better if there had been a stumbling block” (laughs). But I'm happy if the message is more straightforward than before.
—It's a bit of a sting, isn't it? It's like the flow of the song, but it also feels like a story. Even in the interludes, even though they're mostly instrumental, you can feel the emotion. You can hear the words even if there are no words.
KOBAYASHI: Maybe the lack of lyrics makes the sound more convincing. Up until now, I've always made songs with lyrics and a full chorus of melody, which is the royal road with vocals, but I also like this kind of instrumental style. In the sense that you have to bring out as much of what you have as possible, this song is at its best in the original demo stage. I think it's great to be able to give back a lot of things in the instrumentation other than singing. I want to broaden the scope of my work to include this kind of thing.
—Kobayashi: The inclusion of this song in the middle of the album gives it more meaning.
KOBAYASHI: It's like dividing the album into three songs. The first three songs are the ones that lead the album, and the latter three songs are the ones that store energy in the album.
—The first three songs are aggressive in their language, and they seem to be stirring you up. In the second half, the energy that comes out of being agitated becomes one with the songs.
KOBAYASHI: Yeah. We didn't really think about that kind of flow, but we felt it would be best if it happened naturally.
—KOBAYASHI: All of the songs are about moving forward, but they also depict the “inability to move forward”.
KOBAYASHI: I feel like someone made the point that the future is something you have to believe in, that you have to think positively. It's like being told, “Don't say you're tired” if you keep walking. That's because if you walk, you get tired. It's more fun to be tired but still walk and play, saying 'I have this interesting way of walking'. I don't know if you can play that much with this 'milestone', but if you think too positively, you get tired. But I don't go too far into negativity. I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic, I just go on. Besides, I just had to make this piece. I think that part of me comes out strongly.
—Is the sixth track, “Swimming Away”, a coined word?
KOBAYASHI: Yes, it is. I'm swimming (laughs). The lyrics of this song may have come out more straightforwardly than the others. It shows my current situation really well. In life, there are both positive and negative events, but you still move on. I feel that moving on is neither good nor bad. You just have to keep going. I don't think anyone feels that they are alive all the time, but to live is to move on. Once you are born and life begins, you have no choice but to live. If you walk, you just walk, if you go forward, you go forward, you are not being chased by anything, you just go forward because you have no choice but to go forward from your current situation. I think this song shows the strength of looking at things in a flat way the most. The other songs also have that kind of image.
—This song is particularly striking in its expression that even the pain points are stimulated, isn't it? I feel as if I am in pain while listening to it, and I wonder if the third track, “Raven,” has that kind of feeling as well. Even though it is music, there is something that wells up in your body.
Kobayashi: When I'm writing a song, an image like a landscape comes to mind. For “Raven,” it's a dusk. For “Swimming Far and Away,” I imagine the sunlight climbing up from the horizon. The scenery that I see in my mind in this way is very emotional. I feel that the straightforward production made it easier to share these images with others. Until now, I had put a piece of cloth over it, so I couldn't really understand it, but I feel that my image and the listener's image have become much closer.
—It's more universal than before, isn't it?
Kobayashi: In my previous state, I could only make it difficult to understand. I guess there is a question of which is better, but before, I was more focused on making it difficult to understand. Next time, I wanted to make everything in the music, whether lyrics or melody, easy to understand, and say, “Taro Kobayashi has this kind of talent! I would like to show that Taro Kobayashi has this kind of talent, even though he is still a small performer.