[Interview] Taro Kobayashi 'tremolo': The secret of 'sound as imagined' finally in hand
Interview & text / Tomoichi Nishihiro
Taro Kobayashi is releasing a new album 'tremolo'. This album, released just six months after his mini-album 'MILESTONE' in July last year, is packed with rock numbers that are even more energetic and raw than his previous work. His voice with a strong presence, playful yet deep lyrics and ever-changing sound will overwhelm listeners more than ever.
In a previous interview, Kobayashi talked about his approach to music and the changes in his way of expression. In this interview, he reveals the solid response he has gained through his confident work 'tremolo'.
◆ I now know what I have to do to give shape to my image.
─I listened to your new album 'tremolo'. I have the impression that this time you have added more precision to the liberating and penetrating feeling of 'milestone'.
Yeah, that's for sure. I feel like there's a lot more attention to detail this time around.
─I felt that the little phrases and methods of expression have evolved into something more detailed and advanced than in the previous album. I was a little surprised that you were able to achieve such growth in such a short period of time.
We've had an arranger on board since 'Milestone', and I think the influence of that is more apparent this time around. Overall, we discussed every detail, so maybe that's why we were able to create something more precise in a shorter period of time. I also think it was a big part of understanding what I needed to do to give shape to my image, which is different from my musical sense or talent.
─What exactly does that mean?
Knowledge of recording techniques, such as how the frequency of the mix should be, and the compressor that needs to be applied here. That's been the case since we made our first album 'Orkonpood' two years ago. Since then, I've been thinking that I needed to learn more, and I did so gradually, but I think I've finally caught up with the skills needed to produce what I imagined on 'tremolo'.
◆The production of 'tremolo' may have strengthened my mind.
─Did you first become interested in recording techniques?
When I made 'Orkonpood', I didn't know anything about that kind of technical stuff. At first I thought that if I just recorded it, it would sound the way I imagined it would, but it didn't (laughs). Not a single one. I wanted to say, “This is not my song!” I wanted to say, “This is not my song! That was frustrating. After that, I started to think that I had to study a lot so that I could at least wipe my own arse. Of course, I couldn't do it straight away, and in the meantime I had to release an album. It was really hard during this period, because I couldn't do what I wanted.
─Even though you had an image in your head, you didn't have the skills or knowledge to get there.
That's right. I had no knowledge of the equipment, so even if someone asked me, “What's the difference between this comp and that comp?” I didn't know the difference between this comp and that comp” (laughs). With 'tremolo', I was finally able to formulate one of them. I think my mind may have become stronger during the making of this album. When I go to the recording studio, I'm the youngest (laughs). I'm 22 now, so I'm a fourth year university student standing alone in an environment full of adults. Can you believe it?
─Regardless of your age, you have to struggle with the staff around you on the recordings.
Just because you're the youngest doesn't mean you get any preferential treatment. It's been the same since the first album 'Orkonpood'. That's why we were determined to do our best.
◆ 'Tremolo' = a vessel for trembling musical talent
─The album title 'tremolo' is also a very impactful word. What is the meaning behind this title?
It comes from a guitar effector called a 'tremolo', which amplifies the sound and makes it vibrate in small steps. I think that I am a vessel for amplifying the music, not transforming it into something else through me, but rather giving it a shimmering effect or something like that. I think I've been doing that unconsciously. What makes me Taro Kobayashi is the humanity of the vessel, or the shape of the vessel. Things like my temperament are imparted to my music through the vessel that is me. That kind of intensity doesn't come out in everyday life, but it comes out naturally in music. In this way, I use myself as an effector called 'tremolo' and let my musical talent tremble. I think that's what Taro Kobayashi's music is all about, and that's why I chose the title 'tremolo'.
─Does the intensity you express in your music not come out in your everyday life?
It doesn't come out at all in my daily life. Even if I did, I wouldn't be allowed to express it. I would definitely get arrested (laughs).
─If you do too much, that can happen.
I don't let it out in everyday life, but in music I can let it out without feeling bad about it.
─When you express yourself in music, is it something that comes out unconsciously?
Yes, that's right. For example, playing music is pure fun, isn't it? When you play your instrument loudly, your mind and body are liberated, and when you play ......, the intensity of your temperament, which you don't usually express, comes out unconsciously. It becomes a primitive emotion, or rather, it's not like I'm happy or angry, it's like my pupils dilate with excitement. I think music is the only thing that can do that for me.
A friend of mine has a dog and I often play with it. When I move the toy in front of him to the right, to the left and to the right again, he turns his head in the direction I move it, but at first he seems to be having fun, but then he gets carried away and I can't tell whether he's having fun or getting angry. His face is completely angry, so you think, “Oh, is he going to bite me?” And you're thinking, “Oh, he's not going to bite me. But if you keep going to the right and to the left, the dog will still repeat the same behaviour, and when you stop it, it will ask you to continue with a “Do more! When I stop the dog, it looks at me and asks me to continue (laughs). When I saw that, I thought, “Oh, he's just like me”. For me, music is something I can get into, beyond feelings of fun or sadness. I want to tell people more straightforwardly that they can have fun with feelings as primitive as a dog's.
◆ 'tremolo' is a break with the music we've done up to now
─I would like to ask you about the contents of the album. I thought the style of your last album was quite intense, and I'm completely captivated by the wildness of the first two songs on this album, 'frontier' and 'Erase the Answer'. It's like you've declared victory with just two songs.
Oh, that's important. When I was in high school, the music playing in my head was really cool, and I tried really hard to give it shape, but I couldn't quite do it. I thought that if I kept working on it, I would be able to get closer to my image, but due to various factors, I wasn't able to make it perfect. But with 'tremolo' I got closest to that image. In that sense, I'm very satisfied with it, and I think it marked a milestone.
─Did you not reach that level yet with 'milestone'?
Yes, I think so. If in the future I'm asked to continue in the same way, I can do it, and if I'm asked to do it differently, I can do different things, and I think I can do anything now. I think I've cleared the first stage. I can go to the second stage from here, so I'm very satisfied now.
─I don't know if this is the right way to put it, but have you reached the goal in the first chapter of Taro Kobayashi's musical life?
Goal......Yes, maybe. It's a goal that's close to me. In fact, this was my goal. So I don't know what the next goal is at all now.
─But you can go in any direction.
Yes, that's right. That's why I'm having the most fun at the moment.
◆ What we want to show in our music is our humanity
─I would also like to ask you about the lyrics, but I felt that you put more effort into word play this time. For example, in the song 'Iroka', the word 'Iro' is read as 'aka' or 'iro' depending on the phrase, so you get a different impression when you hear the lyrics by ear and when you read them in words. Were you conscious of this aspect this time?
Actually, I wasn't conscious of it at all. Just like with 'Milestone', I didn't think about the storyline or foreshadowing or anything like that at all, and just kept writing until my hands stopped. But maybe while I was writing I was subconsciously matching words and phrases. When I was singing the finished lyrics, I could easily sing them with my own senses, but when I read them again, they seem to have a different meaning. It's like, “You were thinking about something so stoic?” (laughs). I was particularly surprised by the song “Rinkyoku” this time, and when I was writing it I thought, “Damn! I can't get anywhere!” But when I read the finished lyrics, the lyrics were amazing (laughs). I thought that only I could write these lyrics.
─Indeed, in terms of the lyrics as well, the way you go through 'Roudou – interlude' and then fold it up with 'Nayuta' and 'Rinkyoku' gives the impression of an aggressive attitude, which is different to 'Frontier' and 'Akuha wo Hashigake Ike' at the beginning of the album.
I wanted to rewind the flow of the album with 'Rakuozai ~interlude~'. I divided the album into the first half and the second half with 'Roud – interlude' as the axis. The first half of the album is divided into two halves, with 'Nayuta' being a bit more emotional and more like the kind of Japanese rock that inspired me to start my own band. After that, it's like metal ('Rinkyoku') and grunge ('INDUSTRIAL LADY'). I really only do what I like (laughs).
─The selection of the word 'nayuta' is also very impressive ('nayuta' is a unit of extremely large quantity derived from Buddhist terminology). When I saw this title, I was reminded of what Mr Kobayashi said about reading various books after the earthquake, some of which were Buddhist scriptures.
Ahaha (laughs). Well, I think reading books enriches our humanity. What I want to express in my music is that part of humanity, so reading books is a very important element. I feel that this is expressed more strongly in this album.
◆ Subconsciously seeking the person on the other side of music
─Could you tell us a little more about the “expressing humanity through music” part?
When I finished making this 'tremolo' album, I finally realised what good music is. I felt that when I finished making this 'tremolo', I was finally able to see what good music is. I think it's music where you can see the people who are making the music, in other words ...... where people come out. To put it simply, when people say 'I want to hear that song', they don't listen to another person's cover of the song, they listen to the original.
─ Well, that's usually the case, isn't it?
I think that means that people are looking for the humanity of the person who first sang or wrote the song. It's like subconsciously seeking the person on the other side of the music. Just because you want to hear 'Love Story Suddenly', you don't think it's okay if you don't know who's singing the song. It starts with the guitar phrase “Chaka chan!” is a good thing because it starts with the phrase “Chaka-chaan!” and then you hear Kazumasa Oda's voice. He's on the other side of the song.