Yuki Chikudate of Asobi Seksu on Otis Redding, Okinawa and working with Vaughan Oliver
Asobi Seksu (due tonight at the hi-dive with Grimes, Le Divorce) made a bit of a name for itself in its early days by blending solid pop hooks with strong rhythmic dynamics and a guitar sound that recalled early Lush and the more melodic end of My Bloody Valentine. Naturally, this resulted in the group's being lumped in with the latest wave of those influenced by the so-called shoegaze bands of the early '90s.
Asobi Seksu cut a striking figure on stage with the sheer exuberance of its performances, so much so that seeing the band in small clubs makes you wonder if it could be a more established act from another era, performing under a different name. At least that's the level of confidence Yuki Chikudate and James Hanna seem to exude. We recently spoke with Chikudate and asked her about Otis Redding, Okinawa and the act's soundtrack work with So Yong Kim.
Guerilla Group Asobi Seksu
Westword: In the Red River Noise interview from March this year, you said you listen to Otis Redding on tour. What is it about his music that makes it such a good companion on the road?
Yuki Chikudate: It's music with deep feelings -- all of them. He is just so present as a musician, a performer, but most importantly, as a person in those recordings. He gives so generously.
A lot of critics want to fit your band under the category of "shoegaze" and evaluate your music and what you're trying to do with it, citing some kind of stylistic shift with the release of Hush. It seems to me that the evolution has been more organic than all of that and that Asobi Seksu has never been strictly in a specific rock subgenre. What were you able to incorporate into your sound for Fluorescence that you hadn't up to now?
We were very happy with the marriage between guitars and synths on Fluorescence. It felt like we were using synths in a dance-y way that we hadn't before; it was much more highlighted, but instead of it being the focal point, like in Hush, it nicely complemented and counterpointed James's blend of guitars.
The song "Deep Weird Sleep" has a suggestive title. What inspired the title and that song?
The title was something James wanted to use for a while, and the meditative quality/state of this song made the title appropriate for it. The song was an improvisation done on the spot.
Your mother is from Okinawa. Was your own experience of being raised with Japanese culture significantly different from those of children born to mainland Japanese parents? In what ways was it different, and do you feel there is a bit of a cultural difference between Japan and Okinawa?
I have felt that my mother is a bit more of a free spirit than a woman from the mainland. These are all small things, but, for example, she is loud, she laughs big and freely with her mouth open, throws her head back. She's never been afraid of hugs and is physically affectionate. She grew up in post-WWII Okinawa, so she grew up with a lot of pain, fear, betrayal, destruction, loss, and hurt around her. She exhibits resilience, but not hard-edged determination. Okinawan people have a gentleness and warmth to them, a lilting quality to their speech and movement. I always feel welcome in Okinawa. It is a humble place.
Why did you choose Vaughan Oliver to do your album art, and what is it about his aesthetic that spoke to the aesthetic of the new album?
Working with Vaughan Oliver is a dream come true. We have always hoped that our paths would cross one day. He said our album was fiery, flowery, glowing. He couldn't have been more encouraging, supportive. It was surreal to hear from him that our album blossoms with each listen.
How did you come to work with So Yong Kim, and what kind of direction, if any, did she give you in scoring the music for Treeless Mountain? How did you approach writing music specifically for a film?
So and her husband, Brad, contacted us years ago for So's movie In Between Days. We've been great friends ever since! Of course we said yes when she asked us to write for Treeless Mountain. I don't recall exactly what her direction was, but she did ask for something childlike. We watched her movie several times. It's a beautiful film. We tried to evoke a kind of childlike hope and wonder, almost like a little prayer.
Being in the public eye on any level can be a bit of a rough gig because you subject your art, and thus yourself, to the scrutiny of strangers. What have been the most frustrating and the most rewarding aspects of putting your music out into the world in terms of recordings and playing live?
The most rewarding part is that as long as we are writing, recording, performing, we are living out a dream that we've had since childhood. It's really as simple as that. Of course, a lot of other things come into play, and being in a band, a public entity, has its challenges, hurts, disappointments and frustrations. But, really, it's no different than anyone else's struggles that come with life. It might look different, but we all experience the same stuff, feel the same feelings.
After all these years of touring, it's still incredibly moving to meet fans, get fan mail, people saying thank you, telling us what listening to our music got them through. That's not why we do it -- we do it for ourselves -- but we can't say thank you enough to the people who show up for us. Thank you!
When you were starting out and developing your craft, what kinds of shows did you play, and was there a point you can think of that marked when you felt that the band perhaps went beyond a local phenomenon?
We played all kinds of shows. We were happy just to get them! It was so fucking exciting when there was anybody who showed up to see us outside of New York.
Many bands build a personal mythology for themselves regarding what their bands are about and what they want to do with it. Do you have such a thing for Asobi Seksu?
Ah, I don't think so. But James is a Centaur, Larry is a unicorn, Billy is a Medusa, and I am Artemis. Does that count?
What have been some of the most astute observations people have made about your music, and what have been some of the most amusing?
The most amusing comes from Casey, a trucker in New Orleans: "Y'all make some Chinese rock 'n' roll?" And that is a pretty astute observation, don't you think?