I Don’t Like Mondays. will soon release their fifth full album, RUNWAY.
It’s their first album in over two years, following their ambitious Black Humor project, on which the band laid its soul bare in the midst of the pandemic. RUNWAY is a tremendously varied album, with 10 songs that go back to the band’s roots and aim to encapsulate the quintessence of I Don’t Like Mondays. Funk, rock, hip-hop — the album covers a wide range of musical styles, changing from song to song. It’s packed with the full appeal of I Don’t Like Mondays., a band that focuses not only on music, but the whole package, including fashion and artwork.
Billboard Japan had an opportunity to interview the band, which is poised for even greater success, having performed a growing number of overseas shows in recent years.
To start off with, why is the new album named RUNWAY?
YU: Last year, although we didn’t release an album, we went on our Black Thunderbird TOUR, and we were able to really give it our all. After that, we wanted to take a good look back on ourselves and really think about the true essence of I Don’t Like Mondays., and about what we wanted to express through our music.
We don’t have one specific genre — each of us likes different kinds of music. The I Don’t Like Mondays. approach has been to play the kind of music we want to at the time. To put it metaphorically, it’s like we’ve garbed ourselves in music. The same fashion model might wear different kinds of clothes at different times. I think that’s the way all four of us think about I Don’t Like Mondays. That’s why we named the new album RUNWAY, after the runway in a fashion show.
KENJI: The bands that we like, like the Rolling Stones, are bands that excite us in every way. Their music, of course, but also their fashion and artwork.
CHOJI: Personally, I really like the fashion of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, or, for a Japanese example, Char. There’s no way you’d ever see Page or Char on stage in a tracksuit (laughs). Of course, that kind of casual look goes well with certain genres and types of sound, but I like the traditional rock guitarist look, and that’s something I’m not willing to budge on. I feel that same kind of dedication to fashion from all the members of the band, and I think that’s directly reflected in our visual image.
SHUKI: Along those lines, we took our band photos for the new album pretty early. I feel like that also provided us the opportunity to nail down our fashion image for the album (laughs). There was even a time during the sound production when we were working backwards from the photos, thinking “what kind of sound would fit best if performed by the four people in these photos?” Before we’d written all the songs on the album, we experimented with different sound textures, using a trial-and-error approach. I think that this was tucked away in the corner of our minds, and had a big influence on the making of the album.
YU: For example, the song “Dynamite” was the first song we completed, excluding “PAINT,” a tie-up song that we’d released previously. After we completed our previous album, Black Humor, we were reflecting on what I Don’t Like Mondays. was all about, like I mentioned earlier. We realized that when we first started out as a band our sound had been highly influenced by 80’s pop.
Now that you mention it, “Dynamite” has a synth phrase in the middle that’s reminiscent of a-ha’s “Take On Me.”
YU: Right (laughs). We decided to just go all out and do what we liked. The result of that was “Dynamite,” and from there the direction of the album gradually solidified.
SHUKI: We also decide on the lighting for our shows by discussing it within the band, and this time we decided that a blue-centered lighting concept would fit us best. I think the reason we realized this is that we’d already taken the band photos. As for the drums, in the past we’d always used programmed drums, but on this album we also mixed in some processed acoustic drums. With RUNWAY, we thought more than ever about what it means to be a band and that band feeling.
KENJI: And, on the flip side, I also overlaid my own bass playing with several layers of synth bass. I spent more time than ever before on the tone of the bass, and before I knew it I’d just spent a prodigious amount of time on programming.
Could you give us an example?
KENJI: Well, on “Sin City,” I overlapped my electric bass with five or six layers of synth bass. I experimented with fine-tuned adjustments, exploring what kinds of effects could be achieved by layering the bass, what kinds of frequencies I should emphasize, whether I should apply distortion or go for a clear sound, how I should balance the layered bass tracks to produce the most interesting effects, and the like. It took longer than it had ever taken before (laughs). But I think that thanks to that effort, I was able to create some good grooves. I’m confident about how things turned out.
CHOJI: As far as the guitar, I want to be able to reproduce the guitar work from our albums during live shows as much as possible, so on this album, as well, I tried to record guitar parts that could be performed with a single guitar, without overlapping parts. However, for “Beautiful Chaos,” the guitar is really the centerpiece, so I recorded both an excellent acoustic guitar sound and also delicate picking on an electric guitar. This is similar to “WE ARE YOUNG,” one of our earliest songs. I might just go so far as to say that with “Beautiful Chaos,” we’ve created a guitar song that surpasses even “WE ARE YOUNG.”
The new album also features “Strawberry Night,” a collaboration with ESME MORI, and “conversation,” with artist CREAM from the Korean hip-hop group DPR.
YU: We collaborated with ESME MORI a few years ago, on a song called “ENTERTAINER.” He’s the same age as SHUKI and I, and I remember the process of recording the song being a lot of fun.
ESME’s put out a lot of mainstream music, but he also has an edgy, alternative side, and I’ve always been impressed by how he balances those. When we finished the demo for “Strawberry Night,” I asked to have ESME work with us because I knew that he’d come up with something that would exceed even our own imaginations. He dirtied the sound up, in a good way, and gave it a bit of an edge.
I’ve heard you’d also had your eyes on DPR for a while?
YU: Yes. Whenever they came to Tokyo to perform, we’d always go see them. They don’t even need to be categorized as K-pop anymore, they’re a new global standard. Their creative output is always sublime — not just their sound, but their music videos, everything. I often talked with the other band members about how I’d love if we could perform with DPR sometime. This was our first collaboration, and we did it remotely. We made our demo with the idea of working on it together with DPR, so we provided them with our demo, and they created a new arrangement for it. It came out as a wonderful track.
YU, how did your approach to writing lyrics change on the new album? How has your worldview changed?
YU: For better or for worse, I decided not to overthink things. I feel like in our last album I did all I could with the approach of expressing the darkness within in a raw, honest way. This time, it was all about the sound, so I wrote the lyrics based on how they felt going along with the music.
That’s because I felt like there’s a limit to how much you can weave words using an intellectual approach. It felt like on the last album, I’d taken too much of a cerebral approach and didn’t place enough importance on feeling. But it’s important for there to be a sense of allure in things that might look haphazard from outside. Music is what enables us to express things that can’t be put into words. That’s the kind of approach I wanted to use in the new album.
It feels like you arrived at that aesthetic approach precisely because of how much deep thought you put into your last album.
YU: Exactly. In the past, I’d always written lyrics that followed the music, picking words with a focus on how they sounded. Then, with the pandemic, it was like I needed to place greater weight on the messages of our songs — on the meanings of their words. I felt like I was driven to take that kind of approach. I got a lot of new input and took a trial-and-error approach when writing the lyrics. With this album, the lyrics have gone back to being inspired by the sound of the music.
On the other hand, “conversation,” the song I wrote with CREAM, made a really profound impression. To think that the day would come that I’d write this level of hip-hop lyrics. It was like I was using a totally different part of my brain than when I wrote lyrics for other songs… It’s easier to pack in more words with hip-hop, and I found it really fun how I could put my thoughts into words so much faster, without scrutinizing them so closely. It also re-impressed on me how the pleasure that comes from rap differs from that of other songs, focused on the sounds of the words and the flow. I got to experience both the new joys and new difficulties of writing hip-hop lyrics.
Changing gears a little, I Don’t Like Mondays. has recently been putting on more overseas shows. What have the audience reactions been like?
YU: At Anime Friends 2022, in São Paulo, Brazil, the crowd went wild for “PAINT,” which makes sense given that it was an anime convention. But even at Spain’s BUBBLEPOP festival or the YANTAI YOMA FESTIVAL in China’s Shandong province — both music festivals — the audience was even more excited than when we played “PAINT” in Brazil. It felt great seeing that the course we’d taken over the years had been the right one, and it gave me a lot of confidence. In the future, we’ll continue to do what we feel is best, confidently sharing our music and our whole aesthetic with the rest of the world.
—This interview by Takanori Kuroda first appeared on Billboard Japan
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