Talking About the Music Business With Japan’s Biggest Pop Guitarist!

Talking About the Music Business With Japan’s Biggest Pop Guitarist!

In Japan, there are very few artists bigger than SEKAI NO OWARI. They routinely fill stadiums with an electric live show that’s famous for animatronics and larger-than-life theatrics. They’ve topped the Japanese charts and featured on countless TV and radio shows. And now, they’re ready to conquer the world.

Under the translated version of their name, End of the World still consists of the same four members: singer Fukase, guitarist and band leader Nakajin, pianist Saori, and the visually striking DJ Love, who’s never seen without his signature clown mask! “Chameleon,” their first English-language album was released on November 27th, 2020, and since then, the group has been steadily making progress in the Western world.

In the middle of their international momentum, I got to jump on Instagram Live with Nakajin for a conversation about the music business! Here’s how it went:

Alex Waters: Hello!

Nakajin: Hello, hey man!

Waters: If it’s alright, let’s start at the beginning, when you guys were SEKAI NO OWARI. Way back in the beginning, when you guys were selling your personal possessions to create “Club Earth,” how important was it to get out there early on, as musicians, and start performing in front of people? What did you learn from that experience? And was that a good first step to take?

Nakajin: Yeah, Club Earth was a studio, a live house, and our home all in one. Before we started Club Earth, we used to rent a studio too, but we needed to have a place we could use 24/7 and anytime we wanted to, instead of renting a studio every time we needed to practice. Create our own style and sound, and talk about our future and what we want to be.

We literally lived there together; I think it was important that we spent so much time together first.

I mean, it’s not easy but we could do it, as we were already pretty close friends. Our struggle was constant, but the teamwork created from those days is strong.

We played mostly to our friends and families, but it was really important and I still care what my friends and family think. So it was really good to perform at an early stage, because you can get reactions.

Our shows now, they are so much bigger, but there is still that same energy from those early days playing house shows.

Waters: That’s wonderful. Your band has been described as both J-pop and J-rock. So while we talk about your style, I know that you’ve previously in other interviews that you don’t want to be bound to a particular genre. But is there a style of music that you prefer to make? And how do you balance being so sonically diverse, but also maintaining a consistent brand image as a band?

Nakajin: For SEKAI NO OWARI, I would say it is J-pop, but for End of the World music, we definitely prefer not to be categorized as J-pop. We are doing different projects, so we can do both I think.

I think we are not trying to be the same brand, for both projects. We think about different languages and different listeners, which already makes a big difference.

Sonically, to be specific: most Japanese music is melody-based music, which emphasizes vocals the most. Since the listener is focused on vocals, the overall sound tends to be biased towards the mids and highs. There is also a big difference in chord progressions, and J-pop tends to use different chord progressions for verse, pre-chorus, and chorus, and there are many scene changes in one song.

Waters: Sure, definitely. That’s good that you guys are moving in new sonic directions and keeping it fresh. When we talk about how you moved from one language to another, from Japanese to English, it was back in March 2016 that you guys announced plans to start making an album in English. Eventually, “Chameleon” came out of that. It’s been four years since then, so what have you learned about music in the Western world in those four years? Is there anything you wish you could change about the music scene in the West, or have you learned to like it, perhaps?

Nakajin: Actually, we started to create our album since 2012, maybe, but it’s not that big of a deal. I think the writing process was the biggest difference first.

Our band had to really learn English. Japanese is so different than English.  The lyrics do not translate literally. We learned we could not write Japanese lyrics and just translate them. So we spent years learning English and working with native English speakers and songwriters.  Not only was language a challenge, but also the way in which Western music is consumed vs. Japanese music. I think, in Japan, there is more emphasis on the lyrics and message of songs, but in Western, it’s also the beats, the rhythm flow, and how the music makes you feel, and not just think.

We’re still learning English! And about the second question, in these years, we saw how people are listening to music on streaming platforms, before it really hit Japan. And I think, because of the streaming platforms, the music trend became clearer than ever. But at the same time, it moves so fast.

Waters: Yeah.

Nakajin: A while ago, it took a long time for Western trends to come in Japan. And I also felt a time lag. I don’t think it was easy to know, then, but now, you can get the same information at the same time, anywhere in the world, with Spotify or Instagram. On the other hand, the time from production to release is also very short. So quick! The artist’s reaction to a movement is also very quick.

I can’t take my eyes off [these trends] because I feel that the changes in the scene have become really intense these days.

Waters: I would definitely agree. We mentioned this a second ago, but I do want to know: do you consider SEKAI NO OWARI and End of the World to be the same band? Would you perform the same songs from each project live? Or do you consider those two completely different projects?

These are two different projects with the same band members. SEKAI NO OWARI is J-pop and End of the World is not J-pop, simply because of the language difference and the expectation from the listeners.

Waters: That makes a lot of sense. I’ve been going back, now, in the past couple of weeks, while we were setting up this interview, and listening to a lot of your music… and I like it quite a bit!

Nakajin: Thank you!

Waters: One of my favorite songs right now was your collaboration with Clean Bandit, “Lost.” When you work with artists like Clean Bandit, or, I believe you’ve also collaborated with Nicky Romero, and people like that who come from very different musical backgrounds than you, what is it like working with people like that, united by a shared love of music, but still, very different? And was there anything you had to overcome while you were working with those people?

Nakajin: Thanks for listening to our music. With Clean Bandit, I was a already a big fan so luckily, we were able to watch their show in Tokyo, during their Japan tour, and have the chance to have dinner with them after the show. Which led to us going and recording together in a studio here in Tokyo!

It was new for us, because collaborations are not as common in Japan, so the experience of getting to work with artists that I admire was a very special moment for me and our band. Working with artists like Clean Bandit, who are not Japanese, opens up a whole new perspective both musically, but also culturally.

We learned that artists collaborate directly a lot more in Western vs. in Japan. There can be more management involved. Language again was still a challenge we had to overcome, but music is the one thing that has no borders, so that was the universal driver to help us collaborate successfully.

Waters: Absolutely. I think, at this point, all these years later, it would be safe to say that End of the World is taking over the world, slowly but surely!

I wanted to give you a moment to go ahead and talk about anything that you’d like. Maybe the new song “Forever,” or maybe talk about something else that you’re working on, but whatever you want.

Nakajin: Okay, so let me talk about our first album. Our new, full-English album, “Chameleon,” is out now. Please check it out, and then let us know what you think! You can leave a comment on our Instagram.

Stay safe and healthy and have a happy holiday!

Waters: Thank you so much!

Nakajin: Yeah, thank you for having me!

This transcript was edited for clarity. To see the full version of our conversation, plus a fun virtual photoshoot we did together, check out the IGTV video below!

 

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