Interview: Valeriya Berezovska
Photo: Nastya Platinova
[In conversation with Go Kurosawa]
What is like to be you?
Right now? Oh.. I was talking about completely different things at the previous interview. So how does it feel to be me… I feel very lucky to be able to play music and to travel. Because not everyone has this opportunity and I feel really happy and grateful. I feel appreciation for being able to meet someone like you guys. And that is the kind of result of where I am now.
What was your first musical memory?
That song about cars. I was like two or three years old. I remember that song, it’s about different cars, they all had faces in that cartoon. And I thought everyone has these different personalities and that was really cool, each car was different, each truck had a different personality. And I was really into that music.
You travel a lot, so what was the most beautiful place you have ever seen in your life?
I think I have some favourites. In Europe it’s Iceland – such a psychedelic place, it’s kind of magical. Iceland was the most epic experience for me. Just seeing that nature and being like – “whoa!”. Sometimes you see the mountains and you go, “Oh, this is a different level”.
Tell us the most surprising thing about you?
We listen to pop music too, like Justin Bieber. I like Justin Bieber. We are all into different kinds of music. Myself, I started listening to music from pop-punk, like 90s Green Day. It was my childhood. I don’t know if that’s something expected of me. I don’t know what kind of debates you have about me, so yeah…
What was the last thing you’ve experienced for the very first time?
Oh, being here in Ukraine. It is the last experience so far. We’ve been to Slavic countries before: Russia was the first one from this area of the world. I was talking to locals last night. And we were really curious about your history, the country, you know, so the guy was explaining it all as well. Because we always get all these Ukrainian news about the president and blah blah. I wanted to know what the people here think about it. And that was really kind of amazing. I’m always curious and I didn’t know much about it. I only knew the surface, but it’s great when people can explain how “you felt, he felt and she felt”.
What kind of advice would you give to the government of your country?
I think we are forgetting about the past now because we had a war 70 years ago. The generation that experienced this war is, you know, getting older and passing away. Our generation is starting to forget about what had happened. The Japanese Government is becoming nationalistic and being aggressive to countries like Korea and China. We had these disputes. Our parents’ generation were taught that we were admitted to a really bad thing: that we conquered Korean peninsula, we made Japanese territory in China, we forced laboured people there. That time is a dark part of history, which our parents were taught. And then my younger generation is thinking, “Oh, actually, it was normal during the war, why can’t we be proud to be Japanese”. I think younger people in the West are being more liberal, care about human rights and stuff like that. But in Japan, it’s kind of the opposite. All the people who are protesting against the government is our parents’ generation, not young people, young people don’t care. Also, they think, “Oh, actually why can’t we say that it’s okay to be nationalistic”. That’s our young generation. I think people need to have a broader perspective and learn history. I think that’s something I can say because if we forget history, we will do the same thing. If you know history, you can kind of learn from it.
What was the wisest thing you have ever heard in your life?
I don’t know. I don’t think I can remember one phrase that made an impact on my whole life or something like that. Maybe just different bits of conversations. I would never be able to meet someone from Ukraine if I didn’t play music, you know? Maybe I would be stuck in Japan because it’s an island, it’s hard to get out if you don’t try. I went to Russia, I went to China – these countries for the Japanese have an image of something crazy and scary, of something dangerous. But when I go there and meet people with whom we share the same values… Something I’ve realized is that the government is not giving them space for it. Also, since we have this chance of traveling the world, I think we have this risk, also a responsibility to tell people that you can actually connect with anyone anywhere you go. You just have to find the right people. And no matter where you are, you can always find cool people and share their culture. Even in Ukraine, we can share the music we listen to. I’ve been to China, and Japan is completely different in comparison, in terms of history, and the media is very different. I felt like I understood how they see the government, how other people think about the country and common things. I think it’s important for us to tell it to people, to be more open-minded. You shouldn’t judge from what you know, you should judge from what you experienced. And if you are open you will always have a good experience.
What disappoints you the most on your field of activity?
Disappointing thing? Luckily, so far, we don’t really have much of something like that. I think it’s because we do almost everything by ourselves. So we don’t have a manager. We run it by ourselves, it’s something like, ‘hey, this is our responsibility’. There is nothing crazy disappointing in the music industry to me. I haven’t had that, luckily. When you are doing everything by yourself, sometimes you can find people who are having the same approach. You can feel this. We started but we didn’t know anything at the beginning but then you start to figure things out. You have nothing to lose – this kind of mentality. And I really like it.
You are touring right now, are there some things that you dislike about each other already?
We are almost like best friends, like a family. And we are getting closer. This year we are having almost 120 shows. And we spend six-seven months together, 24 hours, every day. I think when we just started touring, it was more difficult, maybe five years ago. Because you don’t know each other’s space. For me and my brother, it was easier because we grew up together, but we started to hang out together and then we start living together. That made us feel really connected. So touring was easy for us because we’ve already been living together and we can read each other, ‘oh, yeah, he’s kind of in a bad mood, let’s leave him alone’. Or if he needs to have breakfast by himself – go ahead. It’s a nice feeling to travel with best friends and experience things together.
How do you usually recharge with so much space invasion in your life?
Mentally or physically?
Mentally I recharge through meeting people like you guys. Because sometimes when you just play music it feels kind of okay. Really, it’s fun to play music. But you sometimes forget that you are surrounded by people. If I don’t talk to someone who’s local, it feels just like routine work. But if I can learn something about a place, or a different culture and its history – that’s something that can really recharge me. I’m really lucky to get to know that this kind of scene exists here! This warehouse is a crazy place. Someone’s playing piano right now and nobody cares. I like it. You know, this exists in Ukraine. I would never imagine seeing places like this here and people who are running these temples all over the world, in Europe, in Russia. It’s like an art squat. It’s refreshing.
Do you have a favourite historic period?
I’m really curious about the now, current politics and what’s going to happen in the future. I’m really curious about our whole world, and how our younger generation will react. We still don’t have as much power yet as a political leader has, we cannot change the law. But if we are demanding, and we are growing up, then we can influence the other generation to change it. So I’m curious about the future and today.
You are based in Amsterdam right now. Is it scary for you to observe that entire right-wing politicians rise? Especially in France and the Netherlands.
It’s disappointing. I can kind of feel people’s fear of other people who you don’t know, people who are coming in. I understand that fear. But these countries like France, Netherlands, Belgium, like Scandinavian countries, where people thought for a long time that they are liberal, nice, and have this safe space. And now they’re starting to reveal this human side and this emotion that you don’t want to share with the community, or a place, or the culture. And I think it’s important to experience this sharing sense. When you’re young you live together with someone, you learn that this is not mine, this is ours. Then I think people can become fine with other people coming in. But Netherland’s politics (laughing), it is anti-moral and not my favourite. It’s scary, for sure. But in general, I think these people have this really generous mindset, they really welcome you in. They’ve been involved in trading, using these assets from different countries, and they developed it well. They cannot shut it down. You know, because it’s a small country, they still need to communicate with other countries.
What was the most surprising thing for you when you moved to Europe?
I lived in the US before I went to the Netherlands. For the first time when I toured in Europe, my cultural shock was about people being so happy. Yeah, very happy. People in Europe know how to enjoy life. They are drinking white wine while having a cigarette. In Japan when you go outside, you can tell if it’s a Monday. You can tell because everyone’s wearing suits. No one’s drinking. Maybe on Saturday, Sunday – fewer suits. So you can kind of tell what day of the week it is. When in Europe, I couldn’t tell. It’s Wednesday and people already drink before 1 pm, and don’t wear suits. So I don’t know who is working or who is just hanging out. People are chilling, you know, spacing out. And that was kind of a culture shock to me. And I feel people know how to enjoy in comparison to Japan. Japan is a rich country, but people in Europe have a rich life.
Would you like to move in the future to another country?
Maybe. Right now I feel like I need to be in the Netherlands. But maybe in the future, I would want to live somewhere else. Maybe I want to live in Portugal. Somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Are you not feeling alienated when you go back home to Japan?
If I go back to Japan for two weeks then it’s fine. But if more – oh my God. You can find so many cool things during these two amazing weeks. But not longer. As a tourist it’s amazing. But if you have to be maintained in the culture of that society then it is hard. It requires so much money.
Can you tell the most fucked up story from your tour?
By far the most stressful story was last year when I lost my passport in the US, which had my visa. I was in the US and I had the flu. I was so sick, shaking, a really high fever. Not only me. Two of us got sick and lost passports at the same time. We had a driver and he told us: “This is very crazy”. There was a blizzard outside and he added that we are in the worst situation possible. But it was fine in the end.
What was the most memorable gig you’ve ever performed?
It could be this one. Like, it sounds good. This could be the place that I’ll remember forever, this warehouse show. I like this kind of rawness, people going crazy. So yes, it could be my favourite show.
What story you would tell your future grandchildren?
It really depends on what happens. Our future can be better but also we could go backward. And maybe future generations would think: “Really? You could go to Ukraine? It is such a bad country… You shouldn’t go there”. That could happen. As for art and music you can go beyond that border, they cannot close the border with music. And we don’t have lyrics in our music. When we went to China they said we had to sign a paper that we cannot say anything political or anti-government related etc. We could not say anything that could disturb public safety, so we had to turn in any lyrics. But we don’t have any, so we said no. They could arrest you for such things. And I think visual or any art, like film, you don’t have to use your energy or message directly, but in an underlying and subtle way. I think that’s something artists can do. We are not politicians, but we can influence it in a subtle way, ‘Oh, look at us, you know, we’re from Japan’. And maybe they think: “Oh, I thought Japan was a crazy country, but listening to them made me change my mind”. Maybe something we can do is to form a connection. It’s a bigger skill to create a connection rather than making messes. It’s more powerful. If you have a really good message you are having greater power. But sometimes you can also push people away when you have such a strong message. So you have to keep it balanced.
So do you think that we are moving in the right direction?
Hm… I think I’m pretty optimistic about it. I’m maybe living in the bubble. I only meet people who are quite nice and treat us really well. But I always try not to think that this is our trait. I think this is a sort of privilege. I have the privilege to be able to see this, privilege to travel this world, and then some people don’t have any of this. What can we do to share this experience? I’m always aware as, you know, being from Japan, I’m not from China or North Korea. Also, being male in the music industry also, unfortunately, puts you in the privileged class. But also, as non white, not European or American, we feel this unbalance. If people can do it in a subtle way then more people can get accepted. So that’s something that we are trying to do with our label. When we play these international festivals, it’s mostly American and English people singing in English. There was no Ukrainian playing at this big festival. And people there usually say that they are so sorry. It is hard for them to realize how super Anglo Saxon centered they actually are, and still they say: “I’m curious about what’s happening in Asia, what’s happening in Africa?” You know, because we are treated as ‘world music’ still.
What do you think about K-Pop? It’s pretty huge right now.
I like it. I think it’s cool.
Why not K-Pop then?
Because we are not ‘K’ we are ‘J’. And the J-Pop… I don’t like J-Pop. If I would be K – maybe yeah. But for K-Pop you have to be cute.
Could you send us any Japanese bands?
Yeah, would be cool, like bands from the 60s and 70s – 80s. I’m so curious about what people would think. Some people say: “I know these Ukrainian and Russian bands”. And they think it makes them cool, ‘look how exotic I am, I know these underground weird places, I’ve been there and here’. That kind of egoism, but we can do our input and make things a bit wider.
What question would you like to be asked but have never been asked before?
Oh, what question… Your questions are so creative! I talked about where we are coming from, what we see, the things that surround us. People don’t really ask about it. They’re always asking, what’s your influence, where and how did you meet up, what can you give back to us back. Not just music, okay? You can listen to music from Spotify, we came here, you know, to meet. That’s the point, the whole point of experiencing and connecting with people I think. If you, as a media, should tackle these artists, make them feel more responsible to tell their story and to use the good for the future. I think that would be amazing.
What was the most memorable question you have ever been asked?
I think the question you’ve just asked at the beginning. What is it like to be me? It made me think really deep in a very short period of time. I think it was very smart and very sharp. I liked that.