I had bought issue #44 of Rock and Read back when it came out in 2012, solely for the GACKT article. In 2013 I learned of YOHIO through his collaboration with GACKT on the song “Sakura, falling.” It wasn’t until this year, when I sat down to translate the aforementioned GACKT interview, that I realized this issue of Rock and Read also included an interview with YOHIO. I was recently gently scolded by my former Japanese teacher for using my Japanese only to read about GACKT, so I decided to read YOHIO’s interview. Ahaha….
It’s a short interview and fairly easy to understand (relative to the GACKT one anyway) so I went ahead and translated it. Though it feels kinda weird considering YOHIO can speak English. Well, it’s practice for me either way.
The interviewer was 金澤隆志, which name might be KANAZAWA Takashi, or something else along those lines.
Again, this is a TRANSLATION from Japanese.
Swedish guitarist and vocalist born July 12, 1995. At the age of 14, he formed the visual kei band Seremedy and began writing songs along the theme of “Beauty and Madness.” In March of 2011 he debuted as Seremedy’s guitarist, and in the same year the band performed as an opening act at V-ROCK FESTIVAL ’11. Up till now he has toured in Japan twice. In April of this year  he made his solo debut with the mini album REACH the SKY. He’s proficient in Japanese and English, and blogs and tweets in Japanese.
Reimported Visual Kei
These days visual kei can boast of its popularity not only in Japan, but abroad as well, and more than a few bands there have formed through its influence. In such an environment, one particular artist has displayed considerable talent: YOHIO, the reimported visual kei artist from Sweden. Even more than his gender-bending chiseled looks, it’s his consummate guitar technique, guitar shredding, songs written in fluent Japanese, and his high level of finish, all at the tender age of 17, that take you by surprise. Just how did this new breed of artist emerge? What kind of environment did he grow up in, what kind of things did he think about and do up to this point? And what’s he trying to achieve? The answers are revealed by YOHIO himself.
“BREAK the BORDER.” Language barriers, cultural barriers, those kinds of things are so easily broken.
—You’re from Sweden, so the Japanese summer must be pretty tough for you, huh?
Yeah, this is the first time I experience Japan’s summer. So when I arrived at the airport this time, I was shocked. I was like, “Ugh, I can’t breathe!” *Laughs*
—The high temperatures are partly to blame, but the humidity’s what really makes Japanese summers miserable, right? Anyway, I think I’d like to hear your life story today. I want you to tell me about everything you’ve lived in your 17 years. First, tell me about your family environment.
My parents divorced when I was 3, so one week I’d be at my mother’s house, and the next week I’d be with my father. That’s how my life had been ever since then.
—Your parents were both in the entertainment business, right?
Before I was born, my mother was a top dancer. She was a champion ballroom dancer in Sweden, and really famous. So I’ve heard. It was before I was born, so I don’t really know. She quit dancing when she got pregnant with me.
—I’ve heard your father is a guitarist.
Yeah, my paternal uncle is a guitarist too, and they were in a band called Angtoria together. Sarah Jezebel Deva from Cradle of Filth was the singer. They started in 2006 but they’re not together anymore. So there are musicians gathered on my father’s side. My grandfather’s a guitarist too. I’ve been told he was in a rock band called The Panthers in the 1960s. It was a pretty famous band in Sweden and England. He debuted at the same time as the Beatles, and was a rock star back then. But he can’t play guitar anymore because of his rheumatoid arthritis. That’s how my family’s musical roots go back three generations.
—It’s truly a family of artists. You said you lived alternately with your mother and father, but was one of them like the “main” parent?
Probably my mother. In a week, I’d stay with my mother for 3 more days than I had stayed with my father. It’s something my parents decided so I don’t really know the reason for it. But I liked being with my father more, because he let me do as I pleased. My mother’s strict. One time when I was 6 years old, I went to buy ice cream by myself at the supermarket that was across the street from my father’s house. When she found out I’d crossed the street alone, she got really angry. She had this fierce look on her face, and yelled at my father, “Why did you let him do such a dangerous thing?” Even now that I’m a little older, she gets mad at me if I get home past ten. She tells me, “I saw you tweet that you were out having fun.” *Laughs*
—So she monitors you even through Twitter. You have to be careful what you tweet. *Laughs*
That’s why I started tweeting in Japanese. So that she can’t read it. *Laughs*
—Is that why your Japanese improved so quickly?! *Laughs*
Actually, I had a huge fight with my mother about a year ago and left home. I got tired of how she’d tie me down with rules. I’d do things like ignore her when she’d call me on the phone. Now, living with someone else feels like such a pain. I want my time to be my own. I don’t like being told to go eat dinner, or when to go to sleep. That’s why I left my father’s house, too. At the moment, I’m living in a studio at Ninetone Records. There are four bedrooms and a big living room, so it’s quite comfortable. Everyone’s gone by 5 in the evening, so I can do stuff freely, like record songs. It’s a great environment. But I’ll be moving into an apartment next month.
—Getting back to your early childhood, I heard you started playing piano when you were six. Was that because of the influence of your musician father?
I don’t remember how it started, but for six years I got private lessons from a personal instructor. My parents tell me they let me have those lessons because I had said I wanted to play the piano. My father plays the piano as well as the guitar, so maybe there was some influence from seeing that. Like, it seemed interesting, to put it one way. I started playing at 6 years old and immediately composed a song. My first try at songwriting ever. I still remember that song well, even now.
—So you took your lessons pretty seriously?
Hm, no, not really. Swedes aren’t patient like Japanese. *Laughs* My father would teach me whatever I asked about, but it’s not like he stood over me nagging and making me do things even if I didn’t want to. His stance was basically, “If you want to do it, why don’t you just do it?”
—What kind of music were you exposed to back then?
Regular Swedish pop music. Sometimes my father would put on some hard rock, but I didn’t like it much when I was little. But I think being exposed to it at home did have some influence. I think I was able to compose music because I was in an environment overflowing with it. I probably became interested in anime songs, Japanese music, and heavy metal a little later on.
—The name “Yohio” is unusual even in Sweden, right?
Mm, no, it’s not that it’s an unusual name in Sweden, it’s that it’s not a Swedish name at all. I’m probably the only “Yohio” in Sweden. *Laughs* It even has kind of a Japanese ring to it, doesn’t it? Like “Yoshio.” *Laughs* Before I was born, my parents were at a Swedish opera, and in the middle there was this part in a song that said “yohioooo.” They found that pretty interesting, and as a joke decided that if they had a child they’d name it “Yohio.” *Laughs*
—What kind of child were you in elementary school? Did you do sports or things like that?
I had no interest in sports. I played soccer for four days then quit. I didn’t get along very well with the jocks. I was in groups for music, or with the nerds who liked computer games. I liked being with nerds, and I’m proud of it. *Laughs*
—When you say “nerds,” I think of kids who get bullied. Did you experience that at all?
Occasionally someone would get violent with me, but I had a lot of friends, and it was never something to get all depressed about. Rather, I looked down on those people, like, “are you stupid?” One time, this kid in the same class started picking fights with me. He’d knock me down to the floor whenever we passed each other in the hall. He’d hit me, push me up against the wall, stuff like that. But those times, his face was just so stupid-looking, that I’d burst out laughing without thinking. When I said, “Do you think you’re the villain in an action movie or something?” he got furious, and beat me up even more. *Laughs* I wasn’t afraid of the guy, but it was a hassle, so I told my father about it. So my father went up to the school straight away, found the kid, and said to him calmly, “I hear you’ve been picking on my son. It’s rather troublesome, so could you please stop?” The kid listened obediently, and I didn’t have any trouble after that.
—What a dependable father. *Laughs* I think it was also thanks to your father’s influence that you started playing guitar, but what exactly made you start?
Hm, I think it was when I was eleven. One day, I heard a song, and I thought, “The guitar sounds really cool. I’d like to play that.” So I borrowed my father’s guitar, and had him teach me the really basic chords. Two days later I had him buy me a short scale Fender Stratocaster, because I was too little for my father’s guitar. My 10-year-old little sister plays on that guitar now.
In visual kei, it’s okay to look like a girl, and you can make the most of what you were born with. I was attracted by that.
—Did you become interested in Japanese bands around that same time? I’ve heard it started with An Cafe [Antic Cafe].
Yeah. First it was the Canadian band Billy Talent, then after that was An Cafe. Their music consists mainly of power chords, so it’s not that hard to play, just right for beginners. I copied about 70% of their songs.
—And you started listening to heavier music after that?
I was inspired by DragonForce’s fast pieces, and I started thinking that I wanted to play guitar like that. My father would play really fast too, but since I’d always seen him doing it I took it for granted. It wasn’t until I heard DragonForce that I realized just how difficult it was to play like that. I listened to Japanese bands like Versailles and Hizaki Grace Project, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to Hizaki Grace Project’s album. It’s still my favorite.
—How did you come to know these bands? Probably MySpace or YouTube, huh?
I think I wouldn’t have become so interested in Japanese bands if it hadn’t been for YouTube. I borrowed An Cafe’s CD from a friend so that’s how I found out about them, but at that point I didn’t know what they looked like, and I wasn’t even aware of visual kei at all. At first, I was confused when I saw [An Cafe’s] music video for “Escapism,” because I couldn’t tell if they were men or women. *Laughs* Someone mentioned visual kei in the comments and that’s how I found out about it. I got more and more excited as I googled and read Wikipedia, and I checked out each band listed on Wikipedia as representative of visual kei, one by one, on YouTube. I also did research about the roots of visual kei, its historical background.
—Was there a reason why visual kei appealed to you so much?
Well, ever since I was little, people have kept telling me, “you look like a girl.” Of course, it’s not because I’m wearing makeup, it’s that my facial features probably appear feminine. I really hated that. When I’m with a friend people think I’m his little sister. But in Japanese culture, it’s valued when men have a feminine beauty, and visual kei is a part of that. In Sweden, the stereotypical image of a man is a firm, built body and a square face, so to Swedish girls I probably look gay. The only girls who’ll look my way are the ones who like visual kei guys or pretty boys. *Laughs* But in visual kei, it’s okay to look like a girl, and you can make the most of what you were born with. I was attracted by that.
—At one point, there was a visual kei craze in Scandinavia, right?
Right, from around 2007 to 2008. There were many such fans among my friends, but now I’m the only one who’s still a fan. An Cafe was the most popular back then. After them, the GazettE and Gilgamesh also became popular. Of course, they didn’t have mainstream popularity, but since those bands would come to Sweden often, the fanbase was pretty big. Even DIR EN GREY was pretty popular, even though they weren’t exactly visual kei anymore at that point.
—Did you go to those bands’ concerts?
I went to see Versailles when I was 13. They were kind of like my idols, so to see them live was like a dream come true. I’m not the type who headbangs in concerts, rather I like to carefully analyze the performance, so I focused on watching Hizaki-san’s fingering, all the way from the back. I was thinking, “I get it, this part you play from this position….” *Laughs* My father took me.
—You became active with Seremedy right after that, in 2009, right? What made you decide to form a band with people who were all about four years older than you?
It originally started from the project of another guitarist and bassist. They wanted to make a visual kei band and were looking for members. They found me on a local social networking service and invited me to join them. At that time, they didn’t have a single song of their own, so I wrote one. That was my first metal song. After that it took some time to gather the other members. The current lineup came together in January of 2010. We were just playing around at first, but then we got serious about it, and were able to secure a contract in three months. I’d be rehearsing all hours of the day every day, my grades in school dropped, and my mother was always getting mad at me. *Laughs*
—Speaking of school, what made you think to study Japanese?
I started studying formally when I was 12 years old. I took a night class taught by a Japanese person. But even before that, when I was 10, I bought a textbook and was studying on my own.
—Were you motivated by anime?
No, when I was nine, I went to England by plane with my mother. Before boarding I bought a book in an airport shop. It was Tales of the Otori, a fictional story taking place in the Edo period. The kind with ninjas and such. It was such a beautiful depiction that I became interested in Japanese culture. As for anime, I saw Sailor Moon when I was 4 years old, but since it was dubbed in Swedish I didn’t realize it was a Japanese show. Same with Pokémon. The first show I watched aware that it was Japanese was Card Captor Sakura. It was the first show broadcast in the original Japanese with [Swedish] subtitles. I was fascinated by the sound of Japanese, and filled with a desire to know what they were saying. Well, I like learning languages, not just Japanese. Becoming able to understand through words something that was once incomprehensible is absolutely thrilling. I think my Japanese has gotten to the point where I can understand 85% of what’s said to me, but each time I come to Japan I get the chance to learn even more, and that makes me happy. I want to soak up as much as I can before my thinking becomes inflexible.
—I feel kind of guilty now. *Laughs* Would you like to try living in Japan someday?
Yeah. But I probably wouldn’t withstand the summer. *Laughs* Japan’s nice in the other seasons. Sweden’s winter is truly cold, you see. Two years ago the temperature dropped all the way down to -35℃ [-31°F]. It was so cold even your snot would freeze! But in Tokyo you would probably be warm even in the winter.
—When was the first time you came to Japan?
When I came with my father in 2010. It was a personal trip, but we took care of some business anyway, taking the Seremedy demo tape we’d just finished to live music venues and such. *Laughs* We were here for two weeks, but we couldn’t get a hotel so we’d stay the night at an internet café in Shibuya. There you can eat all the ice cream you want, read all the manga you want, and there’s a place to sleep, too. Back then it was so awesome, like, we don’t need anything other than this. *Laughs* The first time I came with Seremedy was in April of 2011, then we were here from October through November of the same year. I did all the club bookings. I got contact information off the internet, and made a mailing list with the help of a Japanese friend. The second time around the bookings were much easier, since there were people who remembered us. It was really fun, and I learned a lot from it. I don’t do it anymore, but I kind of miss that DIY, indies spirit; since when you leave things to someone else you get frustrated by not being in control of everything yourself.
—I think there’s probably many artists who leave everything to the record label when they make their major label debut, but you’re not that type, huh?
Yeah, because ultimately, if the artist doesn’t take action, nothing happens. What the members of Seremedy are particularly good at, of what the label doesn’t do, is promotion on an individual level. We believe in moving forward with what we can do ourselves. Nothing would happen if we just sat around waiting.
—This spring, you’re promoting the release of your mini album REACH the SKY in part by going on Sukkiri! and Waratte Ii To Mo!, famous TV shows which any Japanese person would know. Looking back, how was that experience?
It totally felt like a dream. Maybe I could even say it felt like I was living a life different from my present one. Honestly, even now it doesn’t feel like it was real. Maybe it’s because I don’t get all happy and start frolicking about, but sometimes I’m told that I act stuck-up. But really it’s just because things seem so unreal to me that I don’t fully grasp what’s going on. I can’t process reality well enough to get that excited about it. I mean, to think I’m being interviewed like this at Universal’s offices, then have concerts lined up for tomorrow at O-EAST and the day after that at Summer Sonic?* It doesn’t feel real at all. If someone had told me two years ago that things would turn out this way, I would have bust a gut laughing. *Laughs* Of course, I’m completely satisfied with how things are now. It just doesn’t register on my face much.
*[This interview took place on August 16th. YOHIO performed as an opening act at “V-Love☆Live vol.2” at Shibuya O-EAST on August 17th, and at Summer Sonic on August 18th.]
—Right about now, you must be working on the full-length follow-up to REACH the SKY, correct? What kind of album does it seem to be turning into?
Depending on the song, the feeling of the album changes dramatically. It covers various genres, since I’m always being inspired by all sorts of things. This album stirs up emotions that the previous one didn’t.
—I had the chance to listen to two songs planned for the album, “BREAK the BORDER” and “Futari no Story” [English ver.: “Our Story“]. I heard you will perform these songs at O-EAST and Summer Sonic, but could you tell us what kind of songs they are?
“BREAK the BORDER” was the first song I wrote after REACH the SKY. I think this song clearly displays the next step for my music. I had the music down by March, but I worked on the lyrics up till the last minute. It’s the title track, too. It means “tear down borders.” I’m a Swede performing Japanese visual kei, but Japanese visual kei comes from Western glam rock. It’s a borderless, reciprocal relationship. Language barriers, cultural barriers, those kinds of things are so easily broken. That’s part of the message of the album.
—Your attitude as an artist comes through vividly in the lyrics, “kitto issho ni sekai wo kaetemiseru” [surely we’ll change the world together],** huh?
Yeah, I wanted to send the message that, while everyone’s scared to take the first step on a new path, there’s surely people who are rooting for you, and if you take action with firm aspirations, you’ll make your dreams reality.
**[I can’t find this lyric anywhere. I have the Deluxe Edition of BREAK the BORDER released in Japan, and there the song “BREAK the BORDER” ends with “kitto kimi dake no yume ga kanau hi made,” meaning “until the day your dream is surely made reality.” Both phrases are 17 syllables long, so maybe YOHIO changed it after this interview?]
—”Futari no Story” is a genuine love song.
I have about 20 ideas for songs for the album, and that’s the song I made most recently of all. When writing the other songs, I got the idea for the guitar melody, and finished each song in about a day. I think both of these songs are representative of my style, but at the same time, there are songs on the album that are completely different from both of them.
—One time, in response to the question “What’s your goal,” you answered “To stand onstage at Tokyo Dome.” Do you still feel the same way?
The peak of my musical career as I envision it would be to play at Tokyo Dome. It’s my ultimate goal. I’ve watched many DVDs of other bands playing there, I like the air there, the atmosphere. Of course, I’d like to play the Budokan, too, but that’s an initial goal. I’ve played Saitama Super Arena [for the “V-ROCK FESTIVAL ’11], but that was as an opening act; I want to headline there. I want to play in all of Japan’s big venues, because live concerts are truly important to me.
—Do you think you’ll want to branch out from Japan into the U.S. or Europe?
Honestly, I think it’d be plenty enough to succeed in Japan, because I like the atmosphere of Japan’s music scene. But I would like to see various countries, so I think it would be good if I could tour for that reason. REACH the SKY was released in Taiwan, after all, and I’d like to go to various Asian countries someday, like Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines. I’m not clinging to ideas of being successful in the West, and I’m not particularly interested in going to the United States. Really, if I’m never able to go there even once in my life, I wouldn’t care. Well, the CD will be released in Germany, with the intention of billing Seremedy and I as the next Tokio Hotel [the popular young, German rock band], because Germany is the biggest market for music in Europe, right? So, probably, the main market for my solo work will be Japan, and for Seremedy, it will be Europe.