We Interview Idols: Yanakoto Sotto Mute

This past weekend, our man Daemon hit up the East Meets West Music Fest; with Monsterpanda in tow as translator, he sat down with literally three of this site’s all-time favorite idols. Today, we have his report back from entering the holiest of holies with Yanakoto Sotto Mute, the perfect modern idols.

Talking to the people waiting for the doors to Anaheim’s Chain Reaction to open for East Meets West Fest, it became apparent that the one group over from Japan that people were least familiar with was Yanakoto Sotto Mute. Even though their debut, “Bubble”, was on several websites’ Album of the Year lists for 2017, and their follow-up Mirrors is a contender for the current year, Yanamute still seems fly under the radar for some Western fans of chika idol. One person in line behind me said he had intentionally avoided listening to them. “I don’t want to know anything about them,” he said, “I want to experience them raw for the first time.”

While a part of me envied him that imminent experience, I was also a little concerned. Yanakoto Sotto Mute can be a lot to take in all at once. Their music is complex: Rife with signature, tempo and key changes while their vocals play with harmony and dissonance. Their dancing is like a more contemplative version of Mikiko-sensei’s gesture-based choreography and can seem more focused on expressing internal dialogue than generating audience participation. But for all of the brooding introspection, Yanamute’s performances also contain frequent, audience-churning moments of fierce and inspired joy.

A few hours prior, we had been given the opportunity to speak to Yanamute’s Nadeshiko, Mani, Ichika and Rena about their impending debut American performance. As we were led in to meet them, the quartet were dressed in their signature white costumes, each cut to a distinct and individual pattern. Much like their music, they came across as both bright and introspective; contemplative and friendly. And just a little nervous.

Getting a new audience in America is absolutely, absolutely 100% necessary.

Homicidols: How excited are you to be performing in America? Are you nervous?

Mani: We are very much looking forward to this and we are very excited, but on top of that, we are kinda getting nervous now.

Homicidols: Aside from the performance, what is the one thing you want to make sure you do while you are in the United States?

Mani: Personally, when I think of America, I think of colorful things like the colorful snacks, like using a lot of dyes on the cakes. So I was imaging getting like a blue cake, or a rainbow cake. I would actually like to go a store and eat one.

Nadeshiko: I want to go someplace with a lot of different stores and look around, and I also want to go and see the ocean

Ichika: I would also like to go see the ocean. Disneyland was also on my list to do, and I was able to go yesterday, so mission accomplished!

Rena: It is my first time outside the country, so I would just like to go out on a walk, just casually.

Homicidols: How important is it to you to develop an audience outside of Japan? Where else would you most like to perform?

Mani: Getting a new audience in America is absolutely, absolutely 100% necessary. As for other places were we would like to go, probably New York.

Others: Ahh, New York. Yes.

In many ways, Yanakoto Sotto Mute seems seems ideally suited for a Western audience. On the rock family tree, Yanamute sits among the intertwined branches sprouted by The Pretenders, The Cure and Sonic Youth. They channel both gloomy shoegaze and bright pop-punk with a healthy influence from the best of the Sub Pop label. Their music’s closest sonic relative in the West may be the hybrid grunge of Garbage, the brainchild of Nirvana’s Nevermind producer. A group that romps in these musical playgrounds needs to have some chops, and Nadeshiko, Mani, Ichika and Rena have definitely come to play. In Japan, Yanmute have become well known for frequently performing with a live backing band and 20-plus song sets that can last for hours.

Homicidols: Maniac of Homicidols.com says that you perform some of the most internationally accessible music in J-rock, let alone idol.

All: Really!? Thank you.

Homicidols: How do you think you can connect to audiences that might have never seen a performance like yours before?

Rena: (thumps her fist to her chest) Soul.

All: (laughing)

Mani: Everyone’s singing together. Raising their hands in unison. Creating that harmony with the audience.

Nadeshiko: Obviously, our language may not communicate well, but on stage we hope that our performance, our expressions will excite the audience and create that unity.

Homicidols: Your vocal arrangements and harmonies are much more demanding and complex than most other idol groups. Is there anything you look out for, in your vocals? Do you ever find the vocals to be a challenge?

Mani: For me personally, everything is a challenge. In terms of singing and performance and recording. What I have in mind is not to be broken by this.

Nadeshiko: Yanamute’s lyrics are very complex and have a hidden meaning. For me, what I emphasize the most is to understand the lyrics, understand the words, and then put that expression into my singing.

Ichika: Like Mani-san, I find singing a challenge as well, what I watch out for while I’m singing is basically listening to the others.

Rena: Just like Nadeshiko-san, the lyrics are very hard so I basically try to understand them and interpret them and then put that understanding into my singing.

We want to do something very ferocious.

Homicidols: Your costumes are some of the most stylish in idol. What additional meaning do you think it adds to your songs and live performances?

All: Oooh!

Mani: Thank you very much. Back when we were starting out we had a catchphrase… and one of the things that came out of that was basically the color white because our individuality is more harmonious that way.

Nadeshiko: In terms of the stage and costume it’s very distinct to see white, especially in idol.

Rena: It’s probably the most individualist thing of ours, having the white.

Nadeshiko: Because it’s so distinct in idol. If you think about it, even our stage mics are wrapped around in white. It makes us unique.

Homicidols: For your April Fools joke you announced a chiptune makeover. What other music genres would you like YSM to try, as a joke or not?

All: Eeehhh!

Mani: I want to have with the white make up, what is that?

Nadeshiko: And the black around the eyes. Like Kiss. And the lips, it’s all black.

Homicidols: Ah, Glam Rock.

All: (laughing)

Mani: We want to do something very ferocious.

Nadeshiko: And even the lights will be like strobe lights flashing at you.

While they don’t seem to be aware of it (or are deftly hiding that awareness) there is already a kind of effortless ferocity to the group. When I first saw them perform in Japan I was expecting a mellow shoegaze audience and was taken off guard when Yanamute easily whipped the crowd into a mosh pit. At East Meets West Fest they had a rather similar effect on an audience that was almost entirely seeing them for the first time. At one point during their Saturday night show, Ichika tripped over an amp while she was gliding backwards across stage and was dumped hard on her backside. Without flinching or missing a beat, she spun up to her knees and belted out her vocals like nothing should dare get in the way of her voice being heard. It was a pretty rockstar moment and I almost felt bad for the amp. I wouldn’t be surprised if, later that night, it was buried in a shallow grave in the California desert.

Homicidols: When I saw you perform in Japan, I was surprised by the amount of moshing by the audience. Have you ever been in a mosh pit?

Ichika: Before I was an idol, I used to go to see a lot of the bands, so I’ve been caught in mosh pits.

Mani: I used to be into the hardcore idols, so I’ve been in mosh pits.

Nadeshiko: Before I became an idol in Yanamute I also used to go to a lot of shows so I’ve also been in mosh pits as well as being lifted.

Rena: None for me. (laughing)

Japanese alt-rock idol group Yanakoto Sotto Mute from their appearance at the East Meets West Music Fest in Anaheim

Homicidols: To each individual member: What is the one thing that you would like your English-speaking fans to know about you.

Ichika: As an individual or as Yanmute?

Homicidols: Either.

Nadeshiko: To our audience or just the general population?

Homicidols: To your current fans or to people who aren’t fans yet.

Mani: For me, if you look at my eyes, I look angry sometimes, but if you actually talk to me, I’m very personable. I’d like people to know that.

Ichika: For me, especially the rock listener, I want them to at least hear us once. And since our shows are entertaining, what I want is for people to look up things like on YouTube, because there is a lot about Yanamute online now. I hope that people will watch us.

Rena: Like it was said before, people who listen to bands, I would like them to listen to Yanamute too and for us to reach a new audience.

Nadeshiko: Obviously watching our shows and listening to our music is important, but like Mani-san said, when people talk to us their initial impression changes for the better, so if you are even slightly interested in Yanamute, come and reach out to us.

Browsing my social media feeds after East Meets West weekend, there were overwhelming indications that Yanamute had successfully reached out and connected to their first American audience. I saw several people posting revisions to the top five favorite idol units with “Yanakoto Sotto Mute” now ranked at or near the top of the list. One person lamented, “Why is there no Yanamute Fan group on Facebook?” Before the end of the day, one had been created.