Billboard Japan spoke with Japanese alternative rock band hitsujibungaku for its Women in Music interview series featuring female players in the Japanese entertainment industry. The WIM initiative in Japan began last year to celebrate artists, producers and executives who have made significant contributions to music and inspired other women through their work. The first 30 interviews in this series were published in Japan as a “Billboard Japan Presents” collection by writer Rio Hirai, who continues to speak with women to highlight their stories.
hitsujibungaku consists of two female members Moeka Shiotsuka (vocals & guitar) and Yurika Kasai (bass), and one male member, Hiroa Fukuda (drums). The trio’s recent achievements include its hit song “more than words” being featured as the ending theme for the popular anime series Jujutsu Kaisen’s Shibuya Incident story arc and recording an exceptional turnout at this year’s FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL ’23 for a daytime performance on the Green Stage.
The band released its third studio album from a major label called 12 hugs (like butterflies) on Dec. 6. The members chatted about this latest release and shared their thoughts on some of the gender imbalances in the Japanese music industry from their perspective as a mixed-gender group.
Congratulations on the release of your new album 12 hugs (like butterflies). It has a jacket that leaves a lingering impression featuring Ms. Moeka Shiotsuka in a pose known as a butterfly hug. The album itself starts off with an acoustic number that gives off a personal vibe. Could you share a bit about why the album’s lineup turned out this way?
Moeka Shiotsuka: We were thinking of ending the album with an acoustic-type song at first. That’s how the song “Hug.m4a” came about, but when we put it at the end, it gave a really dainty impression and we were like, “This isn’t it.” So we decided to end the album on a strong note with the song “FOOL.” And when we placed “Hug.m4a” as the first track, the lyrics seemed to symbolize the whole album and felt like a great intro to it. That’s why we decided to go with that structure.
Hiroa Fukuda: When Shiotsuka shared the idea of the titles and structure with me, I thought her word choices were excellent. I learned the term “butterfly hug” for the first time with this album, and thought it was perfect because I’d sensed that kind of “giving yourself a hug” vibe in each of the 12 songs on the set. There are many songs that I personally like, and it feels like this album is an updated version of our early stuff.
Yurika Kasai: “Butterfly hug” is a nice sentiment isn’t it? I have a lot of problems, but I’ve come to accept that I am who I am, even including the part about having problems. I now think about how to go on living based on that. I also like how it focuses on the number 12 because each of the 12 songs are different in color.
This album is your first full-length album in a year and a half. It feels like hitsujibungaku expanded its reach dramatically during that period of time.
Shiotsuka: I’m glad we have more opportunities, like performances on TV and in music festivals, to reach people who haven’t been exposed to the kind of music we do. For example, at festivals where multiple artists perform, if I see someone in the audience who looks like they’re not into our show, I feel like, “I really want to make that person smile.” I don’t mean I want everyone to like every one of our songs, just that it’d make me happy if even a small number of people think, “Maybe I like this one,” and the number of people like that increases.
Fukuda: Having popular appeal has been our goal since we started the band. Balancing mainstream and underground. Our music is influenced by various genres like alternative rock, shoegazer, and post rock, and we want people who aren’t familiar with these genres to find out about them. The Jujutsu Kaisen ending theme, “more than words,” is included on our new album, and we’re glad that the people who discovered us through this song will listen to our other stuff as well.
Kasai: Since we’ve had more opportunities to appear in the media, we’ve been able to meet artists of various genres. There’s a lot we can take in from the outside world, and we’re now more aware of reaching “outward.” This is reflected in our stage performances, I think.
Shiotsuka: We deliberately aimed to do pop for our previous album, but this time we tried to do whatever we wanted. I didn’t want to yield anything until I reached a quality that I thought was good.
Fukuda: I also felt like I was going back to my roots. Like, be cynical, don’t play my instrument in a habitual way, and freely do edgy stuff.
Sounds like you’re in a healthy place where you’re able to make an album with that mentality during a period when your reach is growing. Incidentally, this interview series began in part because of the gender imbalance we noticed on the Billboard Japan charts. Ms. Shiotsuka and Ms. Kasai, do you think being a woman has had any impact on your daily lives and musical activities?
Shiotsuka: While this doesn’t pertain to any of our recent shows, I think there’s a tendency where it’s pretty obvious that projects featuring female bands or artists are supported mostly by male fans, especially in small-capacity “live houses” (nightclubs). Of course there shouldn’t be any limitations based on gender in liking a certain band’s music, but I do find myself questioning the guys’ intent, like, “Do they really appreciate the music?”
Kasai: I really get what Moeka is saying. We want people to genuinely enjoy our music, but start wondering what fans of the opposite sex are looking for and become more concerned than necessary about how we look in their eyes.
Shiotsuka: Also, this isn’t really about music, but I feel that the world is inundated with images of women being consumed in a sexual way. Even posters warning people to be careful of traffic accidents depict characters in police uniforms with their breasts emphasized and it makes me wonder why.
Being a woman in a band, I don’t like having the concept of “female modesty” imposed on me from the outside. I used to wear dresses onstage before, but this year I decided to go with pants and it feels like a good fit with what I want to express in this band. It sits right with me.
Kasai: Also, the staff at concerts and other events are mostly male. It may be unavoidable in part because there’s a lot of heavy lifting involved, but there are very few women when we go around the country on tour.
Shiotsuka: That’s so true. And the boxed lunches (for catering) tend to be calorie bombs. [Laughs] When we have to eat fried food for days on end, we’re like, “God I want to eat vegetables.”
Other people in this interview series have also mentioned that point about how women are in the minority on the staff side of the (Japanese) music industry. One problem is that there are so few women in the upper ranks of organizations and that influences the entire industry.
On a different note, Mr. Shiotsuka, I read something you said in a past interview about the things you “thought about to keep doing music for a long time.” At that time, you mostly spoke about songwriting and wanting to “make music that you can keep on loving.” I’d like to ask you if there’s anything you wish were different so that female artists can keep doing music for a long time.
Shiotsuka: If a woman wants to continue doing music, it’s hard to avoid the impact of major changes in her life, for example if she chooses to become a mom. I’m 27 years old now and such choices are starting to feel real for me. Like if I were considering having kids, but have a full schedule laid out for next year, I’d definitely think about how my pregnancy could cancel the tour. But I know other female musicians who bring their kids to work and also that everyone will support me, so maybe it’s not really something to be so concerned about.
Kasai: Fukuda would probably take care of our kids if we asked him to keep an eye on them while we record.
Shiotsuka: He probably would! [Laughs] Regardless of gender, I want to value being a human being before being a musician. It’s fine when work and life are in alignment, but I often put my personal life on the back burner when the balance goes off. I want to remember to prioritize my life.
–This interview by Rio Hirai first appeared on Billboard Japan
The post “hitsujibungaku Share Thoughts on Longevity in Music: Billboard Japan Women in Music Interview” by Katie Atkinson was published on 01/17/2024 by www.billboard.com