Asobi Seksu‘s woozy, sugar-sweet pop songs sound as if they were built with a microscope, their lushness a product of singer/keyboardist Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna’s extreme attention to detail. When their UK label asked them to record acoustic versions of some of their best songs at the legendary Olympic Studios, the offer was equally frightening and fun. “Because it was such a short time frame, there wasn’t enough time for fear or doubt to kick in. We knew we had to move in order to get it done, and that turned out in our favor, really,” explains Chikudate. “If we’re given more time, it can easily become a perfectionist nightmare.”
Yet the result, Rewolf, sounds just as lush, with a quiet intimacy and effortlessness that brings Chikudate’s voice and the band’s melodies into greater focus. Chikudate talks to Flavorpill about Rewolf, performing “naked,” and the artists that inspired the album’s arrangements.
Flavorpill: Recording songs acoustically can sometimes bring out aspects you didn’t hear before. Which songs had the most dramatic transformations?
Yuki Chikudate: Probably “Familiar Light” — we changed the key, and really changed the atmosphere and mood of it by bringing it down an octave, as well. It became sort of a meditative, almost eerie-sounding song. I was pleasantly surprised by that one. James was excited to do “Urusai Tori.” It’s a sort of bossa nova type song, and it was really fun to think, “Oh wow, we actually wrote this song and it’s really fun to sing.” That one made us happy. “Thursday” was also nice. [The acoustic version] was originally how it was written, actually — in 3/4 time. And it was more ballad-like. So it’s funny, the acoustic version was actually truer to the original.
FP: You usually have lots of Christmas lights on stage, wrapped around your keyboard, the mic stand… did you have the same set up for your acoustic show at Joe’s Pub here in New York?
YC: We did have them. More than the visuals [though], I was struck by how truly intimate the setting was, and at first I was really scared by how intimate it was. I wasn’t so used to experiencing that kind of quiet while performing. So when we initially went out to perform the show, the first song was just me and the piano, and I was just like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening! Why did I agree to do this?” But as the songs unfolded, I felt connected to the audience in a way that I can’t really when we’re playing a full electric show. I had a really good time once I accepted what kind of show it was going to be. And I was able to just relax and enjoy it for what it was.
FP: Performing and recording like that meant you couldn’t have anything between you and the audience.
YC: I felt very naked for sure. But in the end I felt like I was able to reveal a side of me that I couldn’t otherwise. That’s why it was such a beautiful experience for me and hopefully for people that were there, because it was a truly honest performance, for better or for worse. Flaws and all. It was a truly honest performance for all of us, and I think there’s something really great about being able to be vulnerable with somebody else, whether it’s just with one person or a small group of people, whether you’re on stage or not.
Yuki’s Top 5 Acoustic Influences
1. Gal Costa
I love Gal Costa. She’s got the most beautiful voice, and so many different kinds of albums. I just love basically everything that she’s done. I got into Brazilian music through Os Mutantes like everybody else, when David Byrne put out the stuff on Luaka Bop, and I just haven’t stopped listening to it since.
Joyce is a little bit more acoustic. It’s quieter and prettier. She’s a Brazilian singer as well.
3. Hope Sandoval
I like a lot of Hope Sandoval and Mazzy Star stuff, although it’s not truly acoustic for the most part, because she does have a lot of pretty electric guitar on it. But there are some acoustic songs on her album that are so, so, so, beautiful and we had to pay homage to that, which is why that cover of “Suzanne” is on Rewolf.
4. Leonard Cohen
Speaking of “Suzanne,” I love Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” which is a totally different song. I have no idea why people are saying it’s the same song, I read that in a couple places. I just want to clarify that they’re not the same song! I do love the Leonard Cohen “Suzanne,” as well.
5. The Cure
I know that everybody says this, but The Cure Unplugged is amazing. I have the bootleg performance on VHS somewhere. I love Robert Smith’s performance of “A Letter to Elise.” It’s that performance where he uses a toy grand piano. That inspired me to play a toy piano in the first place with this band. So I definitely owe a lot to that bootleg.