Ayane Yamazaki was 11 when she discovered Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore. The themes within Murakami’s story, especially concerning the power of music, played a huge part in sparking Yamazaki’s urge to create. The book features a song that’s key to the story.
“I was fascinated by the poem in the song and I played guitar and sang the poem,” Yamazaki said via a recent email exchange, with the help of an interpreter. “I was still a child at the time, but I was able to understand the story naturally. I think it was because the novel had a mood.”
An appreciation of mood has been a driving force in Yamazaki’s music ever since. Drawing inspiration from jazz great Bill Evans, she set out as a teenager to create songs with a little less sound and more space.
“For me, Bill Evans is more ambient than jazz. I wanted to sing a song with almost no instrument playing, so I tried so many things,” she said.
This less-is-more musical style is one reason she stood out at the 2016 Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, with just her voice and an acoustic guitar on a stage surrounded by tall trees. The bigger cause for sensation, though, was the fact that she was 17 at the time and became the youngest artist ever to perform at that festival. It was a big way to make a live debut, but it came with some pitfalls.
“I felt various doubts about the mood and system of live concerts in Japan, so I felt constrained and stopped performing,” she said. “As a result, I started my career as a recording artist with a strong desire to create something.”
Now 20, Ayane Yamazaki has shed some of that bare-bones approach and is building her own kind of novel-esque soundscapes. Sparkling city pop and the dreaminess of bedroom musings merge with moments of jazzy interludes on her debut album, LIFE, and shines a soft light on “…people of my generation,” she said.
RIFF: What’s the background of the songs on LIFE? Do they come from relationships in your own life or is it more like general life observations?
Ayane Yamazaki: “What do young people feel in common, including myself?” That’s what I was thinking about when I created LIFE. I realized that even in today’s world, where things and information are saturated, it is universal to be hurt by love and to be conscious of passing by friends. Emotion is the only thing that exists without fail, and it is the only thing that feels real. This is something I’ve noticed in my life and love, and also something I’ve learned from talking with friends. LIFE records the emotions that arise from living in Tokyo in 2019.
You’ve got a very warm, indie pop sound on this album. Can you tell me what went into developing that?
Yamazaki: Songwriting and sound production using a chic and small voice, like Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing and Nine Objects of Desire—I think it’s very cool. I was also inspired by Paul Oster’s novel Moon Palace. The problem of self-consciousness that the main character confronts in the process from a boy to a young man. And the neon sign of the “Moon Palace” visible from the window of the apartment where he lives a lost life. The sound of the voice forming the mood of the whole album I made this time was inspired by this symbolically shining neon sign in the darkness of the night.
Also, the work of artists such as Clairo, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy and the work of Phoebe Bridgers. I sympathized with them when I heard them singing private things in a natural way. Because I expressed it in the same style in Tokyo.
How’s the response been to LIFE so far?
Yamazaki: This album has a good reputation among the listeners of my generation in their teens and 20s, so I am very happy. Because I made the album LIFE for people of my generation. I sing about the daily life, romance and atmosphere of the time of my generation, so the work inevitably selects listeners. Valuable music can select a listener. That’s what I wanted to do.
And “Counting on my fingers” became the theme song for the Japanese LGBT movie “青空になる” (“Into the Blue Sky).” The director, the cast and the staff are all in their 20s, and they told me that they wanted to listen to my song and make it the theme song. It was a great honor, so I immediately replied, “OK.”
You mentioned that you’ve taken a break from live performances. Does this mean you’ll be keeping your focus on studio work for the time being?
Yamazaki: Now that I have a chance to make myself known to listeners all over the world, I have a strong desire to create and present music that only I can do. The wall right in front of me is music production, and I don’t have a live concert because I want to concentrate on it.
However, if I do a live concert, my music will evolve further, and I can discover new things. Such live magic is wonderful, and what I can get from live is big. So, I don’t know the exact time, but I would like to have a live performance with the expression that suits me at that time.
Follow reporter Mary Hughes at Twitter.com/spheeris1.