Hikaru Utada has been on a consistent hot streak following the release of their critically acclaimed album “BAD Mode” last year, much to the delight of her devoted fans around the world. Her latest single, “Gold -Mata Au Hi Made-”, has racked up millions of streams since its release. In response to this hit, ☆Taku Takahashi (m-flo) remixed the song, incorporated the resurging Jersey Club sound and turned it into a dance-floor filler!
To commemorate the release of the remix, Utada and ☆Taku sat down to have a conversation on “TCY Radio”, a program on block.fm (an online radio station), with co-host TJO as the moderator. The original conversation took place in Japanese, but with the cooperation of block.fm, has been translated into English for international fans to enjoy. Nante Japan is delighted to host the translated interview on our site!
TJO: Let’s jump right into it. I’m gonna ask you a bunch of questions, just answer with the first thing that you think of.
What do you do on your days off?
Utada: I don’t experience any “days off”. I don’t know what that means.
☆Taku: If you were to eat the same thing for a whole month, what would it be?
Utada: Indian curry.
TJO: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Utada: A cat.
☆Taku: What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought recently?
Utada: A “Ghost In The Shell” shirt I found at a vintage store.
TJO: What’s the last movie you saw?
☆Taku: What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
Utada: Recently I made plans to see an old classmate of mine. We were supposed to meet at a cafe, but I got there first so I got two waters, one for each of us. Later when she showed up, she came up to the table carrying two waters. We ended up with 4 glasses of water for the two of us (laughs).
TJO: What’s the first song you sang in front of other people?
Utada: The first song I ever sang on stage was Mariah Carey’s “Music Box.”
☆Taku: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
Utada: Either a scientist doing experiments in a laboratory somewhere, or an editor at a magazine.
TJO: What historical figure would you like to meet?
Utada: Carl Jung
☆Taku: Is there anyone you’re jealous of?
☆Taku: Thank you.
TJO: You don’t have anyone you’re envious of?
Utada: Honestly, I don’t really understand the emotion “envy”. There’s no way to know just how much someone else has struggled. I have no desire to become anyone else. I mean, nobody shows that they’re struggling. Plus, there’s really no point in comparing yourself to other people. What’s there to be envious of? I don’t really get it.
☆Taku: Gotcha, I see. How about in relationships? Is that a separate kind of feeling?
Utada: You mean like feeling jealous? Maybe back in the day, if it was someone I liked or someone I was dating…..maybe? I guess I would feel jealous? I don’t feel it at all anymore though. I want whoever I like to be free. I don’t want them to force themselves or feel like they have to hold back.
☆Taku: As for someone you’d like to meet, Jung?
Utada: Honestly…. aren’t too many historical figures I’d like to meet. Even with artists or musicians that I like, I don’t particularly feel compelled to meet them. Sometimes when I go to a show, I’ll get an offer to meet the artist backstage, but it’s kind of like going to see them and meeting them are two different things. So I’ll usually turn the offer down. If I had to pick someone, it’d be Jung. That being said I don’t know what we’d talk about. I just kind of said it.
TJO: What about Jung do you like?
Utada: I’ve been studying psychology for over a decade, and in that time I’ve come to learn there are a lot of different types. I feel like Freud, we couldn’t become friends. I feel like he carries too many of his traumas and complexes. Jung seems like he’d be easy to talk to. There’s a phrase of his that I’m a big fan of. “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” I’m a big fan of that.
TJO: I wanted to ask you a few questions about “One Last Kiss”, “Kimi ni Muchu”, and now your new track “Gold -Mata Au Hi Made-” – A.G. Cook is listed as a producer in all three songs.
Utada: Right, co-producer. We made another song together.
TJO: As someone who also DJs, I’ve always felt like A.G. Cook is someone who’s on the frontline of dance music. So seeing him credited was like “Woah, here’s another heavy hitter coming to bat!” What made you want to work with A.G. Cook?
Utada: A music director recommended him to me. I hadn’t listened to much of his music beforehand. We got on a FaceTime call, and he was a really wonderful person. We got along right away. I also produce some of my own music, so I tend to butt heads with producers who push their own opinions too hard. But he took in what I was saying straight off, and did his best to understand what I was trying to make. It’s like he’s there in a supporting role.
He’s a long-time friend and collaborator of Charli XCX. I feel like there too, he’s been there to help draw out what Charli wants to do. He’s super versatile. Not just with music, but with the visual side of things too. I felt like things would go well so I thought I’d give it a shot with “One Last Kiss.” The thing is, we did the whole thing remotely. It was right during the middle of the first wave of COVID-19. So we ended up making the whole song without ever meeting, just sending bits and parts back and forth, both of us making different adjustments and the like.
With the second song “Kimi ni Muchu”, we both happened to be in New York at the same time. That was the first time we both worked together in person. After that… Well, it’s easier to work in person. You can gauge their reactions in real-time. “Gold” was the first time… In London, it was the first time we’d worked together in a studio.
TJO: Oh, is that so?
Utada: We worked out of a hotel room in New York. But this time he even came to my house to hang out. He played “Taiko no Tatsujin” with my son. It was a blast (laughs).
TJO: It sounds like fun (laughs) Including “Gold”, you’ve worked together three times. I guess what I was most curious about was, what made you say “Yeah, I wanna work with him again.”
Utada: Last time was fun, and the song came out well. I don’t… There aren’t a lot of people that I tend to get along with. He is one of the very few people like that that I finally found..
TJO: Another thing I wanted to ask you about was your music and how it incorporates many new genres. It feels like your music is constantly getting updated. The music that you want to make, has it changed as your career has advanced? For example, this is your third time working with A.G. Cook. What made you choose what kind of song you wanted to make? Was it something the two of you discussed? Or was it something else?
Utada: Honestly, it’s only recently that I’ve started composing with other people. Especially at this level, essentially collaborating on a work. I started around the time I made “BAD Mode”, definitely a lot later than most people. The way I make music hasn’t changed since I started. I start off with a demo, and then I think about whether I want to work on it with someone else or if I want to wrap it up by myself. It’s not like I know from the start what I want to make. In my mind, I do have an idea of what I want to create when I’m composing. I don’t really have any idea of what I want to do beyond that point, beyond the parts I do by myself.
TJO: Oh, I see. You make something just to start off. How does that lead to you doing collaborations, changing the tone, etc.?
Utada: It’s not so much changing the tone as it is…..hm. With “Gold -Mata Au Hi Made-” and previously with “Kimi ni Muchu”, it wasn’t that I started from scratch with a brand new demo. What A.G. Cook does is kind of like shooting steroids into each note, each track of the song. He takes everything and kind of runs it through his own filters. He tweaks and fine-tunes things in the coolest way.
☆Taku: Do you talk about how you want things to sound when you hand over the demo? Or is it more….
Utada: I don’t really talk about anything. This time, I struggled to finish the demo and was only able to get it to him in the morning it was due. I gave it to him like “Sorry, it’s so rough” and he was like “No, it’s fine. You always come through with a really well-made demo. It’s super easy to work on.” And that’s kind of how things start.
☆Taku: And then depending on what comes back it’s like “Oh, this is nice!” or “Hm, how about tweaking this?” and kinda adjusting as you go?
Utada: Yup. If we’re in the studio together, then it’s easier to see each other’s reactions. Going through and adjusting things, one note, one track at a time.
☆Taku: But in the case of these three songs, you’d make the demos for the track by yourself.
Utada: Yeah, just like I’ve always done.
☆Taku: Does the opposite ever happen? Where they come to you with a demo already recorded? Or do you tend to avoid that?
Utada: It’s not that I don’t want to do that, but then that’s not my song anymore. It’s not necessarily that I need to sing all my own music, but if I don’t write the lyrics, do the composition, and arrange the song, then it’s no longer my song anymore.
☆Taku: I see.
Utada: Yeah. I mean, how am I supposed to know? What that person was feeling, what they wanted to express. If I have to ask them and have them explain that to me, then wouldn’t it just be easier for me to sing a cover? That’s how I feel.
TJO: How long have you two known each other, Utada and ☆Taku? Was it around the time of the “Distance” remix?
Utada: Apparently we met at a studio, or at least that’s what I’ve heard after the fact. I don’t really remember. I don’t really have too many memories of when I was active in Japan.
☆Taku: At a studio that doesn’t exist anymore.
Utada: Oh, at Bunkamura? I feel like I vaguely remember that.
☆Taku: I remember there was this club and bar out near Aoyama. I feel like that’s when we met.
Utada: Wait, do you mean Le Baron?
Utada: Oh, yeah I’ve had friends take me there a few times.
☆Taku: That’s when I first got a chance to talk to you. You talked forever about “Evangelion.”
Utada: Wait, really? I don’t remember that at all. I was all over the place back then. How embarrassing…
☆Taku: I think it was right around the time “You Can (Not) Advance” had finished? I remember I asked you if you had heard what happens next from Hideaki Anno and you told me “There’s no way that’ll happen.”
Utada: Yeah, that’s true.
☆Taku: And then you were talking about how the Angels appeared out of order.
Utada: Really? I don’t remember that at all. Sounds like I was pretty drunk, huh. Well, I guess if I’m going there I’d have to have been.
☆Taku: I mean, I was drunk too. We didn’t talk about music at all.
TJO: I see. So you mostly just talked about “Evangelion.”
☆Taku: That’s why I was looking forward to today. We can sit down and talk about music again.
TJO: Oh, also do you both remember that pop-up DJ event? The one that was held last spring and winter at Tower Records. Utada, you popped in and commented, and ☆Taku and I DJ’ed. How did you feel about that event?
Utada: It was super fun, a really great event. It seems like everyone was able to enjoy it as well. I’m glad we were able to do it, thanks for having me.
☆Taku: Isn’t it a little embarrassing to be at an event where they only play your music?
Utada: Yeah, you’re 100% correct. Initially, I didn’t plan on listening to it.
☆Taku: Yeah, I definitely get that.
Utada: Time-wise, it was probably around dinner time in Japan [when the event took place], but it was only around noon in London. My son had gone off to school and I had just finished my morning training. Then I was like “Wait, it’s today!”. I figured I’d just check it out to satisfy my curiosity, but then it was like “Oh hold on, this is pretty fun!”. The songs were remixed and gave a totally different vibe from what I had initially created. Seeing how the songs would flow into each other, and seeing what songs would come next, became what kept me interested. It wasn’t so much listening to my own music, but rather just enjoying the work the DJs had put into their sets. Before I knew it I was dancing around the house.
TJO: Just letting loose?
Utada: I had a blast.
☆Taku: I can kind of understand being embarrassed if there was an event where they only played my music. I don’t think I’d really willingly listen. But being on the DJ side of things, I really appreciate the fact that you tuned in and commented and overall had a good time. It means a lot.
Utada: I’m glad to hear that. Thank you all so much, really.
TJO: Taku, your whole set for the winter event was new remixes you had made of Utada’s music.
☆Taku: Yup, all remixes.
TJO: That’s a lot. I was wondering, did doing that lead to you doing this remix this time? I was wondering if there was a connection there.
☆Taku: YANATAKE was the one who invited me to that event initially. When I told him about my remixes, he brought that up with Utada’s team, like “How about Taku?”. They decided to ask Utada, and things kind of progressed from there, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.
Utada: Yeah, exactly. The winter event happened, and we were talking about who we should have to do the remix. They were like “How about Taku? That mix was good and the remixes were nice. What do you think?” and I was like “Yes, please!”
TJO: I mean you definitely gave it your all with that set, ☆Taku.
☆Taku: Definitely. What good is it if I don’t go all in?
Utada: I appreciate it.
TJO: That’s true (laughs). Speaking of that remix, I think it’s super interesting. Having that trademark m-flo beep followed by a message from Utada on an answering machine?
Utada: Yeah, At first, ☆Taku had sent me an email asking me if I could just speak a few lines, something small to add to the song. So I went into the studio to give it a shot with what I initially had in mind, but I figured, if I’m gonna do it I might as well give it a bit more. I listened back to what I had initially gotten and what I recorded and thought that it might be a bit boring.
So I switched it up and pictured myself having a conversation on the phone. I thought “If I’m gonna call him, what would I say?” and kind of narrowed it down from there. I had a limit on how long it needed to be, but I still wanted it to flow well. I thought about what I would say for a while. Then I was like “Alright, let’s record” and decided on something that sounded natural. So I decided to record it in my house. Then ☆Taku decided to make it sound like it was a message left on an answering machine.
☆Taku: Initially I had only asked like “If you’re able to it’d be nice, but if you can’t that’s fine”, but she ended up sending a lot of different ideas through.
Utada: That’s true. There’s a lot of bits throughout the song that I ended up adding to (laughs).
☆Taku: Yeah, there’s even new sections that you sang, like that bit that goes “Oh Baby.”
Utada: I name-dropped “Kimi ni Muchu” in “Gold”, I wanted to reference my other songs. There’s definitely more spoken bits here and there that I added.
☆Taku: You had even sent over several different versions of the things you recorded. “I wanted to have fun with it, here are a few different versions. Please use the ones that you like.”Just overall being super respectful to the remixer. In the middle of all that was the phone call snippet, sent over in kind of like a “I dunno if this is good but…” way, and I thought, “What is this, this is great! It’s as if she had left me a message on the phone, I love this!” So I decided to just use that as the intro.
TJO: It’s definitely a highlight of the remix.
☆Taku: Often times with remixes, they can go from start to finish without much input from the artist. What was really fun about this one was I could ask Utada to listen to it part way through and get her input. “How about adding something here?” “What about this section?” Being able to have that kind of back-and-forth was what made it so fun for me.
Utada: Yeah, even down to how it was arranged.
☆Taku: Being able to try new things out up until the very end was also something that I really enjoyed.
TJO: It wasn’t just a remix, it’s like a bonus edition.
Utada: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of the gist of what I was trying to explain earlier when I was talking about composing with other people like A.G. Cook. This experience with this remix was that. Being able to chime in on what someone else has made and say things like “Is it possible to switch this kick out with one that doesn’t stand out so much?” or “I appreciate you doing all of this, but I also really like that rough, wild sound from the previous version. I want to take the best bits of both. How about keeping this sound here and getting rid of these sounds over here?” Being able to give specific feedback, and then trying those things out. Getting to a point where it’s like “Yeah, this sounds good.” That feels the best.
☆Taku: And the ways she describes things “wild.”
Utada: Oh wait, I had called it “ferocious.”
☆Taku: That’s right, ferocious! That way of describing it was so interesting. it was like “Oh I see, that sounded ferocious to you.”
Utada: That rhythm on that first demo was incredible.
☆Taku: The way that Hikaru expresses herself in those messages is also interesting. Taking the meaning behind her words, and thinking about how much of that feeling she wants me to express with sound. Trying to gauge that and really do it right was also a lot of fun.
TJO: I was wondering, recently you’ve been really into Jersey Club, and I was wondering why. What made you decide to go with Jersey Club for this remix as well?
☆Taku: Well… I had talked with everyone while I was making it as well. But recently Jersey Club has been my favorite genre. When I did the “Distance” remix I was really into two step. And a great thing about the original, something that I really love is that in the first half of the song, it’s pretty heavy and serious, but in the second half it’s more like taking steps forward like it gets to be a lot more positive. Also, I really love the lyrics. They really resonated with me. But it’s a remix, and I figured with it being that it’d be fun to reinterpret what resonated with me into a new sound. The genre I felt would bring that out the most was Jersey Club.
TJO: What did you think the first time you heard it?
Utada: I thought it was amazing. Just going in strong right from the jump. No objections from me!
TJO: Are there any artists or genres that have caught your ear recently?
Utada: I don’t really get genres. I don’t listen to music by genre, I don’t really tend to notice it. There are plenty of songs that I listen to where I’ll like it and not know what the genre is.
TJO: That’s interesting. I had figured “BAD Mode” had only come out the way that it did because you were conscious of genres and how to incorporate them into your music.
Utada: All music is just that, music to me. The rhythmic elements, the melody, the wavelengths, and the difference in the loud and quiet sections. For example, changing the sound of the bass tone can completely change what genre the music sounds like. I feel like genres are really vague, or rather they’re surface-level. I probably feel this way because I compose and arrange music. It’s like clothes. If a song is the person wearing the clothes, then arranging it is like switching up an outfit. Just like how remixes are like changing shirts, I feel like genres are only there as supplementary.
☆Taku: I wanted to thank you again for working with me on the remix.
Utada: No no, thank you! I really like this.
TJO: One thing that I really liked was seeing how it went from that DJ event being held, to you making a bunch of remixes for it, to that then leading to you doing this remix for Utada. Seeing that story unfold. it was like “Good job Taku! You did it!” (laughs).
☆Taku: Kinda like “I worked for this!” (laughs).
TJO: Yeah, exactly (laughs) You’re planning on doing more remixes in the future, right Taku?
☆Taku: Yup. I had a blast. When I was asked to DJ at that event, I wanted to make remixes of all the songs I picked. Knowing I was able to do that and have a good time, those are my genuine thoughts.
Utada: I’m glad.
☆Taku: It wasn’t like I had a hard time or anything. Iit’s like… I felt like I was able to grasp it. It was a really great opportunity for me. And then this remix, being able to have Hikaru come in and give her feedback and add on to what I wanted to make initially, and feeling like “so this sound makes her feel like this”. Being able to hear all of that was incredible.
☆Taku: By the way, this interview is being broadcast. Is there anything you’d like to say to our listeners at home?
Utada: It really is wonderful being able to get together with other people and have a good time listening to music, regardless of the occasion. I tend to listen to music by myself most of the time. Usually, it’s by myself with my headphones on. But every now and then I go to a club, and I always have a great time. As long as there’s music playing, I tend to be dancing. I hope that moving forward there’ll be more places and more opportunities for people to get together and enjoy music, being able to have a good time, and be carefree. Let’s all listen to music together and live our best lives.
You can also listen to this interview in Japanese on block.fm “TCY Radio.”