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Yoshida Yohei Group Puts a Spin on Japanese City Pop Revival

Yoshida Yohei Group is a “City Pop” band founded by its lead member Yohei Yoshida in 2012. Bringing together sounds of the east and the west, Yoshida Yohei Group was a pioneer in its ability to blend Japanese pop with 1970’s American Jazz.

The eight piece, flute-centered band creates its distinct sound by incorporating keyboards, woodwind players, and a female chorus line. Inspired by the New York jazz group The Lounge Lizards, as well as Japanese avant-garde composer Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet, the group set out to fuse the sounds of band and chamber music.

According to "The Japan Times," City Pop “blends soul music, fusion, and adult-oriented rock (AOR) with lyrics that center on city life as it often was experienced during the country’s bubble economy” back in the 1980s. Despite the genre’s popularity during this period, it declined in popularity in 1990 due to the Japanese asset price bubble burst.

The release of Yoshida Yohei Group’s first album "From Now On" in 2013 resurfaced the “City Pop” genre for many listeners outside of Japan. The video for the single "Boulevard" shows Yoshida driving around the city in a cab. The concept juxtaposes the distorted imagery of the streets of Tokyo with an upbeat melody, perfectly encapsulating the new “City Pop” scene.

Yoshida Yohei Group Q & A

Q. How did you first get into music?

A. Yohei Yoshida : When I was about three, I was always listening to the soundtrack of “American Graffiti” on a cassette tape. I think that’s when I got into music. When I was about three, I was always listening to the soundtrack of “American Graffiti” with a cassette tape. I think that’s when I got into music.

Q. How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before

A. We play pops or rock with a lot of chorus and horns.

Q. What inspired you to mix Japanese pop music with 1970’s American Jazz and Rock?

A. I was listening to both genres and thought they could be mixed. I also felt that they have chemistry [with] each other but yet nobody had done anything [like it before].

Q. City Pop seems to have fallen since the 1980’s. What lead to its decline in popularity and what do you think is causing this recent revival in Japanese music?

A. Indeed the word “City Pop” has been revived yet I do not think the music itself which was defined as city [pop] has. When musicians who live around Tokyo play rather sophisticated sound people seem to call it City Pop.

Q. Your use of flutes and bassoons creates a different sound that is not as common in City Pop. What inspired you to use these instruments and what do you feel their sound evokes?

A. I started to play the saxophone after listening to John Lurie of The Lounge Lizards or Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet. I learned the way to take in the chamber music instruments and its play into my band from American indie artists, such as Sufjan Stevens. I am not sure what emotion the instruments evoke but I am curious of what happens when these two different textural sounds, band sound and the chamber music, collide with each other.

Q. How have Japanese culture and politics sculpted the music you create?

A. Yes, it’s a bit specific but Japanese language can express various emotions [depending on] which word you use at the end of a sentence. Especially when it’s sung, expression with this usage of ‘ending sentence’ can leave a more powerful impression than its content. I think these expressions have influenced the lyrics and the melody of Japanese music and [have influenced me too].

Q. What do you want people to take away from the video for "Boulevard?"

A. “Boulevard” is about driving. The video is an artwork of the director so there is no message from myself. I just requested the director that I want driving scene in the video.

Q. What message do you want people around the world to learn from your music?

A. I think it is rare that people outside Japan take a listen to my music, so it would be great if music makes an opportunity [for me] to see the people and talk with them. Nationality doesn’t really matter. I would just be very happy if we can hang out and be close each other personally.

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