Since the launch of his solo project CDL Entertainment in February 2021, J-pop artist ØMI has been actively releasing tracks — including the global hit “You” produced by SUGA of BTS — and his ANSWER… series is his reply to the questions presented in his album Who Are You? from January 2020.
The Sandaime J SOUL BROTHERS From EXILE TRIBE singer and solo artist dropped his third full-length album ANSWER… on Feb. 2, his first solo studio set in two years.
In an interview for Billboard Japan, he sat down with Azusa Takahashi to discuss the thoughts that went into his latest project, the recording process, and his direction as an artist in this latest interview.
How did ANSWER…, your first full album in two years, come about?
While I released some projects called ANSWER… SHADOW and ANSWER… SHINE last year, they all originated from my album called Who Are You? from two years ago. From the start, I’d intended to make an album called ANSWER… and tour with it, so it finally took shape with this new release. It feels like the culmination of my work as a solo artist and of my solo projects. I packed my true feelings and all the music that I’m currently able to express into this album.
You named Disc 1 “SHINE” and Disc 2 “SHADOW,” so the themes of the “ANSWER…” series are also reflected in the album.
The album jackets are also white and black, light and shadow, front and back, but my feeling as the creator is that they both belong out front. I consider them both as “Disc 0” and that they exist parallel to each other without any particular order. The music videos also link up even if you see them out of order from the order they were released. Both sides of SHINE and SHADOW are me, and I wanted that to come across.
Then you must have put a lot of thought into the order of the songs.
The track lists reflect the orders I’d like listeners to follow for both discs. The singles aren’t listed in the order of their release dates, but Disc 1 starts with the title track “SHINE” that sets the worldview, then “You (Prod. SUGA of BTS)” comes next and so forth, in the order that expresses the flow of my emotions.
With Disc 2, I created a kind of world that first draws in listeners with “ANSWER… SHADOW” that expresses the loneliness, weakness, and fears that I feel within. “Can You See The Light” is the faint glimpse of light that you see when you’re sinking deeply, and “Give up” expresses the relationship with the person you notice is there beside you in the darkness. “Colorblind” depicts the inner conflict over heading towards the light after the world of “Give up” is over.
Each disc begins with a brand-new intro. They both use similar melodies and seem to be connected. What was your intent when you created them?
At the core of my solo projects is that I want people to get a feel similar to having seen a movie through my works. It’s the same with how I make my solo concerts and music videos, too.
So with my new album as well, I wanted to make sure listeners could immerse themselves in the world of each disc from the beginning. Instead of starting with one of my songs, we expressed each theme in the intro. But since the discs are part of a single album, I asked my collaborators to create something that would give off a sense of connection through the structure and chords, so that they wouldn’t sound completely different.
Tell us about the two new songs you included in the project, “Just the way you are” and “After the rain.”
A lot of times when I write songs, I think a lot about how I’ll perform it live. “Just the way you are” is one such song and was written with concerts in mind. I wanted a song that would bring me closer to my fans. The kind of closeness I had in mind when I wrote it is that I’m reaching out from the stage and a fan takes my hand, who then gets up on stage and dances with me.
So the “you” in the lyrics addresses your fans?
Yes. All the “you”s and “kimi”s [one way of addressing someone in Japanese] in this album mean my fans. When I decided to make the “ANSWER…” series, one of the themes I had in mind was “no pretense.” I wanted to express my thoughts and feelings, my weaknesses and strengths, in a simple way without trying to be cool. That’s why I thought it’d be better to use straightforward and honest words this time.
I see. How about the other song, “After the rain”?
“After the rain” is on Disc 1, but I consider it as the closing song of the album. I wanted to convey my answer in a simple way, so I chose words that even kids could understand. It was also written for my fans, but listening to it anew, it also sounds a bit like a wedding song.
“Love Letter,” the track you previously dropped on Instagram for your fans, will also be included in this album. Could you tell us a bit about its background?
I unveiled that song on the day of Sandaime J SOUL BROTHERS from EXILE TRIBE’s 10th anniversary. I’m a vocalist, so I wanted to use music to express my gratitude to our fans who stuck with us for ten years.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t plan on including it in my album because it was a song I’d given away to our fans. For example, if you wrote a letter and handed it to someone, you wouldn’t read it over again, would you? But I was asked by a lot of fans and our team to release it, so I figured if that’s what people want, then I’d be glad to, and that’s why I included it. It’s a song about feeling sad because we were supposed to meet at a concert but couldn’t, and the title and lyrics are so straightforward that they’re kind of embarrassing to see now. [Laughs]
You have such strong love and appreciation for your fans, ØMI.
But it was completely different in the past. My style was more like, “You watch what I’m expressing.” “Only those of you who can keep up with me can come along,” was more my stance and I used to express what I thought was cool, even if the fans weren’t asking for it. So I don’t think I used words like “be there for you” or “together” very often in our songs before.
When I decided to reveal my weaknesses in the “ANSWER…” series, though, I asked myself, “What is the answer?” The reason why I’ve been able to stay in music is because of my fans. I felt that there’d be little reason for artists to exist if they were no longer wanted. That’s why I want to give back to my fans with songs that contain as much love as possible. I guess I should have realized this sooner, but at the time it was like I was whipping myself to keep running, so… Not that I consider my past as a mistake per se.
We can tell those thoughts are reflected in your lyrics. What’s your writing process like?
I’m the type that comes up with visual images before words. When I hear the track, I can see what the music video will look like. For example, I could clearly see a scene with the sky in it for “After the rain,” like I’m singing while gazing at the clear sky after a stormy rain has stopped. Sometimes the images and colors come first, so I’ll tell the sound production team about them and ask them to compose the track.
That makes me look forward to watching the music videos that will be included in the album.
Basically, all the videos are linked to each other, which is something I adhered to. The visuals reflect the flow of time and change of heart even within the same worldview. There’s a narrative, like the connection between “You” and “SHINE,” so I’m sure people will enjoy watching them. The rest of the story after “SHINE” is something to look for in my concert tour.
You mean your ØMI LIVE TOUR 2022 “ANSWER…” kicking off Feb. 5?
Yes. This tour takes the worldview of the new album and turns it into tangible entertainment the audience can witness before their eyes. Of course there’s a narrative in the live performance too, and we make full use of visuals to create the staging as well. I’d be happy if everyone enjoys how the story unfolds at the live venue. If you’ve seen the videos, you’ll recognize the connection, and even if you haven’t seen them, you’ll get a sense of the worldview we’ve created.
Do you feel your own light and shadow in your private life?
I suppose the shadow is that I’m just a normal person who really doesn’t do anything. [Laughs] I can say with confidence that I’m a grownup whose private life isn’t interesting at all. We’re often asked such questions when we do interviews as a group, and because the other members have active hobbies or are wild like ELLY, I don’t have to talk about myself. I think the light is that I have a wide circle of friends.
Lastly, please give a message to your fans who’ll be listening to your new project.
It’s no exaggeration to say that my album ANSWER… is a work that contains everything about me. It’d be a great pleasure if you could feel all of that. Please listen to it a lot.
—This interview by Azusa Takahashi first appeared on Billboard Japan.