Interview: For Tracy Hyde captures staggering beauty in their cinematic third album ‘New Young City’
Japanese quintet For Tracy Hyde is an ambitious group. Made up of eureka (vocalist, guitarist), Natsubot (guitarist, backing vocals), U-1 (guitarist), Mav (bass), and soukou (drummer), For Tracy Hyde always seem to be finding new ways to push their sounds to the limit. Since the release of their Shibuya-kei influenced debut album Film Bleu, the band has musically changed directions with each album cycle, recently leaning into JPOP on their 2017 sophomore album he(r)art. But on the group’s epic third album, New Young City, the band seems to have found their calling in expansive shoegaze/indie pop. By handing lead singer eureka a guitar (that takes it up to three guitarists if you’re keeping count), For Tracy Hyde weaves magnificent tapestries of sound broken only by eureka’s saccharine voice.
What results is a sound so cleverly sweeping and cinematic that experiencing New Young City is undoubtedly breathtaking–so much so that we’ve written about how much the band moved us multiple times. Overflowing with boundless optimism, New Young City captures those fleeting moments of joy and magnifies them into a unique 57-minute experience.
Fresh off of their first overseas Asia tour, we talked to For Tracy Hyde about the inspirations behind New Young City, what it’s like to be on tour, and how nostalgia has shaped the making of the album.
It seems that every album that For Tracy Hyde puts out comes with a distinct new sound. On Film Bleu your sound leans towards Shibuya-kei, he(r)art is JPOP driven, and the third album leans fully into shoegaze… what leads to the changes during each album cycle? Is it always a conscious decision to change things up, or does it happen naturally?
Natsubot (Gt./Vo.): Quite simply, the influences of the kinds of music I’m listening to during the production of each album directly shine through each album. The majority of Film Bleu was written back in my college and graduate school days, when I was listening to a lot of Shibuya-kei. When I was working on he(r)art, I was big on The 1975 so a lot of the album leans towards cinematic synthpop. For our latest album New Young City, I revisited the shoegaze/dream pop and guitar pop bands from circa-1990 Britain that I used to love, while also drawing inspiration from contemporary US indie bands like DIIV and Turnover.
However, seldom do I start working on an album with the intention to make it sound different from our previous albums. I just put together whatever seems to work to me at the time, and after completing two or three songs, the concept of the album naturally takes shape. It’s only then that I start consciously working to maneuver the album towards a certain direction.
Where did the name New Young City come from? What concepts, music, and art were you inspired by for the making of the album?
Natsubot: The title New Young City is taken from a song of the same name by the Japanese band Supercar, one of my biggest influences. While I’ve been living in Tokyo for most of my life and love living here, I’d been rather annoyed by the “city pop” (a distinctly Japanese form of AOR/yacht rock) revival that was all the craze in Japan over the past few years, as I felt that it overglorifies city life with a heavy emphasis on the hedonistic aspects of urbanity. The idea behind naming our latest record New Young City was to free the “city” from “city pop” by neutralizing its connotations, depict both the bright side and dark side of city life, and thus present a more sincere ode to urbanity as a fresh alternative (hence “New Young City”) to city pop.
By naming the album after a Supercar song and making references to bands that influenced us throughout its running time, I also wanted to present the city as a place where various cultures — both old and new, Eastern and Western — converge, acknowledge that our music is built on the heritage of our predecessors, and show our respect towards our influences.
2019 is the first year that three guitars are introduced into the band’s sound. How did this change affect the sounds of New Young City?
U-1 (Gt.): Having an extra guitar actually led to a less stuffy and less strained sound. The guitars are also better balanced than before.
soukou (Dr.): We sound more raw than before, both for good and for bad.
Natsubot: What we’d often do with our past albums was layer many synthesizers to create an atmospheric sound. But as U-1 said, since we now have an extra guitar, applying a similar method would lead to a cluttered sound, so we needed to strip down the sound by reducing synths and reverb. As a result, we returned to the basics and reacknowledged the importance of riffs, melodies, and lyrics. At the same time, we also became more sensitive towards separating the frequencies of each instrument, and I feel the arrangements show a bit of growth.
Mav (Ba.): Having less synths has really given the guitars more presence and space for their characteristics to shine through. If you revisit the album paying attention to each guitar, you might get a different impression from the last listen.
eureka (Vo./Gt.): In terms of performing onstage, we used to rely on backtracks and had to be strict about rhythm, but with the newer songs that don’t have backtracks, it’s easier to feel the groove, so they’re fun to play. However, the lack of backtracks also means we need to be more stoic towards our playing.
There’s a parallel between the album covers for Film Bleu and New Young City… was this a deliberate connection or a coincidence? How did the album artwork for New Young City get created?
Natsubot: I leave all the photography up to our photographer Kodai (Kobayashi), so I’m not really sure how deliberate it was at the time of the shooting. Kodai does seem to be fond of similar angles. But the choice of that cover itself was very deliberate, as was the coloring, which we thought to be a perfect middle ground between the blue of Film Bleu and the pink of he(r)art.
The process of producing the photography for each album is always more or less the same. I just share the demos and lyrics of the album with Kodai, and he comes with visual concepts. We go out together and shoot while discussing on the spot. Once the photographs are ready, he brings in a designer, and we discuss the designs. I really like the way the artwork always perfectly matches the album, serving as a visual aid to understanding the music.
Cinematic is a word that is frequently used to describe the kind of music For Tracy Hyde makes… and your recent music videos for “櫻の園,” “Can Little Birds Remember,” and “Girl’s Searchlight” are great examples of why that is. What was it like creating the visuals for each video released so far?
Natsubot: As with the photography, for the music videos I just share the songs and lyrics with each director, discuss things a bit, and then respect their autonomy and visions. But as a bottom line, I think both us and the directors share the intention of avoiding Japanese-looking videos. In Japan, movies and music videos typically have a pastel-coloured look with high exposure and low saturation, which just looks cheap when overdone. The directors we work with create videos with a cinematic look that aren’t undersaturated and have a vivid contrast, and this matches our preferences.
When it comes to shooting, we just trust the directors with what they’re doing, and follow their instructions. I’m very satisfied with the end results.
eureka: For the “Girl’s Searchlight” video, I made a solo appearance for the first time, and I was impressed by the director’s (Oudai Kojima) emphasis on storytelling even at the stage of discussion. We shared images back and forth many times, and shot the video with the story in mind, so to have it be described as “cinematic” makes me very happy!
Especially in this current album cycle, there seems to be an extra tight focus on vintage visuals and nostalgia. (Polaroids in “Can Little Birds Remember,” Pennacky’s music video for 櫻の園, “Opening Logo (Photo High Inc.)” etc). Where does this nostalgia fascination come from?
Natsubot: The focus on nostalgia has been something that has been inherent in my music ever since I started writing songs as a high school kid. I don’t really know where it comes from, but being strongly influenced by music from pasts that I don’t remember (eg: shoegaze, twee pop, sunshine pop, etc), I guess it’s inevitable. After all, it’s not only the music itself but also the cultural and historical aspects surrounding it that fascinate me.
I guess the nostalgia fascination also has a lot to do with the desire to create music that everyone can relate to. In my childhood, Polaroids, VHSs, and cassette tapes were still very much a thing. By taking cues from these elements, people familiar with them can relate easily, while people who aren’t can still feel a sense of longing for something they never got to experience.
What amazes me is that I’ve never really discussed nostalgia with the directors of the music videos, yet the interpretations of the music that they’ve come up with are remarkably similar. It’s a really cool coincidence.
“Can Little Birds Remember” is the first English language song by For Tracy Hyde—and it’s one that is especially poetic. How did the song get written? Was it inspired by personal experiences? Where did the metaphor for “little birds” come from?
Natsubot: “Can Little Birds Remember?” was written as an attempt to reach out to a broader audience outside of Japan. Through my experience touring with Sobs and meeting Asian musicians visiting Japan, I was astonished by how well-received our music was outside of Japan despite being a predominantly Japanese-singing band. I had both the desire to communicate and relate with these people and the means to do so, so I thought “Why not?”
At the same time, the song was a gesture towards the domestic indie scene as well. In the Japanese indie scene, there is a trend where bands singing in English are regarded to be more “authentic” and “hip” than bands singing in our mother tongue, even if their English is just gibberish. I wanted to prove that we could be even more “authentic” than them if we wanted to, and that our choice of language is made consciously.
The song is actually pretty personal, but I’d rather not go about spoiling the song by overtly defining it. I’ll just say that “little birds” are a reference to girls that sing. The song title is also a reference to a chapter title from the anime series “Hyouka (氷菓)”, though the song itself has nothing to do with it.
After your Asia tour, do you find that international audiences are just as receptive to your music as audiences back home? Which bands should the world be paying attention to in Asia?
U-1: I was surprised by the energy of overseas audiences. In some places, I even felt more welcomed than in Japan. Among the bands we played with in the four countries we visited, I especially liked Outerhope (Philippines) and Megumi Acorda (Philippines).
Natsubot: In every country, we received a warm and friendly welcome, and I liked how their reactions were so straightforward. What touched me the most was the Singapore show, where so many youngsters were singing along in broken Japanese, diving, and moshing. From the tour, Sobs (Singapore), Megumi Acorda, and Jirapah (Indonesia) left a strong impression on me, and Cosmic Child (Singapore) will be missed dearly. Asia has so much young talent with bands like Yuragi (揺らぎ, Japan), Thud (Hong Kong), I Mean Us (Taiwan), Death of Heather (Thailand), and Bye Bye Badman (South Korea).
eureka: Through this tour, I felt that Asian audiences may be even more receptive than Japanese audiences. What surprised me the most was that many people tried to talk to us in Japanese. Their passion towards things that they like was surprising, and I was glad that I could become one of those. Regarding bands, my impression is pretty much the same as Natsubot’s.
Mav: I was surprised with the energy the audience showed singing along even to Japanese songs, and when I first witnessed their enthusiasm, I felt as if I was in a dream. It was in stark contrast with manners unique to Japan (especially in shoegaze, the audience concentrates more on listening closely), so it felt as if we were being more welcomed than in Japan. Among the bands we played with, BP Valenzuela (Philippines), Megumi Acorda, and Jirapah were impressive, and it goes without saying that Sobs and Cosmic Child were awesome.
soukou: (While it may be more or less because of the genre we play) I reconfirmed that music has no borders. I don’t know if the audiences tend to be more high-energy than in Japan or not, but it did seem that their reactions were more physical. Among the bands that we played with, Cosmic Child and Sobs go without saying, but I also likes Huan Huan (緩緩, Taipei), Outerhope, BP Valenzuela, and Ourselves the Elves (Philippines).
What is your favorite song on the album, and why?
eureka: I can’t really choose, but if pressed, I would say “The Cherry Orchard (櫻の園)” and “Seabed (水と眠る)”. But I think it’s subject to change, so that’s just for today.
Natsubot: In terms of sequencing, I’m fond of the segue of “Be My Blue (繋ぐ日の青)” and “Thoughts of You (ハル、ヨル、メグル。)”, because with those two songs, I was able to take influence from US indie bands like Turnover and DIIV but create pop music that’s distinctly Japanese. If I was to single out one song, I’d pick “Can Little Birds Remember?” because it’s the perfect statement of youth. But the song I enjoy playing the most is “The Cherry Orchard”.
U-1: Listening again, I can’t really choose as all the songs are good. I want the album to be heard in its entirety.
Mav: “You, as a Season (君にして春を想う)”. It’s a song where the chord progression, lyrics, melody, and eureka’s voice join forces to stimulate emotions. I also like “The Cherry Orchard”, especially the bridge following the interlude.
soukou: “Be My Blue” and “Lost in the Wheatfield (麦の海に沈む果実)”. Especially with the latter, I like the introduction, which wears its influence proudly on its sleeves, and the coda. The “DIIV zone” in the interlude of “Be My Blue” is an amazing idea too.
If you ever do a US tour, which artists would you like to work with?
Natsubot: DIIV, Turnover, Patternist. All these bands influenced my work greatly. I really wish I could have played with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (RIP). I’d really like to take Sobs with us to the US as Asian tourmates and good friends if we ever have the chance.
What do you hope that listeners can take away from this album?
eureka: I think that it’s up to the listeners to interpret the album their own way, so I hope they can relate to the songs, and feel that the scenes depicted in the songs are what they’re actually seeing.
Natsubot: To cherish your limited time on Earth and your beloved ones. To affirm reality and life. That’s all I want to say on any given day.
U-1: Younger Than Yesterday
Mav: Respect to our forerunners and their wonderful music. Our small contribution to music. Admiration towards beauty and transience.
soukou: I think this album is a self-torturous affirmation of the fruitless insanity of loving someone out of reach. I hope it will save those who can relate to it. At least I was saved.
For Tracy Hyde – New Young City is out now via P-Vine records. Header photo of For Tracy Hyde by Kodai Kobayashi.
This interview was conducted via email in English by Li-Wei Chu from September through December 2019. Special thanks to Natsubot for his translations.