It’s sometimes difficult speaking with a musician about their work. What the listener thinks, believes and invests in a song or an album often does not correlate with the artist’s intentions. When I speak with Kyoto-based performer YeYe online, it becomes apparent that she has run, throughout her career, the gamut of many musical genres. Similar in some ways to Taylor Swift, who has bounced from indie and pop to rock and country, YeYe has also dispersed herself throughout the musical spectrum. 

Although very much based in Japan, her music holds an international appeal, reflected by the huge success of her song “Yurayura,” which currently has 13 million views on YouTube. YeYe seems nervous when we speak, at first, but when we find common ground over our mutual love of Glaswegian indie darlings Belle and Sebastian, things very quickly become fluid and easy going.

She is in the middle of a Japanese tour right now, playing at locations including Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, but we are, during the interview, discussing her same-day double header at popular Tokyo coffee shop Mia Mia on September 24, which is becoming a hotspot for live music seen by gigs from acclaimed duo Tenniscoats in May of this year. 

The differences between playing large venues and intimate ones like Mia Mia become apparent in our chat and YeYe is more than open to discussing these peculiarities and her career as one of Japan’s best-kept secrets.

Do you prefer making music in the studio or playing live?

I prefer playing live. I want to move. There are several situations when I play shows. I play solo and sometimes play with my regular members. We’ve been playing together for more than 10 years, since I was about 20. We are almost like a family. 

What was it like playing at Fuji Rock?

I played there in 2016 and last year too. Fuji Rock is very special for me in my career, but I don’t have many memories, to be honest. I also regretted, afterwards, how I played on stage. I wish I could play the shows again.  

What are the differences between shows at Fuji Rock and more intimate spaces like Mia Mia?

Playing Fuji Rock and somewhere like Mia Mia is basically the same. In a small place like Mia Mia, however, I can really feel the energy of the audience, so perhaps I tend to be more nervous. When I play on big stages, I don’t really feel like it’s real. 

What should your fans expect from your two concerts at Mia Mia?

This will be my third time playing at Mia Mia. I’m doing two shows in one day, so I’ll change the set list. I have to satisfy the fans that may come to both shows. I have about six albums now, including the smaller records. But at Mia Mia, I’ll probably play most of the songs from the last album — Hamidete! — but I’ll also do some songs from the other albums. 

Photo by Shota Iguchi

The album cover for Hamidete! is unusual. 

It’s so mysterious and cute. My boss found the artist and he asked her to draw something for me. The artist is Nico Ito

You also write songs for television commercials. What is that process like?

In my mind I need to separate my feelings. This song is for me, or this song is written by request. It’s fun to write music for other people. It’s totally different from my normal process but I enjoy it. There are some music producers who give me some advice or requests and that always makes me excited and surprised. I think it often gives me ideas for my own music. They usually ask me to write music which is folky or like a typical YeYe sound. 

How would you describe your music?

I actually always feel like I’m playing punk music in my mind. My spirit is always punk. But my sound is more relaxed, J-pop or folk. Sometimes my music is recognized as alternative too. 

Photo by Kazuhei Kimura

How do you choose which language to write or sing in?

I always struggle with making music. I wonder whether I should sing in English or Japanese.  When I write music, I realize that the melodies sound more English. The things that I want to say, however, and describe more deeply usually come in Japanese. 

You’re a multi-instrumentalist. Which instruments can you play well?

I don’t have the confidence to play many instruments professionally. But I can play the piano and guitar. On my debut album I played every instrument by myself. That was a kind of concept. I was only 20 and too young, but I did it anyway and it was a nice experience. 

Lastly, which Japanese band inspires you?

Kukikodan started in about 2000 but are still making music. I really love them and they inspire me a lot. I guess they are a kind of indie band. 

YeYe plays at Mia Mia on September 24. Ticket information can be found here.