Sayoko Takahashi was the vocalist and main lyricist of the new wave band Zelda. The name Zelda was taken from Zelda Sayre, they are famous for being one of the very first all-girl bands in Japan, and of course, the members wrote lyrics, music and played instruments themselves. In my opinion, they were one of the best in the 80s Japanese new wave scene. The band was formed in 1979, made their major debut in 1982, disbanded in 1996.
Takahashi was born in 1964, joined the band in 1980. She has also released works as a solo singer, now she is in a band named Sayokootonara.
Sorry for the possible mistakes in this translation, including spelling and grammar ones. All I can say is that my translation won’t create big misunderstandings.
I = Imai
T = Takahashi
Interviewer = Tetsushi Ichikawa
Hisashi Imai + Sayoko Takahashi
We are new wave fellows
B-T and Zelda. Man and woman. Science and primitivity.
Countryside and metropolis. Even with all those differences, they are still of the same race, an interview of “the two motherlands”.
—Imai, when was the first time you listened to Zelda?
I: 1st grade at high school, it was their first album.
T: I was 17 years old then.
—You are close in age.
I: I bought many Japanese new wave records like Ippu-do and Lizard around that time. I knew the name Zelda, but their records were not easy to find in Gunma.
—What’s your first impression of Zelda?
I: impression…their music was pop, but with a strong metallic feeling.
T: Ah, metallic.
I: I love every song on the first album.
—So you are a passionate Zelda fan.
I: I was a fan!
T: He let it slip. I once met him in Okinawa, he told me “I like your first three albums.”
I: I’m sorry.
—But Imai felt much regret after that, didn’t he?
T: Please just tell us your true feelings.
—It was the “book girl era” of Zelda, so you like Sayoko’s lyrics?
I: I like them very much, such as the triple meter one with short lyrics.
T: Ah, “If you go to buy peace~”
I: Yes, yes, yes, yes, this one.
—”The development area is always in twilight”.(Note: It’s the name of the song, “開発地区はいつでも夕暮れ”) Many people say “the old Zelda was better”, it seems Zelda have a cult following, however, as someone who has already been making music for ten years, wouldn’t you get angry at those comments?
T: But when people says that…
I: So you did get angry.
T: No, no. I have thought the same about other bands. If we can continue making music, and make something even better, maybe one day we will return to our old sound. Times revolve, continue creating is the most important thing, we shouldn’t be defeated by the complaints.
I: I think your sound went through a significant change in the 3rd album.
T: Yes, it changed in Sora-iro Boshi no Hi. You like the 2rd album better, don’t you?
I: But the 1st album is still my favorite.
—He annoys people. Anyway, in 1981, Zelda seemed to be so innovative, the lyrics, the sound, the appearance all had that aesthetic feeling.
T: We have attracted the most attention because we are girls, but during that period, there were also many boys bands who were very innovative in both music and the way of being.
—But among all those bands, only Zelda continues to exist in the original form till today.
T: Hm, among the Tokyo Rockers, Friction and S-KEN have been active in their original forms as well. (Note: Tokyo Rockers = bands who played in S-KEN studio in the late 70s, “Tokyo Rockers” was the name of gigs they held in that studio, later they made a complication live album with same name.)
I: Here come the great names.
—Then Sayoko, When did you know B-T’s name?
T: When we were recording Sora-iro Boshi, our former manager brought us the self-made record, the one with black-and-white cover, on which Sakurai-kun had his hair put up.
I: Ah, ah!
T: He bought us that record, said, “Those people like your music.”
I: I’m very glad. It’s “TO SEARCH” from Taiyou Records.
—What’s your feeling about it?
T: I’m sorry, to be honest, I didn’t have much of an impression.
T: But, but I bought many bands’ many records at that time, I’ve forgotten almost all of them, I only remember BT’s, the cover was so cool.
—Hahahaha. You are about the same age, and your musical experiences both began with new wave.
I: Ah, yes. For me, it’s Japanese new wave bands, YMO, The Stalin, we were a Stalin copy band at the beginning. (Note: I think everyone already knows that, but Stalin was the name of a band)
T: It’s absolutely amazing. For me it’s foreign music, I was obsessed with Patti Smith, listened to her again and again. When I was in middle school, I thought, “Someday I will surpass her as a singer.” Then one day I saw the special issue of Tokyo Rockers in a magazine, I realized that even in Japan, there were people using words and music to express what I was thinking about. They wore black sunglasses and thin ties, put their hair up, all looked so stylish. I went to Shinjuku to see them. Tokyo Rockers were the first Japanese groups to give me influence, they were the direct reason that I decided to make music myself.
I: I didn’t see them in real time, I knew their name before actually listening to their music.
—Do you consider Zelda as “Tokyo Rockers Children”?
T: “After Tokyo Rockers”, together with Stalin and JAGATARA, we are the next generation influenced by them.
—Isn’t new wave a very special genre? The sense is more important than technique, knowledge and pattern.
T: Yes, 99% of me is feeling, so I think I was born into a good time to make use of my talents. What we are doing is more than just making music, there is something artistic about it.
—You can take elements from other subcultures.
T: Yes, yes, yes, it’s so good that we can do anything, it’s the best for me.
I: I have thought the same. I found that in this genre it’s okay to do anything, so I thought “I can do it as well”.
T: Yes, people would think so.
—The core of new wave is that even someone who has never touched an instrument before can do it, because it’s a matter of sense.
T: Yes, at that time, everyone thought so, now we can say that way of thinking was truly an innovation.
I: Me too, I began playing guitar and started the band at the same time.
T: Therefore we have much more possibilities, it’s very important that you can make music when you are not a real musician.
—Don’t you consider yourselves real musicians?
T: No, no.
I: Hmm… No. What I make is music, but I don’t understand things like music theory.
T: Me, too! Me too.
—We were born with new wave, so let’s follow nothing but sense till we die! Something like this?
I: When we keep advancing, following the sense, naturally we will find things in music theory, like the scales, look more and more familiar.
T: I feel the same. It’s not about knowing the music theory, it’s about living with music, music is inside my heart, I can release myself into the world of music while playing it. I think it will be great if I can carry music with me in this way. Do you write lyrics, Imai-san?
I: Yes, I don’t write as many as before though.
T: What are they like?
—Just introduce your favorite lyric.
I: Introduce? It’s a song called “Brain, Whisper, Head, Hate is noise”.
T: Whispers of brain, sounds cool, it rhymes.
I: It can be explained in many ways, I described it in an abstract manner.
—What did you describe in an abstract manner?
I: Hmm…I got a suspended sentence for it. (Note: Oh I thought only Acchan wrote that kind of lyrics after it, Maimai bravo)
T: I can’t understand, what’s that?
I: …It’s like, in the midnight, doing something to make your mind so sharp.
T: Was it an awakening?
I: Yes, it feels like you are looking at something that shouldn’t be seen, suddenly you know the truth, you know too much.
T: This bad trip feeling could be experienced even when you are just writing lyrics or listening to music, when you are longing for something which belongs to a place outside normal every day life. I like that twisted feeling, twisted things are more beautiful, I can understand.
—In the early days of Zelda, Sayoko wrote lyrics about extraordinary things which were almost identical to daily life.
T: I wrote about my frustration, like “I don’t want to go to school”.
—But your expressions have a strong literature feeling, there is a kind of dignity floating around.
T: At that time, I couldn’t help hating lyrics about attacking others, but being blind to one’s own shortcomings. So I wasn’t interested in punk, which didn’t say anything about oneself, only spat on others, it sounded too selfish for me. However, new wave felt like being alone inside one’s own world, it wouldn’t cause trouble for others. Then I wrote lyrics not in a straight way, I made them warped, added a lot of adjectives, till I had added so many colors into the lyrics that they became incomprehensible.
I: I was influenced by your style.
I: Such as in the first album, the one with “father and mother have both turned into robots”.
T: It’s “Robotomeia”. (Note: I wrote it in Romaji because I can’t figure out its possible English spelling.)
I: It’s wonderful, I mean the mysterious feeling. But in our early days, when I was the main lyricist, I wrote a lot of embarrassing love songs. Writing straight love songs makes me nervous, so now I write them in an completely abstract way so that people won’t know they are love songs.
—But I think this straightness, this awkward feeling is one of the keys of Japanese new wave.
T: Weren’t those unorganized feelings part of our generation’s everyday life? The everyday life of shy teenagers like us.
T: The appearance of new wave has freed many people from their emotional repression, including me.
I: In my case, showing my true self to others makes me embarrassed. Even the fact that Acchan is the one who has to sing it won’t help.
T: You are a bit too cold. I used to think “where is the good of singing about my real experiences”? However, 3 or 4 years ago, in Shout Sister Shout, for the first time, I wrote a love song based on my real experience, then people told me “Actually I have felt the same”. I began to know that what I felt could be felt by anyone, it’s not too embarrassing.
—You have overcome your shyness.
T: Yes, then I began to take pleasure in it, I tried to write lyrics more honestly, eventually they became too honest.
I: I have been embarrassed by music as well. It makes me want to disappear from earth.
T: I understand, our first album for me…
—Hey, sitting next to you is someone who has been enjoying your first album for 10 years.
I: Thank you.
T: But it’s our first recording, I felt repressed. I cried so much before the recording of one song, my voice was shivering, so I feel uncomfortable listening to it.
I: Which one?
T: Hehehehe, it’s “To Ra Wa Re”. (Note: it’s my fav on the album “Zelda”)
—So it’s not funny. Then, from the starting point of new wave, you went in different directions, Sayoko went for world music, Imai went for techno, it’s very interesting.
T: But if we keep going, I feel one day we will be back to the same road. Forms of our music are different, but we have the same roots. People from the new wave era have chosen the native direction, or the electronic direction, but the differences are on the surface, the basic idea of desiring to escape from the ordinary is still the same.
I: In my case, I took the guitar by chance. The digital sounds are what I have been seeking for from the beginning. I often get unsatisfied with the sounds I have made, I keep buying effects units, till I find the sound I want. No matter it sounds like a guitar or not, if it’s the sound you like, there is no need for self-control, just use it.
T: I’m different, in the end, the sounds I want are what come directly from human bodies, from a place without electricity. So we are the leading edge and the origin, but we have the same starting point.
—Imai’s “ignoring the schemes” is new wave, Sayoko’s “returning to the origin” is new wave, too, are there no such things as traditions or patterns which are followed in this genre? I mean, your ideas come not from seniors, but rather from your individual selves.
T: That’s right, it’s an universal genre dominated only by sensibility.
—I want to hear about your roots.
I: My natural sensations match new wave and techno, by coincidence. When I was in kindergarten, I got unusually excited when I saw metallic things like the vacuum tubes inside a television, one day I went to the garbage dump in a hospital, there were many plastic syringes, I felt very happy seeing those.
I: When I listen to music like new wave, a similar feeling comes to me. I hated listening to music before, but I began collecting records after knowing about new wave.
—For Imai, new wave is inorganic products like syringes and vacuum tubes.
I: Yes, I was attracted by the idea of turning human into machine at the beginning.
T: In my case, being born in Tokyo during the economic miracle period has a great influence. When I was a child, instead of mountains and rivers, I saw tall buildings, subways, high ways everyday around me, and I loved it! I found myself imagining doing things like diving from the skyscrapers, riding bicycles on the highways. The concrete felt like nature to me, there lay my playground, I was also very fond of reclamation ground (Note: on Zelda’s second album “carnaval” there’s a song named “Umetate”, which means “reclamation”, Sayoko said “I go to reclamation ground everyday” in it). But every place I had been to had the marks of city life, finally I grew bored of metropolis. I moved to Kamakura 2 years ago, now I live with the nature, but sometimes I return to Tokyo, find the sights to be beautiful again.
—Zelda is the synonym for metropolis.
T: People always say we are a band of Tokyo.
—It seems the glitz of B-T is not a Tokyo thing.
I: After all, we are a band of Gunma.
Fun fact 1: Kokusyoku Sumire have covered Zelda’s song Watashi no Orchestra. You can try Zelda’s version even if you don’t like Kokusyoku Sumire’s, because Zelda were not Lolitas, they were punk rockers.
Fun fact 2: Being a bungaku shoujo, Sayoko once had a essay column in the magazine Takarajima, which was a subculture magazine focused on new wave artists like YMO, Jun Togawa, etc. Later this magazine began to feature newer popular bands like Seikima II, Buck-Tick, Jun Sky Walker(s) and X Japan, then it turned into an adult magazine, became very successful. And I’m not suggesting BT is something lies between 80s new wave and porn, sorry.