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img  Tobias Fischer

"It's true that selling music is becoming more and more difficult", Rie Mitsutake tells me, "But I believe people still like music. I think their interest is not becoming shallow, it's just becoming more diverse and flexible. Musicians are now challenged to be more creative to communicate with people in different ways." She and her husband and creative partner Will Long have certainly accepted the challenge. For their full-length debut, they have set up their own label (Normal Cookie), organised an international PR campaign, published an  enchanting lead-up single ("Seashore") and commissioned a remix by their friend Terre Thaemlitz, which ended up on the latter's ravingly received Queerifications and Ruins compilation. For both artists, the result of their mutual passion, I Love You..., is a work which charmingly defies the border running between experimental electronica and immediately accessible pop, between verse/chorus songs and more open formats. For Long, the album also confidently ends a phase of soul-searching and silence after the passing away of Danielle Baquet-Long, with whom he had founded the first incarnation of drone-ambient duo Celer. Now a solo entity, more recent releases under the Celer-moniker have expanded into noisy and more eclectic territory, while his Rangefinder project has dealt with vintage synthesizers and hypnotic sequencing. Some of these influences have also manifested themselves on I Love You..., although the general mood is more peaceful and subdued, like living one's life in childhood polaroids. The title is not ironic in any way – this really is an album you could fall in love with.

There was a time, I believe, when you weren't quite convinced you wanted to continue with making music at all.
Will / That's true. In 2010 I wasn't really sure what was best. Nothing really felt right. It was difficult to look forward to the future. I think I was able to just stay strong and keep going. And I realized once I got busy and creative, it satisfied a lot of idleness and confusion. Looking back, it just seems like an overcoming and growth process, and things happen all throughout life that change your viewpoints. So now I'm glad that I pushed forward.

How would you describe the phase between 2010 and today in retrospect?
Will / In 2011 and 2012, I pushed myself really hard to develop new music, and start working on new projects. For Celer it was trying to restart, and 2013, and what will be 2014 will have the results of that. Starting new projects, in particularly Oh, Yoko, besides being very natural making music with Miko, was also incredibly refreshing, starting something that was totally different. It also fit into my lifestyle of coming to Japan, starting a fresh life here, and being creative in different ways with different surroundings. At the turn of the year, I've slowed down a lot, but now it feels more comfortable, varied and exciting. I'm happy to be able to do more, but work on things slower, focusing more on the projects themselves.

What did the first pieces of Oh, Yoko look like?
Rie / When we started the collaboration, Will was still living in America and we were just exchanging data via e-mails to make music. Will sent me many ideas and sound files, but I was so slow as usual, and didn't know what exactly to do with those. My first try was simply blending my voice into his sound or let him process my vocal or something, but it didn't sound right. Then we met in person and found out more about each other. It was nice to know that Will is not a serious person at all, rather, a very happy person who loves humor and silly things. And he knew a lot about pop music and wanted to make pop music with me. As we got to know each other more, we were able to be more honest and comfortable about the collaboration, and start exploring new music together. Will was a great producer of the team, giving so many inspirations and ideas to decide the directions of each song and the whole album sound. I think we were able to explore so many new styles and sounds which are very fresh to both of us. I think that was a big difference.

Why was working with songs and pop music so interesting for you at that point?
Will / It's just refreshing working with more 'real' sounds, and vocals. It's a totally different type of thing. Having the bare instruments there, and being able to polish and shape - opposed to blurring and losing the real nature - is special, and enjoyable. At the same time, for me, it's a big challenge to not use so much processing and effects. They're there, but not in the same way, and not the same kinds always. It's easy to hide mistakes being that, and sometimes the mistakes lead to interesting results with a more experimental type of music. Maybe the biggest challenge compared to my work with Celer, though, is playing instruments. I can play some instruments, but certainly not to the extent that Rie can, and not in a live manner. Not yet, at least.

How is your approach to songwriting informed and shaped by your sound art work, would you say?
Will / Our pop songs are really just made with the same kind of inspiration that I make my own long-form music in, it's just compressed into a much smaller space. But, there's more room to breathe in that small space, not cluttered, for some reason. I add things and work on the tracks much the same way as with any other kind of music, just treating the sounds differently makes the difference. When you zoom in, it all looks the same, and is made up of most of the same things, inherently.

One of the things that really caught me was how diverse the album is.
Rie / I use many instruments and field recordings in my solo works too, but I use them in a more arranged way, more song-oriented style. Most of the pieces on I Love You… are song-oriented too, but the arrangement is more simple. Instead, the texture of the sounds is more colorful and diverse. The sound sources Will made were very unique and gave me lots of new inspiration to sing in different styles. I think we both contributed to expanding the possibility of new genre or style of music by bringing in each other's talents and composition styles.
Will / One of the special things about the project is using instruments that I wouldn't have normally used for other kinds of music. On I Love You… we also made our first track with a drum machine, which has been fun too. I've really gotten into programming rhythms and using the old, simple step writing style machines, with the cheap 8-bit samples. So far, all of our new songs for the next album are using beats with these same machines.

Poetry already played an important part with Celer, but while the words would merely be printed in the booklets, the lyrics are actually audible with Oh, Yoko. What difference does this make do you feel?
Will / As poetry was placed with some of my music before, sometimes it was directly related, sometimes not - but it was an accompaniment, and could be interpreted as such, or anyway the listener likes. As pop music with discernible lyrics, when you can read along or see the story in the music, it's much more of a direct connection.  Some people don't connect with the Japanese vocals, but that doesn't really make sense to me. Maybe they're just too accustomed to English songs.

Can you tell me about the relationship between the sounds and words?
Rie / With regards to the album lyrics, I made them by putting words to fit the music after most of the composing and the arrangement had already been finished. In this way, the choices of words are often limited because it's influenced a lot by the melody or rhythms. But I like this limitation because it sometimes makes seemingly meaningless words have deep meanings. Or it can show subconscious feelings behind the songs. It's always been very interesting to see the combination of certain words and melody or sound can have a special effects together.

Photography plays an important part in this project, at the same time it never distracts from the sounds. What, do you feel, are you expressing through music, which can not be expressed through images and words?
Will / I try to always stay within a certain area regarding the photography that goes with music, and film photography is obviously a big interest and inspiration for me. For Oh, Yoko it is a little different from Celer though ... One of the first times I met Rie's parents, we were looking through old family photos, and I noticed that there were so many good photos from when she was a child. She always looked so happy in such a pure way, and to me it really felt like it fit our music a lot. It's communicating a feeling and style through the action and textures, but in a different way. Plus, it's a real connection to both of us. I think even though the photos are of a childhood, we're not trying to communicate that childhood is something wished for, or just take an easy road by using childhood photos - so often they don't mean anything. Instead, to me they communicate something really true, natural, and simple. To me, that's what our music is all about.

It puts you into a unique space
Will / Precisely. I Love You… was made of songs that we made at different times, without really planning them. When we go back and hear them now, they bring back memories of that time, what we were doing, where we were, and so on. They each have their own story - in addition to a story they create.

By Tobias Fischer

I Love You … by Oh, Yoko is available directly from Rie and Will's label Normal Cookie.

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