On Christmas Eve 2021, during their first performance at Kōhaku Uta Gassen, BiSH suddenly announced that it would be disbanding. They also made several promises to their fans, one of which is “Sayonara Saraba,” a single that marks their eighth release in a busy release schedule for the band over the last 12 months.
With songwriting by Taka (ONE OK ROCK) and MEG (MEGMETAL), and lyrics by KENTA (WANIMA), the track is their first to be produced by third parties — an undertaking they say was a major challenge. All six members spoke with us at length about the first summer festival season since their announcement to disband, as well as what they have been doing as a “punk band with no instruments.”
Here we are in the middle of the summer festival season. You recently (*this interview was conducted at the end of August) performed at “Sweet Love Shower” and “Rush Ball,” which I believe was your first time in three years to perform during the chaotic summer festival rush. How did it go?
HASHiYASUME ATSUKO: Last year our show was canceled right before we were supposed to perform, so this year’s summer festival was our first in a while. We were really fired up because it had been so long. It was different from playing indoors: there was that smell of the grass, the feel of the hot air. You could take in the air with eyes, nose, and ears. It felt kind of like things were getting back to normal.
With all of the many “cleaners” (the collective term for BiSH fans) out there now, I imagine that, by comparison, playing festivals back then felt like playing at an away game. Maybe your concerts also won you some new fans. What are your thoughts on the early days of your career?
CENTCHiHiRO CHiTTiii: At first, when we had really just started out, the audience rarely put their hands up for us and often went off to watch other bands. I didn’t know how to get the crowd excited. It was really frustrating. But those experiences spurred us to start talking amongst ourselves about how BiSH could show people what made it unique. Not using instruments means there are certain things we can do. Six girls performing the way we do — that’s our strength as a band and what really makes BiSH different. As we gradually came to see what our strengths are, we thought hard about how to perform live in such a way that people would take us seriously. And I don’t think we would’ve experienced that growth if it hadn’t been for the festivals.
I can understand that.
CHiTTiii: The performances we saw at those festivals and every word we heard were formative for BiSH. And the atmosphere was completely different at every venue. The choreography that AiNA comes up with (for BiSH) often gets people dancing along with us right away. So when non-cleaners see us for the first time, they’ll throw their hands up and dance like they’re having so much fun. Moments like that are so moving — I get choked up. I’m so happy that, even though our disbandment approaches, we’re getting to experience new things.
This was your first summer festival performance since Christmas Eve, 2021, when you announced you were disbanding. Compared to before the announcement, are there any ways in which you have come to see yourself differently, or is there anything you’ve reaffirmed?
CHiTTiii: So many times, we’ll go somewhere or do something for the first time together, and I’ll think, “this could be the last time we do this.” It’s something I think about all the time, not just at summer festivals. There’s just a greater loneliness now.
Thinking back on this year’s summer festivals, were there any performers that shocked or awed you, or that stick in your mind?
AYUNi D: There were several festivals that we couldn’t make it to because some of us weren’t feeling good. For those shows, bands like The Bawdies stood in for us. I also heard from other artists that DJs played BiSH songs at the shows we couldn’t make. Not too long ago, I don’t think people would have put up with a band like BiSH. Other artists would probably have been like, “what the heck is this group of six girls?” But we threw ourselves into the band, and it’s like CHiTTiii said earlier: we have a strength in that we can do things others can’t because we don’t use instruments. We’ve never stopped believing in ourselves, and now other artists have noticed us and begun to accept us a little. I’m so glad we stuck with it. It was worth the faith we have had into it.
MOMOKOGUMiCOMPANY: At the Monster Bash event, we did a performance with Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Festival regulars like 04 Limited Sazabys, who were there with us at the “Sweet Love Shower” and “Rush Ball” events, became friends with us and cheered us on backstage. I’m really thankful for that. But it made me really sad to think that we wouldn’t see them very much anymore after we disbanded. I hope there’ll be another opportunity for us to all be together again, like the battles of the bands we used to do.
It has been eight months since your announcement at the end of last year. How has this period of time been for BiSH?
LiNGLiNG: For our “COLONiZED TOUR,” our first shows since our announcement, we did things like go to completely new places. There was a powerful feeling that BiSH and cleaners were seeing each other for the first time. Though they didn’t say it, you could absolutely feel how happy they were to have finally met us. It was so fun and it made me so happy to see “cleaners” at our shows — just to be able to see them one more time was great. Every time we were on stage, I thought, “what a happy place I’m in.”
AiNA THE END: With our disbandment on the calendar, it strikes me that there are ways we can pursue things that are different from what we’ve done before. It used to be that whenever I felt even a little under the weather, I might think I needed to hold something back, even though in my heart I wanted to give it my all. But now there’s no holding back, because no matter how crummy I might feel, I remember that this could be the last time I experience this kind of happiness, or the last time our cleaners get to see us. Approaching life in this way personally has also brought about new ways of expressing myself. These last eight months have been a time of many different discoveries.
So even though BiSH’s disbandment is set in stone, you’re tapping into new methods of expression, and making new discoveries. That’s a really optimistic outlook.
AiNA: I suppose it is.
Has there been anything you’ve noticed for the first time, or rediscovered, since the announcement?
CHiTTiii: Well, I don’t know about things I’ve noticed because of the decision to disband, but these eight months have been a time for carrying on the things we’ve accomplished. So many people have supported us over the years, and so many have come to see what we’ve been able to do. Thinking about that makes me even happier than I usually am. [Laughs] Our staff also say they’re sad that they might not see us again after we disband. I’ve been recalling everything that’s happened up to this point and I think about what those people did for us, and how I need to be thankful for it all.
Would you say that people have actually had more opportunities to tell you how they feel about you since you made the announcement?
CHiTTiii: That’s certainly true, but we’ve also realized lots of stuff ourselves. It’s like things we couldn’t see before have come into focus.
But that doesn’t mean necessarily mean you’re going to change how you guys do things, right?
CHiTTiii: It’s not changing things so much as it is preserving the mindset we’ve cultivated over the years. But it’s like AiNA said: since we don’t know when the last time for anything could come, there’s no time to hold anything back. To make sure we don’t regret anything later, I really think we need to express love, gratitude, all kinds of emotions.
You guys have really made a flurry of releases over the last 12 months. I know that was a promise you made when you announced your disbandment, but what did you think when you first heard about the plan?
AiNA: “Uh oh.”
Because of the production schedule?
AiNA: Yeah. Actually though, our lyrics on GOiNG TO DESTRUCTiON, the album we put out just before that accelerated release schedule, hinted at the end of the band. Our music video for “CAN WE STiLL BE??” also had elements that pointed to our breaking up. We just never said it in so many words. When we started our accelerated schedule, that served as a great opportunity to provide cleaners with music that, through unambiguous and positive language, would allow them to begin to accept our disbandment. The “someday we will meet here again” lyrics on “FiNAL SHiTS” is one example of this. We knew it would be a hectic schedule, but we wanted to pour our hearts into it. Personally, I want to show off some choreography that will showcase the other members’ strong points. But I’m looking at our disbandment with optimism.
“Sayonara Saraba” is your eighth release in 2022. Do you have any particularly memorable songwriting-related anecdotes to share from this year?
MOMOKO: Some songs have a no-nonsense, grown-up feel to them like “FiNAL SHiTS,” while “Tell Me That You Love Me” has some playful energy to it. We’d never been so girly with our music or clothing — everybody was in pink dresses, for example. It was pretty embarrassing. [Laughs]
The choreography is cute, too.
MOMOKO: Yeah. Part of it was maybe just, “let’s go out with a bang,” too. We were a little unsure about the track because even the lyrics were like “here’s a love song!”. But surprisingly, many loved it — nobody said, “this isn’t BiSH.” These last eight months really drew a lot of different things out of us.
What about you, HASHiYASUME?
HASHiYASUME: BiSH has always written its own lyrics, right? For a long time, I’ve wanted to look at everything other members have written and write something myself. And sometimes band members’ lyrics get used in B-sides and things. Every time we come up with something, it’s always very much BiSH. Personally, I think “Tell Me That You Love Me” and “I’m Sorry” are a really new style for us. The lyrics are easy for even children to understand.
It was even broadcast on NHK’s Minna no Uta.
HASHiYASUME: Yeah, it was used on Minna no Uta, and the choreography is simple enough for even children to do. During this accelerated release schedule, I’ve noticed that, even though we’ve been together for seven or eight years, there are a lot of ways that we haven’t expressed ourselves, and a lot of things we haven’t done. There’s a lot that we’ve left undone, you could say. It feels like every day I learn something new.
Through your musicmaking.
HASHiYASUME: That’s right. Because I know that lots of fun things await us in the time we have left. We worked with new producers for “Sayonara Saraba,” so that’s another new thing. We’re just having so much fun every month.
“Sayonara Saraba” represents the first time during this accelerated release schedule that you worked with the new producers, right? People like Kenta Matsukuma and Junnosuke Watanabe, producers that know everyone, have helped with your songs in the past, but “Sayonara Saraba” was produced by Taka from ONE OK ROCK and Kenta from WANIMA. The song strikes me as being really unique, even among the tracks you’ve released this year. What did you first think when you heard that the two would be involved?
CHiTTiii: I guess everyone was equal parts happy and ambivalent.
CHiTTiii: Kenta Matsukuma has been with us for the entire past seven years, and his production has been great support. I think he finds our songs to be cool, and so he thinks BiSH is cool, too. I was shocked when I heard that somebody other than him would be making songs for us. But I imagine that Junnosuke Watanabe thought about a lot of different things with regard to BiSH and realized that, just as ATSUKO (HASHiYASUME) was saying earlier, there were many things we hadn’t tried yet — things we’d left undone. It wasn’t about Taka and KENTA starting to work with us; more important was that we had taken a first step for ourselves by working with someone new. It was like we set out into a new world.
What did you first think of what he came up with?
AYUNi: It was very ONE OK ROCK.
The sound, you mean.
AYUNi: It’s so kickass. And in the demo, Taka and KENTA are doing the vocals. They’re such amazing singers. It was so good that we could have just put it out as it was. That really impressed me, and I actually studied how they sing as part of my preparation for recording our own vocals. It’s such an unforgettable track for me.
The first thing Taka says in the behind-the-scenes documentary is that one shouldn’t worry about singing well but rather just expressing emotion. How much did the vocals end up matching what you wanted to achieve?
AYUNi: Well, Taka and KENTA praised the parts where I thought we sang pretty well. They’re both good at giving compliments. I think every BiSH member has their own characteristics, and Taka would give us technical pointers on the spot, saying “you’ve got a unique way of opening up your throat,” or “you can get this kind of voice by creating resonance in your nose here,” or whatever. He’d point out our unique qualities and tell us how to get more resonance. And so through discussions with him we developed our own vocal sound. I really like how I sing.
Taka praised you, LiNGLiNG, for the parts where you’re shouting, for example. What kind of direction did Taka and KENTA provide?
LiNGLiNG: They’d provide direction and model it with their own singing, which made it really easy to learn. I was absolutely shocked that anyone could have such a great voice! To achieve a good shout, they told me to imagine that my pet dog hadn’t come home for five weeks.
I remember that. They made some interesting comparisons.
LiNGLiNG: They gave me unique advice, and I did my best to follow it.
What did you think of the lyrics? I know this was the first song during your accelerated release schedule to be written by someone who came to know you guys well.
MOMOKO: I felt like he was really there to support us. There wasn’t a sense of just counting down the days to our disbandment — it felt more like regrouping, readjusting, and going in for another attack. The lyrics “I’ll keep running, even if I feel like stopping” really stand out for me, in particular. He did a great job of putting into words the roles we play, the things that hold us back, stuff like that. I never straight up asked KENTA what he was thinking about when he wrote the lyrics, but it’s clear that he wrote with us in mind.
CHiTTiii: I think the lyrics are unique for having been written by a third party who had never really followed BiSH before. I saw them as providing a window onto how others see us. At first, with phrases like “playing a role” and “living a borrowed life,” I didn’t understand what he meant, or I thought that he was making a statement about us. But it occurred to me that, actually, he was saying that we needed to shatter that perception of how people saw us. Emotions have been up and down with our disbandment approaching. Yet more and more people are taking an interest in us, and developing a certain perception of us. Taka and KENTA have been really helping us figure out how to combat that perception, and he’s made us realize that that’s something we have to do. When we’re singing, we feel like we really need to give everything we’ve got to it.
In the recording studio, do you feel like your vocals were able to express what you felt from the lyrics?
CHiTTiii: Yeah. They really encouraged us to put our emotions into it. I personally focused on singing according to the intent of the lyrics. It was difficult, though.
When I listen to Sayonara Saraba, I can really hear everyone’s emotion in it. HASHiYASUME, was there anything about your vocal expression, for example, that you paid particular attention to?
HASHiYASUME: I listened to the track on a bunch of different speakers and earphones, and I thought the sound was wicked. I knew that when we recorded I’d have to sing it really well. I tried several different styles, and although I thought they sounded good, there was always something somehow lacking. I kept having to say “let me do that over” and “can I go a little longer?” I’ve asked to redo something when I wasn’t satisfied before, but this was my first time singing a song that made me feel so fired up and aggressive. The song really inspired me.
With the track already released, how do you think it’s been received by cleaners, including with respect to your singing?
HASHiYASUME: We played it at RUSH BALL a little while ago, and when I looked at a video of our performance later, I saw people putting their hands up during the chorus. I was kind of moved to see a lot of people doing our dance moves, too, which I guess somewhat owes to our having uploaded a video of our routine on YouTube.
Did you do the choreography after all the recording was done?
AiNA: Yeah, I wanted to do something that was just straight cool, rather than eccentric. BiSH doesn’t really make music that’s popular, that’s easy to get, or that’s cute or cool. It doesn’t fit into genres like that. So for our choreography, I focused on visualizing in dance form things that are close to our everyday lives, the things that come out of the motions that BiSH members go through every day. I threw myself at trying to achieve that. But Taka requested, through Junnosuke, that we make some changes to the moves we came up with.
AiNA: For the music video, our director, Kento Yamada, asked us to do things we’d never really been asked to do before. He’d say, “let’s go with this here,” “I want this person to make this,” or “I want to have a routine made especially for the music video.” Despite a relatively tight schedule, we tried a bunch of things.
Do you not usually get asked to do specific things regarding your choreography?
AiNA: Not usually. In our early days, like when we put out OTNK, Junnosuke would call and say stuff like “you guys think this is good!?” And so we brainstormed together and redid things. But that hasn’t happened for three or four years now.
There must have been something that really inspired him, then.
AiNA: I suppose so. I think it was like Junnosuke summoned the courage to ask another third party to do what he had always had Kenta do. It was a totally new challenge for him. So I think that’s why he became pretty particular about the choreography.
Interesting. How about “A long way to go,” a B-side that Mr. Watanabe helped write the lyrics for? How are you going to present that track to him?
CHiTTiii: We’ll say “this is a sick song.” I really like B-sides, myself. Taka and MEG wrote it, and when I heard it, I thought “it wouldn’t feel weird at all for BiSH to sing this.” Junnosuke wrote the lyrics, and when we decided this month—August—to do a song with Taka and MEG, I read the lyrics thinking that Junnosuke had written them with BiSH in mind. His support helped me a lot. I felt like he was telling me that there were still many things I could do and that he would be there with me. I thought the lyrics were a letter from Junnosuke. I liked the words and thought they would be nice to share with others.
I can see how, for Mr. Watanabe, it would be a challenging thing to use his lyrics or his “letter” as you described it, with music written by somebody other than Mr. Matsukuma. Do you get any inspiration from that approach of his?
CHiTTiii: Well, Junnosuke is a rather candid guy, so I just imagine that’s what he’s thinking. Saying that, I now feel kind of warm inside.
It makes sense that you would describe it as a letter.
CHiTTiii: Honestly, they are lyrics that only someone who has observed BiSH and lived life together with us from the beginning could write. The lyrics for this song and Sayonara Saraba both have its charm.
In that sense, there’s a strong contrast between the two.
CHiTTiii: There is. But they’re both aiming at the same thing.
What are your thoughts, LiNGLiNG?
LiNGLiNG: I think it’s an invigorating, pretty song. AYUNi had memorized the demo perfectly, and her voice in the studio was amazing. It was so spot on that KENTA was going nuts in the recording booth.
Is that right, AYUNi?
AYUNi: Hearing that made my day!
How was the response?
AYUNi: I think the song was in my key, so it felt really good to sing it. The intro also really shines, you know? I’m thrilled that I was able to sing that opening. It felt pretty natural, and I think I was able to sing it with a bit of sparkle.
In closing, is there anything you want cleaners and music listeners to know about upcoming BiSH releases?
CHiTTiii: I learned in August that one shouldn’t make assumptions. BiSH will still be around for a while, and there will be four more releases in this 12-month release schedule. We’re having fun making music, and we might even be able to show people things we haven’t even thought of yet. Whatever we do, we hope people listen to it all and don’t get sick of us.
I’ll be waiting for four more tracks from the new BiSH.
CHiTTiii: We’re going to have fun doing it all together.
—This interview by Takuto Ueda with introduction by Maiko Murata first appeared on Billboard Japan.