“Bristol’s a great place for strange music.”
Emerging after ten years with Bristol stars Zun Zun Egui, Yoshino Shigihara is taking things into her own hands on new project Yama Warashi, telling stories of both the everyday and the supernatural with matching beauty.
Meeting in Easton, Shigihara’s home for the last three years, the Japanese-born artist is clearly relishing the DIY nature of her new project, escaping from the lack of control she felt in the well-oiled machine of Zun Zun Egui.
“With the band, we were signed to Bella Union, had record advances, and everything was very planned out,” she begins. “It’s great to be doing everything myself this time.” She’s about to go and pick up a set of hand-printed Yama Warashi t-shirts, before continuing to print out and assemble CD copies of her debut EP ‘Moon Zero’, ready for her UK tour with Rozi Plain, for whom Shigihara also plays keyboards, which begins in Cornwall in a few days’ time.
Shigihara cites the inclusive Bristol scene as pivotal in getting Yama Warashi started, becoming embedded in the city’s DIY contingent. After playing a series of solo gigs in Japan, armed with just a loop pedal, she recruited members of Bristol band Evil Usses – “my favourite band in the world” – to realise the full-band dream of Yama Warashi. The band currently fluctuates between being a four and a six-piece setups, and they relish the idea of further expansion.
Photo: Tilly May Photography
“Bristol’s a great place for strange music. It’s really diverse, as the culture here is so mixed, so I feel very comfortable making whatever kind of music I want to. Lots of bands here are like that.” She cites the Sanctum series of gigs at the Temple Church in October and November last year as a moment that increased her love for the city and its music, with some of Yama Warashi’s first full-band gigs coming through during that month of non-stop live music in the picturesque bombed-out church.
“Sometimes we’d go out to see a gig and by 1am, when it was all done, we still wanted to hang out, so we’d go to The Sanctum – it never stopped. There were so many different styles every day, I saw it as representative of how diverse the music in Bristol is. I wish it was still there!”
The release show for ‘Moon Zero’ took place in March at the Cube Cinema, and Yoshino’s already booked the venue again on October 15th for the release of her debut album. It shows utter confidence, given that only a trio of songs have currently been written for the record.
“I want to keep the nature of my home in the songs.”
Speaking of the songs on ‘Moon Zero’, which are sung in her native tongue, she speaks of wanting to keep an element of Japanese culture in the tracks, having moved to Bristol to study Art in 2002. “Even though I’m living here, I want to keep the nature of my home in the songs, because it’s really beautiful,” she explains. “We really believe in spirits, and I like to bring those mystical stories into my music.”
Shigihara enjoys the mystery that comes with singing in Japanese for a lot of the people who will listen to her music, revelling in the idea that no meaning will immediately present itself due to the language barrier. “If I ever listen to music sung in Italian, or Indian music, I don’t mind that I don’t understand the words, because the sounds are so beautiful, another instrument in themselves.”
Despite this, songs from ‘Moon Zero’ do fringe upon hard-hitting topics lyrically. ‘Kekko’ is written about the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011, and the Japanese government’s subsequent refusal to completely refrain from harnessing nuclear power. ‘Moon Bon Dance’, meanwhile, concerns how “everyone gets a little crazy when a full moon is out”, and held the previous title ‘Moon Paranoia’. As a result, Yoshino tends to explain a song’s meaning to a crowd before playing it live, allowing for connections to be made that would otherwise be impossible.
Yoshino hopes to record her first album in the new Cellar Tapes studio in the centre of Bristol, where ‘Moon Zero’ was put to tape, and to have the album written by June. That show at the Cube in October is beckoning, but writing an album as brilliant and diverse as ‘Moon Zero’ in that time shouldn’t be any problem.
Yama Warashi plays the Exchange on 7th May.
Listen to ‘No Face’ right here: