LMYK is a singer-songwriter who debuted in November 2020, and her music has touched listeners around the world via anime works after being featured as the ending themes of Vinland Saga, The Case Study of Vanitas and other series. Two years and four months after her debut, the enigmatic artist — LMYK are the initials of her real name, but that’s about all we know of her profile — has finally completed her first album, a collection of 12 tracks that expresses her thoughts on life and death, joy and pain and other concepts that she has contemplated in the years since she was a child, given shape as if guided by sounds.
This project, called DESSERTS, was produced by Jam & Lewis, the producer team famous for their collaborations with numerous superstars including Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Hikaru Utada. Although the tracks included on the set are pop songs, they’re distinctive in that they were created using methods different from those commonly used in commercial music, and are precious musical works that carry listeners out to the sea of the mind and thoughts that people aren’t usually aware of. In this interview, writer Yukako Yajima spoke with LMYK on behalf of Billboard Japan about the inspirations and themes of her debut project.
Now that you’ve completed your first album, what do you think underlies these twelve tracks? In other words, what is fundamentally important to you in making music, or what’s the essence of LMYK that naturally overflows into the music you make?
Being alive. Questioning that. I think I’m always aware of the transience of time. Questioning being alive, and transience. Those things naturally go into my music. I also like humor. Maybe it’s because I’m originally from the Kansai area (where there is a long-standing culture of stand-up and other forms of comedy). [Laughs]
Your sense of fun can be felt throughout the album in a balanced way. I see what you mean about “questioning being alive.” We look within ourselves and at others, and by observing others, we understand ourselves again. I thought that kind of cycle was being depicted in each of the twelve songs. That sense of understanding oneself because others exist, is it something you’re strongly aware of?
There is a dual relationship between “you” and “I”. There are aspects that we share that are exactly the same, and those that are unique to each individual. “Separated” and “connected,” I feel both. Even if we’re physically separated, we are fundamentally the same and feel connected. We can’t see it, we can’t imagine it, we don’t know it… It’s a mystery.
I get the impression that your music uses sounds to delicately express things like emotions and the natural order of the world that we humans don’t understand, things that we haven’t yet been able to put into words or that science hasn’t yet been able to prove. Is expressing such things important to you?
I think the sounds probably take me there naturally. When you play sounds, it’s a different world, isn’t it? The sounds take you to places that you can’t put into words, or to places that exist at the root of existence. Maybe it’s a place where thought can’t catch up. Language “solidifies” things. So it’s like being in between thoughts. When you play sounds, you naturally go there.
The sense of being able to connect through sounds to feelings, phenomena, something like the root of existence, before it becomes thought or language. How about what you said before about the transience of time, why do you think that’s one of your central themes?
It makes me think about life and death. The fragility of human beings. It’s hard to tell if humans are strong or weak. They have both sides. They’re fragile, but also powerful and resilient. The passage of time also feels different depending on what you’re doing, doesn’t it?
It sure does. Is there a reason why you began thinking about the passage of time and life and death in this way?
I lost my mother when I was 18. It was a huge shock at the time. Death is perceived differently depending on how important a person is to you, but when you lose something absolutely irreplaceable, you lose a part of yourself as well. That’s how big the impact is and it really shakes us up.
So that was one of your major motivators in making music.
Yes. I started making more music a few years after that, so I think maybe it’s related. It could be all the stuff that I had pent up inside.
Your music also feels like it brings down something from another world that’s not our reality. For example, in “Sorakara” you sing about something “falling from the sky (sora kara furu).”
That’s the earliest song on the album, from around 2017. The title means “from the sky,” and it’s about a region on the far side of the sky that we don’t understand or the other side of life. The feeling of being connected to those things but also not understanding them. I don’t understand exactly what I meant by “sora kara furu” either, but it felt right. When I create a piece of music, it’s a combination of parts that clearly make sense to me and parts that are more abstract.
Do you remember what you were thinking five or six years ago when writing “Sorakara”?
Looking back objectively now, I think I was acting tough. There are lyrics in the song where I say “I know,”
Chronologically, “Weak” is also an earlier song, but would you say it expresses something exactly the opposite?
Yes, “Weak” is really honest. It admits my own weakness without any hesitation. But there’s also the question, “Is it OK to be weak and to need your love?”
The philosophy expressed in your songs often feels like it hits the truth. “Sorakara” is one and the bridge of “Little bit lonely” is another.
What is expressed in the lyrics of my music is something I think about all the time. Where does human suffering come from? Why do we suffer? What’s the difference between “suffering” and “having a hard time” and “feeling exhausted”? Human suffering can lead to one choosing to take its own life — the emotions behind behavior and where those emotions come from are things that
Which is closest to the sense you have when you make music: do you write songs from your own conclusions, or do you use sounds to express what’s going through your mind, or is it about wanting to affirm someone?
Now that you mention those three… I feel all of them while I’m working. Because when you affirm yourself, you’re also affirming others. I often write while thinking about people who are important to me, and I write music about things that I think I’ll never come to a conclusion about, and things that I feel but can’t put into words. I also write about things that I think I’ve come to a conclusion about, but it might not really be a conclusion. I guess I do what I do because I think maybe someone else will feel the same way as me when I find an answer to something that doesn’t need an answer.
So the thoughts and feelings you have are expressed not only in the lyrics but also in the music itself. As you mentioned at the beginning, that’s probably because sounds connect to your unconscious and you select the notes that inspire you. Do you usually start writing your songs sound first?
I have a notebook where I write down lyrics, and usually start from a lyrical idea or concept.
When I make a track, I often look for sounds or create from sounds I like. I get inspired by what resonates with me and what I like, by using plug-ins and changing effects.
After making the track, I go, “Those lyrics I wrote before fits this track” and combine them.
You took your demos for this album to L.A. to complete them, right?
I went to L.A. for two weeks in April and two in June last year. I have fond memories of working with Jimmy (Jam) and Terry (Lewis) to finish up the demos I brought with me. The songs were brought close to completion all at once there.
For example in “Smiley” and “Tendency,” you combine Japanese and English and even Korean to make rhymes. What was your inspiration for this?
I think there’s music I listened to as a child that’s become embedded in me with rhymes that feel good. I can’t give specific examples, but I used to listen to Hikaru Utada a lot, so I guess it’s the music she created as a bilingual singer that influenced me.
Why do you call this album DESSERTS?
DESSERTS represents the pleasures in life that alleviate the burden that comes with living as a finite being in spacetime. Alleviating that burden is what surviving means. In that process, emotions are born, like feelings of joy and sadness that we all share. I thought those emotions were honestly expressed on this album. And also, the questioning the root of those emotions that arise. So the emotions on the surface and the fundamental root of our existence that causes those emotions are expressed in all the songs on this project. When you read DESSERTS backwards, it’s “STRESSED,” so I wanted to communicate the relationship between pleasure and pain and how they are inextricably linked.
Your music feels to me like it overflows with zest for life. Could it be that this is because your desire to live comes across naturally in the music from the thought process you shared with us today?
I’m always overwhelmed by how beautiful the physical life is through my five sense despite the pain that comes with it,
The things you can feel with your five senses are so fleeting. And if you don’t recognize them fully, they slip away.
Thoughts can go forward and backward. That’s also why humans can survive. We can write songs and create art with our imagination, and thinking ahead can prevent the risk of dying. For humans, it’s what’s called “a gift and a curse” in English. Both a strength and a weakness.
The album DESSERTS that expresses what you shared with us today will probably be an important and tangible part of your life going forward. I’m sure listeners will also find it valuable, and the more I hear you talk about it, the more I feel glad that you’re making music.
I also feel glad that I came across the act of making music. This album is filled with what I honestly wanted to express at various moments in the past five years. It contains parts of me that probably won’t change in the future, and also things that I could only feel at that moment in time. Everything that I felt at the time is valuable to me. There are lots of songs that I wrote over the past five years that aren’t included in this album, so I’d like to finish those, too. I’m looking forward to releasing more music.
–This interview by Yukako Yajima first appeared on Billboard Japan