Self-assured tastemaker Chris Yohei Tokunaga isn’t one to conform to any specific genre. The Kyoto born, and Berlin-based electronic composer, singer and songwriter has been experimenting with organic approaches and production for sixteen years, cultivating raw emotion into every project. Debuting in 2016 with his ‘Nights for Days’ EP along with a string of singles, Chris’ latest EP ‘Stars and Reveries’ hones in on his sound with delicate electronica, techno, breaks and electro-pop, using his versatility to his strength. From a young age, music has been the foundation of his life, playing a fundamental role to combatting personal struggles and a way for him to reminisce childhood memories. Now we catch up with the eclectic producer to talk ‘Stars And Reveries’ EP, Japan and influences…
Before we begin, I’d like to say a huge congratulations on your new EP ‘Stars and Reveries’. Can you tell us a bit about this EP and how it was produced?
Thank you so much. This EP is a collection of songs I wrote during the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. I live in Berlin, it’s quite a cold and dark time of the year and I feel the mood of the music reflects that. They are songs about feeling disconnected and lost. It was all produced in Ableton Live, using my push2 as a primary control surface.
Over the years you’ve been homing your sound, creating beautiful electro-pop and fluidly synthetic beats along with collaborating with some extraordinary people for one, German folk singer Jele on title track ‘Stars and Reveries’. When did you know that this was your unique sound and how did you get to where it is today?
Jele is a great singer and a very sweet person (@listentothelyre) She is mainly a folk singer but that’s exactly what interested me in this collaboration. I’ve always enjoyed juxtaposing different elements within music. Featuring a folk singer on electronic music is not something that hasn’t been done before but something I wanted to try for myself.
You were Kyoto born, lived in both Tokyo and Geneva growing up and finally moved to Berlin where you are currently based. Have these cultures played a part in the inspiration for your music? If so how?
Yeah, they definitely have. Although you can feel connected to and feel inspired by music from anywhere without physically having been there, I do feel that being familiar with the place the music was made adds something significant. When you love a piece of music, it’s often just as much about the people or life situation you were in when you heard the music that makes the music great as the music itself. I’m not so familiar with everything out there in Japan, but I find myself being very drawn to electronic music, ambient music and piano music from Japan. Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of my favorite composers at the moment and I draw inspiration from him. I try to channel and interpret the melancholy mood you often find in his music into my songs. Berlin, and German electronic music has also definitely influenced the beats I make.
Where did your ideas for the EP come from and how did you go about turning them into music?
As far as the lyrics go for this EP, I improvised them by free association to the music. I noticed when I was improvising lyrics, it resulted in something very relevant to me, but they were normally thoughts that I hadn’t fully formed yet. It captured something honest and personal for the music.
You’ve previously mentioned that you had piano lessons as a child then later in your teens found your love for music and began playing bass guitar. How has this influenced your music from playing in bands to creating electronic music?
I still stick to writing songs with a structured melody and verse/chorus parts although the music I make now would be called electronic. I just couldn’t let go of what songs have to offer. I think it’s because of the years I listened to that type of music. But I think everything I’ve experienced musically is probably being channeled into my work.
Your dad listened to classical music when you were growing up, how has this informed the way you write or create music both past and present?
The main way I see the benefit of having listened to classical music as a child is that when I’m imagining and playing with musical ideas in my head, that a lot of the progressions and instruments in my head are largely ones found in classical music. I think this gives my music a slightly more film music feels at times.
This EP takes the listener on an expressive journey starting from ‘Energy’ and ‘Stars and Reveries’ holding provoking lyrics and up-tempo beat. ‘Piranha’ then brings the tempo down to something much slower and moodier. How do you express yourself through your music?
I’m really not much of a music genre purist at all. Although music can just be well crafted and fall clearly into a sub-genre of electronic music, It’s the contrast of ideas which often appeals to me personally. I take a largely improvisational approach to my productions as well. I don’t have a clear bag of tricks I use in my tracks and enjoy the challenge of starting everything from scratch. My productions can be messy and sometimes only scratch the surface of a certain type of music. It would be silly of me to think I could just try a new type of music and get it right without a lot of practice. So those are the downsides I guess, but I would rather try to establish myself as an eclectic musician with an unpredictable quality, than somebody who is perfecting a sound and establishing themselves through the repetition of this perfected sound.
Having said you found electronic music at the age of 21, how did this come about?
I actually had been listening to electronic music for several years by that point. But I went through some big changes in my life around that age, and It was also around the time a DAW was becoming very common place for people to have.
Who were the first electronic music artists that you were into? Who were your initial inspirations?
The first musicians that had a big impact on me in terms of electronic music were people like the Prodigy, the Chemical brothers, Aphex Twin, Massive attack, Björk. The type of electronic music that was very big in the late 90’s.
Lastly, do you have any exciting projects we can look forward to in the future?
Yes actually, I’m planning a side project with a Jazz/Tango/ Bossa Nova singer from Argentina called Laura Corallini (www.lauracorallini.com) who I also worked with on my EP” Nights for Days”.