Photo: Masayoshi Sukita

Hopefully Not Lost in Translation: A Brief Chat with Cornelius

The Grammy-nominated soundscaper Cornelius is back with his first new non-soundtrack solo record in over a decade, and has stories of crazy fans and Spotifying with kids to go with it.
Mellow Waves

Cornelius — the Japanese electronic, shibuya-key, and acclaimed progressive pop songwriter — is back with his first non-soundtrack solo record in 11 years. Coming off a tour of his fantastic 1997 record Fantasma, Cornelius is doing anything but looking back, adding more complexity and nuance to his latest work, Mellow Waves.

His age has pushed his music towards indie-tronica and ambient pop, mixing Japanese and English for his most catchy tunes. He has traded a bit of experimentation for listenability over the long process of making his new record. His embrace of the complexities of the studio is apparent on Mellow Wave, as after securing a Grammy nomination in 2009 for Best Surround Sound Album, he’s showing no signs of holding back his perfectionist instinct.

PopMatters caught up with Cornelius over Skype (we both had coffees and he had a translator) to talk about the new album, his iconic remixes, and, of course, his craziest fan. During the whole conversation, his demeanor was calm, reserved and witty. He has a sweet spirit and clearly has decades of creativity ahead.

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Your records are very sonically complex, how does it feel knowing many people listen out of built in speakers on their phone or laptop?

I listen to music with my son. He is 16, he loves music and works at a record store. We listen on vinyl and Spotify, but not usually on CD.

How do you decide whether or not to accept a soundtrack job when you can’t see the finished product before accepting the work?

They show me storyboards and different things that represent what the finished work will be.

I love your Avalanches “Since I Left You” remix. Did their reunion inspire you to make a new record?

I saw the Avalanches at the Fuji Rock Festival, they were on the roster, and we laughed and exchanged stories backstage. I hadn’t seen them since their last record came out.

When I first heard the Avalanches remix, I wondered if you have synesthesia: seeing music in colors. Have you heard of that before?

I think everyone who makes music of some kind sees things in colors. Hard, rigid tones are usually blue.

I wasn’t able to see your Fantasma tour, I wanted to, how does nostalgia help or hinder music in 2017?

It wasn’t nostalgia that really informed the tour, life happens so fast, you might be too young yet to know, but it was surprising that the record was 20 years old already.

What’s the strangest display of affection you have ever received from a fan?

More of a funny story, I met a fan outside of a club smoking, and he quoted to me the lyrics from “Kaze Wo Atsumete” and told me he heard it in the film Lost in Translation. He didn’t know that Brian from Red Kross put together that soundtrack and asked me to recommend a song to him, and I told him to use that specific song from the band Happy End.

How long have you been working on Mellow Waves?

One of the songs was written seven years ago. Most of it was done more recently though.

How did you feel when David Bowie and Prince died?

When I was in middle school, I listened to Purple Rain and Let’s Dance. They were big songs, and had a large influence on me.

If you could re-soundtrack one classic with your own music which one would you re-soundtrack?

Koyaanisqatsi. The original soundtrack is by Philip Glass and it is something that has influenced me heavily.

If you could do a collaborative record with another electronic artist — who would you make one for?

All time hero: Brian Eno. But another would be Oneohtrix Point Never

What’s next?

For now: Japan touring, really have to start figuring out the world tour for 2018.

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