After working one to one with YUI producing music since before her debut, he is currently running a music production and management company.
Director of Honey Bee Studio and producer, Hisashi Kondo
Interview by Ooseki Yuuki
Born on April 14th, 1969
Graduated from Muroran Higashi Highschool
Debuted in his late teens at Harajuku’s pedestrian mall
Signed a contract with BMG music records.
Did a major debut with Sony Music
Graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Kanagawa Institute of Technology
He was assistant of Tsunku? in his 20’s
Turning 30 started working at Sony Music’s offices.
In his late 30’s
Established Honey Bee Studio (As representative)
“Even though all flowers are withering, the seeds that didn’t manage to bloom still remain. And yet If you don’t want to bloom, you can’t live.”
In a sense, Hisashi Kondo is a musician that produced himself.
That’s an impression that have not changed ever since we met during YUI’s debut. With this interview, the reasons of this became very clear
The guy himself is a stubborn artist.
But, such craftsmanship also seems to have been updated a lot since he left his old nest SONY and made his own production company well underway.
Unknown episodes that started making music with YUI since before her debut, until arguments about the label he started in 2015. A conversation with such a talkative person had no end.
?First I would like to ask you about your time with Sony.
In the beginning you had a music band formed, right? Can you tell me how it was formed?
“I come from the countryside of Hokkaido, somehow or other I used to send demo tapes every day.
In my highschool days, I started making a lot cassette recordings using a 4 tracks recorder that I bought.
When I came to tokyo, I started playing street lives at the pedestrian mall “Hokoten”
After a while we signed a contract with certain music publisher.
? You got a proposal? By only sending demo tapes?
Yeah. Well, we also did live presentations.
?Then, the song was really good right?
Writing lyrics and singing is my strongest point.
?Ooh, so cool (haha)
So, one day, it was decided that certain big artist would sing one of my songs, I got all excited and went to (Sony Music’s) Shinanochou Studio.
When I arrived, some high ranked people in the office approached me and asked “Send us a demo tape next time!”
I thought “he’s probably the president or something” and I got his business card.
Afterwards, I worked with that person and YUI… That person ended up to be Muramatsu-san, the current Sony Music’s representative. When I think about how he was just a regular employee back then, it’s overwhelming.
Then when the time passed, I talked about that business card with him.
Oh course Muramatsu-san also remembered. We now call him BOSS, but we have formed a long fellowship ever since.
If you ask me why I remember this. Meeting with a person in the music industry back in the day was not a common thing. On my way home I kept looking at that business card over and over. The name of “Shunsuke Muramatsu” was impossible to forget.
Having to send a demo tape to this person one day. Or if I have a problem of some sort, I can visit this person. I don’t have many business cards, but this one only was a very strong one.
?That was really a correct answer, wasn’t it ?
When I debuted with my own band afterwards. We didn’t meet at all. And then I entered working as a Sony employee, and the person who dragged me into an A&R position was Muramatsu-san.
Perhaps, he recalled the conversation we exchanged at that time, so he selected me for the anticipated work with YUI.
? When you started working there, had Muramatsu-san already a big position?
I think he was around the top of the label. But to me he already had a high position when we first met.
? Before entering Sony as an employee, what kind of work did you do?
Right before debuting with the band, around the time I turned 20 I used to perform at the park in Osaka castle. At the same time Tsunku?san was my sempai. He helped me a great deal even before my deut.
After that, Tsunku?san started working as the producer of Morning Musume. It was a super busy time for him. And he sent me an email asking if I could come and give him a little help.
But what could I do if I wanted to help him? I really didn’t have any technical experience, of course I did recordings for my band, but other than that I wasn’t sure of what to do.
I was all nervous going to the studio and most of my bandmates at the time were there.
It was a reunion of Tsunku?’s staff that felt like a family.
? I see! The so called Morning Musume. Hello Project gathered Tsunku’s companions too?
That’s right, So, when I went there, I didn’t feel like I was away from my home ground. There were also my junior fellows who said to me “Hisashi-san!”
At that time we used to work until late hours, rushing to make several recordings at the same time. We always recorded all sort of things. So in there I was taught to produce with speed and quality. I was forged.
?What kind of things happened in there?
At that time, the job was really busy.
For example, the information that the members were coming from the rural area to Tokyo in bullet train arrived from the manager. We dubbed a demo song made by Tsunku himself into 12 MDs for 10 members and the managers, and then went to Tokyo station.
We distributed the MDs to the members as they came out of the train and told them, “We will record your song tomorrow”. They replied by saying “okay!”. Something like that.
The next day the members listened to the demo while working , recorded at night. That’s how we spent those days. I became quite disciplined by that. What a feeling of that speediness? Today you just attach an mp3 track on an email and that’s it, right?.
Anyway, one day working as Tsunku’s assistant I got an invitation from Sony to start a business partnership at SD Group, discovering new talents.
To me those were also really hard days. But I discussed with Tsunku-san about such job that I look for new people myself. So that’s the kind of work I started doing.
After that, when I moved to a (sony) label to work as a director I finally applied for a position as an employee for mid-career recruiting.,
?How old were you back then?
I worked as Tsunku’s assistant until my late 20’s. Before that, I had the chance to work as artist manager at Associated Records. While working in music too, I did demo tapes for new bands, helped them to debut, and so on…
I think I already had 30 when I became an employee at Sony’s
? What kind of band were you working with at your parallel job?
It was a young hard-core rock band, then we got invited to Texas’ ‘South by South west’ festival and whatnot. They had a Major contract with Sony, but they focused in live presentations.
At that time I really couldn’t get used to work as a manager. Being picked up by the band members at my own home and stuff…
? You were a great manager right?
Yeah, there were misunderstandings. Like, I would ask them things like “What are we gonna do with the schedule?” It was weird.
So, after that band broke up, I started with SD.
? What kind of work did you do at SD Group?
I listened demo tapes everyday. There was this rock band from Sapporo called OLD, I decided to start their debut after hearing their good demo recordings. This band was the stepping stone for me to move from SD and become director. Hamada Shogo’s office together with “Road and Sky” gave me the opportunity
? And then you started with YUI?
Of course, there were also other things, but that’s how it went.
? What kind of impression did YUI give you when you met?
At that time she lived in Fukuoka, so we sent to meet her there with BOSS
So when I met her I asked if she could sing a little, she said “okay, I will sing” and suddenly sat down cross-legged.
She sang Avril Lavigne and Sheryl Crow you know!
I thought she had strong auditory skills. She wasn’t singing in actual English, but by copying by ear it felt like the original songs. She must have listened to them a lot of times..
? How old was she back then?
She debuted at the age of 17, so she was 16
? What aspects of her were the most fascinating to you?
Listening to music gave her a lot of encouragement. It really wasn’t something at a normal level. For her, music was as important as food or a place to sleep. I had a strong feeling music supported her everyday life.
Because she was always supported by music, and she enjoyed it, she seemed to listen her favorite songs over and over until she memorized them.
She was determined to do music. Her thoughts towards music were very profound. That was the most fascinating thing.
I didn’t think she was skillful at singing or guitar playing, but it felt like she was attached to the guitar so she could sing those songs. They were not her original songs, she was not speaking real words, she couldn’t even understand English.
And yet, she was just there, naturally singing sitting cross-legged. I thought she was being supported by music. In painful times, she would ride in these songs. That’s the kind of feeling she gave me. I felt “This is so good!”
This is the best thing in music, right?
? So those are the thoughts she transmitted?
I felt I was going to cry! She touched our hearts by only humming an incomplete melody without lyrics. I thought she was great.
? And then it was decided that you would work together?
There was an introduction live performance for all directors, where all sony labels were present. As a result, all the labels wanted her, so It was a sort of competition. So I was wondering what kind of presentation we should do.
? To whom was that presentation aimed towards?
Basically, to the person itself. “This is the feel of what I want to do” kind of presentation.
? So YUI herself “selected” the label?
That’s right, SD was also backing her up. I think affinity was also a key element.
So, I bought two scores from Michelle Branch and we talked about singing together and make some songs.
Muramatsu-san agreed too, because such a style of making songs playing guitar and singing along was not a common thing in the company. Furthermore, Imano-san (currently in charge of Nogizaka46) from the advertising team was present, so the whole team discussed the course of action to follow in terms of advertising.
? As a result, YUI choose you?
She later contacted me and said “I want to work with Hisashi-san”
Off course that had to be included in the label’s plan, but the frequent trips to Fukuoka started immediately.
? The office took the decision after that?
At that time there wasn’t really an office. Before thinking on forming an office we had to make more songs. So I went to Haneda, and we met at the airport. I accompanied her to a studio and started making songs and writing lyrics. That kind of work repeated several times.
But one day, She sent me an email saying “Today I ran into a door and I hurted my nose, so I can’t go”
After that I had a strange feeling, a bad premonition… so I bought a ticket and flew to Fukuoka and I looked for her. “Where is she??!” But I didn’t know where to go. After getting the contact address I struggled to find the place. After a while a girl with her nose covered in bandages opened the door. “I’m sorry about today” she said in a stiff manner. Then, since I got on an airplane all the way from Tokyo I asked “What’s up? Anything I can help you with?” and so we started talking.
Then she said “I’ve been thinking a lot. I’m always called to go to Tokyo, and there is a lot of staff people, but that’s very painful. If you let me I would like to quit Sony“
? She said she wanted to quit?
The time she said that, we were just having a casual conversation. We went to the park, had a cup of coffee and continued talking. She said in a serious manner “I have decided to do all this by my own, but I feel like my relationship with music will be changed.” I listened to her as we walked around the park. I had the feeling I understood her reasoning.
As I could hear from her the words like “If Hisashi-san says so”, I took that day as the starting point.
The next time she went to Tokyo we would stop renting a recording studio. We would go to Sony’s headquarters, grab some equipment and start working in a small lessons room by our own.
Before, when renting a recording studio, we didn’t know the engineers and assistants, and I noticed that also added pressure on her…
Facing each other the two of us, playing guitar and singing together. Around that time, she opened her heart to me. We talked about many things. We both learned things about each other, should I say?
I felt like finally our project was starting to make progress.
? How long did it take from that day to her debut?
Around a year. After a while the number of songs increased and the creation of the attached office was decided.
? I see… okay now. From the start she was always a girl playing guitar by herself. How was the whole process of adding a band to the mix?
We always considered a band arrangement even in the early stages of song making. For instance, I always liked The Beatles. She listened the songs of those days with me with a fresh girly attitude “i think I like this too” she used to say.
She was a person who would absorb music obediently, so we were able to try many things. It’s as if she thought “I’m happy to be learning new music”
When I suggested to try swedish pop, no matter how many fights we had, I insisted good things were good for her. That’s how I decided her musical orientation.
You would tend to think a young person would say “The Beatles after all this time?” But we got excited in such conversations all the time. Well such flow was there too, She played acoustic while singing and she wondered if it will sound nice to add some obbligato chords with an electric
? When did she decide to try the electric guitar?
By the time we worked on Rolling star we had the cooperation with Fender, so they lended her a red telecaster. She was pleased by it as well.
And then she got more interested about amps and effectors, to the point she used them in live presentations. ??1
? And then she went with the Stratocasters, right?
She gradually fell in love with guitars, so she discovered there were not only teles but stratos too! Having conversations about guitarists she started to absorb all this knowledge.
I thought it was a good thing that she showed such interest. ??1
? Is there an episode you haven’t talked about until now?
Before the debut, when we were working on song making at Sony’s office, she said she wanted to to a live presentation. But we had a contract with Sony and using the name “YUI” could arise a frightening problem. So we inverted YUI’s name and turned it into e.u. (IYU). I contacted Yotsuya’s FOURVALLEY saying If I could book this girl who plays acoustic. So, to tell the truth, I secretly booked her with the live house.
So YUI and I went from Sony’s office to FOURVALLEY and did a regularly booked live presentation. Of course there were no guests invited by YUI, only the people invited by other bands.
“How much do I have to pay as the quota?”, but it was a presentation we couldn’t inform in the office. We were curious about what kind of response we would get. We presented 5 songs we made in unintelligible English nonsense and those still in the process of making.
So when she finished and put the guitar away some people asked us if we had a homepage or anything. We felt the reaction of the audience.
I wanted to tell them: “She really is YUI, an artist who is doing her best to debut in the music industry, please support her when she does.”, but we were also doing presentations in the office and many things were passing by, so we just said “sorry, we are just starting so we don’t have a webpage.” and things like that.
Furthermore, at that time she was not wearing any makeup, so nobody could have said she had good fashion sense or anything. That’s why I was sure they were only reacting to her singing voice and nothing else. ??2
? And then, after years working with YUI, you separate yourself from Sony.
Yes, returning to my original standing point as a musician. I became independent 7 years ago starting the recording production company. As for YUI, I was doing general works like concerts, recordings and writing lyrics and songs as a producer. At the same time, I delegated the A&R-like promotions to the people who were dedicated to such job.
? What other things did you start doing at your office?
I started producing music , unrelated to Sony. After that, I started bringing-up type auditions. It’s called Mitsubachi’s club of light music… Currently we have up to three generations. The band we put together in the first generation is called Chelsy. It was formed by girls on second year of highschool who came to the auditions at different times.
? Is the management difficult?
When I was working on YUI, I worked with Stardust Promotion, and I just focused on only producing…like things related to concerts and music recording. I also accepted the works on other things related to making progress. In such occasions, I had to take a great care even in dealing with just a picture.
I once got them in trouble since I accidentally uploaded it to my blog.
And, with Chelsy, such things are also included in my responsibilities. So work, promotion, health control, even emotional things, including the staff too, discussing things in my own special way, I treat artists as my family too.
? Well then, to wrap up. Looking at the search of artists from your standing point as a producer, what should I do to be selected? Please give us your advice.
People well involved in the music industry and staff people use to ask to the young and sluggish artists “What is it that you want to do?” Right? Ah, I’m not very good at this.
I think it’s us, the staff, the ones who should discover the good qualities in them.
Of course if an artist entrusts a producer to “do whatever I want”, I will seriously try to understand this person, get to know their strong points and what they can use as a weapon.
There might be things that are not what they consider as their own weapons, and what they want to do. But I think the power of a producer is to extract and collect all those things they normally wouldn’t notice.
When asking “What do you want to do?” and being replied, I ask to myself if I will be able to support them. I feel it irresponsible. And such a person would say “If we mess up it will be your fault!”
I always have something like, “I think if you do this you will shine!” So, If you are searching for something, try and leave it to me, and really trust me.
Even if it’s an unexpected choice, I think we should work together and give it a try with a positive mood
? Contest’s judges often ask “what do you want to do” right?
I sympathize with the thought that unless you make an appeal, you will not be appreciated. But I wonder if it’s good that small children should think and decide what they should do.
I think it will make their possibilities smaller, if they decide what they will on their own within their small knowledge, that’s a kind of loss. I think it will be all right if they try one by one with the staff they meet.
Even YUI, before her debut and after her debut too. We tried and hesitated in many things. But if I notice, we walked down a thin straight path having fun and striving . It’s not a path she decided to take from the beginning.
The result of the total of all those earnest days, looking back, it was a thin straight path, I have the intention of spending time with life again.
Thank you very much
? Earphones AudioTecnica (Muramatsu-san gave it to me) ? Nail clippers.? Mini jack converter plug .? Tuner and capo. ? 2 Stylus for iPhone. ? Ball-point pen (Souvenir from Sweden from YUI) ?Pencil with a sharpener cap (even though he never uses it) and an eraser. ? Guitar picks teardrop model ? Hard disk (1 TB) ?iPhone. ?Pro Tools and i-Lock for plug-ins. ?iPhone charger. ? Business cards case. ? Bag (Rather small)
I used to walk with my laptop around, but lately I found it’s better to just carry my iPhone and use dropbox. So i’m often empty-handed these days.
I frequently come and go to the office, but I don’t go to other places often. That’s why when I go to other places carrying only this… for example to a meeting at the label, and I want to listen to something, It’s inside this bag. Pulling out the data of things I started working on is enough.
Also, I have a lot of conversations about music, as long as there is an acoustic guitar I can figure out the feeling of the ideas.
The circle of life… Currently I’m a morning person. I go to bed at 1 and wake up at 7, eat breakfast and get to the office by 9. I’m going by the morning school.
I completely gave up the nighttime. I completely lose my efficiency. Even if I’m sleepy, if I wake up in the morning I will feel sleepy at night so I can never sit up until late. I work harder in the morning. Waking up in the morning is the absolute best.
— Notes —
She was already using the Telecaster in the Convention Live on May 9th, 2005.
About the stratocaster, she used it on the 1st Live tour on March 21st, 2006
Hisashi was probably mistaken when he said Rolling Star was the starting point.
The story about e.u. happened on August 1st, 2005. So it was after her debut, and naturally, the creation of their office was already decided.