All interview was conducted in Japanese in Seoul.
Yunho: The title of ‘TREE” reflects my and Changmin’s mutual trust and our will to grow bigger as a big tree that would be standing still, even though time passes by. In the beginning, TVXQ was small but has grown bigger by absorbing nutrients such as everyone’s cheers and supports. We thought that such a biorhythm is like a tree.
Changmin: We have rooted in Japanese land and our trunk has grown taller. We wanted to show everyone “grown up TVXQ”. This year, we have celebrated our 10th anniversary since we were born and right now we are in the middle of our growth spurt. We wanted to clearly show everyone where and how we are right now at this moment of our career.
Yunho: Exactly. This album also expresses our hope that we will continue to spread our branches and leaves into new genres and many different directions. In these days, it is not just in Korea or in Japan, but through Youtube or SNS, TVXQ fans are able to connect to each other, aren’t they? We wish to connect more fans all around the world, and we hope to become a big tree so that everyone can get together under this tree.
Nikkei: I initially thought that the title “TREE” meant your fans. Wherever TVXQ goes, fans are the existences that stay at their places and are waiting for TVXQ patiently. But the truth is the completely opposite. TVXQ does not expect such unconditional love from their fans. “TREE” means TVXQ’s promise that “TVXQ will become a tree that can give fruits and prosperity to their fans.”
Yunho: Well, you could also think about the way that you initially thought. Do you know the famous picture book called, “The Giving Tree (by Shel Silverstein)”? TVXQ wishes to become something like that.
Changmin: It is a story of a tree. The tree became a playmate or someone to talk to for a boy. Some time, the tree gave his branches or trunk to the boy and the tree was always besides the boy. The boy who was raised by the tree is like us, TVXQ. We also want to become like this big tree. The title, “TREE” reflects our relationship with our fans.
Nikkei: The “TREE” is conceptual and seems like an OST of a movie. To compare to the previous albums containing many singles that TVXQ released before the release of each album, ‘TREE” contains a lot more new songs and it seems to have a character as a pure original album. Further, despite of its peaceful/gentle image from the title of “TREE”, it contains lyrics that are mannish, it is decorated with very piercing shape digitalized sounds, and many challenges are attempted for vocal works. How do you feel after listening to the completed album?
Yunho: What do you think? (to Changmin)
Changmin: Well, there are ballads that touch your soul and there also are enjoyable dance songs. It’s a bit embarrassing for me saying this, but every year, we were able to show many different styles of us through our live performances. I feel like that we can do the same! I feel more and more confident that we really can do it, and I started to get excited about our “TREE” tour. Of course, we imaged about the upcoming live tour while we were recording this album.
Yunho: We are like that every time (when we make albums). Speaking of TVXQ, it is all about live performances. This time, I had a little confidence in me when I was given the guide vocal (e.g. guide track). About the final product, I have always said, “Oh, this is great.” But when I first heard the whole album of “TREE”, I said unconsciously, “Oh, this is yabai, this is so very yabai” (note: yabai is a Japanese slang meaning amazingly good, dangerously good and etc). I felt that oh, this will become a legendary album by which we could send all our messages to our fans. I am telling you the truth! (laugh)
Nikkei: Led by a song called, “Champion” which transforms the live stage as a boxing ring, it seems to me that TVXQ has been stepping away from sweet love songs year by year. There are more songs with stoic/hard themes such as believes, self-restraints, glory than sweet love songs. Is it okay for us to interpret that the songs reflect your thoughts and the states of your minds at this moment?
Yunho: Well, instead of saying that, I think the staffs who work with us and the songwriters and composers create these songs through their understanding of our feelings after watching/observing us. The songwriters have been working with us for a long time. In the beginning of our career, they wrote lyrics reflecting that we were young boys, and now they write lyrics for us who have overcome many things/obstacles and matured. Even if we were not exactly like that, I think they wrote lyrics by which they want us to be someone like that. This is how I feel.
Changmin: Both of us wish that we want to express our improvement/show how much we have matured through these lyrics that have changed over the time. I feel great if our songs become appealing to male audiences.
Yunho: Concerning vocal works, in my case, I had a goal to change my vocal style depending on the genre of the song. It is important to sing well but also I wanted to change the tone of my voice by analyzing/understanding the depth of the song. I wanted people to be in shock, like “Is this really Yunho?!” by performing in many varieties of tones. I think if one can do that, one can be a good vocalist. For example, I was not feeling well some days, but I was able to sing really well unexpectedly. Therefore, I wish to get the best out of me under any conditions and use the condition as a guide to become more attractive as a vocalist. If I can do that, it will be ideal.
Changmin: Instead of “I am not feeling well today, therefore I suck today.”, we will take advantage of the condition.
Yunho: Yes, by doing so, all of my everyday life will be absorbed into my vocal as a flavor. If we do not do that, then we and the audiences would become bored of our songs. I cannot speak too much because the album is not on sale yet and I do not know what critiques that we would receive (laugh). I think the genres of our songs have been broadening over the time. We have tried reggae for the first time in “Good bye for now”. When I imagined singing this song at the end of our concerts, I became emotional and I was able to focus on/put all my soul into singing the song. So the recording finished in a short period of time. The song we had some difficulty with is the one that became more and more up tempo in the song.
Changmin: Bleeding Poison, is not it?
Yunho: You may think that we changed the track speed after recording the song once. The truth is that we sang the song in normal speed as well as in fast speed. We recorded twice. It was like a tongue twister. After all we were able to sing the song at the recording, but we are not very confident whether we could do it at our concerts. Well, we are looking forward to singing the song live (laugh)
Changmin: Personally, this time, I love ballads, especially. “ I Love You” and “Ai Wo Motto” which is about a farewell in the late 20s and lyricism of men. I think all of these songs are so very suited for the two of us and only for us at the moment.
Nikkei: During the interview, the two had shown A-un no kokyu (note: Their feelings and thoughts match completely or complement each other perfectly. They understand each other fully without any uncertainties) as well as let me feel the tight bonds between them that I am not sure how to explain. The harmony and complementation of the two vocals reach to the totally unexpected level.
Yunho: (laugh) Some times, we do not know which part is mine and Changmin’s and we get confused.
Nikkei: Since your debut, people have been talking about your exceptional vocal abilities, and your vocal is the key to solve your secrets. Changmin is known for his extraordinary high notes and Yunho has led rapping by his provocative/seductive middle tone vocal. I ask you to analyze the charm/attractive points of your vocals.
Yunho: I guess everyone knows that Changmin’s high notes are very mesmerizing. But recently, he has matured and on occasion he sings in not thin but husky voice. I find it truly sexy. Usually, he pronounces words very clearly and some time I wondered whether that is good for ballads. In these days, he can sing clearly yet softly and while he sings in that way, the husky vocal style surfaces. I think the moment becomes a weapon unique to Changmin. Especially, I love the song like “Hide & Seek”, because the song let me hear his vocal that “Oh, its so Changmin yet its not Changmin at all.”
Changmin: Oh, thank you. (He looked shy/embarrassed)
Yunho: Oh, I am analyzing without considering my vocal ability (laugh).
Changmin: No, no, (you are right.) This time, to my own ears, I could tell that I am now able to sing a song by putting my feelings/emotions into my vocal and the lyrics of the song (feeling shy/embarrassed). I feel content about that. As a matter of fact, instead of the extent that “A foreign person is doing his best that he can”, as an artist who sings a song in Japanese, I have been longing to be able to express my feelings/emotions in Japanese for a long time. Yunho is… sometimes he sings a song without putting too much technical efforts into it, instead he sings a song in a simple fashion, in a simple fashion that he pours his soul into the song, and he sings a song as if he is speaking to you… such vocal of him … I love.
Yunho: I love it too. Hahaha
Nikkei: At a ceremony, Yunho said something along in the line, “An album is not very easy to produce, but people tends to disregard its true value”. Certainly, in these days, its getting popular to purchase and download a single song/songs (instead of buying the whole album) or play the album randomly by shuffling the order of songs. Because of this, the value of the product and significance that artists are trying to advocate through the album are getting less valued. How does TVXQ who has been recognized as an album artist accept such a fact/reality in changes in the music industry?
Yunho: I believe a single song is good as it is. But I want to listen to an album from the beginning to the end and I want to enjoy the flow of each song. And after that I will listen to the album one more time. I wish to make an album like that. Therefore even the time changes, I think we will stick to the things that we have faith in (we do not change our minds). If you were in the shoes of someone who is making an album, you will understand that the order of songs has some significant meanings. I think that the very first track/song is the most important song as the introduction/prologue of the album. This time, I like it very much that the first song, “ I Love You” is for all fans. We confess (our feelings to fans) sweetly by this song, then we dashed out really fast, at the end, we become one and return to our gratitude to you all. I think that we have a flow like that and I anticipate that everyone feels great by listening to this album. Further, I think everything is connected/leading to the stage. I want to show/tell people one story from the beginning to the end. If we emphasize the aspect, I expect that the live performances of TVXQ would become something incredible. I do not think we have reached to the state just yet.
Nikkei: While the environment surrounding artists is changing, only players who can perform really well in live are expected to survive in the music industry. Among such artists, TVXQ is renowned for your live performances. The two of you knew so very well that the live performance would not necessary be great if you only have a list of great songs. It is a well known fact that after the concert, you always go around and say thank you to every single staff who even has the least significant job. The quality of your performances is improving every year and not many people actually knew of this side of you. There are many staffs who confess that they want to work with the two of you until you stop singing. In fact, there are many old faces in the team Tohoshinki who have supported your live performances for a long time. “We wish to create something better than the one before.” This is the spirit of all the team members and this is the foundation of the high quality of your live performances. Okay, then, let me ask you something .. this may be a difficult question to answer. What aspects do you think you are still missing/lacking/short as TVXQ?
Yunho: (immediately) Nen-rin (note: it’s a Japanese word meaning annual growth rings of a tree. In this context, Yunho is most likely referring to that we will be more experienced as we grow older)
Yunho: For example, we always feel great by listening to the Southern All Stars songs. Before analyzing their skills or something else, the aura or everything about his (Keisuke Kuwata, the lead vocal of Southern All Stars) life experiences is expressed through his voice. We can get skills if we work harder, but the expression/ability to express feelings is not something that we can get by working hard. I think if we continue to work as long as Southern All Stars does, then we may be able to share many dreams and make the dreams come true.
Changmin: If I start talking about the things that we are missing, I think there will be no end. (laugh) Ultimately, I have the same thought as Yunho. We both are still in our 20s, therefore our vocals lack the depth of living/experiences. Some day in the future, we wish to be someone who could touch souls of many people and send messages as the senpai (note: a Japanese word for the senior) through our songs. We wish to sing a song like that.
Nikkei: The first track released before the release of the album “TREE” is “Something”. It is a swing jazz song. It’s a totally unexpected choice of Tohoshinki’s song because you are recognized by your intense and sharp dance numbers. I learned that Yunho heard the song accidentally when the melody line was not completed/created and you asked the composer that you wanted to have the song. I heard that Yunho was involved in the process of composing/completing the song where the arrangement has been made based on the concept of the world of the movie, “Mask”. The indispensable crosstalk of “We are ?” “T!” between Tohoshinki and the audiences, and the title of “Tohoshinki train” are some sort of slogans promoted by Yunho that are intended to encourage unity, friendliness and resonances of fans. Yunho, you are the leader of Tohoshinki but have you also started to have interests in directing and producing?
Yunho: I have been studying about producing… For the moment, it’s more like a sense, is not it? For example, when I see or hear something, I would say something like, “This would suit Tohoshinki, and this won’t” oh, it solely depends on my gut feeling. (laugh). Having said that previously my prediction turned out to be completely wrong after we tried, but recently the things that I thought that would suit to us really match with us and we can make it real for many occasions. Because of this, I have become more confident and I speak out a lot. I say, “Can you let Tohoshinki sing this song first?”
Nikkei: Yunho wants to take the lead by saying all the time that Tohoshinki wants to show the brand new appeal to the audiences. But how do the two of you compromise/consolidate when you have completely different opinions on your directions to move forward ?
(Changmin answered with a clear tone of his voice to the question after thinking over for a little while.)
Changmin: Well… I really do not think we have split our opinions to date. I think on some occasions, we had different opinions but only in small details. After all, the goals of our dreams are at the same place. I think we can compromise the small differences/conflicts.
Yunho: Exactly. Certainly, with regard to “Something”, I did not really have ears to Changmin’s opinion at the very first stage (of the song creation). (laugh) I did not have any concerns, as I knew for sure that Changmin would love the taste/essense of the song once he listens to it.
Nikkei: The older brother would make a call, the younger brother would make sure that everything is okay without getting agitated and they will make a path together. Yunho is two years older than Changmin. You are full of confidence and curiosity, and are happy and energetic that would attract anyone to follow you. On the other hand, Changmin is reserved/graceful/modest, clever and innocent/charming. I can tell the readers that your relationship is a miracle, the relationship where you share dreams of 20 years and 30 years in the future and you understand each other so well as a matter of course. I believe that it also is true that it has become more difficult for Tohoshinki to work both in Korea and Japan than before under the current political climate. However, under such circumstances, Tohoshinki still manages to keep breaking their own records. “Time” released in the last year marked the number 1 in Oricon music weekly chart as well as it sold 244,000 copies that exceeded Tohoshinki’s own previous record. What do you think about this?
Changmin: I do not think we have any secrets or special ideas… Well, for the two of us, we do not think Japan is a “foreign” country.
Yunho: That is right. Yes, yes, yes.
Changmin: We have been working in Japan for almost 10 years. So we feel that Japan is a place more like our work place and home. Our Japanese is not the level of the native speakers yet and inevitably we are “foreigners” in Japan. But we want to face directly to deal directly with many things including Japanese culture and Japanese music as artists who have music activities in Japan just like other artists do. We have never changed that part of us from the beginning (of our careers in Japan). I think that our attitudes towards actively knowing/understanding about the people who listen to our music, while spending quite a significant period of time in Japan, would mature/improve us. I think the more we mature, the more people can see and hear the real nature of us through our live performances and CD. I think… the fans will continue to support and cheer us because they are curious about us getting matured and they feel the glimpse of the true us that they have not been able to see 100% yet at the moment. That is how I feel..
Yunho: Wow, you are amazing!! Teacher/Professor Changmin! (Yunho gave Changmin applause)
Changmin: We need to study harder in order to become artists who can touch the souls of a lot of more numbers of people. The reason for our lack of study is that we have been too busy. (laugh).
(Although Changmin complained a little, he looked fully content.)
Nikkei: Yunho, I heard that you have been interested in Japanese traditional culture for quite a while.
Yunho: I like the warmth of the old/traditional things that are unique to Japan. For example, Kabuki. The tradition and the culture of Kabuki have been succeeded by sons and then to their descendants. I am quite fascinated by the traditional performing arts of Kabuki. However, I have not had a chance to see Kabuki yet. There are a wide variety of traditional performing arts in Japan. I also think that the images of experts and maestros are really cool.
Nikkei: I think Yunho’s interests in supporting staffs of theater may lead you to an opportunity to work as an creator. Changmin has written a few songs in Korea by taking advantage of your literary sense/talent. I believe that there are many Japanese fans who want you to write songs in Japanese.
(Yunho started again to praise his younger brother hastily so that he stopped Changmin from talking about his thoughts..)
Yunho: Aren’t the lyrics Changmin wrote great? Especially the ones he wrote recently. To be honest with you, I was impressed by his lyrics which he wrote up to a year ago only to the extent that I thought that he did his best to put his soul into them. But he has written a song for our juniors (SHINee, etc.) and he has more experience in writing lyrics, I think he has greatly improved his skills in selecting words and in expressing his feelings. Well, I really do not talk about this, this much!
Changmin: (feeling embarrassed…) I want to try to write a song in Japanese if I have an opportunity. However, I need to have more experience.
Nikkei: Yunho, you are interested in composing songs. You already sang songs that you have composed in your live performances. Oh well, do the two of you have any interests in collaboration?
Yunho: I thought about this a little while ago. What about I compose a song and Changmin writes the lyrics? But I do not think we have such capabilities just yet. Changmin has his own world.
Changmin’s taste is very different from mine. I think we need to discuss a lot until we reach to an agreement. Then we compose the song and write the lyric. In this way, we should be able to express our true selves to everyone. I am also interested in choreography. But I can say the same thing. I think there are many great staffs who are the experts in the field. I think its better to let them create choreography so that it will be more polished and in the higher quality (than I do). I do not have a thought that I want to do everything by myself! Of course, I will talk about my ideas, but if I cannot make the very best, I would not show my work.
Changmin: I think that it is better for Tohoshinki…?
Yunho: Yes, you are right (Changmin)! Because, we are Tohoshinki.
Nikkei: I have noticed in our conversation that you two use “Tohoshinki” instead of “we” as if “Tohoshinki” is something that you cherish, and this left me a deep impression. I could feel your reverential attitudes and prides towards your group name. I understand that it is your indispensable title that you have actively and thoroughly protected/reserved.
Yunho: Since we resumed our activities a couple of years ago, the first, we had “TONE”, then “TIME” and now we just released “TREE”, these are all in line with the alphabet “T”. This is because we were suggested that Tohoshinki is the most significant name/title that we and our fans have protected and we can take one alphabet out of Tohoshinki so that we could carry on like this forever. It started like that. We had been thinking about letting our fans know about our thoughts and feelings, we took the suggestion full heartedly. We are a bit worried right now that we might not be able to come up with the better words than “TREE”. (laugh)
Nikkei: Who are the rivals for Tohoshinki at the moment?
Yunho: (Immediately, without hesitation) Oh, us, ourselves!
Changmin: Oh, its like a dialog in a drama. (laugh) Well… for me… perhaps all the other artists.
Yunho: No, you are wrong. For me, it’s not about all the other artists! Why? There are so many artists who are better than me. There is no need to compete with them.Such competition is meaningless. It is so very difficult to break our records and set a new record, isn’t it? Therefore, I was truly happy that we performed at the five major domes and then performed at Nissan stadium in the past year. It is not because the capacity of Nissan stadium is huge but I was so happy because Tohoshinki has renewed their records and exceeded their dreams.
Changmin: Of course that is true. In addition to what Yunho just said, I was really happy when I felt that I might have matured/improved a bit after singing our old songs and feeling something different from the feeling that I had in the old days. We wish to sing songs that are suited to our ages at the moment, and I believe our staffs help/guide us to do that.
Yunho: At Nissan, we performed “O sei han go” for the first time in many years. It was completely different from the same song that we sang in the old days. Because it was just the two of us who sang and danced to the song this time. We were actually very surprised to experience the different feelings/sensation while performing the song.
Changmin: To be honest with you, I did not quite understand the meaning of the lyric when I sang the song a long time ago. The reason we sang the song at Nissan is that we thought that there might be less people who heard the song in our live performances as time goes by.
Nikkei: Tohoshiki was able to make the 72,000 seats completely over capacity. But this year, you plan to have concerts at the smaller venues such as arenas (10,000 maximum capacity). Instead of putting weights on your ability to bring many people to the concerts or your scheduling business, you have made a significant increase in the number of venues and concerts and you plan to go as many places as possible in Japan. I think that this is because you wish to meet your fans in more closer distances and convey your feelings to them. Such wishes are the basic idea/concept of “TREE’’.
Yunho: Well, I feel so much pressure, actually. (laugh) In the last year, we showed people the most flamboyant performances of Tohoshinki. So I cannot imagine how we will be when we go back to arena venues. I guess the most difficult songs to perform are most likely the long ballad songs (two songs, such as “Ai wo Motto” and “Good Days” are more than 6 minutes long).
Changmin: That is true. Although out performances that would visually appeal to the audiences are the signatures of Tohoshinki, I wish to have more songs that are simply really good to listen. I feel the same way for Korean songs and Japanese songs. To achieve the goal, we must do something. We need to practice a lot. We need time to practice. (laugh)
Nikkei: Do you have any variety shows in Japanese TV programs that you are interested in participating?
Yunho: Yes, I do! I want to be on the show that requires physical activity and I want to participate in many Japanese variety shows. But the only problem is that Changmin says, “Our level of speaking/understanding Japanese is not good enough for that.”
Changmin: (giggling so hard)
Yunho: For the very reason, first we will study/practice Japanese harder and then seek the opportunities! We will put ourselves in a huge problem if we say something wrong in Japanese on TV, right? (laugh)
Changmin: I also have many programs that I want to participate in. I want to be on “Kings Brunch” one more time and I wanna go shopping. ^^
Yunho: You want to be on “Kings Brunch” just because you wanna go shopping? (laugh)
Changmin: Well, I know my Japanese is so-so and not good enough… but I want to be on “Shabekuri Seven” that we watch regularly. Of course, I want to be on comedy-variety shows too.
Yunho: In addition, this is something that I have been thinking about… we wish to have our own Tohoshinki show in Japan like “SMAP X SMAP”! Also… I wanna do something similar to Tokio-san doing… they become farmers and grow vegetables… something like that.
Nikkei: Oh, “The Tetsuwan! DASH!” (note: Tetsuwan means mighty in Japanese)
Yunho: Yes, Yes! We wanna make the Tohoshinki village!
Changmin: Village!? What!?
Nikkei: Oh so you are going to force Changmin-san to work in the mountain or in the ocean (laugh).
Yunho: Yes! It will be so very interesting! I am going to do all my best to plow the field!
Changmin: (burst into laughter)
Nikkei: Do you have something that you want to do/achieve within this year?
Yunho: I have prepared a reward for myself. My friend from high school and I had a plan go to Las Vegas together to see shows in 10 years. We will go no matter what because this is the 10th year!
Changmin: Same here. I want to go on a trip. I have not had any chance to go on a trip privately. It’s very true. Not a single time! Whether it is in a foreign country or within Korea, I want to go on a trip that’s got nothing to do with my work.
Nikkei: Changmin is a city boy who was born and has grown up in Seoul. In contrast, Yunho was born in Gwangju province. Yunho had a dream about becoming a star and came to Seoul by himself to overcome the objection from his family. You were very determined. Which dialect of Japanese would be the closest to Yunho’s Gwangju dialect?
Yunho: Hiroshima dialect! (final answer after some discussion with CM and their manager)
Nikkei: Oh, I think your fans in Hiroshima will be delighted to hear that.
Changmin: But I have been speaking with the correct/precise Seoul accent, fans in Tokyo do not appreciate that!
Yunho: Well, You should not worry about it. There are many people who says “I love you, Changmin!”, right?
Source: Nikkei Entertainment