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Vicke Blanka on Playing Shows Internationally & The Mind-Set that Went Into His ‘Worldfly’ EP

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On Wednesday (Oct. 25), Vicke Blanka released his Worldfly EP. Since the spring of 2023, he has been playing numerous live shows and events around the world. The songs on Worldfly were inspired by these experiences. Billboard Japan spoke with him about the songs on his new EP and his impressions from his time abroad.

You’ve said before that the songs on this EP were inspired by your time overseas. Specifically, what kind of inspiration are you talking about?

The mindsets I encountered. I’m not saying I was inspired by the types of instruments that people were using or anything like that. It’s the way people live. How they think. For example, people in Sicily have a very “take it easy” approach. The people of Saudi Arabia can’t keep up with how the country has evolved, but they don’t see their inability to keep up as a bad thing. In France, people still feel a sense of pride in being French, and that sense of pride is separate from the country’s morals. But because the country has kept apace with people’s pride as Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, it seems to function as a noble and majestic country. I was inspired by those trends and the humanity of the people in these countries.

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When did you sense these things?

I often felt them when communicating with event staff or fans. These experiences didn’t just affect my music, they also had a huge impact on my own values. For example, I think Japanese overthink things.

What made a particularly big impact on you?

The people of Sicily, I guess. They seemed to live really happy lives. It was wonderful. Sicily has this image of luxury, and of time flowing slowly, right? And that’s really how it is. The people are really kind, and there’s this feeling of “always being homies with people from your hometown (laughs).” You don’t really see that in Japan much. It’s amazing that you have those kinds of values right in the heart of Europe. There’s just so much room to breathe.

I’m sure the live shows are different, too. You’ve played a lot of shows in Japan. What big differences have you found?

It’s totally different. Everybody’s doing different things. In Japan, everyone in the audience does the same thing. But with overseas crowds, people aren’t swayed by what other people are doing. Even if other people are grooving along with the music, when there’s a part that someone likes, they’ll jump in, like “Yes! I love this part!!” People are true to themselves — to their own happiness and joy.

Are there any countries where performing live is especially easy?

Based off my recent experiences, I’d say Italy. Playing shows is fun, whether it’s overseas or in Japan. Sometimes I felt extraordinarily welcome. France was unbelievable. The French soccer powerhouse, Paris Saint-Germain, has a fight song, and if people sing it, it means they’re giving you the ultimate praise. I was overjoyed when they sang that at one of my shows. Italy is more upfront, though. I had one audience about half the size of my Parisian audience — a little under 2,000 people. But the crowd had just as much power as the Parisian audience. When I finished the show, I went into the audience to sign autographs. When I did, this woman in the audience started hitting on me, using local slang. At the time, I didn’t know what she was saying, but later I looked it up and understood. I felt like I’d unwittingly gone fishing and let a big one get away (laughs).

I’m sure you’d already had some overseas experience in the past, but this year’s experiences made an even bigger impact, right?

Yes. Playing live shows really made a big impression on me. I’d say that was the biggest change — connecting with people through music. It reinforced my belief that music has no barriers. It even crosses language barriers. Everybody wants to hear Japanese. When I played in China, too, the local show staff told me, “everybody wants to hear Japanese, so speak in Japanese.” I’d heard that, overseas, people are more moved when they see people being as they truly are.

You can see people’s national character come out in that respect. You’re really popular with overseas audiences. Have you ever analyzed what it is about you that resonates with audiences?

The first thing is, of course, the music. But given just how much praise there was for my shows, I guess personality also plays a bit of a part. I happen to be able to speak English, so my shows aren’t recitals, but real live shows. When I say “recital,” I mean, for example, going to France, giving a little greeting to the audience in French, saying the lines in the show script, performing, and then ending with “Au revoir, Paris!” My shows aren’t like that. I can actually engage in conversation up on stage. Like I can say “You’ve got some songs you want to hear, right? Shout the titles out to me!” So it’s a truly live show. I think that’s what led to the Paris Saint-Germain song tribute.

So your language ability makes a really big difference.

Yes, the ability to speak English is an advantage. That said, Italians don’t really care about what language you’re speaking. I don’t speak Italian, so I’d speak in English, but there aren’t that many English-speakers in Italy. But that didn’t make a difference. People would chat up a storm anyway —      so did I. It’s just part of the national character, I guess.

As we mentioned earlier, your music is heavily inspired by your overseas experiences. How do you reflect that inspiration in your actual music?

I put the essential human nature of the people into the music. Take “Luca,” for example. The theme of the song is Sicily, and the only instruments are drum, bass, and piano. If you look at the lyrics, it’s about how life is essentially meaningless, so it’s okay to just go with the flow. The reason the song is like that is because that’s really how Sicilians live. They don’t search for meaning in life, they’re good with enjoying the individual moments of their lives and being surrounded by friends. People like that aren’t going to be making really involved music, which is why the song only has three instruments.

I see!

“Sad In Saudi Arabia” reflects a Saudi Arabian mindset. It’s quiet, but there’s a deep-seated passion, the powerful energy of Saudi Arabia. That’s why the theme is “the flame that smolders beneath.” The same is true of the people of Saudi Arabia. When I put on a show, no matter how excited people got, they all remained seated. It was like they were watching a play. But when I finished, there was this huge standing ovation. That’s just considered proper manners there. They’re very calm, or I guess self-disciplined. To reflect that, I used a very regular rhythm. The air is really dry, too, which I expressed through the use of reverb.

You were able to express things like this through the skills you’ve built up through the years.

That’s probably true. I know a lot of different musical approaches, so I’d pick the ones that were the best fits and build up the songs that way.

How do you expand your repertoire of musical approaches?

By listening to music, I guess. Yesterday, I had ramen, even though I knew it would leave me bloated. The music that was playing in the ramen restaurant was great. In situations like that, I kind of take mental note that the melody is interesting. When I was taking a taxi in Italy, there was an Italian song playing on the radio. I asked the driver if this kind of music was popular in Italy now. He said “It’s an old song, but everyone still loves it. Young people love it, too.” That’s how I learned that in Italy, simply being old doesn’t make a song uncool. So I build up experience like that. The longer I live, the more experience I accrue.

So you’ve always got your eyes and ears peeled. Were there any songs you struggled with?

“Snake” was hard. When I was writing the song, I was really busy, plus I was jetlagged and sleep deprived. But I think that’s what enabled me to make a song with that kind of frantic feel.

So you reflect everything in your music. You don’t let anything go to waste.

I let myself go with the flow. There are songs that I can only create when I’m in a bad mood. On the other hand, the last song, “Worldfly,” went really smoothly. I wrote it in two hours. Or, more accurately, I had three days to work on the song, but for the first two days I just slept and did other things while kind of thinking about the song (laughs).

Do you use that kind of approach a lot?

Yeah. I tend to slack off until the last minute. I’ve had a lot of successes with that approach, so going forward, I’m sure I’ll still be writing songs at the last minute. My staff is always saying “Hurry up and turn in the song (laughs).”

This interview by Azusa Takahashi first appeared on Billboard Japan

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