To be so close in vicinity to someone is a natural gateway to be open and vulnerable. Yes, there’s always that initial awkwardness when you slowly move into that zone, but once you’re knee-deep in that ocean, you’re set. With most at-home interviews, it’s tough to break past that ice at first. However, with Ringo Lukas, whose musical alias is Kodama, this was no problem at all. We went back and forth and back and forth whilst making unplanned detours along the way. The interview may have come out as a non-linear product, but since when has anything linear been fun anyway?
Having been to his house before as well as being friends, I already knew what his room looked like. Lots of guitars, green, and space. Oh, and his stick insect, Cope. Prior to this interview, his room was simply that- a room. But something transformative took place whilst he spoke with fervour. I could see why he made bedroom music. It seemed like the perfect relationship; a safe sphere encouraging sounds to be begotten. Though his room wasn’t and still isn’t a sentient being, its presence almost felt palpable.
This interview isn’t about his room nor is it about his pet insect. Rather, it’s many things at once. But this dialogue wouldn’t have taken place if it weren’t for his home. To allow someone else into your personal place requires trust. And for that, I thank him. Read on to find out about his newest EP, Spells, out now on Bandcamp:
Congratulations on your EP release! This must be such an exciting time for you. I’m happy I get to talk to you about your music today. To those that are unfamiliar with your work, could you give us a very brief introduction? Who is Kodama?
I always tell people to listen to my music because it’s tempting to say ‘it was inspired by this and that.’ For the first 2 Eps, I used to call it dreampop but it’s not really that anymore. Now, it’s way more synth-y and experimental, in a way. It’s sort of like experimental-noise-dreampop with a bedroom-recording sound. It’s still all made in this very room we’re in right now.
I see. Could you talk about the inspiration/influence behind this EP?
It changed because I’ve been working on a few of the songs for a little more than a year. I hear a big difference in atmosphere between the songs I started recording last summer and the songs I started recording more recently. Even the songs that were recorded last year went through transformations. I usually have at least 10 different versions per song. You can hear the difference between version 1 and version 2. Sometimes, there’s nothing in common between version 1 and version 10. What’s it called when you whisper into someone’s ear?
No (laughs). That’s the goosebumps thing. I mean, when I say a word in your ear and then you say it to the next person. The word changes slightly. The first words usually have nothing in common with the last one. That’s what happened to a lot of the songs. At least 3 of the songs on this new EP were supposed to be 30 second interludes. But they became 3 minute songs. I don’t think there’s a direct influence or theme. It changes genres. This is also why it’s not too easy to describe what kind of music I make because it’s a little bit of everything. At first, I felt like I should release the songs as different projects because I felt like there had to be some coherence within one release. But then I thought, why should I? There’s also a narration if there are gaps between songs. For me, it makes sense so I don’t really care (laughs).
I think it makes sense! Was recording this in particular tough?
I found it super tough. I reached a point a few months ago where I was so fed up with the recordings. It just went through so many changes. Ableton shows you how many voice recordings you have per track. Sometimes it was in the 200-300 range. It was a lot. I had a few moments where I wanted to delete all the songs. I was very close to doing it. But then I figured that I’d regret it and so I had to pull through. I just had to figure out what the problem was. Some were in the songs themselves, some were in my psyche. In the end, I solved all my problems and I ended up being proud of it. I’m happy this EP exists now.
I’m glad it exists too! I reckon your songs are personal to you, but it feels bigger than that too. It’s both personal and universal at the same time. Some people say the more specific you are, the more universal and relatable you sound. On the other side of the spectrum, though, lies a more vague and abstract approach to songwriting. Words could be used to depict a sort of atmosphere and mood. It seems as though you belong to the latter but what do you think of the relationship between words and melody?
Lyrics in some way are highly personal but then again, they’re usually metaphors. I obviously have a connection to the metaphors I use in the lyrics. I sometimes figure out where those metaphors come from. But other times, I don’t even know what exactly is expressed. I’ve also had the experience of someone coming up to me with a completely different interpretation from my own. That’s fine, it’s not like they misunderstood it. Everybody can adapt metaphors to their own perspective, situation, and emotions. From a certain angle, that’s language; one word could mean different things to different people. I like that. That’s why I like vagueness. I don’t think being vague and highly personal contradict each other. It can still be the same.
Words always come last for me. Usually, I have the melody first and then the content of the lyrics come last. I write down the lyrics right before I record the final version. Until that point, it’s bullshit English. If I would figure out beforehand what the lyrics are about, then maybe that would automatically lead me to having a guitar solo that expresses the same thing or something like that. But I only notice what the lyrics might mean afterwards. I think there’s something natural and organic about that.
Skimming through some of the titles, I couldn’t help but visualize a deep, dark yet lush forest. ‘...Water,’ ‘...Oxygen,’ and ‘Spirit...’ I can see it right now- green moss, a trickle of dew, a blanket of thick fog, ‘komorebi’ (the Japanese word for ‘sunlight through trees’), and the distant chirping of birds... Of course, this is just my own imagination. When you make songs, do you have any images or visuals in your head?
What you just described makes sense, since the name of the project is Kodama, which means ‘tree spirit’ in Japanese. [redacted: ‘kodama’ translates to ‘echo,’ but the Japanese characters symbolize ‘tree’ (木)and ‘spirit’ (霊),we later discovered]. It connects. There’s a certain picture I have for 2 songs. You automatically create a space with harmonies, effects, reverb and things like that. It’s about filling a room… the sound is always describing space. All the effects on the instruments describe a fictional room. You have ‘cathedral,’ you have ‘hall.’ It creates an understanding of a space in your head. It´s physics without logic.
Viscerally, the elements in the titles feel ephemeral and transient yet perpetual depending on how you look at it. For example, happiness and water are things that feel fleeting the moment you don’t have it in your palms (‘Happy Enough’ and ‘Boiling Water Sharper Nails’). But if you flip it around, both things could feel eternal a la drowning in both things. The same goes to oxygen. When you take it for granted, you don’t even think about it but as the title, ‘Emergency Oxygen’ suggests, when you’re out of breath, that moment could feel excruciatingly long. Pleasure could feel devastatingly short-lived whilst torture could feel like eternity (‘Spirit Enemy; Torture for Pleasure’). I could be looking too deep into this but is there a recurring theme?
You could be right and pointed it out in a way that I never did. You could have something short-lived, dated, and temporary on one end of the spectrum whilst having something eternal on the other side. That’s more about feeling than something concrete. It’s not a contradictory thing to put them both in the same context. It’s not contradictory to combine vagueness and clarity. A descriptive, biographical song could sound very vague to some people. There’s definitely this play with that.
Talking about titles like ‘Emergency Oxygen’… a lot of the time, I have this feeling of a vague threat. It’s where something seems threatening but there’s nothing directly threatening me. It’s this constant, humming feeling. But then again, something threatening is usually something definite. If you say ‘I’m afraid,’ the other person would say ‘afraid of what?’ If you reply with ‘I don’t know,’ the logical conclusion could be that you shouldn’t be afraid. But that doesn’t stop you from being scared and anxious. That might have something to do with that spectrum I mentioned. Ephemeral and eternal. It’s there, but not direct. That’s the same with the vagueness and concreteness of the lyrics. I never really thought about it. But I’m contemplating about it now.
Perhaps it’s a subconscious thing…
…That feeling pisses me off (laughs). I tell myself, ‘I’m not afraid of anything’ but the feeling is there (laughs).
It’s like having your car in idle. That humming. That feeling of constantly having something ominous looming is pretty abstract.
I wonder if that’s a human thing. Somehow, this is about mental health (obviously), there are some things that are based on abstract thinking and perception. I wonder if only humans have that. I bet animals can have anxiety without having a direct threat. Animals can be depressed.
Some things are unique to humans whilst other things aren’t. What we’re doing right now is unique to humans though, I think.
I mean, humans have the concept of fiction. We have the option of being able to neglect reality and focus on fiction. But how do you define fiction? Where does it start, where do you draw the line? I like to immerse myself in fiction. Obviously, there’s Nintendo and all that but the fact that you can get lost purely in yourself is great. That again, is threatening but it’s also one of the most amazing things humans can do.
I think it’s good to invest in your so-called ‘inner world.’ You get to really explore.
That’s another aspect of why I like writing lyrics that aren’t really consciously written down. I start with some fake English-sounding words, listen to how they sound, make a few adjustments, and then I suddenly have lyrics that came out of me. But at the same time, there has never been a decision made by me. It could take a lifetime to try to understand yourself. Yeah, you have your consciousness, but I still feel like I have no idea where 90% of the things going on inside me come from. Emotions, preferences… I like investigating into that. I find it interesting. There’s a lot of things you can find out about yourself; you can surprise yourself and that´s amazing and creepy at the same time.
Delving into yourself is definitely a fun activity. Next up, ‘Emergency Oxygen.’ From the 2:00 mark, it feels like a warm embrace but the words here are ‘so far down.’ The overall sound is quite soothing and reminiscent of late, late summer with the wobbly guitars. It’s deceivingly relaxing on the surface but once you pay attention, you’ll soon realize there’s a tinge of sadness to it. Do you think about the push and pull between happiness and sadness often?
That’s one of the few things I might be doing more consciously. I wouldn’t be happy with a song that has a poppy, happy melody and poppy, happy lyrics. I like combining this bleak, morbid words with very upbeat, poppy melodies. I always like it when there are two levels to a song: listening with the lyrics and without. There needs to be layers and folds and confusion. Suddenly, you listen to the words and it’s about dying and torture and pain and death. But it comes across as some sort of ‘la dee da’ song, of course.
I’d like to hear about ‘Iori.’
That name is from a manga I read. I read it when I was around 12 or 13. Iori is this super fictionalized, popular schoolgirl that becomes an actress and voice actress. The story is written from one person’s perspective who’s insanely in love with her. So there is this fictionalized concept of love that you decide if it’s real or not. But it’s a subjective point of view and you can do whatever you want with it.
That’s where the name derives from! I see. You use a snippet of Aileen Wuornos’ interview in the beginning. Why did you decide to include that bit?
She talks about being totally fine with being executed because she just assumes she’s going to be fine. I didn’t read the entirety of information there is about her, but she killed people who assaulted her. There was this huge discussion about her execution. Killing someone is against the law, obviously. But she was framed in a certain context. I don’t know if this is a controversial thing to say but I can empathize with her in a way, without taking a final stand towards her actions. You could also decide to just find her creepy.
You have a serial killer saying she did the right thing and that she’s going to heaven. Then you have the kids laughing and crying in the same vicinity. There’s another interview in the other song, ‘Spirit Enemy; Torture For Pleasure’ where the Church of Satan talks about black magic, which is perceived as something bad. But they talk about how that’s not something that’s necessarily bad. They say it’s situational and that you have to find out how to use it for yourself. It’s self-perfectionism. It’s always about those contrasts. I like that. It´s not about coming to any kind of conclusion, because there is always this but-then-again. You can dive into anything, you can paint any picture, you can tell yourself anything you want: you choose your own fiction.
It blends in so well with your field recording of children in the background. I couldn’t tell if they were laughing or crying at one point.
It´s a recording of a park and playground situation some spring afternoon earlier this year. I originally went there for these slightly echoed voices, laughs and such, but I ended up getting the whole palette; from parents mumbling to children laughing and screaming and crying.
I really enjoy listening to ‘Spirit Enemy; Torture For Pleasure,’ as it immediately starts off with a massive bang and makes me feel larger than life in a way. What sort of state of mind were you in when you made this track?
It originally started as an interlude between two songs. It only had those drums at first. That’s the sound of train doors closing. Then it had this flute melody. I started playing around with it and then I got this heavy bass. The rhythm is quite hip-hop at the end. There’s something fragile about it still. But I loved recording the lyrics. It’s very solid in its rhythm. It was satisfying to sing the words. The first and the second line are delayed and then I echoed them. Maybe that’s where the confidence comes from; I had fun. To me, this song stands out. I like how jumpy the narration is.
I actually didn’t think the narration was jumpy! ‘Iori’ is in the middle and that felt like the transition song.
It could be. It´s definitely a pause.
Moving on, let’s talk about ‘Cope.’ This too is another song I love bopping my head too. Like the previous song, it’s assertive; it makes sure you notice it without being too abrasive. It wraps up the EP well. Was there a reason for you to bring this song to the end?
Definitely. In the beginning, I just had this big conglomerate of songs, but I arranged it in a way that makes it feel like a build-up. It’s like a deviation. The first song is understandable for people that might already know Kodama and then it deviates from that. It’s like fading into something else, not fading out. That was the plan.
Is there anything you want to say to your already existing listeners as well as potential listeners?
I want to perplex all the people that think they know what they’re getting into. I have no problem with putting people who might think they know what Kodama is in a position where they feel like they don’t know what’s going on. I would be very happy if people are like ‘what the fuck is this?’ That’s why I have those weird songs at the end.
The main reason I do this is because I like feeling proud. It sounds douche-y but I know that I’m going to be proud of this as soon as I have the CD in my hands. If people find something they like about it, that’s fine with me too. If they find it perplexing, that’s fine with me. In the end, I recorded this for the sake of recording. It somehow makes sense to me.
courtesy RINGO LUKAS
interview LENA-GRACE SUDA
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