Lullatone are a musical duo based in Nagoya comprised of the husband and wife team of Shawn James Seymour and Yoshimi Tomida. They make sweet, sleepy, sine-wave-riddled songs with whispered lyrics, poppy melodies, and parse, carefully arranged beats. The Lullas utilise children’s instruments, splashing water, household sounds, and electronic sounds to craft their delightful songs for young and old. On the visual side, they make all of their clips by themselves — a delightful mix of film, stop-motion animation, and video that syncs nicely with their hypnotic, dreamy live shows. Time for PingMag to have a chat with Shawn.
Written by Ian Lynam
These kids stay busy: Shawn, originally from Louisville, America, has been appearing on a Saturday morning kids’ TV show called Sukusuku Pon. His feature is called “Lullatone Ouchi Orchestra” (Lullatone Home Orchestra), where he has been teaching the kids how to make guitars out of rubber bands and shoeboxes, drums out of jars, castanets out of cardboard, and xylophones out of glasses of water. How fun! The instruments were featured in a recent Lullatone exhibition in Amagasaka, Nagoya. (Watch their tour through it further below.)
The duo have released six albums so far on Audio Dregs (we showed you before) and Childisc, among others. Also, they composed and recorded the theme song for Sanrio’s 30th anniversary celebration of Hello Kitty called Secret House. Moreover, the team have started their own sound design company.
Lullatone make some of the most delightful music in Japan today. Don’t just take our word for it! Ryuichi Sakamoto has bought all of their CDs, David Byrne is a fan, as is Steven Chow, and Beck plays their CDs for his kid at bedtime. So, do as the doctor recommends, don’t sleep and catch that Bedtime Beat!
How did you guys start making music together?
I met Yoshimi in an intercultural communications class when she was studying in America. She was so cute that I knew that I wanted to A: kiss her, and B: start a band with her after that!
What about you, Yoshimi? Did you want to run away in disgust from this creepy Southern dude?
Yoshimi: No, I thought he was an exchange student, too. Because, for some reason, he thought it would be funny to wear a shirt and tie to class everyday
Shawn: I had Max Fischer Syndrome.
Lullatone’s new The Bedtime Beat album!
Haha! You released a new album recently — what is the concept behind it?
It is called The Bedtime Beat. It is a concept pop album about going to bed. We tried to make drum beats out of lots of sleepy sounds from around the house. For example: slippers marching, splashing water in the bathtub, snores cut up and put into a drum machine, and a pillow tapped to sound like a bass drum.
Listen to the bathtime beat:
What is your album-making process like?
We always start with a concept. Then we try many ideas based around that theme and use the best ten or so. Our concepts up to this point have included: instruments tapped and plucked to sound like musical raindrops falling; making up a melody in your head, forgetting it, and then trying to rebuild it (scattered but still super melodic;) sine tone symphonies, and, of course, pajama pop.
How did you initially get into sound design?
For the first few years of doing Lullatone we would get these random DVDs in the mail from art school students around the world who had used our tracks in their school project films. Eventually that led to a few commissions to make music for exhibitions and visuals, which was the first time we tried making a track specifically to fit a certain image or atmosphere for someone else. It was a bit like making tracks for our albums and fitting them into our own concepts. But, with just one track there was a lot less pressure and we could explore more ideas per melody. I love it!
By the way, why do you call the commercial side of your business “Lullatone Melody Design”?
We are much better at making overall melodies than specific sounds. Recently though, on a project for Shiseido Aqualabel’s new interactive site, I got the chance to dabble in making some sound effects for the first time ever. It was fun, and a good learning experience. I tuned and played bird chirps and cat meows to sing along with the track. And, I was able to record a lot of funny sounds from Yoshimi’s parents’ dog Poko, too!
Now, we want to know: How did the Sukusuku Pon TV show come into being where you teach kids how to make instruments?
A producer at the TV station contacted us about making the theme music for a new children’s show they had in development. We went in and talked with them and they “liked my face and enthusiasm.” So it was decided that instead of making the music I could have my own corner, where I go about with my own ideas, every week!
How long has it been on?
It has already been going for four months. So, needless to say, I am already quite popular with the elementary school demographic! The last time I visited an elementary school I had to sign autographs on a lot of binders, hats and hands.
Wow, you’re getting famous! What kinds of sounds do you concentrate on?
I like to make sounds that are simple and a little homemade sounding. Maybe a bit naive or nostalgic? Mainly I really love making anything playful. For example, here is a track I made from the sound of orange juice!
Listen to the bushman’s samba:
What are some projects you have worked on?
Recently we made the official soundtrack for Hello Kitty’s huge exhibition in Hong Kong. It is our second time to get asked, and last time 55,000 people came! But, I think this time is going to be even bigger and better. We also made a variety of 3-second sound stamps for NHK, Shisedo Aqualabel’s website music and sound effects, and a track for the Chanel Mobile Exhibition this year.
And what would you regard your most notable work so far?
Many years ago we made the soundtrack to visual artist Brian Alfred’s piece “Overload,” which was purchased by the New Yorker Guggenheim Museum. Last summer we were on tour in America and I was able to see the piece on display there, which was really, really exciting! I even took my parents.
Lastly, what is your dream?
We are already super lucky to have some wonderful creative friends, however I am looking forward to meeting even more people and getting influenced and inspired by their works. That (and feeding our baby Niko) is the main goal for me right now. Also, if we could ever make just one track for a Wes Anderson movie, I would never ever stop smiling for all of my life!
Shawn, we would fully be smiling for you, too! Thanks to the sweet Lullafriends and congratulations to them on the birth of their son Niko!