Exclusive Interview: LISA Returns, m-flo’s latest ‘the tripod e.p.2’ Tops Charts & More

It was only a few short months ago that we learned of the reunion of m-flo; a piece of news that circulated around the globe like wildfire, following the return of original group member LISA after 15 years of absence. With their reunion, the group ushered in a new age of m-flo — one that looked forward to the future, whilst also clinging to the very moment that brought them together over 20 years ago.

With two incredible decades of history to their name, the group is back and better than ever with their latest the tripod e.p.2″. Made available both digitally and physically as of today, the release near-instantly shot to the top of the iTunes Japan album chart sitting at #1, showing that the excitement over here in Japan is very, very real. Ahead of this release, however, we sat down with m-flo to discuss their latest works, as well as what they’ve been doing over these past few years. You can find our interview in full below:

OTAQUEST: I saw the video for “No Question” and it was really sick, but there was one thing that really stood out — something I’m sure stood out for everyone. LISA, you cut your hair for the video. I know the song has this message of not holding yourself to society’s standards and being your own person, was that what influenced your decision to do this for the video?

LISA: Oh yeah, definitely. Because first, they couldn’t ask me to do that directly because they all thought I wasn’t going to be down with that idea. They actually had a model, or a couple models, ready to shave their head and everything. That came later when we were coming back from LA, they said “Yeah, we’re looking for models that are going to go bald for us.” and I was like “WHAT? What is that? No, we write our own songs! To express what we’re writing in that music, I *have* to do it. I’m gonna do it.” And from there it was “Oh, you’re gonna do it? Wow, cool! Let’s do it!”

So you know, it’s a message coming from me too. Coming from so many directions that I couldn’t really express it to you, how I really feel about this head that I have right now. Hopefully, people will know that what we’re trying to make here is art, a form of art. Every song is art, every music video is our piece of art.

VERBAL: If I might add, when we were in LA we were already thinking about shooting the video as soon as we got back to Tokyo. But then that got postponed, fortunately. Because of that, we’re able to maneuver to have this whole video situation happen with the storyline. The treatment that we received was, like LISA said, a model, a woman shaving her head as an expression of m-flo kind of evolving, and reforming, and taking new steps.

As you might remember in “Come Again,” back in like 2001, we had this model moving on from her past memories and past boyfriend or whatever. That was the blueprint for this new video, but when we spoke about that, quickly going back to what LISA said, she was like “Why don’t I do this?” That was the big elephant in the room that everyone wanted to ask, but we were like “Yeah, we can’t ask LISA to shave her head. Who’s gonna break that news?” and Taku’s like “I’m not gonna do it!” *laughs*

But yeah, when we had brought it up she was just like “I’ll do it” and that was perfect because that just like consummated, and brought everything together.

LISA: On top of that it’s our stuff so I couldn’t have anybody else go bald. It totally had to be me! After all, this is our stuff, c’mon man! So I was really happy to do it, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” *laughs*

OTAQUEST: So you mention it being your stuff, but another thing is that the video has different segments. Everybody kind of has their own thing until you get to the very end of the video. Did you have input on each other’s segments for the video at all? Did you have that kind of creative control or discussion about what everyone was going to be doing over the course of the video?

VERBAL: Well I think generally…

LISA: Me, my whole thing is about going bald so that’s really simple you know? That’s just like my stuff so…

VERBAL: Well yeah, I think that was going to be the main crux of the video, and LISA was going to represent m-flo’s evolution, taking the new steps and such. I think us being in different scenes until we meet at the end, that’s just to symbolize that we were going on different paths over the past 15 years when we weren’t together. And then at the end, you see the part where all of the old video flashbacks, and then she starts shaving her head, so that’s a message. And then at the end, we get back together; the newly reformed m-flo from here on in.

Taku: Yeah, rolling on from what VERBAL said, usually with this kind of thing, LISA lets the two of us decide what we want to do with the video. She fully trusts our direction and vision. When both VERBAL and I sat down with the director we proposed that we wanted something out of the ordinary — we wanted to catch people off-guard like something by Michel Gondry.

We quickly pinpointed that nobody had really built upon this time reversal concept introduced to us through the music video for Pharcyde’s “Drop,” and we thought that could work here. I figured it would help signify us going back to our roots. After we suggested that, the director hit us with the idea of having a model shave her head and go bald in reverse as mentioned earlier. We were all for it but finding someone who would actually do it was a little more difficult than we imagined *laughs*. As it turns out, LISA actually overheard us talking about it one day, and said she’d do it “for the art.” The video ended up changing a bit because she took the role, but I was totally behind it given the nature of her lyrics and the powerful new message in the video.

OTAQUEST: The ending was also really powerful, at least I think, like when you all got together on stage. There’s a moment where LISA comes in and you hug VERBAL, then hug Taku, and it seems super genuine. Almost to the point where it might have just been that the camera was rolling and it happened, and you decided to keep it for the video. Is that how it went?

LISA: *starts laughing*

VERBAL: She didn’t want to do that! *everyone laughs*

LISA: I hated that part! No, I’m just kidding. I just kept laughing and laughing, because that was the director’s idea.

VERBAL: The director was like “Can you just hug?”, and it’s kind of like someone going “Oh, you speak Japanese? Yeah, Speak. Japanese.” Uhh, okay. *laughs*

LISA: It just sounded really cheesy to me at first. We took so many shots of that too, like 4 to 5 times because we just kept laughing. The director said “You do this all the time, so it should come naturally.” and I thought “You know what? You’re right. We do hug and greet each other like that every time we see each other, so okay.” The last time was the shot that they used right?

VERBAL: Yeah. We were just cracking up, it was a long day so we were just like joking about everything. It was good times on the set.

Taku: Yeah, LISA absolutely hated the idea of it in the beginning *laughs*. It wasn’t until VERBAL reminded her “Hey when you see us in the studio, how do you greet us?,” and I guess that’s usually what we do, so it made it look a little more natural.

OTAQUEST: It looked really really genuine. I seriously thought it was like an ad-libbed shot like “Oh they just walked in to shoot for the day and LISA gave the guys a hug!” It looked great.

LISA: Hey, we can just put it like that! *laughs* It sounds good like that!

OTAQUEST: So VERBAL, you’ve done everything from the “loves series,” all the way to the “Square One” period, with each era being filled with new and different sounds. In the new EP, all of the songs contain a blend of classic “tripod era,” along with the stuff in-between and a dash of modern music influence. Did the fact that you were tackling a classic sound have an influence on the way you wrote your rap segments in the new songs?

VERBAL: Actually, us getting back together was already a total vibe. It was kind of nostalgic but fresh at the same time because over the years Taku and I had been doing our thing, and LISA was doing her thing. Then, of course, everything in our respective fields we do according to the different kinds of work that we do. When it comes to m-flo, we’ve known each other for a while and we’re just open about everything.

Going back to the question, it really did, but what set me off was when LISA told me was that my rap as of late was kind of “not up to par” and “kinda boring.” She was like “You know you can be crazier than that, how come you’re writing lyrics so conservatively?” I didn’t even think about it that way, I was like “Really? Okay.” So I pulled out my old lyric books, I have pads and pads of lyrics from back in the late 90s and early 2000s — I would write mad lyrics. So I was just looking back, trying to get that groove back. Getting bits and pieces from the kind of words I used to use, the kind of flow I used to have, so when I hit the studio I was feeling her vibe in the studio watching her sing. It’s been a minute since we got in the studio, you know? And after seeing her sing “No Question” I was like “Okay, I got it.” and I started writing the rap for the song. Then I told LISA “Watch me.” and I went into the studio…

LISA: I was like “YES. NICE.”

VERBAL: So like, we went to international school and naturally we speak English and Japanese, but our Japanese is not so perfect and that’s how it was on our first two albums. It’s Japanese, but it doesn’t really sound Japanese; my grammar was wrong, and it wasn’t intentional, but it created kind of a fun vibe. I think that’s what she referred to as being kind of crazy or fun, so now that I speak Japanese better than before I deliberately kind of use certain words and plug them in so it sounds kind of awkward in a fun way. I sound passive aggressive on my verses. So that was the intention, I think that’s what really triggered the laughter in the studio. Taku loved it too.

LISA: I loved it, I just stood up and went “FANTASTIC!” *laughs*

OTAQUEST: So you mentioned the Japanese & English part of it too and it makes me wonder, “No Question” in itself is the kind of phrase that’s common in English. When you write English in your songs do you ever think about how that’s going to translate to Japanese fans or vice versa? Like if you use Japanese phrases or plays on words do you worry about how that’s going to translate to fans in English?

VERBAL: For me personally, our music is just like “m-flo music.” It’s not Japanese or English. So when people in English hear the Japanese parts I feel like they just listen to it for how it sounds. Japanese people out here, when they go to this club in Shibuya called Harlem and listen to like Kendrick Lamar, they don’t know what he’s saying but they’ll be like “Aww, this is cool. I like this song” or whatever. It’s the same thing,  It’s almost like an instrument. LISA’s vocals and my vocals, you know?

So vice versa, in Japan when we sing in English they just think it’s the melody, or it’s the flow. I think in a nutshell m-flo represents a certain unique blend and world of its own. So I don’t think people really care so much, LISA could be singing in Spanish and I don’t think people would really care. And she would too.

LISA: I would. And will do so too. Gotta use that Latina side of me, right?

OTAQUEST: So in a recent interview you had made mention as to how technology has made things easier for everyone to create similar sounding music. Listening to the tracks on the new EP there is a definite feeling of modern music but still very classic m-flo in each of the tracks. Did you use any of the processes of the original m-flo albums to create this feeling, or did you utilize modern technology in any interesting ways to receive the results we can hear in the new songs?

Taku: What I did was I went back to the process I used, or the one we used to use when we were making “Expo Expo.” The plan for me was to create something that was like, “What if m-flo made something future bass-ish in the tripod era?” That “-ish” part is super important to me because I totally realize people aren’t interested in m-flo creating something exactly like what’s being played on Billboard’s Top 40 or any other EDM hit. Being “-ish” is what makes us so unique, you know?

OTAQUEST: So during the recording process on the new EP, I know you came to LA and did a bunch of songwriting. Now that you’ve got some songs out in the wild, how are you feeling about the process for everything and where you’re moving towards with this upcoming album?

LISA: Well I’m just very happy that we’re finally going to be able to release this EP because it feels like it’s been a while that we’ve been working on this. I don’t know what it is? Like 8 months to a year? Trying to get everything together, trying to get us together, getting things set up with the company and getting our staff together. It’s not just the music, it’s everything else that comes around it too. So to me, it’s like “Hey, I’ve been waiting for this.” I’m just truly happy that it’s coming out finally. It felt really long for me until we put this together.

VERBAL: Yeah, so this EP coming together is kind of like for the fans. This kind of diverts from the question but, with all of the logistics we had to take care of, that was nothing for us because we really look forward to bringing this back for the fans who have been telling us on separate occasions “Why don’t you get back together with LISA?” or “When are you gonna do m-flo again?,” “Stop doing these other projects”.

LISA: Me too, people are like “I don’t want to hear your solo, I want to hear you back in m-flo!”

VERBAL: But those are very important and very brave messages that fans would tell us. I could be like “Hey, fuck you, man.” *laughs* I could be a dick about it, but then we actually appreciate all of these comments. Some people have even been saying things since we came out with our first record. They would come to the clubs that we DJ at and be like “Yo man, so when are you gonna come out with the next m-flo record?” and I’m like “Okay, here we go again!” Because they’re also like “Yo VERBAL, you should rap more like this!” or “You should tell LISA to come back!” and I’m like “We’re working on it!”

I kind of consider our getting back together almost like Lauryn Hill getting back together with The Fugees. Not to toot our own horn, but I think it’s something that people thought “Wow, that would be cool if that happens but we don’t think it’s going to really happen.” We’re excited about it, for sure.

Taku: Jumping back to the original question real quick, we actually made a lot of tunes during the LA songwriting camp, but we’re still not certain when our album is coming out. We might even be releasing another EP. We’ll just have to wait and see. The experience at LA was awesome, we tried different things and now we see something that we can do more. I think I’ll be able to answer what we’re planning to do next time I see you guys.

OTAQUEST: Talking about the EP and the development of the songs, having a newer sound along with the classic style — was there any difference to how you got together creatively when you’re putting a song together? You kind of already touched on having that resurgence of the way you felt back in the day, but putting stuff together now, especially with technology being so different, has there been anything that’s complicated the process, or made it easier at all? Or anything that has influenced the way everything comes together versus the way it used to be?

VERBAL: Taku was mentioning this, but because of the technological advances everyone can sound exactly like Skrillex if they felt like it. It’s easy, you have all of the presets going and everyone has every type of resource at their fingertips. So he deliberately went back to using specific equipment, stuff that wasn’t necessarily efficient, but it kinda brought back that sound. It brought back that vibe. Me too, going back to what I was saying about bringing back my old lyric books, I was kind of going back to the analog vibe rather than researching online and getting ideas. I’m just going back to myself and going back to the roots. And then with LISA, she was really quick with it. Even back in LA when she had the flu, she was pumping out songs and getting mad at me for not working quickly *laughs*

LISA: I was like “Where’s your rap!” Every time I see him I’d ask him!

Taku: When it comes to trends, most think music creativity is about speed; but I think the complete opposite. I think patience is the most important factor when creating music. I build it and break it over and over until I get it done. Sometimes it works, and most of the time it doesn’t. I just keep on doing trial and error until I find the right one. Sure, it’d be easy to create something trendy, but what we’re creating is totally different — I can’t just put a benchmark to it.

OTAQUEST: Well that’s everything about the EP I wanted to ask about, but I also wanted to talk about the remix album. Did you have input on the artists that were selected and what they worked on? How do you feel about how the remix album came together?

VERBAL: So that’s totally Taku’s department; if he had asked me who I wanna have remix, I would have my people but I was like “Yo, that’s like your lane.” He knows all of the dope producers, he interviews them, works with them at block.fm, and it just makes sense that it’s uniform as part of the m-flo universe. Like the DNA will be more straightforward if he single-handedly selected the producers. I had asked him “Can you just come up with a list of people?” and when he did, we just had nothing to say. We were like “That’s dope.”

It’s all kind of fresh, it’s not pretentious. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it’s really honest. He just selected them on the basis of whether they’re dope or not, or whether they’re relevant or not. So we were all in agreement, LISA and I had nothing to say.

OTAQUEST: Building off what VERBAL just shared, we were surprised by some of the remixers you chose, especially with the massive spectrum of genres and music scenes they all stem from. How did you decide which artists you wanted to include on the album?

Taku: It wasn’t just me, but my manager actually helped me a lot. She’s also the executive of block.fm, so she knows a whole heap of awesome upcoming artists. Some of the artists I met through anime conventions in the US, and I simply loved their performances and sets. Thanks to the Attack the Music boys for that.

OTAQUEST: Were there any remixes that stood out to you as particularly great?

VERBAL: When I heard the Canblaster one, it was cool because you can tell he likes m-flo a lot. Because he asked Taku to send him stems from different songs, he would incorporate that in a remix of a song that had nothing to do with the other songs. It’s like an homage to our other tracks from the past. We felt that love from the other remixers too, because they had put in the time and they’re all kind of sharing their knowledge of our catalog. So that was really nice, not to mention super dope. I can’t wait to play them at clubs or hear other people play them at clubs too.

LISA: The last one that came in that Taku sent, Come Again. There was so much going on when I was listening to it I was like “This one’s fuckin’ PHAT”. I think that was the PKCZ remix. That one I love because it just stopped me. I was like “What is this? Wow.”

Taku: Personally I really loved all of them, they all had such different styles and none sounded like any other. Even the Masayoshi Iimori and Carpainter tracks went totally different directions, even though they’re label mates. Oh, and LISA, you mentioned you loved the Masayoshi Iimori remix too, right? *laughs* I’m sure a lot of OTAQUEST readers loved the YUC’e, DJ Shimamura, TeddyLoid, and banvox remixes too. I’d definitely recommend checking out Sweet Williams and WONK too if you’ve never heard of them.

OTAQUEST: So earlier you mentioned that you had your own solo stuff in the past, and LISA you’ve obviously had your solo albums and songwriting over the years. How is that impacting the development of everything going on, from like the creative side, the songwriting side, etc? Has there been any major change in how you do anything as a result of your experience?

LISA: What’s kind of clear is that what I make for m-flo, it sounds like it’s just for m-flo. It’s so weird because it’s the same me making this and making that, but when I make it with them it’s just some magic that comes in. I don’t know what it is, it’s just fit and customized for m-flo. To me, it’s just a mystery where it comes from, but when I do stuff for myself versus doing stuff with them there’s just something very different about it. And what’s for them is just for them, I wouldn’t even want to take it back and sing it myself. It’s like “Take it, and if you don’t take it then I dunno, let it sit.”

VERBAL: For me just working on different projects made me realize that I like being in groups rather than my own solo thing. I had done that before a couple times with the underground projects like L Universe or my other solo projects. And it was because people were like “You should do your solo thing.” and I’m like “Okay, I’ll try it.” But it didn’t really last long because that’s that and it’s cool, and there are people who enjoy that, but I just like working in groups. I get inspired, you know? Like LISA said, when I work with m-flo it’s totally m-flo and I’m like that guy who gives the killer pass, I’m not the striker. LISA is definitely the striker in the group.

I like getting the projects up and running and just producing the content around it. The more I work on different projects, the more I know what I’m good at and what lane I’m good staying in, so when it came time to doing m-flo I knew exactly what to do. It took a long time to explain to LISA why I come in at the very end *laughs*, because I wanted to make sure everything’s up and running and she’s got the vocals laid down. I like to make sure I’m supporting the whole song through the rap or whatever I do. That’s why I come in at the end, it’s not because I’m lazy *laughs*

Taku: *laughs* Well, one thing for sure is I re-discovered myself through meeting people in the US.  It is so cool to actually interact with people who liked what I was doing back then. Five years ago was about myself creating perfect dance/electronic music, but now I’m into creating perfect m-flo music.

OTAQUEST: I have one last question to wrap things up, I don’t know if you’ve really paid attention to the fan response to everything so far. I’m talking about things like the teaser, the announcement, everything surrounding that. How do you feel about the fan response so far and do you have any messages for your fans?

LISA: I’m just very happy that they’re happy, and we’re very happy that they’re happy. I can’t wait to do the concerts and have them come and see us, have a good time with us, and sing our songs together with us. Because you know, we don’t just perform, we like to have our fans make the whole stage with us. I really just can’t wait until we do our tour, or concerts, or whatever it might be. We gotta get out there fast for them.

Overall I’m just really happy about everything. I thank the lord every day that he gave me the chance to come back in this group and that our staff is still supporting us. It’s the same people that did m-flo originally, they’re still here with us so this is not just an everyday kind of thing that happens. I truly believe it’s a miracle.

VERBAL: I would say the same thing, I’m just happy. You don’t understand, when we broke the news about m-flo so many people, random people from random fields, wrote me that hour when the news broke. Like Becky wrote to me, the CEO of YG Entertainment Japan wrote me and was like “I always loved m-flo!”, real estate moguls, artists wrote me. J Soul Brothers Omi wrote me and was like “I was always a fan, can I do something with you guys?” This really random set of people, and not just from Japan but even people from the states. I didn’t even know they knew m-flo so it was really nice. And fans online too, the stuff they write is really encouraging and it’s a testament that this is right thing we’re doing. We’re really excited to make more songs, for them.

Taku: The cool thing I realized in the Youtube comments was that there are both Japanese and English reactions to it. So many positive and encouraging comments from all around the world. It really means a lot to us and we are seriously trying to go around the world to meet you guys. Thank you so much for your support.

Feeling more refreshed than perhaps ever before, it really does feel like 2018 is going to be the year of m-flo. Sitting on top of the iTunes charts at #1 with the release of ‘the tripod e.p.2, topping the YouTube Japan trending charts with the music video for “No Question,” and crafting the soundtrack for the upcoming “Last Winter, We Parted” film, we can’t wait to see where the tripod go next.

If you’re interested in checking out “the tripod e.p.2,’ it’s available for streaming and purchase here.

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