Only one band stands at the intersection of Japanese pop and contemporary literature: YOASOBI, the rising J-Pop duo comprising composer Ayase and vocalist Ikura. With songs based on novels and packed full of pulsing beats and sweeping hooks, YOASOBI is blowing up.

Formed in 2019, YOASOBI made an immediate impact. Their first single, “夜に駆ける (Yoru ni kakeru),” which translates as “Into the Night,” topped the singles chart in Japan and has surpassed 700 million streams to rank at No. 1 on Spotify Japan’s list of the Most Streamed Songs in Japan in the Last Five Years. The track also won Song of the Year at the MTV Music Video Awards Japan in 2020.

That was literally only the beginning. Since then, YOASOBI has released a pair of EPs in Japanese, plus their English-language debut, 2021’s E-Side. They won Artist of the Year at the VMAJs in 2021, and made their concert debut that December at Tokyo’s legendary Budokan arena. More recently, YOASOBI wrote and performed the theme song for Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, the latest iteration of the beloved Gundam anime franchise.

“We’re much busier lately,” Ayase says with considerable understatement.

A veteran of rock bands in Japan, and a fan of alternative rock groups like Japan’s Crossfaith and Britain’s Bring Me the Horizon, Ayase found Ikura while seeking a singer for a new project: making songs out of stories submitted to the Japanese creative writing website monogatary.com. She’s a singer-songwriter with an ethereal voice, and a fondness for Taylor Swift and K-Pop girl groups. Together, they’ve made YOASOBI into a J-Pop phenomenon as they close in on 3 billion digital streams and prepare for their first overseas tour.

“There are many fantastic artists in Japan, but if we’re given the opportunity, we’d love to bring J-Pop to as many countries as possible,” Ayase says.

How did the two of you begin collaborating in YOASOBI?

Ayase: When I found Ikura on Instagram, her posts didn’t show her face, it was the music you could hear. So I was drawn to her voice, which is very distinctive and unique. I thought she had a beautiful voice. That’s why I got in touch with her.

Ikura: I heard that Ayase was someone with a genuine passion for creating music. And then when I heard his songs, I just loved them. I thought they were very beautiful and I was excited about the possibility of creating something with him.

Where you do start when you’re creating a song based on a novel?

Ayase: The first thing I do is pretty obvious: I read the novel, many, many times; enough so that it almost feels as if I wrote it. And then from there, you start to feel the world, the atmosphere, that the story is set in, and sometimes the color of it. And then you try to figure out which sound would represent the feelings the novel evokes. Once you've found that sound, then comes the melody and the musical arrangement. And then finally you put the lyrics together.

Ikura, do you also read the novels?

Ikura: Yes, of course. Then when Ayase brings me the song and I listen to the music, I go back to the novel again and figure out how I’m going to sing the song.

Your very first single was a No. 1 hit. What has that success meant for YOASOBI?

Ayase: I feel blessed that many people have listened to our songs, including “Yoru ni kakeru.” It has changed things. Before our success, I could spend as much time on a song as I wanted, but now there are deadlines to meet. That has been a new challenge for me. In terms of my approach to music, I feel that I am more committed to composing music. And I think more about what can I do through music and what the the power of music means to me.

What does the power of music mean to you?

Ayase: For a lot of people, when they listen to music, they’re inspired or their spirits rise. Music can help people feel better when they’re down. So I think about how I can use music in a way that helps people, and helps me overcome whatever situation I’m in.

Ikura, what has it been like for you singing in YOASOBI?

Ikura: There’s always a new challenge with every song that Ayase brings to the table. They all come from different novels, so they’re different musically, too. There’s no rule in how I should sing them, so I get to figure out how to sing each song in my own way. It’s very difficult, but it has been very rewarding, too.

J-Pop has a long history that draws on many different influences. Where does YOASOBI fit in?

Ayase: YOASOBI, too, draws from many different influences. Our music is a mix of many different styles, and we want to represent J-Pop by being colorful in our music. So our position in J-Pop would be right in the middle.

You did the theme song for the new Gundam anime series. How did that come together?

Ayase: We had them write a novel about the origin story of the protagonist of the series, and then we drew our inspiration from that, as we always do: reading the novel and then writing the music to that. Because it’s the opening theme, it will play at the beginning of every episode, and we hope that people will love the music as much as they love the show.

How did it feel to perform together onstage as YOASOBI for the first time?

Ayase: It was really, really gratifying to finally be able to perform in front of a live audience and see our fans’ faces. It was also really great to play our music onstage and hear it blasting out from the speakers. That felt good.

Ikura: I was quite nervous at first to perform in front of a live audience, especially at a venue as big as Budokan. But once the show started, I was able to enjoy myself.

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming overseas concerts?

Ayase: It’s my first time going abroad. We’re going to Indonesia first, and I’m looking forward to connecting with local people and eating local food. I'm also looking forward to performing for our fans over there. I’m a little nervous about how they’re going to respond to our music, but I’m excited at the same time.

Ikura: I lived in Chicago until I was 3, and I’ve been to the Philippines, so I’ve traveled some. But I’m excited to go to Indonesia to perform. I just hope we don’t forget to enjoy ourselves.

For more information, please contact Kate Rakvic, Samantha Tillman or Carla Sacks at Sacks & Co., 212.741.1000.