Logging Off and Rocking Out With yeule, Pop’s Internet Explorer

The high-concept futurist talks about embracing their human side, confronting their inner-child, and the surprising influences—including Avril Lavigne and My Chemical Romance—behind their new album, softscars.
Photo by Neil Krug. Image by Marina Kozak.

“This is a girl killing herself with a gun,” yeule explains with characteristic droll bluntness, as they move their left arm closer to their phone camera. They’re talking about Tomie, the raven-haired protagonist of a horror manga series who manipulates people around her into a state of insanity. It’s one of many intricate tattoos—including one of the Japanese new-wave pop star Jun Togawa wearing dragonfly wings; a tragic anime orphan named Midori, who joins a traveling freak show; and a goat holding a scythe—that cover their flesh and provide a roadmap to their esoteric, omnivorous aesthetic tastes.

Some of the ink is more literal: “I have a chain here, because I always feel like I’m being chained down,” they say, showing me one side of their neck. “And this is just a devil, because I always feel like the devil’s speaking to me when I’m doing something naughty,” they giggle, panning to the other. There are sentimental ones too, like a disfigured teddy bear, meant to commemorate a friend who passed away.

White mascara coats yeule’s eyelashes, so occasionally when they’re blinking, it looks like they have no pupils—like their hard drive has been wiped blank. But these days, the high-concept artist who once identified as a “cyborg entity” and specialized in eerie, short-circuiting electro-pop is less interested in simulating artificial intelligence than exploring a more unvarnished side of their personality. As they geared up to release their 2022 album Glitch Princess, they were journaling furiously, reacquainting themselves with the guitar, and re-exploring the fuzzy 1990s and 2000s rock of their youth—resulting in this month’s softscars, their boldest work to date.

Pitchfork: softscars is such a musical left turn from Glitch Princess. How did you conceptualize the two in relation to each other?

yeule: While I was working on Glitch Princess, I was really curious about the way computer systems work and technologically how we write code that learns to adapt. I was thinking about all those things in relation to my humanistic flaws.

softscars was more like an enfleshed understanding. There was a lot of tactile mediums in writing it—like my journal entries, and even all the graphics and fonts I’ve done so far for it have been handmade. I just really wanted to tackle the physical body and experiential pain. In the last couple of years, one of my friends went through surgery, and it ruined her idea of having the perfect body, because there was a huge scar on her back. That was really interesting to me, because I’m covered in old self-harm scars. And I had another friend who was going through top surgery and they were showing their scar on social media—they were so proud of it.

Has your interest in post-humanism and cyborgs evolved as you’ve worked on this album?

Post-humanism and cyborg theory came from a deep hatred for my body. A lot of my struggles came from gender dysphoria and eating disorders, which very much have to do with the physical form. Now I want to feel human sometimes. I want to feel like I have bearings. I want to feel like I’m real.

It’s like I turned into an AI and my soul left my body, and now I’m an AI trying to find out what it means to feel like a human being. I was obsessed with total digital simulation because it was my only form of escape. And then I realized how much that was damaging my health and I had to have a good think: Do I really want to die? Do I really want gaming, and not eating or sleeping? My life! [laughs] These are really important things to think about as you get older.

Photo by Neil Krug

As you were writing in your journals, what were you processing?

Grimes has talked a lot about her experience with losing friends through drugs and overdose, and I don’t know what it is about people I’m drawn to but I’ve experienced so many deaths in the last few years. I don’t know how much I can take until I start to become delusional and be like, Oh, this is some kind of prophecy.

Every single tattoo is a scar, and when my friends die, I get an image or an icon that’s meant to only be understood by both of us. Losing people creates a scar for me. There’s a lot of heavy topics that I love to explore in music because I feel like there's no other way for me to express that. Talking about it in interviews is very rare for me. I’m always skipping the “eating disorder” question because I don’t really know whether I’m really truly over it, because I have really bad moments or relapse. So I can’t say, like, “Oh, I’m so recovered and I’m eating so well.” That would be lying. [laughs] But I think it’s important to make art that talks about stuff that’s modern and real, especially to the Asian femme demographic. I’m non-binary, but when you grow up as an Asian girl, there are a lot of things that are imposed onto you that we have to dissect and unlearn as we get older. And every year I’m learning more and more about detangling that. It’s very liberating.

And I have a lot of remorse for the way I treated my younger self, so there are those topics as well, therapeutic ways of exploring how to love yourself. “sulky baby” is about confronting one’s inner child.

What nudged you toward more of a rock sound as opposed to your usual electronic pop?

Nostalgia. I was born in ’97 and grew up with an iPod Shuffle with songs on it from Avril Lavigne’s Let Go and Under My Skin, and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream. Around age 9, I was really into My Chemical Romance, during the Welcome to the Black Parade era too. I wanted to see what it would be like to mix music from that era with modern-day electronica. I thought of it as cyber-twee, or rock’n’roll on a flower bed.

I was listening to a lot of music that made me feel like I was a teenager again because I was so afraid of growing up. I was losing people from my childhood. I wanted to write music that sounded like everything was simple.

You’ve talked about originally gravitating toward electronic music because it’s something that you could do alone—that you were too shy to be a part of a band. Then you started reacquainting yourself with the guitar and doing more indie rock covers. What was that process like? How did you start thinking about a live band sound?

I always loved being alone because I thought there would be less problems, but then it brought more problems to me because of how detached I was from everything. I was very lonely being onstage on my own all the time. I keep feeling like a puppet, like: Oh, you’re a little clown, sing for us Fiona! [laughs] I wanted to be around people I love and respect, and write music with them.

Thankfully, I’ll be surrounded by all my friends on tour this year, like Matt Keegan, who’s my drummer, and SASAMI. Keegan was in my uni, and he gave me this tattoo—it’s an “e.” And I saw SASAMI open for Mitski in London, and I loved it. Then I went on Instagram and saw we had mutuals. I just thought, She’s so cool.

Photo by Neil Krug

How were you thinking through the aesthetics for this project? It seems like the color scheme is a little different—hazier and bluer.

I wanted it to seem quite deranged. Glitch Princess was all about perfect lines and perfect edges, making everything streamlined, optimal, perfect glitched-out noise. This is just chaos. If you watch a Kubrick film, there’s a bit of a jitter in the beginning, so I was doing a lot of stuff in After Effects to try to get it to look like that.

The blues were mainly related to my obsessions with rainy skies, because when I moved to London, it was always so gloomy, and I love it. I always tend to go toward a really dusty blue. In history, poets have written about blue, painters have painted about blue. There’s a film I was watching recently called Aoi KurumaA Blue Automobile—and the use of blue is titillating, it made my skin crawl. I’m a person who’s very sensitive to color, and if I see a color grade that’s fucked up, I’m like, This is wrong, you should be ashamed of yourself. There’s so much depth to blue.