Interview with Haruka

interview - 07.01.2015 20:01

Singer-songwriter Haruka talks to JaME about her new single, running her own label, and the changing place of women in Japanese rock.

In July, you’ll be releasing your new single. What can fans expect from this new release? Have you explored any new musical styles or influences on it?

Haruka: The new single is titled The Song of Smartphones. As the title says, it’s a song about smartphones. Both their good side and bad side. I wanted to describe how some people are addicted to smartphones and not living their real life. But at the same time, I also wrote about their good side — for example, I can be connected to my fans all over the world and it helped me a lot through in recent years. As for the music, I think it’s a standard pop-rock song with fun and uplifting melodies. Maybe you can dance to it! What I tried here for the first time is, I did programming for the rhythm tracks on my laptop. So it’s not the real drums that you hear in this song. It was interesting to mix the programmed sounds and the real musical instruments like my guitar.

You recently played two shows at Expomanga in Madrid, Spain. How did the performances go?

Haruka: The Spanish fans were so welcoming and friendly. Although it was basically an expo for manga, anime, games and cosplay, I was really glad to find out that more and more Spanish people are becoming interested in Japanese music these days. For the performances, since I couldn’t bring my band members, I sang with my guitar and backing tracks like I did for my show in Hungary last year. I played six songs each day, including the new song The Song of Smartphones. I hope I can go back to Spain in the near future!

When did you first discover your passion for singing? Was it as part of a choir?

Haruka: No, I was never in a choir as a child, to be honest. (laughs) I started learning the piano at the age of four, but I knew classical music wasn’t the kind of music I wanted to create by myself. When I was in junior high school, I started to listen to rock bands and that was the moment when I decided to write my own songs and sing.

You gained your first songwriting credit aged just sixteen. How did you achieve that?

Haruka: I heard that there was a lyric writing competition for a Japanese singer called Aina. I thought it would be interesting because it might be a good opportunity to improve my songwriting skills. The producer of this singer really liked my lyrics and that’s how I made my debut as a lyricist. I wrote two songs for her and one of them was used as the ending theme of anime “Glass Mask.” I think I was really lucky. It was also interesting to write about things I would never write about in my songs, such as love.

After 2008, you took a five-year break from music. Was there a specific moment or event in that time that led you to pick up your guitar again?

Haruka: While I was away from music, I worked for a Japanese company for two years. That was a total disaster. (laughs) I never felt like I belonged and I never mentioned that I had made music in the past either. After a year and a half had passed, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t the kind of life I wanted. I decided to stop pretending and left the company. I remembered that the only thing I had ever wanted to do in my life was music. That’s how I came back to the music industry.

Besides Russia and Poland, Japanese artists usually target Western Europe when touring the continent. However, you played your first overseas concert in Budapest, Hungary of all places. How did that happen, and what was it like?

Haruka: After releasing my first mini-album Hymns To My Soul in 2013, I started to write to overseas event organizers and promoters. I wanted them to get to know me and my music. One day through Facebook, I met this genius Hungarian woman. She is still young but she is really passionate about promoting Japanese music in European countries. She said she would write to the organizer of MondoCon, the biggest Japan-related expo in Hungary. I wasn’t expecting too much because at that time, not many people knew me in Hungary. However, a miracle happened. The organizer said they would let me perform at their expo! It was an amazing experience. The Hungarian audience was really welcoming. In Hungary, everyone loves music and they don’t label music by genres or languages. It’s indeed a country of music, I would say.

In 2013, you started your own label CLUB DISORDER. What challenges have you faced? What advice would you give to others thinking of starting their own label?

Haruka: The biggest challenge was that I had to do everything on my own, from budget management to promotion. It was really difficult at first since I had absolutely no idea how I should handle them. But I started to learn little by little and now, I think it’s really good to have the freedom to do everything by myself. As advice to those who wish to start their own label, I would say; don’t limit your ideas and creativity just because you have little budget. These days, there are a lot of things you can do thanks to the Internet and social media. Promotion used to cost a huge sum of money in the past, but you can promote your music through various social media sites now. So I think your ideas are what really counts, not how big your budget is or how many people know you at the moment.

Do you hope to someday release works by other artists through CLUB DISORDER?

Haruka: No. It’s a label just for myself, so for now, I don’t think I will be releasing works by other artists. But I have plenty of ideas that I would like to realize under this label.

Where do you record your songs? Do you play the keyboard and bass parts yourself, and do you also handle post-production tasks like mixing?

Haruka: These days, 70-80% of the recording process is done in my home studio. I do programming on my laptop and I record the guitar and the bass parts. The rest - vocals, drums and mixing – is done in a recording studio with a professional engineer. I also play the keyboard and occasionally the bass guitar as well, but I’m not really that good at mixing. I only do it when I’m making demos. I always ask a professional mixing engineer to do the final mixing process.

In the past, you’ve spoken about how people were surprised to discover you play lead guitar. This is despite the fact Japan has a history of all-female rock bands dating back to the 1980s, with groups like Shonen Knife, SHOW-YA, and Princess Princess. Why do you think this stereotype has persisted?

Haruka: I have no idea why this stereotype is alive either, but I know it’s true that there used to be some female bands who pretended to play their instruments. There were also bands who didn’t play in the studio and hired professional musicians who would record songs instead of them. Maybe some people learned of this fact and started to generalize other all-female bands and female musicians.

Do you think the emergence of artists like SCANDAL, Aldious, Gacharic Spin and yourself will help finally change perceptions?

Haruka: I hope so. It’s time to show our girl power! It’s also encouraging to know that many of these bands are successful overseas.

You’ve occasionally incorporated aspects of your faith into your work, such as the song The Sound More Silent Than Silence and the cover art for your mini-album Hymns To My Soul. Have you ever thought about recording an all-out ‘Christian rock’ song?

Haruka: Yes, I have actually been working on a Christian song recently. However, I do not define myself as a Christian singer because my music is not only for Christians but for everyone. One of the core messages in my songs is to keep your faith, but in a more universal, general sense — it doesn’t matter whether you believe in Christianity or a different religion, or even if you are not religious.

Do you have a message for JaME’s readers?

Haruka: Thank you very much for being interested in Japanese music! I hope you will like my music too. I really wish to be successful overseas and convey my messages to the world. If you are interested in my music, please be in touch with me through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Do not hesitate to leave comments or messages. I will try to reply to you as much as possible! I really hope I can visit your country one day. I hope to see you very soon.

JaME would like to thank Haruka for this interview opportunity.

Below, you can watch the music video for Raise Your Voice from Anthems:

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