Interview with Haruka at Anime Messe Berlin

interview - 06.20.2018 20:01

The rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Haruka sat down with JaME to talk about her new album "Unite!", the purpose of her songs as well as opportunities for independent Japanese artists.

Singer-songwriter and rock guitarist Haruka has been invited to Anime Messe Berlin for the third time, which makes her the one and only artist who has been a guest at this convention every year since it started. That’s not surprising, given the fact that both fans and organizer took a big liking to the kind, open-minded artist who absolutely knows how to rock and make people have a good time during her shows. You could call it a tradition, if you like, but JaME met Haruka again during her stay at Anime Messe for an interview. Read what the rock musician from Tokyo has to say about her new album Unite!, the situation of Japanese independent artists and the power of music that will change the world.

Hello Haruka! Glad to get an interview opportunity with you again. It seems like we meet every year at Anime Messe Berlin. Are you happy to be back here?

Haruka: It's my turn to say thank you! And yes, sure, I am happy to be here again. This time, Anime Messe is in Potsdam, which is close to Berlin. It's not only a new experience for the convention organizers, but for me too, as I have never been here before. So I'm pretty happy to visit a new city and share my music with new people around here.

Last year you announced your new album Unite! and played a few songs of it at AniMesse 2017. Now with the album released, is there any song you really wanted to play in front of your German fans?

Haruka: Absolutely, it's Put Your Guns Down! Because the theme perfectly fits the world's current situation. It conveys a very important message to the audience. Actually, June 1st was the National Gun Violence Awareness Day in the US. Recently there have been gun shooting incidents, so I think my song conveys an important message to people around the world.

Is there any other song you really wanted to perform live – maybe for the first time?

Haruka: Actually, I covered an anime song during my performances on Friday and Saturday. Of course, it's not my own song and it's not included in my album Unite!, but it's a song I really wanted to perform this time. Because this is an anime convention after all and I wanted to do something special, so I decided to play it this time. The song is called This Love and was used as an ending theme of the anime "Blood+", originally performed by Angela Aki.

Why did you decide to include the previously released The Song of Smartphones in an album version on Unite!?

Haruka: That's a good question! I released that song in 2015 and when creating it, I used digital instruments apart from my guitar. But when I tried to put that song on the album, it didn't sound very good. Like it didn't fit and it did not sound as good as other songs with real drums That's why I decided to re-record almost everything. I didn't record new vocals, but I added new drums and new bass lines. So I kind of used the album to make a new and better version of The Song of Smartphones.

Most of the songs on Unite! are rock songs, but Dance In The Rain has a very dance pop-ish feel with its electronic elements and strong dance beat. How did you create this song and what is the meaning behind it?

Haruka: I just wanted to try out some new elements and I literally wanted to play with music. What came to my mind was "EDM rock". I think EDM is a kind of music everyone enjoys, as it is currently very popular all around the world, so I wanted to use these kinds of elements too. But if it was completely EDM, it would sound strange in my album, which is full of rock music after all, so I decided to add some rock elements to it as well. That's why I used some rock guitar riffs and a real rock guitar solo. So this song became completely my style and I think it's a nice venture. It's a whole new style I discovered for myself and actually the audience seemed to love it during my shows at Anime Messe.

On a completely different note there is Heroes' Tomb, which seems to be a very emotional, personal song. Can you tell us who is the hero in the lyrics?

Haruka: When I wrote the song, I thought about the musicians who passed away during these past few years. Great musicians as well as not commonly known artists. I wanted to pay a tribute to those artists, because if they made music, their souls will live forever in people's minds. Like their music still brings smiles to the people who listen to it. Some songs contain very important messages, so I want people to remember these musicians and keep listening to their great music. Actually, it's not only a song about musicians who passed away recently, but also about people like hide, because he is still such a big influence for other artists who followed after him. He inspired so many other musicians, he really is a legend. Heroes' Tomb conveys that kind of message. Partly the song might sound sad, but actually it's more of a positive song to remember these artists.

Some of your songs, such as Put Your Guns Down or The Song of Smartphones, are criticizing society or are somewhat political. Do you think it's important to use music to motivate people to think their behaviour or personal views over?

Haruka: Most definitely. I'm not a politician nor a teacher or a priest or anything like that, but I find it very important to convey positive messages to people around the world to inspire them and to make them rethink their view on the world and society. That will eventually change the world, I think. So even if people say they are not interested in politics or anything, still everyone listens to music. So I guess it's a great approach when it comes to spreading positivity or when trying to make people rethink what they are currently doing. It can change people.

Do you have a favourite track on Unite!?

Haruka: I like Dancing In The Rain and I also like Yuzuriha. For the first one, I tried new elements and a whole new genre and I really enjoy playing it live, because it's so much fun. I also have serious songs on the album, like Put Your Guns Down, Carry On and Our Revolution, which is a political song, too. But performing Dancing In The Rain live is a nice contrast to the more serious songs and it's really fun to perform pop songs once in a while. I need them both, serious and fun songs, in my music. About Yuzuriha, I really like the sound. It's a bit acoustic, but still rock at the same time. I like that kind of symbiosis.

After Berlin, you will go to Spain for a show. Would you like to play more lives in Europe – for example, with a full tour?

Haruka: Yes, I would love to perform at more shows in Europe! But I'm not really thinking about doing a tour, because I like to perform at festivals and conventions. Like that, I can meet a lot of people and it's easier than organizing a full tour. But I'd like to have many solo shows here in Europe and other parts of the world. To be honest, it's easy to be a guest and there are always so many people helping me. Also you guys from JaME are helping me so much. I really appreciate that.

Unite! is also available on Spotify and Apple Music. Do you think platforms like that are important gateways to the international audience for Japanese artists?

Haruka: Yes, I think so! Though I know some artists don't like Spotify, because the conditions might not be the best for them and the songs are only played there and not exactly sold. But I think it's an important opportunity to give more people access to my own music since these platforms are a good gateway for people to find new music in general. I also received so many good comments about my music from people on Spotify and Apple Music. They just randomly played some tracks from around the world and came across my songs by chance. The reactions were very positive and that means my music reached more people from around the world, which is very good for me. I like the idea of streaming music granting access to artists people didn't know before. Since streaming platforms are commonly used all over the world, it's a good opportunity for artists to reach a new audience. Still some musicians and managements are reluctant, because they don't sell there directly and might think they got nothing back from putting their songs up there. But I think, especially for Japanese indie artists, it's a chance to let people know they exist. Personally, as long as people enjoy my music, I don't care if they stream it or buy it. But I understand there are people thinking differently.

Talking about indie artists, the Japan Times has reported that the 'noruma' ticket quota policy at many Tokyo venues has limited independent artists' opportunities to perform live. Have you had any experiences like this? Or even contrary experiences?

Haruka: Yes, I came in touch with it. When I was an amateur artist, I had to pay a lot for my own performances to the live house. But I think, well, those live halls have to earn money, too. But if people don't come to listen to the music at these live halls, they get nothing. So I can't say 'noruma' is a 100% bad thing; it's quite a difficult situation. Because the live houses also have to pay rent and the equipment and they have to pay the people who work there, too. Many live halls are closing actually. But at the same time, many clubs are surviving thanks to new ideas. As you might know, most Japanese live houses sell "drink tickets" at concerts. The customer pays around 500 Yen or a bit more at the door and gets a ticket for the bar, so they can get a drink. Like this it's ensured people buy at least one drink. Some halls also started to serve food, so they became something like a bar or restaurant where people can also enjoy live music, though that might not be possible for rock clubs. They can be like bars, but not like restaurants. From an independent artist's point of view, with the 'noruma' ticket quota, it got quite hard to present themselves. As a major artist, it might be easier to attract enough fans, but as an indie artist with only a few fans it might get hard to book shows at all, because it would get too expensive. It's not easy at all and I heard there is a decrease of bands because of this. But because it's such a difficult thing, there might be no easy solution. At least, I cannot think of a quick solution to this.

Thank you for this interview! Since I know you are studying German, please be so kind to greet our readers in German this time!

Haruka: (In German) Ich hatte heute viel Spaß und ich freue mich hier zu sein! (I had very much fun today and I am happy to be here!) Thank you very much.

Haruka's latest music video for her song Carry On from the album Unite!:

JaME would like to thank Haruka, Anime Messe (especially Michael Klement) and Kanzen Music for making this interview possible.
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