Saturday, 3 January 2015

Artist Feature: Haruka

Look out, girls!  Singer-songwriter and guitarist, Haruka, is ready to make her mark on the world!  She released her first single, Mune ni Kibō o, in 2008 under Pony Canyon, which was subsequently used as the opening theme for their anime series, Blue Dragon.  Last year, she decided to take matters into her own hands and started her own label, CLUB DISORDER, through which she released her latest album, ANTHEMS, just this October.  She was kind enough to take the time to talk with us about the challenges of being a female musician, starting her own label, and, of course, her plans for world domination.  Check the digest video for her album below and the interview after the break.

First off, please tell us a little about yourself. Many of our readers are getting to know you for the first time. What was it that drew you to music? Was there a particular moment in your life where you said, “Yes, I want to be a musician”? What keeps you moving forward?

A. I started to play the piano at the age of 4, since my mom has a background in classical music and she decided to teach it to me too. But I never thought I would pursue a carrier in classical music - I thought there should be “something more” and I was always looking for it. When I was in junior high school, I started to listen to rock bands and I was so taken in by their music. When I first listened to Drug Store Cowboy, a Japanese loud rock band, I knew I wanted to become a musician and it was the kind of music I wanted to create. What keeps me moving forward is simply the love for music! After all these years, I’m still in love with songwriting and making music. It’s the only way I can express myself and share my messages with the world.

Assuming it’s the same in Japan as it is here, rock and roll is a very male-dominated genre. It sometimes feels like if you’re not a pop-idol princess, you aren’t taken seriously. As a guitar-playing rock and roll girl, do you think you face challenges that men in your industry don’t face? What advice would you give to other girls in the same situation?

A. Yes, I have faced a lot of challenges. Most people here don’t believe I really play the guitar…They think I’m hiring a professional, male guitarist!(Laughs) That’s totally unreasonable though, that they think women can’t play. And when I say I play it at recordings, they still don’t believe I play solos as well. But these days, I somehow started to enjoy their reactions. You can never fake it at shows and when people come to see me live, they look surprised and tell me “You really play!”. As advice to other girls, I would say, just be yourself and keep going no matter what they say about you - there are certainly people who understand you out there. And if you stay sincere to people and keep improving your skills as a musician, you may eventually change others’ ideas about rockin’ girls!

In addition to tackling the Japanese rock scene, you have started your own record label, CLUB DISORDER, and are actively promoting yourself worldwide, even including English translations on your YouTube videos. Do you feel that opening yourself up to such a wide audience has affected you musically? Have you been influenced by any of the many different cultures you’ve been exposed to during your travels?

A.Yes, definitely. My style is basically rock but I absorb a lot of other genres from all over the world too. For example, my song “Sheep’s Lullaby” is inspired by Celtic music, “Hometown” is a little like country, “Coffin of Love” has the rhythm of flamenco and so on. When I go abroad, I often ask people for local music recommends and that’s one of the pleasures of traveling. While I was making music under a Japanese major label, I always had to sound “J-pop”, but since I’m independent now, I’m free from any restrictions. That’s making my music more diverse than before I think!

In the last 10-20 years, there has been a massive globalization of music, thanks largely to services like YouTube and satellite radio. As a kid growing up in Texas, I knew nothing of music outside of the United States and now my playlist represents more countries than the UN. Do you think such easy access to different musical influences has had a positive effect on the art of music making? Do you think those positives outweigh the negative aspects, such as the risk of piracy?

A. Yes, I’m definitely for the globalization of music. That helped me a lot too. I’m not signed to any major label now, but many people get to know me thanks to services such as YouTube and internet radio. It also gives more chances to indie bands and artists, who can never have the opportunity to promote their music through mass media like TV or magazines. In Japan, major labels used to dominate the scene, but the situation today is much different and interesting I think. For the risks, it’s difficult to comment though…To be honest, I’m glad if people enjoy my music, even if it’s only on YouTube for example. However, it’s really important to buy records to support artists and bands. If they can’t make money from music, they can’t continue to create music. That’s what we must all be aware of I think.

Speaking of influences, what are yours? If you could pick any band members to play with you, living or dead and from anywhere in the world, who would you pick?

A. I am influenced a lot by Japanese rock bands such as Siam Shade, Drug Store Cowboy and T-Square. I also love older American hard rock bands and artists which my favorite Japanese artists grew up listening to, like Van Halen, Dream Theater and Joe Satriani. If I could pick one to play with, I would pick Daita, the guitarist of Siam Shade. His style influenced me a lot and I really respect him as an artist. His guitar technique is awesome and I learned a lot from him!

You recently released a new full-length album titled “Anthems” that mixes fun and catchy rock songs with heart-felt ballads. I particularly like “Hometown.” What was in your mind when writing this song? How does it fit in with the overall theme of the record?

A. Hometown is a song I wrote when I was 16. It’s based on my experience, a summer spent in Australia. I attended a summer school there and the song is about the last day, saying goodbye to people and leaving the country. 10 years ago, it wasn’t like today, no Facebook, no smartphones. So leaving a country felt like it’s forever and it was really sad. There’s a line in the song “I asked the Southern Cross to protect you, I hope it heard”. The Southern Cross is a constellation you can see only in the Southern Hemisphere and you can’t see it in Japan. I think that line describes my feeling well. On this record there are plenty of rock and power-pop songs, so I thought it would be nice to put some ballads as well, so you can rest your ears sometimes!

In your song, “Goodbye! My Office,” you speak on the pressure to fit into an office culture and encourage people to break free and be themselves. Were you inspired by an experience you had? Do you feel like you succeeded in finding your true self?

A. Yes, after graduating from college, I worked for a Japanese manufacturing company for 2 years…Bad idea haha. They were the most stressful and exhausting years in my life. I learned that it’s horrible to try to fit into some culture and pretend to be someone else. After 2 years, I decided to leave the company and come back to music. I guess many people have gone through this kind of period in their lives too. I hope you can relate to this song and it will give you the courage to be yourself no matter what!

The more I listen to your album, I can’t help but think that “Anthems” is a perfect title and you touch on subjects that almost anyone can relate to and say, “Wow! This is just like me!” Have you ever heard a song that made you feel that way? That made you feel uplifted and became your personal Anthem?

A. Yes, I have many personal anthems that give energy to me! My recent anthem is Paramore’s “Anklebiters”. I love its lyrics and it makes me feel like nothing’s in my way! Others are “One Fine Day” by The Offspring, “BLACK” by Siam Shade, “Resistance” by Nicotine and so on, and so on. (*Nicotine is a Japanese melodic punk band) I’m glad you think the title “Anthems” suits the album! My songs are always based on my experiences so I’m happy when you say you can relate to them too. I entitled the album “Anthems” hoping the songs on the album will be your personal anthems too. Most songs are about coping with challenges, being yourself and pursuing your dreams…not about love haha.

I think you have a wonderful voice and a wonderful sound and I wish you luck on your journey all over the world! Are there any countries or venues in particular that you would love to play in?

A. Thank you very much!! Yes, there are many countries I would like to perform in. I would like to play in the US and Canada of course! I studied in San Francisco and Montreal when I was in college. I was there for only a couple of months or weeks, but I really loved the cities. Also, as I studied French as a second foreign language in college, which is why I went to Montreal, I’d like to play in a French-speaking city or country. France, Belgium or Switzerland…and maybe in Africa sometime?

I would like to thank you for sharing your music with us and taking the time for this interview. I can tell you, sometimes overseas fans of Japanese music can feel quite isolated from the artists they love and it means a lot when an artist shows an interest in us. Do you have a message you would like to share with your overseas fans?

A. Thank you very much for being fans of Japanese music!! I know you sometimes feel isolated from the Japanese music scene, but I think things are getting better thanks to SNS’s. I am making efforts too, like I write everything in English and post English translations of my lyrics. I love to communicate with overseas fans! So if you would like to talk to me, please do not hesitate. I really hope you will like my music. And hope to see you very soon!

Haruka is working hard to spread her music all over the world and I'm sure we will see her in a venue near us soon.  In the meantime, make sure to pick up her latest album, ANTHEMS, which is on sale now through Amazon Japan, AmazonMp3, and iTunes.