A singer-songwriter who has written music and lyrics for many popular anime series and J-pop artists, SHIHORI just celebrated her 10th anniversary last year. We spoke to her shortly after the release of her self-cover album
SHIHORISM, which just became available digitally worldwide earlier this month, and she shared some insights into her songwriting process, her path through the music industry, and her “Share the American Dream Project”.
Which song was the easiest to cover, and which one did you find the most challenging? Why?
What inspired you to start making music?
SHIHORI: When I was seven, I went to a kids' picnic. There were all different grades of kids and some parents on a bus, and it was really like a monkey park. They were enjoying karaoke, which I never joined because I didn’t know any popular
music and I didn’t talk to anyone. I was an Asperger, and I didn’t have any friends. But at the very last part of the bus trip, someone asked me to sing something. I was so shocked that when I sang a song a cappella, everyone on the bus stopped within
a second and was staring at me.
That was the first moment I recognized the outside of my world. Then I started writing songs suddenly. And I sang in front of my mom. I started wishing to become a singer. But I don’t know why I started writing songs. That was very natural
How did you start writing anime themes? Was it something you always dreamed of doing, or something you stumbled upon unexpectedly?
SHIHORI: Actually, I never dreamed of becoming an anime songwriter until 2006. I had been trying to become a J-pop singer-songwriter. However, I became interested in anime music around that time, because "Haruhi" became a crazy
hit and the anime industry started to become very powerful. I remembered that I used to love anime and I was quite affected by anime songs.
One day, a J-pop composer, Genki Hibino, saw my performance, and he told me that he wanted to introduce me to record labels, but the only label he could connect with at the time was Lantis, which was creating "Haruhi"’s music.
I told him that I was actually rather interested in anime music! A producer from Lantis liked my music, and I got a chance to make a major debut as an anime singer-songwriter in 2007 under my previous stage name, Sena. My
debut song TSUBASA was used as the ending theme song for “Kishintaisen Gigantic Formula”.
I felt a kind of destiny. Around that time, I started submitting songs to competitions. None of my songs were picked out for the first few years, but at the end of 2008, Yoko Kanno chose my lyrics for “Macross Frontier”.
I got concrete confidence through this amazing collaboration with Yoko Kanno, and after that my songs started to be picked out.
Are there any anime series you relate to personally or that you would recommend to overseas fans?
SHIHORI: "Fullmetal Alchemist". I watch it over and over to get empowered and I also had all the comic books, which I read over and over. I took them over to my manager when I moved to the US...
How did you select the songs featured on your self-cover album SHIHORISM? Is there something these tracks have in common?
SHIHORI: Firstly, I chose three anime theme songs, Don’t Think. Feel!!!, Millenario and TSUBASA, which I’ve gotten many requests for covering from fans in America every time I perform at conventions. And
I asked my fans on Twitter to tell me which songs they would want me to cover. The rest of the songs were determined by polls.
: The easiest one was definitely Catalmoa
. The song’s original singer is Yoshino Nanjo
, who is known as the vocalist of the duo fripSide
. She was my first friend in the anime industry,
so it was very easy to write the song and lyrics as if she wrote them by herself. And I also arranged the song and played the piano too. I didn’t want to change anything with this song, so nothing was difficult.
The most difficult one was Millenario
(one of the ending themes for
"The Irregular at Magic High School"). The original version is a very authentic ballad, and I wanted to twist it nicely into an acoustic version by the brand new SHIHORI
in New York. I really thought over how should I arrange it, and I made it cinematic and dramatic. It starts from a relaxing ocean vibe, develops gradually, and explodes at the last chorus part.
I usually don’t arrange songs for others, except for Catalmoa
, but I arranged all the songs this time, and also I was feeling a huge amount of pressure because all of the songs are popular songs, so it was difficult to make them
What is your songwriting process like? Is there a technique that helps you get started, or is there a certain order you work through the elements of a song?
: It’s always weird to explain, but I usually do it like this:
1. Order God to give me a good song. (With a certain image of atmosphere or concept or theme)
2. Live as usual. (Happily is good)
3. I get melodies
in my head. (During the shower is the most common pattern. Something with a relaxing vibe is good)
4. Write in a notebook.
5. Bring the notebook and go to a cafe to finish writing.
6. Create a piano demo and record the vocals. Add a very
rough arrangement, if needed.
Ordering to God is really important! The melody comes first with songs written for others. The lyrics come first with original songs.
Does your approach change when you are writing a song for an anime or a J-pop artist, or is it the same regardless of who will be performing the song?
: Most of my works are in kind of an anime taste, so they're not so different no matter who they are for. But when it comes to anime or a game, I really read the scenario or story. I get really into the world of the project
and try to give birth to a song as naturally as I can. But, as I mentioned in the previous question, I write lyrics first with my own originals. Then those become more message-centered melodies.
What kind of music do you listen to during your free time? Is there a particular artist or genre that you’re interested in at the moment?
: Weird thing, I didn’t used to listen to music during my free time for many years. My head was always full of new music, so rather I had to ask God to stop giving me melodies. But since I’ve been struggling to figure out
my new style in America, I am listening to Billboard top 40 lists for learning recently.
How has living in New York affected your work?
: It’s given me a lot of new discoveries that I cannot tell shortly. It feels almost like I was reborn as a baby, learning everything in my life again from zero. Also, I found that I can improve myself without limits.
It’s hard and exciting at the same time to confirm whether what I’ve known in Japan for long years is necessary or not. I’m still trying out things, but I’m so sure that I will definitely make amazing changes from now on.
To wrap up the interview, can you please leave a message for JaME’s readers?SHIHORI
: Thank you everybody for reading this, and thank you JaME for taking this interview with me! I am so glad that now I can tell my message to
J-pop and anime music fans overseas.
I became a singer-songwriter to tell the message of love through my music. I’d been living in Japan for long years, and I was so frustrated to see how the whole Japanese society gets weaker year by year because of the country's decreasing
population. It’s now really unstoppable despite the increase in the popularity of Japanese pop culture.
It seemed quite hopeless to become stable in Japan to me, and I decided to challenge my project titled “Share the American Dream Project”. Everything was totally unknown, but I wanted to challenge bigger and more difficult ambitions. I believe
my exciting adventure in America will empower Japanese people, and I truly hope it will entertain people in overseas countries as well!
Please look forward to my adventure and come and join in. I am also looking forward to meeting many amazing people!
JaME would like to thank SHIHORI for this interview opportunity.
will be appearing at several American anime conventions this year. These will include New York's
, which will stretch from March 21st to 22nd, Castle Point Anime Convention
, which will be held in New York from May 2nd to 3rd and Maine's PortConMaine 2020
, which will be taking place from June 25th to
Footage of SHIHORI performing TSUBASA and
Don’t Think. Feel!!!
at Tekko 2019 can be viewed below.