Interview Exclusive

Interview with RAY

15/04/2021 2021-04-15 02:00:00 JaME Author: ChrisN Translator (EN-JP): Tomo Translator (JP-EN): Ryan Wong

Interview with RAY

Meet the shoegaze idols.


© RAY/SOVA LLC. All rights reserved.
RAY is an idol group whose musical concept is a “fusion of minor genres”. Probably best known as "shoegaze idols", they also take in influences from indie guitar rock, grunge and synth pop. Their debut album Pink, released in 2020, has something of a nostalgic 1990s feel to it, taking us back to the heyday of British independent labels Creation and 4AD and bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Swervedriver and Lush.

Formed in 2019, by the same team behind the original shoegaze idols ……… (known as "dots"), RAY build on the dots legacy, attracting some of the best song-writing talent from Tokyo’s shoegaze scene.

While Sayaka Shirakawa just graduated from the group on February 23rd, shortly before her last live with RAY, we had the opportunity to ask her and the unit's remaining members Yua Uchiyama, Marino Kai and Tsukihi about their music and their future plans, as well as their creative approach to merchandising.

For our readers who might not be familiar with RAY, could you please introduce yourselves.

Marino Kai: Nice to meet you! We’re RAY, an idol group that focuses on our “overwhelming solo nature” and “fusion between multiple fields”.

All four of us sing and dance at live shows, and our music is primarily shoegaze, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), "chaotic hardcore without the screaming”, and more; a unique blend of music genres that idol groups don’t normally engage in.

RAY is a group that values the solo activities of our members, and through "collections", a crowdfunding website, we receive a lot of support from our fans! Some of the things our members are trying out include acting, art, DJing, volunteer work and more.

RAY is often seen as the successor group to ……… (dots). You covered the dots songs Slide and Satellite on your debut album Pink and dots’ songs feature in your live sets. What was it like starting RAY as a new group while still carrying on the legacy of dots?

Yua Uchiyama: I really love Slide and Satellite, and to me personally and the rest of RAY, dots is something special. While some parts of dots stick with us moving forward, there still remains a wealth of new things for us to explore. To me, my greatest source of joy is embracing all the thoughts, expectations, worries and responsibilities we have, and RAY just being able to be itself.

Established bands are often reluctant to get involved with idol projects, but RAY have songs contributed by well-known bands from Japan’s shoegaze scene like For Tracy Hyde, Cruyff in the Bedroom and my dead girlfriend. What is it about RAY that enables you to attract this songwriting talent?

Sayaka Shirakawa: For example, when RAY embarked on creating shoegaze music, we focused on making sure that one would say “this is definitely shoegaze” when listening to it. This is the obsession of our music director, and I feel that through the authenticity of our music and the passion we convey in our live performances, our music will reach other shoegaze bands and composers, and encourage them to collaborate with us. We hope to accomplish the same with other genres of music too.

You recently moved to management company SOVA, who also manage idol group tipToe. What will this mean for the future of RAY?

Tsukihi: Until now RAY’s management team has been rather small, so moving over to SOVA has definitely helped in that regard and I’m grateful for their support. As our team grows, so too will the number of things we can work on.

Furthermore, SOVA is well-versed in music creation and merchandising, so I think that RAY will make great strides in these areas and as a result get more motivated, too. A big part of RAY’s appeal is our flexibility and boldness to dabble into a multiplicity of genres and styles, and now with SOVA on our side, I think we’re one step closer to becoming invincible.

Are there any plans for a collaboration with tipToe. like the dots/tipToe. split singles Shibuya refourcus and Sentimental Journey?

Marino Kai: With the move to SOVA, we now belong to the same management company as tipToe., so as fellow idol groups I would love to collaborate more with them. A battle of the bands concert, as well as releasing a split single together would be awesome.

You’ve just released a new song online titled Resignation written by Ishikawa of my dead girlfriend. You’ve covered their song Kanojo ga tsumetaku warattara in the past. What was it like to have them write a new song for you? Can we expect a new EP to follow soon?

Yua Uchiyama: Because Kanojo ga tsumetaku warattara is a song we covered relatively early on as RAY, we have a lot of fond memories of it. Having the original band, my dead girlfriend, work on our original song was so exciting. Resignation is a song I get hooked on once I listen to it, and I love the idea of “forward-looking acceptance” captured by its title. The release of a new EP is still undecided at the moment, but I can’t wait for it!

Marino Kai: When I first listened to my dead girlfriend’s music, the mix of pop elements with a dark, gloomy atmosphere took my breath away, so I was ecstatic when I found out that they were going to write a song for us.

Resignation, as the song title implies, is about forward-looking acceptance, and I would love it if I could infuse those feelings into future performances.

Sayaka Shirakawa: When I heard Resignation for the first time, I was deeply reminded of the struggles I faced when I had to balance being both an idol and a student, so it’s a song that strongly resonated with me. I focused not on the lyrics, but the sound of the song as I listened to it, and I was totally absorbed by it because it fit my tastes perfectly. “To be able to sing this song!” – I was thrilled. There’s something quite special about my dead girlfriend’s music, and I strive to convey a similar aspect of it through RAY’s music.

We’re still undecided on whether we’ll be releasing a new EP.

Tsukihi: I love the world my dead girlfriend created in “You" & "Me”, so I was overjoyed when I heard that they would be writing songs for us. It was fun to anticipate and wonder what kind of song they would create for us, and in the end it turned out to be a song I love a lot.

Resignation is forward-looking acceptance. As the song title suggests, this is a song that contains in equal measure hope and despair. Perhaps we live for that one, fleeting moment where everything seems to dazzle. Perhaps we were made to live for that moment. Such ideas came to my mind. I still don’t know when the new EP is scheduled to be released, but ever since we released Pink last year, we’ve been steadily creating more beautiful songs that I hope we'll get to deliver to you.

Resignation

Sweet Strange Spangles are releasing a remix of your song Everything About My Precious You as part of their fashion brand remix project. What were your first impressions of the new version? What do you think of their concept of combining RAY’s music and fashion, and how did you like the accompanying T-shirt?

Yua Uchiyama: Despite the knowledge that it was our own song, when I first heard the remix I found it to be very refreshing. I especially enjoyed the dark and noisy vibes that starkly contrasted with the melody. Being someone who loves both music and fashion, I think it’s a "delicious" combination. As soon as I saw the collab T-shirt I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!

Marino Kai: With a sombre idea of “preciousness” completely unlike the one in RAY’s Everything About My Precious You, I was really surprised by how the remix was able to accomplish such a dramatic change in worldview.

My first impression was that it’s a really stylish and cool T-shirt – one I would definitely want to wear if I go to a music festival.

Sayaka Shirakawa: Even though it’s a remix of a song that I should be very familiar with, I was surprised at how it ended up sounding like an entirely different song! Even though it has the same lyrics as the original song, I think it conveys a very different message. I don’t usually buy T-shirts, but I’m happy that there’s now a cool T-shirt out there in the world that I was involved in.

Tsukihi: Everything About My Precious You is a song that makes you feel like you’re wholly surrounded by magnificent scenery, but the remix, on the other hand, wraps you up in melancholy, and I was surprised by how good it sounded. The members’ voices are more accentuated than in the original song, which contributes to the charm of the remix.

I’m quite excited by the idea that music has become something you can adorn yourself with, in the form of merchandise. Just seeing the T-shirt itself makes the song’s melody run through my head. I feel that the color design of the T-shirt really brings out the worldview encapsulated by the remix.

The coronavirus has disrupted much of the music industry over the past year. How has it affected RAY, and what did you do while you couldn’t perform live?

Yua Uchiyama: Last year I felt like I had more experiences than one could possibly have in a year! It was a really jam-packed year. In the space of time that live performances were still a no-go due to COVID-19, I spent countless hours scribbling and scrawling on T-shirts, designed uchiwa fans and so on. Honestly, I didn’t have the time to enjoy “stay-home time” or to rest my mind and body, and I’m sure everyone else in the group felt down too. I do love performing live, though, so I live streamed myself dancing to all of RAY’s songs and also live streamed myself singing RAY's songs alone, and somehow made it through the year. Looking back now, I suppose it was just the time I needed to spend working on my performance skills.

Marino Kai: Last year was a time when RAY had to overcome the disappointment of not being able to perform live, but it was also a good chance for us to focus on reviewing our approach towards live performances and work on the areas where we had room for improvement.

Also, our first album Pink that we released in 2020 was listened to by lot of people and because of that, even though we couldn’t meet them in the flesh, I felt like I’d been saved by them.

Sayaka Shirakawa: It was a year where I had the chance to experience many things for the first time! In the period when we couldn’t have live performances, I tried taking advantage of it by focusing on doing things I would otherwise not have had the time for. I like having conversations with people, so I had a lot of fun live streaming on TwitCasting. Also, it was an opportunity for me to get a better gauge of what I’m capable of, and ultimately, to know myself better.

Tsukihi: It was quite challenging for us to do TwitCasting (e.g. live private dance choreography lessons, introducing concert venues from an idol’s perspective, etc.) every day, rotating between all of us. (laughs)

However, I think that a big part of what draws fans to idol culture is variety content, since it enables them to find out intricate details about the idol groups they like, so I’m grateful that we had the unexpected chance to accumulate that kind of content.

It also reveals a lot about our members’ personalities that you wouldn’t be able to discover just by watching our live shows, so I think fans will find more reasons to love RAY!

RAY also gives you the opportunity to undertake your own solo projects. Could you tell us about some of those?

Yua Uchiyama: I’m currently doing an album review weekly on note. I started album reviews as part of my DJ studies because I had several opportunities to DJ. They’re an essential part of learning how to DJ. I look forward to encountering new music, as well as falling in love again with old favorites, and I feel like this practice has helped me to better convey and deliver RAY’s music. Most of all, I’m happy that many people have discovered RAY through my album review corner.

Marino Kai: I’ve always loved drawing and art since way back, so I tried my hand at solo art exhibitions, as well as song-writing for the first time. After completing the song, I felt like taking a shot at making a music video for it. The things I want to do are all related to each other and increasing, and in that spirit I want to challenge everything instead of limiting myself to a particular genre, and hopefully develop more avenues to express myself.

Sayaka Shirakawa: RAY has many cool songs, but since I originally wanted to perform cute and quintessentially idol songs, I released a solo, original song called Diamond Lily on "collections", a crowdfunding website. (At present, I’m looking for help on "collections" to create an MV for this song.) In the spirit of restoring the beauty and cleanliness of the ocean, I also started a beach cleaning event.

Tsukihi: The first solo project I embarked on since joining RAY was creating a personal documentary film. I feel like mere words fail to describe the full extent of one’s personality, especially my own since I think that I’m a rather complicated individual, so I figured creating a documentary film would be a great way for others to get to know me better. Another reason is that I love movies, and I’ve always had an almost unhealthy fascination with documentary films as an expression of love.

Besides that, I’ve always enjoyed idol variety shows. I find joy not just in planning activities that fans can participate in, such as bungee-jumping, swimming with dolphins, or avenues for creative expression, but above all, activities that I personally find exciting and would like to try, and then taking part in them myself. I’m thankful that I’m able to freely pursue my solo activities, and thankful to the fans as well for taking part in them and enjoying themselves.

Sayaka Shirakawa - Diamond Lily

Merchandise is an important part of the idol business, and you’ve had some creative items on offer like hand-drawn customised fans and T-shirts, but the strangest one has to be the pieces of wall ripped from Marino Kai’s home. Where did the idea to sell that item come from?

Yua Uchiyama: I think that RAY is blessed with an environment where we are able to freely pursue our goals and work towards actualizing them – the management has never expressed any disapproval or shot down our proposals before. They even helped out a ton in creating the merchandise I wanted to release for my own birthday celebration. I feel like the uniqueness of our goods stems from the freedom lovingly granted to us.

Marino Kai: I think that the splinters from my fusuma (sliding door) are pretty quirky. The fans already knew that my room’s fusuma is all worn-out and tattered, so once when I showed them a splinter that fell out from it during a live stream, a viewer said “Please sell it!”, and that’s the reason why I put them on sale. I gave each splinter a name before selling them, and I’m glad that the fans who purchased them are taking good care of them!

Sayaka Shirakawa: Ideas! Since we’re in an environment that lets us do whatever we want, as soon as we want, it’s so easy to carry out activities! If we get a request saying “I wish you sold something like this…”, we’ll probably be able to fulfill it, so please don’t hesitate to send us your requests! That, and our managers' imaginations are really awesome!

Tsukihi: I previously sold a set of goods called “polaroids with furniture”. The idea for this came from the time when I had to let go of some furniture while shifting houses. All of the furniture had sentimental value to me, so I felt that I would be happier if I gave them away to people who know me and would continue using them.

Having random encounters with furniture is rare, no? But in the course of stanning a particular idol, sometimes such unexpected things happen, don’t they?

You had your first overseas show in Taipei in 2019. What was it like performing for an overseas audience, and do you have any more international plans for the future?

Yua Uchiyama: It was a dreamlike experience realising that RAY’s music has listeners from overseas. Even if we can’t communicate through our words, music conveys so much and I was touched that we managed to connect through it. From the Taiwanese fans who tried their best to convey their thoughts and feelings to us in Japanese, to the fans who always follow us around on our tours, and the fact that it was my first overseas experience, it truly is an unforgettable memory. I’m looking forward to performing abroad again once the world settles down.

Marino Kai: Through our first overseas performance ever in Taiwan, we had the chance to speak with the local people, and it was also my first time realising, there and then, that there are people from overseas who listen to and like our music. Moving forward, I’d like to gain more experience by touring many different countries.

Sayaka Shirakawa: Virtually all of our song lyrics are in Japanese, but seeing the fans who vibed with and clapped along to our music really reminded me of the power of music. Even if we couldn’t communicate through our different tongues, realising that we could still mutually understand each other through music was a very beautiful experience. Compared to attending a music class a hundred times, this single experience taught me just how incredible music is.

Tsukihi: For us to be able to visit the fans and see their smiles with my own eyes, I couldn’t be any happier. I realized that music really helps to bring us all together. Also, an idol active in Taiwan came to see our show and it inspired me so much.

I adore Taiwan’s townscape and cuisine, so even simply walking its streets was a pleasure. I’d like to visit Tainan next.

I don’t know our plans for the future, but I definitely want to go overseas! At the moment I’m most interested in Scandinavia, and I’ve always had an attraction to France. In Asia, I’d like to visit Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Shirakawa Sayaka, your graduation from RAY has been announced, with your final show scheduled to take place at Shinjuku Blaze on February 23rd. How do you feel now that your time with RAY is coming to an end, and what are the best memories you will be taking with you?

Sayaka Shirakawa: The days just go by so fast, and before long I’ll be graduating. I hope to treasure each and every remaining day and make the most out of them.

My favourite memory is meeting RAY! I can’t believe that I’m fortunate enough to have met such awesome people in my life.

For teaching me all the dances and songs, happily listening to the dull things I say, and not mincing their words, they’re really lovely people. I aspire to become more like them in the future!

Finally, do you have a message for your fans around the world?

Yua Uchiyama: Thank you for getting to know us! Where did you find out about us, I wonder. What do you like about RAY? What songs of ours do you like? I’d love to hear and find out more from you. We’ll do our best to meet you soon, so please wait for us till then!

Marino Kai: For the people who already know RAY, the people who don’t yet know about RAY, and everyone else, I want to meet all of you! I’m sure you’ll get to know us way better through the passion in the air at our live concerts, so I hope we’ll meet there someday!

Sayaka Shirakawa: Thank you so much for your constant support! As you can see through our songs, each and every one of us in RAY is filled to the brim with our own unique appeal! I hope you’ll end up loving us more and more! If you believe in RAY, you’ll definitely find your happiness! Please continue to support us!

Tsukihi: There really are many fans who listen to our music through streaming services and YouTube! That’s why I always felt your presence. Live streams are getting more popular nowadays, so I’d be thrilled if we could connect with more of our fans from overseas through them.

Thank you for checking RAY and our music out! I always wonder how our music might have impacted your lives, and I hope you’ll let us know when we meet one day!

JaME would like to thank RAY and SOVA LLC. for making this interview possible.

To stay tuned for more updates about RAY, check out their official website, Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel, and give them a follow on Spotify.

Everything About My Precious You
 RAY - Official Website  RAY - Official YouTube  RAY - Official Twitter  RAY - Official Facebook  RAY on Spotify
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