Interview Exclusive


13/01/2022 2022-01-13 07:00:00 JaME Author: Christine


To commemorate the release of her first full album in the US, "MUTATION", SHIHORI shares some of the stories behind its songs and discusses her continuing evolution.

© SHIHORI. All rights reserved.
While we just spoke to singer-songwriter SHIHORI last summer around the release of her digital single FIRE, she has since put out her first full album in the US, MUTATION, and she has a lot of news to share regarding recent developments in her life, career and creative process. In an interview conducted towards the end of 2021, we dig deep into some of the other songs featured on the album and learn about the challenges SHIHORI overcame while working on it and adapting to life in America.

Congratulations of the release of your album! How does it feel to have this project completed?

SHIHORI: Thank you! I feel so happy that I accomplished this first album as the final big step of the first chapter of this adventure in the US I started in 2018! I’ve had to go through so many tough things to achieve this, including just simply struggling with English and American culture.

Especially since I lost all my confidence at a certain point and I was almost ready to give up my career as a musician, which never happened before. I am glad to be where I am right now.

Have you had the chance to perform any of the new tracks live yet?

SHIHORI: Yes, I’ve performed the lead track, Under the Skin, at my solo concerts and conventions.

Could you please explain the meaning behind the title MUTATION?

SHIHORI: After spending 15 years of my career in the J-pop industry, I was thinking it'd be not too hard for me to transfer my experiences into an American version of me, which was completely wrong. I needed a huge transformation from the basics of my identity. The cultural differences between Japan and the US were that big.

So I needed to go through much pain at the beginning — to deny all the common things that I’d learned in my country. As a result, I happened to experience a dynamic "MUTATION" instead of just a transformation. I felt like I’d changed into a completely different creature. I also needed to redefine myself, to destroy my older self and rebuild my current true self, which turned out to be a very exciting journey for me!

On the way to my new adventure, I met many amazing creatives, and you’ll hear how my music has mutated because of that. Also, half of my American life has been during the pandemic time, so I put a new track about anti-racism, Under the Skin, on it and titled this album MUTATION with several different meanings.

The album cover represents my current state where I'm right in the middle of "mutating" myself.

You recently moved from New York to Los Angeles. What inspired this change, and how are you adapting to life in a new city?

SHIHORI: I actually had planned to move to LA 3-4 years after living in New York since before I moved to the US. I love New York and New Yorkers, but I found that there were very few pop artists compared to R&B or hip-hop or jazz musicians, and almost all of the music producers who I worked with online were based in LA! Also, I found that there are anime and game music industries in LA which are the American versions of where I’ve worked in Japan for many years.

Another big trigger was that I was so sick of living in a room with no sunlight surrounded by tall buildings and hectic energy during the pandemic. I really needed a healthier living environment!

Sunshine! Big sky! Good weather! I am now so satisfied with my current bright and relaxing room in LA!

You have mentioned that people tend to say anything you write sounds like an anime theme, but that the song Soul Trip does not. Do you feel that you are sometimes consciously trying to remove the “anime-like” aspects from your sound, or do songs like that result naturally from living and working in the US?

SHIHORI: I originally loved to write various types of songs, crossing over the genres (which comes from my classical background), so I wouldn’t stick to specific genres, and an anime-sounding style became one of my unique aspects. So I don’t think I need to eliminate this taste, but I’d also like to challenge something that I’ve never tried before.

Soul Trip fell into my head naturally, and I love it because it opened up new possibilities for me!

You’ve mentioned that you experienced a lot of culture shock because the way music is produced in the US is so different from Japan. Aside from the language barrier, what aspects of creating music in the US were the most difficult to adapt to?

SHIHORI: The most difficult part to adjust for me is definitely the way the American musicians co-write songs together. Writing sessions are done by music producers or track makers and top-liners (lyricists) together at the same time in the US, but I’d never experienced it that way in Japan. (Although some people have done it that way.) Especially in the anime music industry, even when you co-write with others, you usually do your part separately, send data to each other and make them complete.

And I liked to complete my part (the song and lyrics) on my own and ask the arranger to finish it, so writing songs together with someone felt very stressful and made me nervous for a while.

Also, I usually don’t use any instruments to write songs, but just get songs in my head and complete them in my head, so these ways of working are completely opposite.

But now, I enjoy co-writing sessions with a good friend of mine, Paytra, a New York-based R&B singer-songwriter I've been working with for the past year!

You mentioned that TeddyLoid remixed the song Jungle for you after you met him at an anime convention in Pittsburgh. What was it like working with him, and what do you feel he brought to the track?

SHIHORI: We’ve worked together indirectly before, on Momoiro Clover Z’s remix album, which is how I got to know about him. And I was pleased to work with him since he’s good at a more Western style of EDM.

Jungle is originally a rock band-style track with jazz and theatrical-sounding sections, and it is also kind of very Japanese-style, so he was the perfect person to understand how it should be translated into an EDM version.

He has very clear visions, and I love how he designed the arrangement for the audience to feel enthusiasm.

The story behind Your Song is very moving, and you recently revealed a music video for it as well. Could you please explain a bit about this song for our readers?

SHIHORI: I originally wrote this song when I first collaborated with Kohei Tanaka, the composer for "ONE PIECE". We made a song, Mugen Hoteishiki (it is on Spotify as well), to help prevent children from committing suicide. He also advised me to write an answer song.

That was Your Song (or “Kimi no Uta”).

I myself experienced terrible bullying at elementary school and thought about committing suicide for revenge, but I concluded that wouldn’t be revenge after running many simulations in my head. I decided not to kill myself but to become a singer to spread messages of love instead. Isn’t that the coolest revenge, if my message could even save those people someday?

I remember the day I wrote a letter to my future self, asking “Are you happy now? Did you make your dream come true?”, and this song is a reply to that letter. Many people cried when they listened to this song in Japan and I wanted it to be accessible in the US as well, so I made an English version.

My latest music video describes this story very straightforwardly.

Your Song was also arranged by Takayuki Negishi, who has arranged famous songs for anime series such as We Are! and We Go! from “ONE PIECE”. How did that come about?

SHIHORI: Kohei Tanaka has worked with him for a very long time, so Kohei-sensei asked him to create an arrangement automatically, just like he did for Mugen Hoteishiki. You’ll hear his arrangement is really awesome!

We’ve heard that you have another music video for Under the Skin on the way. Could you please explain a bit about the message behind this song and how it has been translated into the video?

SHIHORI: During the lockdown last year, I wondered how I could participate in anti-racism movements like Black Lives Matter or the ones against Asian hate crimes, and then I wrote this song.

It’s been very hard for me to understand why some people discriminate against people who look different or who were born in different countries. We are just human beings, what defines you is not how you look but how your soul is.

And it seems to be very awkward that some people think they are superior because of their skin color, that instead makes them look very immature in their spirituality.

Also, those people are not only harassing the different people but are harassing their own souls (to me). It seems to me that they need to look down on others to feel they are good, because they feel so small without their statuses.

All of this aggression comes from the lack of love. So I suggest that we each share some more love.

The upcoming video for the song will be simply describing the image of walking towards a better world and embracing differences and your soul. It will be in an animated CG style that I tried for the first time.

It’s interesting to hear that Perfect Imperfection was created around when the lockdown was happening, as it’s been stated that many people became more self-conscious after constantly seeing their own faces reflected back at them during ZOOM meetings. Do you feel that the coronavirus pandemic caused you to reassess your self image in any way?

SHIHORI: It was totally random timing. I wrote this song right before the pandemic happened. That was around when I totally lost my confidence in everything, and then I started to heal and find myself again, so I stuck with releasing tracks about self-compassion that year.

But it perfectly hit during the time of the pandemic. It helped me, taking enough time to dig down and cultivate my new self while the whole the world had stopped. I took some online lessons on Alexander Technique and ballet, and I could eventually complete shifting my life direction, which I had been struggling to do for several years.

It went from “never stop until you die, never run away, keep fighting” and “be perfect” to “enjoy every aspect of life, take it easy, rest well sometimes” and “just be yourself".

I’d appreciate it if this song has soothed listeners' hearts!

It was noted that Invisible and Would you marry me? are two parts of a story. Could you please explain a bit about the inspiration behind these two songs and how they are connected?

SHIHORI: Basically, these two songs are about my own break-up experience. In Invisible, I described the end of a tough relationship that ironically became toxic for the two people in it. The sadness didn’t grow because of hate for the partner. Peoples' good parts become invisible to each other, and they argue for their own paralyzed images that they created. Then you wish to be invisible to the other person to never hurt him or her.

I believe the MV describes the story very well.

Invisible doesn’t show the final decision but in Would you marry me? I sing about after breaking up, thinking of fun adventures that will never come true and wishes for the ex-partner’s true happiness and a marriage in the next life.

You’ve been experimenting a lot with your recent releases – for example, you rapped for FIRE and tried your hand at contemporary dance in the video for Invisible – is there something else you’re looking to try out next?

SHIHORI: I am not sure exactly how I will put new experiments out yet, but I am trying to explore acting more, which has been another dream of mine since I was seven. And I’d also love to keep going with visual experiments.

What can fans look forward to from SHIHORI in 2022?

SHIHORI: Some exciting collaborations with amazing creatives await now! And I’d like to dedicate more time to communities for autism and disabilities, which are connected to my own life experiences.

I am looking forward to seeing many more new people and to the continuation of my MUTATION!

Thank you so much for a fun and loving interview!

JaME would like to thank SHIHORI for this interview opportunity.

MUTATION is available for download and streaming worldwide, and fans can also purchase signed physical copies of the album here.

The music video for Under the Skin will premiere on January 14th at 12:00am (EST). Fans can set a reminder for the premiere below.

 Download or stream "MUTATION"  Buy an autographed physical copy of "MUTATION"

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