88888888 / Yurai Interview(english)
Interviewer and writing by Mitsuru OGAWA
■ So you could say the big influence for your career as a musician is your mother teaching piano and singing?
Yurai: Yes, I guess, singing and piano was closed to me since I was little.
■ Do you have any sisters and brothers?
Yurai: Yes, older and younger. Older sister likes music as well, not professional but use to play Jazz piano.
■ When did you start singing?
Yurai: Since I was little, I copied songs every time I encountered one I really love. I loved Toshinobu KUBOTA when I was 5th grade of elementary school, covered his whole albums. At that time cassette tape player was used, I repeated rewind and fast forward I remembered everything(lol). I liked Anri etc., I started to listen to overseas music since around 6th grade or beginning of junior high school, started with Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Madonna such major artists. My sister started band then and got married, her husband liked Jazz and oversea music and I was influenced and listened to wider kinds. I also listened to the radio program called "American top 40". Like that, it started with major kinds but I started to dance and went to clubs when high school, I was into club music more and more.
■ Your mother was classic piano teacher, did you learn classic music?
Yurai: Unfortunately, I watched my sister crying taking mother's lessons I thought "I don't want to cry". I only covered and played piano when I found song I like and that was it.
■ And then, dancing and singing, after high school you went to New York. Was it to take a dance lesson at fist?
Yurai: I was so into dance then, after I learned Jazz dance and ballet, started street dance. That age so many dancers admired members of Elite Force, Dance Fusion, I started to think I wanted take lessons directly. I went to New York for 4 years.
■ You copied Toshinobu Kubota, got a prize singing Erykah Badu's song, Your music shifted from R & B to House. How it happened?
Yurai: In early 90's clubs I went played R & B a lot so was into it such as Mary J Blige. Then I went to New York, I visited a lot of house events such as shelter. I saw Masters At Work, Joe Claussell etc., I loved dancing but listening to them made me into more for sound. That time there was show time in late nigh, I could see Nu Yorican soul with Jocelyne Brown and Tito Puente, India, Gorge Benson. I became more and more crazy about music. I really think it was precious time.
■ You like African, Caribbean, Latin taste such as Joe Claussell and Jerome Sydenham.
Yurai: Yes, I prefer all electronic than organic with percussion made my blood excited.
■ You started to do live shows that time?
Yurai: Yes, they weren't big stage at all but I got chances to perform at sessions at clubs and like sing for friends' band.
■ And it shifted from dancing to singing as the course of nature.
Yurai: Dancers had their own free styles and had own style. I did not want that far, in addition one day I saw Wunmi was performing and dancing at club, I thought "If she dances I do not have to". Her dance was mind blowing, she was dancing so aggressively broke one of the handrails.
■ Had it change your world since decided to be a singer?
Yurai: Yes, I participated contest called "GO EAST" and got 3rd prize, I was introduced to Amuse Production and signed up for contract. Producer was Keiko OHASHI and she named me "Yurai". My real name is "Yuri", it's close to my real name also the meaning in Japanese is good it means "Roots". Sound itself is good too.
■ Then, you released 12 inch "Love Light".
Yurai: Keiko arranged Jephte too. His music was hot then releasing the song "Lakou-A" from the label "Spiritual Life" of Joe Claussell, He established his own label "Tet Kale", as a first shot he decided to feature Japanese singer and I met him then. It was first recording for me.
■ After that you came back to Japan you ware featured to the song "Tender Vision" by Jazztronik, was it the first time you met Ryota?
Yurai: Yes, music director Suguru MORIE introduced me. I then listened to his album "Numero Uno", I literally fell over backward because the keyboard sound was mind blowing from the beginning (lol).
Ryota: When I first met her I was surprised that “There’s someone who sings really good ”. In those days she had many kinds of works with her management company, couldn’t spent all the time for Jazztronik. I thought she should do music more like our taste.
Yurai: At that time one of the work was for Pops music group, but the music did not perfectly much to what I really wanted to sing for, I was kind of suffering. As working with Ryota made me Re-realize my feeling that I was needing to work for music which I truly love. And I worked with Jazztronik for about 7 years. I have a lot of memories such as Jazztronik taking me to Europe Tour.
■ Other than that, you joined the unit De La Funke, the band Loop Session as well, your Club Jazz activity increased
Yurai: Those days I sang at clubs like Yellow, Loop, Plug etc., One day one of the bassist called me and told me to join the session which DJ Mochizuki at Loop was doing when club was closed, it was so much fun and I visited every week, the band is called Loop Session. We released album.
■ Bluey from Incognito and Mark de Clive-Lowe were featured for the album “Bad Soup Hidden” , such amazing gathering of great musician.
Yurai: Yes, DJ Mochizuki’s connection made it. Bluey was really gentle and kind person he made song at one and told us “How is it?”. Mark’s song had so complicated rhythm it was very hard to play but so interesting and I still try this song sometimes.
■ As well as Bluey and Mark, in the middle of year 2,000 you also started relation with Jazz musicians like Sax player Hisaaki KANZAKI and Keyboard player Akihiro HORIKOSHI from XS. Was your conscious towards Jazz minded vocal style then?
Yurai: Not especially towards Jazz vocal. I wasn’t aiming to become a Jazz singer but there are Jazz songs I really love and give joy for me to sing, I interacted with Jazz as well. I don’t listen to music by category, it’s just that there are Jazz songs I love among my favorite songs and trucks. I listened to the masterpieces as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I love Roy Ayers. I love Andy Bay, Terry Callier for recent Gretchen Parlato. I listened to the song of Cassandra Wilson singing for Joe Claussell’s truck a lot too. But what I felt by working with Jazz musicians is that Jazz is very complicated and high level, also very deep.
The new album “88888888 ” is the first solo album for you, what was the trigger?
Yurai: In last Fall, Ryota suggested me to do it.
Ryota: I imagined it could be very interesting to make the solo album to complete alone completely. I started my own label <Mosilougue>, I thought her voice matches with my label color very well. Moreover, I knew her for long time and saw her chorus work which I couldn’t come up with, but then if it’s with Jazztronik she needs to sing along to me or other instruments. If alone she doesn’t have to keep up with anything, I thought she could release her very original chorus even more freely so I recommended.
■ Was the idea of acapella over dubbing from the beginning?
Ryota: At first I thought it could be good to collaborate with Cello player I know but then I though it wasn’t even necessary. I thought it’s the best nothing but only her acapella.
Yurai: I did not know and wasn’t understanding it was going to be acapella so I made demo on assumption that other instruments will join(lol).
■ What is the album title meaning?
Yurai: I love Yoga and it makes me feel at ease and calm, positive and gives me powers of concentration. I wanted to put that energy to my album and that leads to my album title. 8 is a really fortunate number too. I imagined if I line up 8 for 8 times can would generates infinite power.
■Did you decide your album concept and image before make it?
Yurai: Not particularly. I just proceeded as it flowed.
Ryota: I was surprised one day suddenly she sent me many song demos.
■ How was the composing process?
Yurai: I have Logic in my iMac at home, and I conposed almost all songs with it. I cannot play instruments well, but I recorded my bad keyboard. I recorded idea to my iPhone. I also made loop using part of my favorite songs and sang on them. As such I kept collecting and recording to my Logic, songs were shaped gradually and ware born.
■ Album comment mentioned as “Yurai’s harmony cannot be written on music sheet”. You actually create songs without music sheets?
Yurai: Yes, I do not have skill to write music… But it was no problem since I finished album alone. I referred Tony Allen, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jazzanova, Dwele, Daisuke ITO, Japanese instrument “So” played by “Kosetsu” from the unit “Koyasan” also released album from <Musilogue>, “Hold it down” by 4 hero -Bugz in the attic remix etc., after I understood that it was going to be all acapella overdubbing album, I also referred singer Ola Szmidt from UK which Ryota advised me to listen.
Ryota: I found Ola Szmidt in bandcamp she’s not famous at all, but she created album which is all acapella overdubbing and I thought it’s good for her to listen.
Yurai: In addition, there is Japanese instrumentals unit called “Hizuru” also released album from <Musilouge>, I joined as a back ground vocal, there are some songs not in the album, I recycled and rearranged vocal and used for my album. Which are songs “Here comes the time” and “streamline”.
■ As by looking at titles of songs “Yatagarasu - Pilgrimage of Kumano Kodo”, “Minelva”, “Moonstone” it’s spiritual and mystical view of the world as a whole. The song “Yatagarasu”, were you inspired by actually visiting Kumano Kodo?
Yurai: Yes, I visited last year. I walked through the forest which is more than 2,000 years old, visited shrine of revival god. I was healed by the mysterious power and song came up naturally.
You do Yoga as well, do you think the essence of organic and natural reflected in the album?
Yurai: I think so. I wanted my album to be that way. I also collected many books. Among them there is SF novel called “Inherit the Stars” written by James P. Hogan from UK, I took the name of the star in the story for my song “Minelva”. “Moonstone” is my birth stone, I checked on internet and I found that this stone has many mystical power, was inspired by that as well.
■ Album is mixture of songs which have lyrics and which don’t, and many songs are abstract, what are the main massages in lyrics?
Yurai: Such as forward looking thoughts, positive, progression in a good direction, hope for peace etc., Sometimes lyrics comes first, sometimes melody comes first, it differs every time, for example “Here comes the time” lyric was based on the inspiration from the memory of Buddhist room of my grandparents’ house. My grandfather was very prayerful man, when I stayed their house in my childhood, the sound of rustling bamboo leaf tapping window at night sounded spiritual and gave me a feeling of awe, such mystical scene stretched and became a song.
■ Sounds like Ghibli movies(lol). Is your religious mind reflected to the album too?
Yurai: I do not have any specific religion, but I believe in God and spirituality that might reflected in the album.
■ Song without lyrics seem to have difficulty because of the way it is. For example what kind of feeling did you try to express in the song “Do”?
Yurai: I have another work and one day my boss told me off for the reason which was very unfair,,, and wrote this indignant song(lol).
Ryota: I thought it was anger for how human relating with nature or something, but it was anger for her boss(lol). At first she insisted to use thunder sound as to express anger but I told her she’d better not.
■ I cannot imagine anger from listening since the sound and image of this song is so mild.
Yurai: As to convert energy of anger into a song, it is a very positive song. I sometimes sing “Calling you” by Holy Call when I enjoy Karaoke, image of shouting part of the hook comes from that song. I was surprised that this song sounds mild, thanks to engineer Ikeda san he made it all beautifully together. He supported me a lot, he always cheered me up when I lost courage.
■ “AK2” must be made by conscious of Jazz scat. Did you have a conscious of Jazz vocal for this album?
Yurai: Not specifically. In the beginning of acapella conscious creation, the joy came out without thinking and became this song. It was supposed to be stand for “Acapella” but I misspelled(lol) and it should be “AC” but I thought “oh well” and left it as it is.
■ There are poetry reading in the song “Affirmation” and beatbox kind of voice in “streamline”, you tried many styles. Do you say you tried many styles for the album “88888888”?
Yurai: I referred Ursula Rucker spoken word for the song “Affirmation”, recording itself was all challenge for me. I recorded bass line then Ikeda san looped it, then I overdubbed other voices, then other chorus, and repeated such steady works.
Ryota: I visited her recording, the works really required patience. Like prepare different voices for 8 tracks or something. So there must be a clear vision of the completed song or I don’t think you can do this.
■ It seems more difficult without any backing by instruments or pitch and you have to control it.
Yurai: Yes, it was difficult, but because it was acapella I was even free and never imagined that I could do such thing. I was not thinking of beatboxing for the song “streamline”, I thought like the role for rhythm section and other roles and integrating and songs were shaped. In other song I imagined horns, wood bass, I used my voice like instruments.
Ryota: Vocal harmony has distinct tone quality that is not in accordance with the just intention like piano, which only acapella can provide.
■ <Musilogue> has a lot of Ambient conscious albums, “88888888” quite shows its label color. Was there anything conscious to be ambient when you created album?
And what is Ambient for you?
Yurai: I did not know <Musiloug> is an Ambient label. I was never conscious of Ambient when I created album, it just ended up like this.
Ryota: She probably were not conscious, but I had certainty of the feeling it would be spiritual and natural Ambient taste if she created album by herself. I never mentioned that to her though.
■ Like <Musilouge>’s wave sound SE, it has a nature feeling taste as a whole. Were you conscious of natural and organic taste?
Yurai: I live in Kita Shinjuku which is dry scenery far from nature, I collected many nature sound album and was listening for my imagination. For example “10 collection of power spots in Hawaii”. Sound of waves, rain, thunder, rustling leave sound and singing of insects recorded in Kumano Kodo, those sound make me calm and heal me, I mixed those sound in SE at recording as well. Yoga studio plays tweet of birds as a BGM, I feel so good, it relaxes me I wanted this album provides the same effect too.
■ In this album there are melodies and harmony reminiscent of Japanese traditional folksongs and children's songs, were you actually inspired by songs and landscape in the original state in your hometown Yamagata or Tohoku region?
Yurai: “streamline” is one of it. Chorus for this song sings like “en ya e” and it comes from “Mogamigawa Funauta”. “Here comes your time” comes from my grandparents’ house, some are come from my childhood memories. About “Wa -Japanese culture -”, when I sang for “Hizuru” I had that image so especially “Here comes the time” and “streamline” have the taste.
■ On the other hand, album has essence of African rhythm, Cuban hymn Santeria, Bulgarian voice, Shimauta of Okinawa. Feels world music in a broad sense, mixture of ethnic and has kind of multinational taste. How do you feel about world music?
Yurai: I do not know about Bulgarian voice, I like Shimauta I sometimes sing when I go to Karaoke, I was not thinking to take it into my album.
Ryota: But I think it’s great that the album has parallels with Bulgarian voice when it was completed.
Yurai: About taste of African, of course I can think of influence by Joe Claussell or Jephte such but I was into African dance as well, I think that is one of the influence. There was a studio called African Dance Center in NYC, there were dance styles from all kinds of tribes and countries. Always with live drums I took lessons there, I thought it would be good if I could put that essence as well. In NYC, other than African music there were Latin kind like salsa, Capoeira like Brazilian, also in club music DJs like Giles Peterson were playing a lot of tribal music, those things gave me nutrients.
■ Lastly, please tell us what massages and what you want people to listen in your album.
Yurai: This was unexpected challenge for me to try acapella album. I put a lot of good energy to it. Maybe it would fit to listen to it before you sleep? I would be happy if you could receive nutrition of it.