Inside the Mind of a Contemporary Japanese Musician – An Interview with Alisa Takigawa

Alisa Takigawa may be 25 years old, but her youth has not stopped her from finding many ways to sharpen her craft to become one of Japan’s emerging music talents.

Standing out from your average artiste in the modern music industry, Takigawa is a singer, lyricist, composer, arranger and guitarist all at once, and her work is increasingly well-regarded – she won the prestigious 30th Japan Golden Disc Award in 2015, and she proceeded to embark on a live tour that saw sold-out tickets for the Ebisu LIQUIDROOM stop, a 1000-seater live house venue. Takigawa has just released her first album last month, and in the next two months she will be touring Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo for her next live tour coinciding with her album “at film“. Not only that: next year will also see her perform at both the Hong Kong and Singapore stops of the much-anticipated Anisong Fantasy Live event, which features other big names in the Japanese music industry such as Kalafina and Aimer.

Takigawa is no stranger to international recognition either: she has been invited to perform at the I Love Anisong event at the Anime Festival Asia 2016 in both Jakarta and Singapore, where our reporters at J-Network had the opportunity to find out more about the motivations behind her work and to get a glimpse of how one of Japan’s contemporary musicians thinks. Takigawa maintains a blog and a fan club to reach out to her audiences both in Japan and around the world.

 

Q: In the past you were in a light music (keion) club, and you created a band where you play the guitar as well, so is there any song in your club that you created that has actually deeply influenced your music?
A: Yes, there is definitely a strong influence because I started the band when I was 13. Even when I’m doing solo performances now I’ll make sure that there is a band together with me so that I can perform my music. So in that sense, yes, my time in my band has influenced my music very strongly.

Q: As a songwriter, composer and singer, which aspect of music production do you find to be the most fun? Which do you find to be the most challenging?
A: Everything is very fun, and it’s very hard for me to choose just one, but maybe in terms of writing lyrics, I have that freedom to express myself, and I really want to share more about the beauty of Japan, even the seasons, the sceneries, the landscape that you can see in Japan, so that’s one thing I want to express to all my overseas fans too.

Q: Is there any difference for you when singing a ballad song or anisong?
A: Whenever I sing anisong, it’s tied closely to the anime, so it makes sense for me to incorporate how the main character is feeling, the storyline and all that so I try to express how the character was probably feeling in the anime series. As for ballad music, in a sense it’s my music, so I literally gets to express my emotions through those songs, so that’s probably the difference.

Q: You have performed for two editions of Anime Festival Asia, so how do you feel about performing this year?
A: Last time was my first overseas experience, so I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t know how everybody will react to my music but then I realized everybody is so responsive, everybody is so welcoming; I felt very happy and welcome. So this time, after my previous experience, I am very excited and I’m looking forward to tonight to be together with my fans again.

Q: How did you feel when you decided to have your first one-man live at the TSUTAYA O-nest in November last year?
A: I was previously in a band, so for me to be in a one-man live, it was something new, like a first for me, and also it was a little bit later in my life that I finally got to do a one-man live in comparison to other people, so I was a little bit nervous and scared because I was like “all this audience is just for me, and I wonder if everything will be okay or not“, but then I realized that everybody was just like “I love you! I love you!” and the emotions that I felt from everybody was so good that even though I was a little bit scared, to know that “everybody loves me, I love everybody back!” was a very lovely experience for me.

Q: How do you derive the inspiration and ideas for your songs, especially since you are involved in composition, arrangement and lyric-writing?
A: Just now I mentioned that when I’m writing my lyrics, I want to show the scenery of everything, so it’s almost as though when you listen to my music, you can see, it’s like a movie, it’s almost like one photographing the scenery, so you can imagine yourself riding a bicycle, or maybe walking through streets and I’ll catch a photo at that moment, and that’s something that you can see in my lyrics.

 

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Q: Congratulations on the release of your first album! What emotions and messages did you want to convey when you were producing the album?
A: If you see “at film“, you can see that it’s also like saying the location, like “at film“, but that’s also my initials too! I was taking into consideration the seasons so you can tell that the setlist, the way the titles are organized, you can experience the four seasons happening while you’re listening, so you can see like the start of the summer or you can feel the snow starting to fall. Because it’s an album, you can see all kinds of different music, because sometimes when it’s a single, there’ll be like a big orchestra band or something like that, but in an album, there’s more flexibility for me, so you can sense that in some songs, it’s more in a cozy atmosphere, like in a room or that kind of situation. So the freedom that I had to express myself and to share with my audience or fans the different seasons is something that I am very happy about with this album.

Q: As one of the few artistes who is also involved with arranging your own songs, what are the challenges you face while arranging your songs?
A: In terms of me doing arranging, it’s actually like something that I didn’t find as difficult because I was in a band previously, so it’s the process of creating songs in a band, so it’s like a process that happens in my head. But something that I put a lot of effort into is the intro, so the part that I don’t sing, because that’s the part when like, for instance, one of my songs “Sayonara no Yukue“, that one is set in a school and I’m hoping that in the intro where the music is just like playing, I’m hoping that in that short intro you can feel as though like, you can kind of imagine or see the winner coming and all that. So that’s why I put a lot of effort into that too so that everybody, regardless of language, background or anything, they can experience that together with me.

Q: Congratulations for winning the 30th Japan Gold Disc Award! From all these activities you have done in 2015, having won such a prestigious award, what would your goal be for the next few years?

A: I never imagined that I’d win such a prestigious award, so when I was first told the news, I felt like I was going to fall off my chair! I was in such surprise, I was like “oh my gosh!“. So after winning such a prestigious award, I felt like a bigger kind of responsibility that I have now, in a good way because it makes me want to push more, and it’s kind of cool because my parents, when they named me “Alisa”, it’s a name that can be used overseas too, everybody will be able to pronounce it easily. So I’m hoping that with all this, I’ll be able to go overseas more and to go to more of my overseas fans so that they can hear and meet me too.

Q: Having sung quite a few genres already, what would you describe your style of music as?
A: Now that I have a solo career, I’m hoping that I’m not tied down to just one genre, or just one style, and maybe I could do something like EDM (electronic dance music), or something like power rock, because I have that flexibility now, and hopefully all these different genres can create almost like an “Alisa style” or “Alisa genre”, so it’s going to be my own very unique kind of style.

Q: You have just completed your first tour in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, so what was the best memory from the tour?
A: I was born and raised in Tokyo, so I didn’t really know outside of Tokyo as much, so I was a little bit worried, like will everybody be receptive of my music or not, then I got to go with an entire band, so just before the performance started you can hear the band starting to cheer on the audience, I could hear the responses like “yeaaaah!” and all that, I’m just like “oh my gosh, I’m very happy, everybody is so excited”, and throughout all the songs everybody was very reactive in a sense. Then it was quite interesting because depending on the different region I went to, everybody kind of reacted differently! For instance, like in Nagoya, everybody was just like “waaaah!” and like super vocal about their support, then in Fukuoka everybody was just like, a little bit more quiet, but you could feel like they were just like “yeah! you can do it!” and cheering me on a little bit more silently. So that’s quite interesting because everybody reacts differently. Going to the different regions of Japan, I got to eat a lot of very nice food from the different regions.

Q: As a singer and songwriter, who are the main influences that have inspired your music?
A: In terms of artistes, I am very inspired by the 80s, the Japanese 80s music, because like you know, even though I wasn’t born yet then, but I would listen to the music and be like “wow, that’s a really good time“, and I’d immerse myself in that world. I’m hoping to put in that essence of the 80s music in the current generation, so that when people listen to it, regardless of them being Japanese or not, they can feel a little bit nostalgic, so like there’s a nostalgic feel in the music. Also, in terms of my songs, you can kind of feel like there’s a story behind it, and I enjoy talking to people and putting myself in other people’s shoes because, like in “Natsu no Hana“, I actually wrote it from a guy’s point of view, so that’s quite interesting because I’ll try to incorporate all these kinds of things into my songs, so that’s a part of my inspiration.

Q: Can you tell us more about why you chose the name “Youchronia” for your fan club?
A: I don’t like the fact that time passes by so quickly, so I want it to be something like, in my fan club, it’s like it’s timeless or almost as though the time stops, so that’s why for uchronia*, there’s a way to spell it like just “u”, but instead of just saying that, I added on “y-o-u”, which is like “you”, so I’m saying that you will be timeless in this fan club, and that’s why I wanted to create something like that.

* Editor’s note: uchronia refers to a hypothetical, idealized or fictional conception of a particular time period in our world, like an alternate history within our existing world. The word is derived from “utopia” (literally “non-place”, a place that does not actually exist but is described so vividly almost as if it were a real place), but with the “topos” (place) replaced with “chronos” (time) to form “uchronia” (literally “non-time”). So think of it as the “time” equivalent of what “utopia” would be for place.

 

Q: Since you usually play guitar during your live performances, do you intend to start experimenting and playing other instruments such as keyboard or percussion instruments?
A: I do want to challenge other kinds of instruments, for instance like piano, but recently I met somebody who uses a Chinese traditional instrument. When I heard it even though it’s a Chinese instrument, I felt a little bit nostalgic for some reason, so that kind of stirred up like an emotion inside me, and I would like to use it. My friend has been playing it since six years old so it might be a little bit hard but hopefully I can incorporate the Chinese instruments into my music, and I can also share my music to the overseas fans too.

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Q: Is there anything you want to achieve coming into 2017?
A: I don’t know if it’ll happen or not, but I’m hoping that I could do a one-man live in Singapore and overseas, like overseas one-man lives, hopefully that will happen. I’m already going to Hong Kong and Singapore next year, and I want to go to Taiwan too because I love the Taiwanese music, and hopefully I can collaborate together with a band in Taiwan, and maybe eat a bit of sho lon po while I’m there.

Q: How do you decide what instruments to use in your arrangements and what are the effects that you want to create in using them?
A: In terms of choosing music and instruments, I actually like a lot of the vintage kind of instruments, so today I’m using acoustic guitar, but back in Japan, I’ll be using a guitar called Firebird*, it’s very big, very bulky and a lot of people will be like “that’s not something that a girl should be using“. I especially love how vintage it is and besides that, I’ll buy other kinds of such instruments, I feel like it’s nostalgic so I really like this “oldies is goodies” kind of thing, so I use a lot of these instruments whenever I can. It definitely influences the way I choose my instruments when writing a song.

*Editor’s note: The Gibson Firebird is an electric guitar first produced in 1963.

Q: “Again” is your first ballad, so how do you feel when trying to pull off a ballad?
A: In Japan recently, you can notice that a lot of people don’t really release ballads as a single, maybe in an album, so that’s why when I realized that I’ve been doing a lot of up-tempo kind of music, then I realized, this is the time I’m going to do a ballad, that’s why I released this song. The title “Again” is saying that life is just like numerous times of doing something again. Sometimes you feel down, sometimes you feel like life is not going the way you want it to be, it’s just like “I need to try one more time”, so that’s why I’m hoping that anybody who’s pursuing a dream or anything, or life’s got them down, hopefully they can listen to my song and feel more uplifted.

Q: What made you choose to start your own career through a less taken, independent path? Do you have any tips for aspiring singer-songwriters like yourself?
A: At first, when I was younger, I actually felt a little bit of a complex with my voice, like it’s a little bit lower, I wasn’t really happy with my voice, and then I was doing rock and all that, and I was like, maybe it’s not for me. What I suggest to people who are aspiring to be singer-songwriters is to find out what you’re good at and to make that grow, because sometimes you have dreams, you have inspirations, and you want to go to that specific goal, but sometimes maybe that’s not for you, maybe you’re meant to do something else that you’re stronger in, so hopefully people who are aspiring can find that in a faster stage so they can grow it earlier.

Q: What makes you so passionate about singing?
A: I was an only child, so for me I thought that music is something that’s personal, or you only share it with yourself, so I spent a lot of my younger ages listening to music just by myself, then one day I went to the summer festival and I realized when an entire audience started to cheer for the music, I was like, this is something I should share with people. So that’s why I want to connect with all my fans and all the singers, all the people who listen to my music. And when I was at that concert, I was like, I want to stand there, I want to be where that person is. And that’s the origin of where my passion comes from.

 

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Few people today understand fully the power of music to bring people together and inspire the best one can be the way Alisa Takigawa does. Her all-rounded grasp of the various elements of music is accompanied by a strong sense of purpose and awareness behind the work she creates, and at every step of the production process Takigawa demonstrates a deep connection with her craft itself. Whether you are familiar with Japanese music or are a newcomer, our reporters would definitely recommend you to not give this extraordinary musician a miss. Alisa Takigawa is all set for an exciting music career ahead of her, and we at J-Network look forward to watching her perform at the Anisong Fantasy Live next year!

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