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JPop World Interview w/ SAWA


First off, tell us about the release of the group's new album. 

Sawa: We have just released our 1st album "333" with 15 songs including the amazing arrangements of HIZMI, man! He is a genius!!! lol 

This album is not just rock sounds or even pop, folk or industrial sounds. SAWA's been sliced from many different ways and I'm sure you're gonna taste its different flavor in many ways, as you like. ;) 

I used the title "333" for this album because I believe "three" is a magical number. If you divide something in two, things will be either good or bad, winner or looser, black or white, angel or devil, but hey!--is that the reality that we really live in? Sometimes you are depressed under the dark heavy clouds, but maybe in the next moment, those clouds might shift a bit and you might feel the warm sunshine between those clouds! 

Just like weather changes, we usually don't live in 100% hopeless or depression. Our life is always changing, between the gray zone, and I think accepting this vague situation with our 3rd point of view might give us some hint to enjoy our bumpy life. :) 

I hope you could try and taste our latest sounds, a mixture of sweet, sour, spicy, salty, mild and tenderness!!! 

How would you describe the band's musical style? 

I'd say... Experimental. We want to explore the world and reach out to the world through music. And I guess it's hard to put our songs into one category, either rock, pop, power-pop, grunge, folk... etc. If the word "alternative" describes a creative and alternative sound, that may be the one. But we don't want to characterize or categorize our sound and existence. 

Just like people's favorites and likeness changes as they grow but individual identity won't change that much, our sound will be different as we grow. At the same time we want to keep ourselves true toward our sound. This is one of the most important stances for us. I hope my explanation is good enough to understand the reason why I picked the word "experimental". 

How long has the group been together? 

As for the band SAWA, we have only been together for 2 months. The band SAWA was formed at the beginning of October '08, although, the unit SAWA started at the end of December when Takeharu and I (Sawa) started making songs together. 

The solo SAWA was born in 1983, February--that's my birthday! lol 

You worked on the soundtrack to the Nintendo DS game "The World Ends with You." How did that come about? 

Actually, I met Takeharu through this chance to participate in the project, "The World Ends with You." Thanks to him and the project members from the company Square Enix, I was able to write 17 lyrics and also got the chance to sing 3 songs for its soundtrack. 

I want to make this clear, because maybe some people are still confused, thinking Sawa had written (composed) songs for that video game. The truth is, I just sang and wrote lyrics for it. It was Takeharu who was in charge of the songwriting and arrangements of those songs. Although, for the SAWA's songs, there are some songs that I am writing from scratch. 

Had you written songs for other video games before? 

No. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to write songs, lyrics, nor sing for the other video games, YET! Lol 

Tell us about your writing process. How do you go about composing music or lyrics? 

My mind is full of images of melodies, stories, colors and ideas. But many of them just fade away as time passes by, because our life is full of excitements and happenings, both happy and sad, and from many different directions reality stimulates my imagination. However, some melodies or phrases stick in my mind, and when those crumbs start to get together in one song, I feel like sampling them as a real sound. 

Sometimes those crumbs get together by themselves, and all I have to do is just collect them in a piece of song. Sometimes I need to glue them together with more images, and ideas that occur in my heart. Recent news, chatting with friends, noisy sounds of the crowded streets, birds humming, heavy clouds in the sky, thin layer of sunbeam, my wish, sympathy, love, etcc anything can be an inspiration or stimulation and it is all around our daily life! 

Are there things you do specifically to create, or do you have to just wait for the inspiration to come? 

There's nothing specific I do to create a new song. If I am supposed to say something, I'll make time not to listen to music or instrumental sound because I love to listen to music, play instruments and sing--too much!! Just give some moment to have my ear be rested, and let myself hear the sound of my daily life... silence, traffic sound, kids playing in the park or anything. Because I know, it's not only my imagination that makes me feel fun, the real life that I share with people enrich my life and expand our thoughts, and that brings us more chances to share the dynamism of our life. 

Once you get an idea for a song, does the music come easily, or do you sometimes spend days or weeks working on a specific tune? 

It depends. Sometimes it takes time until I feel like I can let the song be heard by someone, and most of the time I never feel like exposing my music to anyone. (lol I'm just kidding . ;) ) 

Tell us about the meaning of the song One Thing. 

After meeting many people with many different backgrounds, I realized that lots of people are suffering from their responsibilities, such as in a company, school, family or even in their friendships. At the same time, they are looking for someplace where they can expose their true self. Well maybe I should say... I used to feel that myself, lacking the space to breath where I could let my true self be opened toward the outer world. Suddenly I realized that it took a little courage to shift your sights and to believe in the human heart. This song is telling me to say, so... 


Don't you feel ashamed for yourself
You're just you, no matter what you are
I've got you, and I'll be waiting for you
There's no gain but no pain as well

Take one step out from the crowd
Two steps aside to see the shape of life
Three steps front and then you will feel fine
A little bit fine

© Lyrics by SAWA

Even though you grew up in Japan, when you were very young you were exposed to a lot of Italian and French singing. Can you explain how that happened? 

It's my father's influence. He loves Italian and French songs, and because my school was located very far from my house (about 1 hour drive to the school bus stop, every morning and afternoon) I had a good environment to listen to my father's favorite songs during the 2 hour drive, until the age of 8. And somehow I liked those Italian or French songs rather than children's songs. 

What type of other music did you enjoy when you were still in school? 

It's a lot! Do you really want to ask that question? Lololol 

When I switched to a Japanese local elementary school, I missed the environment of English school life. At the same time, I had a chance to listen to the song Yesterday by The Beatles in my music class and I fell in love with their melody. Since that day, I was crazy about them!!! Until my years in junior high, I listened almost only to The Beatles. I also liked to listen to Orchestra sounds because I was playing euphonium and trumpet in my club activities after school. 

In junior high, I start reaching out for more pop-rock-punk sounds. Just like many kids do, Aerosmith, Green Day, the Blue Hearts (maybe they were the only Japanese band that caught my attention back then), and some Electronic dance sounds too. 

When I was a high school student, one of my classmates introduced me to Grunge-Core-Mixture type of rock artists, such as NIRVANA, HOLE, Rage Against the Machine, Radio Head, etc. I also started listening to old vocal jazz and acid jazz, at that time. During my university years, I got a job at a rock bar, and I was able to listen to more different types of music, starting with blues, 60's-70's oldies, heavy metal, hip-hop, country songs, etc. by both Japanese and English singers. 

Did you always think music would be a major part of your life? 

Actually, no. I didn't recognize how much music was important in my life until I was 24 because it was very natural for me to have music in my daily life until then. When I was living together with my parents, I could sing anytime I wanted anywhere in my house, My hobby was to play instruments or listen to music since I was a child so it was very natural to have music right next to me. 

How did this change when you graduated from school? 

I worked at a company that provides service to support people who want to study abroad, or want to participate in a Working Holiday program. It was less than a year before I noticed my heart wanting to get my time back and give myself a chance to try out my music career. 

I was forced to have very busy days, wake up 6 in the morning and go back home by the last train, working on projects and research on my weekends. I hardly had time to rest myself, and needless to say, not a moment for music. Plus, it is very difficult to have a big house that you can sing freely in, especially when you are living alone in Tokyo--you can't really sing or play instruments in your own home. 

That was the first time I ever felt myself spiritless in my life... I couldn't sleep well, eat well, and felt like an empty body with the very least blood flow in my vessel to live. Can you imagine my weight was only 38kg? That was what happened when I was living apart from music. After this experience, I realized that I needed music as a major part of my life. 

Your parents run a very Japanese business. Can you tell us about it and what bigger meaning it has for you? 

I am learning a lot from my family business, Sento (public bath) and it is becoming a very important viewpoint in my life. 

First, my family has been running Sento for more than 130 years, which means it carried on till today with traditional customs, and keeps changing its form to fit the needs of each era. This taught me how important it is to keep your core identity, and at the same time, it is necessary to adapt yourself to the environment where you stand. 

Also, Sento is a very open place where people can relax, exchange the latest news, share their ideas, moments... etc. I heard there are some Onsen (hot springs) or Sento that still prohibit foreigners or persons with Tattoos, but my father broke that rule in the early days when he started taking care of this family business because he knew the true meaning of the existence of Sento. 

In that way, public bath space had become open to more people. If there was anyone acting disrespectfully inside the Sento, no matter if that person is older, younger, drunk, doesn't understand Japanese... my father will warn that person in Japanese (sometimes he even kicks out that person if he/she never corrects their manners). 

Simple and clear, keeping the moral is the only rule to enjoying Sento space. I know it is difficult to have a good understanding of this idea of morals because of the cultural differences, but this simple rule is what I want to share with my fans and friends all over the world. In our daily life, there are more chances to compete with each other and fight to get those good>better>best status. However, there are fewer chances to enjoy communication and share your own joy (without the power of religion, money or status) regardless of the mindset of making profit in your private life. And I think this is a part of our reality that we might want to change in our future. 

These two episodes are becoming one of my most important heritages I learned from the Sento environment. The least rule and kind caring heart will give us more chances to expand our joy and bring us a peaceful future, I believe. 

You sing many songs in English. How different is it for you to express emotions musically in English versus Japanese? 

I'm not sure about this... but somehow I feel more emotional when I sing in English, even though English isn't my mother language. Maybe this is because I re-learned Japanese reading and writing when I switched to a local Japanese school at the age of 7 from Nagoya International School. Teachers, students and even my parents were very strict, pointing out my Japanese grammatical errors. 

Also, the Japanese language itself has a variety of expressions to express your modesty, honor, respect, politeness... With each rule you must think about the occasion, your position and then pick the right expression to have smooth communication. I still have a tendency to take some space in my mind to make sure I'm using the right expression in the exact occasion unconsciously. 

What I think right now is that I learned English before my Japanese was perfect at the age of 4, and then I switched to a Japanese elementally school at the age of 7, so I was confused for a while... as to which output to use. And this experience led to my interest toward language and communication studies. 

What is the attitude of Japanese music fans hearing a Japanese artist performing in English? 

I think more people are more interested in English or some other language in music these days, even if it's sung by Japanese artists. Compared to 5 or 10 years before, many different genres are more openly accepted in Japanese communities... I guess. 

Have you performed outside of Japan? 

As SAWA, no I haven't yet. But if I include the one I sang at the High School Cultural Festival, Yes. That was the first time I sang on a stage (and it was not in Japan!). My friends and I performed a contemporary Japanese pop-song in Japanese at the high school's auditorium, and many students loved its melody and it was great to hear them singing the repeated phrases together by the time the song ended. Through this experience, I learned that music is able to crossover the cultural and language differences and bring us together at the same time. 

Do you have some favorite slogans that show how you see the world? 

"To thine own self be true!" (I just came up with this phrase now, I never thought about our slogans before...) I don't know where or how I met this phrase, but I think it is very important to see the world regardless of sex, culture, religion and age differences. Humanity should be respected and individuals must act with responsibility so as to enjoy and share our freedom. 

Other than music what type of activities do you enjoy doing? 

Right now, I am eager to help my father's business to last in Japanese culture. Especially after the resent oil shock, many Sento were forced to close down their business. However many Japanese don't know the real history of Sento--neither did I until I started my research with the help of my Dad. I want to collect information about Japanese and foreign Sento (public bath) and through comparison, I want to know why and how Sento survived in Japanese history until today. Because I think I can get some idea how Sento can continue to exist in future Japan by learning its history. 

Can you give us a little insight into Sawa's romantic life? What is your idea of a romantic date? 

Hmm... I used to imagine romantic dates when I was a teenager, but somehow I am apt to get a crush on guys who's careless about romantic dates. Lol 

What types of traits are most important to you when dating someone? 

I'd like to date a person who has courage to open his heart toward me, and who doesn't pretend like you're the cool, nicest, handsome guy. Lol I know it'll be more difficult to open up yourself toward first meeting people when you get older, but I don't care much even if he is really good at treating girls with fabulous cars, romantic restaurant, or his sweet lip service talkc etc. lol What I like is the true communication, heart to heart, soul to soul. And also, who has tenderness and love toward people. 

What are your plans for the future? 

My plan is to become an artist. But at the same time, I don't want to be fooled by the Music Industries by just running after carrots (or money) hanging down in front of me. I know, this is one of the most difficult parts, because I need to make my living with music and the professionals in the music industry are very good at making extra money from somebody else's creations. But I want to be honest to my friends and fans, and most importantly, I will not act as a character SAWA-like ventriloquism. I am SAWA and I will be SAWA no matter what. 

Let's meet the rest of the band. Takeharu Ishimoto, how did you come up with the name HIZMI? 

Takeharu: I came up with the word HIZMI because when you write this word in Japanese kanji character, this letter is built up with a combination of "RIGHT" and "WRONG," so I thought it's interesting to have one letter with a combination of two different meanings. Also, this kanji has a meaning of distorted sound. 

You also work for the game company SQUARE ENIX. What is that like? 

Takeharu: I am enjoying my day, composing different types of songs. 

You have another musical project called HIZMI & yugmi? 

Takeharu: I am just doing those projects for fun. 

How did you get hooked up with Sawa? 

Takeharu: I was interested in her songs, when I first heard her demo. 

What first got you into music? 

Takeharu: Because I was living in the countryside, there was nothing else to be interested in other than music. 

How would you describe the importance of music to your life? 

Takeharu: Drug. Lol 

(For more info on Takeharu checkout his MySpace page.) 

Maki, can you tell us how you first meet Sawa? 

Maki: We actually made our first contact on a website. When I listened to their songs for the first time I definitely wanted to join them. 

What other bands had you been in before? What type of music did they play? 

Maki: I have been playing with lots of bands, mostly rock'n roll, a few Latin, pops, blues, and jazz. 

How did you come to play the bass? 

Maki: When I was a high school kid, I thought to play in a band was the coolest thing in the world. 

What do your family and friends think of you playing in a band? 

Maki: They say it's good I have some opportunity in my life. Many people lost their point of life and are going crazy. So I think I'm lucky. 

Are you involved in other projects? 

Maki: Yes, I play as much as I can. That's why it took awhile to join SAWA. Now I really appreciate their kind understanding of my attitude to play music. 

Tell us a little about your background? What kind of kid were you growing up? 

Maki: I was born in Tokyo and was just an ordinary kid. When I was like 12, I had listened to Janis Joplin, because some Japanese female singer whom I liked admired her. That was first meeting with rock music for me. I got my pretty red stereo recorder for my Christmas present. And I started to collect my favorite songs. That was same for me, as I liked to collect comics or dolls or fake accessories made by glass. 

What was your hometown like? 

Maki: I'm from Tokyo, but not middle of the city, the west side of Tokyo. It's a nice town, the working people of the city live there. Many houses and no tall buildings or big factories. There is a river near my parent's house. 

How has music affected your life? 

Maki: While I have been playing music, I met loads of people who I would never have met if I didn't play the bass. I got much information, like musicians, bands, albums, songs, names or genres. Furthermore, they have persuaded me into the deep side of music. Now I like to see the different cultures through the music. 

Masa, how did you hook up with Sawa? 

Masa: When I lived in New York, I think Sawa found me on a bulletin board which helps to make new bands. Then she invited me to join this group. After that I checked some of Sawa's music then I felt that I wanted to join this group. 

What other groups have you been in? 

Masa: I've been in several, I think 5 or 6 bands, but I would like to say something about Velo. It's not a professional group but it helped me to progress my skill. When I was in 10th grade, I went to New York because of my father's business. There were some people who can play instruments in my high school. Then we made the band which we called Velo. It was one of the best bands in my music life. 

Did you always think you'd be a professional musician? 

Masa: Yea. But if possible!! 

Do you have other major interests outside of music? 

Masa: Yes, I am also interested in beauty and hairstyling. 

What other artists do you most admire and why? 

Masa: There are so many artists who I admired in my life... But I always admired my mother. She was the first person who taught me about what music is and how music is beautiful, and also she taught me, "never give up" so she is the best inspiration for me. 

What do you think of the music industry today? Do you think it's easier or harder for new bands to make a name for themselves in Japan compared to say 10 years ago? 

Masa: Way easier. Since people are able to self promote via websites such as YouTube and MySpace. Also by watching TV and examining the intensive "in and outs" of comedians and artists. I can say that the Japanese people, especially youths, tend to not stick with a single artist that they favor, but to follow what's on TV; therefore, once an artist is exposed to the mass media, he or she is a star the next day. 

Sawa, what are the band's plans for 2009? Any chance for a full length album release? 

Sawa: We just released our first full album with title "333" on Christmas day in the year '08. However, this release is provided by the service of viBirth, and its service is based on Japanese users only. So we are releasing this album on iTunes Store (JP, US, EU, CA, AU) at the beginning of January '09!!! We are very excited about this!!!!! And since we're going to start performing as a band this year, there will be a lot more chances to meet our listeners, fans and friends face to face--and that'll be the happiest moment for us!!! In that way, maybe I can say the year '09 will be the starting year for SAWA. 

Do you have a final message to all your fans? 

It's all up to you!!

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