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Interview: Ai Takekawa – Singer/Songwriter And J-Melo Reporter

Interview conducted by Spencer Lloyd Peet on July 4 2010 at the first J-Melo Fan Meeting in London.

Having the ability to compose songs in both English and Japanese has made Ai Takekawa globally accessible. Not only is she a talented singer-songwriter, she is also a “Music Discoverer” for the English-language Japanese pop show J-MELO, broadcast internationally on NHK WORLD. It is due to her involvement in the series that she has managed to make her vocation a vacation, and on July 2, 2010 she performed in Europe for the very first time at the Japan Expo in Paris, followed by the first ever J-MELO Fan Meeting in London two days later, which will air on September 13, 2010…

It’s no wonder she’s a natural at turning her life experiences into melodic songs, her father is none other than singer-songwriter Yukihide Takekawa who fronts the popular group Godiego, best known outside of Japan for writing and recording the opening and closing theme tune to the classic 1970s TV series Monkey (aka Monkey Magic/Saiyuki). For Ai, music is her life, and it’s her gift to the world.

At what age did you first learn to play an instrument and what type was it?

I don’t really remember. Nobody actually told me how to play an instrument. In the beginning I started to play the violin, but not that I played it so much, probably for a day or two (laughs!). My mum plays the piano and teaches, so I had a few sessions with her. So maybe when I was 12 or 13, I guess.

What was the first song or piece of music you learnt to play?

Maybe something by Carol King, So Far Away or something like that.

How many instruments can you play?

I can play piano, guitar, saxophone and handbell (laughs!)

Have you ever played in a band?

I was in a rock band when I was in High School. We played music by Steely Dan, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Aeroplane. We did the old stuff because the guitarist was from the UK and the bassist was an American.

Do you have any brothers or sisters, and are they also into music?

I have five sisters and brothers. We’re all very different; ones an anthropologist, ones a Lawyer. One of my sisters, who is two years older than me, she’s kind of into musicals, so she acts.

When and where were you discovered as a singer-songwriter?

I was playing a gig in Tokyo with a band, but it wasn’t a permanent band, I was there as a soloist, and my current producer came to watch me play. We then met up again later and it started from there.

Your debut album will be released in the autumn 2010. What has been the best part of working on it?

I think the best part about it is that I can reflect back on myself. When I look back on the younger songs I go “Wow! I can’t believe that’s how I felt.”

You wrote and recorded Tooi michi No Saki De (The Long Road Ahead) the closing theme tune to the anime series Inuyasha:  The Final Act.  It’s such a catchy and melodic song, were you actually inspired by the anime series itself?

Yeah. I finished the song while watching Inuyasha. A large part of the inspiration came from the characters and colours within the animation.

What will happen to the songs that won’t make it onto the album?

I’ll probably use them for something else.

When you are writing a new song do you always aim to finish it immediately or do you prefer to leave it and come back to it later?

I think it depends. In the beginning, when I started writing I had to finish it. But right now, or since last year, I feel I don’t have to do that anymore if I don’t want to, I can go back to it later on.

How many finished songs would you say you have written so far?

I’m sure there are 70 songs. Plus those that I’m not ready to let go of at the moment because I’m not sure if they’re complete yet. They’re on my computer, but I feel I can do more with them.

Do you play any instruments on the tracks?

I do on my demos; drums, bass, guitar or whatever. But when I go into the studio, it’s with a recording band.

Do you play any instruments when you perform live?

Yeah, I play piano and guitar.

And is it with the same band you record with?

Yeah, it is.

Who is your toughest critic?

It’s probably me. I want to have fun, but I also have to be professional.

Who has been the biggest influence on your music?

I love Carol King. She’s the best! Um, Motown, and The Jackson Five when I was little, Stevie Wonder…

Has your father’s music influenced your songwriting in any way?

I think it has, but I don’t really know the period when he was working with the band [Godiego] since I wasn’t born yet, and I didn’t have a chance to listen to the old songs closely when I started writing. His favourite songwriters, which he introduced to me, influenced me. i.e. The Beatles, Eagles, Hall and Oates, Simon and Garfunkel…

Has he ever given you any good advice with regards to your music career and the entertainment industry in general?

He tells me to keep on writing, be honest and to be myself.

What song above all others do you wish you had written?

Home Again by Carole King. It is such a pretty song. It is full of emotion, but calm and cosy at the same time.

What message do you hope to convey through your music?

Honesty! I don’t want to lie to myself. When you start lying and everyone realises that you’re lying, you have to cover it up… I don’t want to have to get into that struggle.

How would you describe your image, is it totally you, or is it a collaboration between you and your management?

I think both. Because in the beginning, I wasn’t into fashion at all, writing was everything to me, so I wasn’t into make-up or anything like that. But now I realise it’s one of the aspects of what I do and right now, I’m thinking, this fashion is how I can be myself, so I’m satisfied.

Your hair is much shorter in your first two videos?

It’s an extension right now. I wanted to make it longer. This is one of the things, like, I started to realise that maybe this is what I want to do, because, at first I was kind of ignorant.

Your music videos are very colourful and appropriate for your style of music. Do you have any creative input?

Sometimes I do. If I make a suggestion they’ll always listen to it, not that I know much about the technical side of things.Performing at the J-Melo Fan Meeting in London”

How did you get the job as “Music Discoverer” on J-Melo?

It was mainly because my producer got along with people around NHK WORLD, and obviously I can speak English and I love talking to people and seeing what they do. And so they thought maybe I could do that.

How is the schedule worked out between your music career and you job for J-Melo?

Well, my music always comes first. When we go out shooting on J-MELO it’s just chunks, we don’t do it every day, so they never conflict with each other. It’s very interesting though.

Are you surprised by the popularity of Japanese pop culture in the West, especially with things like anime and J-Pop?

Yeah, I am. People love the culture, they love the music. It’s amazing, really. I think the internet and the media enables people to explore everything and that includes Japanese culture.

What can fans expect from you for the rest of 2010?

What can they expect? Well there’s my album which is coming out soon. And I’m trying to upload my new stuff, which isn’t out yet, to MySpace and Facebook. 

What are your plans for the foreseeable future, do you have a one year plan or even a five year plan?

I want to be… Like, I want to know myself. I want to be someone who sees the world, and can see herself within the world. I also want to write for other people. I write songs in all different styles, like, I do Jazz, rock, pop, Electro, but it doesn’t mean I can sing them all, simply because my voice may not go with a particular song.

Besides music, what else do you enjoy doing?

I love watching movies, hanging out with friends, going to gym. I enjoy reading and cooking.

Ai (centre) with fans at the J-Melo Fan Meeting in London

I’m sure many of your male fans would like to know the answer to the next question. Are you in a relationship at the moment?

No. I’m trying to find one (Laughs!)

Describe what and where your perfect date would be.

Watch Elton John live and go to a nice Italian restaurant where we can get some amazing tiramisu (laughs!).

What message would you like to give to your fans?

I’m going to be writing, writing, and writing. Music is my life! If there’s an opportunity, I’ll go and play anywhere. All I need is a piano or guitar; I don’t even need a microphone.

This interview first appeared on J-POP WORLD

For more information on Ai Takekawa, click on links below.

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