Interview: May J Singer/Songwriter And J-Melo Presenter
Interview conducted by Spencer Lloyd Peet on 10 March 2011
Since making her debut in 2006 with “I Say yeah”, May J’s career as a Singer – Songwriter has gone from strength to strength, composing a string of catchy tunes which cross over into many genres including pop, R&B and Hip Hop. She has collaborated with some of the top R&B artists in Japan and her vocal ability has won her many fans and high praise from critics.
Not content with being a successful recording artist, May J is also the main presenter of the Japanese English-language music show J-Melo, broadcast every Monday on NHK World.
The show’s popularity with fans outside of Japan has led to Fan Meetings events being held in various countries around the world, and are filmed and aired as Special Editions. The second London Fan Meeting was the first time May J had performed in the UK. And it was during this event that she graciously allowed Diverse Japan some of her precious time for an exclusive interview.
Your father is Japanese and your mother is Persian. What was it like growing up in a mixed racial household?
Well actually, my mum is mixed; she was born in Iran but her dad was born in the UK.
Being multi-lingual, how many languages can you speak?
Japanese, English, and a little Spanish.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
No, I’m an only child. I wish I had a brother though, a good looking brother (Laughs!)
What kind of music did you listen to as you were growing up?
I was into American music like Christine Agularia, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston… I started liking them since I was seven or eight.
What about your parent’s taste in music, did you ever listen to that?
My dad loves music, so does my mum, but my dad is a music freak. He listens to all kinds of genres like classical, J-Pop, American, European, Persian…
So with you being in the music business, he must be very proud?
Yes. He’s one of the reasons I started doing music. He plays piano. I started playing piano when I was three.
Did you learn from your father?
Well, I had a teacher.
When did you realise you wanted to be a pop star?
When I was really small, ever since I started listening to Christina Aguilera’s music. I wanted to be on stage like her and sing like her. I would have been about seven or eight.
When you were just 16-years-old you entered American Club Idol, an event for talented students attending international schools in Japan to experience the American Idol fever.
Is that how you got discovered?
Well, my friend, Thelma Aoyama, she’s also a singer, she actually wanted to go to that audition with me, but I had already sent them my videos and so I was already going to be a contestant, so I didn’t go with her. But actually, I already had a recording contract before that. But they didn’t know.
During that time, you were known as May Hashimoto.
Yes, May Hashimoto is my real name.
But now you go by the name May J. What does the “J” stand for?
The “J” stands for my middle name, Jamileh, which is my Persian name.
So how did you get discovered?
It was through an audition that I went for back when I was fourteen. I found it through a magazine. They were auditioning for a solo singer. I sent in photographs and tapes. I sang a Mika Magashima song called “Star”. And back then, I was into Avril Lavigne, so I sang one of her songs too.
Talk us through your writing process.
Well, I usually write songs by myself at the piano at home.
Do you try to complete a song there and then once you’ve started it, or do go back to it later to finish it off?
I like to finish them there and then, because I don’t usually have the time to go back to them.
Really, is there a lot of madness in your head?
No (Laughs!). I don’t really get mad at people, like I don’t show it, my emotions. But then some things in life will bring it out.
Can you remember the first song you wrote, what was it about and how old were you?
The first song that I ever wrote was “For You”. It’s on my 3rd album, “For You”. I wrote it when I was 14 years old. I was playing around with my piano back then and came up with the melody, but didn’t finish up the song. I found it later and thought I should retouch it and add some lyrics and record it.
Do you ever listen to your own music just for pleasure?
Yes I do, all the time! I like to listen to my songs and think about what kind of songs I should write next. Even my own songs give me inspirations.
You’ve collaborated with a variety of musicians on many of your tracks. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to?
I’d like to collaborate with Ken Hirai. He’s one of my favourites. Yeah, I’d love to have a song with him.
How did you get the job as the main presenter of J-Melo?
Well my first appearance on J-Melo was when Melody was the MC and I was a guest. And the producer… the director thought that I was, you know, should be on the show presenting. And so, because of that performance he choose me. I was 19-years-old. I had never hosted a show before, but he really believed in me and I’m really thankful for that.
Of all the great artists and musicians that have appeared on the show, who has been your favourite?
That’s a hard question! There’s been a lot!
How do you manage to balance your songwriting career with that of presenting J-Melo, and have they ever clashed with one another?
It’s pretty balanced. Um… well, basically, at J-Melo we meet up twice a month and we shoot three episodes in one day. So it’s not really… it’s not that tough. So we’re really balanced.
Do you ever watch the show yourself?
Of course, I watch it every week!
In what way would you like to see J-Melo develop?
I hope we get to have more fan meetings in different countries; get to meet people from other countries and ask them what kind of music they like to listen to; get some feedback. It might have an effect on my music in the future too.
What has been the greatest moment of your career so far?
The best moment has been seeing my fans, you know, and having that feeling that they’re really listening to my songs, because usually I’m just stuck in the studio recording songs, hoping that people are going to be listening to it. And so, hearing them say “I love your songs” is just great!
Would you like to tour Europe?
I’d love to tour Europe! I love Europe! I’d love to go to Turkey because I’m part Turkish too. And Russia, because I’m part Russian as well (Laughs!). I’d love to go to all these countries. I can’t wait to go!
Aside from writing and performing music, what else do you like to do?
Working out at the gym, kick-boxing, yoga, belly dancing… I love to be active! And of course, shopping! I like to coordinate my outfits for J-Melo and stage costumes by myself too.
Which subjects/topics do you most like talking about?
Hollywood Celebrity gossips (Laughs!). I love reading gossip magazines and talking about who’s going out with whom, and who broke up and things like that… And Fashion!
What do you like to do to relax?
I’m addicted to aroma oils and candles. I have lots of them in my room. My favorite scents are “Lavender” and “Bergamot”. And I love watching movies in my bed.
With your busy work schedule, do you ever find time for romance?
Yes I do. I’m never too busy for romance. But it’s really hard to balance both of them… he’s got to be really supportive and very understanding of my work.
Describe your ideal date?
I like an active type of guy. We would go to the gym work out together, go out driving to somewhere really nice, maybe get out of the country and go to a tropical island and just relax by the beach, have dinner together with my favorite wine. I don’t know any cool places, so it would be nice if he takes me around everywhere.
What has been the most unusual gift you have ever been given?
Hmm… I can’t think of any, but I was really happy when my boss gave me a beautiful white Yamaha keyboard piano for my 22nd birthday!
You were born on 20 June, which means your birth sign is Gemini, the sign of the twins. Are there two sides to your personality, how would you describe yourself?
(Laughs!) I’ve never really thought about that! I think I do have two faces. One is “May J” doing her thing on stage, powerful and fierce, never too scared to express herself to the world. And the other one is “May”, a personal side of me. I’ve always been a bit of a shy girl (Laughs!).
What is your most important goal in life?
My dream is to work internationally as an artist. But most importantly, I want to be happy in whatever I do in the future.
What can fans expect from you for the rest of the year (2011)?
Well, um… Well, last year was a hectic year for me, I released three albums; my third album, the mini album and my fourth album. So I’d like to take it a little slower for this year.
Do you have a message for all your fans out there?
Yes, um… thanks for listening to my songs and watching J-Melo. I’d love to go to all your countries and share my music with you.
The second J-Melo Fan Meeting in London aired on Monday, 25 April 2011
For more information on May J visit her official website
Or go to her official blog
Special thanks to Miyo Urushihara