Our latest songwriting competition winner is an eclectic singer-songwriter from Japan, mixing rock with elements of R&B, hip-hop and electro
t’s been a year since we kicked off our first songwriting competition with ReverbNation and each time we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of quality, range of genres and sheer quantity of original music being submitted from songwriters across the globe. At the last count, we’ve received and listened to over 26,460 entries, across 43 different styles of music – from bluegrass to electronica, latin to gospel, jazz to hip hop – and had the problematic task of selecting just eight winners in the past 12 months.
Aptly, the ninth winner is a perfect example of the diversity and raw talent we’ve had the pleasure of unearthing – BLACKUR0 is a young, female singer-songwriter from the Japanese city of Osaka who caught our ear with the catchy, quirky, sassy, R&B-meets-rock-meets-hip-hop pop song Wow-woW Session. It wasn’t a highly-polished studio recording, but the natural songwriting ability, creativity and vocal flair shone through, and her other self-produced songs showed just as much promise.
So we’re proud to announce BLACKUR0 as our latest ReverbNation songwriting contest winner and introduce this gifted new singer-songwriter to you all…
“My BLACKUR0 songs are all in English. But some of the songs that are collaborated with other artists, or using a different artist name, are sometimes in Japanese. I’ve been writing songs in English since I started my music career in real earnest, so it is natural and even more comfortable for me to write lyrics in English than in Japanese. Of course, these two languages have linguistic differences of nuance, so that sometimes makes it difficult for me to express what I want to say.”
Do you ever think of song ideas in Japanese and then translate them? Or do you find you now ‘think’ in English?
“Both happen. Usually I start with ‘spitting out’ what I want to sing in Japanese, casually, with no consideration for rhymes, melody or rhythm at first. Then I turn the ‘spat thoughts’ into lyrics in English. Although I sometimes write lyrics in English to suit the melody line too.”
Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you start making music?[cc_blockquote_right] MUSIC CONNECTS PEOPLE BEYOND DIFFERENCES OF CULTURES… THAT’S WHY I AIM TO BE AN INTERNATIONAL ARTIST [/cc_blockquote_right]“I was born and grew up in Osaka, Japan. I started going to piano lessons when I was five years old, and that was when I composed a very simple instrumental song for the first time. I listened to various kinds of music when I was a child, and that has definitely influenced my music sense. I began making music continuously when I was about 11, as I became a junior high school student. I started to learn English at school and to listen to American music, and that made me absorbed in music much more and in English. I started playing the guitar and singing as a vocalist when I was in high school, then I bought an MTR digital recorder and started to record demos.
“Now I create and arrange the music all by myself, and manage my activity on my own too. I’ve seen how music connects people beyond differences of cultures or languages many times, so I believe it is a power that music has. That’s one of the main reasons why I aim to be an international artist beyond borders.”
Why did you decide to write/sing in English in the first place?
“At first I practiced singing songs written in English because I wanted to sing my favourite foreign songs at karaoke, but the more I got to listen to foreign songs, the more I got to like English too. This made me realise how interesting and stimulative the language was for me, at that time, and without notice I started to write my own songs in English.”
Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?
“Yes, it was such a simple instrumental song called Stars And The Moon. But it was not so much about making a song as just expressing the scenery through music.”
Have you had any ‘formal’ musical training, or are you entirely self-taught?
“I’ve had some lessons for instruments like the piano, guitar and drums, but not had such training for my vocals and composition. About these two, it’s been mainly self-taught and I just write about feelings I have about life.”
Which instrument do you usually write on – guitar or keyboard?
“Both. What is interesting is that the ‘colour’ of each instrument is reflected on a song when I use instruments for making songs. Sometimes I use a synthesizer or just MIDI keyboard connected to a computer. But often I don’t use any instruments when composing a song – the music suddenly comes down in my head.”
Is it usually the lyrics that come first, or the music? Or does it all tend to come at once?
“Music first in most of the cases. But when a song theme is really clear, I write lyric first.”
Where and when do you find inspiration?
“Any time and place, but especially travelling and meeting new people with different ways of thinking – they’re good inspirations for me. I could make a song only with a pen and a piece of paper, but when I don’t have that to hand, I record on my phone or just try to keep it in my head. Although sometimes ideas appear without any advance notice, such as when I’m cycling, taking a bath, or even sleeping, so I sometimes forget a good melody which saddens me.”
Would you say there is any theme running through your work?
“Not so much, but I don’t like love songs. They don’t suit my image, plus I don’t want to write what is called ‘normal’ lyrics – I try to write with various themes.”
Sadly not many Japanese acts have gone on to international recognition – why do you think that is?
“I know, and I think the Japanese music scene should be more interested in such international promotions. Today’s world has been tending toward more and more globalisation, but I’ve found the music scene here too domestic-oriented at times. For example, they always tell me to only sing in Japanese to a Japanese audience.
“Also besides Japan, I think it will be great if music from more countries was shared widely, all over the world. I like find new music on the internet or in record shops that is not well-known internationally, and that’s so exciting. It could be a great opportunity for everyone to discover new music too.”
What’s it like being a musician in Japan? Are there enough opportunities to play and get your make money from your music?
“I feel it is quite difficult to play gigs in Japan because venues tend to push only certain artists, which makes it feel like there are only the same bands and the same fans at their events. Sometimes it’s not fair because there’re many good musicians in the underground music scene besides them. However, luckily I have met many non-Japanese musicians, who live in Japan, and I get good opportunities to send my music overseas and connect with people.
“It’s not easy to make a living from music here. I guess it’s the same overseas, but one of the features of the Japanese underground music scene is the ‘quota system’ at venues, which makes it harder for musicians to make a profit.”
Your winning track Wow-woW Session reminded us a bit of Luscious Jackson. Have they been an influence on you at all, and what artists would you say have influenced your music?
“No, that’s the first time I’ve heard that name. I think the artists that have influenced my music are Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne and Black Eyed Peas. And they’re my favourite artists, too.”
What other artists are you listening to right now?
“These days I like listening to music from Southeast Asia and Africa, and I often go to record shops to get recommendations of hot music around that area. Since I’ve been listening to mainly American and Japanese music, such music is really fresh and interesting to me.”
If you could have written any song in the history of music, what would it be?
“It’s the first time I’ve had to think about that so deeply, but I would say Hey Jude by The Beatles. The melody is amazing, plus it’s a great thing that this song has been liked by people all over the world for such a long time. I wish to write a great song that will be listened beyond generations, like that.”
Finally, what are your plans for BLACKUR0?
“I’m in Japan now, but I’ll keep promoting myself from Japan to the world. Of course, I would like to have a tour overseas in the near future, and I’d like BLACKUR0 to prove that music has a power that connects us together beyond any walls.”
Interview: Russell Deeks
To listen to BLACKUR0’s music and find out more about this winning artist, check out her Facebook and of course ReverbNation pages. You can also visit her YouTube channel or follow her on Twitter. Below, you can watch the video to her song Naked.
If you’d like the chance to be featured in an article like this on Songwriting, then the good news is, this songwriting competition is still ongoing! To enter, you’ll need to be registered with ReverbNation and submit your track via the competition page. We’ll listen to every entry and select the most promising artist, who’ll be the subject of an interview feature similar to this one.