For this year’s SXSW, I was lucky enough to sit down and talk to Haru Nemuri, one of Japan’s most exciting up–and-coming artists. Her music is a fusion of electronic art-pop and garage punk, and she is both a feminist and a self-proclaimed Riot Grrrl. Shunka Ryougen—her most recent album—has been met with an outpouring of critical praise both within Japan and internationally, and she is often heralded as being one of the most exciting live acts out there.
I myself am admittedly a huge fan. I was definitely nervous, scanning my notes and anxiously tapping my right foot, waiting to meet one of my personal idols. However, my sweaty palms and shaky demenor dissipated the moment we got to talking. She could not have been more pleasant to talk to. Now on to the good stuff, the reason you are reading this blog post:
I welcomed her back to Austin for her second SXSW visit, and congratulated her on finishing her second North American tour. I had to know how it went, and what city she enjoyed the most.
“It went well! But it was definitely a little stressful and hectic coming to SXSW at the end of the tour. I am very tired.”
Her favorite city just so happened to be my home town of Dallas: “Everyone brought a lot of energy, and I loved the fashion that fans came in for the show. I really liked all of the effort they would put into their outfits.” Now that she’s gotten to tour the world, I wanted to know what it was like performing abroad compared to back home.
“The people here have a lot more energy at shows and really get into the music, whereas in Japan, fans usually come to just look at me. Japan doesn’t really have the same exciting concert culture as the U.S., or even throughout the rest of Asia.”
“I think I felt the most welcomed when I performed in Taiwan! It was one of my first shows outside Japan, at this massive music festival, and everyone was just getting loud and excited even as I was warming up. People were pouring in from every direction to see me, and it was the first real experience I had with fans surrounding me, wanting to talk to me and hear me perform. I remember during the sound check, everyone screaming and cheering, and I thought, ‘I guess now would be a good time to start.’”
With how widely recognized she is for her live performances, I wanted to ask her about her warm-up routine. Her ‘pre-game’ before she gets on stage.
“I brush my teeth, stretch, go through an extended version of Rajio Taiso (a popular Japanese-style exercise video), and as the intro to the set starts, I usually zone in, get up against a wall, and pump my fist to the music to really get into the right mindset. Kind of like Eminem in 8 Mile. I wouldn’t want him to know that though, he might think I’m copying him.”
I also wanted to ask her about her listening and writing habits. She often uses descriptive, poetic lyrics over loud, heavy tracks in a style that takes inspiration from western rap-rock. However, that label isn’t exactly fair, with Haru’s music being as unique as it is. Artists often get asked who their inspirations are, but I wanted to know if anyone had impacted her recently.
“I always take time to listen to new music. I like going through the daily spotify playlists for new Japanese artists to see what I can find. Whenever I get asked about new artists I enjoy, I always say Minori Nagashima. She’s an amazing singer songwriter, and I just recently got to work with her on the song “Sister with Sisters” on my newest album. She has a guest verse on it, and it was so exciting getting to make music with her.”
When it comes to writing music though, Haru simply does what she wants. Her progression as an artist is a natural one, and she is always looking for new ideas to experiment with.
“I don’t really understand how some people make the same type of art for their whole career. I would just get bored doing that. It isn’t really something I think about much, it just sort of comes to me. I always want to do something new!”
As for her actual writing process, she has a common formula she tends to follow: “I always start with the track, and sort of assess what it needs lyrically. I let the mood or feelings in the music guide what I write. As for my albums, I typically create on a song-by-song basis, and format the album once I’ve finished writing. I don’t normally write one song with the intention of it following another.”
Haru is also open about her personal beliefs both in and outside of her work. I wanted to know what the Riot Grrrl movement means to her, and how she identifies with the moniker.
“I sort of naturally fit in I think. With the loud, punk sound I have, and the aggression I have towards society in my music, the title fit. I was already someone who fit into this movement on my own, so it felt natural officially joining it.”
As for the rest of her anti-establishment ideals, I could imagine the sort of trouble she might have within the music industry in Japan. There are plenty of stories of sexism continueing to be a serious issue, especially for those speak out against it. Haru has never let that stop her, and if anything she welcomes the challenge.
“I honestly haven’t had much of a struggle, but that’s probably because I’m someone who does what I want. Someone else isn’t going to get in the way of me speaking my mind or making the music I want to make. I’ve never really had someone come after me for my ideals directly, and for any one thing someone could say, I could fire back with ten. That being said, I would much rather be the person that others go after. Thinking about all of the people who don’t have the means to defend themselves makes me sad, so I want to always stand up for them. Let me be the target.”
These are ideas she often present in her music, as a way to fight back and give her perspective. She has grown immensely as an artist, and has obviously acquired a large international following. Despite difficulties that come with the language barrier, she has still found it easy to connect with her audience.
“I usually haven’t had much trouble, especially since music can sort of transcend that barrier as an art form. However, my most recent album has definitely shown more difficulty, as it is much more personal and intricate than my previous works. With that, I have taken more care to describe my feelings throughout my music.”
On that note, Haru is known to release personal anecdotes along with her songs, something she has more publicly done for her new album Shunka Ryougen. There are several of these stories currently on her website.
“This is sort of something I’ve always done! My past albums will have little stories within the physical copies of CDs or records. With how personal Shunka Ryougen is, I wanted to more publicly put these stories out there, and make it a bigger focal point. It’s definitely something I will continue doing, as I think it helps people connect with me outside of my music. It sort of humanizes me, and gives context for what I go through.”
Along with these narratives, Haru discusses some serious philosophical ideals within Shunka Ryougen. One in particular, a French philosophy known as deconstructionism, plays on this idea that by taking apart ideas of our world to better understand them.
“It’s this idea of breaking things down, in order to question why they are that way. It sort of goes in line with the aggressive and loud attitude in my music, where talks of destruction and how taking things apart can better explain its purpose. It fits in with my hardcore aesthetics, and it’s an interesting way of thinking about the world. It’s something I want others to think about as well.”
On that note, my time with Haru was coming to a close. Before I left, I had to ask her one last question: “If you had to pick one song from your catalogue that best represents you and your work to someone who has never listened before, which one would you pick and why?”
“It would have to be Shunka Ryougen. It it exactly I want in a track: Electronic beats, rapping, screaming, f***ing loud guitar. It provides the full scope of my art and what I have to say. It has everything!”
With that, here is Shunka Ryougen, the title track to her record. Go check out the rest of her music, and see her live if you get the chance. It might just change your life, or at the very least, give you a new perspective.
Thank you so much to Haru Nemuri and her team for making this happen. I am so honored to have spoken with her, and she was so insanely cool. Getting to talk with an artist of her caliber doesn't happen every day. I can't wait to see what she does next, and I hope you'll be tuned in with me!