The Best Kind of Culture Clash: Ai Yamashita on the Journey to Find Her Sound

In today’s global society, cultural influences have a much wider scope than ever before. And for pianist and composer Ai Yamashita, it’s all for the best. Yamashita has been studying music since she was a child. She came to focus on the piano, an instrument well known for its stylistic versatility.

Ever since, she has been exploring countless sounds and influences, making music that combines her Japanese upbringing with contemporary tunes for a poppy blend that hits listeners with a breath of fresh air.

As part of her publicity tour in support of her new EP, ‘I am, Ai,’ Yamashita spoke with us about her very musical background as well as giving us an overview of her many diverse influences.

Why were you attracted to the piano and keyboard specifically when you were young?

I watched a professional pianist’s concert on TV when I was around five or six years old. At the time I had already started learning piano, so I thought, ‘This is what my piano playing could be like in the future.’ And I just thought that was so cool.

Are there specific musicians, shows, or movies that heavily influenced your childhood experience of music?

I grew up surrounded by J-Pop, Japanese pop music, so 90’s J-Pop was a big influence for me, especially since I was still in grade school at the time. TRF, Namie Amuro, and J-Rock Bands like Glay and Judy and Mary, as well as Morning-Musume, my mother’s favorite. My favorite movies were Disney’s “Aladdin” and Studio Ghibli’s ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service.’ I also watched a lot of ‘Sailor Moon’ on TV. And all of them had fantastic music.

How long did it take to develop your unique musical style? And can you summarize your style in a few words?

It has taken since my childhood and it’s still in the process, honestly. As I mentioned before, I grew up with J-Pop/Rock, but I studied classical music on piano, played jazz, latin, and fusion, etc., on electric organ, the Yamaha Electone. At Berklee [College of Music] I studied mostly jazz, but recently I’ve gotten interested in EDM as well as Japanese traditional music.

When did you start writing material for your debut EP, ‘I am Ai’? Did you have a specific source of inspiration?

I wrote the song ‘Sakura’ when I was a high school student. The other songs were written in these past five years. As for the title of the EP, the album is meant to be an introduction to my work, almost like a business card. It gave me an opportunity to display my many different musical skills, from writing and arranging to playing keyboards and producing.

What were some of the things you learned while recording the album?

I learned a lot about the process of recording and producing. I took classes at Berklee mostly for performance, so I didn’t have much producing experience. In a way, I felt that producing and recording were more difficult since the final product is going to be around forever!

Do you enjoy having the chance to collaborate with lots of other musicians?

Yes, my band members and other collaborating artists who played on the EP project all did an extremely great job and were very supportive! And in addition to musicians we also had  designers and photographers who contributed some wonderful work.

What’s one of your favorite aspects of performing?

Performing allows me to enter another world, to enter a specific song’s atmosphere, and I love sharing that experience, that beautiful, colorful world, with audiences.

Do you have plans for any upcoming projects? Any new albums in the works?

I plan on performing more Japanese music festivals, including one in New York City next spring. I’m also working on a second album. The tentative title is ‘Ai’s Colorful Music,’ and I’m hoping to show an even wider range of musical styles with it.

by Giorgio Chang

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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