Hi Emi, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
E: Thank you for having me! I’ve been well.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Flash”?
Sure! Flash is one of my favorite songs on the album. Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
No event. But I remember that I made up a rhythmic pattern to practice, and then I added the shamisen line, melody, and harmony — it all came quickly. I don’t know why I titled it “Flash” but I can see now that the process of composition was like a flash.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
The animated music video was created by a great artist, Monica Frisell. I saw the animated music videos she made for her father, the amazing jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and I really liked them, so I asked her to make a music video for one of my songs. I feel lucky that she liked “Flash”.
She first came up with a character, Robot Girl, and showed her to me. I immediately liked the character a lot. Monica wanted to put my story into the video. At that time, I was in an artist residency in upstate New York for one month. I was living in the wilderness with many creatures (you can see bears!) and one day I saw a flock of three dozen swallows fly by. More and more I felt a part of nature. Monica depicts the environment of my stay at the artist colony. The video feels like a souvenir from my experience there.
The single comes off your new album Anniversary – what’s the story behind the title?
“The title Anniversaryhas two meanings. One is that I wrote the title song for my beloved partner on our anniversary day, which makes it a significant song for me. As said in the lyrics, it feels like he is always away; we are separated almost half the year. I just described my feelings simply. Whenever I miss him, I sing this song.
The other is the album was recorded just after the 10th anniversary of my move to New York from Japan, and its music was made in the context of my experience here with the musicians and people who support and inspire me.”
How was the recording and writing process?
The recording session with the band happened one day at Brooklyn Recording. It was very smooth. I am proud of this track, “Flash,” because we didn’t do any overdubs or edits, even though the piece is pretty challenging: I wrote almost for 2 piano players and there are a lot of independent overlapping rhythms and drums have different accents.
“Flash” is my first composition with the shamisen, which is a Japanese traditional instrument. I had wanted to compose for the shamisen in a non-traditional style of playing. In that way and others this is an experimental song. No lyrics, no solos, and complex rhythms. The piece requires the band to play closely together. When we make it, it’s so fun!
How did you go on balancing your Japanese roots with your much pop on this album in particular?
I don’t intend to bring in my Japanese roots or style or taste when I compose. I just follow whatever I want to make and sing, but I couldn’t take out my influences from Japan even if I wanted to.
Since I moved to NY I have been focusing on jazz, so I think my music is categorized as jazz, but it is definitely mixed with other influences: rock, pop, classical, Japanese folk, etc. If shamisen fits naturally with the piece, I play it. If it’s unnecessary I don’t. There are four songs I played on shamisen in the album. I almost entirely ignored the traditional rules and way of playing. One reason is that I am not a traditional shamisen player. But I also think unconventional playing might expand the instrument’s possibilities, and that might create balance between Japanese music, jazz, and other genres.
How did the likes of Joni Mitchell get to influence the writing on this record?
I listened to Joni Mitchell intensely about 15 years ago. I didn’t listen to her during the period when I was making this album, but I think her influence still entered without my realizing it. For example, in her way of writing lyrics as an expression of her personal feelings with no hesitation about disclosing even the darker ones.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I’ve been inspired by so many different factors and elements: my environment, the air, people, words, music, art and so on. One of the biggest inspirations for my songs is surely jazz standards. I came to New York to study jazz and I love jazz standards.
The poet William Blake is also an important inspiration for me. I made a setting of his poem “Chimney Sweeper” for the album. This is my third song with William Blake’s poetry. He has been a special poet for me since I met his works as a student in Japan. Somehow I feel close to his work. After writing this melody I found that it happened to fit the poem.
What else is happening next in Emi Makabe’s world?
I have a livestream concert coming as a release gig on Friday, November 13th, 8:30pm-9:30pm. All the band members are from the album. I am very much looking forward to it!
Also, I have already written songs for my next album which I would like to record soon.