Name: Ichiko Aoba
Occupation: songwriter / composer
Current Release: Windswept Adan out 3rd Dec on Bada Bing Records
Recommendations: The mom and dad that created you.
If you enjoyed this interview with Ichiko Aoba, visit www.ichikoaoba.com to find out more.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Ever since I was little, I've loved listening to the sounds of home appliances and tableware. I used to play the music I heard on TV with my toy piano. My mother used to work for Disney, so there was a lot of Disney movies at my house. I was exposed to a lot of Disney music and also loved Ghibli music as well.
I first started composing when I was about 17 years old.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I have a mentor. A singer who sings while playing an 8-string classical guitar called Anmi Yamada. I used to love covering his songs. By the time I was able to play my mentor's songs to some extent, he encouraged me to write my own songs as well. My mentor taught me so much music. Django Reinhardt and Taeko Ohnuki. To this day, I’ve always been inspired by Taeko Ohnuki's beautiful melodies.
As for my own voice, I feel a sense of inferiority that I cannot sing loud. So at first, I was happy just playing the guitar. Because my mentor pushed me to try to sing and because people around me praised me about it as well, I finally started to feel confident that I was a singer.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
To me it’s important that it is non-fiction. I incorporate what I have experienced in life creatively, whether it is fun or sad. I think it was like a “Misogi (purifying ceremony)” for me. Even if it's a painful experience that makes you want to close your eyes, there is something you can grasp by digging deeper. It’s the creator's mission to pick that up and try to bring that back. By unleashing the ultimate personal experience in the fountain of creation, that can be transformed it into an open place that everyone can access.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, I wasn’t really thinking about listeners, because it was more of a task that exhaled the feelings that I couldn't sublimate. But now, I feel that it’s just a path to music, and I think I am able to control where to put my strengths in and where I shouldn't.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
In the very beginning, it was a classical guitar, my voice, and my shower room. That is my route to my sound scape.
In terms of a recording studio, for my 1st album recording, someone at my label at that time took me to my very first recording studio. I remember that I was quite intimidated by a proper mic and big consoles that was the first time for me to see and experience. I actually didn’t like recording. But in 2013, I met an engineer called zAk, which changed that feeling completely. It became something that I really love. Depending on the song or the weather of that day, he would change mics and cables as well as the layout of the recording room which taught me how important it is to have an environment that is fit to your feelings which directly effects your music. And recently I’ve realized that the most important thing is to be completely relaxed as if I am sleeping.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I’ve always made music with guitar but recently I’ve been writing a lot with piano as well.
It’s such a wide range instrument so I can play it like I’m dancing. It makes me see new scenery so I’m having fun playing it.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
By mixing and mingling, new talent can be born. It’s such an important experience and it’s hard to realise that on your own.
I’m the type that can bring music material to life more than producing it overall, so I really listen to what the other person can bring to the table. I can’t escape from the consistent original but I can stay as an ingredient that can be cooked into anything.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I usually gargle the first thing in the morning and drink plenty of water. Sometimes I only consume tea and juice in the daytime. Sometimes I water the plants, play the piano as I pass by it. Sometimes I just like to take it easy and sit back, and sometimes I suddenly start cleaning the house. I treasure my memory of my grandmother saying, "It feels so good to wipe the floor" and I wipe the floor while in deep thought. There are days when I bathe for 2 hours. I think about water all day long, and just like water, music is filled inside of me.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Everything is an important experience to me, but the most important experience was being on stage as an actor in a theatrical production. (Mum&Gypsy’s“Cocoon” 2015)
The one I performed was a remake, but the original production was something that really struck me and I went to watch it so many times. After some physically and mentally tough auditions, I finally got a role in the play. I also participated in a few songs performed in the performance. "Cocoon" was set in Okinawa during World War II, and I played the role of a female student. From the moment I started acting lessons all the way to the end of the theatre run, the role of the girl who I played continued to live in me. I feel that the girl also appears in "Windswept Adan”, the album I wrote last year. I deeply feel that these experiences connect the work, transcending the boundaries of expression.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
To be free like the weather. It can be sunny, rainy, or cloudy. Sometimes it feels like a natural disaster. It uses up a lot of your energy, but when it comes to creation, it's not always good to be stable. But that also brings up a lot of cramped things. Being born as a human being, there are battles in which we have to live in society and human relationships. I try to believe in the existence of music, sometimes even lie down on the side of the road, cast my own magic when no one is watching, and steer like that.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Depending on the person and the timing, music can be both a poison and a medicine.
We live in music (or vibrate), so the more you open your heart to it, music will circulate your love.
In order to fit the listener and the place, I feel that it is necessary to pay attention to whether or not it corresponds to the heartbeat flowing there. In one word, it would be "harmony".
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Humans are difficult creatures, and Art and expression tend to require background, urgency, and sometimes rights.
If you answer things without fear, like flower seeds, and like how land and families have characteristics, while changing little by little, it resembles and separates, turns and inherits. It’s okay to think that expression is something that goes around rather than being something that is owned.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Sometimes I can see scenery that I don’t really know. It’s kind of like dejavu. For some sounds, smell and scenery, there’s countless amount of starts and we can access it freely and go on a journey.
If you close your eyes, it has tentacles like a sea anemone, and you can also absorb and assemble the particles that suit you at that time, and input them as if you had experienced them. That is exactly what it means to create. It's so obvious that I tend to forget, but it's a magnificent creation of life.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
To always be very personal.
What can music express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
No, music is not special. It’s something that’s always close by.