By Paris365 on February 23, 2016

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interview by Michael McCarthy

Well, it's taken us a little while, but I am very pleased to bring you an exclusive interview with a Japanese pop star today. Although, as you're about to discover, she considers herself more of an anti-J-Pop star, which has everything to do with her DIY indie background and the fact that she writes her own songs. In other words, unlike more J-Pop stars than not, she is anything but a puppet on a string. So, the responses to my questions that you are about to read come straight from A.Y.A herself, not from a J-Pop singer whose manager censors what they say during interviews or anything like that. It's a very insightful read, if I do say so myself, peeling back the curtain and giving you an insightful look at how J-Pop really happens behind-the-scenes and what's wrong with its squeaky clean image, etc. But, most of all, it gives you a candid look inside A.Y.A's highly intelligent, creative mind. Read on!

MM: First of all, you go by the name A.Y.A. – what do the letters actually stand for? What was the reason you chose to call yourself A.Y.A. as opposed to using your regular name?
A.Y.A: A.Y.A is the capitol letters of my real name. In Japan, usually "Aya" is the name for female, so it sounds very feminine, but when it comes to the capital, I thought it would sounds like a name of the company or project, and it brings some kinda androgynous and mysterious vibes in to it, and I want to be something more than just a "female artist" in my future, I want to beyond a gender, age and races and became a some kinda icon, so I thought that androgynous mechanical sound of the capital A.Y.A gon' perfectly fit.

MM: Where were you born?
A.Y.A: In Fukuoka. The prefecture in the south part of Japan, a place where good food and many cute girls with cute accents exist!

MM: Where do you live today?
A.Y.A: Tokyo city. I came to Tokyo when I was 15 yrs old. To become an artist.

MM: I love how your album mixes electronic and pop sounds. Did you produce it yourself? If not, who produced it?
A.Y.A: Thank you so much! I'm an executive producer, so all the concepts of this album's sound, artwork and message came from me,  but I do have a sound producer. I write every song of my album, then,  finally my sound producer manipulates and rebuilds my demo track again. The sound producer's name is Shojiro Konishi, he is a sound producer but also a pro drummer, he used to play drums for many famous Japanese artists like Ayumi Hamasaki, Kiyoharu, Superfly, Angela Aki and so on. Although, he was a very down-to-the-earth person, he put 100% authority into my hands and he always accepted my requests. (I had an order for every single tone/instrument but he still listened to me. He was very helpful.) He left many instrumental parts of my demo on the album versions, and all of the songs are based on my demo versions, so that may be the reason why this album has some kinda DIY vibes. It's like a bit of an upgraded version of what I used to recorded in my bedroom.

MM: What instruments and/or computer software did you use to make the album?
A.Y.A: Cubase. Synths and electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and Mr.Konishi played drums on "Leave This Town".

MM: You have a song called “Virginity,” but since it's almost entirely in Japanese, I don't know what your thoughts about virginity are, or if the song is supposed to be funny or serious. Could you possibly translate the chorus into English for us and tell us what the message of the song is?
A.Y.A: Actually...it's all written in English. Haha. Here are the lyrics:

We were young. age 13
How did you know how to put a condom on it?
How did you know where da G exist?
I didn't even know what the hickey means
Boys they love to try nasty things
Things they've learned from porn(Oh shit)
Girls gotta tell em boys to chill out
Some boys makes us girls freak out
but you made my heart beat,boom boom
We used to make out in the class room
We were crazy, you were crazy,I was crazy to you
It was wrong but it felt so right
Shined so bright like a love at first sight

I gave it to you
You were my first
I loved you

I was your girl n you where my boy
How did that happen? Still don't know why
I knew that you were in that zone
You pulled down my shorts,it wasn't a thong
I liked the way that way you (Oh)
Kinda scared but also thrilled 
Yeah day you went real hard
Sounded like "bang bang"
Yeah,like a gang bang

I gave it to you
You were my first
I loved you

(Ah ah)Do you still remember?
(Ah ah)Love didn't last forever
(Ah ah)It was your failure
but it was first time, so
That's the way it goes
That's the way it goes...

I gave it to you
You were my first
I loved you

I've decided to sing about my non-virgin status because Japanese society is attaching too much emphasis on female's virginity, and that trend has been caused by Japanese society's misogynistic ideas for females. It's not from the moral sense. Our society is dominated by patriarchal authority and they are objectifying females, especially in the internet, non-virgin idols are treated like second-hand-goods or left overs, these kinda metaphors are totally misogynistic, so I wanted to sing loud about that fact that I'm not a virgin. Also, decades ago, in the song called "Can't Hold Us Down", Christina Aguilera claimed  "If you look back in history/It's a common double standard of society/The guy gets all the glory the more he can score/While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore." The situation is still the same in Japan. I wanted to go against that climate, so I've rapped and added a bit of slutty vibes like Lil Kim, Trina or Remy Ma, those naughty but tough female rappers I used to listen while I was in junior high. This country's virgin relief is ridiculous, so in this song, I'm singin/rappin bout my first experience, making fun of it with humor. I wanted to laugh out loud cuz people are talking too seriously about virginity.
MM: You have a song called “Fuck This Town.” Is there a specific town you're referring to or do you just mean it in a general sense? Also, what are the reasons why you wrote “Fuck This Town.” In other words, what aspects of the town caused you to say fuck it?
A.Y.A: I`ve mentioned my hometown. I used to grown up in the provincial city, but life in that city might be much closer to the life in the suburbs of somewhere in US. It's been almost 8 years since I left my hometown. Now I feel love for that place, but as I explained in last question, I've experienced bullying, sexual assault, big culture shock,etc, I had a lot of struggling there, so I'm still having love&hate, complicated feelings for my hometown. In this song, I'm looking back at my days in the town, describing young me, who was sassy, fearless, and thinking that my hometown sucks and trying like hell to get out of there.

MM: You list Sky Ferreira as one of your favorite artists on your website and I can hear some similarities between your album and her album Night Time, My Time in terms of the sound/production. Was her album one of your biggest influences when you made your album? If so, what elements of her album did you find most inspiring?
A.Y.A: Yep. Sky's "Night Time, My Time" had inspired me because of that raw sound with D.I.Y vibes included. What I liked about her album was the way rock/punk/pop music and modern digital sounds have been mixed. I can hear the elements of many different music genres, but the sound of the grungy distortion guitar and vocals with very deep reverb are adding the vibes of indie music, making it all sound harmonized.  Also, it was kinda interesting to see her not hiding her struggles between her and her label/management, she talked about her anger for the labels, non-creative adults and producers in the industry on several interviews. That was really cool. At the beginning of her career, she took a spotlight as a fresh new teen pop star, but suddenly her debut project got flopped, but she didn't gave up, she had tough years and experienced such long battles with labels,  but finally she released her 1st album. When she came out as a new pop icon, I was 16 or something, and I also struggled in my high teen years to get a contract with major labels. When I read about her battles with labels, I felt sorry for her, and that whole process to release her album made me feel really deep sympathy. 

MM: What other albums or artists were your primary influences for 2 Cool 4 School?
A.Y.A: Charli XCX, Washed Out, Lana Del Rey, Banks, Grimes, Lorde, Utada, Bad Bad Not Good, etc.

MM: One thing I found interesting about your list of favorite artists is that none of them are Japanese artists, most of them from here in the States or from England. Do you have any Japanese music favorites? If so, who? If not, does that mean that you don't listen to much Japanese music?
A.Y.A: I do listen to Utada Hikaru. I love her. And also Namie Amuro's R&B influenced songs in early 00s years, and some rock bands from 90's, like Thee Michelle Gun Elephants, Syrup 16g, and more. I just don't write their names in my bio cuz people may not see influences by them in my music.

MM: In a way, your album is almost the opposite of J-Pop because J-Pop tends to be over-produced these days, sounding so pristine that it's like the artists are all plastic puppets, whereas your album is edgy and more laid back in the sense that your songs are catchy, but it seems to just be coincidence, that they just happened to come out that way as opposed to the way J-Pop songwriters are just concerned with writing catchy hits. Were you rebelling against J-Pop a bit when you made your album?
A.Y.A: Yep, I'm anti of J-pop music nowadays. It is okay to be categorized as a J-pop artist cuz I am Japanese and I do sing in Japanese, but I don't wanna follow the trend of plastic one-hit-another-ish pop music. There are many popstars and producers who write music like screen printing, it happens because they are stupendously ignorant to the background of music, nor the youth culture that belongs to its sound. They're only looking at the surface of music. Also, people in the music industry are not interested about knowing what is cool and edgy, or hot right now. They prefer to be conservative, so they are making same old sounding records. So I want to be a game changer. I do listen to some Japanese artist as I've answered in the question above, and there are some creative and challenging artists, but they are minorities.

MM: When you write songs, do you usually start with the lyrics or the music?
A.Y.A: Both. Sometimes, I construct music, lyric and melody. Sometimes everything at the same time. too.

MM: You speak English – did you learn it mostly by studying it or from listening to music in English? Or was it a bit of both?
A.Y.A: I used to go to an international kindergarden in Japan, and kept learning English until I was 15 years old, but also I've learned many english words from the lyrics of songs, especially bad words...

MM: Your album cover is a bit provocative. Has it caused any controversy? Is there a story behind the cover or were you simply aiming for something sexy? Who photographed the cover?
A.Y.A: I wasn't naked on there so it didn't cause any controversy, but I'm pretty sure that there were many core music fans who would recognized that album cover. I think some media posted my album review because of that eye catching album cover. Oh, but my parents were shocked about that album cover, and I thought that it might be way more shocking for my grandma, so I gave her a CD without no cover! My friend from elementary school took the album cover photo. I wanted to take a photo which is sexy but stylish, eye catching, a bit shocking. It seems like I didn't miss my mark. :)

MM: Did you self-release the album or are you signed to a label?
A.Y.A: I belong to an indie internet label called "Low High Who". Famous Japanese artist like tofubeats, DAOKO, Jinmenusagi used to belong this label. But, actually, it's much more likely to the posse or crew, it has distribution system but our label got more D.I.Y vibes.

MM: Are you working on any new music right now? If so, could you tell us about it?
A.Y.A: Now I'm co-writing new songs with a young track maker who belongs to the same label. His name is Naclear. Not sure bout the release date, but it is a mixture of trap music, hip hop, electronic and pop and the sound is sick. I can't wait to let everyone hear it.

MM: Prior to your album, you released a mixtape in 2014. Do you have any plans to release another mixtape? If so, when might we see that released? Or when might you release your next regular album?
A.Y.A: Yep, I have got some plans. I have many undone tracks so I want to finish em and release some mix tapes. Release of my regular album might be the one with Naclear. I wanna release more free songs before I release my solo regular album.

MM: I read that you're a blogger for NYLON, which is one of my favorite magazines. Would I be correct to assume that your blog is in Japanese? What is the URL for your blog?
A.Y.A: My three year term blogger contract with NYLON ended in last year, so now I'm using a tumblr. Plz subscribe to it:) → http://aya2cool4school.tumblr.com/

MM: Were you a blogger for NYLON before you started making music or did they approach you after your music came out and they liked it?
A.Y.A: I started the NYLON blog afte I started music. I approached them by myself because I needed some props from girls. I wanted more girls in my fan base.

MM: Since you're very pretty, I must ask: are you also a model? Have you thought about doing any acting?
A.Y.A: Thanks :) I did some modeling of apparel and magazines, but I'm not slim/tall enough to be a model, and the music is my most important thing. Also, I did the fashion work to get more attention for my music (you know, like Sky Ferreira did). So, I don't recognize myself as a model. I've enjoyed it well though. Acting...hmm, in the past, many people recommended I do acting, and they recommended I audition for films, but I didn't really like it, and the standards of Japanese film rolls for young girls, they are all like,  pure, innocent, shy kawaii Japanese girls, so I would never fit in. lol

MM: Would you describe yourself as a trend-setter? In other words, has something you've praised ever become fashionable or hip because of it?
A.Y.A: Well, I'm not yet recognized by people that much, so it might be yet hard to describe myself as a "trend-setter", but I get a good reaction on SNS or blog, ppl give me praising comments about the way I dress, and that's really sweet.

MM: In your twitter profile, and in your bio, you describe yourself as an SSW. What is an SSW? I googled it, but the results only made me more confused than I already was.
A.Y.A: It's an abbreviation of Singer Song Writer. I thought this was a world-widely common abbreviation! No? Is it only used in Japan?

MM: How often are you recognized in public? What usually happens when you're recognized? Do people ask for your autograph or do they leave you alone? Do lots of people come running over once someone spots you?
A.Y.A: I don't think I'm that well recognized yet. There are some people who come up to me and say they know me, and give me positive reactions, but still, it's way far from my goals. I gotta work harder!:)

MM: Is your music on Spotify in Japan? I looked for it on Spotify here in the U.S. and didn't see it. Are you planning to put it on Spotify here at some point?
A.Y.A: No, it's not. It depends on the policy of the music label, but personally I really want to stream my songs. Don't know when it's gonna be but I want to start as soon as possible.

MM: Here in the States, the major streaming services are Spotify, Apple and Beats. What are the main streaming services in Japan?
A.Y.A: We've got Apple and some Japan only music streaming services, but streaming services are not as popular as in theStates. I'm using Apple music.

MM: What are your thoughts on streaming in general? Most artists here in the States are complaining that the record labels keep most of the money earned from streaming, that they see very little of it. Is that a common complaint in Japan?
A.Y.A: I think, in Japan, the record labels are complaining about streaming services more than artists do. Compared to other countries, the physical CDs are still selling well and the record labels are still getting a profit so they don't recognize the needs of streaming services. Personally, I think streaming services would be a good chance to promote your songs world wide. It has many profits.

MM: What was the last album you bought?
A.Y.A: I've been using a streaming service so I haven't bought an album lately.
But the last one I bought might be Charli XCX/Sucker.

Extra special thanks to A.Y.A for taking the time to do this interview!

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