INTERVIEW: NAOMI SUZUKI

By Paris365 on March 04, 2016

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Release Date

various

Genre

J-pop

Label

various

I recently discovered the wonderful music of AJ Unity, a duo consisting of Naomi Suzuki and Philipp Moll, who make music that blends traditional Japanese instruments with shades of pop and new age. It's very calming music, which I imagine you could meditate to. I've found it especially relaxing and perfect to listen to while falling asleep at night. It's like audible lavender or a high dose of kava kava. That said, it's more than interesting enough to listen to while you're wide awake. There are so many sounds and colors to be had, you feel like you're looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to it. Their new mini-album J is one of the best things I've heard in months. You never know what's going to happen from one song to the next, they're so eclectic.

I was interested in interviewing Naomi Suzuki because her name sounded familiar, which made me suspect that she was once a solo artist making J-Pop (Japanese Pop). Turns out I was right. You can read all about that and many other things in the interview below, which was conducted via E-mail.

MM: I understand you're one of the most popular Japanese singers in the UK. Is this because of AJ Unity or were you already famous from your solo career?

NS: I have been doing the MC and main performer for seven years for Japan Matsuri (@ Trafalgar square). Japan Masturi is the biggest Japanese event in London ( Start 2009 Over 70,000 visitors in a day). The event made me popular.  AJ Unity career helps me as I could perform famous place such a Jazz cafe, Islington Assembly Hall. Also I perform a lot of Japanese event as a solo artist.

MM: How long were you a solo artist?

NS: 10 years

MM: I found a couple of singles by a Naomi Suzuki on Spotify, but I'm not sure if they were by you or another Naomi Suzuki. The titles were “IBUKI,” “Our Song” and “Smile At Me.”  Are those your songs or are they someone else? Whoever they're by, I found them very catchy.

NS: “IBUKI"is Japan Matsri’s theme song written by Naomi Suzuki.

I have been supporting victims of Japan Earthquake and tsunami with my music for five years and  "Our song” was written by the victims and me, the song talking about how the victims feeling and make them happy. (means supporting song)

Incidentally, last year I performed for the memorial concert in the House of Commons and became the first Japanese singer to perform at parliament.

"Smile at me” written by Naomi Mean “Let's all share a smile together.To protect the future of our world, the treasures that can be found within it!”

MM: Where were you born? If you weren't born in the UK, when did you decide to go to the UK and what were your reasons?

NS: I was born in Fukuoka Japan. When I was singing at a event in Japan, a producer picked me up to release in the UK. Because he wanted to make Japanese pop star in the UK.

MM: Does Ryoma play violin on your whole album or just the single “Kaguya-AJ”? (Also, is “Kaguya-AJ” the correct title or is it just “Kaguya”?)

NS: Ryoma Plays all the tracks of album ” J”. The title is KAGUYA-AJ

MM: Who plays all of the traditional Japanese instruments on “Kaguya-AJ”?

NS: Ryoma has his own band called "Ryoma Quartet” Ryma Quartet Play the traditional Japanese instruments.

MM: I understand Håkon Holmås produced “Kaguya-AJ.” Do you normally have other people produce your songs?

NS: Håkon Holmås produced all album “ J” tracks. Also I have many other producers to work with other songs.

MM: How does the songwriting process for AJ Unity usually work? For example, do you sit down and write together from scratch or do you each write things individually and then come together and find ways to make them work together?
NS: It’s different with each album. But usually it’s Naomi who initiates the working process. For the first record, Naomi had this very clear idea about the „Sweet Roses“ theme, as well as Holst’s „Jupiter“ theme to feature as one of the favourites for the successful single release it ended up being eventually. Then we left things with Philipp for a while to develop the album style, like what kind of vibe we wanted for our overall aesthetic. Also, we were very lucky to work with Bergen-based producer Rune Langhelle who contributed tremendously to the aesthetic of the first record. So it’s a collaborative effort really, with a slight different work flow each time we prepare a release.

MM: If you're the singer and Håkon Holmås produced the track, in what capacity did your musical partner Philipp Moll contribute? In other words, what are Philipp's contributions to AJ Unity?

NS: Philipp, while on a UK tour with Bjørk-Drummer Manu Delago, took apart Ryoma’s arrangements and was responsible for selecting the bits that could fit the AJ UNITY sound. So he would take bits and bops from the Ryoma originals and remix them to make them fit the AJ UNITY style. Then, together with myself in the studio, we would come up with new melodic ideas and lyrics. A properly collaborative work flow.

MM: You and Philipp first met when you worked together on one of your solo albums, correct? Did he produce the solo album he worked on?

NS: To be precise, we first met at a London corporate music industry event where we had different roles.
Another year or so went past until I did a solo gig of my own stuff in Central London, for which I asked Philipp to take care of our song arrangements. He did a fantastic job. So when the opportunity arose for a new project a few years down the line, I asked him to be part of AJ UNITY.

MM: At what point did you and Philipp realize you were destined to make music together? What year was it?

NS: in 2009

MM: How does the songwriting process for AJ Unity usually work? For example, do you sit down and write together from scratch or do you each write things individually and then come together and find ways to make them work together?

NS: It’s different with each album. But usually it’s Naomi who initiates the working process. For the first record, Naomi had this very clear idea about the „Sweet Roses“ theme, as well as Holst’s „Jupiter“ theme to feature as one of the favourites for the successful single release it ended up being eventually. Then we left things with Philipp for a while to develop the album style, like what kind of vibe we wanted for our overall aesthetic. Also, we were very lucky to work with Bergen-based producer Rune Langhelle who contributed tremendously to the aesthetic of the first record. So it’s a collaborative effort really, with a slightls different work flow each time we prepare a release. 

MM: Have you sang in Japanese on any AJ Unity music before? Will you do so onthe new album? If not, why not?

NS: I have AJ Unity’s previous song in Japanese.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMFscA3_7s8

NS: I will do so in next new album.

MM: Did you have a career in music in Japan before? Were you ever a J-Pop artist? Either way, what thoughts do you have about pop music in Japan right now?

NS: Yes I was. I sang animation theme song. Also I sang TV commercial songs.

MM: If you listen to J-Pop, who are your favorite artists?

NS: Perfume

MM: Which artists have inspired you most in terms of AJ Unity's music?

NS: Zero 7, Air

MM: “Kaguya-AJ” reminds me of a group called Enigma who did music that was a mix of new age and pop that was very popular in the early '90's. Are they one of your influences?

NS: Yes of course!!

MM: What is the story behind the name AJ Unity? What do the letters A and J mean?

NS:
A= Austria Philipp was born in Austria.
J= Japan Naomi was born in Japan.

MM: I listened to your album sampler on Spotify and was very impressed. It was only six songs though. How many tracks will be on the album? The tracks on the sampler were:

1.Kaguya-AJ
2.Yoake-AJ
3.Peace-AJ
4.Samurai-AJ
5.Hanamai-AJ
6,Yoake-AJ Haxxy Remix

NS: There are all.

MM: What is the title of the album?

NS: “J”

MM: When will the album be released?

NS: 2nd May,

MM: Could you tell us the meaning or story behind a few of your new songs?

NS: Keywords: Positive, never give-up , Life is not easy but do yourself.

I will prepare and some day my chance will come.
Each one of us has a fire in our heart for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.
Thinking out of the box, we will freely express important parts of being human such as strength and kindness in yourself,

MM: Do you do any live performances?

NS: 14th March@ Islington Assembly Hall
I have been supporting victims of Japan Earthquake and tsunami with my music for five years and I have visited more than 40 place in affected areas to cheer them up with singing.
Incidentally, last year I performed for the memorial concert in the House of Commons and became the first Japanese singer to perform at parliament.
This year we are doing the memorial concert in a bigger venue as a fifth anniversary is a very important milestone for Japanese people.
The driving principles of the "Unity Bridge Project" are "remembering those affected" and "gratitude for the support given."
We are building a bridge of friendship between the givers and the receivers and aiming to make a bridge of hearts.
We want to send a message to people in the affected areas, “We'll never forgotten you”

MM: Will you do a tour to promote the new album?

NS: I will do tour in Japan first.

MM: Your debut single “Jupiter” [Which I love!] rose to the top of some music charts. Were you surprised by how successful it was?

NS: I was surprised but I was sure the tracks would touch people’s heart.

MM: Did the success of “Jupiter” put more pressure on you when you were making the new album, since you had all of these fans anticipating what you'd do next?

NS: No I don’t. It look a couple years to create new album. And I know it would be. It was not easy process as all of us (Naomi, Philipp and Håkon) living different countries.

MM: Is “Jupiter” still doing well on the charts? When was “Jupiter” first released? When did your album Sweet Roses come out?

NS: First UK release was 2010
And US release was 2012

MM: Do you think you'll do another solo album in the future or are you not even thinking about that and just focusing on AJ Unity?

NS: I have fans in Japan who are waiting for my solo stuff. So I will work on as solo artist. But I would like to focus on AJ Unity more next few years.

MM: You played Hugh Grant’s girlfriend in Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I couldn't find you on Internet Movie Database. Was that the only acting job you ever had? If not, what else did you act in?

NS: I got in the audition and I did the part as Hugh Grant X girlfriend. I was totally naked for 6 hours having bed scene with Hugh Grant!! But finally I was in the film only few second!! You can’t brink your eyes!!

I acted, Drama like “ East Enders”
some films and some TV commercial in the UK!

MM: When did you decide to start making music instead of acting and why?

NS: When I was three years old, I believed I would live in Music.
I won a piano competition when I was child and it was feel so good!!
I thought I can make people who all over the world with my music.

MM: Do you think you'll do any acting in the future?

NS: I love to do performance. This is the same between music and acting as I am a performer.
So if there are any chance to do this, I am always keen.

MM: Is there anything you'd like to say that I haven't asked you about? (a message to your fans or something else you wish to express)

NS: As I am a Japanese artist, I hope that we can transcend the simple concept of “cultural exchange” and find a way to become a true bridge between Japan and the rest of the World.

MM: At the end of our interviews we ask random questions. Here are yours:

MM: Of all the cities you've ever lived in or visited, which is your favorite?

NS: Prague
Such a beautiful city and music is just next you!

MM: How frequently are you recognized in public? Have tabloid photographers ever bothered you?

NS: Not really! Only in Japanese community at the moment.

MM: Do you have any pets? If so, what are they and what are their names?

NS: I had a Yorkshire terrier, but he past way last year….
He was my baby...

MM: What is your favorite genre of movies and name three of your all-time favorites:

NS: Comedy
Love story
Roman history

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