Birthday: January 11
Blood type: O
Million Dollar Love song sample
Go Away live
Spanish Lullaby live
1 Tonko's Theme
2 If the time...
3 A million-dollar love...
4 If it's so far away
5 Kimi wo Aishiteru - I love you
6 PLUTO -it's just the time to love-
7 Wasurete iyo - Fly Away
8 Waiting for you!
9 Kissing you
10 Watch over you
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Akai Tonko Interview
So if you are a sucker for a story that starts sad but ends happy, come hear the tale to Akai Tonko, the self-producing singer-songwriter from Japan with a heart of gold.
On December 15, 2008 Akai Tonko was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World.
Even though you are a singer now, you actually suffered a great deal from a voice problem when you were young. Can you tell us what that was like?
When I was in elementary school (6-12 years old) most of my classmates were picking on me everyday because my voice was so small (even if I tried to speak with the loudest voice) and strange. For example, one time in class we played "hide and seek" in the school grounds. I had to be a tagger once, and I tried to shout "1, 2, 3, 4, 5..." but they shouted to me that they couldn't hear me, and they were laughing at me.
After I finished counting to 10, nobody was there. Because this was the game "hide and seek" everybody had to hide behind something. I tried to shout once that I finished counting to 10!!! But nobody answered. So I said "I'm going to go home now". But nobody answered. I just waited for 5 minutes for somebody to come to me, but nothing happened, so then I went home... it was like that.
Another thing. Some girl classmates pretended that they were my friends. One day they (4 or 5 people, I think) called me after school, and then I had to come home with them from school. On the way suddenly one of them was holding my arm strongly, then pulled me to another place by force, shouted to me that she hated me, and she told me how much my voice was stupid, as loud as she could. So I just answered like "so what? I hate you, too. And what else?"
Sometimes those kinds of things happened to me.
When you weren't dealing with being teased because of your voice, what types of things did you enjoy doing back then?
I had so much time to be alone in my childhood everyday. I really liked to go for a walk. When I was walking on the street, sometimes sitting on the grass and sometimes seeing the sea, I was addicted to imagining something special in my mind. That was like making my original scene and original music as background music. I loved to do that. I loved the time. Because I could feel free, refreshed and relaxed. Sometimes I got some power from it.
Was music always a part of your life?
Yes. Music was always with me, and it is a part of me now and forever.
At 22 you had an operation for your throat. What do you remember most about it?
I remember it clearly. I got a serious illness of my throat. I had a fever for 1 month because of that illness, so I just decided that moment to have surgery. The surgery was for cutting a part of my throat out. It took about 2 hours. And I was 1 week in the hospital. But I couldn't speak any words clearly for 1 month because they cut the muscles of my throat as well. It was so hard to practice to speak. But you know, not many people have an experience like that. My pronunciation sounded so funny the first time after surgery. I enjoyed practicing with my new voice!
How different is your voice now compared to when you were 17 years old?
The voice I have now has been described as "angel," "clear," "pure" and "beautiful". But before, it was so small, husky, low, and strange--the kind of voice that anybody finds hard to listen to.
You've had many difficult times in your life, including the death of your aunt and uncle. What got you through those terrible days?
I will explain it to you. My aunt and uncle died in 2004. After their death I didn't talk for a whole month--because they were my parents as well (I have 2 sets of parents) and they thought of me as their real child, too. We could not live together and also rarely could meet each other. But one day I promised on the phone to go to see them again. They lived in the south part of Japan. But 3 days before I was going to go there, I got a phone call from my real parents who told me my Aunt had died on my real father's birthday because of a Subarachnoid hemorrhage. And 3 months after her death, my uncle died of liver cancer. Their deaths gave me so much damage in my heart.
When I was 18 I had many hard challenges in my life, many bad and unlucky things happened. I couldn't believe in anyone but I tried hard to smile because it brings good luck or a kind of happiness. I would listen to music a lot to help me to get through those times.
How have the tragedies in your past affected who you are today?
I can say that it has made me stronger than before. I write music these days to help me and other people to overcome the hard times in life.
Despite the personal obstacles you persevered and released your first single "One More Night" in 2005. Can you tell us about the songs?
In this single CD "One more night" there are 2 songs which I made for my aunt and uncle who are already in heaven. The titles of those songs are One more night and Go away. In the lead song One more night I imagine that when the night comes, my aunt, uncle and I can meet again in my dream and float in the sky holding each other's hand, talking about everyday things with a smile. I just wish it could keep on going forever.
The song Go away is a kind of special song for me that was made for my aunt and uncle in heaven, the same as One more night. I wanted to say in this song that I believed you were always by my side, but you have to leave here, you cannot stay here with me because of your death. I didn't want to let you go but you should go to heaven. I will never forget you--you will be in my heart forever, wherever you are. I love you so much.
I believed you would always be by my side
I believed you would always be here
Even if it were impossible to meet you again for the rest of my life
I could never forget you at all
You really go away
If that is the way you must go
I can only say to you "just go your way"
I really love you, and still I do
I didn't want to let you go
I just realized where you should be was
not here, not by my side
You really go away
You will always be in my heart
Even when the tears are gone from my eyes
Your voice and peace in your arms
I will be feeling you in me now or ever...
In my heart....
© Music and Lyrics by Tonko
You collaborated with Kenji Suzuki on the music. What was your working relationship like?
Kenji Suzuki is a guitar player and arranger of many famous Japanese artists. I met him at a music shop. I was introduced to Mr. Suzuki because he has a lot of experience in arranging music. I had no experience in releasing a CD from a big record company. I have my own music style, but he has his style as well. So finally I thought it was better to leave it to him. The arrangement of the 2 songs completely uses his ideas.
Did you tour a lot in 2005 to 2007?
I did my live shows in Tokyo and some places out of Tokyo. My favorite memory is singing on Tianjin TV in China. It was the first time I have visited China. But I didn't have time to look around the city... that made me sad... anyway I really enjoyed my performance on the stage there.
What do you enjoy most about touring?
I always enjoy having a look at the reaction of the audience when I am singing. I try to go around the city and feel something different and fresh. Sometimes I enjoy eating some special local food there.
In 2008 you released your first full length album entitled "Sweet & Relax." How big a moment was that in your life?
When I saw it in my hand, I had a smile for awhile because this CD was made using only my ideas, music and design. But I had to make it--I needed to make it so that I could take it to Europe and the USA. So when I saw it, I felt "finally I got it!" like that. And this is just the first one, just the beginning. So I thought I wanted to keep creating my music better and nicer.
How would you describe the music's feel?
I did the mastering by myself. In the final step, "mastering", the color and style of a CD is created. So I just concentrated on making the sound's atmosphere deep, wide, natural, warm and simple.
What songs are you most proud of?
I can't say which song I am most proud of, because all of the songs I made are equally precious to me. But I can say that a particularly special song for me is Go away. Because that song it's filled with a lot of my feelings from inside which I can not explain with only words.
Tell us about the song A Million Dollar Love.
I made it for my best friend. She is the closest friend in my life from high school. When I made this song, she had some trouble in her life. I hoped she could feel happy even a little. The contents of this song are what I usually want to do and feel with a boyfriend. And she felt the same with it, too. So I gave this song to her.
How do you feel your music has changed over the last few years?
I think it is changing like I put more feelings into the songs and I can make songs more natural and simple. Sometimes they are made of only one sound and main vocal and backing chorus. But my basic music style has not changed.
Give us some insight into how you create music. What comes first, the lyrics, melody?
When I am making my music, I am thinking about nothing special. Since I was a child, I really like to imagine something special in my head and at the same time I am making original music, too. So it is like my habit, I think of specific things in my head, and that becomes music. Well I don't know how I can explain it. So usually melody and lyrics and background music come into my mind at the same time and actually that is the time that I can feel relaxed and be natural.
Once you have a song idea is it easy or hard to get the music just the way you want?
First of all I try to look for chords playing keyboards. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn't work so well. If it doesn't go better, I just stop making it at the time, and then try it another day. It is so simple for me.
The most important thing for me in making my songs is to take time to imagine how I can express the song in the best way, with the best instruments, words, atmosphere etc. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is easy
How different do you find expressing yourself musically in English versus Japanese?
If I basically do my music in Japan, I should choose English words they already known and can understand, like simple English language. In my case, the English pronunciation is going smoothly, but Japanese language is quite hard to sing
The difference between English and Japanese is big--they use a different part of the throat, so it is sometimes hard to mix them in a song. The most important thing is lyrics for me. I am Japanese, so I have to write lyrics they can feel and understand easily. It depends on the song, but generally they don't accept all English lyrics. But they like English because it sounds cool. Anyway I really like to write lyrics with the language mixed English and Japanese.
Tell us a little about the romantic life of Akai Tonko. What is your view of an ideal romantic date?
If it makes you disappointed, I'm sorry. My life is not so romantic because I am always making songs and lyrics, and documents for radio programs and my live-shows, designing flyers and posters, sometimes CD jackets. I sometimes have to go to a music office and some meetings, studio for rehearsing of live shows and recording, make plans for a new CD... when I have time, I'm usually with my mother and have some tea together relaxing.
About an ideal romantic date...I really prefer to go to see nature because I'm always in the city, and I grew up around a lot of nature. I want to be with a person that knows who I am naturally, not as Akai Tonko, to feel comfortable and relaxed. And then we talk about each other's everyday things holding hands. I am so happy if we can share each other's feelings.
What do you look for most when dating someone?
I like someone who can share thoughts and feelings, and who I can feel comfortable with. Someone with a good personality and conversation. I hope he likes to eat chocolate with me!
Any thoughts about getting married and having children in the future?
Nothing special at the moment. Time will reveal everything. I don't want to rush anything.
Aside from music and performing what types of things do you enjoy doing?
Sometimes I like to go to a cafe with my best friends or family, sometimes I like to go for a walk, sometimes I like to go to the sea in my car, sometimes I like sitting on the grass looking up the sky thinking of something or talking with my best friends. And I like eating chocolate!!
Do you have favorite food or drinks that bring up good memories? (Let me guess...)
Chocolate!! And red wine. Miso soup. Sushi.
Do you have favorite books or songs by other artists that are especially meaningful to you?
I rarely read books. About other artist's songs... the first English song that I remember is called "Mother of Mine" sung by Neil Reid from the U.K when I was 12 years old. I really like his singing, so I listened to this song a thousand times. That is the first time that I thought I wanted to make songs in English by myself.
What are your plans for 2009?
I am going to release my album CD at the end of May 2009. That plan has already started in December. I am going to keep on releasing an album every 6 months. And also I have plans for my live show every month and a radio program, and other events.
In Europe the boss of the Stimmen Festival in Loerrach, Germany sent me an invitation to have my live show there again on June 27, 2009, but I am not sure if I will go there.
Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
Everything is connected to everything. Just believe in who you are and the way you are. Because you are unique (no one else is like you). I try to enjoy the life I have now.
Do you have a final message to all your fans?
Thank you so much for reading my comments. If you listen to my songs and then you can feel relaxed and refreshed, I am really happy.
I want to say hello to my fans in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Paris, China, Korea, USA, and New Zealand! I will go to see you again. I love you, my fans.
For more info checkout Akai Tonko's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments