Birthday: March 12, 1983
Birthplace: North Hollywood, CA
Current home: Tokyo
Blood type: A
GINGERS Futomomo Heaven
McDonalds Japan commercial
YOU FEEL NOTHING
faultless in wordless vows, you falter in waking life and wander, veiled, in vain
in summer eve's confining spell you find you try to have it all, through failing eyes you're hiding from that final sigh
then you wake, and feel nothing still the same, only nothing to deny that it's over
and you don't know how you should feel when you know that nothing is real
skies press on warring boughs of cypress in lowering clouds that bind you find you're bound inside it all
you're lost inside the flame flying high into space, through an endless life perennial shining lights fill your mind
then you wake, and feel nothing still the same, only nothing to deny that it's over
and you don't know how you should feel when there's nothing in the world that's real
no, you don't know how to be real when there's nothing left that you can feel
© Words and music by Ananda Jacobs
"This song is about the death of feelings, and their overwhelming nature. It's about existence and perception, how to reconcile emptiness and ecstasy. A disorienting dream, into which you're thrown from a life of illusion and denial, leaves you not knowing how to feel once you fall back into the corporeal world. A world in between life and death, reality and dream. What happens when you wake from your experiences, in whatever realm they existed?" - Ananda Jacobs
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Ananda Jacobs Interview
"You could say it came down to a question of, 'what would you miss more if you didn't have it?' and for me the answer was music." - Ananda Jacobs
What do you want to be when you grow up? For a young girl named Ananda Jacobs the answer seemed to be something like "everything and more". But one thing she certainly didn't expect with her background in music and science was that she would end up spending the last six years in Japan working as a model and actress.
In Japan they are called "tarento", the talents who populate the vibrant media culture of the country. Now a veteran of hundreds of ads and publications, Ananda is currently working on her debut album with her new musical unit, JACOBS.
So come learn the story of the woman who says "Music is personal, but also universal. I hope you will find your own meaning and significance in these songs I've written."On July 19, 2012 Ananda Jacobs was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Ananda Jacobs.
Let's start from the beginning. Can you tell us about your hometown neighborhood and what it was like growing up there?
I grew up in a forest. Until I was 9 years old, my family lived in Flagstaff, Arizona. Our house was on five acres of Arizona forest overlooking a ravine. As a kid, that made for a whole universe. An entire afternoon might be spent digging a network of miniature rivers in the dirt, or establishing a town made of tree bark. A bulk of my childhood memories revolves around arts and crafts, playing with animals, "pinecone baseball" (a game I would play with my sisters-- just like regular baseball, except with trees for bases, and pinecones for the ball)... come to think of it, most of our games were invented with odd resources.
How did your family life growing up seem to compare to the other kids you knew?
My parents were always keen on doing things themselves. They built our whole house by hand, for example. I mean they actually hauled lumber and nailed it all together. From an early age, I think I developed a sense of our family being different. We had dozens of pets: rats, a donkey, chickens, parakeets, a dog, rabbits... I never owned a Barbie or a video game or a comic book, so when I'd see other kids' houses, I'd quietly marvel at these objects. But I preferred my little universe of animals, drawing, and imagination. Having three creative sisters around helped. Magic shows, parades, home movies, clay sculptures, improvised variety shows -- the activities were boundless, really.
When I was 9 years old, my family went on a shoestring trip around the world. Instead of attending the 5th grade, I spent seven months in Europe, Africa, and Asia. When we returned to the U.S., we moved to the Pacific Northwest. I went to a new school for the last couple months of 5th grade to sort of catch up on everything, and basically continued being a shy kid who liked to play outside and do science, music and art.
How did you first get into music?
Probably until about age 10, I was mainly just aware of music from the 1950s and '60s, and a little bit of contemporary pop, classical, and New Age. I liked to tinker on piano and drum on whatever surface was around. One time I ventured our radio dial off the usual oldies station and onto a local underground dance station. After that I guess I started exploring more genres. A lot of music I discovered just by ordering CDs from one of those bargain CD mail-order companies (sign up and get 20 CDs for 1 cent or something). As to why I got into music, rather than a specific how, I can say that I appreciated the profound effect that sounds have on the mind from a very young age.
When I was 4, I wondered why a minor chord sounded sad, and a major chord sounded happy. As a teenager I sat for hours on end absorbing my favorite music, letting my mind sail through chord after melancholy chord. I didn't really care if the music I was listening to was "cool" music or not -- maybe it was popular, maybe it wasn't. I loved Ace of Base and The Cranberries, and I also loved Bulgarian folk music and Enya.
What type of a career did you imagine for yourself when you were in high school?
I picked up the clarinet at age 11, and thought for a while that I might be a professional clarinetist in an orchestra someday. I was a band geek in high school. I had a knack for music and learned to play instruments quickly, but unfortunately didn't like to practice in the traditional way you're supposed to learn scales and arpeggios and all that. Freedom in hobbies is a double-edged sword. I had keen interests in music, science, languages, and art, but had a hard time choosing one thing to really focus on. I wanted to be a musician and also a scientist.
Tell us about your college years and what interested you the most.
I went to the University of Southern California on a scholarship for Aerospace Engineering. I planned on training to be an astronaut, with aims of one day going to Mars. However, I took a psychology course on the side and quickly changed majors. I had a more pressing urge to learn about the human mind, I discovered. I worked as a lab assistant for a criminal psychology research project, putting EEG sensors on scalps and whatnot. In keeping with my dilettante (or if you're kind enough to call it Renaissance) nature, I also had a lot of fun in metal shop, pipe organ lessons, Spanish, and art history.
So you were planning on pursuing a doctoral degree in neuroscience, but something happened. Tell us the story.
On a gross and minute scale, I wanted to know how the brain processes music. This quickly becomes an overwhelming topic when you consider the entire emotional scope of human beings, entwined with an enormous set of factors like culture, personality, and memory. Untangling the significance of a particular set of neurons in a fraction of a second is hard enough. Try an entire song or a symphony, the responses to which will vary from person to person, from day to day, from mood to experience in an ever-changing state of mind.
Well, as a good scientist you pick one part of the problem and go to work. So I was set to start a doctoral program in cognitive neuroscience, but I postponed it for a year partly due to pressure to stay in my band in L.A. at the time. Though I'd gone as far as the interview process and it was a matter of choosing between scholarships and cities, I guess a part of me wasn't ready to commit to a life of research. I had a haunting feeling of not having enough time for my music projects as well. You could say it came down to a question of, "what would you miss more if you didn't have it?" and for me the answer was music.
How much of an influence was Japan to your life before you went there in 2006?
There wasn't any major influence of which I'm particularly aware. I came in contact with a hair salon in L.A. and started modeling for them. The owners happened to be Japanese, and invited me to be a model in their bi-annual Japan hair show tour. Of course I jumped at the opportunity as traveling to Japan sounded like fun! The hair show lasted only 2 weeks, but was enough to realize that I loved being in Japan and wanted to go back again.
What made you decide to stick around and actually live there?
Having postponed graduate school, my activities in L.A. had petered out to occasional lab research work, tutoring, and trying to get some of my music projects off the ground. I'd been feeling increasingly stifled and jaded by the whole scene in L.A., so when the second opportunity to model in Japan came around, I decided to stay in Tokyo for a few weeks after the job ended. The ostensible plan was to check out the music scene, get some leads on how to bring my music over to Tokyo, and see if I could pick up a few modeling gigs. However, I quickly realized that I had no desire to return to L.A. or my activities there at the time. So, being just crazy enough and with only a handful of cash, I rented a tiny, 3-square-meter room in a guest house, and settled in for a bit to see what might happen. I'd only planned for a few months, but that led to almost six years.
Can you explain how having an entertainer visa works for a foreigner in Japan and what type of challenge it has been?
At first I tried to get a modeling agency in Tokyo to sponsor me, but I was too short for the major fashion agencies, and it would have a been a complicated process trying to work out a visa even if I'd met the physical requirements. I ended up getting an English teaching job that granted me a working visa for 1 year, so I had time to dip into the various freelance talent agencies around Tokyo when I wasn't singing the ABCs to kids. After some experience, a couple of the agencies offered to sponsor my next visa, the 3-month entertainment visa. This is not easy to do long-term, as the law requires you to renew the visa every 3 months, and leave Japan every 6 months and then come back and essentially start over each time. On the plus side, my agency agreements allowed some freedom of scheduling so I could work freelance as well, but this is largely because such agencies don't have the power to fully support models on an exclusive basis.
What were some of your more memorable model shoots or commercials you've done in Japan?
Oh, I could name more than a few! In a Cup Noodle commercial I was asked to scream at the top of my lungs. (Why? Because two aliens, one in the shape of a pepper shaker and the other a cheese, pop out of the woods and shoot flavor into my noodles.) I was a dancing squirrel in one music video, a vampire in another; a dancing mosquito in one commercial, a gum-chewing Neanderthal-turned-fashion model in another.
What do you think are the keys for a foreign model or actor getting gigs in Japan?
As a commercial actor, you must overact. Develop easy to understand facial expressions: surprise! delicious! scary! As a model, I guess it helps to have certain features like big eyes and a diminutive frame. I've only really delved into acting and modeling since moving to Japan so can't speak for experiences elsewhere, but I'd offer what I assume is common sense advice on the job: be polite, be patient, be appreciative, and you never know what connection will lead to a bigger break for you.
We loved watching your role in the web TV series English Teachers. Can you tell us about your experiences making the show?
We spent 2 weeks in Nagoya shooting the series. It's all kind of a blur, but I remember it felt a little like summer camp. When you live in Japan and are around mostly Japanese people who are not native English speakers, you tend to dearly miss being able to just joke around and goof off in your native language. The project itself was fun, but getting to hang out with a fun cast and crew and renew a piece of my silly American self was perhaps even more enriching.
As you look back over the several roles you've now played as an actress what lessons have you learned?
In addition to learning tricks of the trade, such as which camera angles are better or worse, developing a stage presence (I was once wisely told to make sure each motion has a meaning-- no fidgeting), as well as adjusting my voice to achieve different nuances, I've learned also to take the rigors of work in stride. My work with Otona Keikaku was one of the most challenging acting experiences I've ever had. I thought I would have a meltdown just memorizing all my lines in Japanese, let alone following the groove of the acting troupe as a complete neophyte. I just try to remember that it's all temporary -- any fame is fleeting, and all challenges will pass. You take away the experience and go from there.
The video for the promotional video Futomomo Heaven was pretty entertaining. Who exactly is "Catherine Ginger" and how many videos have you done playing her?
Catherine Ginger is the lead singer of GINGERS, a pop music unit created specifically to promote an energy drink by Kanebo. As Catherine, I sang, danced, and filmed five music videos with the GINGERS. Each song centers around a particular exercise you can do to stay slim - while of course drinking a can of Hikishime Ginger!
Now that your face has appeared so many times on so many different medias in Japan do you find you are recognized often?
I don't really get stopped on the street or anything. Within the industry, however, certain directors and casting agents remember me, and request to work with me based on previous ads I've done. Sometimes on a totally unrelated job, the makeup artist or someone will say, "hey, I saw you in such and such!" but that's about it.
In 2009 you decided to put more of an emphasis on your own music. Tell us about those first few years trying to break into the competitive Japanese music industry.
Over the years I've had some pretty ridiculous things suggested to me, mostly involving trying to be famous as a manufactured pop idol first, only after which I would be free to pursue my own music. I've been told that artists don't usually write their own music; that I should follow a more mainstream pop sound-of-the-moment otherwise record labels won't take interest; that I should only do covers for a while, etc. Well, I've always countered that, the moment you copy or chase after the current pop sound, is the moment you're too late. It's stale if you try to mimic what's already out. That said, I certainly do write within a pop format -- but I write what I like. I write chords I like, and I sing the way I like, because I feel that that's the way to express what the songs are meant to express.
I just couldn't bring myself to pursue something so insincerely for something so finicky and fleeting as the pop idol world -- unless of course I'm working for a commercial campaign, where I'm not trying to present that as my actual identity. I understand that there's an appeal to the "foreign girl singing in Japanese" idea also, and in fact I quite like singing in Japanese. But if you just pursue this as a means to an end, you're missing the bigger picture of creating lasting, quality music that goes beyond mere gimmick and trend.
What have been some of your more memorable musical performances so far?
I honestly haven't had enough experience performing my own music yet, but I will say that performing as the lead in the stage production Welcome Nippon was a great leap for me. I went from having played with a band at the occasional live house in front of 30 people, to singing and playing alone in front of a crowd of 400 to 800 people nearly every day for 6 weeks straight. I certainly came to terms with my stage fright!
Would you say you have a "philosophy of music" that guides your musical style, or is each song a separate creation?
Each song is born separately, but I find that I gravitate towards undulating, melancholy chords, crisp rhythms, floating melodies, and perhaps a bittersweet sensation of flying.
You've been working on songs for your debut album for a while now. Can you describe what the writing and recording process has been like?
I must admit I have a terrible habit of starting songs and not finishing them in due time, but I'm working on that. The lyrics, melody, instrumental arrangements and general structure of a song often present themselves in a flash, but as I'm very particular about sounds and mixing and the whole recording process start to finish, I tend to get caught up in the details. I haven't wanted to release anything until I feel it's really perfect.
Shattered has a wonderful feel to it. Tell us about the song's history.
It was a response to a complicated relationship I was in several years ago, where deep down I wanted to be free from something bound to be broken. It was a way to face that possibility of shattering something, but all from an ethereal, ghost-like point of view that perhaps had no decisive power, only visions. The song is dark, and was written with sparse drums and an odd sort of lamenting synth line. I wrote the bass melody as a prominent part, and stubbornly kept it intact throughout even when reworking this song with a producer colleague. At this moment, it's still not finished -- I am adding some rather agitated strings to the chorus!
Massacre strikes us as a profoundly strange song, but one we liked. What inspired it?
This one came from a dream, and a very strange dream indeed. I was under the monorail, it was dark all around, and, well, there you have the start of the lyrics. It felt strangely prophetic, though I would not like to believe there will be some sort of killing spree in Tokyo (or maybe it was Seattle) anytime soon. It was a dream about the clashing of people, the misunderstandings between beings which could extend to race relations, human versus alien relations, etc. The key, though, and this is the song's core optimism, is that at the family unit, the interpersonal level, there is an undeniable core of solidarity and the instinct to protect and be protected. Whatever undeniable horrors may come, you can look inward and to the people nearest to you and know what's important -- and see what raw states of being rise to the surface.
Phoenix has an almost goth instrumental sound to it. How would you describe your musical style?
When I write, the sounds I pull up most often are organ, an industrial sort of drum set, an ethereal synth pad, and a nice deep bass. Clean, plucked arpeggios (on strings, banjo, or guitar) are something I like to add later on. I'm also fond of bells, like a nice orchestral chime sound. Reverse effects I also like: the intro to Phoenix was made by reversing a toy accordion sound. The guitar was actually one of the most foreign instruments to me until recently -- I somehow never really played one, nor deemed it necessary as a main instrument in my songs. My latest work, though, features some prominent guitar parts contributed by my partner in JACOBS that actually fit seamlessly into the pieces. Breakbeats, sentimental strings, trip-hop, dark folk, something ethereal and otherworldly, it's all in there. It's dream rock.
We loved your rendition of Lonesome Town. How did you come to pick this song to cover? (Btw we'd love to hear you do a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow).
Listening to 50s and 60s music since childhood, I always liked Ricky Nelson. I had that beat and feel in my head and it just needed to come to fruition. Actually there are a few more I'd like to do as well. It's a certain simplicity of melody and chords that lends itself to being adopted into different genres. In doing covers, I find it interesting to see what nuances the lyrics take on in different soundscapes with a different voice -- perhaps the message seems more wistful or dark, twisted or bright... on the one hand it's an experiment, but on the other hand I can hear so clearly the possibility of certain songs to take on another form. I think it's a testament to good songwriting, when a song can still be great in another form.
How many songs do you envision releasing on your first album once it's finally "done"?
I have two albums in mind at the moment: one is called PALOR which is an acronym for the five songs it comprises, as well as Latin for "wander." This is to be released as my solo project, and kind of represents my sojourn into different realms using landscapes as metaphor. I wrote these songs one week in 2009 and am just getting back to finishing up the mixes. The second album in mind is what I feel is the main expression of me at this time, and though it includes reworkings of a few old songs, the album should reflect a newer sound that includes more guitars and sometimes twin vocals. This I consider more the first proper full album, and it's with my new unit called JACOBS.
Do you think your music would have a different sound or feel if you had stayed in the US?
I can't say what would have happened had I stayed in the US, but I can say that just evolving as a musician and creative artist, changes have arisen. For instance, my lyrics used to be rather fragmented and absurd at times. Now, I try to craft lyrics as though I were assembling an intricate machine.
Looking back now, how would you describe the years you've spent in Japan?
I suppose I'd say there were several phases... that I didn't know what to expect at first, but that I'm becoming more and more myself as the years go on. I'll always be grateful to a certain set of people who played pivotal roles in my life.
On a personal note, what is your vision of a "romantic date"? How does it compare to what most Japanese think of as a "romantic date"?
Going back to the original root of romance, which is adventure, then any adventure will do, big or small. I'm partial to low-key activities like walking down the city streets at dusk, eating at a local izakaya, soaking in an onsen, maybe going on a little hike in the mountains or just getting out of town for a bit... and my special favorite, sharing playlists or YouTube videos of new or nostalgic songs. You can have a whole conversation by tossing songs back and forth. I don't know what most Japanese think of as a romantic date, but if it's something crowded and commercial like Disney Sea, I don't really see the particular appeal (unless it's just once in a while for kicks). I guess I'm more about relaxing and laughing together, and basically just getting along with the person, regardless of any particular activity.
What advice would you give to someone also thinking of traveling to Japan to work as a "tarento"?
Get a working visa, register with the freelance agencies, and have fun. Treat each opportunity with respect, but don't take yourself or the industry too seriously.
Tell us about the 10 day meditation retreat you recently went on. What did you learn most about yourself?
It's called Vipassana, or insight meditation. The retreat was a 10-day course in Chiba (they have similar centers all over the world). I went once in 2011 and again this year, and had profound experiences. The practice of this technique is to view all occurrences (perceived as physical sensations) with a balanced mind. So, whether I felt like my entire body was engulfed in flames, or had simply an annoying pain in my knee from sitting cross-legged, the training is to help you see that all things pass in time, and thus not to give importance to one fleeting sensation versus another.
What I learned, then, is that a) I can experience certain states of being ranging from the mundane to the otherworldly -- with a sharpened mind I "saw" myself from many levels of the mind: observing thoughts, observing the nervous system, and even briefly observing the dissolution of mind and matter -- but that b) viewing such occurrences with a balanced mind is the real crux, and a continual challenge.
Do you have a final message to all your fans?I'm really excited to share the music I've been working on, so I hope you'll be patient, and listen when the time comes. Music is personal, but also universal. I hope you will find your own meaning and significance in these songs I've written, enjoy them, and let yourself be enriched by music in general throughout your lives.
For more info checkout Ananda Jacobs's official music site and Facebook page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments