Hometown: Sendai, Japan
Ki-yo Demo Songs
Inhabit My Praise
A Piece Of Love (1-1-2010)
Stop On By (12-8-2004)
THE Remix (3-29-2003)
I'll be there (7-25-2001)
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"I think Japan has so many unique and original things. Actually, I realized this after I moved to New York." - Ki-yo
It's not often that we're moved by gospel music, but the moment we heard Ki-yo singing his stirring rendition of Inhabit My Praise amidst a jubilant African-American choir we knew we'd discovered someone very special. A veteran of the Japanese music industry, the never lacking in confidence Ki-yo (aka KIYOTAKA) released his first single while he was still a teenager. After a string of albums in Japan Ki-yo made the decision in 2010 to tackle the New York music scene.
With his second international single "Dear All My Loves" to offer up what better time to hear the story of the man who says: "I love that moment that people understand my message and are affected by the positive influence of my music. There's nothing else that can bring me more joy and happiness than that."On May 23, 2012 Ki-yo was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Ki-yo.
Let's start with your latest music news. Tell us about your upcoming single release "Dear All My Loves".
I wrote this song because I started to miss and think more about my family and friends in Japan after I moved to NY. When I go back to Japan, I always have good times with them and feel like I can appreciate those relationships more. Unfortunately, I always have to say goodbye to them because I have other things to do, namely, accomplishing my dream in the USA away from them.
I feel I can grow much stronger because of the fact that I always have precious people behind me, even if I can't see them in person. So, I wanted people who have been in that kind of situation to listen to this song and wanted to empower them as well.
What stands out most in your mind about writing or recording the music?
I feel like this is my destiny. I always look for something that inspires me to write songs. I love that moment that people understand my message and are affected by the positive influence of my music. There's nothing else that can bring me more joy and happiness than that.
This is a follow up to your single "#1". What inspired this pretty bold title?
That title has several meanings. One of them is that this is my first international single, so I wanted to show my new beginning. The second reason is that since I came to NY, I started to realize that I'm becoming hungrier and hungrier. Now I want to be number one in this country! The last reason is that I was in a relationship when I wrote this song, and the person I dated was so insecure about the future and almost lost their way. So I wanted to cheer that person up and wanted to say, "Don't worry, no matter what happens I'll always be your number one fan. So, don't be afraid and do what you believe you can do."
What was the recording session for this single like?
I have my own studio in Manhattan, and I usually do all the songwriting, recording, and post-production work by myself. When I recorded this song, I was really energetic. I would be by myself shouting, "Yeah!" It's kind of sad, right? But, I'm really satisfied with my mixing work on this.
Can you give us a peak at your next full album?
It's going to be a mixture of the music I've been inspired by, such as pop, R&B, gospel, rock, dance, a touch of country music, and of course J-pop.
How can fans buy your music today?
You can buy my songs on iTunes, Amazon, and other music websites. If you are in Japan, you can also get physical CDs.
Where can fans see you perform in the near future?
Somewhere in NYC. I'm thinking about going on tour after I complete the album. You will be able to see me perform in other big cities in the USA.
Let's take a trip back in time to get to know you better. Can you tell us about your hometown and what it was like growing up there?
OK. I was born and raised in Sendai and Niigata until I moved to Tokyo at the age of 17. I moved several times because of my father's job. Music was always a big part of me. When I was 7 and 11 years old, I had big surgeries twice, and both times I couldn't eat anything for a whole month and had to stay in the hospital for 2 months. At that time, music was my only friend and I listened to it all the time. Looking back, I think those experiences heavily influenced the rest of my life. After the second surgery I started to think that I wanted to inspire those who are in difficult situations like I was.
What type of music did you listen to and play?
I always loved to copy the songs my mother was playing from artists like Stevie Wonder, The Carpenters, Whitney Houston, and some Japanese singers. I started to play around with the keyboard I had in my house and I really loved it.
Where did you get the confidence to send out demos of your music when you were a teenager?
To be honest, I was so confident in what I was doing and I strongly believed what was doing was right. So, I was pretty sure they were going to respond to me. And they did! Looking back, I just didn't know a lot outside of my territory, but somehow it worked.
What do you remember most about the year your first single "No No No" came out?
It was when I was in high school. My friends and even students I'd never talked to before made a long line and asked me for my autograph.
Did you ever have any doubt that you could make music your life's work?
How did you get into the role of being a radio host?
Actually, my agent gave me those opportunities. I didn't like it at first, but I gradually found myself really enjoying it.
Do you have a few interviews that stand out in your mind?
When I had an interview with Boyz II Men, I was so honored and excited at the same time because they were one of my biggest inspirations. They sang End of the Road for me and when I let them hear my song The Only One, they said, "We've never heard any Japanese singers sing like this!"
What musical projects are you most proud of during your career in Japan?
I can't pick one specific thing, but I would say the fact that I'm still continuing to make music and have more and more passion for music.
What do you think of the current state of the Japanese music industry, and how would you like to see some things change?
I want to say a lot of things about it. I think the Japanese music industry seems afraid of trying new things and changing its old system. But, I want them to have more confidence and be brave enough to take some risks, because that's exactly what I did and I'm greatly satisfied with my decision.
What prompted your major decision to move to New York in 2010?
I'd always had the strong desire to move to NY since I first came here to visit. I felt so comfortable and it was so natural for me to be here, like breathing. Also, I was so fascinated by the diversity of the city, people, and music. I even felt the city was calling me, so it's like it was "meant to be". One more note on this: I really wanted to sing and write my own feelings in English because, simply, there are more listeners.
What were your biggest challenges that first year?
English! That's all.
Looking back over your career, how would you say your music has changed?
I think my love for music hasn't changed. Even if the style of my music changes, I believe the core of my music never changes.
How did you first get involved with gospel music?
I've been always a big fan of soul music. I really wanted to know its roots, and I remember I bought my all-time favorite Aretha Franklin's gospel album. I was just shocked and so moved by the soul pouring from her voice coupled with the harmony and amazing energy. Since then, I've been so into gospel music and always had desire to sing it with a choir. That's why I started to sing gospel right after I moved to NY.
Tell us the story of your involvement with the Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir.
At that time I was a member of two different choirs. One was the choir of a Pentecostal church in Harlem, and the other one was the Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir. I was curious about how Japanese people would sing gospel music.
Would you mind telling us your memories of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last year?
I still become really emotional when I talk about this topic. When the earthquake happened, I was in NY and right after that, I watched the news that showed the devastation of my hometown. I called my family right away but I couldn't reach them. All I could do was pray for them and wish for their safety.
A few days later I finally reached my family and found out they were alive taking shelter in an elementary school where I used to go. I was deeply relieved but still there was a huge danger of another tsunami and earthquakes. So, I decided to do what I could do in NY with my Japanese friends. We kept singing on the streets to raise money and awareness for Japan.
What were you able to do to help the survivors out?
Sadly, I alone couldn't provide any physical help for them at that time. All we could do as a group was raise money and awareness while collecting clothing and things survivors needed and then sending those things to them.
Later on, I visited several schools in Sendai including the one I graduated from and sang for them to lift their spirits.
Do you have any message you'd like to share about that whole tragedy and the effect it has had on Japan?
I felt that so many people tried to give a helping hand to Japan. I want to say thank you so much for your help. I deeply appreciate all your support and everything you've done for Japan.
Hontou ni arigatou.
On a lighter note, we understand that you've done some performing with Reni Mimura?
Yes. I had such a fun time performing in her show! She is super-positive and energetic, and I really respect her for that. The audience was AWESOME! They really know how to enjoy themselves and I received so many good vibes from them.
What do you think of the passion so many people outside of Japan have for the different cultural exports Japan has to offer?
I feel genuinely glad that they like and embrace the Japanese culture. I think Japan has so many unique and original things. Actually, I realized this after I moved to NY. So, I may feel the same way that they do.
Outside of music, what do you do for fun and relaxation?
I like to play sports for fun, especially soccer! I also like to travel around a lot! When I can take a week's vacation, I definitely go somewhere I've never been!
Do you have a final message to all your fans?Thank you so much for supporting me and loving my music. I promise I'll keep on creating better music and I'll never be afraid of challenging myself! So keep an eye on my progress!
For more info checkout Ki-yo's official site and Facebook page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments