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Lisa Furukawa Vital Stats
Lisa Furukawa
Birthday: January 25
Hometown: Shibuya, Tokyo

Kabuki song sample

Ikiru Live


Reaching the Dragon (2006)
1. Border City
2. Beauty Reflected
3. Dragons
4. Like Water
5. Send Me Some Hope
6. Ikiru
7. Life Signs
8. Taking Turns
9. Kabuki
10. Fate
11. Lullaby

Pearl Diver (2005)
1. Pearl Diver
2. Girl In the Bubble
3. This Tide
4. Fuel
5. Connected
6. Winter
7. Lonely Star
8. Chiisana Tamashi
9. Like
10. I Am A Monkey
11. In Darkness
12. Stone Buddhas

This Moment Is The Show (2001)
1. Sunray
2. Safe
3. Crushes and Rivers
4. Innocence Knows
5. You Don't See
6. Tao Song
7. This Vibrancy
8. The Lizard & the Turtle
9. Fireflies

Where to Buy
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Lisa Furukawa Interview

Lisa Furukawa - click for full size

"I think the American part of me is a freedom loving, independent, cowboy boots kind of girl, and the Japanese part of me is really concerned about formalities and saying and doing the right things to respect others." - Lisa Furukawa

For Lisa Furukawa the world of music was destined to be an international journey. With an upbringing split between her hometown in Shibuya, Tokyo and the US, Lisa learned to appreciate the language and culture of both at an early age. Her latest album, "Reaching the Dragon," highlights her international background, drawing on a wide range of musical influences.

In addition to her own songwriting and performing, Lisa also spends her time teaching, traveling and translating music between Japanese and English.

On August 7, 2009 Lisa Furukawa was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Lisa Furukawa.

Let's start with your 2006 CD, "Reaching the Dragon." How would you describe the album's musical style?

It was recorded after my cellist moved away to go to graduate school and my drummer started working more on his other projects. I was listening to a lot of Yoko Kanno's music, and traveling to anime conventions -- performing lots of songs with homemade electronic arrangements. It was the beginning of experimenting with loops and using electronic sounds and working from an arranging point of view rather than a collaborative mindset in a band, or even just me and my piano mindset. It's definitely a dark album, but music can be a place for healing, and ultimately I was searching for a lighter/brighter more optimistic place through the songs.

Your Japanese version of Winter has a very touching, almost melancholy feel to it. Can you tell us how you chose it?

Winter was written by Tori Amos. It is the only cover song I have put on any of my albums. I helped direct a charity benefit called the Tori Amos Tribute Show for 5 years in NC, and one year I performed my Japanese rendition of Winter. It was the year I had the honor of meeting Tori's brother before he passed away. He was a very sweet supporter of our event, and gave the full blessing from Tori for the song to be on my album. The words were very special to me because it's a song about the relationship of a daughter and father, and wanting each other to be proud of the other. It only seemed appropriate to sing it in Japanese since my dad's Japanese.

Lisa Furukawa

The song Kabuki is a good example of your use of piano combined with other instruments. Can you tell us how you recorded the song?

Kabuki actually changed a lot. Originally, only a small portion of the recorded song was what I performed. While performing it at shows, it started evolving, and telling a fuller story. I started to really see the character from David Mack's story. I imagined this woman who was strong enough to be a trained assassin, but had an infinite amount of hereditary sorrow or a family karma that she was dealing with. The song isn't really about violence, but knowing that the seeds and causes you have in your life can be dealt with in every moment with courage and grace.

I recorded it with a click track and piano first, then added the drum loops and other noises. I recorded a scratch vocal track at home to experiment with background voices, and took it all down to coffeehouse studios in Atlanta, and worked with Brian Thompson to get the final vocal, mix, and master with him in the studio.


They say time can heal anything
Well, time moves like a cold freeze
That doesn't even sting
I am waiting patiently
For what I've sown to rise
I am not afraid to die

Tatakae yuuki o motte

Cool blade of steel in my hand
Sliver of moon burned in the sun
Cool touch of your sumi brush
I am a one woman battalion

Art is life
But life is bleak
How can darkness streak from
My mind into my pen
There's nothing left to share within

I drive too fast
But exit last
Keep holding on my time worn mask
Don't want to sleep
Don't want to weep
Don't want to fall into the ashes we keep

My eyes are digital mirrors
I see my future in the victims I behead
They play my life in pictures
They know my past and everything I did
Just like a trained tiger I hear their voices calling in my head
I'm not afraid of the fire
I am a soldier risen from the dead

Tatakae ikinasai
Tatakae yuuki o motte

Cool blade of steel in my hand
Sliver of moon burned in the sun
Cool touch of your sumi brush
I am... I am...
There is no woman or man
There is no pen or sword
Only now

© Lisa Furukawa

Do you have a favorite song or two to play live from the album?

I think my favorite is probably Send Me Some Hope. It really defined the title of the album for me. "Send me some hope. Don't want to grow old. Bright wings unfold. Reaching out. Your mind takes hold." We all have the power to transcend hard times, and even though sometimes we wish something else could fix it for us, we have to find the strength to see the horizon and move ahead with love and hope. I don't play it live very often though because it is slower than dirt. :) and I think the fans would fall asleep. I play Border City or Kabuki pretty frequently live.

Your lyrics are in both English and Japanese. Do you find a difference in expressing yourself emotionally in the different languages?

Absolutely. English is a rounder language, and Japanese is cleaner and more straightforward for me. I discovered with my vocal teacher in college that when I sang a song in Japanese, the tension in my throat lessened and I felt like I could access a wider range. Although I grew up with English and Japanese, because I was born in Japan, Japanese was really my first language, so I guess it is slightly more natural physically. There are so many cultural differences too.

I think the American part of me is a freedom loving, independent, cowboy boots kind of girl, and the Japanese part of me is really concerned about formalities and saying and doing the right things to respect others. The dualities have been a huge part of my life and music. I can't escape it really.

Lisa Furukawa

Let's take a trip into the past and find out where your love of music came from. First off, did you come from a musical family?

I did. My mother isn't a musician but was always playing music for me and taking me to concerts. I can remember as a toddler listening to the 1812 Overture one minute and then Peter Paul and Mary the next. We were always listening to something. My dad is a guitarist, pedal steel guitarist, and ukulele player. He's always played in Hawaiian blues ensembles for fun, and used to sing country and folk songs to me as a kid. My Japanese grandparents were both pianists, my uncle played the banjo, and I just knew before I could even talk that I was a musician.

How did you first get involved in playing music?

My dad took me to my first piano lesson when I was 2 or 3. I think my teacher only had enough patience to teach me a 15 minute lesson back then. I was a bad student :) My first piano was a cardboard piece of paper with the keys drawn on it, then playing on my grandparents out of tune piano, and then I upgraded to a little pianica in 1st grade. I've always loved the piano, and it led me to playing lots of classical music as a kid. It wasn't until high school and college that I realized I wanted to write and sing songs.

Can you tell us about the place you consider to be your "hometown" as a child?

Although I briefly lived near the sea in Kamakura, and moved around a bit, my "hometown" in Japan is where my grandparents lived and where my family lives now. It is a suburb in Shibuya-ku in Tokyo. When I went home for a visit last year, all of the streets seemed so much smaller and shorter. I think I carry this image of it being a big place still from when I was little. It was the kind of place where I could walk down to the city market as a 5 year old and the vegetable store owner, or the bakery owner, or the fish market owner, etc... would all know me by name and hand me something to take back to my grandmother. I felt very safe and nurtured there as a child.

I moved to Florida at the age of 7 when my parents split up, and had a very different physical and social landscape after that of sand dunes and ocean and a small shrimp boat town.

What kind of kid were you? Shy? Outgoing?

I was a tomboy. I loved climbing trees and playing in the mud. I even used to ride a unicycle at school. I started out as an extravert, and then became more shy and introverted. I spent many hours playing the piano, reading, and retreating into my imagination through middle school and high school.

You've said that your father spoke to you in Japanese and your mother in English. What was it like growing up in a bilingual house?

I didn't really think of it as being odd until I was older and realized other kids didn't do that. My best friend when I was little had a French Canadian mom and a Japanese dad, and she was trilingual. I think kids that grow up in multi-lingual homes instinctually know who to talk to in what language. Several of my friends now are raising their kids in two languages, and my Japanese friend's daughter knew even when she was a toddler that she could speak in Japanese to me.

Do you think it made growing up more of a challenge?

There have been times when I've thought "oh my life would have been so much simpler if..." but that kind of thinking gets you nowhere and is really futile. I feel blessed by the complications and challenges in my life because without them I wouldn't be here now, and its all of the complex things in our lives that forces us to grow and see things from different perspectives.

When you were in high school, did you have a clear idea of what type of career you wanted to be involved in?

I used to want to be an architect or a geneticist, but I knew that music would always be important to me. I knew by my senior year, that I would study music, and ended up with a double major in Music and Asian Studies by the time I was done.

Lisa Furukawa

Tell us about your time at UNC-Chapel Hill. What did you study and why?

UNC was a great place to get a liberal arts education, but the biggest reward from my time there was learning from my piano teacher, Michael Zenge. He was a strict but brilliant teacher, and taught me about the Taubman technique and injury prevention. I took composition with Allen Anderson, who inspired me to think outside of my box, and Sharon Szymanski was my vocal teacher. I owe a lot to my teachers.

The Asian studies degree just sort of happened by the time I placed out of enough Japanese courses and took a lot of courses in the Major. I loved being able to take classes on Japanese landscape gardening, Chinese painting, Taoism, Japanese Women writers.. There were so many great classes there.

In 2001 you recorded your fist CD, "This Moment is the Show." How did that come about?

I'd been writing songs for a while before I recorded that album. I had a day to record it, and each song is recorded in 1 or 2 takes -- vocals at the same time and no click track (something I wouldn't do now...), so it's really like it was that moment. Just piano and voice. I listen to it now and I cringe a bit, but fans have told me to leave it the way it is.

What memories of writing and recording the music stand out?

I remember going to the local coffee shop in the morning to meet friends from Atlanta, spending the rest of the day in the studio recording, and dozing off on the couch in the lobby while Brian stayed up all night mixing and mastering it with Ken.

How did you meet up with John Metcalf and Deborah Shields?

I met John before I started working on the Tori Tribute Show when we were both attending one of the Tori birthday party events in Raleigh. I performed some Tori tunes, and he told me after the show that he would like to work with me. I couldn't have lucked out more to have found a sweeter more dedicated and talented drummer than John. Deborah and I went to school together. Originally John and I played with a guitarist. Raymond was great, but it just wasn't the right mix for the songs. I had played with cellist Mary Katherine Elkins (from Clare Fader and the Vaudevillains) before, and knew a cello would be the right fit. I asked Deborah to come in and rehearse with us. Even though it was the first time she had ever improvised, she had amazing instincts, and so much talent. We had a great time playing together.

Can you run us through a typical recording day for your 2005 album "Pearl Diver"?

Hmm... we spent a lot of time in the studio, but amazingly, Brian is so efficient that I think we got through everything in a weekend. I had already recorded the piano tracks to a click track. John would come in next and record a track until we got it, and then Deborah. The mixing process took a bit of time because I wanted to include them on getting the right sounds for their instruments and make sure we were happy with the balance. Occasionally, I would go back and redo a track to fit better with theirs. I don't know if we hardly left the studio other than to go to IHOP.

What songs are you most pleased with from it?

They are all special for different reasons. Pearl Diver was the last song to get written from the set, and the one I think we enjoyed playing on the most.

Lisa Furukawa

What is the Wandering Star Project?

The Wandering Star Project was a multimedia performance project that included live dance, music, art, film, photo projection, and theater. I loved working on this and want to do more of this type of collaboration. My friends Carlo Caruso and Todd Jenkins had already been running these photo projection/poetry shows that were going really well and wanted to do something bigger with live music. We performed at some galleries and theater spaces and even a few outdoor areas.

Our first shows had photos of microscopic life (Carlo is a microbioligist) to flowers to life... city scapes, industry, war… this whole evolution of life... with artist/modern dancer Jen Padilla's dancing culminating in her drawing with large pastels across 20 foot canvas all across the stage and leading to a film of her dancing in an abandoned salvage yard on the railroad tracks. It inspired me to focus on the choreography of the show and build electronic compositions with little or no vocals. I enjoyed working with this group very much.

You've done a lot of lyric translation between English and Japanese. How did you get started with that?

I worked on translation in college, and worked as an interpreter for families of workers at local Japanese companies for a while. I've also taught piano lessons in Japanese and English, and translating songs was something I did for my students. One of the first songs I translated was Georgia on My Mind. It was the year Ray Charles had passed away and I wanted to do something special to honor his life and the Japanese residents of Georgia at JapanFest. I've since translated close to 20 state songs, and a lot of pop and folk songs for fun. It is a great way to promote cultural awareness and share music.

I recently started working on some translation for the company Trailer Park. I'm not allowed to say what I'm working on, but I am very excited that I have had an opportunity to work on translation work for a large anime project. I'm looking forward to doing more in translation.

Can you tell us more about the teaching you do?

I feel very fortunate that I have a very understanding group of students. I came back from New Zealand last year inspired to teach my students about Maori music and culture. Going to Scotland inspired me to want to cultivate more improvisation in my Ensemble class. When I'm not performing, I teach piano, composition, music, and Japanese. When I'm performing at conventions, I offer a fun panel on learning Japanese through singing songs. I'm amazed that so many people of all ages have really gotten into it.

My mom was a teacher, and it's definitely an important part of my life. I feel like my students keep me grounded and teach me so much by helping me know what I need to share with them. I've thought about what it would mean to just perform full time and be on the road all of the time. As much as there is a part of me that loves to travel and perform, I think I would really miss teaching. I feel like there is a responsibility for musicians who have been performing for a while to take time to give back to students who are starting out. There is always so much to learn.

Teaching reminds me that I have to keep learning too. I have definite feelings about helping my students to understand that we have responsibilities to our local community but we are a global culture. Volunteering to perform for charity events or senior centers is something I try to get them all involved in while teaching a wide variety of music and composition styles incorporating electronic and traditional instruments.

Can we get a glimpse into the romantic life of Lisa Furukawa? What are your thoughts on marriage and kids?

Well, I have to keep some things private, but I definitely hope to be a mom someday.

What type of places do you enjoy going on a date?

I've never been the type of person to be impressed by fancy things. I would much rather have an honest conversation in a beautiful natural place. I guess I'm also kind of a kid at heart. I love dancing, making a nice meal at home, watching movies, or playing video games.

What traits do you look for in someone you would date?

Honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, honor, patience, and kindness. Someone who is not afraid to be introspective, but cares greatly about their world and family. A sense of silliness and fun is a must.

Outside of music, what type of things do you do for fun and relaxation?

I love hiking on nature trails or going camping. Taking time to see butterflies and dragonflies and appreciating nature. I also love gardening, swimming, and drawing. Taking time to spend with my friends is very important too.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you were in high school, what would you tell yourself?

Hmm... well this may be kind of what I end up telling my high school students but...
1) You can do it.
2) If you are passionate about doing something, then do it. If you're not sure how to do it, then get help and find a way to pursue what you love in life.
3) The things that seem so bad and hurt so much now will help you grow and won't seem so bad later.
4) You have so much to look forward to. Don't waste any opportunities.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Release a new album, perform at JapanFest, Realmscon, Tsubasacon, and then off to Australia and New Zealand for Pulp Expo. I'd also like to learn how to hula hoop.

Do you have a final message to all your fans?

I am really grateful to have the chance to share music with you. Thank you so much for listening and for your support.

For more info checkout Lisa Furukawa'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