Itsuka - Vocals, Guitar
Birthday: April 17th
Mitsu - Drums, Chorus
Birthday: May 3rd
Now! song sample
2. Happy na News
5. Just 1 2
6. unna-Kafe w/George-K
7. Let me c
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"For me, writing a song is like giving birth. Recording is the closing stage of the songwriting process. I feel like I'm almost done with child raising. Finally, I can say goodbye to my son or daughter... Bye-bye my kid. Live strong and cut your way. The world will judge you soon." - Itsuka
They may go by the name "unnatural" but the duo of Itsuka and Mitsu play a country/pop style of music that is entirely down to earth. In 2009 they celebrated their ten year anniversary of making music together with the release of "DIP", a seven track album that includes their signature piece Now!
So if you're in the mood for a Japanese version of country tunes come take a listen and discover the answer to an amorous riddle: "Why did Itsuka and Mitsu have a hard time finding more band members when they were first starting out?" You just might become one of their "unnatuLOVERs" in the process.On December 24, 2009 the members of unnatural were kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of unnatural.
Let's start with the origins of the group. How did the two of you first meet and become a duo?
Itsuka: Nothing dramatic or romantic... We met each other when we were in high school. One day, I posted a "Member Wanted" notice on a music magazine and Mitsu accidentally found it. He sent me a postcard with a tiny little picture of himself. Do you know the small photo-sticker machine called "print-club"?? That machine was so popular with teenagers back then.
I took him to an instrumental shop nearby and made him play a silent drum machine for me. I listen to his drumming through headphones and thought it was awesome! Then I said "You're in!"
Mitsu: Actually, we tried to look for other band members as well. Unfortunately, we couldn't meet a decent one... The thing is, most of the guys who wanted to join "unnatural" were not only interested in our music but also interested in a girl = Itsuka. You know, teen-boys' highest interest was "girls", music was second priority for them...
Itsuka: Yea, I was very annoyed by them. I posted a notice because I was looking for a band member not for a boyfriend. After a while, I got tired of meeting new people and asked Mitsu. "Why don't we start a duo?" And that was the birth of "unnatural".
How and why did you pick the band's name?
Itsuka: We random picked from the dictionary. There was a gig waiting for us and we kinda had to decide our name. Nowadays, people say that we are "unnatural" because...
How would you describe your style of music?
Itsuka: We're having a difficult time answering these kinds of questions, but maybe the style could be internationalized J-Pop? We made up a new word "Country CLUB" to explain our music genre.
Although I've been listening to various kinds of music, country music affected me the most. I guess the melody I write and the way I sing has country taste in it. On the other hand, I love clubbing and love listening to more rhythmical music like hip-hop, R&B. I like hanging out with my rapper & DJ friends and got influenced by their culture.
So, what we are trying to do is we're a mix of all of them. Add the country tasting melody onto the club influenced rhythm and we are calling it "Country CLUB" music.
Tell us about your activities the first few year together. Where did you perform at?
Itsuka: We took part in "Teen's Music Festival" organized by Yamaha in 1999. We got "audience-choice award" and "3rd prize" in Kanto/Koshinetsu districts tournament. Right after that festival, we quit the band, We had a long break from 2000 to 2004.
During the break I formed a country rock band with professional musicians aged between 30-50 years old. There was a large age difference between me and the other band members. So I learned many things from the veterans, not only about music but also about life. Country music wasn't that big here so I wanted to spread it out. But I had to quit the band when I went to the U.S. as an exchange student in 2002. While I was in the U.S. I jammed with American guys and also sang by myself at the bar near school.
Mitsu: I passed a drummer audition and joined a boy's band called "Fanta Zero Coaster". We made a major debut in 2000. We released three albums and toured all over Japan. I was really lucky to be a member of a major band at that young age. Unfortunately, FZC broke up in 2004, the same year when Itsuka came back from the U.S.
I was thinking of re-starting "unnatural" and told Itsuka about how I felt. And I found out that she had the same feeling as me. We wanted to go back to our basics and re-start "unnatural". We thought we still had so many things left to do as "unnatural".
Tell us about the first songs you recorded together.
Itsuka: The song is called Isn't it!? We made this song for the Teen's Music Festival. It's a really catchy song with English lyrics, trying to play with rhymes. I was trying to sing about the irrational aspect of life.
We didn't have pro-tools that time, had to record with limited MTR tracks in Mitsu's house. We learned how to record from Mitsu's dad, who is a professional bass player. We weren't that good, you know, but we were excited about every sound that we made! I was really into the soft 12 strings guitar sound that time and I bought one to play for this song. This songs is in our first demo CD which we released in 2004.
In 2004 and 2005 you released that and another CD. What are your memories of those days?
Itsuka: Most of the songs in first and second are mellow songs. Our sounds were much darker compared to our recent songs. Nowadays, we perform in the live houses and even in the clubs, but we were mostly performing at cafés and bars back then. I was sitting and singing in a really "at home" atmosphere. The audience were listening to our music more as backing music while they were drinking… I still don't know why I was singing only mellow songs. We both already had the same kind of cheerful, happy personalities back then. It was "unnatural" for us.
During the next three years you recorded a series called "BUT seasons". Tell us more about them.
Itsuka: When you put "BUT" into hiragana (Japanese) it is "DEMO". Practically, BUT seasons means demo seasons. We were challenging ourselves how fast and how well we could write songs in a short time. If you get into the music business, we may not be able to decide our own schedule. Someone might decide the CD release date and we have to finish the song until then. "BUT season" was our practice for finishing up songs in a short time. We wanted to buildup our song-writing skills.
For the first four seasons, we made one CD in two months. Each of the demo CDs included four songs. As a result, made 16 songs in eight months. It was tough but we gained our confidence from the process. From season 5 to season 8, we made one CD in about three months. In total we made 32 songs for BUT seasons.
Earlier this year you recorded your first seven track album called "DIP". How big of a moment was this for the group?
Itsuka: 2009 was the 10th Anniversary for unnatural. We really wanted to release something, not just a demo, but a real CD. Fortunately, we met someone who liked our music and could support us financially. We rearranged and rerecorded some songs from BUT seasons and also wrote new songs. I also directed all the album designs. I was moved when I actually saw the completed CD.
Mitsu: We've been touring around Tokyo with this album since August. It's an emotional experience to see people buying our album after the show. We will keep touring next year with this album. At this moment, you can only buy it in Japan but let us know if you want to purchase it from outside of Japan. We'll think about it.
The lead track Now! is a good example of your style of music. Tell us more about the song.
Itsuka: Yea, Now! explains our music style a lot. As I said, it's a mix of country and modern beats. You can hear country guitar riffs throughout the song. The first half of the song sounds like normal country pop, but when you listen to the second half, the rhythm changes a lot and my singing also changes. There are some phrases that I'm doing melodic rapping and I think it sounds pretty original. Now! is a cute song about a girl going on her first date with the guy that she likes. She wants to tell her feeling to him but doesn't know when. I want to encourage people in that kind of situation with this song.
It was a television theme song?
Mitsu: Yes, it was a theme song of WOWOW weather forecast program "Weather Clip" for three months. WOWOW is a Japanese television station. They played not only the song but also our music video of Now! You can watch it from our website or on Youtube.
unna-Kafe w/George-K has a great feel to it. Tell us about the song and George K.
Itsuka: Didn't take that long to write this song, maybe in a day. "unna-Kafe" is the name of our dream café that we want to open in the future. "unna" came from "unnatural" and "K" came from George-K. It's a relaxation place for our friends. "When you are broken hearted, when you are tired of your life, or when you have great news, even when you don't have any news, just come into this café and let's share things. Everything will be ok!"
Talking about George-K, first of all, he is a really good looking guy... haha. And of course he has a great personality too. He raps, acts, organizes events, pretty busy guy, not sure if he has time to sleep. He just released his new single in September.
We met each other in a hip-hop event called "UNITY" and became friends. One day I had lunch with him and we talked about our dreams. One of his dreams was to become an owner of a café, and I thought it was a sweet dream. After I came back from lunch, I started writing a song. Actually, I wrote his rapping lyrics too.
Itsuka, you play a little harmonica on some of your songs. What inspired you to do that?
Itsuka: I love playing small instrument. I play harmonica, ukulele, mini-accordion, recorder, kazoo... etc. It's so much fun to play and the sizes go well with my small hands and body. For example, a guitar looks big for me but a ukulele looks just right. Accordion is too heavy to carry but I can handle the mini-accordion.
After I write a basic melody for the song, I always feel like I want to add some spice to the song. Then I go to the instrument shop and play some tools and figure out which sound I want to add. When I meet the right one, I just bring it back home and start practicing.
Can you tell us more about your music writing process? How do you go about creating a new song?
I've never forced myself to write a song. Writing a song is my habit. It's pretty natural for me. A melody comes up in my mind somehow and I record it to my computer before I forget it. I think I will stress out if I don't have time to write songs. I guess the songwriting process is somekind of tranquilizer for me.
Do you have a "musical philosophy" that guides you in the writing and recording process?
Itsuka: Not really, I just write sensuously. Maybe having fun in my life helps writing songs. It's important for me to go to new places, make new friends, try new things actively. That's how I brush up my sensibility.
I try not to write love songs only. Life is not all about relationships. I want to be a musician who can also talk about what's happening in the world -- what are our problems these days -- want to be a part of the society.
For me, writing a song is like giving birth. Recording is the closing stage of the songwriting process. I feel like I'm almost done with child raising. Finally, I can say goodbye to my son or daughter.
How do you feel when you finally complete a new song?
Itsuka: Ok, bye-bye my kid. Live strong and cut your way. The world will judge you soon.
Mitsu: It's been a long time coming, I am proud of myself that I made another cool song, good job me. And honestly, I feel like I want to get it out the door soon cause I am exhausted. It's time to say god-bye for sleepless nights. Finally, I can sleep!!
What do you do to prepare for a performance? Do you have any rituals you do?
Itsuka: Wearing "high-heels" builds a feeling of tension. I always say to myself "I love my audience, I love my audience" before the show.
Mitsu: I say to myself "I am a great performer. I will do an awesome job as usual."
Can you describe the feeling you get when you are performing and everything is going great?
Itsuka: I feel like I'm ten times the size of myself.
Mitsu: Feeling great. I have been waiting my whole life for this.
Do you have one or two performance you've done that are the most memorable?
Itsuka: We had our first one-man show on Sep 25th 2009 at Shibuya Chelsea hotel. So many people came to celebrate us and I was really moved to see them from the stage. We played 15 songs in one and a half hour, which was the longest stage for us. We could share a sense of unity and definitely one of the greatest moments in my whole life.
Mitsu: I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I wanted to go around and say thank you to each of my fans, friends and band members. It was a good chance to re-realize that our music has a power to make people happy!
Can you give us a peak into any new music you are working on or planning?
Mitsu: We are recording new songs. The new songs feature an awesome guitarist called Masyi (pronounced "Mercy"). He's a really good country guitar player. He can also play banjo and many other instruments. It's a new experience for unnatural to arrange songs with someone else. Masyi has ideas that we don't usually come up with so we are learning a lot things from him, really interesting. The new songs might have more country-tastes in it.
Itsuka: We met Masyi at an event organized by a radio station a few years ago. I was really happy when I found out that he was really into country music. Cause it's so rare to find young musicians who like country music. I always wanted to make songs with him and it became true this year! I gotta say that he is the real guitar geek! Whenever I have questions about guitar, I always ask him because he knows all the answers!
Let's take a trip to the past and learn more about you. Can you both describe your hometowns and what it was like growing up there?
Mitsu: My hometown was in Tokyo but wasn't that urbanized. I remember there were some cabbage gardens near our house. I got to spend time out in nature even living in Tokyo. It was a good atmosphere for kids. Thanks to my parents.
Itsuka: I've been changing my living place a lot and I don't have a so-called "hometown". I had to change schools many times in Tokyo and also had to go abroad. It was because of my dad's job and I hated it at the time. But now I think it was a good experience. I learned how to do well in new environments and I improved my communication skills from that experience. I think Tokyo is one of the coolest places in the world. I love living here.
How did you first get into music?
Mitsu: I came from a musical family. My grandmother was a piano teacher and I started learning piano when I was three years old.
Itsuka: I think I was having a pretty bored life in junior high school. Everything was alright but nothing was great. One day, I thought, "Ok I can't live like this for the rest of my life, I need to start something that I can enjoy from my heart, I gotta get a life!" Then I bought a guitar.
When you were in high school what type of career did you imagine you would have?
Mitsu: I always wanted to be a professional musician.
Itsuka: I wanted to do something in the media industry. I was interested in back-seat roles like TV producer, radio director, camera woman.
Who have been your greatest musical inspirations?
Mitsu: I guess my dad inspired me a lot, he is a professional bass player.
Itsuka: This is a tough question. I can't choose one. Nowadays, I listen to male singers but I grew up mostly listening to female musicians. 90% of my CDs are female musicians from U.S. and U.K. I do know that my favorite male artist is Eric Clapton though.
You've both spent time living outside of Japan? Tell us about that.
Mitsu: One summer, I took part in a youth camp for musicians from all over the world. I had a hard time communicating with people. My English was so poor at that time. But I could communicate with my drums. I realized that music is the global language!
Itsuka: I spent some time in New Jersey when I was little. I couldn't speak English at all when I get there and I was shocked by the culture difference between Japan and U.S. But soon I got along with American people and I fell in love with American culture.
I went back to the U.S. as an university exchange student. I was living in an international dorm and made so many friends from all over the world. I was supposed to learn about broadcasting but I think I was a just partying there! haha. I still keep in touch with people who I met there.
What was the greatest challenge in living in those countries?
Mitsu: At the camp, I met a really cute girl and I tried to talk to her. Unfortunately, she didn't understand my English and ended up ignoring me.
Itsuka: It wasn't hard for me to live in the U.S. I even think that it's easier to communicate with Americans than Japanese. Americans are good at expressing their feelings, but Japanese people are shy and more likely to hide.
How do you think the life of a musician is different in Japan compared to those other countries?
Itsuka: I think the best chance to become successful in the Japanese music industry is to debut as a "kawaii" idol. The idol scene here is pretty unique and it boasts a large market share. There are many listeners who care more about how musician look than how they sound. If you are a type of musician who wants to try your luck simply with your music, not with your visuals, you really need to try.
What are your musical hopes for the future?
We just want more and more people to know about us and listen to our music. We wanna tour around Japan and hopefully go to other countries too!
Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?
Visit our websites and feel free to contact us. We are on Myspace, Youtube, Facebook, mixi... etc, everywhere! And don't forget to follow us on Twitter. We are a Twitter Japan verified artist!Do you have a final message to all your fans?
Thank you so much for all of you supports! We love you, unnatuLOVERs!!! (We call our fans "unnatuLOVERs".)
For more info checkout unnatural's official site and MySpace and Facebook pages. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments