Most performers know all their lives that they want to be performers. In Laura's case however, things were a little different. Despite the fact that music and performing had always been a part of her life, it was never something that she had even considered pursuing. "In my hometown, it was expected that you go to a 4-year college and become an engineer or a lawyer or something. And that's always what I thought I would do. It's not that I was afraid to pursue a career in music, it's just that it had never even occurred to me to try for something like that."
This is coming from a girl whose self-written, produced, and performed songs landed her an audition at one of Japan's top record companies. "It's sort of funny actually. My friend gave me some music software my junior year in college, and I was messing around putting together this song. I gave that, along with a few other pieces I'd written on the piano to a friend who submitted it to some record labels. A few months later, I found out that I was being offered an audition. But it wasn't even until I was on the plane flying to Japan that I started thinking, hey, maybe I could actually do this!"
In an attempt to learn more about Laura, I decided to seek her out and ask a few more questions. Below is an excerpt of that interview
How did you get into music in the first place?
"My parents made me take piano lessons when I was 5. I remember my first teacher gave out stickers when she could tell that we had practiced. I really hated site reading though, it felt so tedious. On the other hand, I liked improvising, so sometimes I'd just sit at the piano for hours playing random stuff. And I could play by ear, so I would cheat, and go borrow the classical tape/CD from the library, listen to it, and learn my homework that way. In high school, my teacher at the time had called me on it by forcing me to read a piece right in front of him. It was kind of embarrassing because I read it so slowly. But he was cool about it. He told me that maybe I should consider doing jazz piano instead, since so much emphasis is placed on ear and improvisation. So I did…; in college I took a few jazz lessons in order to learn the chords, and then I started playing in a quartet. I love jamming."
What about your songs? I've been told that you are more than just a singer/songwriter. You actually compose, arrange, and produce the songs by yourself. How does this work?
"Well, it takes a really long time. I do a mix of playing live instruments, and using music sequencing programs. It's like composing on a digital piece of sheet music. Except, instead of drawing each note onto the staff, you click it into place. I'll usually start with the piano. I put in one note at a time, beginning with the melody, then the harmony. And after I finish that, I move onto the violin…; strings, flute, bass drum…; you get the point. It's really tedious until it begins to sound like what I envisioned. I'll usually get these full arrangements in my head, and I'll be so anxious to get it out, but it takes so long. I'll say to my friend, 'hey! I got this great song, it's like this…;' and then I'll hum it, and she totally doesn't hear what I hear. But a few days later I'll have this arrangement to play for her, and she's like, 'ohhh, is that what you meant!' And although I'll usually have a general idea what the song is going to be about as I'm composing, I tend to not write the lyrics until the arrangement is complete. That way, the full melody inspires the words."
"For this CD, I recorded all the vocals in the studio. But for every song before, I recorded them at my computer, which was quite possibly more tedious than putting the notes in, hehe…;"
"I make it sound like a pain, but I really do enjoy it though. I'm fascinated by the intricate process of figuring out how 10 different instruments can simultaneously be playing different things and still sound good; it's like a puzzle getting everything to work out the way it's supposed to. And I'm always trying to learn new things. I wish that I was as technical as some of my engineering friends who can just take a piece of hardware or software and figure it out in 5 minutes."
Who are some of your musical influences?
"There are so many! Well, in terms of video game/ movie/ animation scores, I really like Nobuo Uematsu, Yoko Kanno, Joe Hisashi, Hiroki Kikuta, and James Horner. I think they have some amazing work, and they are really talented when it comes to preparing music for particular scenes. I listen to the Searching for Bobby Fischer and Kikujiro soundtracks all the time. The Neptunes are great producers. Recently I've been really getting into modern artists that incorporate jazz and blues into their music. Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Alicia Keyes, Dave Matthews Band, Jamiroquai, Sheena Ringo, and Maroon 5 are frequently on my playlist. I also like music that I think is out of the ordinary; lyrically speaking, most of what Outkast comes up with, is out of the ordinary, so I love it. I like how Guster's drummer used to play the drums with his hands. My Mom had me listening to Bread and Barry Manilow when I was a kid, and now she's got me listening to Josh Groban. Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, Switchfoot, Jars of Clay, Boyz II Men, Jackie Wilson, The Jackson 5, Billie Holiday…; there are so many more…; so I'll just stop there…;"
Do you have a hero?
"Yes. Well, I don't believe in idolizing people. Even great people are just people. But in terms of really respecting and looking up to someone, I'd have to say Shigeru Miyamoto. I read this book in college about the history of Nintendo, and it had a whole chapter on him. He was this free-spirited artistic person who took 5 years to graduate from college, drew along the sides of his notes during class, and played in a bluegrass band. As a favor to his father, the president of Nintendo at the time offered Shigeru an interview, despite the fact that he wasn't looking for anyone who wasn't an engineer or a businessman. However, the president saw such potential and creativity in Shigeru that he hired him on the spot and put him in charge of developing an entire game. Shigeru invented Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Zelda, amongst others. It was because of these games that Nintendo was able to have such tremendous success within Japan and abroad. All because of this quirky artistic kid. I thought that was pretty cool. Actually, I first started thinking he was cool when I read an article about him that complimented some tips on "Yoshi's Island" for the Super Nintendo. Play that game and you'll get a glimpse into how creative this guy is."
So you play video games?
"Oh yeah, I'm a really big nerd. I will spend an entire afternoon with my roommates playing Starcraft. Though I'm not very good at that game. Especially compared to the people I met in Korea. I'm also really addicted to Animal Crossing right now. But I think my favorite games are probably the Mega Man original Dr. Wily series, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Yoshi's Island, Street Fighter II, Super Mario 3, and Puzzle Fighter."
What are some of your other hobbies?
"Right now I'm really into learning new languages. I took a Mandarin class, but I don't remember much from it, so my friend and I decided to do a language exchange. I'm teaching him Japanese and he's teaching me Mandarin. I'm also trying to learn some Korean, because I'll be going there for the third time this summer, and I promised some of the kids in my class that I'd be able to speak with them when I came back. And all those Spanish classes back in high school are being wasted right now, so I've borrowed 500 Spanish Verbs from my friend in order to relearn what I've lost. But we'll see…;"
"Besides that, I really enjoy hiking. Especially to places with a great view. I'm a sucker for views. I like to cook, and I love to eat. I like dancing. I like drawing children's comics, and just drawing in general. I drew a book called "It would suck if" that was all about weird things that would probably never happen, but would suck just the same. And I like just hanging out and being a bum with my friends. We do weird stuff together. This one time we made a fruit picker out of an old tiki torch and went around the city picking fruit to make jam. We've been known to go act out scenes from martial arts movies on the beach."
Didn't you used to do some kind of martial art?
"Yeah, I used to be really into Shotokan and Shorinji Kempo. I did it for like 5 years back in junior high and high school."
What did you study in college?
"I studied International Relations and Business primarily, but Berkeley has so many random classes that I tried all sorts of things…; one semester I got really obsessed with plants, mostly because I couldn't figure out why I wasn't able to grow anything in my dorm room. So I took Plant Biology and Organic Gardening."
What's the clumsiest thing you've ever done?
"What? Why? Hm…; well, I guess there was this one time I walked right into a window. But it's not because I thought it was empty space, I just misjudged the distance. There was a door there, but a window on either side. I was looking to my right because I thought something interesting was going on in the room next to me. I smacked into the window so hard that I bounced off and fell onto the ground. Everyone in the room got silent for like 5 seconds and then started laughing. I ran out of there as fast as I could thinking that there might be a chance I wouldn't be identified."
"Of course, my friend tried to top me by telling me about how he had run into a mirror. I guess that is a lot worse. Because he actually saw himself and thought it was someone else."
Wow, that's pretty clumsy. You should both be more careful.
"Tell me about it."
Moving on…; so, I hope you'll excuse the expression, but "what are you"?
"I'm half Japanese, and an eighth Portuguese, French, Danish, and German. Eurasian, Hapa, Haafu…; My Dad is the Japanese one, and my Mom is the Caucasian one, which I guess is supposed to be rare. I read some statistic that only 3% of marriages in the US are interracial, and only 8% of those marriages are between a Caucasian woman and an Asian man. This was sort of surprising to me, but I guess that's because I've been living in a pretty diverse area."
Do you think that coming from a diverse background has helped shape your music?
"I think so. People have labeled my musical style 'fusion pop' or American Jpop. I think this makes sense for a couple reasons. Jpop is a combination of many different genres of music. You'll hear a song that features a rock guitar, jazz chords, video game synth melodies, and Latin percussion all tied into one song that actually sounds good. Jpop also crosses genres within an album. You might find an R&B song on track 2, and an alternative song on track 5. I like being able to incorporate lots of different styles into my songs. Having a diverse background allowed me to be exposed to many different kinds of music, which you can probably tell has affected what I produce."
So what are your current goals?
"Well, I guess to just get out there and do as much as I can. I just finished a new CD, and I'm hoping to sell as many copies as I can…; I want to perform more, and make more songs. For the time being I'm going to try and see what I can accomplish in the US. I know it will be difficult, but this is what I love."
Well, we wish you lots of luck with that. Thanks for doing this interview with us.