December 8, 1999. Nobody could predict the future of this unknown girl who just turned 17 and debuted with “Love, Day After Tomorrow”. She went on to top a million in sales, repeatedly put out top 10 hits, and sold 3,500,000 units her first album, “Delicious Way”. Her first few years were blessed with amazing success. While attending university, Kuraki started seriously playing live and increased her exposure. In recent years, she has been involved in social work. Mai Kuraki will celebrate her 15-year anniversary in December 2014.
BARKS will look back on Mai Kuraki’s last 15 years and bring you her first long interview. BARKS editor-in-chief Tetsuya Karasumaru and director Tokiko Nishimuro took part in a three-way discussion with the artist that traced her thoughts at specific times in her life. We also asked her about her big plans for the coming year.
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[Talk Series Vol.1: Childhood~1999 [Mai Kuraki’s musical foundation and her debut]]
■I was in two school clubs (laughs), plus one more that I didn’t participate in
■I think I wanted to express myself through music, theater, and art
Karasumaru: You were then recognized by BEING and eventually debuted. What were the circumstances behind that?
Kuraki: I started making demo tapes when I decided to become a singer. At the time, they were cassette tapes. I sang to Lauryn Hill, who was popular at the time, and sent it off to several agencies.
Karasumaru: When you say cassette, do you mean like an old boom box?
Kuraki: That’s right (laughs). When I would come home from school, I would immediately record my singing while playing the music in the background. I would sing it several times until I thought I got a good take. Then I would send it off.
Karasumaru: You were definitely a unique child.
Kuraki: Hehehe (laughs).
Karasumaru: You were quite eccentric. Then what?
Kuraki: BEING listened to my tape, and I entered the vocal school at BEING Music School. That’s when I started taking vocal lessons seriously. When I auditioned, the school and I talked about my debut. I was very lucky.
Karasumaru: But it was not because of pure luck. It was because you actively sent your demo tapes out. You’re first song was by Lauryn Hill?
Karasumaru: What kind of songs did you sing after you entered the school?
Kuraki: I auditioned with “Grace of My Heart” by MAX.
Karasumaru: Finally, a Japanese song (laughs). That was in high school?
Kuraki: It was my freshman year in high school.
Karasumaru: Most high school kids enjoy school clubs, play with their friends, and hang out with their boyfriends. Isn’t that normal? Were you already starting a different lifestyle at this point?
Kuraki: No, I was in two school clubs (laughs). Choir and drama club. I was also in art club, but I didn’t attend (laughs). I was always good at expressing myself, so I think I wanted to express myself through music, theater, and art.
Karasumaru: Was art club about drawing?
Kuraki: It was about oil painting and making pieces out of plaster.
Karasumaru: I know about choir, but what about drama club?
Kuraki: I liked math in high school. My teacher was really interesting and would play the guitar while teaching us equations.
Karasumaru: You can’t just brush by that story (laughs). What an amazing teacher.
Kuraki: For a person that likes music, I thought it was interesting that somebody would teach like that. That teacher knew a lot about movies and theater and created the drama club, which never existed before. I invited my friends to join the club with me.
Karasumaru: You were a very active and lively child.
Kuraki: I think I was one of the more active ones. I only had a few friends, but I loved participating in these types of things, like being class representative.
Karasumaru: Did you tell your friends that you wanted to be a singer?
Kuraki: No. I didn’t tell anybody that I was sending off demo tapes, or that I would go home and practice my singing. In class I was the dull kid who sat in the corner.
Karasumaru: Were you putting on an act?
Kuraki: No, I wasn’t (laughs). I was really that type of kid. I think everybody recognized that. I think I was a dark kid in high school.
Karasumaru: From hearing your stories, you seem like you were a happy and active kid (laughs). How did your family react to you making demo tapes?
Kuraki: They always told me to finish my homework first. I got so into it, that eventually I’d skip dinner to sing. Then they started leaving me alone (laughs).
Karaumaru: Maybe you were more focused than you thought. For example, I’ll ask guitarists how much they practice everyday. They usually say that they don’ really practice at all. But when I watch them closely, they are always playing guitar (laughs). It wasn’t that they were lying, but that they don't see it as practicing because they enjoy doing it.
Karasumaru: I hear those kinds of stories a lot. You probably sang a lot during your daily life in high school.
Kuraki: Maybe so. Looking back on it now, everybody was into his or her part-time job or school club. I was in school clubs and also making demo tapes and singing. My passion to become a singer was the strongest thing in my life. I don’t think I ever felt like I was practicing.
Karasumaru: Do you still have that demo tape?
Kuraki: I think if I looked for it, I’d find it somewhere. I think there is video of my audition somewhere too.
Karasumaru: Now, people upload their videos to Niconico, and sometimes that becomes the catalyst for their debut.
Kuraki: That’s true.
Nishimuro: That didn’t exist back then.
Karasumaru: Young kids now might not understand, but back then, there was no YouTube, no iPods, and the internet wasn’t as expansive as it is now. If you wanted to be a professional singer, the demo tape was pretty much the only way. It’s only been 15 years, but times have changed quite a bit.
Kuraki: Back then, MD (mini disc) came after cassette tape. They would burn what I sang onto MD, and I would listen to it at home.
Nishimuro: Cassettes were the way in the very beginning.
Kuraki: “Love, Day After Tomorrow” was first given to me on cassette.
◆Continued in [Mai Kuraki x BARKS Talk Series] Vol.1 (Childhood~1999). “Looking back on it now, everybody was working part time or involved in school clubs. I made a demo tape while in a school club” (Part 3 of 3)