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]]
■Boston was my first proper recording session. I was nervous and excited at the same time.
■I experienced a lot of real world things… I didn’t know fear in my teens (laughs)
Karasumaru: Your talent was recognized at the audition, and your debut was confirmed. Then what?
Kuraki: Then the producer suddenly told me, “We want you to go record in Boston.” I was there for a week. It was my first time singing in a recording studio.
Karasumaru: You have sung in front of a boom box though.
Kuraki: That’s right (laughs). I hadn’t had any preparation till then, so I was just going at it full force. I didn’t know left from right, and I was learning everything for the first time.
Karasumaru: Everyone goes through the recording process, but Boston right off the bat?
Kuraki: Oh, sorry. I did the demo at a Japanese studio, and then I went to Boston. My first proper studio experience was in Boston. They did things completely differently than they do in Japan. I was very happy, but also nervous and anxious at the same time. I loved western music, so I thought I should experience it first hand. I didn’t know about fear in my teens (laughs). I got on the plane with just my photographer.
Nishimuro: I went ahead to Boston and did some preparations. Then Kuraki and the photographer joined me. Looking back, it was quite a feat. It was just she and a male photographer.
Kuraki: We met for the first time at Narita airport. I never had a part-time job experience or any life experience for that matter. I just had to follow the photographer (laughs).
Karasumaru: BEING was pretty crazy.
Nishimuro: Looking back on it, they could have at least gotten a female photographer (laughs). Putting a 16 year-old girl on a long international flight with only a male photographer she just met seems crazy. But at the time, nobody thought much about it.
Karasumaru: The staff was probably frantic.
Karasumaru: Isn’t it the staff’s job to figure out how to promote and develop this new artist, Kuraki?
Kuraki: Everybody around me was an adult. I remember there was a time when I couldn’t express myself and was nervous about saying things the wrong way. I thought I mustn’t fail or be a burden.
Karasumaru: You were 16. That’s too much to ask.
Nishimuro: There was a bit of a summer vacation feeling to it (laughs). Like you learn English, study abroad, experience America, and also record an album.
Kuraki: Producer Perry Geyer liked what I was singing there.
Nishimuro: He said, “It’s really cool, so you should put it out in the US too.” That’s how we started the release process in the US.
Karasumaru: That’s an interesting path. Even though you were nervous and anxious, you were having a great time.
Kuraki: That’s right. I think I learned how to they record in America. They put a lot of importance in the feeling. They would say, “That was good too,” and we’d try a lot of different things. I got to expand my singing vocabulary. It was a very good experience for me.
Karasumaru: You thought that at 16? That’s very precocious.
Kuraki: Hehehe (laughs).
Karasumaru: I would think that you’d say things like “The meat in America is terrible.” (laughs)
Nishimuro: There was no time for that. She would go to the studio, record, go back to the room, and sleep. There were so many people at the studio…
Kuraki: I would write lyrics there.
Nishimuro: They would say things like, “Try singing while dancing,” or “You can sing better if get the rhythm by moving your hands like this.” They taught us different things. Everything was new.
Kuraki: When I brought those experiences back and recorded in Japan, all those little things really helped. Like dancing and relaxing while singing.
Karasumaru: You have to experience that to know that.
Kuraki: That’s right. That double life continued when I returned to Japan. I would go to the studio right after I got home from school. I would take the last train home from the studio and do my homework on the train. I can say it now, but my staff helped me a bit with my English homework (laughs).
Nishimuro: She had to write a diary in English, but she couldn’t write, “Today, I recorded at the studio.” So we would have to make up things like, “Today, I went shopping with my friends.” (laughs)
Kuraki: When I just debuted, my life existed between school and the studio. I had no idea how many people knew of me or were listening to my music. I was constantly just thinking about the next song.
Karasumaru: You didn’t have time to even appreciate that you debuted?
Kuraki: That’s right.
Karasumaru: Like, if your song was played at the convenience store?
Kuraki: The first time I heard my song, that’s when I realized I had debuted. I was not on many media outlets back then. It was strange because I was only singing in the studio. People were clamoring around me, but I couldn’t tell. It was like being in the eye of the storm.
Text: Hideo Miyamoto
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The next talk series will be Mai Kuraki’s 2000 ＜Surging release, shocking year＞