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Apr 11

[interview] Aiha Higurashi

Aiha Higurashi’s music always bears her unmistakable stamps. Both the experimental punk of her bands, Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her and Loves, and the soft introspection of her solo records, are honest about life’s struggles, yet delivered with confidence and a middle finger. Higurashi has a knack for writing unpredictable song structures and incorporating a stunningly broad palette of influences into rock, such as yodeling, hip-hop, ambient, country and disco. And of course there’s her unmistakable guitar style–brash, tender and daring all at once.

Higurashi formed Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her in 1992, taking its eye-catching name from an XTC song. The band was best known for its lineup of Higurashi, bassist Nao Koyama and drummer Takaharu Karashima from 1994 to 1999, although Higurashi and Koyama continued as a duo until 2002. The band became a cult favorite overseas, touring with Modest Mouse, Yo La Tengo and Mogwai and releasing a compilation CD in the UK. After SSKHKH broke up, Higurashi contributed songs to Judy and Mary singer Yuki’s budding solo career and then launching her own solo career with the single Fantasy in 2003. After recording two albums on her own, she formed the band Loves. in 2005, later changing the name to Aiha Higurashi and Loves! (Exclamation included.) Higurashi has released two albums with Loves and revived her solo career with the album Perfect Days last November. She is currently working on a new album for Ravolta, her hip-hop/new wave project with Tsutchie from Shakka Zombies.

That’s quite a busy schedule, but Higurashi was able to answer a few questions in English by e-mail.

pS: Your solo music’s usually softer than your band work. But even by those standards, Perfect Days is notably sparse and acoustic. Why did you choose this stripped-down approach?

A : Yes, that is very simple. I usually listen to Donovan , Elliot Smith, Rickie Lee Jones, Daniel Johnston, etc., so I wanted to do this simple sound even since I started Seagulls. I always put at least one acoustic song or quiet song in Seagull’s album, too. I just adore listening to those sounds so it is probably best time came to write and perform. That is because, my band is formed and Ravolta is doing great, so why not? Now I have enough space to let my mind open.

pS: You’ve said you formed Aiha Higurashi and Loves because you were tired of being solo after 2005′s Platonic. But then you released Perfect Days last year. What changed over those four years?

A: As I mentioned that Loves. is finally formed so tight as a band now. It took us so long to gather the right members and tighten up, get together and be a band that we wished which I wished.

pS: What was going on in your life when you were making the album?

A: I am a single mother of a lovely daughter so I do live usual everyday life. But I met a guy at the very beginning. He is the biggest reason why I could open my mind and let the brand new air into me. Then naturally the melodies came up into my head and heart. I fell in love.

pS: What do you consider the major differences between your solo and band music?

A: My band Loves. is a rock band and has a bit of punk and hard rock essence. And we perform so hard on stage, like I always jump and get down from the stage and walk around stuff. And we play loud songs mainly. But solo is not laid back, but I could sing love songs. True love songs.

pS: Some of your rock songs have elements of dance and hip-hop music. Why do you incorporate these genres?

A: I like any kind of music. I do love Kanye West, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest…so I do a unit called Ravolta with a hip-hop track maker tsutchie from Shakka Zombie.

pS: How did you meet the members of Aiha Higurashi and Loves?

A: I met Takahiko Akiyama (drums) and KC (guitar and chorus) when I was in Sony looking for solo’s live and recording members. Takahiko was in a band Downy. I loved the band, then I asked. KC also can do sound engineering and he always makes good riffs. Kentaro Nakao was in Number Girl. We basically friends then found out Takahiko ‘s drumming and his bass playing matches well. Hiroshi Nakamura was sax player, I was introduce by Takahiko. They are in a same band called Fresh! I always was dreaming to have a sax player in punk band.

pS: You’re open about having manic depressive disorder and speak quite positively of it. How have audiences responded?

A: Yes, I am. But some fans are just sticking to the joy of knowing how sick I am now. Some people are dependent on their sickness. You know, but it happens, but I got over it. I am not always sick. I am just taking meds, seeing shrink once a month. That is all. But it wasn’t this popular here in Japan to talk about your psychological disorder or sickness. So I like things to be open if it is no harm to other people.

pS: You’ve also talked about facing discrimination as an outspoken, female rock musician early in your career. Is that still something you face these days?

A: I don’t know. Yeah, maybe some in a bad way and also useful ways. Haha! I think not like when I started Seagulls. I guess or am I too strong now? But I sometimes feel the discrimination against female when I am in old-school type of venue or studio or big company.

pS: Aiha Higurashi and Loves’ song “Naked Me” was in the movie The Quiet Room. How do you feel about the importance of musical tie-ins in Japanese media in order to receive attention?

A: To get certain attention, it will work. But I don’t know it is alway pleasure to write songs for somebody else, but also kind a pressure for me to write certain song.

pS: Although you’re in the middle of recording the Ravolta album, is there anything you can tell us about the project?

A: We are making unbelievably interesting tracks so please give us more time!

pS: It’s been nearly nine years since you performed in the U.S. (with Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her). Do you plan to do any more shows here?

A: If somebody asked me to come to we all would! But touring US.. is so hard…but fun I know…I wanna play with Sonic Youth then.

Photos by Sasahara
You can purchase music by Aiha Higurashi and Loves on iTunes. For more information, please visit http://www.aiha-h.com