Natccu
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Natccu

Tokyo, Tōkyō, Japan

Tokyo, Tōkyō, Japan
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter

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"Harajuku grrrls (excerpt)"

“Powerful pop-infused indie... Her infectiously idiosyncratic music jumps from astute angular riffery to emotive rock balladry, and it hooks itself into your head.” - NME


"Backstage at Rock Chick"

Japanese society might like to dogmatically adhere to gender roles, but for decades women have subverted social codes by forming brilliant bands that put their male counterparts to shame. Today, this is represented by Japan's roster of hard-rocking riot grrls. From Yoko Ono to today's new breed, Nippon's femme fatales succeed in making western rock's masculine posturing look positively puny.

In celebration of these all-girl bands, Tokyo club night Saiko hosted last week a special Rock Chick event, showcasing the latest female-fronted acts the city has to offer. Event organiser Dan Grunebaum thinks it was an idea that "couldn't be more obvious," but nobody had previously attempted, which is strange considering the great bands to choose from.

Historically, bands like Shonen Knife (who toured with Nirvana and counted Kurt Cobain among their most vocal fans) and Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her (who released a record in the UK after Courtney Love bigged them up in NME), suport the idea of women reigning supreme in the upper echelons of J-rock's hierarchy. Then there are noiseniks Melt Banana and a host of others, including Akiko Wada, Ex-Girl and Buffalo Daughter to name a few.

At Rock Chick, new act Natccu (who is touring the UK in May) plays love-laden indie. Every moment of it is thrilling.

"Japan has a culture of karaoke," says Natccu, "so vocal melodies are really important to us. There are a lot of famous female singers in Japan and have been for a long time, since showa pop and the enka singer Hibari Misora. Female singers are perceived as being better than men because their voices are more melodic."

Though the alternative scene may be free from stereotypes, Japan's music mainstream has female pop idols like Ayumi Hamasaki and Morning Musume (an ever rotating lineup of twee-pop touting teens) to maintain the gender-imbalanced status quo, where a girl's world is limited to shoes, shopping and Twittering over tabloid scandal. It's no surprise that this section of the entertainment industry is overseen by powerful men.

"Japanese women rockers represent an alternative to patriarchy by operating outside of the male-dominated entertainment industry," says Grunebaum. "Many Japanese women rockers say and do what they want because they have no interest in joining the mainstream, and commercially have nothing to lose."

However, perhaps feminist forcefulness is what mainstream Japanese pop needs. Strong female acts like Shiina Ringo and Yuki have enjoyed huge commercial success and represent a more substantial appreciation of womanhood by Japan's pop-loving masses. What's clear is that, with female-fronted bands continuing to reign supreme, Japan's gender roles are slowly changing. - The Guardian


"Natccu overview"

Natccu (pronounced "na-chew") is a female, Tokyo-based singer-songwriter who creates pop-sounding rock music. Her music shows obvious influence from US and UK music, but there’s also a Japanese flavor to it, which results in a very accessible and catchy style. Her vocals are incredibly powerful, and the raw emotion that shimmers through at all times may send shivers down your spine.

Since 2008, she has been focusing on both the UK and US markets with performances in both countries. - JaME


"Excerpt from session on Breakthru Radio"

“Natccu has an amazing voice, and a whole heap of great songs.” - Breakthru Radio


"Excerpt from an interview feature"

“The kind of guitar-based melodies that resonate in your head for days.” - Neo magazine


"Japanese artists to watch next year"

Tokyo’s own Natccu (pronounced ‘natch’) has seen a lot of action abroad, rapidly expanding the career for this singer-songwriter. Natccu has played the In the City Festival in Manchester, UK along with an appearance at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. A punk-like psychedelic ‘Harajuku girl’ image was what caught the attention of NME and The Guardian. Natccu is fully expected to keep a wonderfully flexible career both inside and out of Japan with dynamic music in both Japanese and English. - Time Out


"Natccu interview"

"Music is like a lifesaver for my daily life. I can't imagine life without it." Those are the words of Natccu, a Japanese singer and songwriter with a heartfelt, earthy style. She recorded her debut album, Sketchbook, in 2004 and is working on her second.

Last year she performed for the first time overseas, on a UK tour presented by "It Came From Japan". This year she will do performances in both the US and UK. With her sights set high, Natccu is hoping to bring her brand of music to the next level.

On February 3, 2009 Natccu was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Natccu with credits to Sakura Komparu and Quistography.com.


Let's start with your upcoming album. Do you have a date when it will be released yet or a working title?

The release date is not confirmed yet. As to a working title, we are working on it. I'm also looking for a label, but if I can't find one, I'm going to release it anyway.

What has it been like working with Akira Murata?

First I write the songs and do rehearsals with my band. When we are finished we send it Murata-san. Then we talk about how to improve it, how to make it better. Then we make the finished work.

Can you tell us about some of the songs? What type of music can we expect?

My first album was more like a passion, coming straight from my heart. So it's rather heavy. In this next album I value more how I feel, like the feeling of dancing or having fun. So I tried to balance both feelings and the music. That's how I'm writing songs now. That's what you can expect... I hope.

Take the song, Command Z, which I recorded recently. It's kind of an easy disco-like sound, like four beats, easy to remember. But the lyrics are about office work! That might sound a little unbalanced, but I think it's fun and interesting. It's the first song I've done with English lyrics. And I included that track in the Japan Nite Sampler.

Oh, about the title. On an Apple or PC, you know how you can press command and Z at the same time to undo your last action? Have you ever said something you wished you hadn't at the office or in your daily life and thought, ah, I wish I could do a command Z?!

Can you tell us a little about how you write songs?

Like I said, in the first album, my feelings were so strong. The lyrics came first, then the melody. Now when I write it's more at the same time. Actually... it's very difficult to explain, the process is so unconscious. I have so many melodies in my mind. When I extract them the lyrics seem to just join in to make one song. But I don't know how I do it. Maybe the melody is creating the words or lyrics from somewhere in me.

What inspires you to write?

As for the lyrics, I wouldn't say anything "inspires" me. I just write about what I think or believe. What matters is how I select the words in my mind to make the lyrics. That's the most important thing.

Once you have an idea for a song, is it hard or easy to transform the idea into a finished song?

It's sometime easy. Sometimes the beginning is ok or the end is ok, but sometimes I'm stuck with parts of the lyrics. So sometimes it's hard.

You toured in the UK last October. How did that go?

I was very surprised at the number of people who came, more than I expected. Everyone was having so much fun and was really excited! I was very happy that my music was accepted by the audiences.

Was this your first time overseas?

Not in terms of holiday, but yes in terms of performing live gigs.

You actually performed with three Japanese musicians who live in London. What was that like?

They've lived overseas for such a long time now that they are very different from Japanese musicians in Japan. They don't care so much about little mistakes, and they have a way of sending good signals or vibrations during the performances.

You recorded a live session in the UK that was broadcast on a New York radio station?

So I heard! It was just like doing a show on stage. We were in a radio station in a small studio without any audience. And I was thinking, this was going to go to the States so many miles away?! That's how I felt while I was performing. Speaking between songs, I forgot and said to come see our next show in London!

The recording studio itself was an engineer's room, glass window, not very clean haha... Outside it's like a field, near Norwich, but it's in the middle of nowhere really, and this was going out to Manhattan NY! It's incredible.

What about the UK did you find most surprising?

The most surprising thing was the penetration of modern music. It's like everyone likes music. It's in daily life so if you go to the department store you can hear rock music being played, which you would not hear in Japan.

Japanese musicians care so much about the little details, a little too much sometimes... In England they value the feelings most, the details next. It's easier for me because I feel comfortable with that.

You'll be returning to the UK again this summer, correct? Are you looking at the upcoming experience differently than last year?

I have more new songs so I'm really looking forward to playing in front of an audience and see what kind of reaction I'll get. I'll be playing with other bands and will get to meet new people and expand my network. I had no expectations before... After I experienced performing in the UK I realized British people like music with more rhythm, as do I. So while I was writing my new songs, I was sometimes actually imagining performing them there.

While I'm sure your European fans will be looking forward to that, you will actually be coming to the US before then, correct?

Yes, for the first time to give a live performance.

Who will you be touring with and where will you perform?

Right now it's still undecided where I'll be singing and with who. There will be a few live gigs in LA, Texas, South by Southwest... I'll be the one "from Japan" in one place... I hope everyone can enjoy j-rock. Please enjoy j-rock!

Tell us a little about Daniel Robson and "It Came From Japan".

Before I meet Daniel I only did shows in Tokyo. After I meet Daniel my world got much larger. I have a wider view to look at things with now. That's how I feel about Daniel. ICFJ has brought lots of Japanese performers to the UK and given them the chance to perform. Now more and more people come up to him wanting to play. His passion is to give equal opportunity to everyone, whether they are Japanese or from the UK. Things are working well.

You said this will be your first time performing in North America, but you've visited the US before?

Yes, I actually went to the South by Southwest festival last year, just as an audience member.

What are you looking forward to, or perhaps worried about, in the upcoming trip?

I look forward to meeting new people and seeing the live performances of the other bands. It's a great opportunity. I worry about gaining weight! All the food portions in the US are so huge... and huge Cokes!

Let's take a trip back in time and learn about your background. First off, where were you born and raised?

North Ibaraki, close to Tsushima, where my mother is from. Soon after I was born we moved to Shinjuku, where my father is from.

Can you describe the neighborhood where you grew up?

I spent elementary school in Saitama. The thing about Saitama is... there's nothing there! No beaches, no mountains, nothing. It's not really urban, not really countryside, something in-between. There were some farms, but no rice fields. We kids didn't have anything to do. I spent my time with neighbors and friends, not much time alone. You had to find something to do, like playing cards, soccer...

What kind of kid were you?

I later realized that I didn't have any pictures from when I was in elementary school with a smile on my face! I didn't like school. My mom used to have to grab me by the arm to make me go! But from junior high to high school, I noticed that I had a good sense of sports, so I started enjoying school more, so my mom didn't have to grab me by the arm to drag me there anymore haha. I was really serious about gymnastics and actually got recommended to a high school that specialises in gymnastics.

How did you first get into music?

Probably from when I was 3 years old. I wasn't good at communicating with people, so mom took me to this special class where the kids played music together as a way of communicating. That's how I first met music.

Who were your favorite artists growing up?

Actually some of my favorite music was old Japanese film soundtracks. Not so much the typical ones, but there was a company, Kadokawa Pictures, that made a certain kind that I really liked growing up.

What artists inspire you today?

Too many to name. Charlotte Hatherley and The Ting Tings have a very simple sound. They deliberately try to be simple, trying not to make the music be too heavy. Very cool. Her songwriting style is similar to what I'm doing. I also like Electro bands, but so many I couldn't name...

Did you always think music would be such a big part of your life?

Because I grew up in a place where there was nothing else to do, I was drawn to music. It's like the Japanese saying, a drowning man will grab at even a straw. So I was kind of desperate to find something and it was music. Music is like a lifesaver for my daily life. I can't imagine life without it.

What do your family and friends think of your music career and the fact that you are now performing overseas?

Actually my friends and family are not really interested in what I'm doing haha!

Can you tell us a little about your memories of turning 20?

I remember I wore an all red kimono. The hairdresser I went to had won the Paris Collection competition for hairdressers in Paris, so she was really, really good. She did my hair and makeup. But my mom, she didn't like the hair so she redid it herself! So I guess going to the fancy hairdresser was probably a waste of money after all.

When did you start working on the songs that would become your first album, Sketchbook?

I released Sketchbook in 2004 but stated working on it in 2001, so it took 3 years. I wrote lots of songs and selected these.

How did you record the album? What was a typical day like?

At that time I didn't have a label so we did it at the Itabashi community center in Tokyo. It's for the public, so it's very cheap to hire the space. All the recording was done in that location. So a typical day was, first I woke up my senpai, a novice engineer who worked late as a taxi driver. So I would wake him up, put the computer, wires, microphones, stands and such in his van, and drove to the community center. It was then a long walk from the parking lot to the center. We set up all the equipment, which took about 3-4 hours. Then we started work recording. There was a time limit when we had to leave. That's how my first album was recorded.

When our band first started to record, we thought it was just for a demo, but a guy heard it and thought, wow you should sell it at Tower Records or something. He helped to hire a studio, so the last 2 tracks were actually recorded in a proper studio.

Who did you work with?

Miyoko Yamaguchi from Detroit7 on drums and a guy nicknamed Gori on bass.

What were your biggest challenges and rewards in working on Sketchbook?

The biggest challenge was the time constraint. We could only use the community center for 12 hours, so there was not much time left in the day. We could only do 2 takes or something, and always under the pressure of running out of time. Actually at one point it was so bad I was crying while singing, so they had to stop me and say, "your nose is running, stop, stop!"

The budget was really small so we didn't spend a lot recording. But you know, because we did everything ourselves we have a strong feeling that we actually made this album!

What were some of your thoughts after completing it?

Towards the end we started working with other people, and many other opinions started coming in from mature people. But since I was the one making the album and it's my music, I had to be strong enough to fight and protect my work. I realized how important it is to be myself and do what I think is right. That's what I realized most from the experience.

What songs are you most pleased with from the album?

All of them!

Aside from music, what type of things do you do to relax and have fun?

Watching comedy movies. I'm a big fan of Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the TV series Spaced. It's very dark, cynical humor that I find very funny.

Do you have a favorite food or drink that people outside of Japan might have never tried?

I like "smelly" foods like Ankimo. It's made from monkfish liver! I also love fish guts pickled in salt.

Can you give us a little insight into the romantic life of Natccu? What is you idea of a romantic date?

Not sure if its romantic, but my favorite date is going for a drive in the mountains. Even if we are just going to a museum, I prefer to go to one in the mountains.

What traits do you look for in someone you would date?

I wouldn't say I have a particular taste in men. There is a saying that a genius is full of love, so they give love to everyone. I believe it. So I like someone who is very clear, generous, sharp, and is very forgiving and full of love. I like that type of guy and I think the saying is true.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite slogan?

I don't have a particular one, but I always try to do the right thing, to choose the right decision, and not reflect on or regret it later. I only want to sing what I believe and do what I think is right, so I won't regret anything.

What are your plans for the rest of 2009?

Well, I'm not really the kind of person who makes plans, so I'm just doing what comes next. There are the US and UK trips of course, and after that we'll just go step by step.

Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?

Um, I might have talked too much and said something totally different in another interview, but don't get upset about it haha.

Do you have a final message to all your fans?

I'm a slow turtle, 100%, but true to my music and doing my best to deliver the next album. Hope all the fans enjoy it.


For more info checkout Natccu's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments - J-Pop World


"Tokyo calling"

Natccu, taking the stage at Club 440 in the Camden-esque area of Shimokitazawa, is an entirely different proposition. Playing a vaguely acoustic set (most of her backing band have electric instruments, but they are at least sitting down), she plays a set of gutsy pop with hysteric vocal stylings that recall Kate Bush as much as anything Japanese. She tells the crowd that she’s a bit pissed, presumably to calm her nerves after spotting pop idol Hitomi Yaida in the crowd, but nonetheless she delivers effortless and gorgeous grown-up music with a raunchy rock heart and beautiful doe eyes. - Drowned In Sound


Discography

'Sketchbook' (album) - 2004
Currently mixing her second album, including the three tracks in this EPK.

Photos

Bio

With huge melodies, a soaraway voice and tight, danceable rhythms, Tokyo solo artist Natccu has been praised by NME and The Guardian, selected by Time Out as one to watch in 2010, and battered stages around the UK and US on several tours. Her forthcoming new album features bass by Mike Watt (The Stooges/Minutemen) alongside several famed Japanese musicians, with a fresh and fierce post-pop sound to crush all borders.

Born in Tokyo, Natccu (pronounced "na-chew") makes dark-edged pop that defies easy explanation. It's multilayered, unpredictable and deep, yet instantly memorable. And while she’s influenced by British and American artists, she carries an Eastern sensibility that makes her music utterly unique.

Best of all is her voice: at times hysterical, filled with dramatic gulps of passion; and then quiet, seductive or sweet; but always with a measure of control that is dizzying. Natccu's voice soars over a bed of dirty guitars and tight rhythm, singing lyrics that are in turn cynical, angry, hopeful and beautiful.

Natccu's first album, 'Sketchbook', was awash with epic melodies and direct production. This sound has evolved into something lean and exciting for her as-yet-untitled second album, a new batch of pop songs that drip subversive cool, due for release in early 2011. Musicians include the cream of Japan’s underground, with members from GO!GO!7188, Heart Bazaar/Jet-Ki, Tokyo Pinsalocks and more, as well as Stooges/Minutemen bass legend Mike Watt. The English lyrics for her song ‘Crescent Moon’ (originally ‘Kagen No Tsuki’) were co-written by Chris Mosdell, who’s also written for Yellow Magic Orchestra, Michael Jackson and Sarah Brightman. The album is co-produced by Natccu and top Japanese producer Akira Murata (Hitomi Yaida).

Since 2008, Natccu has played at numerous global industry festivals as well as club shows in the US and UK. These include South By Southwest and Whiskey A Go-Go in the US; UK shows include The Great Escape, In The City, Camden Crawl and the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall, as well as a radio session recorded in the English countryside that played out to 600,000 people across the ocean via New York station Breakthru Radio. This autumn she will also play her first show in South Korea.

No amount of hyperbole can properly explain the wonder of Natccu and her abrasive yet addictive music. You'll just have to listen for yourself.