We at JROCK NEWS received the honor to attend the biggest anime convention in New York, Anime NYC, to witness the most outstanding anisong performers stand on stage during the two nights of Anisong World Matsuri. Not only were we able to see them perform, but we were also lucky to get a chance to talk with the inspiring rock artist, nano.
First of all, welcome back home! This isn’t your first time performing in America, so tell us, how does it differ performing here compared to in Japan?
Thank you! Of course, New York is my home city, I was born and raised here, so it’s been my inner dream to come here and sing. It’s been a long six years since my debut, and it took me a lot of effort, but just to be able to come here is a dream come true. That feeling in itself makes singing in America feel different, but as far as the crowd goes—wow! Americans know how to rock!
In your recent music video “Star light, Star bright” we mainly follow two aspiring musicians who go from being an indie act to potentially sign a record deal. Can you tell us more about this story?
Actually, the music video director was amazing. He heard the music and lyrics of the song and came up with a very dramatic story about these two artists. I didn’t intend the story to take that kind of turn at the end, it’s a very dramatic turn of events, so I was really happy to see that he made the song even more powerful than it was in the beginning.
Was this partly a reflection of your own personal experience?
In a way, yes, because even though the lyrics are quite positive, there’s a little bit of loss in there, and I think that because humans experience loss and sadness and negativity, they’re able to want and yearn for positivity and happiness in the end. Without these kinds of negative aspects, I don’t think humans can appreciate the moments of being happy. That’s always been a battle for me, and a goal of mine, too.
Like many of your other songs, “Star light, Star bright” is featured in an anime, specifically this time it is the anime Conception. Has anisong always been a big focus for you?
When I was little, I watched a lot of anime, so I always thought it was cool the way they combined music with animation—it’s not something that you’d see in a lot of cultures, but it’s something the Japanese culture is really good at. When I first made my debut, I never intended to do as many anime tie-ups as I’m doing now, so it’s really a great opportunity and it helped me connect with my fans around the world. Without anime tie-ups, I probably wouldn’t have been able to come to New York, so it’s all thanks to this amazing anime culture.
Over the years we’ve heard plenty of rocking styles, recently in Utsushiyo no Yume there were a lot of wagakki (traditional Japanese) elements to it. Musically, how has your style evolved since the day of your debut album nanoir?
It’s interesting, because when I first made my debut, I was more focused on looking into the American aspect of myself. Because I was living in Japan, I wanted to re-connect to that faraway English-speaking side of me. But lately, as I go overseas more and more to perform and connect with my overseas fans, I’m sort of feeling a stronger connection with the Japanese side of myself. So it’s kind of working in an opposite direction. I feel that so much of the world is interested in the Japanese culture right now, and it’s a great opportunity to elaborate on the Japanese side of me when I go overseas. I think fans find that entertaining.
What side came out more last night during the performance, the Japanese side or the American side?
Last night, the American in me totally came out! The New Yorker in me came out and I connected so emotionally with the crowd, but the last solo song I did was Uchishiyo no Yume, and that has a strong Japanese wagakki element. Interestingly, this song is really popular overseas, and when I perform it live, the crowd really embraces the Japanese sound of it. It’s a hybrid sound. When I first began to work on it, I was a little hesitant—I was like, “I don’t know… me, doing a wagakki style? This might be really weird”. But when I performed it live, it was like, “Bam! This song is going to be one of the songs I want to sing a lot in the future”.
As someone who started off as essentially a “bedroom artist” by creating covers and uploading them to streaming platforms like niconico, what tips or advice do you have for people who are doing the same?
You know, I can’t take responsibility for the outcome, but I would definitely say “Try it!”. Just deciding to try made this dream come true. And of course, there’s no guarantee of how things will come out in the future—nothing that says just because you start as a bedroom artist that there’s something waiting for you—but you just don’t know until you try. A lot of people may try to say you should do something more realistic, like “Do some work”, or “Get out more”, but everyone’s different, and sometimes doing these things inside the walls of your home and experimenting really helps you learn more about yourself. Everyone’s their selves inside their room, and you can discover your sound, your creativity. Of course, it’s great to go outside and meet people and interact, but having alone time and trying to experiment with who you are and what you want to do is really important. While you’re young, you have time, so go ahead and do what you want and then take responsibility for your future when the time comes.
What do you think is the biggest difference that separates western and Japanese music? What are your thoughts on that?
Apart from the language, I don’t feel so much of a difference lately. Wherever I go, the crowd seems so warm and inviting and fired up. I feel that music is one of the things that proves that language is not a barrier—you can enjoy music wherever you go, whether it’s in English or Japanese or Russian or German. It doesn’t really matter as long as you can rock out to it. I decided to do music because of that.
We know rock ‘n’ roll is a big part of your life, so we would like to ask what rock ‘n’ roll is to you personally. How has rock ‘n’roll shaped you as a person?
For me, rock ‘n’ roll is a “soul” thing, it’s about being who you are, about standing up and saying, “I’m going to be who I want to be and enjoy life!”. I don’t think I’m only into the rock ‘n’ roll genre, but I know I’m definitely a rocker at heart. My parents were really into music, and I grew up listening to a lot of genres, but there were a lot of Beatles, and Rolling Stones in my childhood, and then got into punk rock, and emo rock. I listened to the radio a lot, too. The first albums I ever bought were the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums, and I memorized every single track on those. I was a huge fan, and back then the Beatles weren’t as popular in Japan as they are now, there was a little bit of a decline, so I was on the frontier of the second boom of the Beatles!
It’s hard to connect being a rebel to being a fan of the Beatles.
The Beatles were one of my first inspirations, and after that, I started to get into modern pop-rock like Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, Green Day… and that brought out different sides of me.
Generally across your work, the songs and lyrics you write follow a theme of self-empowerment, for example in “Rock on”, or “My Liberation”. Can you tell us more about the reason you write these lyrics?
I think they can give power to people, like when you’re feeling down or need a little push, these kinds of songs can be freeing and get you feeling like “Let’s break the chains and rock out!”. Artists make music for different reasons, and there are singers that have voices that heal the heart, and some singers touch the sadness of the listener, but I want to give people power—I want to be the ray of sunshine or the blaze of fire that gets you moving forward.
Do you have a message for fans across the world?
I’m just really blessed to be able to be here, and I can’t wait to come back. If I do get to come back, I would love for everyone reading to come and see me again. We can rock out together!