NANO has just released the self-produced mini-album ANTHESIS so we took the opportunity to not only speak about the album, but also NANO’s mysterious past.
Being bilingual, born and raised in New York, to later move to Japan in pursuit of becoming a musician; NANO has a very interesting background story that we wanted to find out more about.
Why didn’t NANO reveal their face and gender for more than five years into their career? What lies beyond the colorful NANO—the dark side of NANO?
You can listen to the full interview or read it down below.
Watch the interview captioned and subtitled on YouTube:
Jump to topic
- NANO debut: Being an utaite at niconico [00:00]
- The mysterious side of NANO [14:31]
- The self-produced album “ANTHESIS” [29:08]
- Being a bilingual artist [45:39]
- The “new” NANO and YouTube activities [54:18]
NANO debut: Being an utaite at niconico
[00:00] Back to top
You mentioned [in the past] that you were scouted by your former director, just three months after you started your activity on niconico. What do you think made you stand out among the rest on niconico?
Well, I was told by my director back then that he was looking for someone who could sing in English [laughs]. At the time, he was looking around online and stumbled upon “Nico Nico Douga” [a Japanese video platform, similar to YouTube] since it was really popular. He had no idea what niconico was in the beginning and found it while randomly browsing the internet.
At first, he came across a creator—a Vocaloid producer—called “buzzG”. He met buzzG first and then through him, he found my cover of buzzG’s song, “GALLOWS BELL“—that was by complete coincidence. That later led my former director to ask buzzG for my contact information, saying “Hey, is there a way that I can contact this person [NANO]?”. After that, buzzG contacted me through a direct message on Twitter and that was how we started.
Did you know buzzG at the time?
Yeah. When I covered his song on niconico, it’s kind of like a secret manner to give the Vocaloid producer a heads up that you’re going to cover their song. So, before I uploaded “GALLOWS BELL”, I direct messaged buzzG [on Twitter] and said, “Hey, I’m going to cover your song. Is that okay with you?”. We had direct contact a few times. That was how it started.
Oh, I actually didn’t know about that rule.
It’s not like everyone does it but at the time, some people did. Some people directly contacted the creator just in case, you know? They didn’t want to cause trouble over the rights of the song or that kind of thing.
Yeah, and there’s a lot of creators who actually do put up a link so people can download the instrumental song.
Yeah! You don’t have to contact them. But for example, in my case, I did English lyrics transliterations, so that means I’m going to change his lyrics. I wanted to ask for permission to be able to do that.
If you’re just going to cover the song as is, then it’s probably not too big of a problem. However, if you’re going to change a song or arrange it, it’s better to ask for permission instead of doing it without a heads up.
Got it! Since you got scouted pretty early on in your career, I guess you never really dived into the doujin Comiket scene, right?
Yeah. To be honest, I’ve never been to Comiket or those kinds of events. It was only maybe two or three months into my uploading career before I got direct contact with the director. So yeah, I was a newbie.
[NANO and JROCK NEWS laughs]
It must have felt pretty unreal to get recognized so quickly?
Yeah. I didn’t really believe it at first when I got the direct message. You know, buzzG isn’t a guy who makes many jokes [laughs]. He doesn’t contact you and say, “Hey, there’s a director who wants to meet you” and say, “Haha. That was a lie”. He’s not that kind of person, thus I simply had to believe that direct message.
To be honest, it took me about two weeks to give him an answer. I had to think it out and it took about two weeks for me to say “Yes”.
Oh, what kind of concerns did you have swirling around your head?
Well, to begin with, of course, the first emotion that came up when I got the direct message was, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. This is perhaps a big chance for me!”, but at the same time, I was only doing the cover songs for fun, out of complete experimental enjoyment.
I wasn’t sure if the director would take me in the right direction. Originally when I wanted to become a singer—when I first came to Japan, when I was younger. I wanted to be, what do you call it? Not like a cover artist, or even a niconico artist, but a Jrock-, Jpop-kind of singer-songwriter artist. That’s what I was originally intending to do. I was worried about whether or not we could work together and still go in the same direction.
When you were scouted, were you still in New York, or had you already moved to Japan?
I was in Japan. I had come to Japan with the aim to pursue music and a while after, I started my niconico activity.
I guess you must have quite a lot of respect for buzzG for sparking your career.
Definitely! He’s like my lifesaver right now, without having met his music, the artist NANO would not be alive right now!
On a side note, I actually met him during Comiket, so I felt really lucky.
Really? Wow! Yeah, he’s a really nice guy. So polite and he writes so many good songs. He’s also such a genius yet acts like he’s a complete amateur.
Yeah, he’s absolutely a polite guy!
So about being an utaite. You didn’t really have to stay that long as one because you got major quite quickly? Still, you have a pretty loyal fan base from the niconico days.
Yeah, that is amazing.
You have to kind of satisfy several types of audiences now. Is there anything that you actively do to try to please everyone?
More so now than before. The first few years, or actually, maybe the first five years, were more challenging in that sense. My director at that time was not a niconico friendly kind of director. He worked in the “regular” industry, the typical Jrock and Jpop industry.
He didn’t really know a lot of the internet stuff and what the internet fans wanted. To be honest, the niconico fans and Jrock-Jpop fans are a little bit different from what they want and what their enjoyment is in music.
He didn’t understand everything that the fans wanted. Yet, my fan base was 90% niconico in the beginning. I understood that, but my director didn’t. So we kind of clashed in the beginning. For example, what image was better for me to put into my music or, what kind of sound we wanted and what kind of artist image we wanted. Our opinions clashed in many ways.
The first few years were a lot more tough for me than it is now. Now, since my fans are so loyal, really, it’s amazing. They accept, love and support almost everything I do. I’m just grateful that they’re still here with me. I’m grateful to my new fans as well.
We’re still seeing tributes to the “old NANO” even on your newer work. For example, on your best album “I”, you included an English version of the Vocaloid song “Roki“—which is originally in Japanese. There’s still a lot of these “old NANO” showing up in later works. Is that something you want to keep going with?
As an artist, I’m always looking to evolve and to try new things. And because I feel that way, of course, there are some things that change within my music career in the things I do and the things I want to achieve.
At the same time, after singing professionally for around nine years, I also really respect and understand the importance of where I began.
My singing didn’t begin with niconico, it began when I was a lot younger. My fan base and the start that really kicked up for me as a musician was on the internet, on niconico. So, you know, I will never forget that. I will never say, “That doesn’t matter”.
I Initially started doing covers of Vocaloid songs and English translations because it was really exciting for me! It was fun and it wasn’t because it was a job. No one was forcing me to do it. That excitement of doing it—just out of pure enjoyment—it’s something you should never forget when you’re doing something with music.
Sometimes I go back and listen to my old covers and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I sound so young and so bad”, but I can tell that I was having so much fun!
I think my fans understand that and I think my fans like that about my music as well. So in the future too, I would love to continue doing covers and maybe having a few songs where I’m really just, you know, having fun.
That’s lovely. I didn’t follow you on niconico, rather on YouTube. But I really liked that there’s a whole new side of the song that you can hear and experience. For a lot of people—the western fans—we don’t really understand Japanese. Even if we do, it’s probably not on the same level as a native Japanese speaker. It’s really lovely to see that you keep going with this kind of “homage”, if I can call it that.
I never actually asked any of my fans this, and I’ve always wanted to ask overseas fans and listeners. When I go overseas, I’m pretty surprised—in a good way, shocked—at how much the overseas, non-Japanese speaking listeners, understand Japanese and can sing along to the Japanese lyrics.
The first few times when I began going overseas to do concerts and stuff, I was shocked and I was like, “Do I even need to sing in English?”.
When I sing Japanese songs, the fans are just completely, you know, rocking out and they’re enjoying the Japanese songs as is. Is there even a point for me to translate the lyrics into English or sing in English? That was one thing I always wanted to ask my fans.
Like, do you really wish for me to translate the songs in English or, is it something that I’m doing just out of my own enjoyment. Do the overseas fans really love that I’m doing this?
Well, I’ve been a fan of you since 2013.
So at least from my end, I think it’s really cool.
At the same time, it kind of goes with a lot of Japanese songs, where we still learn the lyrics but we just make the sound. We don’t really get the meaning [behind the Japanese lyrics] all the time.
Thus, the deeper meaning is never really conveyed in that sense, but because music is a universal language, we can at least feel the emotions, even though we don’t know exactly what it’s actually saying or conveying.
Yeah, because when I started doing the English translations of the Vocaloid songs, that was completely my motivation—in my point of view. Nowadays, there are a lot of Japanese singers who are fluent and can sing in English. Ten years ago, there were still not too many Japanese artists who could sing or translate to English fluently.
There were so many amazing Vocaloid songs that I found online. I was like, “Oh my gosh, how are these Vocaloid producers creating such great music and just sending it out for free online?”, you know, “This is amazing!”, “This is a treasure box”.
I found so many amazing songs, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to tell this to the world. I have to tell the global community about this treasure box”. Thus, I decided to write my own lyrics and translate them into English in order to allow the global fans to get closer and an emotional connection with the songs. That was my start. That was why I started doing it.
I think it’s a really lovely idea because it’s kind of like a honeypot. Once you get into the music and then you start to discover the rest of it.
The mysterious side of NANO
[14:31] Back to top
Let’s jump into your early career, when you were still not showing your face.
I found the things you mentioned on the podcast Trash Taste very interesting, but there were some points that I wanted to dig deeper into and learn more about [laughs].
A lot of the niconico artists—at least in the past—always hid their faces. I spoke with Reol before and she told me it was because she was still a student back then. So for her, perhaps it wasn’t a good thing to reveal yourself?
But what was the main reason for you?
The Japanese society is very distinct or, you know, kind of rare in a way I should say. I think niconico was very Japanese-like. It was a great mirror of the Japanese society.
Unlike the overseas and global users who use YouTube, for example, they have no problems showing their faces when they sing. They upload their faces onto YouTube or take pictures on SNS [Social Network Services] and they’re completely open about showing their faces.
In Japan, the people are really shy. Both as people, and as a society. They also don’t want to do something that would cause trouble for their school or work. That’s why a lot of people—when they do stuff online—they try not to reveal too much about themselves, their personal information.
That was the beginning of niconico. People were very against showing their faces. Everyone was against showing their faces. No one did it. So naturally, everyone who was an utaite or a Vocaloid producer, it was natural not to show their faces. No one even doubted for a second, “Why am I not showing my face?”. Because everyone was doing that, it was a natural process for me to not show my face [as well].
Japanese people are so talented. Everyone was an amateur on niconico [as in not working in the professional field], even the illustrators. As such, the utaite collaborated with artists who drew pictures and images for them and uploaded characters instead of their faces onto niconico. That was kind of like, I don’t know, like the “rules” of niconico.
It was kind of an established pattern, the natural process, right?
Yeah, exactly. So everyone had their own avatar, like an illustration image. They weren’t human, they were more like a character on niconico. That was a natural process for me not to show my face.
In the beginning though, I was actually not used to hiding my face and now I was trying to hide my face.
It was weird for me to get used to that. At the same time, that enabled me to focus completely on my singing and not having to think about things like, “Oh my God, I look so weird when I sing”, my expressions, or what kind of image am I putting out.
It was completely free for me to just sing the way I wanted to sing. So, I realized that maybe not showing too much of yourself at times is better. It leaves room for imagination to the listeners.
If you did the same thing but abroad, do you think that would work?
I don’t know, but if for example, had I not come across niconico, I maybe would not have gone in the same direction. I probably might have been showing my face in an earlier stage.
niconico is a very closed community, so everyone felt safe inside niconico—you were within the walls. You were being protected and you were also protecting everyone else by protecting yourself.
Like you said about Reol, she said she was a student and she was also doing online music at the same time. It was a way to be able to protect yourself, but at the same time, do music.
One of the things that was happening, while you were an utaite, was that people weren’t sure about your gender due to your voice being slightly deeper than typical female singers. How did you cope with that?
In the beginning, I didn’t really understand what my fans thought of me, but slowly, I began to realize that a lot of my fans thought that I was a boy. By the time I realized that though, almost a majority of the percentage of my listeners thought that I was a boy.
It wasn’t that I was trying to hide my gender or anything, but I was like, “Well, you know, on niconico, all utaite are characters”. So it’s not that I was trying to be someone else, but since my fans wanted me to be this kind of image and they had their image of my character, I didn’t want to break it. I wanted to make sure that the people listening would be enjoying my music in the way that they wanted to.
I wasn’t going to say, “Hey, no way, you know, you’re wrong” or, “Get rid of that image” or, “I’m, I’m a girl, blah”. I didn’t want to do that. That was why I stayed silent about my gender, but not just about my gender, it was about my entire personal life as well. I didn’t tell them personal details and gender was just a part of that.
I decided to just let my fans enjoy my music in their own world.
This androgenic image carried over to your major career, right? Before you revealed your face.
Yeah, definitely. I never imagined that. For example, I made a debut as a singer and actually became a professional singer. I never imagined that I would be continuing to do that kind of thing. It was kind of surprising for me that I was carrying it on into my major career as well.
But, like I said earlier, the director that I met… The funny thing is he also thought that I was a boy because I didn’t tell him about it.
When we met up for the first time, he was looking for a boy. I was right next to him, yet he didn’t realize that I was NANO. He was like, “NANO is not coming! Where the hell is he?” and then I was like “Pardon me? I’m NANO”. He’s like [in a shocked voice] “What? I was expecting a boy!” and it was so hilarious!
After his initial shock—of course he got used to it—he also found it interesting that my fans thought I was a boy. Expressing, “This mysterious thing is actually really interesting, let’s see how far we can go with this”. He wanted to just push it to the extremes. He wanted to push it until it was completely impossible for me to hide any longer.
We continued that image and he said, “No showing your face ever”, “Make sure that you don’t let slip anywhere about your personal life or anything about your image”, and, “Don’t break this image”.
It was really challenging and tough for me to have to fulfill that, but at the same time, it was professional work for me now. I was like, even if I die doing this, I’m going to do my best, I’m going to fulfill this because he is the savior who gave me a professional debut and I’m going to do everything I can to be able to live up to his expectations.
Would you say the NANO you were trying to portray back in the days was sort of an ikemen look [handsome guy] or something like that? How would you describe it?
Actually, it wasn’t about gender, but it was more about being rock and roll. Nowadays, the word “genderless” is sort of popular and everyone understands it. But at the time, 10 or nine years ago, genderless was not as popular as it is now.
If I look back, what I was trying to portray was being genderless—crossing borders, not being a girl or a guy, just being very rock and roll in soul. The image I had was that people would listen to my music, forget gender, forget image, forget face. That was my goal.
They would just delve into my music and feel good about the music itself. That was what I was trying to aim for.
We talked a lot about the mysterious NANO who kept hiding their face for, I think, five years?
Yeah, I think five years.
That was leading up to your fifth anniversary where you revealed your face officially for the first time. How was it to prepare for that moment?
All along since my debut, somewhere inside, I knew that there would be a day when I would come out into the world and say, “Hello, this is NANO. This is what I look like”. You know, “I’m a human being” and “I exist”. At the same time, I was really busy with a lot of new music during the first five years.
I never really thought when or how I would come out to the world. Not even my director really planned it or anything.
I think a year before my fifth anniversary we were like, “It’s your fifth anniversary next year and we got to make it big, it’s a big thing. It’s a big milestone for you. What do we do? How do we make it big?”.
And it was like, “Oh, this is maybe the chance for you to evolve and go to the next level and go to the next step”, and “What is the next step?”.
I strongly felt—and my director felt as well—that the next step would be to step out into the world and to expand my horizons, to reach out to more and more people. To be able to do that, I would have to come out and show my face. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do as many live shows.
The difficult thing about not showing my face was that I couldn’t really meet a lot of people. I couldn’t do too many interviews where they took my photos, or live shows where they took my photos.
I was always the one that they had to edit out or if they were doing a live broadcast, then I couldn’t take part in that. That was really heartbreaking for me because I wanted to be a part of that… But, you know, I couldn’t. In order for me to expand my horizons, I had to say, “This is what I look like. This is my face. Please take any pictures”, “Share it to the world. Be free”. So that was my big chance. When my fifth anniversary came, we were like, “This is the time to do it. Let’s do it.”.
I think it kind of goes both ways because, as a fan, I remember when you were doing the collaboration with Hiro (MY FIRST STORY) for “Savior of Song”. You guys had an interview session. Back then Hiro sat in front of you and you sat in front of him. What we could see of you was only the back—only Hiro’s face was being shown.
Yeah… Sometimes, to be honest, I felt very guilty about that because if I collaborated with someone or if I took part in an event, I was the one who was always saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t show my face” and I felt very guilty about that and having to make everyone else adjust to it.
At the same time though, no one ever said that’s a problem, but I always felt that it wasn’t equal of me to do that in a way. After I showed my face, everything felt so freeing and so liberating. I was like, “Oh, finally, I’m able to sing and perform the same as everyone else around me. I’m equal”.
What would you say is the most liberating thing or opportunities that have opened because of you revealing your face?
Slowly but surely, SNS began becoming very popular around five years ago. People were starting to use SNS for more musical aspects and promotional aspects. YouTube was getting bigger and bigger. Probably what was liberating was that I could take my own pictures and post them, or I could appear in video interviews with my face and do concerts without having to worry about having pictures or videos taken by fans and being uploaded.
My staff didn’t have to check the internet for weird photos of me being posted around. That was completely liberating. In a way, I set my fans free as well because my core fans were very loyal to me and no one posted pictures of me anywhere. That was amazing.
They were very protective of me, but at the same time, I know that they had to make an effort to do that as well. Right now though, I take pictures with my fans at fan meetings. I let them see my face without having to hide it. Also, the most liberating thing is in my music videos. I don’t have to wear a hood. That is huge!
Oh! You mentioned in the past that you were straining your neck.
[Laughs] Yeah, that was the cause of my neck strain.
The self-produced album “ANTHESIS”
[29:08] Back to top
Okay, let’s jump over and talk about your new album “ANTHESIS”. So far—at least right now as we’re recording this—we’ve seen a lot of teasers and I would love you to explain what the concept of the album is.
This is the first time I’m self-producing my own album. Although this is a mini-album, as a first step for me, it’s been a complete handful—in a very good way. I’m glad that it’s not a full album that I’m self-producing. I’d probably be dead by now if it was a full album, but at the same time, this is a huge new challenge for me.
Like I said earlier, I’m always looking to evolve as a musician and to try new things. So I’ve been working with the same director for eight or nine years. Working with the same director has its pros and cons. You trust each other, you understand each other, and you don’t even have to talk about it anymore. You know what they want and don’t even have to explain your emotions. Although, working with the same people makes you feel too safe at times. You stop trying for new things. This time I really just wanted to try something completely, 180 degrees new.
In order to do that, I had to step out of my safety zone. I had to step away from the things that I thought were safe. That was why I decided to self-produce my own album and liberate myself from the safety that I’d been inside since my major debut. So currently, I’m not working with the same director on this album.
A lot of new people are on my team right now that weren’t with me when I made my debut. At the same time though, a lot of the musicians that I’m working with on this album are people that I’ve known from my niconico days, for example, buzzG, Neko, and also the bassist Nakamura Kei (中村圭).
I’m also collaborating with the illustrator [Ako Arisaka] who drew my character image for [the song and music video] “Now or Never”. All these people that I’ve known for so long and trust are also working with me on this album. It’s really interesting trying something new, but at the same time, working with people that I really trust and admire as well.
That was the concept of the album, to break open, to liberate myself. At the same time, respect the path that I’ve come and respect the things that have created me as a musician.
I definitely noticed that there were a lot of people involved who’ve been helping you in the past. I’m actually personally a fan of Neko as well [laughs].
Yeah. So I’ve been listening to his stuff for quite some time which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see you two working on this album together, to see you both compose all the songs. But why did you choose to specifically work with Neko?
It’s interesting because we’ve known each other for a really long time. We’ve always said that someday we really want to work together, like really, personally. I’ve always respected Neko as a musician. He is a genius. Of all the people that I’ve met in my life, he’s in the top three.
He’s not only a vocalist, he writes songs, arranges, plays instruments, and et cetera. He is a complete genius and I bow down to him in many ways. When I first thought about creating an album or new music, he was the first guy that popped into my head.
“Oh”, you know, “I want to work with him”. So even before the album was planned, I said, “Hey, Neko, can I talk to you? There’s an idea that I have”. And I told him about my plans about wanting to evolve as a musician and wanting to try new sounds. At the time though, he was doing his own thing.
He was like, “I’m not sure if schedule-wise, this is possible”, but after a few months he told me, “Yeah, let’s do it. I really want to do this”, “Let’s, do this project together”. That’s where the album creation started. Without him, maybe the album would not have been started in a sense?
Wow, that’s pretty crazy [laughs]. But you guys go really far then?
Yeah. Way back before my major debut as a singer. We did cover songs together and personally, we were also friends. Not just doing covers, we chatted on—I think it was—Skype. Skype is dead now, but we chatted a lot back then. For some reason, I don’t know why he told me that he respected me as a musician as well.
At the time he was like, “I really want to do more music with you in the future”. I have no idea why a genius like him would call me a genius in return, but he respected me and I respected him. So our connection lasted over the years and it’s still very strong right now.
That’s awesome. You mentioned how you’re evolving through the process of self-producing. You also mentioned on your YouTube channel that people are going to see “the new NANO”. When you said “new NANO”, it wasn’t just personality-wise or appearance-wise, but also in the music aspect as well?
More so in the music aspect than on a personal level. I think because, in the end, I live for music. Music is my life and I express who I am through my music. So eventually as a person—of course—I want to show the new NANO. But first of all, I want to share the new NANO in my music. This is what the album is all about.
Everything I did in the album, if for example, there was something that didn’t click with me or didn’t make me feel comfortable or didn’t make me feel natural. Then I was like, “No, I’m not doing it” because that’s not natural. That’s not NANO. NANO likes everything they do and loves the music they do.
If I don’t love what I’m doing, then that’s not me. So that’s not going to be a part of the album.
I’m not making this album just to please somebody. I’m not making this album just to please the listeners. I’m making this album as an expression of who I am and what music means to me.
This album, the concept in the end is about me—as a musician—wanting to reach out to the people in the world. Wanting to really make music that reaches people’s hearts and supports people’s hearts when they really need the power or the push or the light.
I feel that what you just said at the end is exactly how I feel essentially about almost every song that you make.
It’s like you get a real energy boost out of your songs. I mean, your first song “AUTOBIOGRAPHY” from your new album “ANTHESIS” is essentially your autobiography, right? You don’t get any more personal than that [laughs].
Yeah, the reason I wanted to create “AUTOBIOGRAPHY” in the first place, and why it’s my first song that I revealed to the world, is because it’s sort of not 100% new material for me. It kind of respects my old sound as well.
It’s not like, “Oh my gosh, who is this? What the hell?”. And also, it reminds me a lot of the collaborations between me and Neko, the energy is similar to what we’ve been doing in the past. Like the energy is similar to what Neko and I have been doing in the past. I wanted it to be a good balance between old NANO and new NANO.
I wanted it to be a song that my fans who have been supporting me over the years felt comfortable with and where they were like, “Oh my gosh, yes! This is the NANO I love”. But at the same time, the new people that might come across me for the first time, I also wanted them to hear it and understand like, “Oh, so this is who NANO is? This is the kind of musician NANO is”. I want it to be a good balance between saying “Hello, new world” and “Hello, my friends and my current fans”. So, it’s a good balance.
Yeah definitely! And the second song “All I Need” shows a very mature side of NANO and it’s also a very fragile side as well. At this point in time, I’ve been listening to the album for a few days actually and I really love this song.
Oh! That’s really good to hear. You picked the perfect word “fragile”. It’s a fragile song for me as well because when Neko and I created the song, we wanted to just try something completely new. “All I Need” is a song that is not something that I’ve done before, but I wanted it to be very raw and very… sort of… sensitive. I didn’t want it to be a song about just fighting, or overcoming yourself, or being strong all the time. Because not everyone is strong all the time. Most people are actually 80% fragile and maybe 20% strong. So after “AUTOBIOGRAPHY”—which is a power song for me—I wanted “All I Need” to be sort of the contrast of the other side.
I wanted it to be a very sensitive song that sneaks into people’s sensitive sides, you know, their fragile sides. It’s a song that fills the empty void of the heart.
In the album, there’s a similarly themed song as well called “Hourglass Story“. I know you teased it a bit during your livestream and you would explain more about it later, but as an even more teaser, I wanted to ask you if it was related to “last refrain -in memories of you-“.
Personally, this song off the album is one that I created completely by myself—both the lyrics and the song itself is written by me.
It’s a very personal song for me, so this song’s just about “the real NANO”. Everything about it is raw and real. It’s about my life, my weaknesses, and my strengths. I didn’t write it in connection to any other song that I’ve sung in the past.
If people feel that maybe there’s some connection, it’s probably a natural process and a natural connection. They kind of feel it because “last refrain” was a very personal song as well.
In that sense, it’s similar I think. The message is kind of similar on the personal level, but this song is very close to me and off the album, it’s probably one of my most personal songs. I’m sort of happy that you can connect it to a past song of mine that’s also very personal.
Yes. Once you read the lyrics it’s like, “Oh, wow. Yeah, it’s definitely magenta” [laughs].
The name itself, “Remember again”, is the first line in “magenta”. It actually took me a second to remember that “magenta” wasn’t actually called “Remember again”.
The first lyrics in “magenta” start with, “Remember again”. I titled the song “Remember again” and put respectful lyrics to “magenta” because when I was writing this song with buzzG, I realized this album is my new doorway into the future.
It’s been nine years since my major debut, and nine years since “magenta”.
At the time, when I first started working as a professional musician, everything was new to me. Everything was like a puzzle for me. Everything was a mystery to me. So “magenta”, in a way, was my question out to the world. “What is my future going to be like?”, it was full of mysteries and it had no answers.
I realized after eight or nine years, I’ve seen so many things, I’ve experienced so many things that maybe I can answer to NANO in the past. I can answer to that past song where I began, and this would be a perfect time for me to make those answers.
“Remember again” is an answer to the song “magenta”, to myself in the past saying: You were right in choosing the path that you did and you just have to keep going, believe in yourself, be strong, and don’t ever give up.
If I were to talk to myself nine years ago, I would say, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Not every day is going to be great. Not every day is going to be smiles, but as long as you have music, you’re going to live it through”.
Wow! That was deeper than I thought.
[NANO and JROCK NEWS laughs]
Then we also have one song that I actually didn’t mention yet, because I saved the last, most explosive song.
Last but not least.
[Laughs] That is the main track of the album, “LINE OF FIRE“.
Yes, that’s the lead track.
Before I ask you to briefly explain about it, I personally feel a lot of NANO and at the same time, a lot of Neko as well on this one.
From all of the songs in the album, I feel like this one is perfectly balanced between your sound and Neko’s sound, it’s like 50-50.
Wow, that’s very interesting because when we created this song, that was what we had in mind. Neko, of course, is a creator who writes for other people as well. So he wanted to make sure with the first two songs that he wasn’t going to break my image with his own music style.
He wanted to create a NANO song with the first two songs. So he was very adjusting in a way. With this song, it was going to be my absolutely “challenge song”. Like, it was going to be everything about this album and I wanted it to be so powerful and amazing.
In order to do that, I had to completely break free from whatever shell that I had. Also, since I personally asked Neko to work with me, and I wanted to work with him, I told him, “This song, you don’t have to make any adjustments for me. I want you to do what you feel from your soul. I want you to have fun with me with this song. So we’re going to have fun creating this song and we’re going to forget rules, and we’re going to forget styles. We’re just gonna explode! Yo!”. And so, we totally exploded!
[JROCK NEWS poses with devil’s horn]
Yes, exactly! I did what I wanted, he did what he wanted and it just put together magic and that was “LINE OF FIRE”.
I told him, forget trying to please me. Do what you want and I’m going to do what I want as well.
Being a bilingual artist
[45:39] Back to top
That’s awesome. So in terms of the lyrics. How do you normally decide what to use? How do you decide which parts are sung in English and Japanese? Why?
It’s a complete feeling. If I’m humming the melody and suddenly English lyrics come out, then I’m like, “Oh yeah, English probably feels better here”.
If Japanese lyrics start slipping out and I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is Japanese”. At the same time, for example “Remember again”—the song—I originally wrote it mostly in Japanese. But as I was recording the demo at home and singing it to myself. I was like, “I feel this part should be in English” or “This part feels very weird for me singing in Japanese”, or “I feel more comfortable in expressing this in English”. So I changed it up.
It’s just really mostly feeling. At the same time, for example, when I’m doing anime tie-ups, then I have to adjust to what the anime side wants.
If they say, “Yeah, we want it 80% Japanese and 20% English”, then I’ll try to fulfill that. Or if they say “We want it all in English”, then I’ll try to fulfill that. But this album is all about being true to myself. So everything is just completely about intuition and feeling.
Your previously released song “Inside my core” is one that stood out to me because normally in Japanese songs, you would hear some English words slip in. But most of the time it’s just 99% Japanese for the rest of the song. However, here you sang, “Give me back my jinsei (life), give me back my unmei (destiny)”. Typically for Japanese songs is where you would inject English words like “Life” and “Destiny”, but you reversed it.
Yeah, that was also sort of my challenge to try something new. I wanted to do something that wasn’t cool, to be honest. A lot of people would probably be like, “Oh my gosh, those are corny lyrics”, but I wanted to do something really different. I wanted to be uncool sometimes.
I think sometimes it’s better to be uncool, than to try to aim to be cool. That part was me being uncool and having fun. Normally, because I’m bilingual in real life, I would never speak like that. I would never be like “Oh my gosh ‘jinsei’ is so exciting”, I would never speak like that. I would be like “Oh that’s yuck!”. But in this song, I was like, let me try this. In the beginning though, it didn’t come naturally to me, but as I was doing it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is funny. This is cool”. You know?
So sometimes it’s better to be uncool than try to aim to be cool.
I find it pretty interesting because I’ve never seen it done that way. So for me, it was a positive thing. I didn’t really think that it was uncool though [laughs].
Oh that’s good [laughs]! Then it was just me.
Okay, cool. So how much does the bilingual part of you actually influence the music you create in terms of the overall sound of it and not just lyrics itself?
Well, for most of my younger years, I grew up listening to global music and not Japanese music. So my roots exist in more Americanized or UK-rock and stuff. Naturally, when I sing or songwrite, it tends to lean more towards non-Japanese music—the sound itself.
But at the same time though, I chose to do music in Japan. When I first came across Jrock, Jpop, and anime songs, I was so surprised at the quality of Japanese music. The sort of individualism, the excitement and the entertainment aspects of it. I fell in love with Japanese music.
That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to pursue a career in Japan and not America. For example, my lyrics and my music style, I feel that I try to sort of mix the great aspects of both worlds.
There are a lot of things that I love about American music and European music. There are a lot of things that I love about Japanese music. Those good parts, I try to make them into a puzzle.
We just previously spoke about you being discovered because one of the aspects was because you were able to sing in English. But outside of that—in your current days—what would you say are the perks of being able to speak both languages?
In recent years, thanks to the internet, the global lines between countries and borders are getting thinner and non-existent. You can connect with people no matter where they are in the world, and because of that, being able to speak in English, understand English, and communicate with people in English, is a huge plus. People can understand you and you can communicate with people without having a translator there all the time.
I’m very grateful that I have two languages under my wing, and that’s probably one of the biggest aspects. At the same time, there are people that are way more talented and can speak like 10 languages. But even having two languages in yourself helps you be more open to different cultures.
It helps you accept different cultures and differences more, I think. So I’m glad that I was born in the US and spent a lot of my later years in Japan because I have the ability to accept and be grateful for differences across countries and borders. I love cultural differences. I love people no matter what country they’re from. I can get along with anyone.
I assume that you’ve been through some experiences that most people haven’t because of your ability to speak both languages? And of course, because you lived in New York and now you’re living in Japan as well. How has that changed you as a person?
Japan is pretty slow when it comes to becoming international. Japanese people recently are getting more globally aware and they’re trying to learn English and stuff. Japan was really slow in actually trying to incorporate English more into the society.
When I first came to Japan, hardly anyone spoke English and there were no foreigners in Japan. If there was a foreigner walking down the street, people would be staring at them. Like they were aliens. That, for me, in a sense was my identity. I was very grateful to be able to be living in Japan, but at the same time, understanding international things and being more globally open.
I have gone through a lot of difficulties because of being born and raised in America while having Japanese blood. Now everyone loves Japan in America, but back in the day, people were like, you know, “Seaweed? Ew… Raw fish? Ew…”.
They were not open to that kind of thing. So, there were times when I did feel like “Why am I Japanese?”, you know, I wanted to be American. Now, I’m just very grateful for my identity.
The “new” NANO and YouTube activities
[54:18] Back to top
I want to speak a bit about the new NANO. The YouTube stuff that you’ve been introducing to the world recently. Since you’re all about showing the new side of NANO, let’s talk about NANO.
So, who is NANO?
“Who is NANO?”, I probably will not find the right answer for this until the day I die. When I die, I’m going to be like, “Oh, I’m NANO” [laughs]. Until then, every day is a new adventure. Every day is a new discovery. So it’s not like one day NANO is going to be complete and unchanging. If NANO were to be in the dictionary, I probably couldn’t write a description because it’s going to be ever-changing.
NANO is all about being curious, being open, evolving, changing. NANO could one day be this, but the next day be that. That’s all about being NANO, being ever-changing.
The people that listen to my music and my fans who follow me might find it difficult to keep up with my changes, but at the same time, I want them to have fun. I don’t want them to be bored with me. I want them to always feel like, “What is NANO going to do next?”.
I want them to be excited and on their feet! This YouTube channel, for example, is a way to do that. To keep people on their feet and to keep people entertained and to try new things. I couldn’t do that just with music in the past. Music has its limits, and you’re not always able to do everything you want when it comes to music. On YouTube, I don’t necessarily have to do music all the time.
I can do more hobby-like things. I can talk about my personal life. I can talk about things that aren’t related to music and have people get to know me on a personal level.
How about the mysterious NANO that we’ve seen in the past. Is that the same NANO as the current NANO?
I think so, because at the time, even though I was trying to fulfill an image, I was very shy and I was very afraid for people to get to know me too well. My shell was very hard. I probably didn’t want people to get too close to me because I was scared that I was not perfect.
I was scared that people would be disappointed with who I was. I didn’t have confidence in myself at the time. So that was also “true NANO”. But now that I’ve been singing for a longer time, and I’ve been supported and loved by my fans, staff and team. I am more confident than I was 10 years ago.
So, this is who I am now. I’m so happy to be able to personally connect with my fans on SNS and YouTube. To show my face and not be perfect all the time and say, you know, “Hey, I go to the convenience stores in my pajamas. Yay!”.
But you also mentioned that you had a dark side, right?
In order for me to be positive, happy and smiling, I have to know the dark side. I think you can’t be happy and you can’t really truly be positive if you don’t know pain, if you don’t know shadow.
Even in scientific life, there is no shadow if there’s no light and vice versa. I think the more pain, sadness, and darkness you understand and go through, the more light you’ll know in the end. So I will never try to get rid of, or hide the dark side of me. That’s also the reason why I love being positive. I love making people smile, because I know the dark side, and I know pain.
In correlation to the new NANO, we’ve seen that your logo went from lowercase letters to uppercase letters. Is that related to the changes?
Yeah. That was one of the first things that I told my team that I wanted to change. The reason is because the older logo with the lowercase letters was kind of cute and was kind of friendly. I was like, “No, I don’t want to be friendly anymore! I want impact! I want to be powerful!”. So I was like, “Make it all capital letters!”.
That’s just me trying to be really more strong and being more like, you know, powerful.
Also your artist photos, they’re so much more revealing now compared to your old photos.
Yeah, there’s nothing hidden in them. I mean, you can see everything.
[NANO and JROCK NEWS laughs]
You can even see my pores and you can see, like—you can see everything!
[NANO and JROCK NEWS laughs]
Yeah. I think it’s quite refreshing, at least for me, because of the old NANO hiding their face all the time.
Yeah. I mean, perhaps there may be times in the future when I decide not to show my face at times. That could happen. I could wear a hood again. I might make a music video or something where I’m not in the video itself. I really do respect the mysterious side of me and my mysterious past as well. That’s never going to change.
But with this artist photograph, I just wanted to show people who really NANO is without barriers and without editing. Everything you see is for real, that was my message.
Are you planning on uploading videos to your new YouTube channel regularly?
Yes, we’ve taken a few videos already and I plan to upload new stuff and new content regularly. Both music and non-music content. I want my fans to just have a good time on the new channel as well, and just have fun with me. I will never become just a YouTuber. I’m always going to be a musician that’s also a YouTuber, not the other way around [laughs]!
Perfect. Not a lot of YouTubers speak both languages, at least Japanese YouTubers. So in your case, you have to switch between Japanese and English. How do you cope with that?
It is tough. I tell myself that it’s good practice not to forget my English because in Japan, I hardly use English. Sometimes I tend to be like, “Oh wait, what’s that word in English?”, or like my tongue isn’t going around and I’m tongue-tied. I’m telling myself that it’s good practice to keep up my language skills.
But at the same time, I also really want to reach out to the global community, not just the Japanese fans. I think it’s really important for me to finally be able to use my English for good use. Up until now, I could only use it for my lyrics, but now, I can actually use it to communicate with the world. So, I’m really happy about that.
This kind of ties in with you talking about the SNS stuff, right?
So it’s all coming along!
Yeah, it’s exactly what I wanted to do! It’s exactly what the goals and the dreams that I wanted to achieve. If I look back, one by one, my dreams are coming true. So, it’s kind of surreal and real happiness. Yeah.
In your introduction video on YouTube, you mentioned that you enjoyed GACKT’s YouTube videos.
[NANO and JROCK NEWS laughs]
Do you think that we’ll ever see a collaboration between you and GACKT?
[Laughs] Wow. Maybe in a million years! I don’t know. I would love to collaborate. Like with Trash Taste, I never imagined that I would collaborate in a podcast. So who knows, I could collaborate with random YouTubers in the future. That would be exciting. I would love to collaborate with a lot of people.
That would be really cool. In terms of your personality, in the past, you also mentioned that you were kind of an in-home person, right? How does that go along with you being so generally open and friendly as a person?
I love my alone time and I love my personal time. However, if I’m alone for too long, then I get really lonely and I’m like, “Oh, I’m people sadness”, I want to see people. I want to talk to people and I love people. If I didn’t love people, and if I didn’t love connecting with people, I probably wouldn’t have chosen music as a career.
I do music, not just to sing and enjoy music, but to be able to connect with people. I think, personality-wise though, I’ve always been sort of a loner. Like, I’m not too good with expressing myself. That’s why I came across music. Music is my outlet and my way to connect with people and to express myself.
Without music, I would probably be like a hermit crab and I would be like, dark, and just people-less and friendless in life.
We’re about to enter the last question, but before that, I wanted to ask you: What would you say are the essential changes that have happened from your early work to the current work that you’re producing now?
Well, the biggest difference is that I’ve grown as a musician and as a human being. That really incorporates into the music that I’m doing now. When I first started, of course, I was a complete amateur. I knew nothing about the professional world and about being a musician as a professional occupation. Standing on stage was new to me. Recording in a studio was new to me. Having band members was new to me. Now, over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of things and I’m at that place where I can sort of direct my own self and know what I want as a musician. My music is more true to me now than it was before.
It’s more “NANO”, it’s more “direct”, it’s more “real and raw”. That’s probably the biggest difference.
There’s a lot of confidence that I can feel from those words.
The last question was not really a question. I just wanted you to send a message to all your fans overseas or in Japan—anywhere in the world.
Well, you know, if I was able to say all the things that I wanted to say to my fans and to the people around the world, it would probably take about 10 years [laughs]. So, I’m going to try to make my words as sweet and simple as possible.
The one thing that I really want to say is, thank you so much for just getting to know my music, coming across my music and just giving me like five minutes of your time to listen to my music.
First of all, that’s the most important thing. The second thing is, thank you so much for being there for me and supporting my music throughout the years, even the people that I’m going to meet from today. I’m so excited to connect with those people. I think music is the most powerful thing in the world that can connect people no matter where you are.
No matter what generation it is, even though, for example, COVID has made the world go through so much pain and struggling. Music didn’t die, and music never stopped. Because of music, people stayed connected and people were able to get power through music when they needed it.
I really felt that this past year made me even more grateful for having chosen music as my career. So, I just want to say, please turn to music when you’re feeling down. Please turn to music when you’re feeling like you need some sort of light or power. If my music happens to be that tool for you, then I’m so happy that you came across my music.
I just want to say thank you and keep rocking on because I’m going to keep rocking on as well.
Thank you so much for your time. You’ve been very generous.
No, your questions were amazing. You know, your questions are so good that I talked way too much.
I’ll tell Neko that you said, “Hi” [laughs].
Oh, thank you [laughs]!
Once again, we want to thank NANO so much for being enormously generous with their time. It was a really fun talk and we hope you enjoyed it too!
Make sure to catch NANO’s latest album ANTHESIS which you can learn more about here.