MEG has restarted her music career in Japan. LA JAPONAISE, the first album to be released since her return, is a cover album concentrated on anime songs, and with her transfer to the veteran anison label Starchild, her new start has been something of a surprise for fans.
Here at Natalie, we thought the events that took place during her hiatus and the particulars behind her album LA JAPONAISE were worth investigating, so we went to see MEG for an interview. From her activities in France throughout 2010 and 2011 to the intriguing idea behind her next work, we sat down with her for an extensive talk.
The reason for her hiatus
In 2010, you put your domestic music activities on hold and relocated to France. Will you tell us about your circumstances at that time to start?
I released a best album in September of 2010, then concluded my activities with my birthday live in October, but I’d been releasing quite a bit up until then. Part of it was because Nakata [Yasutaka]-kun was very quick with producing — we’d finish an album in three weeks, including writing the lyrics and recording. That was what it was like.
It was a rather fast pace.
So when I was working on my album MAVERICK, musically, I started to lean a little more towards pop rather than club music. In that case, the words of the songs became much more prominent against the music and I needed to take more care in selecting them, and realizing that, I thought, “This pace is impossible.” Like, “This won’t be any good at all if I don’t take a little more time.”
Even though, to some extent, you went with an emphasis on momentum when putting lyrics to an electro beat?
More than that, when I make something that’s more pop, it’s useless if I don’t take a little more time with the lyrics, and without a stock of wide lyrical themes within myself, I can’t be satisfied with my output. After working on MAVERICK, I thought I should take a break with the upcoming best album and rest for a little bit.
About her stay in France
Why did you go to France?
I first went to France for my Japan Expo live in 2008, but to tell you the truth, it’s interested me ever since then. I thought that Japanese culture and entertainment is still expanding in France, so that was very fun for me personally. After that, I’d go there some five or six times in a year to appear in those kinds of events.
But you never intended to move there.
Including the times I’d go to neighboring countries over the course of my stay, I’d more or less just repeat three-week trips at the longest. The first time I went, I ate some raw salmon sushi from their catering after my live. It was the first Japanese food I’d eaten in a really long while, so it was delicious. But when it came time for me to go back home once I’d finished my work there, I started feeling sick on the return flight, and I went straight to the emergency room as soon as it landed...
Was it the salmon?
I have no idea, but I was hospitalized immediately after that. Since then, I’ve thought that staying for longer than three weeks would be too much for me (laughs). I learned this later, but I’m allergic to wheat flour and gluten and things like that. So it seems to weaken my body when I eat nothing but bread and pasta.
But if that were the reason you decided to restart your work in Japan, it’d probably make your fans happy, at least.
I’m Japanese, after all. Apparently it’s no good if I don’t eat rice and stuff (laughs).
On her meeting with that veteran label
When you decided to pause your work in Japan, how much did you think about what would happen after that?
I didn’t think about it one bit (laughs).
Then, after announcing your French releases, maybe even that you’d incorporate them into this album or...
Well, I hadn’t decided on a label either (laughs). I first got into talks for the album around the end of last year, so without thinking about distributing the songs in Japan at all, I kept even the producers a secret and released them almost as if it were just a hobby for myself.
The songs in the iTunes Store also couldn’t be bought in Japan.
You’re right. We could’ve done a worldwide release, but I thought, “Just in France is good enough.” (laughs) Around the time I’d finished those six months of serial releases in France, I received several offers from record companies in Japan to release them there as well. Because nothing had been decided, though, I fretted a lot over what to do, but then when Starchild reached out to me, it was like, “Wow, I can release it on Starchild!” I thought that would be so great.
It’s true that Starchild is the first place that comes to mind for anison releases.
To be able to release them through such an established label is perfect for these little ones [her songs]. (laughs)
Her feeling of distance from anime
Your album features anime songs as its focus, and the songs you chose to cover are rather surprising. Do you watch anime yourself?
As much as you’d typically expect. I don’t know very much about Japan’s anime songs. I grew out of anime in elementary school, so I only tended to watch Ghibli films here and there after that, but I don’t get really into it like “I record TV Tokyo every week!” beyond that.
I think it’s all right that you don’t (laughs).
So because I’d forgotten all about anime and manga and focused more on fashion design when I became an adult, I watched all the DVDs of Naruto and One Piece when I started going to France. These two are the standard to start with, so I thought going without knowing them would make the event only half as interesting.
There’s been quite a number of DVDs released for Naruto and One Piece, though.
I had some free time (laughs). I read the original works and watched all of the DVDs, so now I catch those shows every week. But that’s all.
This album’s feeling of “reimportation” might have come from that. Like you were influenced by the otaku in France, perhaps.
That’s true. At a big event like Japan Expo, series like One Piece, Naruto and Fist of the North Star are popular enough that everyone can sing their theme songs, and there were many people who could dance to “DISCOTHEQUE,” so they’re all very well-loved. But the everyday French people walking around the city were kind of like, “I know Miyazaki Hayao movies and stuff,” so anyone who knew every song around there would have to be a very well-informed person (laughs).
Getting started with “DISCOTHEQUE”
What kind of mood was there when you performed in France?
It was different from Japan in that I felt that the audience wanted to have fun singing and dancing to the songs together rather than simply watching. So, while my songs were okay, I got the sense that it’d be more enjoyable for them if there were ones they recognized as well.
Then, at those kinds of Japanese culture events, there’s usually a karaoke booth. There’s a big screen, and about forty chairs lined up in front of it. The French fans would all go there and sing anime theme songs together. “DISCOTHEQUE” was one of the songs I was introduced to at that karaoke booth. No matter which event I was at, if that song came on, everyone would get up and dance to the same routine.
So it’s a popular song even in France.
Right, so when I thought, “This song is really cute, but what song is it?”, I looked into it and discovered that it was Mizuki Nana-chan’s song. After having seen that spectacle with “DISCOTHEQUE,” I chose to cover it thinking, “I want everyone to leave having had fun.”
Then, with anime songs as the focus, you wanted to expand your repertoire to include songs that the people in France are familiar with.
It wasn’t included on this album, but there was a song called “Ma Mélissa” that I worked on with RAM-chan [RAM RIDER], and it’s from a children’s television program in France. In Japan, it'd be kind of like Niko Niko Pun, maybe. When I did this song, everyone reacted like, “Ah, this takes me back! I know this song!” and sang together in a big chorus, waving their hands, and it made me happy. So I didn’t restrict myself to anime, but songs that people gathering at an event for lovers of anime and manga could enjoy. That’s how I put this kind of line-up together.
Episodes with her producer team
How did your team of producers for this album come together?
“DISCOTHEQUE” was the first song I recorded. I thought a sparkling house arrangement might be nice for everyone to sing and dance along to, so I asked Tanaka [Yuusuke]-san to produce it. We also worked on “Banana no Namida” together. I released those two songs during the first month.
Your collaboration with the telephones was unexpected.
I chose them because I wanted to make something with a band. When we got to talking about which song we should do, they first suggested the theme from Saint Seiya. I thought “Really?” and tried to practice it to be sure, but I kind of felt like I wasn’t quite cut out to sing it (laughs).
It is rather wild.
They certainly love that song in France, but I couldn’t picture myself singing it no matter how hard I tried (laughs). We opted for “TOUGH BOY” after that, since I’d liked the song.
“Motteke! Sailor Fuku” was produced by 2 ANIMEny DJ’s, the unit of Mito-san (clammbon) and agraph-san (LAMA). The song choice is unimaginable for your usual style.
I’d decided “I’ll have Mito-san and agraph-kun do this one!” beforehand, but things really heated up when it came time to pick the song, and they got all in a commotion over different things, like, “Maybe that song would be good...” “But the original is so amazing, it’d be a little...” “Ah, you’re right...” (laughs) I told them “How about you sleep on it for the time being?” and had them think it over.
Then, after considering it for one or two weeks, this was the song they proposed to me, so it was like, “Well, then this must be the one.” Those two felt so strongly about the song that I thought I’d have to do my best with it. It’s a really danceable song. Singing it was difficult. It really showed me how amazing voice actors are.
Your unusual choice of songs is superb. Like “Still Love Her (Ushinawareta Fuukei)” rather than “Get Wild,” and “TOUGH BOY” rather than “Ai wo Torimodose!!” (laughs)
Even selecting “Banana no Namida” from Ushiroyubi Sasaregumi’s many famous songs.
High School! Kimengumi had been aired there in the past as well, which made me reminisce on it myself, so I bought Kimengumi Best when I came back and listened to it a lot. There were many good songs on it and I really struggled between “Banana no Namida” and “Nagisa no ‘......’,” but ultimately, I thought, “This part from the bridge to the chorus is too divine!” (laughs) That became the deciding factor for me to pick it.
The act of becoming a devoted model
With this album, I got the impression that you’re showing a new side of yourself through your producers and the hopes of the people in France.
That’s true (laughs). I guess I feel like, “I gave it a shot.” I took the challenge I was given or something like that.
I think that’s the unique thing about this album. You’ve always had a strong will in all of your works up until now, and that became the core of your releases, but that seems a little more lenient on this one.
Yeah. If the artist themselves has fun creating their songs, it’s fun for the listener as well. I think that’s a good thing.
The resulting work became something very different within your discography.
I think so. I guess it’s like the product of my break. I’m glad I was able to take what I did since the time I said “I’ll be going on a leave” and collect it into some kind of form, I think.
Maybe it feels like showing your independent research project after summer break?
It might be something like that (laughs). So I think if Starchild hadn’t reached out to me, I might’ve gone on without releasing it.
The album is also different from the covers you’ve done up until now, isn’t it?
You’re right — to put it in terms of a photoshoot, until now, I’ve always said, “This is the kind of picture I want to take, so I’d like for you to prepare this kind of situation, hair and makeup, etc.,” even going so far as to designate the degree of lighting, in that sense, but this time, it was more like the set had already been decided by the time I got in the studio. I guess it felt like I could make it or break it at that point where I was asking myself, “What kind of pose or character should I go with here?” Getting myself to fit the situation in the studio. Like trying to have fun with that.
Then you were the cameraman and the director before, but...
This time I tried devoting myself to acting as a model. I found that interesting.
The plan for her next release
I’m intrigued by your next work, but even after hearing this album, I can’t quite get an idea for what to expect.
You can’t tell, can you? What will the next single be like? I don’t like for people to predict me very much, so I think it’s good that way. Without expecting anything, I’d like for people to enjoy the project that is “MEG” itself.
But you’ll be continuing your music on a constant basis here for a while now, won’t you?
Yes. As I was traveling back and forth, I found that I was able to realize a lot of good things about Japan, so I intend to stay here for a while. There’s rice menus and things, so I love it.