On March 31st, the day of her 30th birthday and Budōkan concert, Maaya Sakamoto will release her first best-hits album, “everywhere”. This [two-disc] collection of 30 tracks selected by Maaya herself from her entire singing career reflects in bold colors the 15 years she has spent refining her expression on her quest for her identity as an artist. With music by such composers as Yōko Kanno and Shōko Suzuki, it goes without saying that every track is of the highest caliber. We hope you’ll take time to savor the wonderful quality and deep, unified spirit found in this pop music.
This looks to be an expressive best-hits album that recounts your 15-year journey. What was your guide for choosing the songs and the ordering?
Maaya Sakamoto (below, as here) “It wasn’t necessary to put in surprises, so maybe you could call these songs my ‘accepted’ best hits—I wanted to make it an album that simply told the story of what the last 15 years were for me. [On Disc 1 and Disc 2] there are 15 tracks each, and once I decided to release it on my 30th birthday, surprisingly I was able to pick out songs without much deliberation. For the ordering I just put the songs in the order I wanted to hear them.”
Has it given you a good chance to look back on the 15 years since your debut?
“It has. To me it feels perfectly natural to think of 15 years as a bigger milestone than 10 years. Since my debut I had Yōko Kanno as my producer, but nine years into my career my situation changed, and I started singing songs by other people. So when ten years came, I didn’t feel at all like looking back at the past. I had to keep looking ahead, not behind.”
This was about the time your album “Loop in the Evening Calm” came out, wasn’t it?
“Right. But last year, finishing my ‘Windreader’ album made me feel like those two time periods—the ‘Yōko Kanno’ time and the ‘everything after her’ time—had joined together in my eyes. I realized at that time I could look over everything and calmly and coolly look back and say, ‘These are the kinds of songs I’ve sung.’”
It sounds like you finally established the identity of the artist Maaya Sakamoto.
“I became aware of that when I worked on my second album, ‘DIVE’ (1998). I started to put out CDs under my name and get letters from people I didn’t know, and while at first I thought it was fun and delightful, it steadily grew to an extent that I couldn’t handle alone. Even I don’t know what kind of person I am, yet the people who listen to my music have a mental image of, ‘Maaya Sakamoto is such-and-such a person’—it was sort of scary, and in any case I was taken aback. Starting with ‘DIVE’ I decided to write my own lyrics for at least half of my music. I hoped to give people at least a small look at a side of me close to my real self, and I started to put more emphasis on ‘saying things in my own words’ than the music.”
So by writing lyrics your expressions became truer to yourself.
“After turning 20 I realized it was OK not to write little by little and slave over each word. Putting my thoughts as they are into words doesn’t guarantee they’ll come through as I intend. So I tried writing things like exagerrations of one facet of myself, songs where ‘I just want to say this one phrase, and the rest can be word play,’ and fictional stories I hadn’t experienced myself. I have a feeling my words have steadily become simpler. Maybe that’s because I’ve stopped feeling embarrassed when I express things in a straightforward manner.”
“everywhere”, a new song included at the end of your best-hits album, may have a present-day answer to that in the line that goes, “My place to return was right beside me.”
“‘everywhere’ isn’t a song I wrote to put in the best-hits album, but one I came up with the idea for last year while on a 5-week overseas trip alone. I was staying in an inn that had a piano, and while I played around on the keys the melody and lyrics came to me at the same time.”
Was the theme of “a place to return” in your mind at the time?
“I think thoughts of, ‘This isn’t where I’m supposed to be,’ were constantly in my mind. As if I wasn’t satisfied with the situation, or if I felt some urge for something ‘more’. But by going on that trip—there were also the feelings of accomplishment from finishing the long production of ‘Windreader’—for the first time my thoughts were of my gratitude for the things I already have nearby. When I’m focused only on things far away I tend to look down on myself and think, ‘I have to try harder.’ Instead of that, I felt that it’s probably OK to feel good about myself and be thankful in life.”
It sounds as though things have become easier, in more than one sense.
“I wonder if they have. Deep in my personality I have this odd trait of enjoying being under pressure, and I prefer always having a goal to move toward. But I think there are a lot of things I won’t know unless I keep at them for a long time. I’m growing more and more fond of my work, and if I keep going like this, I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.”