On March 31, 2010, after stepping onto the stage in the Nippon Budōkan and finishing her first three songs, Maaya Sakamoto greeted the audience with these words:
“Good evening; Maaya Sakamoto is 30!”
This day was her 30th birthday.
In April 1996, at the age of 16, Maaya Sakamoto was selected as the lead voice actress in the animation “The Vision of Escaflowne” and at the same time attained her CD debut with the title song “I Don’t Need a Promise”. To her, along with being the year when she entered her 30s, 2010 was also a milestone marking the 15th anniversary of her debut as an artist.
She has kept a brisk pace in expanding her work, from a self-compiled best-hits album “everywhere” to an attempt at a cover single with “DOWN TOWN”. Crowning this series is her seventh original album, to be released on January 12, 2011 and entitled “You can’t catch me”.
“When I made the ‘Windreader’ album two years ago, I felt a sense of accomplishment for finally getting close to who I feel I am. But I had a feeling that if I went for the same atmosphere and let myself relax with the next album, I’d lose sight of what I should aim for with my singing from that point on. ‘You can’t catch me’ is what I made while thinking about heading in an entirely different direction.”
I see Maaya Sakamoto as a traveler. Not as a metaphor for how she has written and sung countless songs while shouldering a range of feelings ever since the latter half of her teens; she actually enjoys traveling, and when she finds the time she sets out for somewhere. After finishing “Windreader”, she took five weeks of vacation to travel solo across Europe. A song she wrote during that trip while at a lodge in Italy would be recorded after her return to Japan and included in her best-hits album. The only new track in the album, “everywhere” spells out her feelings of having journeyed for so long and finding the place she was searching for right next to her.
“My hometown is Tōkyō, and I’ve always lived here, but I’ve written a lot of lyrics set in some faraway place, beyond the horizon (despite not really knowing what was there), or some remote place far from real life. But I gradually came to feel that taking your passport and going somewhere far away isn’t all there is, and that this daily life is a journey as well. I made ‘You can’t catch me’ with the idea of depicting what I see as the actual, everyday scenery around me.”
A thirst to “head in an entirely different direction” and a conscious effort to “focus on daily life.” The ability to establish these two things in her mind free of dissonance is perhaps the essence of who Maaya Sakamoto is today, having surpassed “Windreader” and “everywhere”.
Back in Tōkyō the journey is continued. The things she sought out for this album were meetings with several new people. She wanted to create music with artists whose music she had always enjoyed and with whom she would be working as partners for the first time. This led to “You can’t catch me” having lyrics and composition from Suneohair, Sukima Switch’s Shintarō Tokita, Magokoro Brothers’ Hidetoshi Sakurai, and Kirinji’s Takaki Horigome, to name a few. The addition of familiar faces such as Shōko Suzuki, ROUND TABLE’s Katsutoshi Kitagawa, and Yōko Kanno make for a colorful set of 12 tracks.
“I felt pairing up with people who have different perspectives was what would make it interesting. Like if I came in as the vocalist for one of Suneohair’s songs, I wondered how the mix of our two personalities would sound. And along with this, for this album I wanted to get lyrics from male artists. The lyrics a man writes have a flavor distinctly different from my own lyrics.”
There were three from whom she requested both lyrics and music: Suneohair, Shintarō Tokita, and Hidetoshi Sakurai. In their songs was a world that Maaya Sakamoto was experiencing for the first time. First is “Because of You”, which you can pick out from the first time you hear it as a Suneohair track.
“This song is full of what makes Suneohair who he is, and it’s really spectacular. The word choice and arrangement of the notes surprised me by being completely unlike what I had anticipated. The words ‘my soul’ show up all of a sudden, and I wondered to myself whether I’d be able to sing it, but when I actually tried, it curiously felt as though it was perfect fit for me.”
How did she herself perceive the world Suneohair created for Maaya Sakamoto?
“I love how the feeling in the lyrics of not being immature yet also not being quite finished with growing up fits with me today. A boy’s lyrics…I shouldn’t call them boys (laugh), a man’s lyrics show a skill in expressing indivisible emotions while still keeping that element of boyishness in there somewhere. A woman, on the other hand, tends to come up with lyrics that break down that side.”
Sukima Switch’s Shintarō Tokita created for her a soft ballad on the theme of a long-distance relationship. The title is “Zeros and Ones”.
“The zeros and ones here are probably a reference to the digital signals between phones. The lead character in the song has both an aura of girlhood and womanhood, and her feelings of love struck me as being just adorable. Masato Ishinari, who participates in both my and Sukima Switch’s tours, handled the sound production, and came up with an arrangement from Mr. Tokita’s beautiful melody and his understanding of my unique characteristics.”
Magokoro Brothers’ Hidetoshi Sakurai, on their first meeting, suggested making an up-tempo number filled with energy.
“By all means, please do, I said. And what came back was the song ‘Map of the Future’. I hadn’t anticipated it would turn out this colorful and girlish. I was surprised by how much a song written by a guy for a girl could sparkle. The title ‘Map of the Future’ itself, and the lyrics too are dotted with all kinds of words that I would never have come up with, and that assured me I had made the right choice by asking for lyrics from male artists.”
The most striking feature of this album is that each of the 12 tracks has a unique composer and arranger. What sort of effect did this have?
“Since everyone was working with just one track, I could tell that they poured everything they had into their song. There’s a variety and depth to it, as though each one was an A-track from a single. I also think a big part of it was having that confidence that after ‘Windreader’, I can be myself no matter who I pair up with, and anything I sing will naturally turn out as one of my songs. I worked on this album after returning from a trip and getting back to everyday life as I enjoyed meeting with new people. It may be set against the backdrop of daily life, but it’s still a disc filled to overflowing with adventure, discovery, and inspiration.”
Along with these are eight tracks with lyrics written by Maaya Sakamoto herself. In these songs are feelings unlike those in the lyrics written by other artists and which only she could write. Continued in Part Two.