“You can't catch me” interview
The “Maaya Sakamoto 15th Anniversary Commemorative Project”, a project showcasing her anniversary year, has reached its climax. Right on the heels of undertaking her first cover single this fall, she now announces an original album assembled from sessions with a truly impressive lineup of musicians.
This voice cannot help but inspire the artist. This full album, released in her 15th anniversary year and nearly two years after her last, features the music and arrangement of an impressive lineup well known to the readers of this magazine…a lineup including Kirinji’s Takaki Horigome, Keiichi Tomita, Sukima Switch’s Shintarō Tokita, Suneohair, Jun Shibata, and Magokoro Brothers’ Hidetoshi Sakurai. The level of quality clearly conveys just how much they raised their game in their inspirational sessions with Maaya Sakamoto. The work that emerged at the end of this fervent creative process, while offering a glimpse of a new picture of Maaya Sakamoto, was an album that reflects Sakamoto’s unmistakable profile as she freely delights in music while adding yet another layer of shine to her personal charm.
With “You can’t catch me”, you’ve made an album that grabs you right from the title.
Maaya Sakamoto (below, S): I reached this title from several different directions. One was that it sounds like something I’d pick. Also, I feel that if you’re going to put out an album at the milestone of a 15th anniversary it’s probably normal to make something like a compilation, but I had actually done that sort of compilation of everything until now with my previous album, “Windreader”, and I personally had already started to move on from that point. I wanted to make this an album where you could feel that sort of “sense of movement”.
Ahh, so that’s what it is! I assumed you were challenging everyone to “try and catch me if you can”….
S: No, no (laugh). I doubt even I can catch myself. But probably because I was able to make something solid that tells everyone who I am with “Windreader”, I think I was able to relax and step forward from there. Along with being an extension of that, I had started to feel a longing for something that even I couldn’t imagine. For this album I searched for that in meeting with people for the first time. So even as I was working on it, I didn’t choose a theme, I relied on instinct to the point of sounding a little disorderly, and basically everything I did was one of those “you won’t know if it works unless you try it” things. I couldn’t picture at all how it would look after it was put together. But that was the way I wanted to work this time.
I imagine that sort of trial-and-error work can be exciting, but I wonder if it left you worried as well?
S: It did. It took a lot of courage. But since I was able to make my last album something that said, “This right here is Maaya Sakamoto!” I think I was able to take hold of a formula that says no matter how I go about collaborating with others here, if I concentrate on adding up one by one the things I feel happy with, it’ll turn out as Maaya Sakamoto. Even with the amazing inspiration I get from meeting new people, I was sure it wouldn’t be something that would completely cover up what’s at my core. I think that’s why I was able to go talk to so many people.
I see. Still, you came up with quite an impressive lineup of artists.
S: I sent out my requests to my favorite artists individually. I carried around “Windreader” as my business card and pretty much said, “This is who I am; if you like this, please write a song for me.” Surprisingly a lot of them know me….
Well of course they do (laugh). If you put it into words, you could say this album reflects the kind of music that Maaya Sakamoto personally enjoys.
S: It does. I’m a fan of everyone I went to, and they were kind enough to pay close attention to whether it should be more like this or more like that while they wrote their songs. I really couldn’t be happier. With everyone working on a single song to go in an album, it was different than working on one of their own releases, and they put thought into everything, all the way to where it would fit in the completed version. Each song really came through with each person’s best showing in it, and since I was also able to completely absorb each as one of my songs as I sang it, it was exhilarating, and I also learned a lot. I think it picked up a kind of intensity you’d get if every track was a single.
Putting it this way will sound contradictory, but alongside the fresh surprises in every song that came from your work with each artist, I feel as though it’s overflowing with a level of “This right here is Maaya Sakamoto!” charm that’s on par with “Windreader”.
S: Ahh, hearing you say that makes me really happy. At the point when I’m releasing information about this album—this is the kind of album it’ll be, this is who I’m working with—I think people might react with comments like “You’re working with him?!” and their imagination runs with that in all sorts of directions.
Right. Actually I was the same way.
S: That’s the way it is, right? The truth is that I’m privileged to borrow the talents of really spectacular musicians who could easily be called the gems of the pop industry, but I think we made it into the kind of album you can enjoy even if you forget that part of it, or even if you hear it without knowing that at all. If you listen to it from a completely blank slate, it’s probably something you could call unmistakably Maaya Sakamoto. Although I am stepping into new territory, I’m certainly not conscious of having thrown away or changed anything.
To your fans, it might come across as a sensation similar to the album released at your 10th anniversary, “Loop in the Evening Calm”.
S: Ahh, it might be a match for the time I was working on that album. For that album, I produced it after parting ways with Yōko Kanno, who had always handled production for me until then. Just like that time, when I found what I guess was a certain sense of satisfaction in my mind, when I had reached an endpoint with an album that came with a sense of accomplishment, I had a kind of fear of falling into contentment with that place. It’s the same now. Once I’ve caught sight of something, forcing myself to take the hard way to get there might be my nature. I feel like if I don’t do that I won’t be able to move on to someplace new. But at that someplace new it’s like I stepped off in another direction again (laugh). I can’t stop unless I take two or three more steps forward. I had a feeling after finishing making the album that I had opened a new door.
When “Loop in the Evening Calm” came out as well, your range as an artist definitely expanded by several notches.
S: That time also came with many new experiences. But there’s something that’s absolutely different between then and now. Back then, it was like I went around with a rolling suitcase to visit people in all sorts of places, but now it’s like I have my own spacious garden where I invited everyone in. I think that’s what’s changed in the five years since then.
That’s a significant change in your viewpoint, isn’t it?
S: There’s a bus on the cover of this album. A passenger bus. I’m on my own long-distance trip, but all kinds of people get on or step off, and some are there to share in it. It occurred to me that this is an album that’s like that sort of bus. It’s not all that fast, but as it moves along I come into contact with different people, and through those encounters I sometimes find sides of me that I haven’t met yet. With this album I was glad to have a lot of those sorts of experiences.
You’re just about into the home stretch of your 15th anniversary.
S: I’ve done all kinds of things I’ve never done before, haven’t I? In the middle of it I realized how nice it is to have this kind of time to look back. All sorts of memories that I usually don’t think back on come to the surface, and the fact that it’s a milestone gives me a push and sometimes leads to chances to try out something new. But I want to make it so that the end of my 15th anniversary doesn’t come with a burst of fireworks and that’s it. I’m going on tour in March, and all throughout making the album I was thinking about the tour, so in my mind they’re paired together. The reason I don’t feel like I’m finished, even after finishing the album, is probably because of that. Once the tour ends, I think that’ll be when “You can’t catch me” is complete.
Maaya’s liner notes
1. eternal return
After listening to the intro, my instinct told me this would be the first track. I wanted to paint a picture of realistic desires with an energetic, piano-driven rock melody as I sang this song. It syncs with what I felt when I took on this album by capturing a feeling of not having to go out of your way to do something risky, but being unable to go on without doing so.
When I announced that I would sing a song from Jun Shibata, the reaction from my fans was bigger than I had expected. This song has something like a depth of womanly emotion than I’ve always been a little short of, and for me it turned out as a song with a new sort of feel.
3. DOWN TOWN
It’s no different from the single version, but when it’s part of an album it comes across with a quite different impression. It adds a burst of energy to the entire album.
4. Beautiful Person
This was a song announced as a download-only track made for the Emissary Voyage Project at the Shanghai Expo. I once released some years after my debut a song that had this sort of Oriental, majestic feel, so trying my hand at it once more today felt meaningful.
5. Because of You
I feel that Suneohair’s songs probably form their perspective because of that combination of voice and words, and so I couldn’t picture what it would be like to convert that to my voice. But it was easier to sing and fit with me more than I had imagined! You can see traces of both Suneo and me in it, and it was very fun to work together.
6. Zeros and Ones
From my own view I’ve felt that Sukima Switch and I share a similar aura. With a romantic, slightly enigmatic setting and the arrangement of Masato Ishinari, who plays guitar at both my and Sukima’s concerts, the making of this track went smoothly.
This song is pretty much summed up by the chorus section at the end. As if a twist you would never have suspected is waiting there. Kaori Kano puts a lot of faith in my voice. I love how this track feels like a jumble of beautiful and intense phrasings.
8. stand up, girls!
When I wanted to make a track by girls and for girls, I went straight to Shōko Suzuki. This is a playful, extremely fun song. I think it’ll inspire you to feel that the only way to go is forward.
9. Map of the Future
I picture Magokoro Brothers as “men among men!”, so this track was the most unexpected. It’s more girlish than I imagined, but at its core it’s still rock, and there’s a robustness to it. The lyrics have a flavor that I couldn’t bring out on my own and had an original feel.
10. Moonlight (or, “Music for You to Sleep By”)
Takaki Horigome and Keiichi Tomita—to think that this dream of a duo would actually come together for one of my releases! This might sound like a lullaby, but it’s actually a message meant for everyone in the generation that follows mine.
I’ve worked with Mr. Kitagawa from ROUND TABLE several times, but this is the first ballad we’ve done, so it has a somewhat different sound. I think its light, crisp feel adds a flavorful spice to the album.
Amid the several songs about sad farewells on this album, this track has a happy atmosphere. Deciding the track order this time around was really difficult, and the only thing that was decided right away was that it would begin with “eternal return” and end with this song.