Emi Meyer’s sixth studio album is out this week and is expected to be another big hit for the talented, Kyoto-born star. Known for her raspy, rhythmic vocals and heartfelt lyrics, the 27-year-old incorporates a number of genres into her music including jazz, reggae and bossa nova, though her latest effort has more of a poppy feel to it than what we’ve heard from her in the past.
By Matthew Hernon
Meyer is collaborating with Sōtaisei Riron guitarist Seiichi Nagai on the self-titled album, Meyer’s second in Japanese.
“My last three releases were in English so I just felt it was the right time to make another Japanese record,” she tells Weekender. “When I was first scouted big labels like EMI and Columbia were trying to make me choose which path to go down. It was like you can be a Japanese artist or a foreign one, you can’t do both. Well I didn’t want to decide.
“My father’s American, my mother’s from Japan; I was born here but raised in Seattle. I therefore wanted to represent both cultures in my music. Fortunately I discovered a small label called Plankton who just let me get on with songwriting, not reaching in to my creative process at all.”
Given the freedom to make the kind of music she wanted, Meyer released her first album in 2009. Entitled Curious Creature, it was an instant success, reaching the number one spot on the iTunes Japan Jazz charts.
Drawing comparisons with singers like Norah Jones and Carole King, Meyer’s reputation has continued to flourish with each new record she’s put out. While many artists like to take a long break in between albums, she is constantly writing and looking to release new material. The latest album is her sixth in as many years, yet her appetite for making new music remains as strong as ever.
“I will always find things to write about just like a painter will always find something to paint,” she says. “When I first started in the industry I used pre-existing poems that I wrote at high school and added them to the piano. My lyrics were much more personal and abstract, I was trying to get my emotions out. Now I write much more about outside imagery, trying to send a message which is something is never really did before.
The challenge of coming up with something new and original is something that excites me; I am constantly trying to change my approach, introducing new elements and instruments into my work. My new record, for example, sounds different to what people would have heard in the past. Due to Seiichi Nagai’s involvement it is far more guitar-led than anything I’ve done previously, meaning it has quite a fast tempo. At the same time I didn’t want to completely lose that piano essence. I think we’ve managed to strike a good balance.”
Meyer, who first started playing classical piano at the age of six, grew up listening to a wide range of artists, from R&B groups such as TLC to classical composers like George Gershwin. J-pop was never really her thing; however, since making this album she has grown to appreciate the pop scene in this country.
“I had it in my head that J-pop was just acts like Morning Musume and AKB48, but there are actually a lot of good musicians,” she says. “Seeing it up close has been really eye-opening for me, the producers behind the songs are real music-heads, however, because they have so many layers you can sometimes miss the quality at the roots of it.
There is also a lot of variety under the blanket of J-pop. I think we can sometimes pigeonhole music too much: everything has to be put into a genre. Of course there are albums that are very metal or very pop, but there are some that fit into a number of different categories. I hope that is what people feel when they listen to my CDs.”
Emi Meyer’s new album, Emi Meyer & Seiichi Nagai is out this Wednesday, August 20. You can check out the video for the album’s first single—“Koi no shigunaru” (“Signal of Love”)—below.