Hailing from New York, Sarah Kang is a Korean American jazz R&B pop singer-songwriter, who dazzled at her Tokyo show at Aoyama Moon Romantic with More Than Music. The luminescent full moon backdrop of the stage was the perfect set for Kang’s soft, deep voice that makes you think of lovers and memories past. Kang brought various artists, including MayowaSensei, Takahiro Izumikawa, Kazuki Isogai and Andrew Kang to the stage to perform together, creating a memorable moment at Moon Romantic that night. TW recently caught up with Kang to talk about her songs and the Tokyo music scene.

How would you describe your music in one word or phrase?

Nostalgic and sentimental.

What does a day in your life look like?

Every day is different for me depending on which part of the production process I am in. Some days will be devoted to just songwriting, other days to recording and then there are production sessions with my producer and mixing engineer.

What is your songwriting process like?

I usually have a running list of ideas or topics in my head that I think about usually while taking walks around the city. I find myself daydreaming often. Many of my song ideas come from those moments. Later, I’ll start thinking of lyrical themes or phrases that form the central idea of the song. From there, I usually think of the chord progression and melody with my guitar.

Has your multicultural background influenced you in your music creation?

Being Korean American is a huge part of my identity, and because many of my songs are inspired by memories and my childhood, I like to include Korean lyrics in my music.

How did you get started as a musician?

I never thought that being a singer-songwriter was a possible career path. There was a lot of pressure to pursue a career that is stable and straightforward. I studied art history in college and went to graduate school for music education. My thinking was that if I couldn’t be a musician, I could at least be a music teacher. I learned a lot teaching music at an elementary school, but it was also clear to me through that experience that what I really wanted to do was to make my own songs. I quit my job in 2017 and started writing and recording. The rest is history.

Do you listen to Japanese music?

One of my favorite composers is Joe Hisaishi. I love his soundtracks for the Ghibli Studio films. His music evokes such bittersweet nostalgia that I long to capture in my own work. Last year, I had the opportunity to see him in concert conducting a full orchestra and choir at Radio City Music Hall in NYC, and I was in tears for most of it.

How about the indie scene in Tokyo? Any music that stands out to you?

I got to see Maïa Barouh at Moon Romantic last week. She was unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. Her music was a representation of her cross-cultural identity. The way she blended genres and language inspired me.

Does Japan have an influence on your music?

I first learned about lo-fi beat musicians like Nujabes and Haruka Nakamura through my husband when we first started dating. Since then, I have tried to incorporate the chill lo-fi vibe into many of my songs. I admire how their music immediately transports you to a comfortable, cozy mood.

Are there any Japanese artists who you would like to collaborate with in the future?

My dream collaboration would be with Joe Hisaishi.

What are your live performances like as opposed to studio recordings?

My live performances tend to be more stripped down than the recordings. There’s an organic and intimate nature to stripping it down to just keys and piano and being able to hear the lyrics of each song. I also like to tell some of the stories behind the songs at my shows, which give listeners context and help them to experience the music in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Why did you set your sights on performing in Tokyo?

Some of my most active fans on YouTube and social media are my fans in Japan. They endearingly call me “Sarah-san” and I’ve gotten asked by many of them when I will play a show in Japan, so Tokyo has been on my list of places to tour for a while now. I’m so glad it’s finally happened.

How was your first live performance in Japan with MTM?

My first show in Japan was everything I had hoped for, and more. I was so surprised to hear that many people traveled from very far to Tokyo. I’m so grateful. Also, I actually have an obsession with the moon, so to be able to sing my song called “Once in a moon” in front of a giant moon at Moon Romantic was nothing short of a dream come true. I was nervous about singing in front of my Japanese fans for the first time, but the audience was so supportive. I would say one simple Japanese phrase I learned, like “arigato gozaimasu” and they erupted in applause. It made me want to cry.

My favorite part of the night was getting to meet everyone after the show. There was one interaction with a Japanese listener that stuck with me. She didn’t know much English, so I couldn’t understand what she was telling me, but she held both of my hands and had tears forming in her eyes. I could tell that whatever she was saying was earnest and heartfelt. It was a moment that seemed to transcend our cultural and language barrier and a reminder to me that music has the power to connect us. I hope to come back to Japan to play again. I’ll be working on my Japanese until then.

What did you get up to in your free time in Japan?

My husband and I are big foodies, so we had a lot of fun trying different restaurants and cafés. Another favorite part of our trip was taking walks in different neighborhoods and just wandering around.

If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?

I would probably still be a music teacher.

Dream guest artist, dead or alive, to have a meal and drink with?


What projects do you have coming up?

I’ve just finished writing my next album. The first single called “Hopeless Romantic” will be released on May 26.

Check out Sarah Kang and her upcoming music on Instagram.