February 2, 3:58 PM
by Mike Parker, Entertainment Examiner
You might not recognize the name, Utada, but you soon will. Born into a musical family, Hikaru Utada had written and recorded her first song before she entered jr. high. Before she got out of junior high she had already signed her first record deal. In the past ten years all she has done is sell more than 52 million records in Japan. Utada’s new single, “Come Back to Me” is set to impact pop radio on February 9th, and her Island Def Jam debut album is scheduled to drop in the US in late March. Will the 26 year old pop diva deliver a repeat performance of her Japanese success? After chatting with Utada on the phone, I wouldn’t bet against her.
Mike Parker – There is an old saying that goes, ‘Nothing succeeds like success.’ You’re huge in Japan. Why bother trying to crack the American market?
Hikaru Utada – It’s something new and challenging and fun. I don’t want to be enthroned in one place and feel like there is nothing left to accomplish. I don’t want to get caught up in the unreal position that success can engender. I would rather be climbing the mountain that sitting on top of one.
Parker – You come from a musical family. How much did that influence your choice to pursue music as a career?
Utada – As a child I really wanted to avoid choosing that career path. Watching my parents I realized at an early age that music is an unstable career. I think my mother wanted me to become a musician, so I’m not sure I had a choice (laughs). I have a choice now, of course, and I’m happy being a musician.
Parker – What kind of training get your parents give you as a musician?
Utada – I had no musical training when I was growing up. My training came from just living with musicians. I was an only child so I was frequently with my mother when she was traveling, performed or in the studio recording. I remember after school when I was in the first or second grade I would go straight to the studio and do my homework there. I was already living like a musician. It was all watch and learn.
Parker – Did your parents give you any advice about being a musician that you have found to be indispensable?
Utada – I don’t think so, no. Not direct advice. I’ve mostly just watched and learned from them. They really let me grow on my own. They never made me take specific classes or lessons. They waited to see where my interest lie and then they helped me find the resources I needed to excel at that.
Parker – You were born and raised in Manhattan. Why did you decide to pursue your pop music career in Japan?
Utada – It wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. It didn’t matter to me, it just happened that way. I made an album in English when I was in my early teens, but there were some complications at the label and it never came out. But EMI Japan heard it and when they realized I was Japanese they encouraged me to do an album in Japanese. Things just took off from there.
Parker – At age 26 you’ve already had a career that far eclipses most recording artists. Are there challenges that you still look forward to facing?
Utada – I get excited about everyday things like cooking, or making sure my room is humidified. Just daily living. Little things excite me.
Parker – In addition to being a recording artist you also write your own music and have had a pretty large role in producing. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Utada – I can’t chop up the process into little pieces. It is all one process for me. I can’t do an autopsy and take out one part. Creativity is one organism for me and I love the whole process.
The Seven Questions
1. What’s your favorite sound?
Utada – An MRI. I love the sound I hear when I am inside it. I wish I could sample it.
2. What makes you happy?
Utada – Being grateful. Being appreciative.
3. What makes you angry?
Utada – People who are not professional on their job. It doesn’t matter what the job is, you can be a waitress or a CEO, if you are good at your job I admire that. If you are not, it irritates me. And people standing around in doorways. It’s a doorway. Don’t stand there.
4. What is the secret of success?
Utada – It is to not know the secret; to be unaware on some level.
5. If you could have dinner with anyone in history, living or dead, who would it be?
Utada – Roald Dahl, the author.
6. What is the epitaph that is written on your tombstone?
Utada – I see no epitaph. Just my name and the years. Very simple. Nothing elaborate.
7. When you get to heaven, what is the first thing you want to hear God say to you?
Utada – ‘Oh, you again.’
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