Ogura Yui 1st Album「Strawberry JAM」interview

ChanYui Strawberry JAM Ogura Yui (henceforth referred to as ChanYui) has gone a fairly long way since her solo debut in 2012, whether as a seiyuu or as a solo artist. She has released four singles up to date, but this time round, she has released a full album, titled “Strawberry JAM”! In this (translated) interview, ChanYui will teach us how she made this “strawberry jam”, as well as her thoughts regarding it.

A big experience and a big voice, all packed into this first album

── During an interview last summer, you seem to have said something along the lines of “It’s about time for my first album……”.
Yes, I did mention that. Since then, I thought it would be nice to make an album, and I also had a premonition that it might soon be time for one since I had already released my 4th single “Tinkling Smile” (laughs).

──So it was just a premonition, and as of last summer, the plans to release “Strawberry JAM” in March 2015 weren’t set in stone yet?
The discussions about making an album came way after that. Recordings for the songs started in early December.

──How did you feel when they actually announced the plans for the album?
Of course, I was really happy, but I was not very surprised since it was as I had predicted (laughs). Right after that, I started thinking “Well, what kind of album  should I create?”.

──You mentioned before that you felt it was your duty to live up to the expectations of your fans and everyone around you. You also said that you felt happiest when you were able to live up to those expectations. The work this time however, turned into a really “Ogura Yui”-esque kind of album.
That was the answer to the question I had posed to myself “What kind of album should I create?”. Or rather, that was exactly the style I wanted to do for this album. I was a highschooler when I debuted… Around the age of 16? I’m now 19, three years since I was given the opportunity to make music as a solo artist. The experiences I have gained over these three years, as well as the voices of support everyone has given me, are things which are very important to me. These experiences and voices, which have supported me thus far, have been jam-packed into me. I thought the album would turn out great if I could display the things I am able to do and the changes I am able to make because of who I am now.

Ogura Yui talks about strawberries

──Is that why you used “JAM” in the album title; to indicate the packing of experiences and voices?
Yes, that is exactly the case.

──In that case, out of the various types of “JAM”, why specifically “Strawberry JAM”?
Actually, the idea of using “JAM” as a word play was suggested by the staff, while the “Strawberry” part came from me. Firstly, it has a nice ring to it. Also, I thought it would be fitting since strawberries could be both sweet and sour. And while it might look cute and all, it’s actually small and lumpy all over… Hang on, that might not be very relevant (laughs).

──Well, that was a rather interesting viewpoint. Indeed, the little bumps all over might come off as a little gross to some.
Strawberries have an unexpectedly wide range of expressions, eh (laughs)? That’s how the idea of “It’s not all about sounding cute…… But it sounds cute anyway so let’s go with ‘Strawberry JAM’” came into play.

──But even as this album is said to be packed with your works throughout the past 3 years, in the tracklist there are only four already-published singles and…
And just “PON de Fighting!” (the B-side to the first single, “Raise”), right? The addition of so many new songs is what I would call “The changes to me now”. The album has been packed with the “me” up till now but, more than simply releasing a new album and songs, I wanted to show the side of me that no one has seen before.

──This topic has come and gone but, as you continuously strive to break out new sides of you, the album has become a piece that is very “Ogura Yui”-esque.
I am sure that is because I have been constantly involving myself in the production of my singles thus far. Even during the song selection stage, I would listen to the demos from the various composers and discuss with them things such as “If I were to sing to this piece, how would it turn out like?”, “If I try slowing down the tempo for this song I might be able to sing it in a way that sounds more like myself”, “What if the pitch was turned up?”. As a result of discussing such details, I think I have made new challenges for me to overcome and created an album that exemplifies my individuality.

A risky album making

──Can you put a definition on this “individuality” of yours?
Hmm…… It’s not really possible to simply say “Ogura Yui is this type of person”. When it comes to singing or putting on a performance, there’re many times when I discover my potential in doing things. “Ah, I can do these kind of things too!”.That’s why the selection and arrangement of songs is a contest of inspiration. It’s a gamble in some sense (laughs).

──So I guess you had the bravery to take that gamble with your first album (laughs).
Ahahaha (laughs). But that is because the title “Strawberry JAM” and the concept of creating an album that brings together the various things that define me, while containing my various expressions, were things that were decided right from the start. I also tried singing various styles which I have not sung before, from “Itsudatte Call Me!”, which sounds like an idol song from the 80s, to “A Lovely Tea Break”, which sounds more Chinese. That is why I was “betting” on the possibility and expectation that such songs might be more interesting (laughs).

──So, you showed us how you were able to win over these possibilities and expectations; uncertain factors, so as to speak.
Thank you (laughs). But in actual fact, the possibilities and expectations weren’t the only things that made me take the gamble. The song itself, the tempo and the key were things which were decided on after discussion with the staff. Being a female singer, I will definitely have a different way of experiencing the feels of the songs, compared to the male audience or my listeners. That’s why I listened to the opinions from other perspectives, and formed my own views on the songs and took the gamble from there (laughs).

A desire to listen to everyone’s voice, for my enjoyment

──If you were so committed to the production process of the album, you would be able to strongly impose your views regarding it, yes? It is an “Ogura Yui” album after all.
But I think the direction (of the album) would become biased if there was just one person deciding everything. One example would be the photo collection bundled together with the album. If I were the one deciding everything, I would simply fill it with the photos I liked, and that would have made it very one-sided.

──And also, there might be slight differences in the “Ogura Yui” that you want to display, and the “Ogura Yui” that people want to see, right?
In that case, while I add in the expressions that I want everyone to see, I’ll also add in the expressions that everyone want to see. It’s more interesting to showcase the different sides of me, after all (laughs). That’s why I always pay attention to the times when the staff tell me “Hey, this is pretty good”. If I do it this way, I’d be able to create an album that many people enjoy, and that would make me happy as well.

──Indeed, getting to hear people say “This is good” or “(This is) A wonderful album” is a far bigger reward than simply releasing the album or photo collection.
That’s why, it feels like there’s a slight contradiction when I say that I have the desire to listen to everyone’s opinions, in order to produce the things I like (laughs).

A rock tune that brings people who work hard together, even if they do achieve their goals in the end

──Among the songs in the album, which one do you think was the most challenging for you?
The song in which you can most easily see my changes would be “Get over”, I suppose. It has a melody similar to that of “Raise”, my debut single. I’ve not sung a cool song like that ever since then though.

──Indeed, when talking about “Ogura Yui’s musical style”, energetic pop tunes such as the simplistic “PON de Fighting!” and “Baby Sweet Berry Love”, which describes a young girl’s daily life and love experiences, come immediately into mind.
And at the same time, “Get over” has its differences from “Raise”. “Raise” was the ending song to the anime Campione!, so the lyrics were more in line with the intense battling nature of the anime. But “Get over” is a song with a message to deliver. It’s a song which seeks to acknowledge and give support to those who continue to work hard despite not being able to achieve their respective goals. It’s a song with deep, or rather, slightly complicated feelings. Getting close together, despite feeling the sadness from not being able to win and achieve one’s goals. Expressing such complicated and yet optimistic feelings while singing to the rock tune of the song is something which I found to be a challenge, if I might say so myself.

Words that wouldn’t have been sung if it wasn’t “Strawberry JAM”

──But this is not the first time you have sung songs like “Get over”; songs with a strong message behind it, yes? “NEO SIGNALIFE”, released by YuiKaori at the start of this year, was a song that also contained lyrics filled with your feelings.
That’s right.

──Are there any changes to the things you want to sing as a vocalist, come this year?
On one hand, I’ve finally gathered up the courage to express my feelings and thoughts, as a result of the various experiences I’ve gone through. On the other, if the album this time wasn’t titled “Strawberry JAM”, I might not have sung songs such as “Get over”.

──What do you mean by that?
I chose the song for the same reason as “Itsudatte Call Me!”, to support the theme of “An album where I mix in various expressions — like jam”. Even if I had the confidence to express my feelings, I was worried that such a theme was not interesting enough…

──That way of fulfilling your desire to express yourself is pretty interesting. The album is based not on what you want to sing, but on the concept of “Strawberry JAM”, and in the process discovering what you want to and should sing.
Ah, but this feeling might not be limited to just the album this time round. Of course, there are things I would like to try out, but more than making such dreams a reality, the process of finding out what I can achieve while keeping to guidelines such as “Let’s make this CD this way” or “Please execute the role in this anime in that way” is way more enjoyable. Giving my all amongst these frameworks and guidelines make me happier after all.

──Why is that so?
Wanting everyone to accept my own voice, to the point of it being a complex, is something which originates from my activity as a seiyuu and a singer. Even if I’m inconfident and unsettled, as long as I give my all with what I already have, people will come to support, and I will feel the connection with these people. I will then feel the motivation to work hard to meet everyone’s expectations. Also, I like cooking, but if you ask me why I enjoy making meals, I’ll say it’s because it makes me happy to see people eating together and enjoying their meals. It is not just limited to cooking; I like anything which makes people happy. Of course, part of the reason I cook is because I get to eat good food (laughs).

Bringing out the essence of strawberry jam through “Raise”

──But even set menus have slight differences in flavoring. This has more relevance to cooking, but the point here is regarding the debut single “Raise” here though…
The arrangement has been changed slightly, and the vocals have been re-recorded.

──The drumming in the single version of “Raise” added an extra dimension to the atmosphere of the song, creating an intriguing sound. The album version, on the other hand, focused more on the clarity of the song. Furthermore, the vocal style for both songs were different.
That’s me trying to sing with a bit of flexibility (laughs).

──As a result of the remake, the song becomes a mix which was neither here nor there. I even thought it might be better if the song was more flashy and flamboyant (laughs).
Ahahahaha (laughs). But it’s as you say; I really want to treasure “Raise”. It’s been a three years since its release as my debut single, and it’s the song which I’ve sung countless times and accompanied me as I grew. Because of that, I wanted to remake the song using the experience I’ve obtained over these three years, as part of the compilation this time round.

──Furthermore, this version of “Raise” served as an introduction to the second half of the album. The album’s feel changes drastically after the appearance of “Raise” as the seventh track.
From “Raise” onwards I tried to put in songs of various expressions (laughs).

──The melodic lines and arrangements of “Itsudatte Call Me!” and “A Lovely Tea Break” were innovative, while the energetic pop tunes continue past the second song. On the other hand, the second half…
I have to say that “Sugar Heartache” was the first ballad I’ve ever sung as a solo artist.

──Speaking of which, it wasn’t a typical ballad with those feelings of rejection and all.
It’s tender-hearted but still somewhat sweet, yet at the same time it’s sweet but still somewhat tender-hearted (laughs). This song is truly one that derives its feels from the tempo. It’s indeed a ballad, but it’s not that slow-paced of a ballad. The melody’s sad, and there’s feelings of pain, but it’s not overly heartbreaking. There’s also a bit of cuteness in there…… I’m so sorry for the abstract way of speaking, but it isn’t a song which grabs hold of people’s hearts. Rather, I tried to sing it while keeping in mind the image of being slowly picked up — sweet and yet somewhat tender-hearted– and I think that’s the kind of unique ballad it turned out to be.

I can’t stop thinking about it!

──Furthermore, the lead song, “Happy Strawberry”, has a sound design vastly different from “Get over”, but the theme’s somewhat similar……
That’s a song that truly exemplifies the concept of “Strawberry”; it’s a song which describes and supports a girl who, despite being in a bittersweet romance, stays optimistic and tries her best.

──But unlike “Get over”, which was written with the idea of sending an impactful and positive message, “Happy Strawberry” was…
Not written like that, yes? I’m not that positive myself. I’m the type to think things through over and over again (laughs).

──After all, “I want to make this relationship, overflowing with love, bear fruit!” is something you……
Would not say (laughs). But, having said that, I’m not singing this for no reason; I chose this song because I liked it myself. It’s also not because I felt an obligation to sing it. How should I put this? I thought to myself “I can’t help thinking about this all the time” and “If I don’t do this nothing will begin”, and it felt like those thoughts gave me the courage to take the first step. In fact, when I sang this song, I must have been thinking about various things. But I still managed to sing it straightforwardly without feeling out of place, since I really enjoy singing songs which give encouragement to girls experiencing romance (laughs).

Magical incantations that unite me with everyone

──And then, as you continue to show us your profile, the last expression you give us come in the song “Sing-a-ling-a-Harmony”. This is, once again, a type of song we’ve never heard before from you. As the title suggests, it’s a folkish type of song that everyone can sing along to.
It sounds like a song perfect for closing a live (laughs). Actually, the lyrics for this song were written in the same fashion as the one for “thx!!” (the coupling song for “Tinkling Smile”) ……

──You’ve mentioned before that you wrote the things you were grateful for in your daily life on a piece of note, and passed it to Hyadain to have the lyrics (for “thx!!”) written.
Yes. “Sing-a-ling-a-Harmony” is the album’s last song, and I wanted to make it into a song that truly sums up my teenage years. “I am able to sing and perform like this all thanks to the help of everyone around me. I would like to express my gratitude to these people.” This is what I wrote down in a note, which was then passed to Kodama Saori for the lyrics to be written.

──And how did it turn out? The lyrics written by Kodama after she received your thoughts and feelings.
I was really surprised (laughs). The lyrics weren’t particularly energetic nor powerful, but it demonstrated the bonds between me, who constantly worries about whether things are going right, and the people around, who constantly support me despite the way I am, in what is described perfectly by just one word: “harmony”. I was really touched by the lyrics.

Connecting the first album and first live

──Since “Strawberry JAM” is an album which sums up your three years’ worth of musical activity, are you going to embark on a new “mode” from now on?
Should I…… Ever since the end of last year, my mind’s been filled with things regarding the album. And right now my mind’s filled with things regarding the concert in July……

──It’s being held at Pacifico Yokohama and it will span the day and night, after all.
Furthermore, since my birthday is in August, this will probably be my last live as a teenager. That’s why I’m now feeling nervous and being busy thinking about the things I can do in this last live as a teenager. Makes me feel “What’s going to happen from now on?” (laughs).

──”Strawberry JAM” is your first album, and the live at Pacifico is also the first, so let’s hope for more to come (laughs).
Ah, of course I would like for more to come, and I think you can expect such things as well. I say things like “I’m able to have more fun if there’s a framework in place”, or “I’m completely only with everyone’s help”. But in the end, I have visions which I only start to have after releasing an album and holding an one-man live. Especially now, since I’m releasing an album this time, I would be very pleased if there’re people who start buying the album despite not having bought my previous singles. There must also some new responses to the album which I’ve missed out on, and I think I would probably feel something slightly different compared to the responses thus far. With that, I feel strongly that since I did my best to produce this album, it would be great if something came out of the results. I also want to do my best for the summer live so that it can lead to more works.

With that, the interview has come to an end (phew, that was lengthy!). As mentioned in the interview, ChanYui’s going to hold her first solo live this July. I would’ve gone to see her first and last solo live as a teenager, but looks like I won’t be able to make it. Disappointment (gah, how many times does this make it?).

In any case though, hope you’ve enjoyed this interview, and do check out her album if you have not already done so (it’s been out for a little more than a month already). Now, if anyone’s kind enough to bring back the goods from her solo live… (´∀`*)ウフフ

The original text for the interview can be found here.

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