Haru Nemuri is a Japanese singer and rapper based in Tokyo. Her style is self-described as hip-hop with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, and her 2018 debut Haru to Shura became a viral cult classic, leading to a successful Europe and UK tour in 2019.
She was scheduled to tour America for the first time in March, but all performances (including a SXSW appearance) were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These have been rescheduled for a September tour. Her new minialbum LOVETHEISM released digitally March 20th and was followed up with a 12” vinyl on June 12th.
In between all these developments and rearrangements, Haru found the time to chat with Sputnikmusic about her release and her experience as a Japanese artist on the world stage.
Haru Nemuri: Hello!
How’s it going in Tokyo?
While almost all the music industries in Tokyo have not turned back to normal due to the Coronavirus situation, some people get on trains every morning as usual. I think what they think about this situation depends on their standpoints.
Your tour was cancelled, but you managed to reschedule – thank goodness! Can you tell us what it was like for you when things got chaotic and all your plans started changing?
It was so disappointing to postpone my first North American tour and I cursed this terrible situation. Like an insect waiting for the spring in the ground, I could do nothing but sleep and make music in my room.
How have you been since then? What was it like living through the 非常事態 (state of emergency) as an independent musician in Tokyo?
In fact, my life hadn’t changed so much except I couldn’t do the shows in front of my fans and see my friends. And I just realized it’s too hard for me to live without them. I felt powerless everyday but I knew I couldn’t nothing but making music, so I did what to do as a musician.
You played a few livestream shows in place of the America tour. What was this like compared to playing your usual shows?
I actually felt we couldn’t substitute the livestreams for the usual shows and I tried making my livestreams what were enjoyable as the video arts.
I bet you’re more excited than ever to get to America now! How do you feel about your September tour?
I’m really dying to do shows! I can’t wait!
The ultimate singing weapon, a spirit of rock ‘n’ roll: can you explain to us in just a couple of sentences what Haru Nemuri is all about, and how you hope to change the world?
When I was a young girl who could not express myself, I always had anxieties in my heart and wanna die. Haru Nemuri sings about what I wanted to be given at that time, and now I hope that Haru Nemuri can help people like me back then. i hope this world will be more warm-hearted and interesting.
Moving onto LOVETHEISM, what’s the hard sell in one sentence?
It’s the newest bible.
Hell yes! For those reading with no knowledge of Japanese, could you explain its message? What thoughts and feelings inspired it?
To love someone or something means just to recognize that one or that thing exists.
There were a lot of things about LOVETHEISM that I loved, but the title track stood out in particular. You don’t usually lean so far into hip-hop, but it worked great there – do you think you’ll tend towards this style much in future?
I don’t know because I always make what I wanna make at the time.
How did it feel making LOVETHEISM compared to Haru to Shura?
Making an album is always the pink of labor pains and delight, and in that sense, I have the same attachment to both of them.
Did you imagine Haru to Shura would have so much international appeal when you originally released it?
No, so I was surprised.
How did it feel watching it blow up across the world? And how does it feel having such an established international platform now, compared to when that album became popular?
I’m so glad that there’re those who love my music around the world. That fact gives me various options to live and make music, and it diversifies my world that I can recognize.
Your singles “Fanfare” and “Riot” both have a triumphant feeling to them, something I didn’t get in the same way on Haru to Shura. Is this a coincidence?
Ironically enough, the more I wish to be saved, the brighter the sounds of my songs are.
Would you mind telling us more about the imagery and the spaces you used for the music videos for those songs?
They were shot in Khabarovsk, Russia.
Your recent video for “Trust Nothing But Love” is a really fun one-shot piece set in, I presume, the apartment you used in Russia. What was it like making it? Did nail it in one take?
Yeah, it’s in Russia! The director didn’t tell me how to act at all and prepared this apartment, and he told me to behave how I wanted to. We rehearsed a few times.
I was reading the release statement for “Riot”; you say some powerful things about looking past society and valuing the emotional truths within our hearts. Perhaps you’ll disagree, but this seems quite different from what people in the West are used to hearing from Japanese artists. It reminds me of the perspective Oomori Seiko took on her last two albums, which I believe were seen as quite subversive? Could you tell us more about this; how would a Japanese audience react to this statement compared to an English-speaking audience?
To begin with, I’m so affected by Oomori Seiko. Her music has been a part of my soul since I was in high school, so it’s inevitable that you felt like that. I don’t intend it but my thoughts and songs are often taken subversively, so especially in Japan I’m said many a times (people have told me many times), “I feel choked because you’re too emotional”. But I know that some like me and the others don’t like me in both the Japanese audience and English-speaking audiences.
Makes sense! Moving onto the present, I noticed your posts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. These are in many ways a relief – I live in Japan, and I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else so much as mention them! Could you tell us a little bit more about the mood in Tokyo; how aware or concerned are Japanese people with racism in America, how do you feel about this, and how does your music connect to those feelings?
It’s said that Japanese people tend not to express theirselves and not to be concerned with a variety of social problems such as racism in America, and I’m pretty much agree with that. But also I know there’re a lot of Japanese people who are aware with that. I think that it’s necessary for Haru Nemuri to be woke and to say what to say as a musician, and I also don’t think that everyone should be like that. I hope that this society will be where more people will say what to say in the future after they will be more woke as the result of their expectation.
What kind of world would you like to be living in twenty years in the future?
I would like to live in a world where we could live in the ways we would hope to.
At this point in your career, you’re singing to an international audience in a language few people speak outside of Japan. How does this make you feel?
I’m so happy that various people are listening to my music. They make my world that I can recognize bigger.
A lot of your lyrics seem to bring themselves to life just by the way you sing them. I was reading your interview with Yerscene and laughed out loud when you were asked to explain what “Make More Noise Of You” means – hearing you yell those words is enough to make them self-explanatory! Which of your lyrics has felt most powerful to sing that way, and why?
It’s hard for me to choose one because what kind of lyrics I can put my heart into depends on what I’m feeling at that time, but the lyric that I tend to put my emotions into is “Narashite”.
Out of curiosity, do you ever write poetry without intending to perform it?
No, but I write my diary.
On an entirely different note, you posted that you’ve recently adopted guinea pigs. Cute! How are they doing?
Thank you! They seem to be getting used to living in my house.
What are your plans for them when you go on tour?
I’ll leave them at a pet hotel or I would like some of my friends to look after them.
A few quick questions to tie things up: What are your favorite Oomori Seiko songs?
I can’t choose!!!!!!!!
Cats or dogs?
Favourite word in the English language?
Sushi or hamburgers?
What have you been listening to recently? Could you recommend a few albums?
*BTS – MAP OF THE SOUL : 7
* Tokyo Puppies – CHIKYUGI
* The Weeknd – After Hours
* Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Had you heard of Sputnikmusic before this interview?
No, so thank you for giving me the opportunity to know such an interesting website,
Any final words?
Thank you for finding me!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. I hope that LOVETHEISM 12” is selling like hotcakes and that you have an amazing tour later this year!
Haru Nemuri will be touring the US this September at the following dates:
3rd Brooklyn, NY | Knitting Factory
5th Chicago, IL | Sleeping Village
6th Dallas, TX | Three Links
8th Los Angeles, CA | Echoplex
11th San Francisco, CA | DNA Lounge