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One-on-One with OLIVIA

by Jonathan Mays,
Okinawa-born OLIVIA is making waves around the world. Scouted by the famous Okinawa Actors School, she debuted in 1996 with Eurobeat band D&D before going solo three years later. To celebrate her rise in America, the Pacific Media Association is auctioning a custom electric guitar autographed by OLIVIA and her band. The guitar was used in her Pacific Media Expo performance and featured in her "Into the Stars" music video.

Before her last performance, OLIVIA sat down for an exclusive interview:

You've lived in the US before—San Diego, LA, North Carolina, so it's no big deal coming over here.

Where is home to you? California? Okinawa? Somewhere in between?
I don't know. I guess Tokyo. When I'm in Tokyo I feel comfortable. I know the place, but when I go back to Okinawa I feel my roots are there. My relatives live there. I guess I feel most relaxed when I'm in Okinawa.

What was the first thing that struck you when coming back to LA?
The first thing that struck me was my jet lag. [Laughs]

Feeling better now?
Yeah, it's getting better. It's hitting me right now, actually. Right now. But that's okay.

If you don't mind, I'd like to go way back to the beginning, when you started with music. I read that you used to listen to classical a lot.
Yeah, well, my parents listened to classical a lot.

--So it wasn't really your choice.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually, at that time, I was sometimes very annoyed with it, when I was little. I mean this was when I was like four, six, you know.

When was the turning point?
I started to like it maybe around first grade. How old is that, like, seven?

Yeah, six or seven. Do you remember why or how—
--Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was on a very low volume one day and I heard this one, what was it, Vivaldi. It was a famous…

"Four Seasons?"
Yeah, it was on that album. What was it called, Kano Kano…well, there was this one part—it's the song they use in the cocoon. [Sings]

[James] Horner must have borrowed it.
Yeah. In the beginning of that song, they have low cellos, and it was just really dark and totally emotional and so beautiful at the same time. I was just, “Wow.” And that's the moment I think I feel in love with music.

I like all the mainstream classical artists. My sister introduced me to some other classical music that was really, really good but I don't remember their names right now.

She does a lot of her own performing, too, doesn't she?

What did she release last year…”Where's my love.” How's that going?
Good! She was on a lot of indie radio college charts.

You had a part in that, too, right?
No, actually I didn't.

Sorry, I thought you'd done the art for it or something.
Oh yeah, I did her CD covers.

Let's get back to you. You auditioned for The Sound of Music when you were young.
Yeah, I did. Wow, how did you know that? I tried out for it, and I didn't—I guess I didn't have blonde hair.

Blonde hair in Japan?
Actually, yeah, there was.

But you did get into the Okinawa Actors' School.

How big of a deal was that?
I was really excited. I just wanted to sing more. I was doing a jazz choir in high school, and I wanted to do more. I wanted to move my body. I wanted to sing more popular songs, so I joined Actors' School. I got the Junior Grand Prize, and that's how I got into the top classes right away.

They've had a lot of very successful graduates.

What is it that makes that place so good?
Hm…well, there weren't many dancing and signing schools in Okinawa, so I think everyone that wanted to sing and dance went there.

Do you remember any particular moment that struck you there? Maybe a good lesson?
A particular lesson…I remember just being very like I knew what I was doing, and I knew…to me, I was already a singer. Everyone was like, “I want to be a singer,” and I'm thinking, “I am a singer.” That was my attitude. I had a lot of fun. I guess I learned a lot from the teacher, Anna.

How about Tetsuya Komuro?
Komuro-san, yeah. I watched him making his music, and I guess I thought, “Huh.” I mean, not to sound bad to him, but I thought, “It's not as hard as it seems.” You know what I mean, to make your own songs and do your own production.
And now you have.

I guess it wasn't for a while. You did that World Cup thing first, right? In '98?
Yeah, I sang the song. I just sang it. I didn't really have much creative input. I put in some of the lyrics; I wrote them with Komuro Tetsuya.

So let's get to the creative stuff. What was your first breakthrough?
It would be my solo music. But in the beginning, I had to balance what my company wanted with what I wanted and what Avex wanted. So it would be half and half. Like I had half creative input.

Have you felt that tide shift?
Not yet. And even my “Lost Lolli” and the mini albums before that, it's still not completely me. It's still not completely me. There's a lot of, you know….

Okay, what from the albums is you?
What from the albums is me…well, there's this one song called Sugar Blood Suckers, that's all me. [Laughs]

You've got some crazy albums…”Internal Bleeding Strawberry, Merry & Hell Go Round, Comatose Bunny Butcher…”
[Laughs] Yeah, that was my very rebellious time. I had a lot of anger at society, and I thought the world was f'ed up, and I was like f-this, f-that.

Just a teenage thing?
Yeah. I kind of grew out of that when I realized that society, this is what we have. We have to work with society or else you're be an outcast. I learned teamwork. You've gotta work with everyone. You can't just think about what you want to do.

Was that a big part of taking that two-year break?
Yeah, those two years were very good for me.

When did you start to come around?
Right after I was done with “The Lost Lolli.” I was so tired. I was like, “What am I doing?” I guess I also thought that my lyrics might've been a little selfish. Like “Oh, oh, I'm hurt.” Now I want to do more helpful things, inspiring things, things that can lift people up.

How did you pull yourself out of it?
I had to come to Los Angeles. I stayed here for three months. I think I just needed to get out of the city. I needed more space. When I got here, the sky was so big. There was so much space, so much room. My mind was able to calm down, and I could hear what my heart was saying. When you're in the city, you're thinking of the same thing over and over. You feel trapped.

So you just had to re-orient yourself? Because you're fine with Tokyo now, right?
Yeah, I'm busy!

Has it all come back together?
It never really “came back together” completely. There are still some parts of me that are just trying to find my way.

Where do you go from here?
I don't know. I'm just trying to take it easy. If I get a break, I just want to go to Thailand for a month or something and write there. Because the water, the ocean, the sky, nature…I think I function better in nature, and I think I can write better, more original things in nature. I think when you're in the city and you have deadlines, you're forced to take this part of that song, that melody—it's kind of pushed together.

I don't think deadlines will go away if you go to Thailand.
Yeah, but I definitely think I'll think of more original things.

Cool, well, in the meantime you've got NANA. Let's talk about that.
Well, I got that gig last year. I didn't know anything about the comic, but I read the comic, I saw the movie, and I was like, “Wow, I can't believe this part came to me.” Because out of all the characters in NANA, she was the one girl that I could really relate to. I felt like it was destiny, like Yazawa knew.

She did hear a tape of you, right?
Yeah, and I was like, “Yeah, of course I'll do it!” Everyone wanted me to do it. It's a teamwork process because we've got Yazawa, her manager, the TV, Avex, my company, and me. We're all working together for this NANA thing.

Speaking of teamwork, I think you did a concert with HYDE a couple of years ago. What was your impression of him?
He was dressed up as a girl. He had this pleated skirt on. He looked like a Jyoshi Kosei, a Japanese high school girl. He had a wig on, and I didn't know it was him at first. He was acting like a girl, too! I was like, “What? Is that...wait a minute, oh my gosh, it's HYDE!” He was really down to Earth, a nice guy, and he definitely rocked the show. The day before he had another show, and he was dressed up as Edward Scissorhands. It was the coolest thing.

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