Interview: Diana Garnet

by Sarah Nelkin,

On a cold day in Tokyo, ANN got the chance to sit down with Diana Garnet, a singer from the United States living in Tokyo. As a professional singer under the Sony Music Records label, she will be performing the next ending theme song, ”Spinning World,” for the Naruto Shippūden television anime.

First, please introduce yourself.

Sure! My name is Diana Garnet. I was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area. Although I don't have any Japanese blood myself, I have been raised with, you know, nerd-ular things. My entire family is of the more nerd-ular persuasion…I'm not sure if you can write that.

It's fine.

Basically, my parents are both into anime so I was raised on the classics: The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Harlock, Yamato, Galaxy Express 999... That kind of thing is basically what our movie night was. And that was, you know... I took it as a given …It's always been a part of my life.

How did you become a pro singer in Japan?

It's not my Road to Ninja, but my Road to Singer… (laughs) What happened was; I initially came over to Japan at 16 as a one-year international exchange student. It had been my dream to experience Japan first-hand. I was raised in the '90s of anime fandom, where the idea was to get to Japan and get to the source. That is what all my akogare (Japanese for 'dream' or 'admiration') was, basically. This was 2005, and I was like, “Hell yeah!”

I was in a really small countryside [city] called Kochi. Around then there were a lot of different musical styles. I think what was popular at that moment was …Porno Graffiti was popular... YUI was big. She was just breaking at that point with her [voice] (imitates voice) - Yeah, that song. That was a good song. Also, artists like Dreams Come True were huge then. I heard all of this and was like, “What!? Things other than anison exist? Not everything is Megumi Hayashibara? Which would be good, but this is good too. OK, I can deal… I'm good with that.” I heard all of this and I thought, “I need to sing more.”

Enka also happened to me around then, and I came back again for University for another year and a half...Afterwards, I was like, “So how do I live in Japan?” It's difficult to get a long-term working visa here in Japan, even though I had international experience here already, there wasn't a really solid [business] network of people I knew. I had kind of been always in Kansai, so I wasn't sure how to do the Tokyo singer thing.

I initially became an [ALT] (assistant language teacher). I taught at local junior high schools in the Tokyo area, and also did some tutoring part-time at night at an eikaiwa (a Japanese establishment that teaches English conversation skills.) During the weekends I would perform with my band that I met in college as well as doing some vocal work …You can (fairly) easily find English voice-over and character acting work here in Japan. So I was doing a lot of voice-over, some commercials, stuff like that. That allowed me to build up a network and also a good resume that I could then hand to labels who had heard my demos, and [they] were like "Yeah, but can she REALLY do things?" It's a gamble with a foreigner, they're not really sure...

So my actual chance was [when] I managed to land a spot on a then-budding TV show called "Nodojiman The! World." It was the fourth time the TV show had happened since the pilot. They were looking at not only people from overseas, [but also] foreigners in the Tokyo area. One of the times I was on the show, I ended up winning. It so-happened that my [current] manager was watching the show and [immediately] contacted "Nodojiman The! World" asking "How do we talk to her?" Eventually, lots of meetings later, we formed preliminary contract. I magically got into a label here at Sony really quickly because of all of [the staff's] fantastic hard work. They had some of the best presentation stuff ever.

So basically, ingenuity and stick-to-itiveness.

How did you decide to become a singer? Was it anime-related?

It was indeed anime-related. When I was seven or eight... Magic Knight Rayearth was one of the first series we got. I heard the opening song pop up and it was [Naomi Tamura.] This must have been 1995, and it was the first time I'd heard the original Japanese opening to an anime. Before then, it had always been like, you know… stuff like Yamato which had turned into (says in a funny voice) “Star Blazers” in America, which is like (singing) “We're off to outer space~” …Which is great, but it's not Uchū Senkan Yamato, you know? I didn't hear Japanese really, other than Ghibli films that we had here and there that my dad read translations off paper for. So, when that opening song came on, I was like, “This is my jam!”

Like, it was the shiznit. [Naomi Tamura]'s vibrato, and her range, everything about it spoke to me. The fact that the melody and the lyrics -I didn't understand the lyrics- but I thought that they blended together really well and weren't at all awkward, and they had such a power that I didn't really hear in contemporary western music at the time.

So yeah! From there I [thought,] “I want to be part of this world!” I was going all Ariel on it. I was like, “How far away is Japan?” In my little seven year old brain, I [figured,] “It's probably right over there. Like where Ohio is, or something. I could totally go over there and be a singer. That will work for sure!” …It was a little bit farther than I thought... Just a little bit. It was more towards... Instead of Ohio, it was more other side of the universe. But I also found out that music really brings people together, so even though it's really far away, it's close.

As a professional singer, do you sing in Japanese only? Or do you also sing in English?

Well …Fun fact about me: I've never really sung in English. Sometimes I'll get a request to [in live shows.] Like, I've had to sing “Let It Go” a lot this year. But basically, I do only sing in Japanese because since, you know, when I first took an interest in music it was specifically J-Pop …I have a musical family, but all I'd heard from my mom was lullabies and opera. I was like, “I don't know how you make that with your face.” But when I heard Naomi Tamura, I was able to mimic that tonal... voice type. I [thought], “This is what I can [do.] This is what I want to sing.”

So... Not really, no, I don't sing in English…By choice. (laughs)

What are your hobbies? What do you like doing on your days off?

What are days off? (laughs) Define “days off.” Because of the nature of this work, usually if I have a day “off,” it's rest, vocal care, and rehearsal...

…But you do have hobbies.

I do have hobbies, yes, for sure! ...A couple of things I like to do other than singing-related hobbies; Karaoke is a major one!… Wait that's still singing. Oh well. Whatever. I'm definitely going to sing silly karaoke songs if I'm going to go. [Things like] Rock City Boy, and Maji de Kansha, because I'm the coolest person you know.

For other hobbies, I'm an avid (in a French accent) “artiste.” I like drawing. I'm interested in making my own manga at some point in time, which I know is really lame to say, but I've been working on it forever. I've got several stories and original characters that I would like to slowly introduce. The thing is, I'm really slow, so I can't draw all that fast, which is a little bit difficult in manga-land. So, that's definitely a side thing that's really difficult... Where as with singing, it's like “Whee--!” all the time, so it's really exciting. My other hobbies include baking, specifically bread. I'm a really good bread person, so if you need to know anything about bread, I can... I can make challah!

What else do I do? Well, I watch anime. I also read a ridiculous amount of manga. My favorite genres tend to be the things that run in Spirits, Afternoon,Champion, Magazine, and stuff like that, so although I really, really like Jump... I love Shonen Jump. I'm also a really big fan of historical fiction manga, so things like Vinland Saga, Historie... I've been reading one recently called Shut-Hell which is amazing. It's about the Mongol invasion of the Tagnut Empire and how the main characters are trying to save the Tagnut system of writing. It's about books! Book-ception! Do you know anything about the Tangut Empire? No one does. I didn't. It's amaaaazing.

In the Shonen Jump reveal, the magazine noted that you like anime.

Really?

Specifically, is there one title that's really special to you besides Naruto?

Is it specifically anime you're asking me about?

It was, but you can also list a manga, that's fine.

OK. Can I list like three?

Yeah.

Five, maybe six?

Sure.

Yay! I'd say there are several series that have changed my life, and then there's also series that I just get obsessed with... So my current running obsession in the Jump world is Haikyu!! because I'm an avid sports manga and anime fan. It's my favorite genre next to anything that involves yōkai or detectives; If it's detectives, yōkai (Japanese demons), or sports, I'm going to watch it. Or read it. So Haikyu!!'s my current one because the characters are all incredibly well constructed. I would say after Haikyu!!, a staple of mine is Natsume Yūjin-Chō. It's absolutely fantastic. It's beautifully animated - it's A-1 Pictures, which is here at Sony. So is Ookiku Furikabutte (Big Windup!). I like Sony! Good thing I work here…

For ones that have changed by outlook on life... Hikaru no Go. These are mostly Jump so far... If we're going to go a bit more shibui (Japanese for 'rough' or 'tough,') the first Last Exile. Not the recent [one]... The first one with all the beautiful planes, and the character designs... Oof! It hits me in my feels-y spots.

How would you describe your new song that will serve as the new ending theme for Naruto Shippūden?

I would describe it as a very forward-thinking... [Forward-]moving? Song. So basically, the idea behind the song is to not let negativity get in your way, and to rely on your nakama (Japanese word for 'allies' or 'friends'). It's basically very Jump-y. It's very Shonen, and it's a [fresh] mix of electronic, rock, and rap influences. It's a mix of a lot of different elements; There's a couple different breakdowns in the song so It's very dynamic, from a composition point of view. It's a challenging song to sing, but it being both catchy and having a really positive message, I'm hoping that it will speak to Naruto fans and Jump fans the world [over]. [It's] very international-muki (Japanese for 'good for an international audience').

What kind of genres of music would you like to challenge in the future?

In the past, if you look at some of my older covers before I went pro, I've basically done every genre you can think of. Rap, enka, even some K-Pop stuff. Basically, absolutely everything from anison to super old people 70's ballads. And sometimes even matsuri (festival) music. ...Since I've gone pro, it's been mostly focusing on building up my technique repertoire and streamlining it, focusing on [maintaining] my own character throughout interchanging styles.

What I'd like to do is take that further in the future and start hardcore mixing genres - much like “Spinning World” [which] has a lot of different elements. I would also like to try to take, say, rock and folk song elements and blend those two together. It would also be kind of interesting to do folk song and rap. I don't think anyone's done that before. I think it would be really interesting to have “rappy-rappy-rap enka rappy rappy rap enka.” That would be really exciting. ...I basically want to do anything I would be allowed to do.

What do you think about possible overseas appearances? Concerts, anime conventions?

Before the Naruto tie-up was announced, we... Joe and I... Joe Inoue's my producer for the Naruto stuff... we went over to London and we did an event called Hyper Japan, which isn't a directly-related anime event, but in involves lots of things. Lots of different niche cultures. I bought a tail. It was really exciting. It was a dinosaur tail, you gotta see it. Anyway, we performed a variety of songs, from Vocaloid to anime, kind of seeing what people were liking.

Basically, the whole international experience is very different from the Japanese experience. Generally, here in Japan, I've done mostly free [concerts] or promotional-type [concerts.] I'm not quite at a level where I'm touring yet. Hopefully that will change. What was really interesting about the international work was the complete and total difference in [the energy.] It was very different and exciting.

In the future, I would definitely love to do more overseas [work]. You know, anime conventions in like, say, my hometown. (coughs) Otakon (coughs) or Sakura-con. (coughs) I would love to go back to my roots…See if I can share what I've learned here with those who are similar to me, special to me, and those who have stood by me. A lot of the Otakon staff [and others] have always cheered me on. I see that, and I'm like, "Oh, senpai noticed me!"

So yeah, that would be great. That's where I first fell in love with T.M. Revolution and Yoko Kanno when they came over to Otakon. I was like 13 and I was really over-excited because T.M. Revolution (Takanori Nishikawa) is adorable. I don't know if you've seen him. He's got tiny shorts. I bet we could match outfits.

Anything you'd like to say to English-speaking fans?

I would like to- other than just introduce myself to you all in general, because I do think a lot of people haven't heard of me before …I was big into the convention circuit five, six… Eight……Uhh… Ten years ago. (laughs) Mostly ten years ago. I haven't been in the States in several years at this point, and I only worked very briefly professionally there- so, I'd like to say hi. Hi!

I would also like to ask for your support. I would like to continue doing this kind of work and any feedback you have, I would like to hear it! I want to see what I can bring to an international platform, as well as at home in Japan. I want to be able to make music that serves as a bridge for cultures …One that international fans can really get on board with and [come closer to] Japan, and on the other hand, Japanese fans can get on board with and learn a little more about myself and other people that [enjoy] and love Japanese culture [through these mediums.]

One thing that I'd really like to focus on is that both music and anime in general [have] such a good community platform for mass-communication. There are really good [possibilities] out there, and I think that sometimes they're missed, even by other fans, when narrowed down or heaped with niche labels. I think we can communicate better, both on a national and international scale. The most important thing isn't our differences, but our similarities. We can all be a part of something amazing- honestly anything is possible- and the community is such a positive, supportive place to be.

I've received so much from all of you and I hope to be able to give a fraction of that inspiration and support back!

Thank you so much for your time.

"Spinning World," which will serve as Garnet's second single, will be released in Japan on February 11th.


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