Interview: Megan Valentine's J-Rock Inspired EP Release

Japan loving musician Megan Valentine has a new EP out!  And it's heavily influenced by her passion for the land of the rising sun.  We caught up with the lady herself to take influences and inspiration and find out Japanese culture has shaped her musical career.

Tell us about your passion for Japan and how Japanese culture has influenced your music

My fascination with Japan goes back to when I was about 9 years old and it all started with watching anime. We had a few anime shows on TV back in Greece during my childhood and early teenage years; I appreciated the art form as I was a keen painter and my childhood dream was become an animator. The show that triggered me to expand my interest from the animation to the culture was I guess Card Captor Sakura! 9 year old me somehow fell in love with the way the characters behaved especially in family and school interactions. I found it very ‘modest’ and ‘respectful’ and it was a huge contrast to the more outgoing, loud Greek attitude that I was used to. I wanted to know more about Japan after having these thoughts, I wanted to learn the language too.

Japanese pop-culture including anime, fashion and of course music followed me into my adult years and became big part of my identity as an artist. I remember the first time that I watched a Visual Kei music video back in 2008. Until then Japanese music only meant anime soundtracks to me but the moment I experienced an actual band performing a song through that music video I felt I had found my ‘perfect’ inspiration. Everything looked so well thought out. From the music itself to the band’s look and performance, to the way the music video was shot. I started looking deeper into Visual Kei and J-Rock & J-Pop bands & musicians. Artist development is something I am very passionate about and I think Japanese artists are presented in a very well thought out way. It inspired me to put more thought, atmosphere and character into my own work.

You toured in Tokyo last year.  Tell us all about it!

It’s actually been a year now but it feels like it was yesterday! Traveling to Tokyo was a long awaited dream coming true of course as it was the first time I managed to gather up the funds to visit. The opportunity to perform came about thanks to my good friend, harpist Julia Mascetti, who lives in Tokyo and being pretty savvy about how venues book artists over there she suggested it was possible to plan a collaboration performance while I was visiting. We sent out a demo of my music to venues and we got a positive reception!

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We ended up securing two performances, one in Shimokitazawa at Livehouse Waver and to my surprise, one in Shibuya at (the bigger staged) Shibuya O-Nest! I would visit Tokyo with talented guitarist Tomas Eduardo, bassist and music director in my live band, so we worked on a set for acoustic guitar and harp the months leading up to the trip. We only got 5 days of full rehearsals with Julia once we landed in Tokyo.

 On Tour in Tokyo, Photography by Erica Tomisawa

On Tour in Tokyo, Photography by Erica Tomisawa

The most unexpected, exciting highlight of the tour was our appearance on National Japanese TV. On the second day of our Tokyo visit, Tom and I went to Shibuya for a quick morning tourist venture before rehearsal. We were approached by two girls that worked for popular Japanese TV show ZIP!,  that happened to be interviewing foreigners around Shibuya that morning about their knowledge on Japanese pop music. As soon as they said ‘music’ I took out my tour flyers and explained I came to Japan to perform, told them how much I love Japanese pop music and that we would actually play one Japanese song per show.

 Starring on Japanese TV

Starring on Japanese TV

They got excited and wanted to interview us for their program so we filmed a street interview and afterwards they asked for permission to come to our first show in Shimokitazawa and film the performance. We could not believe how lucky we got with this really. They came and filmed us in the show and the episode aired a couple of days later on Nippon Television. Both our street interview and a short clip from the performance made the cut and it was an unbelievable experience!

Megan's Japanese TV appearance - scroll through to 1 minute in!

In your spare time where else did you visit in Japan and what were some of the highlights?

I spent most of my time in Tokyo but I actually had the chance to travel around a little and see different places after we were done with the gigs.  I seriously fell in love with Shibuya, much more than I expected. 109 was the most magical mall I had ever seen!

We also bumped into an open-air music festival there, and watch a couple of rock bands, which was lovely!  Then I went for the obligatory visit to Harajuku but made sure to visit Maeji Shrine before I hit the shops! It was a lovely experience, the nature around the shrine was impressive and we were lucky to witness a traditional Japanese wedding during our visit! Harajuku is the home of some very favourite fashion styles and I wish I had more time (and money!) to spend there. I went shopping for performance clothing in Closet Child, which was a very unique experience as it was my first time in a Lolita shop! I enjoyed the Goth – Punk floor of the store just as much and picked up a few pieces in extremely good prices for my everyday wardrobe.

Yoyogi Park was very beautiful and refreshing too. We walked there after our first shopping excursion.

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I managed to get lost in Shinjuku and it’s massive confusing roads but luckily I did manage to enjoy my debut Karaoke evening with friends in the end, followed by a visit to Tower Records. I love buying physical cds and brought back around 14, mostly favorite anime soundtracks! The variety was impressive but printed music costs a lot in Japan. Next time I am looking forward to buy some more rock/metal band records too!

On Halloween night my friends took me to a haunted Izakaya named “Yurei” (“Ghost”), where we enjoyed a lot of spooky themed food. It was definitely a highlight as I got to experience the attention to detail I love so much when it comes to Japanese people working with concepts. The food was haunted themed, the waitresses were role-playing cursed spirits, and the decoration and atmosphere was amazing.   As a massive anime fan and keen figure collector I did of course visit Akihabara and got extremely impressed by the massive anime collectible shops I encountered there!

A special part of the trip, maybe the most significant for me although extremely nerdy, was visiting a few of the real-life locations mentioned in the “Digimon Adventure” anime. I have grown up and grown old with a massive love for Digimon and part of the reason is that the anime shows off Tokyo locations very prominently. The first time I ever heard of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Tokyo Tower when I was 10 years old was in “Digimon Adventure” and of course a big part of the anime takes place in Hikarigaoka and Odaiba. I did visit all of these places with Odaiba being the number one highlight and the fact that I performed in Shibuya was also very special because of my love for Digimon. I actually did sing a cover of the first Digimon opening “Butterfly” as the last song of the set that night. I am a massive nerd, I know! Apart form Tokyo, I did get the chance to go to Yokohama to visit my friends that live there. It was beautiful and different and I am happy I got to see a smaller city too. We did have a blasting karaoke session while there too.

As a singer karaoke became a very enjoyable pass time during my trip! On the very last day of the trip I was blessed to experience some Japanese countryside as well. We hired a car with friends and drove all the way to Izu. It was an amazing day with our first stop being the Izu Panorama Park up the mountain. We caught some sunshine, ate warm noodle soup and got an amazing view of Mount Fuji there. Finally, we drove to the beautiful town of Shuzenji where we visited a gorgeous temple, enjoyed a relaxing hot spring foot bath and drank matcha tea in a traditional tea house.

You can check out my Tokyo Tour Web Series on my YouTube channel to watch some of my adventures.

Tell us about your favourite Japanese musicians/bands that influence your work?

The first Japanese band I fell in love with was Visual Kei band The Gazette. I love how much fusion you can hear in their music. They explore and include so many metal sub-genres as well as punk, funk and electronic. I find their music and their style fascinating and I own as much of their albums as I’ve been able to find so far! I also really admire Yui, Olivia Lufkin and my absolute favorite female Japanese vocalist Anna Tsuchiya. I am so in love with her voice and I have covered her songs “Rose” and “My Fate” live so many times! A more direct influence to my own music comes from powerful modern rock bands such as One OK Rock and My First Story. They are both very much influenced by western pop-punk, emo and melodic hardcore but bring their own unique and refreshing twist to a sound I know and love. I also love more experimental acts like Crossfaith and EGOIST. Lastly I cannot leave out my favorite anime composer, Kajiura Yuki. Her score for “Pandora Hearts” is my absolute favorite O.S.T of all time!

When is your new EP out and what can we expect?

 EP Cover Art: Saoirse Clohessy

EP Cover Art: Saoirse Clohessy

My upcoming EP ‘Wrong Side of the Road’ is a nostalgic collection of 5 tracks I wrote as a teenager back in my hometown, Zakynthos, Greece. It’s my debut-recording project and it was produced in collaboration with talented alternative musician Karol Stanczak in London.  The style is pop – punk with elements of post hardcore and emo and every song is inspired by a very distinct personal experience. I always say it’s a little like looking into my teenage diary. I carried these songs with me all this years through my journey from Greece to the UK and I am so proud and thankful I am finally able to share them with the world in their final form! It’s truly my biggest dream coming true. Japanese music has played a part in the production of this album of course! During the early stages of production in the studio when we were still working of the arrangements I would bring my producer a lot of One OK Rock tracks as reference for the faster paced songs and Anna Tsuchiya power ballads as reference for my song “Until my Wings Burn”.

My love for anime has kind of found it’s way into this project too in the form of artwork. Every song has manga inspired accompanying artwork, designed by Greek comic illustrator Avgi Kanaki. The artwork hints the story behind each song and we are actually working on one-shot Manga expanding on the story of my narrative track “A Songfic”. The artwork will be sold in the form of art print packs in my merch store next year, along with my first official merch line “Manga, Pop – Punk & Lost Dreams” also designed by Avgi. The manga is a little bit more of a long-term project but we are working to make it happen!

The EP is coming out as digital download on I-Tunes, Spotify, Amazon, Bandcamp and many more online music stores on December 4th. I will be producing a physical version too later this year that you will be able to buy through my website merch shop. To get a first taste of the EP please check out my new music video for the closing track ‘Black’ on my YouTube channel.

Connect with Megan Valentine on her official websiteYouTube / Twitter / Instagram and Facebook.