“Ripples,” the new single from Rie Fu, releases this Friday, November 30th. For Rié, as she’s now professionally known, “Ripples” isn’t just the next song in a career dating back to her teens, but a mile marker on a journey that’s both moving forward and in a circle, one that began in 2005 when she burst onto the music scene with her first release, “Life is Like a Boat,” which gained prominence as the first ending to the anime Bleach.
Rié wrote “Life is Like a Boat,” a song that captures the sense of adolescent loneliness and hope (an earlier article discusses that song more in-depth), when she was still in high school. Mixing vocals both in Japanese and English—Rié was born in Tokyo but lived in Maryland for several years—the song was handpicked by Tite Kubo to be the first ending for the anime based on his popular manga, joining songs like “Duvet” as among those few that are written prior to a series, but work as just the right match.
The song also hit at just the right time. Rié had been preparing a portfolio for art school when she sent her recording to Sony, frustrated with what she saw as an inability for artwork to make the widespread impact that her music might. When “Life is Like a Boat” was released, her career took off.
I never gigged around little venues. I never did any amateur music stuff. It happened very fast and I don’t think I really realized how amazing that opportunity was. I just went along with the flow. I didn’t think of it as a success—I just thought it was a very lucky and fortunate opportunity.
At that time, Rié was in what she might call the “Innocent Era” of her songwriting career, the first of four stages she outlines in a post on her blog. She described to me how the first three stages work:
You start with this really pure state, where you don’t think about anything. Then you get to this eager-to-please stage where you want to make the record company happy or want to make a song that’s more singable in karaoke. Then there’s kind of an extreme response to that, which is the rebellious stage, where you try to do something more experimental and adventurous. People either love it or they think, “Oh, she’s gone crazy.”
The transition between stages two and three are what led to Rié establishing her own label around 2012. She made the decision at that time to leave Sony, which she referred to as “stubborn” and unwilling to let her explore the digital realm and release her music through the Internet to a larger audience worldwide. It was a challenge to leave the advantages of a big label, but also a growth opportunity. “It’s a big blessing, including the business side, so I’ve been enjoying the whole adventure.”
The years since then have indeed resembled an adventure. Rié’s husband encouraged her to venture outside of Japan and to explore her musical potential, even moving his job to allow for that opportunity. They moved to Singapore and in 2014, Rié began to tour Asian, playing in places like Hong Kong and Indonesia. These various travels and homes gave her a broad perspective on cultures—the differences and similarities (“Trains are never one time in Britain!”) and especially the modes of communication. Rié earned a Master’s degree in translation at a university in London after moving back to the UK two years ago, and that study helped her think more on these cultural differences and how they affect language.
This cosmopolitan perspective applies to entertainment as well. Rié, who’s music has been featured in series like D.Gray-man, Darker Than Black, and Hourou Musuko, has been watching more anime recently than she has in the past, noting that when you live in Japan, you’re saturated with animation, but when living abroad, one can appreciate it more. Ever the artist, Rié is enthralled by anime depictions of landscape and food. “I really respect the artistry and craftsmanship in creating that animation.”
Most of her time, however, is spent in the music world—writing songs, playing gigs, working the business and marketing side, and running social media accounts. The new phase of her career was matched by changes in her musical style. Inspired by life in the United Kingdom and working with new producers, she began writing music for a western market. Part of that change also meant a foray into electronic music, which is about as disparate from the folk/acoustic sound associated with Rié as one could imagine. She counts it as part of that rebellious era of music in her life.
Your musical style is your lifestyle. I tried to experiment and explore electronic music because much of what’s current is electronic and I wanted to fit in, to integrate that, but I don’t have an electronic lifestyle. I don’t spend my weekends at clubs. I take nature walks and I look at swans everyday, and naturally, I thought my music should resonate that peaceful, relaxing lifestyle.
As the first single from a new album, “Ripples” reflects that return to her roots. “After ten or fifteen years, I feel like I’m going back to where I started in terms of really pure, raw inspiration without thinking about what tracks sound popular or what’s trending or current. I’m just being really honest with songwriting at the moment after a full cycle since my very first single.” The single itself speaks to this shift, to this movement back to her true self. Inspired by rural living near her home in Surrey, she describes the song’s eponymous ripples as “looking at the river or water or the change of season, and also a poetic reference to how the ripples of a word or a message could kind of really expand to a larger scale or be delivered to more people.”
And that’s always been the goal: to impact audiences with her art. As Rié moves into that fourth phase of songwriting and completes the circle, returning to a place of innocence and purity, she also brings with her the experiences of making music in Japan, the UK, and across the world. Together, these destinations and experiences have brought Rié home, not only to the place where she finds quiet, but also to a place where music is made.