SHIHORI is a Japanese pop singer/songwriter, best known for her collaborations with Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex) and Kohei Tanaka (One Piece). She has written and composed for contemporary artists and anime series including Fairy Tail, Macross Frontier, and The Irregular at Magic High School. I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with SHIHORI about her work and career at this year’s Crunchyroll Expo.
Note: This was a joint interview conducted with The Grand Geek Gathering Shukai.
You’re well known for composing hundreds of songs of many different styles. You’ve composed many for Nana Mizuki and of course have collaborated with Yoko Kanno. I was wondering if you’ve had more difficulty with any particular music or anime genre in processing and creating that certain kind of atmosphere for the song or anime.
SHIHORI: Actually, any type of anime song is very natural for me to process because everything is very pop and I’m very good at pop, and I also have a classical education. So it’s always fun to explore any type of music based on classical or pop.
You moved to the US a few years ago, settling in New York and then recently moved to LA. How has this experience been for you these past few years and how have you felt your career has grown as a result of being in the U.S.?
SHIHORI: It’s actually been a lot harder and rougher than I expected. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to start over from scratch in another country. Everything was very meaningful with so many tough and good experiences that became a new treasure for me. It’s been a really early stage of building my career, but I think it’s been getting better every year and I’m enjoying it.
Ever since your move from Japan to the U.S., from New York and LA, you’ve been exposed to more and more styles of Western music. What were some of the major differences you noticed between the music composition in Japan versus the music composed here in the U.S?
SHIHORI: That’s a very good question. The most important thing in Japanese music is melodies. Most of the people start from melodies or the chorus. In the U.S., I’ve found that rhythm is more important. So like rhyming or flow is not an idea that we have in J-pop, so I didn’t realize that in the beginning and didn’t think it would be too hard to process this at first, but it was really hard. And those differences come from the language structure, and it became so interesting because of this. You need to understand the cultural background of the languages. As I understand more about the English structure, rhyming, and flow, it became more natural and fun to explore, although, I’m still struggling to understand the American music and English structure.
You’ve had a long career writing music, and I was wondering with so many songs that you’ve written, how do you keep up inspiration to write new music? Do you have anything specific you do to get new inspiration?
SHIHORI: Actually, this year I am aiming to have more collaborations with American artist creators. When I was in Japan, I would write some song for an anime and think, “I’m gonna fit in this word.” I was like that all the time. And now, while I don’t know exactly, I decided to enjoy what the universe brings me. So if a person wants a collaboration with me, then let’s try it! I’ll just see what happens. These people are my inspiration.
We had the pleasure of attending your concert last night. While the performance was very splendid, you also shared a very personal story about your dark thoughts, mental health, and disabilities. Is this something you wanted to share with your international fans from the beginning?
SHIHORI: Yes, of course. I didn’t do that in Japan that much but since I came here, I’ve been trying to find what my role could be here, and I found that the strongest message could be these things like, “be yourself” and “love yourself.” I thought it could be more powerful to talk about myself for U.S. fans, so I’m willing to share my story.
What were some of the factors that motivated you to share your story with the U.S. fans?
SHIHORI: My past motivates me the most because I had such a tough experience and memories. I’m trying to save my past self and that process is my music. Any of my fans or listeners, everybody has something like trauma or something relatable to that.
You recently announced your tour to Japan. Is that also something you’re interested in sharing or being more vocal about your past to your Japanese fans as well?
SHIHORI: Actually, I’ve been telling so many stories for my Japanese fans. They are very curious about my adventures in the U.S, so I think I would tell them more about my American stories.
To add to that, you performed “Perfect Imperfection” at the concert last night. I had a chance to listen to it prior to the concert, and there was a lot of meaning to the lyrics and a lot of personal meaning to it. It is a very uplifting song, and it tells the listeners to embrace themselves with flaws and all, which is a great message. Who or what helped you embrace those flaws for you to compose that song?
SHIHORI: That was actually during the lockdown times, so I didn’t meet anybody. That was during the toughest time since I came here. I lost all my confidence while I was struggling to adjust to U.S. culture. “Why can’t I do that?” “Why can’t I understand this?” I lost my confidence thinking of these things. I was actually close to giving up my career because I couldn’t write new songs, and I wasn’t motivated to create new things. “Maybe I can’t be a singer.” But I tried to start from loving myself—not because I did something great, but loving myself even though I can’t do anything and don’t have any confidence. While I was mentally going through this process, this message and melody came into my head like “…I got this song like a gift from God.”
To change topics a little, how are you enjoying your time here in San Jose and at Crunchyroll Expo?
SHIHORI: It’s so wonderful! It’s amazing! I love seeing people and everybody is so nice. The show was very exciting and enthusiastic, and that gave me so much power to become a better singer. I really appreciate that.
One of the songs you recently helped write was “DNA -Dance ‘n’ Amuse-.”
SHIHORI: Oh yes, Nana’s song!
That was a very different and unique song for Nana’s style, so I’m very curious how you approached that. Did you receive any different directions compared to normal?
SHIHORI: Oh yeah, I totally agree with you. That song is very unique and very attractive and very new to her. I really enjoy it as it’s very exotic. I was offered by them to write the lyrics, so I wasn’t involved in writing the song as the composer made this a Latin-flavored song. Nana Mizuki actually gives me the concept at the time. So she said, “We want like a love song where an older attractive lady seduces the younger boy.” So I was like “Okay, yeah! This sounds very sexy.” So I tried to write the sexiest lyrics in my life, and it really is the sexiest. Actually, Nana’s fans were like “…this is the sexiest song ever thank you SHIHORI for this sexy song! I’m so happy” (laughs)!
Just to conclude the interview, what’s next in SHIHORI’s career and do you have any message to your fans who will be looking forward to your next steps into your mix of western-style and Japanese-style music?
SHIHORI: Yeah, so I’m doing two lines—my original and also placements for things like game songs. Recently, I’ve been getting more game song gigs, which I’m very happy about. That was one of my goals in America. I’m going to do more American commercials and also collaborations, and hopefully expand my [audience]. I wanna see what’s going to happen, but I want to be an original existence as a Japanese singer/songwriter and a J-pop singer/songwriter in the U.S. I also want to be an existence that encourages people or listeners with my unique personality.
You can find links to all SHIHORI related social media and music at https://linktr.ee/shihorimusic.