We had a quick chat with London-based Japanese producer, composer and singer Mieko Shimizu. She’s worked with the likes of William D Drake of The Cardiacs, London Symphony Orchestra and has supported Massive Attack. She has just released her latest album I Bloom.
Hi Mieko! Tell us about your new album I Bloom…
Hi, Thank you for having me!
I Bloom took me five years to produce. I know it’s a long time for one album. I had two major operations during the period and to be honest I nearly gave up. At some point I didn’t believe I had the strength to continue. One day when I was in hospital, a junkie was carried into the bed next to mine and she began to cause such mayhem in the room. She was constantly thrashing around and screaming at all the patients a hospital staff. All nurses and doctors were taken by her attention and other patients were neglected. All patients were furious and feeling hopeless. Later that night I could hear someone singing, across the row from my bed. It was an old Scottish lady singing an old Scots folk song and I noticed that when she sang, the junkie calmed down and fell asleep. She was deliberately singing to calm the drug addict’s soul, like a mother singing to an anguished baby. I felt her humanity in this difficult situation and it was then that I realised the power of music and so I decided that I had to finish my album. I knew I still had something to offer in the world.
When did you first realize you wanted to make music your career?
I’m from a musical family. My father was a jazz bassist and my mother taught music at school. My brother, Yasuaki Shimizu, is a composer and saxophonist and he came to play at the Barbican in London recently. Since I was small, I always knew I was going to be a musician no matter what!
What’s been your steepest learning curve?
I must say that writing in English has been my biggest challenge. I always loved English literature since I was young and I studied English Literature at university. I have a degree in English Literature but writing poetry in English is a challenge on a much greater level. I have made an incredible amount of effort, and even completely stopped reading Japanese books and just read books in English. After many years of this challenge, I almost decided that writing in a foreign language was not really possible and I abandoned the idea, but when I started writing my last album, My Tentacles, something strange happened. One day I was composing on the piano in my studio when suddenly, what seemed to me, quite beautiful poetry started coming into my head and I realised that all the work I had been doing over all these years had come to fruition and I knew then that I could and should write in English.
You’ve performed at Sonar & Meltdown Festival as a guest of Massive Attack – how was that as an experience?
When I was an emerging artist in residence at the Southbank along with many other amazingly talented artists including, the now Hollywood actor, Riz Ahmed who was then performing as MC Riz, I co-wrote and produced a track with him called Bubble Wrapped. Massive Attack saw us performing and asked us to support them for their Meltdown performance. It was amazing to perform on the same stage as them and also great to meet both members of Massive Attack, Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja and Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall after the show and talk about creating music. They were both so nice and generous and co-incidentally my Japanese electronic heroes Yellow Magic Orchestra also played the same Meltdown, Haruomi Hosono from the band had signed me to his label as Apache 61 and it was so cool to see them perform and hang out with them.
When I played at the incredible electronic festival Sonar in Barcelona as Apache 61 everything went so smoothly with Brazilian dancers dancing all over the sites. I have very colourful and vivid memories and playing on the same bill as one of my electronic hero’s Kraftwerk is one of the highlights of my life as a performer.
Can you tell us a bit more about your work as a producer?
Aside from my solo work, I have been commissioned to compose music for Dance, Theatre, Video Mapping and Multi-Media. The last piece I composed was for a multi-media theatre show called Follow the Vikings. It combined film with actors, dancers, drummers and lighting art. I recorded authentic Viking musicians from Sweden and wrote music around them and it was performed in 13 different countries including Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. I had the amazing opportunity to learn about history of the Vikings, which is an experience I will treasure forever. I love composing and producing music for all different medias like this and hope to continue to do so.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a musician?
My father always said the most important ingredient in music making is to love making music. Everything else follows that. When I’m tired and running out of strength and can’t continue any more, I remember that and ask myself how much I love what I am doing and just how lucky I am to be doing it.
What have you got coming up?
At the moment I am concentrating on my solo performance for this coming autumn. I have stopped using a computer but at the same time it’s very electronic. I wanted to keep it organic by playing Moog synthesiser and keyboards live while triggering a drum machine and singing. It’s actually very difficult to hit the subtle balance of electronic and organic but at the same time it’s incredibly enjoyable.