After becoming a huge star at the tender age of 15, Japans biggest female star is about to release her dynamic new album Exodus in the UK on the 17th of October.
A veteran of the business at only 22-years-old, Exodus is Utada Hikaru's (Hikki to her fans) second attempt at an English language album (the first recorded in 1995, when she was 12, was never released). It follows on from the success of her previous three albums, that in total have sold a staggering 20 million copies in Japan alone.
Her debut Japanese language album entitled 'First Love' that launched her as an undeniable force to be reckoned with became an instant hit. It went straight to number 1 and is still Japans biggest selling debut album ever!
Utada's story is an interesting one. Born in New York City and raised in Japan (where she gets mobbed on a regular basis) Utada spent most of her time between America and Tokyo, where she would join her mother (a famous enka singer) and her father ( a musician/producer) in the studio. It was here that she wrote her first song and gained a taste for the business.
Although she encompasses all you would expect from a Japanese pop star; the small frame, the shiny black locks and the gorgeous almond brown eyes, Utada is as far from the Harajuku girls that Gwen Stefani often sings about as you could possibly get. She is more like the intriguing Japanese version of Iceland's finest, Bjork.
And unlike many popstars, who have no choice in what they sing, Utada creates nearly everything to do with her music, from lyrics to melodies, from conception to birth and frankly she wouldn't have it any other way.
But on her new album Exodus Utada has allowed some outside influences to penetrate the mould. She has work with Timberland, who produced three tracks on the album and Mars Volta drummer, Jon Theodore who performs on the track 'Kremlin Dusk' adding a new flavour to her electro/pop inspired songs.
During her recent promo tour of the UK, Femalefirst's, Sarah Williams caught up with Utada for a chat about her album, the transition from superstar to emerging artist, her secret ambition to be a chef and the inspiration for her new single 'You Make Me Want To Be A Man.'

Hi Utada - You are perhaps Japans biggest export, but for those of who don't know you so well tell us a little bit about your background?

Utada: I come from a very musical family and I have grown up with music. I began writing my own songs when I was about eleven, so this is my first English album that is going to be released soon, called Exodus, but actually it's like my fifth album or something.

What made you pursue a career in music at such an early age?

Utada: Actually, I didn't want to get into music because watching my mother, who was a singer in Japan, it looked so unstable and crazy. But I half grew up in the studio with her and one day my parents asked me if I could write a song myself. I didn't want to say no, so I just said 'okay, I'll try' and it all started from there.

Who were your musical influences growing up?

Utada: The funny thing is I was thinking about this before I came to London and most of the artists I really like are from England or Europe. I know
I was brought up with the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but because I was so young I don't really remember that. But I have always been a big fan of Sting and The Cure and I love the Cocteau Twins. I'm also a big fan of Bjork and Madonna because they don't really fit the mould.

Do you ever wish that you hadn't gone into the business so young?

Utada: For the first couple of years it was really difficult, because, being so famous, that young you can't do anything, you can't use your money and go crazy, you can't buy a car or a house and you can't go drinking. I regretted it for the first two years, but I still haven't quit and I realised that I love music, I can't live without it. So I just enjoy things my own way and I realised that it wasn't really important to me, to do things like going out and partying, but I'm happy.

This is your 5th album release but your first in English, was that a hard transition to make?

Utada: No because I don't really listen to Japanese music that much and I have grown up with English songs, so it wasn't that difficult.

Some of the lyrics on the album are less poppy than you're previous and you deal with darker material and more sexual lyrics. Did you enjoy exploring that part of your creativity?

Utada: It was interesting because it is something that I can't do with Japanese music because of the nature of the language and the sound that takes over the whole song. If there is something too weird in Japanese, it doesn't sound very well singing the song. I found with English, I could venture into that more. I could be dark or intangible in some places or be very humorous. And still it just all came together well, so that was very fun to do.

What do your Japanese fans think about this more 'grown-up' style of music?

Utada: I didn't think it would do well in Japan, but it actually did, which I was very surprised by. It was very flattering because, I had been doing most of the music and I realised that my fans liked my sound and not just my voice. Most of the time I spend working on the music, I spend on the computer programming the sounds or writing the melodies and the words, its very rewarding to know that people like that too.

Since you are so well known in Japan, do you feel like it's a case of starting over again in England?

Utada: Yeah, but I think I needed it, its fun, definitely. I always like to be the person who is doing the weird thing or doing something that the typical person of my age or sex wouldn't be doing and I would just hate to become too comfortable or too accepted in anyplace. So in Japan, if I put something out and everyone is like 'oh this is wonderful because it's her' it gets to the point where I can't tell if it's good or not. So it's nice to have a new audience.

Your new single is called 'You Make Me Want to Be A Man' who makes you want to be a man?

Utada: (Laughing) It came from facing my husband (She has been married for three years) dealing with someone on that honest level. It's very hard to let someone into your life that much. With the song it's like, sometimes, the things that we don't understand about each other, if I was a man, maybe I could understand him better. It's very simple, it's all about wanting to become another person and see it from another point of view.

The video for the single (directed by Kaz Kiriya) is very futuristic, where did the concept come from?

Utada: Well, first of all my music sounds very electro, like dance/pop so it fits well with visuals. I have a lot of electronic elements with machines and stuff like that. Also we wanted to play with the Japanese side of my existence. Japan is well know for these kinds of technological things, like Amine and the futuristic things, so I think that is what started off the whole thing.

As you said before you write and have a lot of control over your music, did you have any input in the video?

Utada: Well my husband directed it. We met on a job when he was a photographer. When I met him he was doing my CD cover and over the process of going out and working on things we got together. Now he is directing videos and movies.

That must be nice for you to work together?

Utada: Yeah, it can get very lonely to be in complete control of your own work. It's very difficult, but a bit of companionship was exactly what I needed. With most of my work I mostly just say yes or no, so I guess what I needed was someone that I could trust the taste and opinions of and have the guts to tell me about things. Somebody that I could trust with the creative side of things a little more, so that is when he came into the picture.

You have worked with producer extraordinary Timberland on three of the tracks on the album, how did that partnership come about?

Utada: Um, I was pretty determined to make most of the album by myself and just make a statement that wasn't mainstream pop. I thought if I was doing it then I could make it something that I only I can do, otherwise it's pointless. But by the end of the album, I thought, oh I needed some input, something fresh and someone else's ideas just to balance it out. Then after thinking about it, I mentioned Timberland. We went down to Miami and it all got put together.

You have said that your music isn't really mainstream pop, so how would you define your sound?

Utada: Its one of those very difficult things to define. I think the whole point of doing it, is to make something that doesn't really fit the typical mould. The easily labelled things I would not want to make. My friend was saying earlier that it is like electro/dance/pop so I was like 'okay - if you say so.'

Apart from music - what else does Utada Hikaru like to do?

Utada: I love to read, I just love books. I love the smell of books, so I spend a lot of time in bookstores (she is about to read The Complete Works Of Oscar Wilde) I don't really have any hobbies. Music is almost like a hobby - but a very serious one. Recently I have been trying to cook, but I really don't have time to get into it. It's hard because you have to go shopping everyday for food and I just don't have time, so maybe if I take a break I will try to become a good chef.

Utada's new single 'You Make Me Want To Be A Man' is out now - Her album 'Exodus' is released on the 17th of October.

After becoming a huge star at the tender age of 15, Japans biggest female star is about to release her dynamic new album Exodus in the UK on the 17th of October.
A veteran of the business at only 22-years-old, Exodus is Utada Hikaru's (Hikki to her fans) second attempt at an English language album (the first recorded in 1995, when she was 12, was never released). It follows on from the success of her previous three albums, that in total have sold a staggering 20 million copies in Japan alone.
Her debut Japanese language album entitled 'First Love' that launched her as an undeniable force to be reckoned with became an instant hit. It went straight to number 1 and is still Japans biggest selling debut album ever!
Utada's story is an interesting one. Born in New York City and raised in Japan (where she gets mobbed on a regular basis) Utada spent most of her time between America and Tokyo, where she would join her mother (a famous enka singer) and her father ( a musician/producer) in the studio. It was here that she wrote her first song and gained a taste for the business.
Although she encompasses all you would expect from a Japanese pop star; the small frame, the shiny black locks and the gorgeous almond brown eyes, Utada is as far from the Harajuku girls that Gwen Stefani often sings about as you could possibly get. She is more like the intriguing Japanese version of Iceland's finest, Bjork.
And unlike many popstars, who have no choice in what they sing, Utada creates nearly everything to do with her music, from lyrics to melodies, from conception to birth and frankly she wouldn't have it any other way.
But on her new album Exodus Utada has allowed some outside influences to penetrate the mould. She has work with Timberland, who produced three tracks on the album and Mars Volta drummer, Jon Theodore who performs on the track 'Kremlin Dusk' adding a new flavour to her electro/pop inspired songs.
During her recent promo tour of the UK, Femalefirst's, Sarah Williams caught up with Utada for a chat about her album, the transition from superstar to emerging artist, her secret ambition to be a chef and the inspiration for her new single 'You Make Me Want To Be A Man.'

Hi Utada - You are perhaps Japans biggest export, but for those of who don't know you so well tell us a little bit about your background?

Utada: I come from a very musical family and I have grown up with music. I began writing my own songs when I was about eleven, so this is my first English album that is going to be released soon, called Exodus, but actually it's like my fifth album or something.


What made you pursue a career in music at such an early age?

Utada: Actually, I didn't want to get into music because watching my mother, who was a singer in Japan, it looked so unstable and crazy. But I half grew up in the studio with her and one day my parents asked me if I could write a song myself. I didn't want to say no, so I just said 'okay, I'll try' and it all started from there.

Who were your musical influences growing up?

Utada: The funny thing is I was thinking about this before I came to London and most of the artists I really like are from England or Europe. I know
I was brought up with the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but because I was so young I don't really remember that. But I have always been a big fan of Sting and The Cure and I love the Cocteau Twins. I'm also a big fan of Bjork and Madonna because they don't really fit the mould.

Do you ever wish that you hadn't gone into the business so young?

Utada: For the first couple of years it was really difficult, because, being so famous, that young you can't do anything, you can't use your money and go crazy, you can't buy a car or a house and you can't go drinking. I regretted it for the first two years, but I still haven't quit and I realised that I love music, I can't live without it. So I just enjoy things my own way and I realised that it wasn't really important to me, to do things like going out and partying, but I'm happy.

This is your 5th album release but your first in English, was that a hard transition to make?

Utada: No because I don't really listen to Japanese music that much and I have grown up with English songs, so it wasn't that difficult.

Some of the lyrics on the album are less poppy than you're previous and you deal with darker material and more sexual lyrics. Did you enjoy exploring that part of your creativity?

Utada: It was interesting because it is something that I can't do with Japanese music because of the nature of the language and the sound that takes over the whole song. If there is something too weird in Japanese, it doesn't sound very well singing the song. I found with English, I could venture into that more. I could be dark or intangible in some places or be very humorous. And still it just all came together well, so that was very fun to do.

What do your Japanese fans think about this more 'grown-up' style of music?

Utada: I didn't think it would do well in Japan, but it actually did, which I was very surprised by. It was very flattering because, I had been doing most of the music and I realised that my fans liked my sound and not just my voice. Most of the time I spend working on the music, I spend on the computer programming the sounds or writing the melodies and the words, its very rewarding to know that people like that too.


Since you are so well known in Japan, do you feel like it's a case of starting over again in England?

Utada: Yeah, but I think I needed it, its fun, definitely. I always like to be the person who is doing the weird thing or doing something that the typical person of my age or sex wouldn't be doing and I would just hate to become too comfortable or too accepted in anyplace. So in Japan, if I put something out and everyone is like 'oh this is wonderful because it's her' it gets to the point where I can't tell if it's good or not. So it's nice to have a new audience.

Your new single is called 'You Make Me Want to Be A Man' who makes you want to be a man?

Utada: (Laughing) It came from facing my husband (She has been married for three years) dealing with someone on that honest level. It's very hard to let someone into your life that much. With the song it's like, sometimes, the things that we don't understand about each other, if I was a man, maybe I could understand him better. It's very simple, it's all about wanting to become another person and see it from another point of view.

The video for the single (directed by Kaz Kiriya) is very futuristic, where did the concept come from?

Utada: Well, first of all my music sounds very electro, like dance/pop so it fits well with visuals. I have a lot of electronic elements with machines and stuff like that. Also we wanted to play with the Japanese side of my existence. Japan is well know for these kinds of technological things, like Amine and the futuristic things, so I think that is what started off the whole thing.

As you said before you write and have a lot of control over your music, did you have any input in the video?

Utada: Well my husband directed it. We met on a job when he was a photographer. When I met him he was doing my CD cover and over the process of going out and working on things we got together. Now he is directing videos and movies.

That must be nice for you to work together?

Utada: Yeah, it can get very lonely to be in complete control of your own work. It's very difficult, but a bit of companionship was exactly what I needed. With most of my work I mostly just say yes or no, so I guess what I needed was someone that I could trust the taste and opinions of and have the guts to tell me about things. Somebody that I could trust with the creative side of things a little more, so that is when he came into the picture.

You have worked with producer extraordinary Timberland on three of the tracks on the album, how did that partnership come about?

Utada: Um, I was pretty determined to make most of the album by myself and just make a statement that wasn't mainstream pop. I thought if I was doing it then I could make it something that I only I can do, otherwise it's pointless. But by the end of the album, I thought, oh I needed some input, something fresh and someone else's ideas just to balance it out. Then after thinking about it, I mentioned Timberland. We went down to Miami and it all got put together.