Otsuka Ai Excite Interview – LOVE LETTER

by sljinu on January 10, 2009 · 8 comments · AddThis

LOVE LETTER Photoshoot

This article is translated from an interview done with Otsuka Ai by Excite.
Translation by sljinu

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Excite: Around when did you get the idea that you wanted to make a new album?

Ai: After completing LOVE PiECE, I released the single Pocket. That song was extremely special to me so at the time, I had no plans on putting it in an album. However, after releasing Pocket, I thought “Oh, it’d be nice if I make the theme of the next album as a collection of love letters”. After the start of the new year, I gradually felt even more determined to do so.


Excite: It’s been five years since you debuted and you’ve released five albums over that time. Each one seems to mark the end of an era. Do you feel that your latest album is appropriate for this?

Ai: Yes, I do. With this fifth album, it’s like an official mark to the end of the period. With these four albums and my upcoming one, it’s like my introductory period has naturally come to its end. It’s not like I thought it requires five albums to reach this stage, it’s just that it just happened this way. I feel that with LOVE LETTER, this era has finally reached its end.


Excite: So that means that you have never experienced this satisfaction of reaching a certain milestone with any of your previous albums?

Ai: Basically, yes. Up until the third album, a lot of the songs used were those I wrote before my debut so it still had quite an inexperienced feel to it. With the fourth one, I still felt I could do better than that. The last song on this album, Ai, was completed quite soon after the release of Pocket but I still feel that the completion of Ai was a really big thing.


Excite: You said that there were originally no plans to release Pocket at all and that it was a personal song that you composed. Would that mean that Ai was actually composed for the album?

What's In Photoshoot

Ai: Ai is also something that I just naturally composed. The title also just came up, it wasn’t something that I particularly gave a lot of thought about. As for the aforementioned feeling of completing my introductory era, I only achieved that feeling after completing Ai. This song also targets the largest audience out of any other song I wrote. I wrote this song thinking “What is something that anyone, even children or grandparents, can do?” The result? I came up with the chorus “Love, something that must be treasured. Love, something that even I can do.” Anyone can treasure those who are close to them, whether they are a child or an adult. Also, if one can feel happiness from the other’s joy then that’s love isn’t it?


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Excite: Wow, that’s really deep and benign. I also felt that same warmth from the other songs of LOVE LETTER but please also discuss the song LOVE LETTER in particular.

Ai: In fact, it was the first time I wrote the title track for an album.


Excite: Coming to think of it, that’s true. Which one did you come up with first; the album title or the song title?

Ai: I had already decided on the album title quite awhile back. It’s the fact that this album is like a collection of love letters that gives this combination of songs its meaning. Also, when I wrote LOVE LETTER, I wasn’t just thinking about the love between a couple but also the love for children, for your friends, for your parents, for those that you grew up alongside with, I wrote LOVE LETTER for all those people. I wrote this song around the same time I wrote Ai.


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Excite: After Pocket, you composed LOVE LETTER and Ai. In a way, this gives an insight to your mindset at the time.

Ai: Pocket is definitely an important song to me. After completing Pocket, I think I ended up focusing my lyrics on the theme of solicitude.


Excite: Again, I felt that you singing with the piano in LOVE LETTER, the a cappella segment in Ai and the fact that they both finished really simply was really impressive.

Ai: From the beginning, I had planned for LOVE LETTER to just feature a solo piano. I believe it is because this is my principle that I am still able to be a recording artist to this day. Singing with the piano was where everything begun. That is why for my fifth album, I used this style for the opening track. And what I mean by “principle” is that if I could have made LOVE LETTER as though it was a work I did before LOVE PUNCH then that’d be nice so that’s why I did it like that. The a cappella segment however, was Ikoman’s idea. Before we went into the arrangements, it seems as though he watched the commercial earlier and the idea really got to him so he said “I think this song would be good as an a cappella.” I then replied “Ok! That sounds alright to me!” (laughs). Ikoman then said “No no, that wouldn’t be good for me,” and so I got him to provide an arrangement for me.


Excite: When you look at the songs on the album like LOVE LETTER, Ai, Rocket Sneaker and Kurage, Nagareboshi then you notice that there are a lot of songs which feature the piano.

Excite Photoshoot

Ai: Yes, that’s true. Ikoman said that it’s interesting to note how expressive the piano can be when you look at tracks like Rocket Sneaker. Also, he had the idea that we focus the album on the piano but it’s not like we composed and arranged the songs with the thought that we absolutely had to do that this time. We did everything we could to make each individual song interesting according to its circumstances and it just so happened that the piano appeared a lot. Also, the acoustic guitar and the customary electric guitar appeared a lot too.


Excite: Then it could be said that it is because the song is focused around the piano that the other songs stand out.

Ai: Yep. I feel that I have matured even more in this album.


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Excite: Your piano ballads seem to be even more mature now but what were your plans regarding your other songs?

Ai: Well, I suppose the latter tracks were composed intentionally. For example, Do☆Positive or Shachihata or 360°. Like, when I looked at the album as a whole, I thought “Oh, it seems kind of dark…” (laughs). When I look at past albums there was always that bright, fast-paced song and I thought this album needed those songs otherwise it’d be incomplete. If I left it like this then it’s no good (laughs).


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Excite: The appearance of Shachihata was quite a surprise.

Ai: Aaahh, geez, I feel really bad about this song (laughs).


Excite: Feel bad?

Ai: Well, the song was just another one of those muck-around types but it was still really expensive to produce. I asked Sasaji to arrange the song. Also, all the band members came from Sasaji’s big band, Daigosho.


Excite: Wow, that’s amazing!

Ai: But what’s really amazing about Shachihata is that real people are performing it. They were basically a lot more amazing than I was (laughs). Seeing all those people really work hard on the song…I couldn’t see it as anything more than a joke (laughs).


Excite: And what did you mean by leaving Shachihata to Sasaji?

Ai: The concept of Shachihata was to see all the ‘adults’ enjoy themselves but in a mature manner while I’m the only one who is enjoying herself like a child. Ikoman then suggested that if that was the case, why don’t I get some real jazz players?


Excite: This is the first time you’ve produced a pure jazz song isn’t it?

Ai: Well, Sasaji says he still regards this as pop music.


Excite: What was it like, working with Sasaji?

Ai: It was the first time ever that I worked with Sasaji and I had no idea how he worked…(bitter smile). However, I just did it like usual where I’d tell him what kind of image I wanted to convey and point out whatever didn’t suit my idea. It wasn’t exactly easy but it’s not like it was really hard either. The recording also went really smoothly and quickly and that was all because everyone was truly professional and experienced.


Excite: You also looked like you were enjoying yourself when you were singing (laughs).

Ai: Hahahah! Well, I guess I was quite satisfied with how I sang.


Excite: At first, I couldn’t recognize who’s voice it was so I was like “huh?”

What's In Photoshoot

Ai: I can see why if you listen from the beginning of the album that you’d come across one and be like “Who’s this?” (laughs). I usually sing with quite a high voice and I mesh my breathing with that however, with Shachihata, I went with singing with a low voice instead. I sang a lot like this back in junior high school when I was taking vocal lessons so rather than it being a new experience, it kind of takes me back and it’s a bit embarrassing. And then when we were recording, Kubota Koutarou said “Hah?? What’s this? It sounds like some old hag is singing it!” (laughs).


Excite: Hahaha! But it certainly feels as though we’ve seen a side of you that you normally kept hidden.

Ai: It’d make me really happy if you could enjoy this song.


Excite: It seems that Do☆Positive and 360° both have music videos.

Ai: Yes. And then we also filmed a music video for Ai.


Excite: Could you please explain to us how you felt about making each one?

Ai: Do☆Positive is quite self-explanatory and has quite a clear image. It has “Stupid one way road” as its catch phrase (laughs). I had the image of a down town section when I thought about the song but the Kansai streets also work. It’s not all that serious for example, if you buy a lottery ticket then there’s the chance you could win, right? I guess it’s just nice to have a small dream like that. In other words, being simple* (laughs). And we finished the music video just like that. If you listen to the song or watch the music video, I’d like you to get that same positive vibe too.

*The word she uses basically means ‘stupid’ but its connotation isn’t as negative


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Excite: How about 360° and Ai?

Ai: I only watched the finished version of 360° yesterday but it was quite scary (laughs).


Excite: Scary?

360° PV screenshot

Ai: Yep. Well, the song’s image is a weird blend of horror and fairy tale. I guess a grim fairy tale? If you take a look at it, you might think it’s beautiful or cute but I wanted to make it sound scary through the sound. I tried really hard to express that image in that music video. I think I’m quite unrecognizable in that video and if I didn’t say it was me, you probably wouldn’t have realized. Also, I’d be creeped out if such a person existed in reality (laughs). Anyway, it’s supposed to be scary and I think that’s what I’m good at. Whenever we film a music video, I think “Ah, it’s taking so long…” but in this case, even though it was also long, it still went by in the blink of an eye. It was quite exciting (laughs). Conversely, Ai has this healing atmosphere to it. Out of all the music video’s I made, this music video was the one that made me realize all the important things I had.


Excite: Your album was completed not too long ago so upon listening to it now, has your impression on any of your songs changed?

Ai: Hmm…I like Rocket Sneaker a lot more now than when I released it. But personally, the one that I’m quite obsessed with at the moment is Kimi Fechi.


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Excite: And why is I that you like Rocket Sneaker more now?

Ai: I haven’t really written anything like Rocket Sneaker before. I usually write about past experiences of the present times but to write about the future was quite refreshing. I think all the aspects of Rocket Sneaker are fresh and I haven’t made anything like it before so that’s why when I released it, I felt a bit insecure. But after releasing it, the more I listen to it, the more I like it. In the past, I had a lot of songs where after I listen to it, I think “Oh! This is good!”and I think it was in my nature too but recently, I’ve made a lot more songs that need to grow on you first and I think that those kinds of songs are also good.


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Excite: It seems Kimi Fechi is a song about a man and a woman.

Ai: Yep (laughs). If you say “This song is about pure love,” then I think “It’s hard to put it in words!” (laughs). Getting the melody and lyrics was just about persistence but creating the arrangement was really difficult. It took a long time to get it right but in the end, it was worth it. Right now, I’m always listening to Kimi Fechi and I really like it. It’s like how if you wake up in the morning and you see him lying on his side next to you; it’s blissful isn’t it? I wrote about those sorts of times.


Excite: I actually also really like Kimi Fechi.

Ai: Really? I’m really glad! If I think about it now, the songs of LOVE PiECE were quite heavy, like I even thought it was a bit strong. However, the tracklist for LOVE LETTER is a lot lighter I think. Like, you can listen to LOVE LETTER more than you can listen to LOVE PiECE.


Excite: I felt that LOVE LETTER reveals a lot of unknown things about you. Do you also feel that way?

Ai: LOVE LETTER is perhaps the rawest album I’ve produced yet and there aren’t really any decorated tracks in this; everything is simple. All my other albums, particularly LOVE PUNCH, involved lots of experimentation; lots of trial and error. That album wasn’t exactly me, it was a bit like toys in a way. LOVE LETTER was really honest though. It was straight from the heart.


Excite: Ever since I listened to this album, I became really interested in the songs that you were especially honest in, particularly about what influenced you to write it. For example, is there any other factor that influenced you aside from your song, Pocket?

Excite Photoshoot

Ai: Hmm I wonder. But Pocket is certainly one of my most important songs. In a way, Pocket is the evidence that I’ve changed. Upon writing Pocket, I realized what love truly was, and what it’s like to really fall in a love with another person. That was my main motivation for making this album and what influenced me the most. If it wasn’t for this, I don’t think I would’ve ever written Ai or LOVE LETTER. That’s why I believe Pocket is the influencing factor of this album.


Excite: It sounds like there were a variety of influencing factors such as the particular events in your life or the people you were with.

Ai: Yes, it seems so. Also, age has affected it too. Or rather, the way my reputation was built up until now. Well, there were also a lot of bad times but I still pulled through them. I also became a little careless during these times. However, a lot of people helped me out through these times and it was because of them that I think I was able to rise above these painful periods. I feel like I matured a bit through that experience.


Excite: So instead of there being a sudden turning point, it was a slow step-by-step process and the result of that is LOVE LETTER.

Ai: Yep. That’s why I feel extremely lucky to have surpassed those difficult times.


Excite: Then if your new album reflects that process, wouldn’t that mean that LOVE LETTER will only preserve those painful memories?

Ai: That’s true but in a way, it has also helped me to let go.


Excite: In May next year, you have two performances coming up; one in Yokohama Arena and one in Osaka Castle Hall. Aside from that, what kind of year do you wish to make 2009?

Ai: I think the gigs in May should be quite fantastic. Like, I want to make it so influential that if those scummy sorts of people should attend, by the time they’ll leave they’ll all have become nice people (laughs). I kind of want these concerts to purge the evil of their hearts and have them return to being the good people they once were. During the tour, they’ll probably only focus on the actual performance and the purging will only occur after the tour is over. Then again, they might find themselves purged during the tour too. Afterwards, I wish to learn even more about the things I don’t know whether it be a place, an experience or people. That’s how I want to live from now on.

What's In Photoshoot

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About the author

sljinu is a hybrid Asian. He is currently employed by the geekmaster eyn, working as a translator. He has time management issues but still finds precious minutes to listen to his beloved Utada Hikaru and Otsuka Ai as well as watch J-drama (among other things) on the train.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Bunny UNITED STATES December 22, 2009 at 8:51 am

I LOVE sachihata her voice sounds TOTALLY diffrent but i love it :D


Chun September 11, 2009 at 1:16 pm

i like all the song come from Ai !

Indeed this album is very good. Be quick create more and more new song to us !


Richard Yang February 22, 2009 at 11:26 pm

cool i liked this review….i didn’t know about her new album until now…this is great, i sure will get it too….this is nice


wenming February 6, 2009 at 8:43 am

perfect. thanks for the effort put in.


remblue February 4, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Thanks for the translation sljinu <3

This was a great interview, looks like Ai-chin was in love ^O^ but also experienced pain ; ;
It’s good to see Ai’s got good friends who helped her through rough times.

This album is a collection of Love Letters, an amazing album really, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this interview ^_^


cabal January 23, 2009 at 8:17 am

great stuff!

justified what i thought about LOVE LETTER, one which is a real her…



keren January 22, 2009 at 1:30 am

oh my goosh! ºwº
thanks soooo much for this!!!!


octocoffee UNITED STATES January 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Oh, lovely translation, sljinu! Thanks so much for working so hard to share this!

haha, I see what you meant when you said I’d be surprised reading Ai’s opinion on 360. I’ve never really thought of it as quite scary. Hm.. It’s definitely got a surreal feeling to it, and I suppose if I saw all of that in real life, I would definitely be terrified.

Reading this whole interview was really interesting; it’s always interesting to see the artist’s opinion on their own album. And I see the parallels LOVE LETTER has with other albums now. The albums that are straightforward, honest, and show what the artist really feels tends to be recieved poorly by the fans, I think like Ayumi’s GUILTY, Kelly Clarkson’s My December, Christina Aguilera’s Stripped, etc. It’s just a little theory of mine, I suppose.

Thanks again for this :)


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