Interview: Rina Sawayama on creating art from pain

Thursday, April 16, 2020

On her highly anticipated debut offering SAWAYAMA, Rina Sawayama presents her bildungsroman to the world — the album is a portrait of a former teenage rebel, a fighter, and an adult on a mission to uncover her history. She wanted to take the pain of her prior years and turn those experiences into art. Along with creating the album as a way of rediscovering her personal narrative, SAWAYAMA is also for her fans  — a group of people who Sawayama credits as the reason why she found the confidence and courage to create the music she is making today.

The process of SAWAYAMA came soon after releasing her EP RINA — she notes that the EP played a big part in shaping the album, especially sonically. Sawayama felt like the EP wasn’t personal enough, she wanted to dig deeper into her own story. “I had a lot of unprocessed pain at the time of the EP. It was probably the first time I was able to be alone.” Whereas RINA featured a collection of observations of the world and narratives from her musings, she felt a lingering desire to turn the spotlight on herself instead.

Once she created ‘Dynasty’, the album’s opener, she decided that she wanted her music to be much more personal this time around. “I had all these thoughts and it made sense after writing ‘Dynasty’ that I was like ‘Right, I just want to go down a bit more of a personal route.’”

The process, which involved visiting Japan numerous times to talk to her grandparents and other family members, diving into archives of black-and-white photographs, and re-connecting with her mum, brought her closer to her family. “It was all very therapeutic. I feel closer to my family and friends. Doing the album felt like getting it all out of my system. It was a good feeling.”. Sawayama also put herself in the perspective of her family, which gave her an epiphany of sorts. “I know this might sound stupid but I realised that family members, ones I’m not close with, were children once. I think it’s easy to forget that our parents used to be kids once too.”

Sonically, SAWAYAMA is as adventurous as the personal journey it took her on — it’s a bold and fearless record that redefines the norms of pop music and sees her fuse genres and styles that shouldn’t work in theory — everything you thought you knew about pop music will be challenged once you embark on your listening journey of the album. Though as a whole the album is a personal collection of songs, each track is its own distinct entity.

After RINA, Sawayama knew she wanted to keep on pushing the boundaries of what she could do. “The EP ended up being really useful because I felt like there was a big genre of songs on there. I was like, ‘I think I’m ready to push this to the next level.” She also added, “I just want to always try and take things to the next level. There’s so much music out there and I don’t want to add to the soup of boring songs.”

She wanted to leave people guessing, especially with the singles she decided to reveal. “Each time people listen to the songs, I hope they can always find something new, whether it’s in the production or the lyrics.”

The EP also allowed Sawayama to test the waters and see what her fans wanted to listen to — the album might be personal but it was important for her fans to connect with the music too. In times of inner turmoil and self-doubt, she notes that it’s her fans who have given her the strength to pursue pop music — she also credits her fans as playing a pivotal role in redefining what pop music is today.

“I feel so grateful for them. When I first started properly making music in my early-to-mid twenties, I had this idea in my head that women my age or who were like me couldn’t embark on a pop career. Social media and a genuine connection with my fans has meant that they’re actually changing the narrative in pop, which is truly amazing.”

When listeners start their journey of SAWAYAMA, she hopes they can also feel inspired to not be afraid of exploring their own stories too. “I want people to feel full when they hear the album. I hope they feel something. I wanted to create art out of pain and I want people to feel like they can do this too.”

SAWAYAMA will be released tomorrow, Friday 17th April via Dirty Hit. Click here for more info. 

Written by Amy Smolcic 

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