I thought, “Wow, even I’d like to see what it would be like for me to sing this”
--You just finished your long-awaited cover album. It started out as a request project on your website, but you heard the voices of the fans and made a whole album. What are your feelings on it?
JUJU: I thought, “Wow, even I’d like to see what it would be like for me to sing this,” and I picked songs that I thought would be especially awesome. I was really interested by the idea.
--As a result, you amassed several famous songs, centered around 90’s hits. Are there any songs that surprised you?
J: There were. I was surprised to find that I want to listen to my own recording of the brilliant green song (M-5 “There will be love there –Ai no Aru Basho-“), as well as the JUDY AND MARY song “LOVER SOUL.” I would have loved to sing something by YUKI, since I sing her music in karaoke and know it really well, but I didn’t really want to show that part of me to everyone, so I took a pass on that. (laugh)
--“There will be love there –Ai no Aru Basho-” was a surprise, but the execution is smooth. What was it like to sing?
J: This one was the hardest. The original song has such deep lyrics, and the singer’s voice is just exquisite. She’s singing about such bitter things, but it’s conveyed so beautifully and in such a lovely voice. When you take away the notes, the way the words are conveyed changes, so I wanted to sing the song exactly as the original had been sung, but the hook and some of the other parts are very difficult. When this song was popular I was in New York, so even though I was aware of its existence, but I didn’t truly comprehend it. Now I feel like I’ve been taken in by it. (laugh)
--When you think about it, there are a lot of songs that were released while you were in New York, including Utada Hikaru’s “First Love,” which came out in 1999.
J: I don’t remember hearing previews of these songs. But these 12 are borderless. I mean, even though I lived in New York, people would still sing these songs, so I still heard them.
--For this album, your theme is requests for songs by “female artists who will never fade,” and it seems that the songs you’ve chosen are consistent throughout the album.
J: I wanted to gather up songs by women with a strong heart. The ephemeral, the cute, the songs with many different interpretations… I worked with the artists who have something that can’t be conveyed.
“What would it be like if that song was arranged by this person?”
--For many of these songs, including Every Little Thing’s “Time goes by,” the new arrangement was done by Kameda Seiji. In addition, you worked with many other eminent arrangers, including Matsuura Akihisa, Chokkku, Shimada Masanori, Sakamoto Masayuki, Jin Nakamura, Nakamura Hiroshi, and Takebe Satoshi. How did you come to work with them?
J: I just asked myself, “What would it be like if that song was arranged by this person?” and then requested their help. For example, I just spoke with Kameda directly about doing the arrangement for Shiina Ringo’s “Gibs,” but we placed him with the JUDY AND MARY song because we thought he’d do well with it.
--I see. The combination of Jin Nakamura for Amuro Namie’s “Don’t wanna cry” was surprising, and it's impressive as a modern update to the song.
J: According to Jin, this is “the most difficult song of the year.” (laugh)
--You said you wanted “only songs by women with a strong heart.” When you were putting these songs on the album, what struck you about them?
J: These are songs where I could “dwell in the understanding” of the song’s worldview and the message it carries. They're just covers of other original songs, and I had the sense of breaking them down and singing them like they’re not mine. Singing is my job, and I think that singing is storytelling. My mission here was not telling my own story, but instead conveying the story of the original.
--But you sing these in your cover live, and it seems that you've made some of these songs your own.
J: Really? (laugh) At first I sang “First Love” with totally different music, but on this recording I did my best to remain faithful to the original.
--You perfectly convey the worldview expressed in “First Love,” and at the same time imbue it with a more adult image.
J: It’s such a famous song because it can’t be tied to a specific era, and because it has multiple interpretations. Whether you listen to it while you’re still very young or after you’ve grown up there’s still something good about it, even if what’s good the second time is different from what was good the first time. It’s the sort of song that stays with you. I’ve been allowed to sing these 12 songs with a theme of universality that everyone can relate to. The melodies are fantastic, and I thought that these songs were really well done. When I was in New York, I only listened to Western music, but I only wanted to sing Japanese pop songs. Looking back on it, I think Japan has a lot of famous music again. If I avoided the hit songs, it would have been to my disadvantage.
When the CM came out featuring “Hello,Again~Mukashi kara aru Basho…”
--It seems that there will be some listeners who hear your version of a given song first, because this generation wasn’t able to listen to the originals when they were released.
J: When the CM came out featuring “Hello,Again~Mukashi kara aru Basho,” there were a lot of people who thought that it was my own original song. They’d say, “Wow, I love the new song!” and I’d always say, “It’s not my song. You should listen to the original!” (laugh) I felt like…like I’d given them a chance to listen to something from before they were born, and it makes me happy. They’re learning from the past.
--It’s a significant album, but it seems to have been put together very quickly.
J: Choosing the songs, lining up the arrangers, recording the music, and doing the mastering only took about a month. (laugh) On that compressed timeline I had a packed recording schedule, so the entire album has a real sense of unity, I think. During that time I never stopped smiling – it was really fun.
--How do you personally rank the originals versus the covers?
J: I think that you really need to consider them separately, but if you want to know which I like to sing better, I think they’re equal. I always record a cover for my singles, but recording an entire album of covers was nerve-wracking. I was starting something new.
--And once again this year you’re holding a special live on “Juju Day,” 10/10. Will you be singing anything from this album?
J: I will. And along with songs from this album, I’ll also be singing some other songs that were requested. Western music, Japanese music, originals, and covers – no matter what it is, if the listeners have said they want to hear it, I’ll be including it in this live. I’m not going to be dressing it up with strings to make it seem special – instead, I want to stoically convey the magnificence of the music.