Nanae Uehara (@nanae.uehara) makes pure and physical ambient music: when you listen to it, she makes you breathe through her, inhale the very same air, and leave her body as if you were her voice. She multiplies you into echoes and propels you through an atmosphere that she generates by caressing her guitar.
However, the music was born in Nanae because of the drums she played since she was a child by paternal heritage. Her father, Yutaka Uehara, was the drummer of bands that made a true difference in the rock scene in Japan, such as Murahachibu and Sugar Babe.
Nanae went from composing and playing energetic rock in its entire spectrum through percussion, to bringing out ethereal ambient music with a clear healing intent. They are two sides of the same coin. Because as she explains, the beat has always been the one marked by her own heart, and because all music, in one way or another, heals something inside us.
In her live performances, whether in the open air at Yoyogi Park, at art galleries, or at concept stores with fascinating interior designs, Nanae creates a refuge with her music. Very close to emerging fashion designers, Nanae uses in her concerts fascinating garments that seem to turn her into a nymph priestess, making the audience feel that we are living a moment from which we will leave revitalized.
Nanae Uehara has released her first album, “fibrIin”, this year. I talked to her about the capabilities of ambient, about record stores and about a lot of Japanese ambient creators that any fan of the genre and of music should check.
Chorareii: Nanae, I know you carry music in your genes. Tell me about your father and how he influenced you to start making music!
My father is Yutaka Uehara, an original member of the legendary band Murahachibu, who greatly influenced Japanese rock. He was also a member of Sugar Babe, the band formed by Tatsuro Yamashita before his solo career. In addition, he was a drummer for Kiyoshiro Imawano, and participated in the recording of Eiichi Otaki’s album “A LONG VACATION”.
My father has worked with the legends who have built the Japanese music scene! He is a highly regarded drummer and is still active both in the studio and on television, participating as a musician on Kōhaku Uta Gassen [NHK’s New Year’s Eve special] and performing with The Kai Band.
I always saw my father play the drums. In my house there were also many popular instruments from Africa, Brazil, India … Since I was little I played those instruments, mainly percussion instruments.
My father had a great influence on me. He never taught me how to play the drums, but he was the one who made me aware of music and sound, how to grasp it and how to bring it to life.
You started yourself playing drums in various bands. How was that time?
At the age of ten I formed my first band, we played the song “Turn Turn Turn” by The Byrds! At that time I went to church every week with my mother, I was in the church children’s band.
Later I was part of the junior high school and high school music bands and also formed ones myself. I got to be in three bands at the same time! We played various genres: rock, hard rock, punk, alternative rock, grunge, and heavy metal, and we also created original songs. At this time I was listening to Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Linkin Park, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Vaselines, or Daniel Johnston.
I also formed another band with my friends from outside of high school, playing drums and singing. We did rock mixed with strange things [laughs]. Some of our songs were born from the rhythms I played during breaks in the rehearsal room! The dissolution of the band occurred after a live at an outdoor festival in Yoyogi Park, it is a good memory!
What was the creative transformation that made you go from drumming to ambient?
It may seem that ambient is music without a beat. But my music has a rhythm, it’s the beat of my heart! The BPM is my heart rate and it has the groove that I have cultivated playing in bands. It doesn’t have an obvious beat, but I make my music like I’m hitting the drums. Therefore, there is not much difference, it’s the same!
Ambient music is (human) music that envelops a soft core, like a stuffed animal. At the same time, it makes us feel conflicting realities. It’s like Picasso’s painting. It’s both a sound and a concept.
Your first album, “fibrIin”, was released earlier this year 2021. Tell me about the creation process!
This album was created in less than a month! I was moved to record it by a sense of responsibility, I thought I had to release an album right away. It was a cold winter and people were anxious and lonely. I wanted to neutralize that feeling with my music.
I worked in production with the desire to convey warmth. What kind of sound texture will make people feel that warmth? What wavelength would you want to hear when you go to sleep? It was like communicating with everyone, an experience that revitalized me because I hadn’t seen many people in a long time.
Every time I listen to your album from beginning to end, and also when I see you perform live, I feel that at the end my mental and physical state is totally different. Your music makes me be at peace. This is the purpose of “fibrIin”, right?
The concept behind “fibrIin” is natural healing power. My wish is that the songs on the album awaken your own healing power. The title of the album comes from the name of the protein fibrin, involved in the clotting of blood in wounds when the body of a living being spontaneously heals.
The word in English is “fibrin”, but I added in the center a capital “i” which is the initial of the Japanese word “Iyashi”, which means “healing”. Healing is a relevant and recurring theme in my music. Listen to “fibrIin” before you go to sleep!
Japan has always been a benchmark when it comes to ambient music. What Japanese artists of the genre, past or present do you like?
As for pre-2000 artists, I like Hiroshi Yoshimura’s albums “Flora” (1987), “Soft Wave For Automatic Music Box” (1973-1976), and “Music For Nine Post Cards” (1982). Also Shiho Yabuki’s album “The Body is a Message of the Universe” (1987), Haruomi Hosono’s album “Mercuric Dance” (1985), and Iruka’s single “Itsuka Tsumetai Ame Ga” (1998).
Post-2000, I like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s album “async” (2017) and Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s co-production “Summvs” (2011). I love this last one because it includes my favorite song, “By This River.” The original song is by Brian Eno, from his album “Before and After Science” (1977). Please listen to it if you haven’t!
I also like Chihei Hatakeyama’s album “Forgotten Hill” (2019), Meitei’s EP “Yabun” (2018), and “YES” by jan and naomi (2020). I like fun sounds and rhythms, and this is a fun piece to listen to. Lastly, the Opto, Opiate, and Alva Noto albums “Opto Files” (2001) and “Opto 2nd” (2004).
What is the situation of the ambient scene in Japan today? Artists, events …
I have not met many people who want to popularize ambient music. Currently, ambient music is heard in situations where there are a small number of people, or by oneself in a private space like home. I have the impression that the market is not that big yet, I would like ambient to become more relevant.
The great thing about live events is that they are shared with others. You are breathing the same air while receiving the same sound. This can also be done with ambient. You can feel the goodness and feel the others, the people, the contradictions in things, the providence of nature. You cannot feel this in a personal space.
You are very linked to fashion. You have participated in Tokyo Fashion Week and constantly work with emerging fashion designers. Tell me about your connection to fashion!
I have worked as a freelance model since I was 15 because a friend thought I might be valid. I didn’t like being photographed until then, but I learned that it could be a color palette and be transparent. For me, fashion is like drawing, it’s a progression, not just something that you wear.
In many of your concerts, you are dressed in white and you sit on the floor in a lotus-like position. If we add this to your music, your live shows look like a ritual. Do you feel that way?
One of my past musical experiences has to do with the classic piece “Thais Meditation” by Jules Massenet. At the age of three, I was watching the Ultraman Cosmos series on television and that song played. The moment it reached my ears, the wind blew, and the mist cleared and covered my heart like a sharp but painless spinning wheel.
Hopefully, I can give this kind of musical experience to the people who come to my concerts. I’m not trying to create a ritual, but if you felt that way, I think you were having that kind of experience!
I’ve talked to many musicians in Japan, but you were the first to ask me what my favorite Japanese record store is. What do record stores mean to you? What is your favorite in Japan?
The experience of finding a record feels like something very real. Old records have a unique aroma, it’s interesting that the cover varies from country to country … Music is the mirror of the times, you can learn this if you find records from various eras.
My favorite record store in Japan is Meditations (@meditations) in Kyoto. It’s on the top floor of a building, so the feeling that the light generates inside the store is incredible. Ambient music is their main genre, the store is full of music that you have probably never heard.
The selection of records and the music that plays in the store are the best. The shop owner went to India frequently, but he also sells local records, CDs, cassettes, and foreign novelties. The original products from the shop are also wonderful. Don’t miss it if you go to Kyoto!
After releasing this first album, what other projects do you have for the future?
One of my future projects is to organize an ambient festival at the end of this year or the beginning of the next. If anyone is interested in a project like this, I would be very happy if you contact me!