Emi Kusano, born in Tokyo, Japan in 1990, graduated from the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies at SFC, Keio University. She is the leader of the singing electro-unit, Satellite Young. There she is in charge of singing, songwriting, concept work and music video direction, and in 2017 appeared at the world’s largest music festival, SXSW. As for personal activities, alongside writing and appearing in events, commercials, radio and television, she also does concept planning as well as consulting for content targeting millennials, taking advantage of her experience working at an advertising agency. She also was the 2018 MC Assistant for the BS Nippon program, NITEL SENSORS.
What made you decide to become a singer?
There were venues for expression around me, but I didn't know what to do. Then I had the chance to speak with Sputniko, and I met Bellemaison Sekine. From that I started to feel that I wanted to express the feeling of the 1980’s, and that’s how it started.
Sekine was my senior at university, so we had meetings in the school cafeteria, and I asked my friends to help me use the school's facilities and do it all by myself.
As I posted my work on the internet, it was seen by many different people, and as I collaborated with creators from around the world, the world of Satellite Young took shape.
What is important to you when make music?
I try to be rather intuitive, and I don't want what I write to convey a clear message. I enjoy playing with words and leaving it up to the reader to interpret.
In terms of lyrics, they tend to combine stories around romance about my friends and myself or from movies and novels, so stories that focus on the heart, with stories that pick up on technological innovations or world news, the things that are being written about in new paperbacks.
The structure of the songs has a J-pop feel to it.
The lyrics themselves are not based on the 80s?
I think Satellite Young's origins lie in the use of the Japanese language in the late 80s and 90s.
It's shifted recently, but the modulation in the chorus and the use of English at the end of the chorus, those things are still sprinkled throughout.
What are some of the best moments for you as Satellite Young?
When I have people from overseas listen to my work, and when I can connect with them through what I've created despite the difference in cultures, it feels like a miracle and I really feel glad I did this.
Being able to create from all over the world with people who can express themselves in ways that I can't through Satellite Young also makes me feel great that I do this.
Is there anything you did during your time as a student that was useful to you?
I met a lot of people, and working in the side of the media was a great experience for me.The range of people I could get to know expanded.
The reason why I'm not restricted to one genre is because I was able to see many different worlds.
I tried various things during my university days, and the values I cultivated in those days were the foundation of what I currently am and do as an artist. I think coming from a unique background helped me become more valued.
So you've met a lot of people and that’s how your range of expression has expanded?
Yes. I was able to meet people who were role models, and by expressing what I wanted to do, I got to meet Sputniko and receive the opportunity to teach at TUA.
Of course, if you are going to meet people, you have to say, "This is what I am doing!”
As you mentioned, before Satellite Young, you had been working as an artist and starting your own business, as well as getting married, having children, and working in a company.
What keeps you challenged and what keeps you energized?
I guess it's because I have a consistent worldview within my mind.
Doing just one thing can get tiring for me quickly, and I'm glad I get to be diverse in what I do through Satellite Young.
Another thing is to keep up the intellectual curiosity, which is the source of energy.
Even though I'm working on various projects, I think I can be active with the confidence that I'm doing fine as I have this consistent sense of “love and hate for retro technology and the world of the 80's when mass media was powerful”, which makes me a consistent artist.
You were a student when you got married and had a baby, so you must have been going through a lot of tough times, but that intellectual curiosity supported you those times too?
Yes, I think so. I always had the desire to be a minority within me, and I felt the need to fight in a field that was different from other people's.
Well, when it comes to marriage and childbirth, it's all about timing.
It's not something I would recommend to others unless all the conditions are met, but personally I'm glad I made that choice.
The reason why I have a certain amount of confidence in myself even though I am going down a different path from everyone else is because the way I built up my career and my lifestyle doesn't overlap with those of any other, so I think I have no choice but to continue on my own path.
When you do this, you'll find yourself surrounded by people who are super-unique and you'll become friends with other minorities.
Are there any events that have left a lasting impression on you, either as a catalyst for your growth or as a source of inspiration?
Yes, I think so. Last year or so I started making things other than music. I wanted to make media art, and my work, Instababy Generator was selected for SIGGRAPH.
When I exhibited in Australia, I was asked to explain my work much more than ever before, and I had to express myself in my own words, which was quite difficult.
Even trying to make work, I struggled to make anything more satisfying than when I was doing Satellite Young, which was based on a certain worldview. If you don't create anything, nothing starts. I also learned that it takes a significant amount of money to create your ideal work.
When I was a student, if I wanted to make my ideal work, I would just make it with my talented friends and it would be easy, but when I try to do that as a work, it takes a lot of money, and so looking back, being in an environment where I can just create something I think of was a blessing.
After Satellite Young played at South by Southwest, I was asked to make my major label debut, and I worked with the label to write a song for them, but that was really a lot of work (laughs).
Music is an entertainment business, so I tried to make something catchy and bubbly with a label, but it ended up not sounding like Satellite Young at all, and in this time and age I couldn’t see the point of debuting from a major label, and I chose to go with indie labels where I could do a lot of things more freely.
What do you do when things don't turn out the way you had hoped, or when you get stuck in a situation?
A lot of things haven’t gone well due to COVID-19, and as staying home became a daily occurrence, I started to put more emphasis on creating.
Lately, I've been making a conscious effort to create a sub-project to try new things apart from work.
I also find reading books and listening to audiobooks while I walk around as somewhat therapeutic.Reading novels allows me to simulate a life that I haven't really experienced yet, so I try to pick up words from them and turn them into lyrics.
So it’s good to not just focus on the things you're stuck in, but to have a different perspective?
Yes, I guess so. Also, when I wasn't able to film a music video anymore, I thought there was something I could do with virtual reality instead, so I learned about a CG software called Unity.
I'm always thinking of positive solutions.When I get mentally weak, I always think that I should just read, walk, and talk to people, and I do just that.Lately I've been going through a lot of helpless situations, so sometimes I do get depressed, but that has led me to think I have to take good care of my mental and physical health.
I just think my brain is simply an object where chemicals and electric signals go back and forth all the time (laughs). Oh, maybe I’m lacking in serotonin, or I made weird decisions because my brain balance is so bad (laughs). I'm trying to focus on fixing that brain balance.
I think mental health is going to be even more important in the future.
What do you do mindlessly at work or in other areas of your life?
Lately, I've been playing Minecraft with my kids.
When I'm writing songs, I'm really focused. There are times when I can't write a song at all, but even if I'm not satisfied, I just type away at my ideas, or if I'm feeling unhappy, I try to write that feeling really roughly down by hand.
When I'm writing songs, I'm really focused.There are times when I can't write a song at all, but even if I'm not satisfied, I just type away at my ideas, or if I'm feeling unhappy, I try to write that feeling really roughly down by hand. I think it's very important to be mindless and just keep going.
What are your dreams, goals or themes for the future and for your life?
Compared to other industries, the art world has much more people in need of money, even though we have to refrain from being active, so I think we need to rethink our vulnerability in this area.
Becoming somewhat financially independent in what you love to do is a goal.
I think it's better to invest money in your future or donate it to something.
I would like to think about how I can contribute to society in my work.
I think it's important to know about environmental problems, which we haven't thought about before, and what problems are happening now.
That's why I recommend reading.
There are a lot of articles with sensationalist titles on the internet, and you really have to think deeply. It would be great if I could learn about the world through primary information and then sublimate that into my work.
But my goal right now is to create something that I can do now.
I'm going to release a song as a solo project called "Emi Satellite", so I'm working hard on that.
How do you think the future of art will be affected by the coronavirus, SDGs and technology?
I think it will continue to diversify in the future, but I think there needs to be a system where artists and expressing individuals can make a little more money on their own.There needs to be more platforms for art, like ArtSticker.
It's true that the status of culture is low in terms of politics as well, and I think that's an issue that needs to be addressed.
Lastly, could you give a word to the students at TUA?
I think it is historically a tough time for you all to be an art student.
I think it must be really hard to study at home without access to the facilities and the environment of a campus, but I hope you could cherish your time as a student and try to share your work with others beyond borders. Trying to cooperate remotely on a work, for example.
And make sure to put it on Youtube, Vimeo, Behance, etc.! I think you should sell yourself to a lot of places.
I hope you’ll be able to see many worlds with your own works as a catalyst.
Thank you for the time today.