Interview with Chocoholic
Miyuki Kudo AKA Chocoholic is an up and coming producer/songwriter based in Tokyo, working with the likes of SIRUP, LULU X, Mark Redito and kev as well as regularly writing for TV commercials. Royce Leong of Tokyo ON catches up with her over a café mocha to find out more about her origins, influences and life in Tokyo
Tokyo ON: Where are you originally from within Japan? Tell us a little about your life growing up
Chocoholic: I'm from Miyazaki. I don't remember it much...it was nice, peaceful, not much stuff to do, so I just spent time with family, going to different places on weekends and I had lots of time to listen to music, so yeah, it was good.
TO: Did you learn any musical instruments when you were a child?
C: Yeah I learned how to play the Electone*...I took group lessons, well, only two of us at the start, but later on I changed school so I went to see a private piano teacher.
*A keyboard synthesizer made by Yamaha found commonly in Japanese homes
TO: Did that give you a musical background?
C: I was only doing it a little bit, but then later on, I think it gave me a chance to...it definitely got me interested in making music because as I practiced at home, I was more interested in writing my own songs rather than practicing, so that kind of got me into writing!
TO: What were you listening to at that time?
C: In high school, at the start, I discovered Eminem...after that I got into Avril Lavigne. Punk rock/power pop was pretty popular at the time.
TO: How'd you get from there to here? From rock to R&B/hip-hop?
C: So I used to listen to lots of rock music in high school, then I went to Melbourne and I was introduced to new and different kinds of music there.
TO: What made you decide to go to Australia to study?
C: That's pretty simple. I wanted to study music and my mother didn't think that music alone could be practical, so she wanted me to learn English as well. She's Taiwanese so she can actually speak three languages including English so she knows how important it is to learn different languages.
TO: Does that mean you had connections in Melbourne? A lot of Chinese, Taiwanese have relatives in Australia.
C: Not in Australia. But as you suggest, I do have relatives in the States.
TO: The U.S. was not an option then?
C: Too expensive, and also could be dangerous. We found a good school in Melbourne, so I decided to go to Australia.
TO: You mentioned people introduced you to music in Australia, was that through school then?
C: Yeah at school as well, I was introduced to jazz music, and outside of school, my boyfriend at the time liked old school rock like AC/DC, and then of course in Melbourne, there are lots of cool independent artists, and so many live music venues. I used to live in Brunswick where they had open mic nights, and lots of events. Acoustic performances, small bands, it was really fun.
TO: Did you enjoy it in Australia? What do you miss, if anything?
C: Yeah I did...I miss coffee culture. Japan is good too, but I miss coffee in Australia. It's more expensive drinking coffee here as well.
TO: Given your artist name is Chocoholic, did you pick up a love of chocolate before Australia?
C: I always had a sweet tooth, I guess it’s my childhood thing, I always ate a bag of sweets a day.
TO: What's your favorite chocolate in Australia?
C: It's hard to choose, but I like Tim Tams and Maltesers.
TO: Did you ever try those other crazy flavors of Tim Tams like mango and pineapple?
C: Yeah some of them, I liked that dark chocolate one with the berries.
TO: Could you have stayed in Australia?
C: I was only there as a student, so I couldn't really stay for visa reasons. And also at the time when I was in Melbourne, Perfume and Nakata Yasutaka was big in Japan, and I liked their music, so that made me kind of miss Japanese music a little bit. It kind of showed me a good part of Japanese music. Until then I wasn't really into Japanese music, but that made me listen to more J-pop, so I thought that was a good time to come back.
TO: You didn't leave Japan because you disliked it or anything then? I know a few Japanese people who find it difficult to express themselves in Japan and end up leaving for Canada or Australia, etc.
C: No, I didn't feel that, I always wanted to get out of Miyazaki but it could have been anywhere, it could have been Tokyo. When you're young you don't know anything, so I decided to go to Melbourne, which was great and it really opened my eyes.
TO: So how did you get to Tokyo? When you graduated did you go back to Miyazaki?
C: I stayed in Melbourne for a year to do a bit of recording and engineering work. When I went back, I found a job and came straight to Tokyo. I got to work at a music management company, which also had a dance studio, so I was the receptionist there because I could speak a little bit of English so I could translate as well when I wasn't a receptionist. It’s quite different from what I'm doing now!
TO: You've lived in three cities now, Miyazaki, Melbourne and Tokyo - how do you feel about Tokyo?
C: Tokyo is a trendy city, people dress nicely...the food is amazing, that's probably the best thing for me. Although I usually get lost where to go, I've been living here for five years, for the first two or three years there's always somewhere to go, but now I don't know where to go. I'm a bit bored. But there's always something new, things like Robot Restaurant and Monster Cafe in Harajuku, there's always weird entertainment that can only exist in Tokyo. I usually don't go out anymore <laughs> In this modern era with Netflix, you don't go out anymore.
<Chocoholic as producer/artist>
TO: Your tracks on Soundcloud like First Class and your releases with Lulu X and SIRUP have a real bounce to it, but how did you get to this sound given that you used to listen to rock and stuff like Eminem?
C: I always liked R&B type of music, and I listen to a lot of hip hop as well now, that's where I find inspiration and I think that's reflected in my music. I'm recently getting better at making this type of music, finally I see my skills improving so I can't wait to show everyone what I'm working on. These days I listen to so many different artists on Spotify and Soundcloud and you always discover new artists every day. Although sometimes it's useful to limit yourself because there's so much out there.
TO: What are you listening to at the moment? Who are your favorite artists or producers?
C: I’ve been listening to a lot of Rejjie Snow and Knox Fortune right now. As for my favorite producers/artists, I’d like to name a few Japanese creators - I like Teppei and CIRRRCLE! I really like them since their use of instruments is so minimal but the songs are so groovy!
TO: What would you say is your representative sound? Would that be like your track Jealousy?
C: Oh that's an old song. I still like it even now. I guess my sound is more emotional, there's always some kind of emotion. My sound is still evolving, because I work with lots of female artists, as a female producer, I feel like my role is to find out how to make them shine as female singers, that's what I try to reflect in my songs too.
TO: Do you want to sing more?
C: Yeah I'm making more songs with me singing just for fun. I feel that nowadays its better if artists can show their colors, people appreciate artists who express themselves more. So I think it's good if producers can sing as well. If you have originality it’s more important than being a great singer, as a producer I know how to change vocals, I'm not a great singer but I know how to make myself sound ok <laughs>
TO: You sang in English. Do you prefer English?
C: That's a hard question, it depends on your singing style. For my songs, I do prefer English lyrics, but I didn't realize until I met SIRUP that with Japanese if you know how to, you can make it sound more similar to English or Korean. You can carry the same flow with Japanese. I didn't realize that until recently...I think there's a certain flow or delivery that I like about English and Korean songs that Japanese songs often don't have, so that's why I prefer English. I don’t usually listen to lyrics, I tend to listen to the melody, so I prefer the flow of English, not so much the lyrics.
But maybe it doesn't matter if the lyrics are interesting or have originality. A lot of Japanese songs are about love, so I just got sick of it.
TO: You don't want to write those kind of songs?
C: No I do like it! But in English, I feel like you can say things that sound silly in Japanese. You can say it better in English. It's too forced or straight in Japanese. Something like "I miss you" in English, in Japanese "koishii"....you wouldn't say that...or "aishiteiru" you wouldn't say that either...it's too ewww <shudders>. But in English you can say that. Those little things I feel are more acceptable to say in English.
TO: Obviously you write for other people but do you want to put an album together yourself?
C: Yeah for my own stuff definitely, finally I'm ready for it, I'm working on it, so maybe later this year, sometime soon even! I wasn't really big on releasing an EP or a set of tracks before because these days I just listen to single songs. But right now I feel like I have five or six songs that I'm really confident in, that people will like, there's no junk. I feel like sometimes there's only one good song on an album! I just don't understand why artists would release an album when there's only one decent song on it.
As a human being, I'm always evolving, encountering new sounds, and creating new things, so I have songs now that I'm happy to share. The songs came first, it's not like I'm contracted to make an album, so now I'm ready to release something and I think it's going to be good.
TO: Do you consider yourself really productive? How fast can you make tracks? Or do you prefer to take your time and try to tweak every little thing?
C: I work pretty fast, because I do commercial work, so I have to work fast in that sense. But for my songs, there’s no deadline so I tend to take a lot of time. Haha
TO: What do you do to get inspired when you need a creative burst?
C: It depends, sometimes inspiration it comes naturally, but when it doesn't I like to listen to lots of music or get to know more about the creative side of music, something that makes me excited about writing music. There’s always something I don’t know, it could be about music theory, or some kind of exotic rhythm, I just go online and find new things. Sometimes I like to go deeper, other times, when I can't even be bothered doing that, I should probably step away. I also watch a lot of Netflix, so that allows me to get refreshed.
TO: "We've got to go" with Makaw (from Sydney) is a fun track, where would you like to go in the world for an adventure?
C: There's so many places I want to go...this year I think I'm going to visit Korea, and maybe go back to Melbourne because it's been over five years and there's always friends that I want to see...I miss the food in Melbourne.
TO: Do you travel much in Japan?
C: Not really so far...because I grew up in Miyazaki I kind of start missing the green of the countryside so I feel like I need to get away sometimes. I've only been taking breaks recently so that's something I want to do in the near future. I should probably give it a go, travel somewhere by myself, but I've just been too busy. And also I always looked for a purpose to go some place, not just travel for the sake of it. But I think that might be nice now, I might come back refreshed.
TO: What do you have in mind for the future? What do you want to focus on - your production, marketing, networking, live events?
C: For this year, I wouldn't say I'm planning too much for the future, but I just want to be good at what I do. I'm not going to limit myself to the Japanese market, I'll continue to evolve my sound and I want to be able to work in the international market more. That would be my goal.
TO: What direction can see your sound evolving in the future (more organic, more chiptune, more dance, sample based, ambient)?
C: I guess I will be trying something new always, my sound will always be something that will not be overplayed or too old, always a modern sound. For this upcoming release it's going to be R&B/hip hop, but next year I'm not sure. What I can say, is that it will always be emotional. And new. My sound will always be happy. Even if it’s a sad song, there's always going to be a happy side, a positive side.
TO: Thanks for your time and we look forward to your upcoming release!