Music has always been something that has been able to bring joy on a universal level, but it’s no secret that some genres are based heavily in one place and scare elsewhere. Take R&B for example, a genre many in America recognize in an instant thanks to acts like older artists like Boyz II Men and newcomers such as SZA. In Japan though, we wondered what the R&B scene was like since we came to know VivaOla. Born and now based in Japan, we opened with the R&B scene in Japan and throughout talked remote work, art collectives, and more.
Kendra: From fashion to tech, Tokyo has proven to be next-level in so many ways. How does the R&B scene compare to the other scenes out there right now?
VivaOla: I feel that R&B music is definitely not part of the mainstream music in Japan. And I hate to admit this, but there is so much J-Pop music that’s being marketed as “R&B” music. But that’s not to say that there is no R&B scene in Japan at all. I’ve discovered and met R&B artists that I feel are musically competent even across the globe. The scene itself is there, it’s just not discovered and accepted by the public yet.
Kendra: Like every genre, R&B has gone through some noticeable evolutions; from the soul of the ‘80s to the mainstream powerhouses of the ‘90s to the more alternative approaches thanks to the likes of SZA and The Weeknd. Where do you feel you fit into the mix and where do you see R&B heading next?
VivaOla: I don’t want to limit myself to a single sound of R&B music. I love all styles of R&B music and was influenced by them. In my last mini-album ‘STRANDED,’ I was going for that perfect balance of Japanese and English (lyrically) and was trying to experiment blending different musical genres with R&B such as reggaetón, new jack swing, boom bap, trap, and even synth-pop. But of all the styles, I’m personally liking the sound of R&B/Hip-Hop these days, and I can see R&B sound heading towards somewhere around there.
Kendra: You dropped an EP last year and in June 2020 came ‘Stranded.’ With them, only a year apart in terms of release, were there any songs that didn’t make it onto the EP that got reworked and flushed out a bit more, and landed on the LP?
VivaOla: None actually. The EP and the LP were completely different in terms of their making processes. The main difference between the EP and the LP is my mindset as an artist. In the EP, I had a mindset of a producer, whereas in the LP I had a mindset of a singer. However, going back to the original question, there are some songs I released that are a work of a few other songs which didn’t make it into a cut. For example, “Tokyo Syndrome’s” verse and chorus were two different choruses from different songs, and when I mashed them up in a single song I felt that they sounded better than before. All I had to make sure was the lyrics had to be written again just so they are coherent.
Kendra: There is an art collective, Solgasa, that you’re a part of. Can you explain what being a member of that does for your creativity?
VivaOla: While I always look out for other artists for my inspiration, Solgasa members are my buddies and rivals at the same time. There are so many things I could learn from other members in that collective, and I truly feel blessed to be part of it. Also, collaborations are another thing that makes this collective thing special. It makes it easy to link up and make songs together, help each other out on their tracks, and so on.
Kendra: That’s how you linked up with Tommi Crane for “The Artist,” right? When you worked on that track you two utilized the very 2020-way of working with you being in Korea at the time and Tommi in Japan. When you two did that, did you realize that working from a distance would become such the norm it is today?
VivaOla: Yes. Honestly working like that wasn’t the first time for me at all. When I worked on “Tokyo Syndrome” with Wez, that was me in Boston and him back in Japan working on the same song. Also when I worked on his song “Overthink,” I made the whole track in Boston, sent it to him, then he recorded his vocals, sent those back, then my friend and a producer, Nonomi mixed and mastered the song. So I would say the 2020-way of remotely working on a song is becoming a norm already and if not, it’s a matter of time.
Kendra: With all that has transpired this year, how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward?
VivaOla: This may sound a little sad, but 2020 didn’t change my career at all since I stay at home most of the time working on music anyways. But with all the quarantine that we’ve all been through, I can say that it changed my life and how I perceive things in life. So many things, relationships, and efforts that I thought were important turned out to be the opposite after all, and I was able to open my eyes to other things that were important for me and my mental health (I’m still working on it day by day). These realizations and relearning of myself was a big part of 2020 for me.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
VivaOla: There are usually two ways to go about whenever I’m feeling like a mess. One is to listen to some rock songs to get through and the other is to listen to “Get You” by Daniel Caesar on repeat. I’ve been preparing a lot of stuff since June, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to announce those very soon so please be sure to check my Instagram for more information in the future.