Japan's HARU NEMURI Talks Love, Faith & Anger in New Album, 'Lovetheism': Interview

Haru Nemuri
Courtesy of Billboard Japan

HARU NEMURI

Japanese indie artist HARU NEMURI -- known for her distinctive musical style mixing poetry reading, rap and shouting -- has a solid following outside of her home country, although she performs in her native language. She explains that this is because her fans understand that her music "links rhythm, not words, to the emotion" being expressed.

The 25-year-old singer-songwriter's music spread by word-of-mouth over the internet after a well-known American music critic reviewed her work, and she has performed in a number of European and Asian music festivals in the past few years.

Last year, HARU NEMURI -- her stage name literally translates to "Spring Sleep," with Haru being the "family name" -- performed at one of Spain's leading music festivals, Primavera Sound 2019, and was slated to hit this year's SXSW before it was canceled due to coronavirus. She recently became the first Japanese artist to be showcased at Midem's Talent Exporter Presented by Amuse, a virtual booth that introduces up-and-coming artists from around the world in the global music business conference held online this year.

In March, Haru released her highly anticipated new studio album, LOVETHEISM ("love-theism"), the follow-up to Haru to Shura, her project from 2018 that was rated positively in RYM (Rate Your Music), AOTY (Album of The Year) and other online music databases.

Haru spoke to Tomonori Shiba via video chat about her new album, sharing the concept behind the word "lovetheism" that she coined, and went into detail about the themes of love, prayer, and anger featured in her latest project.

You became known outside of Japan thanks to The Needle Drop's Anthony Fantano reviewing your works, right?

Yes. Before that, I used to be roughly categorized as being in a similar vein as (J-pop female rappers) DAOKO and Wednesday Campanella (KOM_I) in reviews and introductions in Japanese media, so I was really happy that he spoke highly of my track-making skills. He noted that although my music is J-pop or J-rock as a genre, it includes experimental elements as well as electronica, noise, post-hardcore and art-rock, which were contexts that I'd been putting in but not too many people had mentioned before because I never spelled it out.

How would you describe the periodical background of your music?

I used to listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a lot of alternative music from the late 2000s to the 2010s, so there's probably some influence there. From there, I went back and listened to the Pixies and such. I also love Bjork. In J-pop, I really love Seiko Oomori. I don't like music that has no context, so I want to make new stuff that reflects the roots that exist there.

Tell us about LOVETHEISM. It opens with an uplifting number called "Fanfare." What was your intent behind that?

I was already thinking about my next project when I finished the previous one, so I wanted to declare that I would be ending one phase and entering the next. I figured "fanfare" would be necessary to kick something off, so I looked up the meaning and definition of the term, listened to fanfares in classical music, and decided to write a song called "Fanfare" that really begins with fanfare.

The motif of love seems to take up a large portion of your latest album, as can be seen in such tracks as "Trust Nothing but Love." Could you elaborate on the reason for this?

I think that primordial love itself is to "be aware that it simply exists," and that people are incapable of doing anything else, like caring for oneself or others. It feels like everyone has "love" and "caring about other people" plastered all over them, and I really wanted to level all of that out. When I say "Trust Nothing but Love," I don't mean it in a benevolent kind of way. Acknowledging that love simply exists is really hard, so it's a battle against that difficulty. I say it repeatedly because I want to believe that it's so. That's what this song is about.

Occasionally, I've had people tell me, "I can hang in there and go to work because your music exists," but I think that was just because they happened to feel that way. My music might have helped them because it happened to be close by, but I don't think I was the one who helped them. When people feel like dying, you can't do anything for them, can you? If people are incapable of doing anything, then music is even more useless. In order for something to be done, that person has to be the one to grasp that sliver of "wanting to live" within the "wanting to die."

Music is the only thing I can do, and that's what I do, but the entirety of my output can only be equal to a small piece of someone's heart. I have no choice but to accept that. It's nothing more and nothing less. If I were to misunderstand that, it would lead to a mode of narcissism or heroism, like, "I'm whittling my life away doing this." I really do understand that feeling, but that's probably not love. I thought about stuff like that, and it became that song.

What's the origin of the title, LOVETHEISM?

When I was working on the title track, "Lovetheism," I thought about faith while writing the lyrics for the hook. I went to a Christian junior high and high school, and think that believing in something and praying are beautiful acts in themselves, and I don't mean to deny the existence of God/gods, but I feel that once we give names to such things that we can't see, they lose substance. Then I looked up how to say "theism" in English and found out after I learned the word that it could be used as a suffix, as in monotheism.

From there, I thought about the "god-like thing" that I believe exists and what it could inhabit without it losing substance. If "love" were to be defined as "something to acknowledge that exists," then that's the only thing I believe in. I thought, "that's it," and searched "lovetheism" but couldn't find it anywhere, so I decided to create the word before anyone else claimed it, and used it as the title.

Praying is a major motif in "Apple Song," too, for example.

I wrote "Apple Song" after my guinea pig "Ringo" (Japanese word for "apple") died. She was limp when I woke up one morning. I took her to the vet, and was bawling the entire way there. They told me they'd do everything they could, and as I cried while waiting, I was also praying. It occurred to me then that when we run out of things we can do, putting aside whether or not we'll actually be saved, praying is an act we're still allowed to do. So, I want to value the act of praying.

This album also features anger, doesn't it?

Yes, it really, really does. The sound might be bright, and I might be singing positive words like "trust nothing but love," but I can't stop it from seeping through and don't want to erase it, either.

First, there's the anger stemming from feelings like, "why am I alive" and "why do we have to keep on living" and "why was I even born," and while this anger can't be and shouldn't be taken out on someone else, it's possible to break down as two types of stress: one from simply being alive and the other from living in society. There's nothing I can do about the former, but I think I might be able to change the latter by expressing myself.

What I said about love being "something to acknowledge that exists" also stems from anger. To give an example, I think it's wrong for the majority to enjoy comfort because the voices of the minority can't be heard. So I think we all should acknowledge that each and everyone else simply exists.

I feel like I was raised in a society where the prevalent sentiment is "you should shut up about things that can't be talked about." It's a convenient way of thinking, and I feel like I've been roped into acting accordingly. We're facing a difficult phase, but fundamentally, we should listen to our emotions. If you feel that something is unpleasant, then you should think about the reason why. If you ignore it, things will become worse and worse, and you'll stop noticing that you're being robbed.

Do you think that sense of "being robbed" has to do with your generation?

I think it does. I get this sense of being forced to give up thinking. When I look at the people around me, I can tell that their lives are being destroyed. The way of thinking that "if you live in a respectful manner, then that will eventually lead to opposition against a greater evil" is no longer relevant. And that scares me.

There are expressions in art and music that are meant to be escapist. What you're saying is that this isn't the time to be escaping?

Yes. I get that feeling of wanting to escape, but because I understand it, I no longer choose to. But the song "Be Your Ocean" is the result of such feelings. People are free to cling to their feelings. I happen to think that it's not the kind of emotion I should be tossing at people right now, but I need songs like that sometimes, too. It felt like it'd be a lie if I included only bright songs, so I left that one in.

You completed this album around the beginning of this year, right? That means the COVID-19 pandemic didn't have anything to do with its content. But hearing it now after what has been happening makes it sound like it's closely linked to the current climate.

That's true, but while there are many things that changed drastically due to coronavirus, I think that in certain respects, it just visualized the things that couldn't be seen before. Before it happened, most of us were "unaware of the war zone that was right there," you know? I think my music will become unnecessary when the world becomes truly peaceful, so as paradoxical as it may seem, I get a sense that my music is becoming more needed in these times.

LOVETHEISM Track List
(All songs written and produced by HARU NEMURI)

1. Fanfare
2. Trust Nothing but Love
3. Pink Unicorn
4. Lovetheism
5. Be Your Ocean
6. Riot
7. Apple Song

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