Billboard Japan’s Women in Music initiative launched this year in the same spirit of Billboard’s annual Women in Music issue that began in 2007, with a mission to produce interviews, live performances and panel discussions focusing on trailblazing women in the Japanese music industry.
ermhoi is the second featured artist in Billboard Japan’s Women in Music interview series. The trackmaker and singer with roots in Japan and Ireland began music at an early age and continues to release works with her own unique world view not bound by any genre or style. In 2018, she formed Black Boboi with Utena Kobayashi and Julia Shortreed. The multi-talented artist looks back on her career so far and shares how she currently feels after working in solidarity with other female solo artists in this comprehensive interview.
I understand you became a musician because you’ve always loved music since childhood. Did you have any role models, women you idolized or looked up to?
I’ve never really been conscious of female figures to look up to, but I think that a lot of fictional female characters I’ve liked have been strong, independent, and unique, like Mathilda in the movie Léon: The Professional and the title character in Amélie. But I never considered them as role models and just thought they were cool. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the musician Eiko Ishibashi [her most recent projects include the score for the Oscar-winning film Drive My Car] and for the first time, it felt like I found a woman I could look up to. I’ve never thought of anyone in terms of whether or not they’re a woman, but Ms. Ishibashi is a person whose works are fabulous and whose way of communicating with people is lovely.
Do you ever feel empowered by the music of female artists?
There are many female artists whose works I’m simply drawn to. Joni Mitchell has always been a favorite of mine. Recently, I’ve also been into the Colombian artist Lido Pimienta. Her works and performances are fascinating, and I’m inspired by the way she openly speaks about a wide range of topics including being queer and her background and also about political issues.
Do your values in terms of what you consider cool change over time?
To me, values are something that changes every second it feels like, and it’s hard to maintain for a long time. I’m the type of person whose thoughts are always going around in circles, and I don’t have any motto that I live by. I think I’ve always chosen what I thought was good at each particular moment.
As a musician, does being a woman affect your activities in any way?
Not too many people do similar things in my category of music to begin with, and since I tend to also cross over genres, I’ve always been made aware of my position as an outsider more than the difference in gender. So I might not have had too many opportunities to be aware of being a woman. But there was this one time I was categorized as what’s called a “takuroku joshi” (bedroom producer girl), which made me feel uncomfortable because recording stuff at home is just a tool of expression and it’s not like my activities center around being “a girl who records stuff at home.”
There was a time when women in the minority in a male-dominated genre were mocked as being “so-and-so joshi” (girls) in Japan, perhaps to highlight their presence, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I also often hear about the difficulties of artists categorized as “female singer-songwriters” in Japan. Male fans would criticize them in a condescending way and give them advice they didn’t ask for. In other words, mansplaining is a thing that happens a lot.
Sexual harassment has become an issue in the dance music scene, in places like clubs and music festivals for example.
I sometimes feel uncomfortable when I attend events as a listener. I don’t deny the motives of people who come to clubs to meet people, but I’m there to listen to music, and there are people who approach me more than necessary. I’m not the type of person who goes out that much, so when I do go out and have a bad experience, I wish I hadn’t come at all. And although I’ve been lucky to have never experienced such a thing, I’ve heard stories of sexual abuse and it’s a shame that opportunities to enjoy music aren’t equal.
On the other hand, such problems have come to light lately and I’ve had more opportunities to sense the determination of organizers and performers to create safe parties. There’s also a movement to even out the ratio of male and female performers, so I hope things are moving in the right direction.
You formed Black Boboi in 2018 to create a place for musicians who are hard to categorize. How did this project get started?
I was used to being the only woman in a predominantly male environment, but when I met Utena Kobayashi and Julia Shortreed we started talking about a lot of things and I realized that there were times when I wasn’t really being myself (in such environments). Not that there were misogynistic people around me, but I was still in the minority, so I felt a difference in values and sometimes felt uncomfortable in the homosocial atmosphere. I started Black Boboi because I wanted to create a community with members who shared these feelings so we could support each other.
In Japan, it feels like whenever a woman speaks out when a problem arises, they tend to be described as being a “hysterical feminist” and are shut down. That may be why women can share the problem amongst each other, but there aren’t too many opportunities to share it with men. My partner is Australian, and when I ask him about his upbringing, I get a sense that gender equality is naturally prevalent in his environment and that’s one of the reasons why I feel comfortable sharing things with him. I also get the impression that many people in the younger generation have more of an unbiased perspective.
So there are those you feel comfortable talking about gender inequality and other issues and those you don’t.
Yes, I’ve become very careful about what I say on Twitter and elsewhere, not only about gender inequality but also about social issues. I worry so much that I get uptight and find myself choosing my words too carefully. I was actually a little apprehensive about doing this interview as well.
But I decided to do it because I figured there might be something I could convey, even if I’d acquired that perspective from someone else. When I refrained from speaking out, there was a period of time when I took a break from thinking about such topics at all. I needed that time to step away, but when I noticed something and wanted to talk to people about it, I started thinking again. Now that I’ve started thinking again, it’s occurred to me that the time I wasn’t thinking was such a waste.
I recently had the opportunity to get a hands-on look at what the Japanese non-profit Houboku does, and perform at a crowdfunding concert for this organization that supports those in need mainly in northern Kyushu. I’m not a protest musician, but it occurred to me that I could shed light on other issues through music. I feel that working independently allows me to choose whether or not I speak out and to take responsibility for it.
—This interview by Rio Hirai (SOW SWEET PUBLISHING) first appeared on Billboard Japan.