So you did an all-Japanese limited release in Japan. Is there a reason why you wanted to do that?
Well, I’ve always wanted to do a Japanese album because I’m half-Japanese. My parents live in Tokoyo, and Japanese is my first language, so I’ve always wanted to make an album out there. At first, I wanted to do an original CD, but I was making “Breathing Underwater” at the same time, and it was just too much to handle, so we decided to make it a cover album. And I don’t know that Japanese songs would appeal in any other part of the world — it might? But Japan is like a bubble, and I think it’s one of the few countries where domestic music makes up like 80 percent or 85 percent of all music sales. International is a little teeny tiny, so I don’t think anyone even thought of releasing it anywhere else.
Did you get a good reception in Japan from it? Did people like it?
Yeah, they liked it, but they actually liked my original, my first album even more. “Unfold,” yeah.
You did a web mini series with “Breathing Underwater.” Is there a reason you wanted to do that? Did you see it as an opportunity to connect more with fans or something like that? Or was it kind of a studio idea?
Well, it’s an idea that was definitely pitched to me, but I thought it was a really good idea. Instead of just doing a music video for one song, the concept was let’s do a movie utilizing every song on the album, and I thought that was a brilliant concept. The actual making of the movie was a little bit disastrous, but it was a good experience. The whole thing was improv.
How was it disastrous?
Well, I guess enough time has passed now that I can say it, but the people making the movie were nuts.
I think maybe they didn’t ever listen to my music, or maybe they thought that I was Miley Cyrus or Hilary Duff. I was like 25 or 26 years old at the time, but I think the movie is more intended for a 16-year-old, so we had to do a lot of tweaking. It was just a really hectic. I call it the “Crazy Movie.” It was just crazy, and I’m surprised that anything turned out from that.
So they were trying to market you as Miley Cyrus? As teen pop?
Yeah, like literally it was a war everyday with the people doing the movie. “Okay, like today we are going to do a water gun scene.” I was like, “No, that’s not going to really work with this.” [laughs]
Oh my god. That sounds terrible.
“Everybody is going to wear hot shorts, like hot pants, and fight with water guns,” and I was like, “Oh no. No.”
Did you have any control over it? Could you say, “I don’t want to do that”?
You know, it got so bad where the only card I could use was, “I’m not going to show up anymore if we do the hot shorts and the water guns.”
So it sounds like you haven’t had the greatest experience with corporate hands. Are you really happy to be doing independent stuff, and are you going to continue to do independent stuff?
I would like to as much as I can. The obvious, biggest challenge is how do you get the funds. You know, if you’re not some super rich person, how do you get the funds to make the album of your dreams, to go on tour. That’s really the only challenge though. Everything else is amazing.
How important do you think it was to your career that you were able to connect so personally to your fans through YouTube? Do you think that affects your recording artist career, or do you think that’s totally separate?
No, it’s everything to me. I think that the best part about YouTube is the fact that I totally overlooked that it was going to be for my career. I told you I didn’t really want to do YouTube in the beginning — I started it reluctantly, but what it gave me was this incredible direct connection to the fans and they do not give a “mmm” if I’m on a major label or if I’m by myself. They just want music, and they want more videos, and that’s what ‘s been amazing is there is no middle man, you know? When I was in my home making videos in my bathroom, in my living room, it was just whatever I wanted to do, so that gave me a lot of freedom.
Right, and YouTube’s a really beautiful format in that way where anyone can do what they want to do. You don’t need a ton of resources; all you need is a Macbook and a webcam, and I think that is such a beautiful format because if you want to make it you can make it. That’s what YouTube is.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can even be like 60 years old from North Dakota in your garage. If you’re good, you’re good, and people will listen.
Do you have a favorite album that you’ve put out on your own? Do you have one that you’re so proud of, and that’s the one that you love above any other album you’ve put out?
I mean, I love all my albums. “Unfold” did the best, and I’m really happy about that because I was really hands on with that album. We took like a year to make it, and I played a lot of the instruments on it. But I still love “Breathing Underwater,” which didn’t do so well but was such a beautiful little moment in time. We made the whole thing in like two months. Everything was really condensed, but it was also my time to experiment and see how far I could kind of push myself. But I really think that this album I’m making now is the first album that I’ve truly, truly loved.
For people who want to be singers, songwriters, do you have any advice for them?
I would say know what you have to offer. For instance, with myself, I am not Whitney Houston. I don’t have a big range, I’m not like a vocal gymnast, but I have a nice tone. People want to listen to my voice, so I try to make them feel something when I sing. I try to pick songs in my range, but if you have a big voice then pick the songs that will fit your voice. Just know who you are. I think it’s just knowing who you are and what you have to offer and what makes you special and unique and exploiting that. And if you are a songwriter, write songs. Write great songs that people want to cry to, fall in love to, laugh to, whatever — songs that will last.