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Interview: Hiromi Kanda – Discussing Her New Album Days of Yesterday

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Days of Yesterday, Hiromi Kanda’s sophomore album, delivers another batch of tastefully arranged classics from the Great American Songbook. As with the Japanese singer’s English-language debut, 2010’s Hiromi in Love, a few original songs sit comfortably alongside the standards. Both albums were produced by Kanda’s husband, Yusuke Hoguchi. The husband and wife team composed the original numbers together, with Hoguchi responsible for the music while Kanda added lyrics.

In addition to Kanda’s passionate and expressive interpretations, Days of Yesterday displays her great love of the traditions of American big band music via lush orchestrations. The songs were arranged by Matt Catingub, who also conducted the orchestra. Catingub filled the same role for Hiromi in Love, which was recorded with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Shortly after that album was completed, the one-hundred-and-ten-year-old symphony disbanded (due to financial trouble). Though the Honolulu Symphony is on the road to recovery (under new management), Days of Yesterday features a new group of musicians.

I recently spoke with Hiromi Kanda about recording the new album and her overall transition to the American music industry.

Congratulations on Days of Yesterday, you must be very excited. Any plans to perform in support of the new album?

We are thinking of a concert in Los Angeles, maybe November, at Catalina Bar & Grill, in West Hollywood. I want to go everywhere. But right now I have just one planned, because the United States is very wide. The band members from Days of Yesterday live in Los Angeles, so they are able to play.

On Days of Yesterday you have the great tenor sax player Pete Christlieb as part of the horn section. And pianist Joe Sample turns up on a few songs.

Yes, Pete Christlieb is very great. He is featured on “It Had to Be You” and “All of Me.” Joe Sample plays on three songs: “Smile,” “Memories of You,” and “Goonight Yesterday.” He came from Texas to play. He’s a genius. He also has a great personality.

In addition to arranging and conducting, Matt Catingub adds some excellent alto sax solos throughout the album. What can you tell me about your collaboration with him?

Matt and I met two years ago in Honolulu. He was the conductor of the Honolulu Symphony. We had a chance to work with the Honolulu Symphony, with arrangements by Matt. For Days of Yesterday, we recorded in Los Angeles because the Honolulu Symphony broke up. Sad story.

And in Los Angeles, you recorded in the famed Capitol Studios, with quite a well known engineer – seventeen-time Grammy Award winner Al Schmitt. How did that come about?

When we had a chance to go to into the studio, we were thinking of an engineer. My husband, Yusuke Hoguchi, was the producer of the album. He recommended Al Schmitt. He’s a gentleman and a very fantastic talent. And we worked for two weeks. One week for my vocal recording and one week for the orchestra.

What was it like recording at Capitol Studios?

It’s an amazing studio. They have a unique sound system. It was an honor to record there with such a great engineer and arranger. Hiromi In Love was not recorded in a studio, but rather in a concert hall.

How did you select the songs?

Choosing songs is very important for me, because the album’s feeling is dependent upon those songs. My husband and I chose from a list of one hundred songs.

Was the arranging process extensive?

Matt and Hoguchi spent a lot of time in meetings, figuring out what key was best for me. It took maybe three months to arrange all the songs.

One aspect of both albums that I greatly admire is the inclusion of numerous original songs. How do you and your husband write together?

The music is first. Yusuke writes the melody and he creates the arrangement. Then the melody and arrangement inspire me. I can imagine it like a scene from a movie. And then I compose the lyrics. It’s easy.

Prior to recording these albums, you worked as a lyricist for Japanese artists. Were you successful?

I wrote many songs for artists in Japan. I had little success. My husband had great success because he had written and produced many big-selling hit songs in Japan. I wanted to get back to singing. I wanted to sing in the United States, in English.

I understand your career first took off after you won a television singing completion?

That was a long time ago, I was nineteen. I won the contest, which was like American Idol in Japan. And I became a professional singer. I didn’t like the image [they created] so I stopped singing in Japan.

What direction were you being taken in during that time?

A different personality was what they wanted. I wanted to become a singer-songwriter, creating melodies and writing lyrics. But they wanted me to be a sexy pop idol.

I love the great American standards. My inspirations are Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Nat King Cole. I consider them my teachers. But I also love American popular music, for example Mariah Carey. I’m not going back to the Japanese music industry. I live in Hawaii and work in the United States.

Days of Yesterday is now available at all major music retailers. Keep up with Hiromi Kanda on her official website.

 

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Hi, I'm Chaz Lipp. An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."