Saturday, December 12, 2015

Interview with Lia: Working With Jun Maeda, Voicing IA and That Life-Changing Call


Eurobeat, techno, trance, happy hardcore and anisong- Japanese singer-songwriter Lia has sung for so many different music genres but she is not stopping anytime soon.

"I like anime songs and I think my voice is more suited to them but I also want to try as many genres as possible in my life. I really like trying new things," said the 30 year-old in fluent English. She was in Singapore to perform at Anime Festival Asia 2015 last month .

With a successful career spanning 15 years, the graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston (which counts John Mayer and Quincy Jones among its alumni), with majors in performance and professional music, got her start not in Japan but America.


"Right after I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles. I had a one-year visa so I wanted to at least try something while I was there," she mentions.

Speaking about her first encounter with famous Japanese visual novel studio Key, the singer said she was recording her demo in her friend and schoolmate's home studio when she received the life-changing call.

"The people from Key were saying, "We'd like to use the studio (not me)." I was translating because my friend wasn't Japanese and they (the people from Key) didn't speak English. They were going to bring a singer from Japan to record at the studio but she cancelled for some reason," she recalls.

"So they asked me, "Can you sing for us?" At that moment, I didn't know anything about Key. I was thinking, "You're asking me before even hearing me sing?""

Putting her initial uncertainties of the firm's professionalism aside, she sent them a copy of the demo she had recorded. The producers listened to it and loved it. Consequently, she landed her first recording, which would spark off her long singing career.

 Lia singing at AFA's I Love Anisong Reboot concert in Singapore


"Tori no Uta", written by Jun Maeda and composed by Shinji Orito, both highly-celebrated music producers and co-founders of Key, was the opening theme of the studio's popular 2000 visual novel Air. Lia would later go on to work with the former again on several projects.

"The incident in Los Angeles was one of the biggest surprises for me. It was a coincidence that I actually took the phone and helped my friend translate. I never did think it was going to lead me here (sitting in the media interview room)," the singer adds.

"Now, people in the world know "Tori no Uta" and Lia. I was really glad that I took that recording because if I didn't say yes then, I wouldn't be here." she said, beaming.

The Japanese song made it into the ranks of legendary anime theme songs among fans in Japan and abroad, gaining even more recognition when it was featured once again as the opening theme to the anime adaptation of the visual novel five years later.

She did not realise that her song had become a hit until much later, when she spoke to one of her cousins. "He was like, "Oh my god, my cousin's Lia!?" That was when I found out, "Oh, maybe I'm pretty famous."" she remarked cheekily.

 The obligatory water-spouting shot with the Merlion (Source)


On the difficulty of recording her first song, Lia described, "I sang 3 songs in 2 days. Tori no Uta has so many chords like harmonies and everything so I had to sing so many times."

"I almost cried because it was like, "I don't know if I can do this anymore." With the help of the staff, she eventually finished the recording.

She mentions another song which she recorded down the road, "Toki wo Kizamu Uta", for Clannad After Story. It was the most difficult song she had ever recorded for an anime.

Recollecting much difficulty following the song's time signature, the singer had to ask composer Jun Maeda to write her the music score. "When I looked at it, I was like- "Oh, ok, 5, 5, 4, 3, 5" It was really hard to get into the music."

Performing the song is an easy feat for her now after years of practice, asserting "It's really like my music now."

Attributing her fans as her driving force as a singer, she said, "Meeting fans always inspires me. There are people out there who want to listen to my music. If there were no one, I would just be singing for fun."

"The fans get my heart going- I really am grateful to them."

 Meeting fans drives Lia as a singer


Over her over-a-decade-long career, Lia has worked with acclaimed music composer Jun Maeda on a number of anime and visual novel projects, most notably "My Soul, Your Beats" on Angel Beats! and most recently, "Bravely You", the opening theme for Key's latest original anime project, Charlotte.

When she first met the man revered by many anime fans across the globe in the VisualArts studio in Osaka, she found him to be a very reserved and quiet person. "He had long black hair, hiding his eyes and he was so tall. To me, he was like a tall shadow, so quiet," she describes him.

Communication between the both of them was not very smooth in the beginning. She remembers asking him how he wanted her to sing the songs she was recording for her single, "Natsukage" and "Nostalgia". He would whisper back to her, "Maybe the boy soprano kind, kind of like a little boy singing," which resulted in some awkwardness.

Just as the man had watched her grow as a singer over fifteen years, she also noticed a similar "growth" in him. "Nowadays, he has become more outgoing, which I think it's pretty amazing because he has changed a lot," the singer says.

"Now he's in the media talking, playing the guitar and singing at lives (Key's live events). He's changed in a good way that he now expresses himself to the world. He's a really nice guy."

On being approached by Maeda to sing the opening theme for Charlotte, she said that she was really surprised and honoured and hopes to work with him again in the near future.

"There are so many artists coming out in Japan now and I'm one of the older artists. But Maeda-san asked me to sing for this new animation Charlotte so I was really happy!" she exclaimed.


A mother of two- a five year-old daughter and a two year-old son, she comments that it is a tough feat trying to juggle between work and family at the same time so she focuses on filling one role at a time.

"My two year-old boy is crazy. He's a little monster," she quips. "Now, I'm just concentrating on singing- I'm Lia. When I'm at home, I'm mummy. I think of myself as a different person when I'm here."

After having her first child, she took a hiatus from 2010 to 2013. It was during this time that her first manager, the president of her management company 1st PLACE, approached her about making a VOCALOID using her voice.

The singing voice synthesisers were fast growing in popularity at that time with the likes of Hatsune Miku, the Kagamine twins and their holographic live concerts. A pop culture phenomenon in Japan, they enabled music producers to add vocals to their songs easily using recorded voice banks.

Many aspiring music creators have released their own VOCALOID songs onto the Internet and some such as Livetune and Hachioji-P have gone on to work in mainstream music after gaining recognition for their works.

Lia's immediate reaction was, "No, I don't want anything like me- because I'm here."

The 1st PLACE Official Shop "HACHIMAKI" at AFA 2015, with many Lia and IA goods

After some persuasion, she agreed. "She (her manager) said, "You have a child now and you probably want to rest?" I said, "Yes." She told me that Vocaloid could be the one to help me. "When you're not working, maybe she can work for you." I was like, "Hmm, maybe that's a good idea." and that was how it really started."

The singer recorded the voice banks for the VOCALOID, IA, who became a global sensation just like "Tori no Uta", with hits like "A Realistic Logical Ideologist" and the "Kagerou Project" series of songs. She even went on to inspire a sister, ONE, who was released earlier this year by same company 1st PLACE.

"Now, it's really working out! IA's working out there in the world and I'm cooking," Lia grins. She joked that not many people were actually aware that she had voiced Lia though and she had to inform them of that fact.

The thought of having her own VOCALOID was daunting at first. "Maybe she's going to get more popular than me or maybe people are going to forget about me," she said. Trusting in her manager's words that "nothing could beat live Lia", she lent her voice to making IA and now feels that it is a good balance having the vocaloid singer out in the world.

Her favourite IA song is "Diamond Days", a new song performed by the VOCALOID at her first live concert in Japan at Akasaka Blitz in September. "I'm thinking about maybe covering her song. I listened to it and it's a really nice song," she commented.

IA performing "Diamond Days" at her first live concert in Japan\


After resuming her singing activities last year, Lia is setting her sights on more overseas performance for the second phase of her career. Her concert in Singapore was one of the few rare occasions she has performed outside of Japan.

"It’s my pleasure to be able to sing for such a long time- 15 years! I really appreciate the support of all the fans in the world. Maybe I’ll have more opportunities to sing in other countries too. Please invite me anywhere!"

In fact, if you're living in Asia, Lia might just be heading to your country next very soon! She will be touring the region next year, together with IA on the IA FIRST ASIA TOUR 2016 -PARTY A GOGO-. Sign up for the mailing list by sending an e-mail to so you won't miss out on the latest news!

Until then, like XDantheManX Online's Facebook page for more updates on Japanese pop culture events in Singapore and stay tuned for more coverage of Anime Festival Asia 2015!

Interview photos by Eugene Chua
Concert photos by Sozo Pte Ltd