Name: Qrion aka Momiji Tsukada
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Qrion's latest single “11-11” is out now via Anjunadeep. It is a precursor to her debut full-length album I Hope It Last Forever," on October 29.
Recommendations: I would recommend Kokoro by Soseki Natsume. It’s a very old Japanese novel about a guy who experienced his friend’s suicide over the girl they both liked. It’s very sentimental and a sad novel I like to re-read often.
Perfect Blue by Satoshi Kon - It’s a Japanese animation movie from 90’s, the story is basically about mental health of one main character who’s an idol on TV shows. It’s similar as Black Swan so if you like dark movies you should watch it!
If you enjoyed this interview with Qrion and would like to find out more about her, visit her on Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started when I was in high school so around the age of 17 or 18.
I was a big fan of Japanese rock, post hardcore and punk music. There were a few of my friends who were also into those genres so, on a weekly basis, we exchanged new music on the bus, and one of them showed me Skrillex. I immediately fell in love with his music. His early works sound like a combination of rock and electronic so it made sense why I liked them. I started digging into more EDM and electronic sounds after discovering Skrillex.
Since my father taught me how to play piano/e-piano, I was already curious about the process of making music. I downloaded an app called Nanostudio which works like a DAW on the iPhone and started to try making something similar as Skrillex’s and other EDM. But somehow, I ended up making a soft ambient track. I kept making songs and posted on Soundcloud – the Nanostudio app could automatically post on there. My hometown Sapporo’s local label ‘SenSe’ reached out to me, and we decided to release an EP.
It has been a long journey from Sapporo to San Francisco where I currently live, but music is always something that makes my life better, and I have continued to pull inspiration from more artists since then.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I started learning how to produce music on Youtube and some random Japanese blogs, so I had a phase where I was overthinking if my sounds are similar to already existing artists. I struggled to find what my sounds were at first. When people started telling me my songs sound very round, feminine, and cold, I realized how my background could give a big impact on my productions.
I believe that styles develop naturally at a later stage and that your pieces will sound like yours all by themselves.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Growing up in a traditional Japanese neighborhood made my personality. It's very cultural and strong. It’s a one thing I’ve never lost even though I’ve been living in a quite different environment for over 6 years here in the US.
How I think and see things in Japanese way differently influences how I make melodies and how I approach my music. We (Japanese) have conservative personalities, so I feel our emotions are sometimes hidden or we choose not to show them to people.
Making music is the way I can break through that wall.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Since I had just made whatever genres I liked, finding the way I feel comfortable on stage was challenging. I still play many genres in my DJ sets. It's something I enjoy, but I used to do a live set with APC-40 and Ableton, sometime with midi keyboards.
I think I was still not sure what I wanted to play for people and actually feel fully confidence about it. I decided to switch to CDJs in 2018. I am still thankful for tips and lam earning a lot of things on how to play a good set on CDJs. But I’m glad I can finally feel 100% comfortable when I arrive at the club to play a set. Or when I decide to do a Twitch live stream.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I picked up Cubase to produce music after I got tired of using the app with a small display on my phone. I started to work a part time job at local ramen store when I was in high school to purchase Cubase. It was expensive software for a student who lives in suburb like I did.
I started using my father’s old midi keyboard of the M-Audio Keystation49. I didn’t know what midi was, so I was freaked out when I learned its convenience to make music. I could actually play on a keyboard in real life instead of the app I used.
I became more curious about analog synthesizers so bought a Yamaha refaceCS. Currently I use VSTs often, like Arturia and Diva, but it's so much fun to add some analog flavor (like I did on my track Monolith, where I used the TB-303). It’s been fun exploring the history of analog music gear.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I saw Denon’s DJ controller has a linked system which connects to your Beatport collection and the other streaming services. I think it’s a very cool technology that makes people enjoy DJing more easily.
CD-less to USB/SD-less, I’m excited to see what’s going to be next.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I do file sharing and studio sessions both. My first collab experience was with Ryan Hemsworth who lives in Canada about 6 years ago. We made a song that is one of my memorable favorite tracks (personally and for career too!).
A couple of years ago I flew to LA to see Motez to do a studio session. We had never met before, but we immediately became chill music friends. We share the same kind of energy. I’ve made several songs with Spencer Brown working in actual sessions over the years. He’s one of my best friends. I also made a collab track with Jordin Post by file sharing that I’m so excited to release after the album.
I really don’t mind the way I collaborate with others, but studio sessions tend to feel more promising.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
When I’m on tour, usually I fly out on the day I play, then land late afternoon / early evening. I order some food on Uber Eats and take a nap or relax at the hotel until I need to head to the venue for my set. I play my set, head back to the hotel and usually fly out next afternoon to head home or to my next gig.
When I’m off on weekdays I wake up around noon and say hi to my roomie. Sometimes I make Japanese lunch for the two of us, go to my home studio to work on music and check new songs / promos, and I catch up on emails and other projects I’m working on. If I’m not feeling motivated, I'll watch movies. I think it’s really blended out since I spend most of my time at home.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of the memorable shows I've played was ABGT350 at O2 arena in Prague.
It was the first time that I saw almost every Anjuna team member in real life. Before that, my manager and I were talking to everyone via email or social media. There were about 10k people at the arena watching the show plus, there was a live stream of my set. I was so happy that I could play some of my own tracks for them. Playing with them gave me a lot of motivation and passion to proceed to take my music career seriously.
My new album ‘I Hope It Lasts Forever’ under the Anjunadeep label is coming at the end of October. I’m very glad that we have such great real connections and supportive people in my team. It feels like a full circle moment for my career.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I found out having stable mental health is so important for being creative. I do really enjoy making music out of my loneliness and sadness. Sometimes I cry and feel emotional while playing keyboards. But in between creativity and emotions, there should always be a balance and feeling healthy mentally. Not being in a great place with mental health can have an effect on ability to make music or get daily tasks done.
2020 was such a tough year for artists and I’m one of many artists who lost energy to do anything and struggled with the anxiety that comes with thinking about the future and what things are going to look like moving forward.
I realised I needed some extra help – an outside unbiased source (therapy) to keep balanced enough to continue this work and feel fulfilled with my life. It was a big learning year for me in terms of opening up. But I’m happy that I’m significantly healthier than I was earlier this year. I am way more positive and have energy to work on new music and projects.
I appreciate the people on my team and my fans who have been on this journey with me and have reminded me that I’m not alone!
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think music was always a healing tool for me. I remember that my parents were often out of the house so when I felt lonely, I always played my favorite rock music or went to their shows.
It is interesting how hard rock music made me feel calm and comfortable. I still do this when I feel down or sad. I will choose some playlists of my favorite music and go to clubs with my friends and dance to forget the stress and worries.
It makes me feel so warm when my fans at the show come up to me and say my music helped them when they went through difficult times. I love we can share the feeling through the sounds like this.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It made me feel sad when Asian American artists started speaking up on the socials about AAPI/Asian hate crimes and then seeing a lot of non-Asian artists who used our symbols like Chinese characters, Kanji, Hiragana on their merch who didn’t speak up at all or use their platforms to support AAPI communities. It’s frustrating that people use our symbols and culture for their aesthetic reasons, made a profit off it, but still feel it’s not their topic to speak up on it yet.
I appreciate the artists out there who understand our cultures, use them in a respectful way, and use their platform to make people aware.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
The sense of sight is tightly connected to my hearing. I often make music out of my memories, like the view I saw from the airplane window during my tour, from the car and from some old pictures of myself and family.
As humans, we are made by thousands of our memories. I think it’s beautiful when artists project their memories through the five senses and create new art.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I don’t make my music for any political reasons or approach, but I know I can use my platform to speak up on issues we’ve been facing for a long time. Such as Asian hate crimes and Black Lives Matter. I’m glad that I have a platform to speak up on and make a connection with people.
In Japan it’s still “not a good look” when artists speak up on the social media and I hope it’ll get better. US and Japan are kind of opposite countries when it comes down to sharing viewpoints and using social media platforms but I still feel we all should be aware of what we’re facing and what is going on.
My approach to art is through my experiences, my memories, and what is inspiring me from the environment around me.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can give people reasons to live and energy to stay alive. Song lyrics and certain chords or melodies can be very powerful to a person listening.
When I was feeling super down and was struggling, there were always music that I could listen to, put it on repeat, and cry with it. It provided a release and still does for me when I need it most.
Sometimes words and conversations can be too much, but music can give us our own personal sense of relief. I love how we have our different experiences with the very same song.