Monday, July 1, 2013

Interview with Vivian Murakami - Author and President/CEO of NEON Promotions, INC.

[tab:Part One - NEON Promotions, INC.]

Welcome Vivian and thank you for taking time to answer our questions. Will you please introduce yourself to our readers, along with an interesting fact about yourself?

Sure and thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work. My name is Vivian Murakami, I’m President/CEO of NEON PROMOTIONS, INC. and an Author. In collaboration with an artist from Thailand I have written a children’s book which is exclusively distributed to children’s charities in Thailand and three novels.

Interesting fact about myself (sits and thinks)... After school I studied early childhood education only to find—halfway through my studies—that it’s not the right job for me. Since I’m not a quitter I finished what I started and can call myself a licensed and certified early childhood educator. Although I’m not working in that field, I don’t see the four years I spent on getting my degree as wasted time. I learned quite a bit. Psychology was a major aspect for example.

That’s quite interesting and I can tell how psychology in particular would be something that you can apply to your work that you are involved with now. Speaking of which, in 2011 you founded NEON PROMOTIONS, INC. - what lead to your decision to start this company?

A one word answer would be ‘need’, but that wouldn't explain much. One day I was exchanging tweets with the guitarist of a band from Japan. I just bought their latest album and was listening to their music all day long. The songs were so fresh and different and I thought how great it would be to experience them live. I knew they were touring clubs in the greater Tokyo area so one of my questions during our twitter chat was ‘why don’t you come and play here in the States?’. His answer was ‘we’d love to, but no one has invited us’. Hearing that, I couldn't believe it. There is this great band, with this awesome, unique look and songs that make you wanna jump to your feet and dance—and no one wants them?! He was right though.

I was always involved with music but not always professionally.

I did some research and noticed that most promotion companies in the USA don’t deal with artists that don’t already have a well-established fan-base. No one was willing to take on a relatively unknown artist or band and help them get the recognition they deserve. Talent is talent. It doesn't change with the location. While it is true that every flower has its special needs and requirements to blossom, the USA is like a huge garden, and if you analyze and study demographics you are going to find a match. You are going to find the perfect target group for the band you represent. I wouldn't send a Goth band to a little farming community in Mississippi, but definitely to an underground club in LA or Seattle. Anyway, it disillusioned me when I realized that all promotion companies I checked with are in the biz to make money and seemed to lack the most important thing, the heart of the business so to speak: the passion for music. Hence NEON was born.

So, what has been some of the highlights of your work so far?

My highlights are bonding with my clients! The level of trust that we build and the personal satisfaction of seeing them get the recognition they deserve. And of course the money ain't half bad either. I love my Mercedes AMG and I just moved into a 6000 square-foot house. By the way, I still accept housewarming gifts—with the exception of toasters (laughs).

Right now I am pretty excited to be working with DJ SiSen, GPK and Candy Spooky Theatre on the Pacific leg of their upcoming tour. We just announced our first date recently for DJ SiSen and GPK for October 2nd of this year, actually. They’ll be performing at the Glow Nightclub in Bellingham, Washington. We are currently working on dates for The Candy Spooky Theater. Keep your eyes open for some more dates in the future.

I look forward to hear more about the tour.  Speaking of artists, NEON PROMOTIONS, INC. works with artists/musicians such as RK Rosebud and GPK, what is it like working with a variety of unique individuals?

Fun, fun, fun! I see it as a total blessing. When you deal with bands or solo artists who are all representing a different genre of music your work never gets boring. I can see how it would create a problem for people who only like a certain style of music, but as long as the music’s good - I appreciate the uniqueness each genre offers.

Imagine if you had the opportunity to work with any band or musician, past or present, who would it be and why?

Oh my, that’s difficult! Only one? (laughs) Ok, as much as I’d like to say hide and Daisuke Ochida, I’d have to go with Zi:Kill. Simply because I think they had everything it takes to make it all the way to the top and most importantly stay there! If they hadn't disbanded in 1994 they would be one of the giants like X-Japan, Buck-Tick or L’Arc~en~Ciel. In my opinion they were challenges with management on several levels; one of them was how internal conflicts were handled. It’s a shame when a band which consists of excellent musicians and a truly gifted vocalist calls it quits because of internal quarrels. This is a ‘curse’ that effects many talented groups, ending their journey before they have a chance to evolve to their full potential.

I am kind of curious. NEON PROMOTIONS, INC. was originally based in Alaska. What is the Japanese music following like in Alaska? How does the Alaska scene compare to Seattle since you moved there a while back?

Finding fans in Alaska who are already familiar with Visual Kei bands, or Japanese Rock/Pop Artists is hard. Don’t get me wrong. They are there, but not clustered in a certain area. Alaska is larger than some small countries and roughly three times the size of Texas. Fans are spread out in remote areas which makes it difficult to arrange concerts.

The scene in Seattle is alive and kicking. That’s why so many bands from Japan stop here to make an appearance. Dir En Grey, Vamps and X-Japan just to name a few. Working here so much easier. Moving our base to Seattle we can not only draw from the target group here but we can draw from two adjacent markets; Vancouver, Canada and Portland, Oregon. The venues here range from informal, reach-out and intimate to high-tech state of the art concert halls.

Speaking of which, are there any future plans for NEON Promotions, INC that you would be willing to share with us?

NEON is gearing up for a big push to introduce artists who may be known on their home turf but not yet here in Seattle. Internet based music sources like youtube and the growing CON community is introducing artists from Japan and other countries that would otherwise go unheard. Those particular bands and solo artists have found a fan base here but most of them have never played in the USA. NEON is working to connect the dots.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to be involved in the music industry?

Separate the business from the craft. The biz can be harsh. Don’t let it affect you emotionally, don’t take it personal. Attacks and attempts to put you down come with the territory.

[tab:Part Two - Visual Kei]

Thinking back, how did you first get interested in the Visual Kei, or rather the Japanese music scene as a whole?

Haha, that’s a funny story. I have strong ties to Japan since I was born. Being exposed to Japanese music is another story though. While living in Boca Raton, Florida, I was a sponsor of the Morikami Museum.

One summer they had a festival; Taiko Drums, arts and crafts, a flea market, you get the idea. On my way back to the car I passed a stand with a woman selling old videos she had taped during the eighties. I thought ‘how cool!’ when do I have a chance to watch Japanese TV shows from the eighties? I had exactly 5 bucks in cash left and spent it on 5 tapes I blindly picked from the table. At home I dug out my VCR unplugged my DVD player and browsed through the tapes. Most of them contained some kind of detective story like Japanese versions of Criminal Minds and CSI, but the very last tape contained several episodes of ‘Music Fair’. One show featured a singer named Hideki Saijo. He performed a pretty bad cover of YMCA, but one song caught my attention right away. Kizudarake No Lola. It had a catchy melody and that ‘certain something’. Of course the quality of the tape was quite bad and I didn't want to dig out my VCR every time I wanted to listen to Kizudarake No Lola so I searched for it on youtube. What I found was a cover version by someone named Gackt. (laughs) I liked Gackt’s version even better because it was more aggressive, there was more passion and the fact that he looked amazing also helped.


From Gackt, I stumbled upon X-Japan and hide. hide is the one person who I would contribute with the fact that he changed my life. Personal and professional. Among all kinds of other things, he woke my interest to dig deeper into the Japanese music scene.

Name some your favorite musicians and bands.

Naturally all the bands and artists I’m working with are favorites of mine.

AKI & RK ROSEBUD, KANATA, Gothique Prince Ken, REMNANT, ENOCH and marlee (which unfortunately disbanded/is on hiatus) are all wonderful, talented artists!

But aside from them… listed in no particular order: Dir En Grey, Daisuke Ochida, Zi:Kill, Hyde, hide, Buck-Tick, Placebo, Miyavi, X-Japan

Only 10? (laughs)

Well, I try to stay as close to 10 as much as possible (laughs). And who would have guessed? Adele and Lana del Rey.

Could you describe your first concert experience?

“OH MY GOSH!” That basically wraps it up. (bursts out into laughter)


When you ask about my first concert experience, I’m gonna emphasize 'experience', rather than 'first'.

I have been to many concerts, but the first one to really have a deep impact on me was when I met HYDE and witnessed him perform afterwards.

That man is so charismatic, it’s unreal. I love all his songs, but one of my favorites is ‘Jesus Christ’—the moment he lifted his arms I knew THAT was it and I kinda blacked out (laughs). Not that I fell to the ground or so, but I definitely suffered from ‘acute bliss overload’.

I have the entire concert burned into my brain, except for that one song. From the time I spoke with him before the concert, I hoped that ‘Jesus Christ’ would be included on his track list—indeed, it was... and I have no recollection of it! Totally sucks!

I can imagine! Which brings me to another question, as a music promoter, what does music mean to you?

No music, no life. I’m surrounded by music all day long. It’s also my mood meter. You can tell if I’m angry, sad, happy or frustrated simply by whatever song is blasting through my house.

So, when you are listening to music, what tends to draw you in?

That really depends. Electronic music often has no vocals, so a powerful rhythm can catch my attention. But in general it’s the singer’s ability to act out a song via his voice. I don’t particularly care for ‘just a good singing voice’. I admire vocalists who are not shy to test their limits and love to experiment.

Anyone with a halfway decent voice can sing and entertain, but only a very few can convey a message while breaking through language barriers. You might not be able to understand the lyrics, but you can feel what the song’s about because of the vocalists’ ability to transmit the content straight into your heart and soul. Great examples of such ‘transmitters’ are Kyo, Daisuke Ochida, Miyavi and Tusk.

In your opinion, what do you think draws people to the Japanese music scene?

A plain and simple answer is… it looks and sounds different from anything they have ever experienced.

As a fan and as a promoter, what direction do you feel like the scene is moving towards in recent years?

It is my personal opinion that it is moving more and more mainstream. Whereas VK bands—in the beginning—were unique and possessed their own identity and charm, today's Visual Kei scene is flooded with copycat bands.

A lot of labels look for what’s hot, what sells, and then quickly throw new bands out with the same look and sound of the big money makers. If the concept doesn't work as planned they get canned and replaced by another carbon copy. Which is a shame since Visual Kei offers an endless opportunity to express yourself. Turn your inside out, so to speak. No taboos.

With the coming and going of so many bands, do you feel as though the scene has progressed? Why or why not?

I think the majority of the VK scene is ruled by former VK bands who have long switched their appearance and image. Take Dir En Grey for example or X-Japan. X-Japan is considered one of the fathers of VK in Japan. When they started their career in the late eighties, they had the crazy hair, makeup and clothes to go with the image of a typical Japanese VK band. The same is true for Dir En Grey. Often dressed in female clothing or visually shocking outfits, they gradually changed to a more ‘normal’ look as their career progressed.

Sadly, in my opinion, VK bands are a dying breed. They either lack substance and are therefore not accepted by fans, or they simply lack proper management and promotion. Someone who takes them under their wings and provides them with an opportunity to introduce their talent to the rest of the world.

[tab:Part Three - Eien No Ai]

EienNoAiIn addition to your work in the music industry, you’re also an author - In October 2011, your book “Eien No Ai - Eternal Love” was released, could you tell us what your book is about?

Well, before I get into what the book is about, in a few days I will be releasing the author’s edit of “Eien No Ai - Eternal Love”. It will be easily identified by the inside title page. The original book will no longer be available and there are corrections made in the author’s edit that will help make things clearer for my readers. But yes, back to the book...

Actually, no. Simply for the fact that I want my readers to experience sentence for sentence, page by page, exactly what the narrator Vivi is experiencing at the same moment the story progresses. I don’t want to take anything away. That’s the only reason why I don’t even have a chapter listing. But I don’t want to leave you completely in the dark, so I’m gonna share with you what’s printed on the back of Eien No Ai and one of my favorite comments—which in my opinion hits the nail right on the head.

“Life is full of choices and consequently `what ifs '. You can spend your whole life pondering about them or just choose one, as I did. Searching for a CD, I bumped into an enchanting stranger from Japan at a music store. Immediately captivated by his charismatic aura I did something out of the ordinary for me and accepted his invitation to have a drink; following him across Seattle to a little Italian restaurant. I could've said `no' and walked away, but I chose not to. Looking back now, I wonder if he knew how his simple offer would change my life forever. If he had the slightest idea that he would shatter and challenge my ideas of love, relationships and intimacy to their very core.”

And a comment posted on by one of my readers:

“Definitely a page-turner! A love story with a lemon-turned-lemonade twist. I thoroughly enjoyed this book--from the first page, I was instantly drawn into a world where possibilities are golden, but when the moment comes to make a decision, hearts break either way.

Vivi's a tell-it-like-it-is narrator with an honest, stylish sense of humor. A chance meeting has paired her with someone who just might fill the empty space by her side, but before she can come to the conclusion that it's the L-word, love and fate join forces to create an obstacle course worthy of an Olympian. Throw traditional out the window; it takes two to tango and three to make it interesting.

I recommend Eien No Ai to anyone who has a fondness for Hello Kitty, Doc Martens,Visual Kei and the occasional dry wittiness!”

I heard that you just finished the sequel. Congratulations! Can you give us a little sneak peek?

Thank you! (laughs) Well all I can say is, it takes off where the previous one left off (laughs)

Is there a release date to when we should be expecting it?

重力 Juryoku -- Gravity, the sequel to Eien No Ai , is scheduled to be released late Summer 2013 or at the very latest Fall 2013.

I look forward to it! In general, what inspires your writings?

The core of my writing is inspired by true events. Of course there’s fiction mixed into my stories, but it is important to me to use it sparingly. I noticed while writing that it is easier for me when I can fall back on memories and describe them rather than just invent stuff.

Coming back to what we talked about earlier: has your experience in the music industry influenced the way you write as an author?

My very first manuscript was written long before NEON. But music has always been a part of me as I mentioned before and influences everything I do. So yes, I’m sure on some level it even influences my writing.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, mostly because of The Little Prince, Hera Lind, Douglas Adams (love his ‘Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ series), and Guy De Maupassant.

If you had to choose five words to describe your writing or writing style, what would they be?

Vivid, witty, animated, honest and passionate.

Last but not least, Do you have any final words for our readers?

I would like to say "thank you & a big hug" to those of you who have supported me throughout the last years.

To all the people who didn't know me before reading this interview: I hope I sparked your interest in my work. Please support NEON and Eien No Ai with a simple “like” on facebook.

Last but definitely not least, thank you, Rita, for giving me an opportunity to talk about my two greatest passions in life; music and writing.



NEON PROMOTIONS, INC. Facebook Page | Eien No Ai | Eien No Ai Facebook Page

[author] [author_image timthumb='off'][/author_image][author_info]
This interview with Vivian Murakami was conducted by Rita Nokkaew (Ayva Trance) Many thanks to Vivian for taking the time to share her insight and granting us such an in depth interview.
[/author_info] [/author]


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