Chasing a dream, moving from Japan to Germany to realize that dream, releasing two albums, and playing live at Wacken Open Air. It all becomes reality in the life of Japanese singer Saeko Kitamae. SAEKO started her musical adventure in FAIRY MIRROR, with whom she recorded a few songs. However, her big breakthrough happened, when she moved to Germany and started a solo career under the guidance of METALIUM bandmembers Lars Ratz (producer) and Michael Ehre (who plays the drums and rhythm guitars on her albums and co-produced it). The release of her second album “Life” (Armageddon Products – April 2006) was the perfect opportunity to get in touch with this lady, who changed the land of the Rising Sun for the land of Bier und Bratwürst. Read on what SAEKO had to say about her exciting career moves and find out everything about this interesting metal lady....
When did you start your musical career?
“Well, first of all, I don’t really know the definition of musical career very well. Anyway, I love music, since the day I was born. I was already singing and dancing in front of others at the age of three.”
You formed INSANIA in 1995. Did you record anything with this band, and what kind of music did you play with INSANIA?
“Yes, we released a tape with two songs. INSANIA was originally named after HELLOWEEN’s song “Twilight Of The Gods”, which starts with a narration “Insania 2014…”. As you may imagine from this episode, we were playing melodic power metal stuff with a double bass most of the time. Both the first and second album of SAEKO are extensions of these days.”
You were also a member of FAIRY MIRROR. What were the reactions like, when you decided to quit the band and leave Japan?
“Actually, INSANIA and FAIRY MIRROR are almost the same band. We changed the name of the band simply because we found other HM bands called INSANIA in several countries. I guess, they took their name from the same song. Anyway, FAIRY MIRROR (or INSANIA) was my everything. One and a half year before I left Japan, I first left the band in 2001, because I became seriously ill. I had to enter a hospital and concentrate on treatment. I loved FAIRY MIRROR very much and didn’t want to leave if there had been other ways, but I just had to. Actually, all members in FAIRY MIRROR wanted me to stay. They even told me, they would stop all their activities, until I completely recovered and was able to sing again. However, when the doctors told me no one knew how long it would take for me to recover, I told the members of FAIRY MIRROR to find a new singer and go on. How can you keep your friends waiting for such a long time, if you wish them good luck in the future? Instead of stopping them, I’d rather wanted to see them follow the dream we had shared together. Although we were very sad about this decision, we agreed to go on separate ways. After all, I recovered one and a half year later in 2002, but I couldn’t go back to the band anymore. They were active with a new singer, so I had to find a new band. I couldn’t imagine any better band in Japan than FAIRY MIRROR, with whom I spent six years alone to establish and develop. The only choice for me was to form a band outside Japan. They encouraged me to go on, when I told them about my decision. Our path went separate ways, but our strong friendship continued.”
How many albums did you record with FAIRY MIRROR?
“Actually, we didn’t record any full albums. Only a couple of singles and a compilation album, because we didn’t have enough money.”
Who were your influences, when you started with FAIRY MIRROR?
“Definitely Michael Kiske and Doro Pesch.”
What do you think of the album “Eternal Fortress”, the band recorded with their new singer Miyako Namikawa?
“When they made it, I was happy and very proud indeed! They had to wait such a long time to release an album, we couldn’t do financially, while I was in the band. My first reaction was “Finally, they made it!”. I like the songs, although I think some songs can be more simple. My only regret is, that I think Miyako lacks expression.”
What made you decide to move all the way from Japan to Hamburg, Germany?
“Like I mentioned before, to find a band more satisfactory than FAIRY MIRROR, I just had to leave Japan.”
When you arrived in Germany, how did you get in touch with Lars Ratz, who gave a big boost to your career in Europe?
“Since I came to Europe totally alone, I had no idea how to meet musicians. All I could do was to hand out flyers. You can see a picture of this flyer on my website ( http://www.saeko.biz), which says “Vocalist seeking to join heavy metal band”. I handed this out everywhere: at concert halls, rock bars, small clubs, etc.etc. One day Lars got the flyer from his friend, and called my cell phone. That’s how we met. By the way, I scanned the flyer, which Lars kept all the time. So the picture on my website is exactly the one, that brought us together.”
What did you think about the power metal scene here in Europe, when you still lived in Japan?
“A far distant dream.”
Why did you chose to move to Hamburg (Germany), and not for example to Munich, Cologne or even Frankfurt? Was there a special reason for that?
“Have you read the lyrics on my album? If you have read them, you may realize that I am singing about something that exists in everyone’s heart. I don’t know the exact name. But something is always calling me from deep inside. One day, it told me to go to Hamburg. I myself didn’t know what would be waiting there for me. At any cost, I went there to find out the answer. Well, I had nothing there at all. Still, this voice has always guided me.”
What were the reactions of the press like towards your debut album “Above Heaven, Below Heaven”?
“Actually, I don’t know much about that, because my German isn’t that good to understand all the articles in magazines. I hope, they were positive.”
Can you tell us a bit more about the lyrics on this album? Can we see them as your personal thoughts?
“For me, writing songs is like writing a full biography. I wrote about why I left my home, how I felt alone experiencing a different culture, the reason I am singing in the first place, why I went back to Japan this spring (after finishing the album, I flew back to Japan), etc. Everything that I wrote is based on my real life. That’s why I named it “Life”. Unfortunately, this interview is not long enough to explain each song in details. All I can say for now is please read my texts and messages and look at the pictures in the CD booklet. I would be very happy, if some of you get empathized with what I’ve been thinking through my “Life”.”
Is the hidden track a Japanese translation of “Heaven Above, Heaven Below”?
“It’s the intro of a Japanese bonus track. Actually, this talking part was just an accident. After the mixing of the last song was done, I burst into tears in the studio. It has been a very long road for a Japanese girl, until she finished an album outside Japan. I first dreamt of playing music overseas, when I was fourteen years old, so that is almost seventeen years ago now. Then Lars asked me, if I wanted to record something on that memorial day. I had no idea what to expect, but I went down to the recording room and expressed my feeling towards my friends and family through the microphone. After hearing what we had recorded, Lars and I both liked the intensity and decided to add this talking part as some kind of a Japanese bonus track. The translation is “Having kept on running, having kept on believing, I’ve arrived here. However, how much did I hurt you on the way, leaving you behind? There are memories and moments, I couldn’t share with you. At the very least, I wish to share these songs now. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
How important was it for you to let Mariko Inoue, who also played with you in FAIRY MIRROR, play the bass on your debut solo album?
“That was really like a dream come true. She is a great bass player and my best friend. I never forget how she helped me, while I was in hospital and the way she encouraged me, when I left Japan. To make this album with her was something very, very special.”
You supported DORO on her tour in 2005. What was that experience like and did you learn anything from this German metal diva?
“No, that was already in 2004. It’s almost two years ago now, if my memory serves my right. At all events, this tour was very meaningful to me. Actually, DORO is the first female singer I felt “cool!!!”. I didn’t like female singers until then, although I am a female singer myself. She’s a very nice lady, not only as a musician but also as a person, who gives everything she’s got on stage by giving power to other people and uniting with her audience. As she opened the door of the heavy metal scene for the female musicians in Europe, I would be happy if I can open it for all the Japanese musicians.”
In which way does “Life” differ from “Above Heaven, Below Heaven” in your opinion?
“First, I composed all songs by myself this time. Of course, Michael, Lars and some other people helped me a lot, arranging and adding new ideas. Still, the basic structure (including the interlude parts) was written by me from my personal experiences in life. So this album is, like I said before, my full biography. It’s even like my second “self”. It is “120%” Saeko’s life. Secondly, although the basic theme is similar to both “Above Heaven, Below Heaven” and “Life”( the same theme), the way of expression is different. Through “Life” I tried to sing the conceptual themes as less as possible, so that people can find out the themes behind my real life story in a very natural way, whereas through “Above Heaven, Below Heaven”, I sung more about the concept as the summarization of the themes I had lived. “Life” is a more personal album.”
Can you tell us a bit more about the musicians on this album?
“Michael Ehre plays drums and rhythm guitars, as well as co-producing the album. Lars Ratz produced and also took care of some of the male voices and choirs (the voice of “Our Collective Truth” is a mixture of me and Lars). Our chemistry and cooperation on the first album was very good. I can even say, it was the best I’d ever experienced as a musician. With their guidance, I was also able to grow as an artist through the recording itself. So I asked them to collaborate on my next album, too. Needless to say, I’m very satisfied with what they did for this second album. Mariko, the bass player, who played with me since my FAIRY MIRROR days, played on my previous album, too. I like her bass playing very much, and I can’t think of anybody else for the bass parts. Satoko, who is also my friend, played all the lead guitars. She was often to be seen at FAIRY MIRROR shows, when I was still in the band. She seemed to understand my theme, which is very important to me. When we played together at Wacken and some other shows in 2005, I asked her if she wanted to play on the album, too and she agreed.“
And which musicians are in your live band?
“During the recording of “Life”, I left Armageddon Music due to a philosophical and artistic gap. Leaving the label was the only way to stay true to myself and to my music. I don’t want to release a CD, I’m not behind all the way, you know. When I was at a deep loss, I was luckily saved by Lars again. He had also left the label, due to visionary differences with his partners there and he offered me continuous support. We talked and agreed, that I would pay for everything through my own production company and he would arrange things such as distribution, promotion and marketing. I’d already decided to pay for everything by myself, so that Lars won’t lose any money, even if my album doesn’t sell at all. I know very well that the possibility of losing money is higher than earning money in heavy metal scene. Lars has been supporting my art the whole time, he understands my vision and I don’t want to trouble him anymore. Anyway, getting back to the subject, I managed to finish the album and release it in Europe, Japan and US on a wing and a prayer. But I’m broke now and don’t have any money left. Although I want to go on tour, I really can’t, unless my CD becomes a million seller or something like that. I don’t even have the money for next month to survive. So I came back to Japan in March and I am doing some job hunting now. That’s life, but I have no regrets, after having made the album as 100% as I wished it would be. I did my best and didn’t compromise. This is the most important thing.”
Once again, the German press was very positive about your new album. I’ve also seen a very negative review in Aardschok (Holland’s major metal magazine), who wrote (and I quote them here): “SAEKO definitely can’t sing, and the music is maybe even worse. Still the Japanese are shooting wales. Can’t they make cod-liver oil out of SAEKO maybe?” What do you think of this, written by the person, who used to organise Dynamo Open Air in Holland, and rewarded the album with 2 points out of 10?
“I really have no time to think over such a review.”
You also added two live videos on “Life”. Where did you record these songs?
“It’s from the 2004 DORO tour, recorded at the Docks in Hamburg, Germany. Although I wanted to include the Wacken 2005 footage, it was way too expensive for an artist like me to handle. Like I said, I don’t have much money left now. It seems all is about money, money, and more money in this world.”
Why did you record the FRANK SINATRA classic “My Way” on this album? I do believe, that the lyrics are very much telling your story, but the song isn’t really appealing to many metal fans, I am afraid.
“It’s very boring, if I can’t sing songs which are not acceptable by metal fans. What is the definition of ‘heavy metal’ in the first place? The style of music? For me, heavy metal is about attitude and staying true to yourself. ‘To live as I believe’ and ‘To follow my own call inside’, that is heavy metal. I did it, because that’s what I truly wanted to do. That’s all there’s to it.”
What’s the song “SA-KU-RA” about? My knowledge of the Japanese language isn’t that well to understand it.
“SA-KU-RA means “Cherry Blossoms” in Japanese. Japanese people love SA-KU-RA very much. It’s almost like a symbol of Japan. At first, I was just writing how beautiful Sa-Ku-Ra falls down (that’s why Japanese love this flower), but then I realized this song also sounds dedicated to the war dead. Do you know Kamikaze? Remembering the beauty of falling SA-KU-RA, many young Japanese died as suicide pilots Kamikaze during the war. People always need scapegoats to show their own rightness, and those war dead have always been taught as evil and brainwashed people in Japanese schools. However, when I read some farewell notes written by them one night before their suicide flights, I felt some Japanese has to speak for them to tell how sad they were, because those notes were as beautiful as sad. Very, very sad...”
Are there any gigs planned for this summer in order to promote the new album?
“First up, I need to save some money to go on tour. Remembering how tough it was for me to get enough money to move over to Europe, which was my only dream until 2002?!? I’m not sure, if I can earn enough money again. In any case, when I make it, I will fly back with Mariko and Satoko to play some shows in Europe. If I can’t make enough money, I may not be able to see Europe again. Then please remember, that this album is my life’s work. I mean, I’m not writing imaginary concepts, but concepts I’ve really lived so far. In other words, I’m performing my life itself. The relocation from Japan to Germany only following ‘the call in my heart’ was a performance for my concepts. Honestly, there have been things I’ve wanted to tell somebody. When it reaches anyone, it’s the best reward for me.”
What’s your favorite SAEKO song and why?
“I love all songs, but if I must choose only one, it’s probably “Identity”. I feel very released and light, when I hear this.”
Do you have other goals in life?
“To live every day and staying true to myself. To remember, who we really are.”
We are a Dutch on-line ‘zine, completely focussed on the female musicians in the hard rock and heavy metal scene [www.metalmaidens.com]. Do you think it is still important for female musicians to get this kind of attention, or do you feel that you already get all the recognition you earn so well?
“I don’t know. It’s not up to me to decide, but for the listener. If someone likes musicians just because they are female, it must be important for them. For my part, I am “I”, and that’s the way it is.”
What’s the main difference between playing with female musicians and male musicians in your opinion?
“It doesn’t matter, if they are female or not, in my opinion. The passion, faith and guts really does matter a lot more.”
How would you describe your music?
“It’s 100% “the call in my heart”.”
And who can we see as your musical influences?
“I like music, when it shows the life of the player. I like musicians, who play or sing purely from their hearts.”
Is there any particular band, you would like to tour with and why?
“I can’t think about these things for a while. Only when I solve my financial problems I’m in and I can think of these things again. Life is not always easy, but that’s why we fight!”
Don’t you miss Japan, and your family sometimes?
“Now that I’m back in Japan, I don’t miss them. But while I was in Germany, I missed them very much, especially my ex-fiance, whom I left behind in Japan in 2002. I often cried from loneliness in my room. Still, with a determination that I would never ever go back to Japan until I finished my task there, I kept on working on my ideals. My task was to write “The call from the soul of the world”, which exists in everyone’s soul, uniting all of us. It’s been talking to me, since I was fourteen. The voice is so beautiful, that I wanted to share it with others. I felt it like my mission for the world. I still wonder, why most people don’t hear it. Anyway, through two albums, I feel I wrote everything I’ve heard from him. Being released from this task, I came back to Japan this spring. Soon my next chapter will start. I don’t know how it’s gonna be, but everything is already written. I will live my life.”.
Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
“Whatever others might tell you: do what you believe in and stay true to yourself!”
The last words in this interview are for Saeko Kitamae....
“Let me finish this interview as the same ending word of my album “Life”: Find the lost back to life again and please remember me.”
Visit their website at: http://www.saeko.biz/
*ABOVE HEAVEN, BELOW HEAVEN (Armegeddon Music/Rock Inc. 2003)
*LIFE (Armegeddon Products 2006)