“Not only have I learned so much in my classes, I have also met so many wonderful and talented musicians that I have had the honor of playing with.”
Mei Semones is a Boston-based jazz-influenced indie-pop artist who performs with lyrics in both Japanese and English. “Drawing from her background in jazz guitar and her Japanese heritage,” she explains, the Michigan native “uses advanced harmonic and rhythmic concepts and two different languages to create compelling songs that soothe and comfort the soul.”
With a new EP, Sukikirai 好き嫌い, out on the Northeastern student-run Green Line Records, as well as a bunch of shows on the horizon, we asked Semones about her unique sound and what kind of sonic and physical venue boundaries she hopes to carry it across.
This music is super unique. Is there anyone who you have really found direct inspiration from? Anybody else doing music along these lines?
My inspiration comes from a lot of the jazz greats. John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk, as well as bossa nova artists like Antônio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto. I’m also influenced by the bands I listened to when I was younger, like Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. I discovered Ichiko Aoba and Lamp after I started writing music, and have found that there are some similarities in our sounds.
Tell us a little about your background—where you grew up, what you grew up listening to …
I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. I started playing piano when I was four years old, thanks to my grandma buying my family a piano, and that was my first experience with music. When I was younger, I grew up listening to basic pop top 40 hits on the radio, but as I entered middle school and started playing electric guitar, I started listening to more classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd) and eventually got really into Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. In high school, my listening shifted toward hip hop and rap, as well as jazz, because I was introduced to it in my high school jazz program. That’s when I started playing jazz guitar.
How well do J-pop and jazz fit together? What have you done to blend these styles?
I would say J-pop and jazz fit pretty well together. It feels like a unique blend of genres that is authentic to me, and it feels natural to write in this style. In terms of blending these two styles, a lot of my harmonic (and some melodic ideas) come from jazz, but I like to balance out dense harmonic concepts with simple progressions you find in many pop songs. Similarly, I like to find a balance between English and Japanese lyrics in my songs, and I’ve found that switching between the two languages can have a cool effect.
How did you end up in Boston, and what has your musical experience been like here so far?
I ended up in Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, from which I am about to graduate this week. My musical experience here has been very rewarding—not only have I learned so much in my classes, I have also met so many wonderful and talented musicians that I have had the honor of playing with throughout my time here. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the DIY music community here in Boston, and it’s inspiring to be surrounded by so many excellent musicians and artists.
You have been doing house shows. Is this the kind of music that you could also see working in a larger venue?
I definitely think my music would work in larger venues. My band consists of guitar, upright bass, drums, viola, violin, and cello, and we are able to produce a very full and lush sound. I would love to start playing larger venues and see how our sound translates. Having played a large range of venues as a guitarist, ranging from small house shows to 700-cap venues, I know it would be amazing to have my band in a space where all the intricacies of their parts can be heard, since they are all such excellent musicians.
And finally, please tell us about this new release of yours.
My new EP, Sukikirai, consists of three songs that I wrote and recorded during my last year in college. I’m super excited about this project because I was able to work with truly top notch musicians, and a phenomenal engineer. I think this is reflected in the sound of the EP in that it sounds very put together and natural. I also think Sukikirai showcases a new aspect to my songwriting, blending more indie rock and indie folk with jazz, rather than the bossa nova influence that was central in my first EP.
Mei Semones Live Shows
* denotes House show, please email for address
May 7—Lost Woods*—Sukikirai EP Release Show with support from Drobakid, Alexander, and Nebulous Ensemble
May 13 —Brinstar* with Paper Lady and Dino Gala
May 21—Turnpike* with Traffic Circle, Matilde Heckler, and Greylock
June 4— Somerville Theater Microcinema with Solilians and Skyjelly
July 13—O’Brien’s Pub with The Irons, Eli Josef, and Paper Lady