Interview: Coming into your own with Haru Nemuri
Back in college, I first wrote about Haru Nemuri’s Shunka Ryougen for a music column I led on behalf of my university website. Sitting across from the poetry rapper and her team nearly ten months later inside of a WeWork in downtown Austin, I struggled to articulate how important the project meant to me as a young adult who at the time, found herself growing increasingly frustrated at the broken systems of the world around me.
Hailing from Japan, Kimishima Haruna contained a sense of controlled rage the likes of which I’ve never seen: not just in media, and not just for an Asian girl, but on a humdrum day-to-day basis. In Nemuri’s latest, I found an unapologetic oasis of warranted fury and well-thought out discourse, sprawled out across a monster project of 21 substantial tracks. As someone who feels like she is constantly apologizing for her anger, I found solace in her.
Since then, I’ve eagerly followed and cheered along as she picked up accolades for the critically-acclaimed project, selling out each stop on her tour, and gaining spots on other “To Watch” lists. I had the privilege of sitting down with Haru Nemuri (and a helpful translator) to ask about her own influences, the evils of capitalism, and her budding friendship with fellow rapper JPEGMAFIA.
How has SXSW been for you? What have you been up to?
We’ve been staying in the Airbnb and some of my Japanese friends brought porridge for me and I have a lot of porridge every day.
How has your North American tour been?
I’m simply relieved that it went well and finished safely since it’s been a while since I came here. I feel like I don’t have many memories aside from the shows themselves, in a way, because they’re so heavy.
Can you describe your latest album, Shunka Ryougen, to me?
Music shouldn’t exist because the person’s there that needs to make the music. The music has to be there for that person and I feel I made it that way. That’s how it came out and it should be that way. This album to me is there because it should’ve been there for someone.
In previous interviews you’ve said you’re angry for a reason in your music. What are some of the things you’re angry about?
What I’m angry and frustrated about is how there are values that put on human lives. Let’s say I have a lot of money… I’m [then] seen as valuable or I have material possessions that are deemed worthy or I have status. I hate the structure that’s set as humans.
I’m pissed off and disgusted by that. Everyone should be fair. I talk about this in “Old Fashioned,” “Who the fuck is burning the forest?” and “Sister with Sisters.”
What was the approach you took in producing and mixing the album?
Very simply, to express the sound that I needed for the songs, I chose who I wanted to work with, the mix, the production, the artists I collaborated with — people who I knew from back then and also new folks. “Sister with Sisters” has different people singing the chorus. I posted on the internet inviting people who wanted to join with similar feelings, understandings, and just wanted to participate.
I underwent phases of growth where I was able to realize, specifically, what I want to do with my music and also be more detailed. I don’t think I gained anything — I’m just polishing and building so it’s nothing new. I’m just coming to a realization. It’s always been there but it’s just clearer now.
A lot of people see your music as poetry rap. Do you personally take to poetry as inspiration? What inspires your spoken word verses?
不可思議/wonderboy is a famous poetry rapper in Japan and I’ve gained a lot listening to him.
I start with the track first and then I start writing. The rhythm tells me that these words… these lines are needed. There’s usually not a situation where I write lyrics down and then put a beat on top and go, “this doesn’t fit,” because the track tells me what to write. There’s not much of a struggle in the process of editing or choosing the words afterwards.
You’ve said that you create music you wanted to hear for your younger self. Do you feel like you’re creating music now for people like you? Is that important to you?
I think the music I make now is close to the music I wanted for my younger self. I wanted music that would tell me that to live is something that is tough, but it’s not only you that’s going through it. There are others. Hopefully, that’s something I’m creating now. I definitely feel like I’m writing music for people who are similar to me. I’m writing it for myself, but if there’s someone that’s my type that touches them, that’s great. For me there’s not a specific demographic I’m looking for. There are diverse people here watching. I’m happy it’s more like that.
Has your Western fanbase influenced how your music sounds as opposed to more traditional J-pop?
With Shunka Ryougen, I was thinking about how to incorporate and experiment with different sounds, but with my next project, I want to challenge what hardcore post-punk would be like.
I know you’ve called yourself a Riot Grrrl before… do you have any idea of what it might sound like yet?
I’m listening to a lot of different genres right now for inspiration. Not that I’m not listening to other genres, but when I’m thinking of my next project, I’m listening to more hardcore post-punk.
Could you tell me more about your collaboration with Jaguar Jonze?
We were supposed to have our first North American tour in 2020. For the LA shows, Jaguar [Jonze] was supposed to perform with me but it got postponed, so those were gone. We remained in touch on social media, time passed, we went on next tour in October of last year and we lost our opener who was supposed to stay on the whole tour. Jaguar contacted us while we were in LA and we reconnected and did the show together. From there, we’ve kind of been each other’s go-to.
Have you guys been hanging out or working on anything together?
There’s one that we took in Austin. That was the one you saw us dancing in the street for… a piece of the music video.
I saw that you connected with JPEGMAFIA at SXSW too. How did that come about?
He came to Japan for the Fuji Rock Festival last year and wore a Toyota cargo jumpsuit. I saw his livestream and thought it was so cool so I bought the same thing. I took a photo, posted it on Twitter, he found it, and followed me.
Yesterday we met in the green room and I talked to him. I whispered, “It’s me!” and he cheered. It was our first time meeting in person.
What inspires you lately?
AURORA, my favorite movie, Dancer in the Dark, and my favorite book Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi. I stumbled across the book by accident and since then, it’s been the best thing I’ve read.
This interview was conducted by Nancy Jiang in-person at SXSW in Austin, Texas in March of 2023.
Header photo by Jun Ishibashi.
A New York City native, Nancy Jiang is a budding journalist covering music, arts and entertainment, and politics. One day she hopes to interview Frank Ocean, but for now, she’s bumping Endless and spending all her money on vinyl and concerts.