review and interview by Michael McCarthy
previously published on OtakuDX
Before we get to our interview with J-Pop’s future stars 4TE, I wanted to present a review of their wonderful double A-side MORE / 一歩ずつ…
4TE — pronounced Forte/for-tay — is a red hot new Japanese pop group based out of the U.S. and if there’s any justice in this world they will obtain a major label deal for Japan and become the J-Pop megastars they deserve to be. Because, let me tell you, their debut double A-side single is fantastic, both songs plenty capable of rising to the top of the J-Pop charts.
Interestingly, the members of 4TE aren’t Japanese. We’ll get into their nationalities and such in the interview, but the point I’d like to make is that you don’t have to be Japanese to make J-Pop. After all, J-Pop has its own unique sound. There are many different styles, of course, but even if you heard instrumental versions of J-Pop songs you would more than likely know that they’re J-Pop songs just based on the way the music sounds. That said, the members of 4TE do sing in Japanese. Their songs are 90% Japanese with little parts in English, just the way most J-Pop songs today are!
The first track on the double A-side is the ultra-catchy, club-ready “MORE.” It’s an exquisitely-produced song that, if you didn’t know better, you would suspect that it was produced by capsule’s Yasutaka Nakata. And that’s just the way the girls like it, being that they are huge fans of capsule and Nakata’s work with the girl group Perfume. Many others have tried to capture his sound and failed miserably or, at best, created mediocre imitations. But 4TE are such fans of his work that they’ve been able to emulate it perfectly, which is about the biggest compliment I could give them, being that I’m also a huge fan of Nakata’s work. That said, “MORE” doesn’t sound like a copycat, just similar stylistically with its layers of electronic sounds and loops riding above its propulsive beats. Perhaps the biggest difference between 4TE and other artists lies in the simple fact that 4TE consists of four very original, fresh voices that all sound different from each other. To that end, they often take turns singing, rather than all four girls harmonizing throughout their songs, so you get to know each of the voices and appreciate them all.
Track two is called “一歩ずつ” (pronounced Ippozutsu; translation: One step at a time) and it’s just as amazing as “MORE,” the biggest difference between the songs being that “MORE” is a dance song at its core, whereas “Ippozutsu” is more of an electro-pop song with lighter beats, the song relying on funky bass guitar, shiny washes of synth and electro-tinkering to create its sound. Not that its beats are weak. They’re plenty punchy, just not as sonorous as those in “MORE.” Another difference between the songs is the fact that auto-tune is used heavily on “Ippozutsu,” for better or worse. I guess it depends on whether you love or hate it; it seems to remain popular in Japan, whereas listeners in the States have generally grown tired of it. Normally, I do not care for it, but here it helps give the song its electro flavor and it’s clearly used for that reason, as none of these girls need auto-tune to make them sound good. And this is a grade A electro-pop number, the keyword being electro. I point this out because a lot of J-Pop artists who describe their sound as electro-pop don’t really sound all that electro to my ears. “Ippozutsu” sounds like the real thing. And that’s the bottom line here: 4TE sound like the real thing, pure J-Pop bliss. Check them out now before they get famous and all of your friends are talking about them.
And now our interview featuring all four members of 4TE, Chii, Jenny, Micchi, and Mei…
I understand you have four members, but in the video for “More” you only have three? Who was the most recent person to join the group and what made you decide to add a fourth person?
Jenny: We all joined at the same time actually. The reason why you only see three of us together is because our fourth member was actually busy working in Japan.
Mei: Actually, we all decided on creating the group together. The only reason why I wasn’t filmed with the three other girls was because I lived and worked in Japan for a year.
How did the four of you meet each other? I know it was online, but where did your paths cross exactly?
Jenny: We had been in an online project prior to 4TE and that took place over skype – so that’s pretty much how it happened haha
I know you’re all currently living in different places. Could you tell me where each of you are?
Jenny: I was born in Manhatten, New York but raised in Central Jersey.
Chii: I currently live in Laredo, Texas!
Micchi: I’m living in Dallas, Texas right now.
Mei: When we started the group, I was living in Osaka, but I recently moved back to California about a week ago.
I know you do most of your collaborating online since you’re not all together in the same place. But I was wondering, did the three of you who are in the “More” video meet prior to that or did you meet for the first time when you came together to make the video?
Jenny: It was our first time haha but I think we all hit it off pretty well. If it was ever awkward, it was only for the first few seconds.
Chii: As jenny said, it was our first time being together in person but we spent so much time and worked so hard in planning our group’s debut online that warming up in person came fairly naturally.
Micchi: It was great not being separated by a computer screen anymore! Filming was challenging, but we had a lot of behind-the-scenes fun! I can’t wait until all four of us can get together!
Who directed the video? Who came up with the concepts, the director or did you all contribute creatively?
Chii: It’s always a little hard to give credit to just one person when it comes to our endeavors because we all contribute a lot haha. We came up with the storyboard together and after that, I ran around and looked for things for our future set. I guess you could say I had a big part in directing it because I was in control of the set design and lighting. Our video editor however, was the person who brought it all together.
Have you performed live as a group yet? If so, where did you play?
Mei: We haven’t had the chance to perform live yet. We’ve just made our debut and we have a lot still in the works. However, we are aiming to start performing live near the later half of this year.
I know you’re not Japanese. Could you tell me what each of your backgrounds is?
Jenny: I’m Colombian-American.
Chii: Mexican-American here~
Micchi: I’m Filipino- American!
Were any of you making some other kind of music before you decided that you wanted to do J-Pop?
Chii: I’ve always kinda hoped it would be in J-pop but I was in a jazz ensemble, pop-punk band, and shoegaze band prior to starting.
Jenny: I was in a variety of Indie bands and Rock bands prior to indulging in J-pop
Mei: J-POP was always a genre that I sang and performed. However, in that mix, I also wrote and/or performed musical theater, ballads, R&B, and J-rock.
Micchi: Before, dance was really my focus rather than singing, and I was mainly performing classical ballet. After I fell in love with J-pop, I started to dance and sing to primarily that genre!
Are you all fluent in Japanese? Or are some of you still learning?
Mei: Hahaha! It depends on what kind of fluency we’re talking about. I can carry on small talk and menial conversations – however, anything that gets too complicated, I’ll start throwing in random English in there. My Janglish is pretty elementary, at best, so my friends tell me that I have my own dialect; we call it Mei-ben.
Micchi: I try to teach myself some Japanese, and I even took a short Japanese class at my University. I can speak and understand some basic phrases and words, but my Japanese is very limited haha! I would love to study the language seriously some time.
Jenny: I think overall our Japanese levels vary haha. We’re all still learning but I think Mei and Chii might be the best speakers out of the four of us.
Who produced “More” and “ Ippozutsu”?
Chii: Our main producer is an artist by the name of Promwolf and he was responsible for both! Ippo Zutsu was our first song together so we were still testing the waters. Hence, the difference in sound between the two songs. Although I don’t produce the songs, I contribute small melodies and chord progressions here and there and I am responsible for mixing the vocals.
Who wrote each song?
Chii: That’s quite the question! haha. As I said before, we all take part in the creative process in one form or another. Ippo Zutsu’s melody was written by Mei, Jenny and myself! As for MORE, the intro, verse, and speaking part were written by me, and the chorus and adlib were written by Jenny. Our Manager Berry handles writing all the Japanese lyrics for our songs.
You’ve mentioned that you’re big fans of Capsule and Perfume, who both have the same producer. Your song “More” sounds so similar to his work in terms of the production that I would have guessed that he actually produced it if I didn’t know otherwise. Were you trying to make it sound like his work or did it just happen to come out that way because you’re big fans of his?
Chii: In short, yes. However, we have other music groups that we pull inspiration from too such as Daft Punk, Huoratron, and Justice though I can see why initially, it would be easy to relate our music to Perfume or Capsule due to the J-pop feel.
Just out of curiosity, what do you think of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, since Yasutaka Nakata also produces her albums?
Jenny: At first I couldn’t quite get into her. I thought her song arrangements were fairly repetitive and uninteresting, but I know that Chii is a big big fan so through her I got to hear some of her lesser known songs and at some point she started to grow on me.
Chii: She’s the love of my life! haha. No, but seriously, I’ve followed her since day one. I tend to support any artists Nakata works with but I appreciate the refreshing difference in her style. I prefer her dancier tracks over her more circusy ones but in the end, I love everything she does!
Mei: I think Kyary’s super creative; just a very very artistic individual. I honestly came about Nakata after working with these lovely ladies, and I just love the dynamic between his music and kyary’s eccentricity. I think the creative combination between Nakata and Pamyu Pamyu is brilliant!
Micchi: I loved Kyary ever since I saw the PonPonPon music video! I thought she was very cute, and she definitely stood out with her style and quirky videos. Her songs are also extremely catchy!
Do you dream of having Yasutaka Nakata produce your music in the future?
Jenny: It definitely would be cool to work with him haha but our producer, PromWolf is pretty dope already.
Chii: I would give one of my kidneys to have the chance to work with him! Of course, the ideal situation would be that he could mentor Promwolf and I.
Mei: That would be freaking awesome! I’ve gotten attached to working on music with Chii and PromWolf, but if we can get a collab, or like Chii mentioned – even mentored – that would be amazing!
Micchi: It would be an honor and a great experience!!
What do each of you do when you’re not working on music? Do you go to school? (What are you studying?) Work? (What kind of work do you do?) Both?
Jenny: Currently I am taking a break from school to focus on my singing career and nurturing our group. At some point I would like to go back and continue my studies in sound engineering and music business, but for now I’m hopping around different part-time jobs haha
Chii: I’m in between semesters at the moment but I am studying vocal performance and audio engineering! I occasionally do freelance vocal work too.
Micchi: I’m a full-time University student studying Speech-pathology. I’ve been balancing school with 4TE and all my other interests, but sometimes it gets a little difficult. I’ll keep working hard!
Mei: Up until recently, when I wasn’t working on music, I was performing at Universal Studios Japan, and before that, I was balancing my auditioning with 4TE. However, since being home, it’s been unpacking, rearranging my room to fit in a mini foto corner for videos and my recording equipment.
Aside from Capsule and Perfume, who are some of each of your other J-Pop favorites?
Jenny: I’m in love with Utada Hikaru, I absolutely love her voice and her music. Otherwise I actually gravitate toward J-rock. Like… some bands I’ve been into lately are Gacharic Spin and Tricot. They’re both so awesome! Ah! I love seeing females excelling in rock music.
Chii: As far as J-pop goes, I love Leah Dizon, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Utada Hikaru, Ai Otsuka, Ayumi Hamasaki and Seiko Matsuda but a lot of what I listen to is J-rock! Mariko Goto, Midori and AKFG are my favorite J-rock bands/artists.
Micchi: I’ve always listened to the groups in Hello!Project, especially C-ute and Morning Musume. I love learning the dances that usually come with their songs! I also like YUI, Utada Hikaru, Hey!Say!JUMP, Arashi, L’ark~en~ciel, and Flow.
Mei: My favorites include Utada Hikaru, CREAM, Koda Kumi, M-Flo, Mika Nakashima, Namie Amuro, May J, Shota Shimizu, Miliyah Kato, AI
Do you also listen to K-Pop or C-Pop? If so, who are your favorites?
Jenny: Admittedly, I do listen to alot of K-Pop. My two favorites are F(x) and Super Junior.
Chii: I’m afraid I don’t listen to either~ My cat is named after one of the members from 2ne1 though!
Micchi: I listen to K-Pop! I love Girls’ Generation, f(x), Ailee, and IU.
Mei: Does it count if I listened to them early high school? Hahaha, I honestly haven’t kept up with K-Pop or C-Pop.
Who are each of your favorite non-Asian artists?
Jenny: I’ve been really getting into Sia’s voice. I adore her timbre and power. I also really like Imogen Heap, earlier Lady Gaga, and Regina Spektor is also one of my staples too.
Chii: Regina Spektor! She’s my go-to artist when it comes to what I feel like singing in English! I also really love Daft Punk and Kendrick Lamar and let’s not forget some old school Beatles!
Micchi: I love Ariana Grande. Her beautiful vocals are always top-notch in both recordings and lives.
Mei: Beyonce. Her performances are so well executed and so polished.
Your songs also reminded me of Lady Gaga’s Art Pop album a bit – is she an influence?
Chii: Although I’ve never heard that album, I do have to admit she is a bit of an influence! One of the things that makes us different is that we are not Japanese! We felt that we should embrace that and add a bit of our western influences to the mix. Being that Lady Gaga is a prominent figure in the dance music industry in America, I aimed to give it a similar feeling, particularly in the speaking part.
I’m sure you’ll get a Japanese record deal soon. Will you all move to Japan once that happens? If you’re offered a record deal outside of Japan, like in the U.S., is that something that would interest you?
Jenny: Haha well we hope so! I’d be willing to move and see it through definitely.
Chii: I would move to Japan in a heart beat! That being said, I would gladly accept a deal outside Japan too because ultimately, music is music and we love making it!
Mei: Oh my god, getting offered a record deal would be amazing, and if it seems promising, I would gladly move.
Micchi: That would be a dream come true and yes, I would move if I am able to! If any opportunity comes, I’d go for it!
Aside from the two songs you’re releasing now, do you have any other songs waiting to be released in the future? If so, could you tell us some titles?
Mei: We definitely have a line up in the works. If you ask us for song titles though, we’ll probably give you something like “R&B Salad” or “cool synth song”. In short – we don’t have names for them yet.
Now, some questions from our random questions bank…
Would you like to do some acting?
Jenny: Maybe after I take some seriously needed acting lessons hahaha!
Chii: I would love to! I only have a bit of experience but I certainly wouldn’t mind learning.
Micchi: I’ve never had experience and I would need acting lessons as well! It’s something I would love to do if given the opportunity, though!
Mei: I have been doing some acting on the side.
What are your hobbies? Do you collect anything?
Jenny: I like to crochet during the christmas season and I actually collect state quarters!
Chii: I like to draw/paint occasionally and I cosplay. I also love to collect anime figurines!
Micchi: Learning different dances and I also cosplay! I collect plushies- currently I’m trying to get all the Disney Tsum Tsums!
Mei: I looove fashion, anything from collecting clothing pieces from certain brands to designing my nails.
What are five of your favorite movies?
Jenny: Zoolander, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moulin Rouge, Big Fish, and Grave of the Fireflies
Chii: Noroi, The Eye, My Sassy Girl (Korean), Sweeney Todd, Paprika
Micchi: The Lion King, Gran Torino, Sunshine, The Prince of Egypt, and Mulan
Mei: Sweeney Todd, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle
What was the last song you listened to?
Jenny: Haha a scratch take I did for some freelance singing work.
Chii: Sakura Mankai by Morning Musume (Sakura Gumi)
Micchi: Chandelier by Sia, I adore the music video.
Mei: Christmas music that my mum is still playing.
How old were you when you wrote your first song?
Jenny: Ehm… 12 perhaps?
Chii: About 13-14~
Mei: Oooooh…. yeah I’d have to go between 12-14.
Thanks to 4TE for their awesome tunes and for doing this interview!
Purchase 4TE’s double A-side single MORE / 一歩ずつ on Bandcamp: http://4teofficial.bandcamp.com/