Welcome to UG2MSG (you’re going to make something great)! We’re celebrating this fresh start with Anti-Standard #23 featuring Boston-based DIY songwriter and musician, Mei Semones. Influenced by Jazz, Mei Semones’ Japanese-English lyrics exist in a special genre of love songs. They feel hopeful. Fresh. Alive. Take a listen for yourself as your read our interview with Mei.
*I spoke with Mei over video please note some of this interview has been shortened but all words are accurate*
Hey Mei, could you tell our audience a little bit about yourself?
Yes. So I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan. And I’m going to school in Boston right now at the Berklee College of Music. Playing in like a few different bands and kind of my own band. Yeah.
So you’re on tour right now. Could you talk a little bit about what that’s been like? how long you’re on tour where you’re touring?
Yeah, so we left, like last Thursday. And so far, we’ve been to St. Paul in Chicago. And right now we’re in DC. I’m in the green room right now. And then tomorrow, we’re going to New York, and then Boston and Philadelphia. Yeah, it’s been really fun. Like definitely a lot of driving. We drove like, 24 hours, the first two days. But it’s really fun now.
What’s been your favorite part of the tour so far?
I feel like just hanging out. We stayed in West Virginia and our day off in this place called Harpers Ferry. It was just really pretty. We got a nice Airbnb. It was like a historic town. So it was like, it was just beautiful. That was my favorite part.
You’re in DC right now- hahaha I’m reading the words behind you. And you have a show tonight, what are you playing?
This is with The Brazen Youth. This isn’t like my own band. We’re playing songs off of the new EP, and some older stuff. And one unreleased song that’s gonna be on the next album.
You just released the new music. Could you talk about what that process was like? And how you determine when to release new songs.
I wrote those songs quite a while ago, I guess like the winter 20 like a while ago. And I’d say it was a really long process of recording them. Mixing them was really long too just because everybody was really busy, you know? And by the time it was done, it was like November 2021. We were gonna try to put it out then. But a lot of people told me I shouldn’t release music at the end of the year, because it’s just like, a bad time to release music. So I waited until January. It wasn’t really like that intentional, I guess. But it just like happened to be like, what it was done. And then people were like, “you should wait.” So I waited. Yeah. Yeah. This is a first release that I’ve actually put work into promoting, like reaching out to press and doing stuff like that. So, I realized how much work it really takes to do that, but yeah, I get paid off a little bit. You know, it’s been going pretty well.
I want to talk about your cover art because it’s all very cohesive. Do you work with a certain artist?
I’m actually gonna show you she’s like sitting over there. She’s waving! But she makes all of my cover art. (Mei’s cover art was designed by Reggie Pearl)
Is this something that’s important to you to make sure, like in the future, when you release new singles and albums, do you want it all to have this cohesive vision? Do you think like you would ever stray from that?
Yeah, I feel like for now, I want to stick with that. But probably if I like, if I have a new project that it’s just like, a very different direction I would consider trying to reach out to different artists. But I think it’s nice to have one person doing it just because like you said, it’s very cohesive, easy to recognize; people see it and think “oh, that looks like Mei’s songs.”
Speaking of Mei’s songs when did you begin to get involved in music? And when was it something you realize you wanted to do as your career?
I started taking piano lessons when I was born because my grandma bought my family a piano. They wanted us to take lessons between my sisters. So I did that until I was like 11. And I switched to playing guitar because I wasn’t really enjoying the piano lessons anymore. And I played classical guitar for a bit. And I was like, I don’t want to do this like I want to play electric guitar, I want to play rock music because that’s where I was at in middle school. So I started doing that. In high school is when I started playing different genres. I started playing jazz. And I think that’s like when I started taking the idea of going into music as a career more seriously. That’s why I decided that’s what I wanted to pursue because I just realized that there wasn’t really anything else I was interested in doing. Once I started playing jazz and stuff.
How would you describe the genre of music you make?
Okay, so I guess I would like to keep it short, I would say like jazz influenced in DJ PA. And I feel like that’s kind of easier for people to wrap their head around. But there’s definitely just like a lot of different influences that I’m trying to incorporate. Yeah, that’s probably what I would say. Well, I’m curious to hear like, what would you describe it as?
I’m a visual persons so-I see it as, airy, and dreamy. Poetic, I would describe your work as and I think that’s why I was so drawn to the artwork too, because I think your lyrics and tone and that everything about your music works so well with this album art, or I almost see it like as like, oh, like, in a way. It’s like a reimagination of a poetry book. I could imagine going into a bookstore and seeing that this artwork on like a shelf and reading is beautiful poems.
So beautiful. I love that way of describing.
I recently renamed the platform from Thrifts and Prints to You’re Going to Make Something Great. The inspiration behind that was the thought that everyone can be an artist if they want to-everyone has something within them to make something great. How would you interpret that message, you’re going to make something great how, like, in terms of musicians, maybe younger musicians who don’t think this is like a viable career choice are something that they are good enough to do? What advice would you give?
I would say if it’s something that you really care about, and something you’re passionate about, you should go for, like whether it’s music or if it’s anything else. I think you just have to be realistic and recognize that it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s not something that just is gonna fall in your lap, you know? Yeah. but if regardless of all of that, it’s still what you want to do, then you should do it because like, it’s better to be kind of struggling and doing something that you love than like, you know, being really comfortable like hating your job or whatever.
Definitely agree. How do you feel about the music scene in Boston? What are some areas you think are really awesome? And what are some areas you think could improve on in terms of like the city as a whole or even just like the college lifestyle there?
Yeah, I really am enjoying the scene in Boston. It’s funny because it’s, All of our friends, like a lot of us, go to Berklee, we all kind of play on the same boat. And we played the same house shows and small venues and stuff. So it’s pretty tight-knit, I would say, and I like it for that reason.
Something that I don’t like that much about it is that Boston is a city that doesn’t have very many smaller venues. I feel like it’s either like you play a house show, I don’t know, there’s like a few places that are like, really small, like 100 Count, maybe you’re even smaller than the next step up is like, too far, you know? There’s not like an in-between, between, like, really small venues and big venues, if that makes sense. That’s why I’m excited to go to New York because I feel like a bigger range of venues. So it’s not such a big jump from playing house shows to play a small 100 200 cap venue?
When you look at your life in 10 years, what goals you have with music? Or do you? Like even tell me if you hate that question? I think it’s like daunting.
It’s definitely daunting, but I feel like it’s something you have to think about. Yeah. But I guess I would say in 10 years, I definitely want to have a bigger audience than I do. Now. I don’t want to be playing bigger venues. I still want to be performing and everything will be like 31 at that point. But maybe just being like a more established musician. Doing some like teaching.
Who are your all-time favorite artists or groups of artists and musicians that have inspired you through your life? Like do you have one band or something?
I would say, I guess like right now, John Coltrane is something like the top of my list. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. Now I listen to more Jazz. So like, I guess I’d say, Coltrane, Monk, Charlie Parker, Keith Jarrett. Evans and Jim Hall. Like the classics.
You write all your songs. Where do you draw inspiration for the lyrics? And when it comes to that process? What’s your first steps?
I feel like I usually start with a chord progression. Honestly, a lot of my songs come from a new voicing for a chord or something. And I’m like, Wow, that sounds really cool. And then, I build off of that. The melody kind of comes at the same time sometimes, like when I’m playing voicings and melody often comes from like, the top note, voicing. And then lyrics after that. My lyrics are mostly just inspired by people I love. I feel like I read about people a lot. And like love-I’m trying to, like expand the subject matter of my lyrics, because like, all of my songs are love songs. is true. But since it’s in Japanese, I’m like, not that worried about it. Because most people don’t even know what I’m saying here. Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, I would say that’s like, my writing process for the most part.
You’re writing in Japanese, how does that inspire you and the way you present your music to the world?
I’m half Japanese, and I grew up here in the US. But I feel like it’s like a really important part of my identity for me personally because my mom is Japanese. And she just raised me that way, you know, like, the way that we are in the house, and the only speaking Japanese to each other and everything. As I was growing up, I didn’t really have other people to speak Japanese to. So for me, writing in Japanese was a way of staying in touch with the language, the culture, through my art, and also like I write so differently in Japanese than I do in English. Just like the words that I come up with, and like, the rhythms of the words, I guess, are very different than writing in English just because like the syllables fit differently.
Keep up with her on Instagram
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