Singer-songwriter Miwa Gemini is probably new to most people, but for those who are acquainted with her performances, most notably in New York, Texas, California, and Canada, she is a real singer and has developed a strong following in the indie rock circuit. She wears no disguise, no hair pieces, no false eyelashes, nor does she lip sync to her own recordings. Maybe this has held her back, but Miwa values honesty over being a chauteuse, a diva, or a poser, and maybe it was time that others caught up with her. A child raised on the music of Bright Eyes and Sixpence None the Richer, Miwa Gemini sings alongside a new generation of Sarah MacLachlan’s inspired artists.
Her recording career began with two EP’s, “Whiskey Moon,” and “Confetti Dream” released in the early 2000’s. After she met her drummer, Brian Lackey and her engineer, Andy Baker, Miwa was on a roll performing live shows and recording new material. She made her first full length album, Forgetful Ocean and Other Strange Stories on March 12, 2005, and premiered the songs at the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan’s trendy Alphabet City district. On October 9, 2007, Miwa Gemini released her second full-length album, This Is How I Found You, from Addictive Records in Canada. Both albums feature her artwork on the cover. Miwa’s story is inspiring and shows that being true to yourself can be very rewarding.
Where did you grow up? Was anyone in your family musically endowed?
Miwa: I actually grew up in Southern Island of Japan called Kyushu. My mother was always singing.
Did you take music lessons in school or are you self-taught?
Miwa: With guitar, my favorite instrument, I'm all self-taught and right now planning on teaching myself how to play the banjo. I had the most wonderful piano teacher who was very strict yet very philosophical in a way taught me how my personality relates to music. All my songs are born in my head. I have a song that I finished in literally 5 minutes and I have a song that I worked on for a month. The inspirations are all over whatever I'm feeling that moment. I have a song inspired by an afternoon rain, something I wanted to say to someone but I couldn't, and sometimes I'm just lucky enough to stumble onto a song.
How did you meet your drummer, Brian Lackey who played on both your first full length album, Forgetful Ocean and Other Strange Stories and your new album, This is how I Found You?
Miwa: Just like with everything else I rely on my hunch and I knew Brian and I would work well together. We seemed to understand each other from the first rehearsal on. He was a friend of friend of mine and the first time he came to see me play, we got talking and next thing you know we were rehearsing. I couldn't play with a person I couldn't trust. I think that's why personality is very important. I think that when it comes to playing with other people, the best way is to let it happen organically.
Did you have a producer when you recorded Forgetful Ocean and Other Strange Stories?
Miwa: We didn't have a producer. There was Brian, me, and Andy who recorded us. It was a very relaxed atmosphere-plus Andy [Baker] knows what he is doing. The whole thing was recorded and mixed in two days. The best way I can describe is everything sort fell into place beautifully.
What do the songs on Forgetful Ocean and Other Strange Stories mean to you?
Miwa: It's a closing of a chapter. Feels like finally I can leave those songs where they belong and move on to new ones. Of course, it feels great to know that I am taking a big step towards my dream.
How did you get involved with Addictive Records? Why did you turn to a Canadian label to release your new album This Is How I Found You?
Miwa: I was a winner or the Harvest Sky award at Indie Week 2006. One of the awards was Canadian distribution through Addictive Records.
What is the meaning behind the title of the album, This Is How I Found You? Who is James, the person whom you dedicated the album to?
Miwa: I didn't realize until I began working on the new album that my old one (Forgetful Ocean) was a break-up album. After getting my heart repeatedly broken, I realized I was tired and bored of writing sad songs. So I purposely began writing happy songs - or rather songs about where I wanted to be. For instance "Something Ordinary", the song wasn't about anybody - I was sick and tired of feeling sorry for myself and start thinking what I really wanted in my life. And that's how I pulled myself out of gloomy self-pity depression. I'm happily married now - but the lesson learned was that I had to make myself happy in order to be happy with someone else. James is my husband, but funny thing is all the songs were written before I met him but in a way they are about him, if you know what I mean...
What was the inspiration for the track "Traveling Man" from the new album? Are you proud of the way the recording came out?
Miwa: ‘Traveling Man’ came about through listening to all these great country lady singers - particularly Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. They both have a fantastic songs about a traveling man, and I got an inspiration to write my own. I actually have a secret ending to this song that goes with my favorite Japanese saying but that's only for live shows.I'm happy with the way song came out. The bass drum Brian used was from the 20's and has such a distinct sound, I really like it.
What was it like being in the recording studio again with Andy Baker and Brian Lackey? Have you noticed changes in the way you wrote and recorded these songs from when you made Forgetful Ocean and Other Strange Stories with them?
Miwa:It was much more challenging this time. I definitely over worked poor Andy! It was only 4 days and we recorded like 16 hours a day!!! Challenge was that the songs were more complicated than Forgetful Ocean and of course I added a lot more instruments. Too bad that was before I learned the accordion - but next one will definitely feature accordion.
Do you have one song from the new album that you hope people will relate to you for all eternity? Is there a song that you would like to see be what "Cashmere" is to Led Zeppelin, "Freebird" is to Lynyrd Skynyrd, or "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" is to KT Tunstall?
Miwa:‘Something Ordinary’,’ it's a long song but I feel like I was able to express the often overlooked part of the relationships. You see so much of the high drama love affair that you don't realize how magical it is to find something that's simple and comfortable.
Who are some artists that you are learning from or really admire today? How have they inspired you or made music that moves you?
Miwa: I've been listening to Django Reinhardt a lot and Yves Montand. I'm still all about ferris wheel and merry-go-round but lately just moved from Coney Island to Paris in 1920's.
How did you meet your touring companion Nathan Moomaw? Why do you think the two of you get along so well when it comes to traveling across the country?
Miwa: We met at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn during their open mic night. I think we get along mainly because Nathan is a really laid back and patient :) Oh and our musical style usually goes well together.
Who are some people, that you would like to mention, have made playing shows a good experience for you?
Miwa: It's always amazing when a total stranger helps you on the road. Like Erika in Asheville - she puts together a fun show every time I come through. June Madrona from Olympia - I just contacted them through myspace to ask them about places in Olympia and they ended up setting a show. Since then they have come to NYC and we are playing a show again in Olympia this Spring. The same for Ham1 in Athens GA. There are so many other who helped me all over the places - we have been very very lucky.
When fans take pictures of you or film you during shows, are you self-conscious about how you look or are you totally cool with people filming you? Are you critical of yourself when you look back at that footage or is it like watching home movies for you?
Miwa: I can only deal with recordings of my songs - as far as live footage, unfortunately I can't look at myself because I always think I'm so fat!!! I know it's ridiculous but unfortunately that's the first thing that comes to my head.
Do you think that you would be nervous about making music videos?
Miwa: I think it will be something natural to me since I have a strong visual background. I was in a photography business before I began taking music seriously. I was happy that I was able to bring that side of my creativity with the album cover.
Now that you have been exposed to so many places, could you see yourself living some place else other then New York City? Are there other places that attract you?
Miwa: I love traveling all over the place but still home is New York City.
What would you like your album This Is How I Found You make happen for you? What are your aspirations for this album?
Miwa: To quit my day job! So I can pay full attention to my music.
Do you have aspirations for your artwork? Would you like to see your drawings published in art books or used in story books, or have they been commissioned already for such projects? Where did you receive your training to draw?
Miwa: It will be nice to be able to publish a picture book one day. Maybe a children's book.
What does being a musician mean to you?
Miwa: Makes me happy and keeps me sane, and if I can make my audience happy, that's really wonderful.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice that you would like to share with aspiring musicians?
Miwa: It will broaden your world. When you are playing, make sure that you put all your heart into it and make sure your heart will be light. Have fun!