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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Youka: My Dad was always listening to great music when I was growing up, stuff like Prince, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, Joy Division. I’m grateful to have had that kind of exposure as a kid. Then around 8 years old music and instruments found me – as soon as I touched a piano, a violin, a shamisen, I knew it was for me. If I didn’t find music, I have no idea.. I guess I’d be into literature or a marine biologist or something.
Shiomi: So difficult to imagine without music in my life, but probably I'm traveling all over the world and swimming in the sea! Now music is my traveling and swim.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Tina: Music is such a huge part of my life that it is hard to think of what else I'm doing. But when it's not music it's some kind of tour through nature or a creative activity of a different kind, like weaving. Also I love to have dinner parties with friends.
Shiomi: Drawing or making sculptures. Actually the way and thought of creation is the same for me – how much space is needed, color combinations, how to build up, learn new techniques, harmony between myself and others – music is also the same.
How long has your band been around?
Tina: We had our first performance together in 2017 and enjoyed making music with each other so much that we formed the trio and started Mitsune in 2018. In 2020 we added the rhythm section and expanded into a 5-piece band.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
Youka: We are based in Berlin, Germany. Berlin is a very culturally diverse city and has a strong pull for creative types. 4 out of 5 members of the band are expats, so I guess Mitsune wouldn’t exist without Berlin! We have all made decisions in our lives to break away from certain conventions, which is a mindset I think Berlin fosters, and I believe that is reflected strongly in our music and our concept.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Tina: We liked the idea of having a play on words referring to the number three. The shamisen has three strings and 'three' is even one of the kanji characters the word ‘shamisen’ is written with. And we are three women from three cultures. On top of that, we wanted a name that would be pronounced correctly in all our mother tongues. And voila, there we have 'Mitsune', meaning 'sweet sound' but also referring to 'Mitsu', the number three.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Youka: Our most recent show was pretty special – we played a totally acoustic set in a hidden secret garden, in an old part of Berlin called Rixdorf. The garden has this magical energy, I don’t know how or why, but it affects everyone who sets foot in there. We lit all these lanterns around the garden and played right on dusk, as the sun was setting. The support band was a Syrian women’s choir – their performance was very moving, and then they all got in the front row for our set and brought the party, clapping and singing and dancing along and really getting into it! It was a beautiful moment.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Youka: We love outdoor venues and open air festivals because that’s how the Tsugaru shamisen was always meant to be heard – outdoors, projecting through natural spaces. We would love to play at Fuji Rock Festival someday because the setting is so spectacular.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Youka: Oh I’d fill up the lineup with acts we wanna see! Les Filles de Illighadad, Hiatus Kaiyote, ROSALÍA, Arca, maybe a metal band like Meshuggah. It would be the strangest lineup ever hahah.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Tina: Listen to each other, musically and communication-wise. And to my younger self, I'd say it doesn't matter which instrument you start with as long as you get into music.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Youka: I’m a no regrets type of person so I wouldn’t go back and give myself advice. Everyone learns and grows at their own pace and mistakes are a crucial part of that.
Shiomi: Think hard about what I really like and hate. It's making myself clear, life and creation and easy to communicate with people as well for me. Also, learn how to say 'NO' (in japanese culture we usually don't say 'no' - it makes so much complicated in overseas)
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Youka: All of our songs have personal stories attached to them – for me, the most personal one is ‘Fusako no Hula’. It’s a song I wrote for my grandma Fusako, who passed away in 2020. She helped me to buy my first shamisen, but never got the chance to see me play it in person. Writing this song was an important moment of closure, and a way to honour her life and her influence on mine.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Tina: The audience loves the fast and groovy tunes, which are also very exhilarating to play for us.
Youka: Yes, songs like Maru, Fusako no Hula, Hazama, Roku-Go. People also really enjoy Hotaru, which is a stripped-back, intricate composition with just the shamisen trio.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Youka: Usually one of us has an idea, and brings it first to the shamisen trio – anything from a melodic fragment to a fully fleshed-out arrangement. We workshop it in the trio until we’re happy with the structure and arrangement, then we bring it to the rhythm section to add their groove and flair. We are inspired by both emotional and conceptual things – personal stories, celebration, grief, nature, different scales and tunings, sound textures, rhythms. Mainly we are inspired by playing together, the sense of community we have as a group.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Youka: Joy, authenticity, and elevation. We don’t treat the audience like idiots – songs can be complex, virtuosic, challenging, and still groovy and fun.
Shiomi: I love that people said “it was like another world”. We bring the audience to have their own pictures and out of the realistic world. I'm so happy to hear people think our music is like a dream. Especially love to see kids start to dance during our performance!
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Tina: We don't always have the same opinion, but we respect and love each other and we listen to each other’s reasons. Our basic rule is, we don't do anything that one of us is opposed to. We're talking and texting with each other every day and so far that has worked well for us. And when we wanna remind ourselves what we are doing this for, we just have to play music together.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Youka: We are releasing our new album ‘Hazama’ on 18th February, and we’re having an album launch concert in Berlin on the same day. After that we’ll be performing around Europe, pandemic situation allowing. We would love to meet everyone reading this at a show one day!
Album Launch @ Badehaus Berlin, 18.02.2022: https://badehaus.tickettoaster.de/produkte/227-tickets-mitsune-badehaus-berlin-am-18-02-2022
Instagram @mitsunemusic: https://www.instagram.com/mitsunemusic
Hazama Album Preorder: