BENI, formerly known as Beni Arashiro, is an up and coming Japanese Pop and R&B singer. She's been recognized by anime audiences for her work in Eyeshield 21 for "Goal" and Kim Possible for "Call Me, Beep Me." To celebrate her new album, Lovebox, which debuted #1 on Oricon's weekly charts, BENI will heading a tour in Japan. Before doing so, she made an appearance at Anime Expo 2010 as a guest of honor and we had the honor of sitting down and having a brief chat with her.
T-ONO: How do you balance being an icon in so many different areas?
Beni: Right now I’m focused on my music. That’s the base of what I do. I tried out acting and doing commercials, but right now it’s mainly about making music. Right now mainly, more than ever, I’m focused on staying in the studio and working with the producers.
T-ONO: Is it because you like music more than other things you’ve dabbled in?
Beni: Yeah, definitely. I’ve always loved music and it’s exactly what I wanted to do when I got in the industry. Hopefully it’ll take me places in the future as well.
T-ONO: Is there anything you’ve wanted to try that you haven’t yet or are thinking about for the future?
Beni: Well, definitely touring internationally. I’m going to be having my first solo tour this year in Japan. Once I get that going, I’ll make another album, do another tour, and then hopefully I can go to places beyond Japan. That’s my biggest dream for right now.
T-ONO: Obviously you’re proficient in English. Is there a reason you hit Japan first rather than another market?
Beni: I was living in Japan. I grew up in Japan actually. I was born there, came to California for six years, then I was back in Japan. So I was basically introduced to J-Pop while I was over there and started singing in Japanese. I got connected with the Japanese music industry. I guess that’s what led me to starting out in Japan. I was never really fluent in Japanese; I was going to an American school. I started working on my Japanese skills, writing in Japanese. And it took off from there.
T-ONO: So we know you listen to J-Pop, but you have mentioned in previous interviews that you cite Janet Jackson and a lot of American R&B artists as influences. Are there any notable Japanese artists that have influenced you?
Beni: When I first went back to Japan after living here, I was in middle school and that’s when Speed and all these Okinawan artists were really big. I was Okinawan as well, so that was a big motivation. They were from a small island, and I thought if they could do it I could do it too. It was a really big factor in me becoming interested in Japanese music. I’ve always liked R&B based J-Pop artists. I’ve always loved R&B, that’s always the music I’ve enjoyed making.
T-ONO: About what age did you start to get interested in J-Pop?
Beni: About when I was 12, when I came back.
T-ONO: Was it difficult? Especially while you were learning Japanese and trying to write music.
Beni: Yeah it was. Because trying to express anything in Japanese was already difficult enough, so trying to make something poetic that could be a song was harder. I would start out writing simple terms or words that I liked, just phrases. I’d start spreading it out from there, and mixing in English. That’s where the English part of me helped out a lot, since you know, there are a lot of ‘Engrish’ songs in J-Pop (laughs).
T-ONO: There are a lot of new immersion artists that can speak proficient English such as yourself. What do you think about this trend?
Beni: I think it’s great that a lot more artists are incorporating English into their songs. I’m sure that makes it a lot easier for American fans to listen to our music and kind of get the gist of what we’re saying. I think it’ll be going to be a big part in bridging the gap between Japan and American music. Hopefully more people will be introduced to our music, J-Pop, because of that.
T-ONO: Because you’re proficient with English and that helps with English speaking fans, have you ever considered expanding your career into the U.S.?
Beni: Yes, that’s a big dream right now. Since I’m fluent in both, hopefully that will be a way for me to get my music out. Like I said I wanted to tour internationally. If I’m going to be able to do that tour I want to come out with songs that can hit worldwide. Hopefully one day.
T-ONO: Has anything prevented you from doing that so far?
Beni: No, it’s just that I want to focus on my career in Japanese industry. I want to master my craft in Japan, I got my first number one on my second album, which just came out, so you know now that more and more people in Japan are listening to my music, when I get that tour going, I want to be ready for the world if I go worldwide. I’m just building everything up right now.
T-ONO: What’s been the highlight of your career?
Beni: I switched labels two years ago, and I started making music in my full name. I think that was a big career booster for me because a lot more people were able to listen to just my music without the acting and modeling getting in the way. Now that I’m BENI, it’s clearer that I’m an artist and making my own music. I think that was a big turning point in my career and me as well in realizing what I wanted to do.
T-ONO: What was the inspiration for the name change and taking out the name Arashiro from Beni?
Beni: Well I just wanted to change the image I guess, just start out fresh. I was going through a lot of changes inside, and I just wanted to start off doing what I wanted to do and not let anybody have any say in that. That’s exactly what I got to do when I started off as Beni. So right now I’m totally just producing everything that has to do with my music, my visuals, anything that has to do with me as an artist I have control over now. I think that’s really what kind of freed me. I’m having a lot of fun doing it.
T-ONO: Where do you get a lot of your inspirations for your music?
Beni: Just listening to a whole bunch of music I like, such as R&B, dance music, I listen to a whole bunch of stuff so I’m always inputting and getting inspiration from artists that I’ve always been inspired by like Madonna and Michael Jackson. A lot of people inspire me and who I am right now. When it comes to lyrics I’m always keeping my radar up. I could hear a couple fighting in the street and I might turn that into a song. I look at anything and try to think about that song-wise.
T-ONO: We also noticed that you graduated from Sophia University with a degree in political science. Are you an opinionated person in regards to politics and the world?
Beni: Actually I changed my major and I graduated with a sociology degree. But yeah, going to Sophia helped keep me grounded starting with my career right after high school. Just going to school gave me an opportunity to think about something besides music. It would help keep my English skills because I would shift to a totally Japanese environment. It took me five years to graduate but I’m glad I stuck with it.
T-ONO: About what you learned from school and your experiences, do those affect your lyrics and inspiration?
Beni: Well if anything it might not have anything to do with school academically, but the relationships I had during school have a really big impact on my writing and my music. We’d go to the cafeteria and talk about stuff and I’d write it into my next song. I think my friends and the people I got to meet impacted me.
T-ONO: Do you have any messages for current and future fans in the United States?
Beni: Yes! Thank you for sticking with me. I know some people have been listening to me ever since the beginning and I’m really grateful, and hopefully I can come give you music live one day, but until then just keep following and check out the new album. Thanks for always being there.
Interviewers: Davis Fan and Theodore Mak