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40-Something J-Pop Rookie HANCE Talks His Unique Journey: ‘I Want to Do Everything I’ve Left Undone’

Debuting in your 40s isn’t very common. Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve always loved music, and used to play in a band when I was a student. A turning point came in my 20s when I was signed to a management company as an artist. I never got a chance to debut back then, but they set aside a kind of “development period” for me and I used to work with another person as a duo.

But this company was rather Spartan [laughs] and I ended up leaving because I wanted the freedom to express various other things. I wanted control over my own musical journey, so I had to choose a different path.

I figured I should get some solid work experience, so I saved up money for about three years working part-time and started my own business in my 20s.

Did you continue doing music in the meantime?

I played in a band and performed in small cafés and such. But this is the first time I decided to really take things seriously.

Oddly enough, September 2020 was almost exactly 20 years since I last belonged to that management company. My mother passed away in her 40s, and when I realized that I was nearing that age, I started to feel like, “I could die any day now, so I want to do everything I’ve left undone.” That was a major motivator, and I decided to properly package the music that I’d continued sparingly over the years.

What are some of your musical roots?

My mother was a devout Christian, so I was taken to church every Sunday from a young age. I think the hymns I heard there was a big influence. And my grandfather on my mother’s side used to be an amateur classical conductor, and it went far beyond being just a hobby [laughs]. He had instruments such as piano, accordion, guitar and violin lying around the house, so that might have influenced me as well. The Black music at the core of HANCE’s melodies also originally stems from gospel and church music, so I think maybe there’s an affinity there too.

Also, I belong to the generation that got hit by the ’90s U.S. and U.K. rock, so I used to listen to those a lot in my teens and 20s. I kind of think that all genres were really lively back then.

You listen to rock music too?

It’s my foundation, actually. I gradually got into Black music as I grew older. And I was a club DJ, so I discovered a lot of stuff by doing a lot of digging from club music.

You worked with Kentaro Ishigaki on your debut album Between the Night. How did this collaboration come about?

I used to study guitar under Mr. Ishigaki. By that, I don’t mean the technical aspect, but things like how make a composition sound “mature,” for example, methods of arrangement such as ways of using tension and slash chords.

What’s the theme or concept of the album?

I traveled a lot in my 20s and 30s, and wanted to infuse my music with the atmosphere of the places I visited and what I felt there. So I focused more on the scenery that people would envision from the music rather than the music itself when I was creating it.

Is that why you shot your music videos for “Valencia Sky” and “The Night and the Lie” on location in Valencia, Spain?

Like I said, I wanted my music and visuals to express a certain view of the world, and the Japanese landscape didn’t match what I had in mind. So to be honest, I intended to shoot all of the videos outside of Japan.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been shooting in Japan since 2020, but once things settle down, I want to resume shooting overseas again as much as possible.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

Partly because I’m debuting in my 40s, I feel the desire to create music that fits mature people. You know, this is something about the music industry that I’ve always felt was strange. Take fashion for example. As people age, they’re offered suggestions for clothes and lifestyles tailored to that generation. But in music, all the new artists are in their teens and 20s and no newcomers that fit our generation emerge, as far as I know.

That’s so true.

The middle-age demographic will expand from now on, and I’m sure there will be more people like me who want to hear new music geared towards our generation. I think there’s a need for more music that can be presented to people like that.

Of course there are many artists past their 40s and 50s making great music, but they’re all people who’ve been doing so since they were young. I think that’s awesome and there are many artists I love among them. But I also feel that the music made by people who had other careers will be different from the music from those veteran artists.

You really have a point there. Maybe there should be more people who choose a second career in music as an artist.

I personally feel like I’m making the best music of my life right now, so I don’t think, “Why didn’t I debut sooner?” I’m sure there are many people whose talents blossom at a young age, but I also think that there must be people out there around my age who are starting to make the kind of music they’re satisfied with.

Some young people might be wondering right now whether to find a stable job or to continue doing music. In my case, my path was probably for the best, and because I have another job, I’m very emotionally stable [laughs]. I like things besides music, I like my job, I like to travel, so I want to be greedy and do them all. I think it’ll become more common for people to balance a career and doing music, and hope that kind of lifestyle will take root in the future.

HANCE’s Between the Night tracklist

1. Prelude
2. The Night and the Lie
3. Smoke
4. Marble Traveler
5. Suzy
6. Color
7. Escape
8. Sunny
9. Making Shadow
10. Valencia Sky
11. Midnight in Café
12. Rain

This article by writer Takanori Kuroda first appeared on Billboard Japan.

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