LiSA sings for people everywhere giving it their all

The Yomiuri Shimbun
LiSA strikes a pose during a photo shoot for the interview.

Singing for people seeking to do their best — that’s where LiSA finds herself now. The singer of many hits has taken time to look around and realize something about herself.

“My reliable companions who stick with me and the people who feel the same way as me when they listen to my music — they are all like me in some way,” LiSA said. “There are days when I can’t give it my best, and there are days when I get in a rut. But I still want to give it my best. I want to produce music for people who are always thinking of doing their best tomorrow, so that they can have hope for the future, however small.”

Her voice is powerful in its lower range, and in its higher range its beautiful tones slip smoothly through the ear and into the mind. She uses her technical mastery to sing both mellow ballads and energetic rock songs, skillfully modulating the tempo and capturing listeners’ hearts.

She has been entrusted with singing the theme songs for many animated works and has won broad support for her ability to vividly express the feel of each work with her voice. Besides scoring big hits with “Gurenge,” the opening theme song of TV anime “Kimetsu no Yaiba” (“Demon Slayer”), and “Homura” (Flames), the theme song for the series’ animated film, she also appeared in NHK’s Red & White Year-end Song Festival on Dec. 31, 2019, for the first time, and won a prestigious prize of the Japan Record Awards in 2020.

Last year, she reached a major milestone: the 10th anniversary of her solo debut. She said she had no idea what she would feel, think or do in the coming years.

“‘Will I run out of energy? Will I want to take some time off to relax? Well, then I’m going to just work honestly on what kind of music I want to deliver. Then the music may come out naturally,’ I thought,” she said, explaining what was running through her head while she was producing her latest album, “Lander,” which was released by Sony on Nov. 16.

When the album was finished, “It turned out to be very much full of energy,” she said.

She felt as if she could see in the work a version of herself highly motivated to give it her all beside everyone again, and to chart a course to a new world.

Dreams take time

Music has always been something familiar to LiSA. As a child, she took piano lessons and regularly went to a school specializing in musicals. Then she learned of Speed, a girls dance and vocal group that became extremely popular in the 1990s. Their songs were the first pop music she encountered, and she was immediately enamored of their singing and dancing.

LiSA holds a mic around age 2.

Wanting to become like a member of Speed, she enrolled in a school in Okinawa Prefecture, which had produced Speed, to learn to sing and dance. The little girl was already showing signs of her later trademark enthusiasm in the face of a challenge.

But dreams are not so easily fulfilled, and she returned to her native Gifu Prefecture when she was in the second year of junior high school.

“I had nothing. Then I was invited by a senior student to join their school band as a vocalist because they were doing a concert for their graduation,” she said.

At the concert, she saw the audience in front of her respond positively in real time as they performed. It was her first experience as a singer.

She then learned of songs by Canadian singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne from a member of the band, which made her realize that rock and punk music wasn’t only sung by men. She was also impressed by Lavigne’s powerful singing voice, so capable of rousing a crowd. Together with the band, LiSA began copying and playing Lavigne’s songs, incorporating them into her own musical identity little by little.

LiSA continued with her band activities even after graduating from high school. Other members, who had found jobs, were satisfied to keep on doing the same as before, but she was not. She had a little hope that the band might make it big with some luck even though she did not go as far as to think that it must absolutely succeed. LiSA, soon to be 20, thought she was running out of time. The group eventually disbanded and LiSA left for Tokyo.

“I was the only one with a big dream for the band. Then I thought over what I really wanted to do. Music was the only thing I’d been involved in. There was no other choice. I made up my mind to go to Tokyo,” she said.

Anime brings a whole new world

LiSA moved to Tokyo and attended a series of auditions. In 2010, she was assigned to sing for anime character Yui, the vocalist of the rock band Girls Dead Monster (nicknamed Garudemo) in the TV anime “Angel Beats!” Having spent her youth in dancing and making music, she was not familiar with anime. But her experience with her school band gave her the courage to jump into this unfamiliar world.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
LiSA, her hair dyed pink, is all smiles at a press event for NHK’s Red & White Year-end Song Festival in December 2020.

“‘I should be able to express the song realistically, and my thoughts will surely reach people if I face the work sincerely.’ I could think in this way because I had been working with music all those years,” LiSA said.

At a live show for the anime, she stood on stage as a member of Garudemo and was amazed at the fans’ enthusiasm. The venue was filled with pink glow sticks, the same color as Yui’s hair. She saw that the fans accepted her commitment, and was moved by their warm reception. At the time, she had a black bob haircut so that people would easily remember her. But she decided that if she were ever to have her hair dyed, the color should be pink. The next year, she debuted. In 2014, she had her hair dyed partially in pink.

Breathtaking concerts

LiSA frequently performed at clubs beginning in her teenage years, so concerts are one of the foundations of her music. Live shows are essential to her as an artist, as she can connect with the audience and shine on stage.

She mercilessly throws her body around, as if driven by the audience’s colorful glow sticks, performing hard-hitting songs with her whole frame. The crowd turns feverish with excitement as they watch, enraptured by her performance. This is the power of LiSA’s concerts.

LiSA performs at the Nippon Budokan hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, in April.

Such was the case with her concert at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo in April. The concert was the closing event for a project commemorating the 10th anniversary of her solo debut. LiSA made multiple quick changes of costume — now cute, now glamorous — and sang her hit songs one after another. The whole process was breathtaking, as she swept the venue up in her own world of color.

She does, however, have one bittersweet memory.

“Honestly, I have regrets about my first concert at Budokan,” she said of her 2014 concert. Even though she was highly motivated, it was not a good day for her, and she struggled to perform as well as she wanted. Afterward, she felt depressed, and the people around her just observed her quietly. Only one musician, Tomoya Tabuchi, offered some honest advice, telling her she had to say something in her own words.

Tabuchi, a member of the rock band Unison Square Garden, has worked with LiSA for a long time.

Prompted by his words, LiSA immediately updated her blog: “I won’t forget this frustrated feeling for the rest of my life. I will be stronger both mentally and physically so that I will be able to return to Budokan. So please have nothing but expectations for me!!”

She was determined to press onward, despite the burden she now shouldered from that day. Having written out her resolution, she found herself able to take off once more.

Finding one’s own dream

To LiSA, writing lyrics is equally as important as singing. The lyrics for her major hit “Gurenge” were penned by her own hand. And on her new album, “Lander,” her lyrics grace 11 of the 14 tracks, when one includes the lyrics for one song she cowrote with composer Yuki Kajiura.

Since debuting as a solo singer in 2011, LiSA has been committed to making songs with her own lyrics central to her work.

“There were times when I was tempted to give up. But when I finish writing lyrics that I’m proud of and that make everyone happy, I get such a great sense of achievement that I can never stop doing it,” she said.

The song “Issei no Kassai,” a track from “Lander,” has a line that goes, “Imi o motomete hashittekita keredo / itsumo sore wa ashiato datta” (Although I’ve been running, seeking meaning, / it’s always been footprints).

She used to dream of becoming like Avril Lavine and of performing concerts at the Budokan. She looked back on those dreams and said, “I was borrowing dreams that belonged to somebody else.

“Having kept moving forward while making each of these dreams come true, I was able to arrive at a place where I had never expected to be. It’s no longer the shadow of other people’s dreams I’m pursuing. I think I’m going toward my own future.”

To LiSA, the future now seems bubbling with excitement.