Tokyo-born singer-songwriter Juri Jinnai eventually moved to Boston and formed Emergency Tiara, a band celebrating retro sounds and looks whose mission involved “wishing to encourage people to acknowledge their worth and remember they are beautiful.” After a few years of joyful and intricate recordings and performances (and lewks!), lockdown put ET–like all things–to a standstill of sorts. But the creativity never stopped, and August will mark their incredible osntage return!
Thotyssey: Hello Juri, thanks so much for talking to us today! I was watching a snippet on your IG previewing an intimate live version of a new song! You and the band also got to play Brooklyn Pride a few weeks ago, which was your first official onstage reunion post-lockdown. How great is it to be performing live again, after that miserable 2020?
Emergency Tiara: I am so pumped to be able to perform and connect with people again! I must say, I’m a little bit nervous about going back to the stage. I mean… can I still sing and dance at the same time!? But I didn’t really stop singing or dancing during the miserable 2020, so hopefully my legs won’t fall off, lol!
Where did you spend most of your lockdown, and what was that experience like for you?
I was on the full paranoia bus so I almost never left home except going to get Covid test here and there. But to be honest, I really don’t have much to complain! I was hiding in my apartment and just making music day in day out! Also thanks to social media and internet, it gave me so much power and warm feelings to be able to stay in touch with ET family and fans from all over the world, and share our struggles and joy.
Many creatives were left uninspired during quarantine, but you and your writing partner Willow were quite prolific; you composed lots of new songs! Was there a specific driving force behind that creativity?
Writing to me is more like a therapy, so I needed to be writing–especially because the time was harder! But yes, to find some inspirations was a bit challenging when you’re just in your apartment for 13 months! Luckily, I am a big film fan, and watched over 400 movies in 2020 since March. Cooking is another thing I enjoy doing, so I got lots of inspiration from that. As a matter of fact, one of my new songs is called “Bacon And Eggs,” lol!
Speaking of movies, has Quentin Tarantino ever scouted ET for one of his soundtracks, or even a scene in one of his movies? He would stan you!
That’d be my dream! I love love love his movies and music selections so much! If you know Mr. Tarantino, please share my music with him!
In general, what sort of things inspire your sounds and lyrics, and what’s that process of writing songs with Willow like?
I love the feeling of nostalgia, so a lot of my sound inspirations are some of those classic iconic artists such as David Bowie, Prince, Talking Heads, whose music has been around for a long time yet still relevant and cool in the modern days! Lyrically, I enjoy being silly and flirty with the lyrics… but not sure what actually inspires it, great question! I’ll think about it, haha!
When I write with Willow, I bring at least one or two song ideas, and we just talk and talk and talk until something clicks for both of us! From there, it really depends on the song: sometimes melody first, sometimes lyrics first, sometimes demo track first!
I love that nostalgic sound that ET serves us–that classic vintage instrumentation and groove that brings to mind Motown, Brill Building and surf rock–all that amazing early 60’s stuff. You all play real instruments, which is a really rare novelty for kids today who grew up with this very produced and computer-polished pop music. How did those classic sounds come to influence your current sound so strongly?
I do love Motown, and grew up listening to Diana Ross, Stevie, Marvin, and all the classics! I think our generation didn’t have social media and iPhones when we were teens, so we were exchanging CDs with friends to be able to listen to more music than I could buy CDs myself… and naturally ended up listening to a lot of parents’ CDs as well. I believe limitation can be a bliss!
You were born in Tokyo, then moved to Boston in your early 20s where you formed the band. Were you seeking that sort of collaboration, or did it just kind of happen naturally?
My mother wanted to live abroad when she was younger, but it was a different era… so she wasn’t able to. So she asked me if I would study abroad! I absolutely had no hesitation, and just moved to the states without being able to speak English! So very not well planned at all!
Is it weird at all to write music in English, when that’s not your native language? Like, are there all these great Japanese turns of phrase and concepts that would just get lost in English translation?
I think I’d be weird if you try to translate from Japanese to English. But because I got to learn English here in America, I had a great opportunity to learn the culture that’s inseparable from the language. I love both languages, and I try not to change [their] nature ’cause they’re already so beautiful as is!
Now you’re a New Yorker! How do you like it here so far, coming from Boston? The pizza’s better, certainly!
I love New York–my favorite city in the whole world! The city is full of driven, exciting, fun people who inspire and motivate me all of the times. But yes, the food here is also fantastic! Not only the choices we get, but also the late night meal options here are incredible. I feel so spoiled!
Emergency Tiara has now recorded several singles and a full album, Unsophisticated Circus (2019). Do you have a favorite song of yours from your whole career?
This is a hard question, because all my songs are my babies! But I must say “Explode” is definitely one of my top favorites. The song won John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and that gave me a little boost in my confidence as a songwriter. And I am also very excited to share some of my new music I’ve been cooking!
I also love your style, which can also be called vintage… but I’m wondering if you work with any designers for your chic stage looks? I especially enjoyed what you wore in the “Explode” video.
Thank you! My mom plays a big influence in this also! My mom is my fashion muse and icon my whole life, and to be able to grow up watching a confident woman who always dresses to her perfection taught me so much about the joy of fashion! I don’t work with any particular designer, but I would love too, haha!
How do you like the process of filming music videos–is it fun, or tedious? You certainly have a lot of great ones!
Huge, huge thanks to my beautiful husband Russell, who makes most of my music videos! I personally have great times every time I get to make music videos with Russ and many other talented artists in NYC. But all I know is, filmmaking is so hard… so I am not sure if Russ is having as much fun, lol!
“Explode” looked particularly intricate, with a lot of choreography where all the different on-screen “versions” of you had to match up! You have these very fluid, graceful movements; does choreography come easy for you?
Oh no! I am just so lucky to have great people around me including my dear friend Denosh Bennett who choreographed not only the “Explode” video but also a lot of our live performance sets [as well as the] “Do Not Disturb” and “2 Kool 4 Skool” videos! As far as dancing, I am still trying to get better at it… like, a lot better! Lol!
You and your backup singers are often seen in brightly colored wigs, which obviously makes us think of drag. I recall a set you all did in Stonewall a few years ago, and as mentioned earlier you just did Brooklyn Pride. Is queer culture a big influence on your sound, style and philosophy?
YES! I have so much respect for anyone who fights every day just to be able to live life as who they are no matter of the oppression, because it is not easy. To see so many minorities shine truly is my biggest joy and power source. I do hope those stupid human-made oppressions goes away, though.
Did you ever have an all-time favorite onstage moment?
Ahh, so many! But to mention a couple: at the Chicago Pride in 2019, it was down pouring rain during our set. But so many people stayed to watch our performance, getting soaked with us! I was so so touched! Another one is when I was opening for Belinda Carlisle for her UK tour in 2019. Belinda, her team and her fans treated us so well and beyond, and it was my “dreams come true” moment!
We don’t see as many full bands performing live and making hit records like we used to. There are a lot of reasons for that. But are we maybe seeing a return of instrumentation, as live performing becomes so much more important for artists to stand out?
I love live band, DJ set, and everything in between. But there is always something magical about playing music with your friends, so I def recommend trying it if you are an artist and haven’t tried yet! But if you got your “thing,” keep on shining!
We will be playing from old to new songs with a powered up version of ET! It’s gonna be a full band (Sass Boys) plus singers and dancers (Sister Wives)! An amazing friend / dancer of mine, Olivia Cipolla, is choreographing the whole show. So hope everyone can come party with us!
Anything else coming up that the children should be keeping their eyes and ears open for?
We are working on an EP and an LP! So please stay tuned, and hopefully I get to share more details sooooon!
One fan geek question: I love an “old” song of yours (from 2017?), “Make You Fall In Love,” but I’ve only heard live versions of it. Will you ever record a studio version of that?
We actually did! But I completely forgot about it until you just asked, oops! It’s time for me to go back to my whole catalog, isn’t it? Lol!
And finally: What’s your best advice for someone who desperately wants to find their way in music, but is facing frustration and adversity…. especially if they don’t perfectly fit the mold of a 2021 popstar?
I think the best thing to do is to look inward instead of outward, and know who you truly are as an artist and as a person. There is only a few “popstar” spots, but that doesn’t mean other music cannot exist! As long as you enjoy the musician journey including the results that often come with struggles and be true to yourself, the doors will open up! Please don’t put yourself in any mold that is not genuine to you! (I get very passionate about this kinda thing, haha!)
Thank you Juri, see you at Elsewhere!
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Emergency Tiara’s upcoming appearances, and follow the band (and frontwoman Juri) on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Download and stream ET’s music on Amazon, Apple, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Spotify and Squarespace.