Itsuka and Gonchi have a long history with one another. Having met in junior high school in Japan, the pair were friends but at that time they never considered making music together. It was only much later when Itsuka went to university and joined a band that they thought they should become a duo. Taking notes from her favourite group, Astro, Itsuka decided to combine her rap skills with Gonchi’s DJ experience to create an addictive fusion of rap and electronica music under the name Charisma.com.
First using their lives as office workers as inspiration for their lyrics, the pair carved a niche for themselves in the Japanese music industry and also won over the hearts of many British fans during their recent trip to country to perform at Hyper Japan. MyM Buzz was able to meet the pair to have a chat with them after their two-day takeover of the event.
When you first began making music you also worked as office workers. How did that compare to working in the music industry?
Itsuka: “We’re hardly working as office workers anymore, but when we started in the first two years we were doing both: working as both office workers and musicians. But because of the time restrictions it made us focus more on them.”
Did music start as a hobby when you were working then?
Itsuka: “No, we were always 100% into the music.”
Did you study music when you were younger?
Itsuka: “I only did piano for a little bit,”
Gonchi: “I didn’t either.”
You went to school together, but you didn’t decide to start making music together until much later. How did that come about?
Itsuka: “I approached her first. So when I went to university I studied music and formed a band, but separate from that I wanted to form another group. I thought that having a DJ would be good, and even having a girl as the DJ would also be good. I knew her brother was a DJ, and she looked like she had some spare time, so I asked her.”
Is that true? You had a lot of free time?
Did you learn your DJ skills from your brother?
Gonchi: “No. My brother only taught me the basics because he was mainly using turntables. But I heard that CDs were much easier to use than turntables so I just purchased a CD deck myself, so he didn’t teach me that much.”
But on stage it looks like you’re using turntables?
Gonchi: “It’s connected to a computer.”
Is that easier?
Gonchi: “Much easier, and it’s more advanced as well.”
Your rapping skills are fantastic. Was that quite natural, or was it something you had to develop over the years?
Itsuka: “I hope I’m developing.”
Do you get inspiration from any other rappers?
Itsuka: “I was influenced by a band called Astro. They have four MCs and two DJs. Their MC levels are really high, so I was inspired by them to train myself.”
You were in a band, and then went into rapping. How did you go from one to the other?
Itsuka: “When I was a singer in a band I thought I was singing like a diva, but then people around me told me it wasn’t singing it was rapping, so I decided to go on rapping. I think I misunderstood!”
Do you make all your music?
Itsuka: “I write the lyrics and do everything else, and she presses play.”
How do you come up with the lyrics and melody then?
Itsuka: “Usually while listening to a track I get inspiration from it, or I go through my stock of things I’ve written or hummed in the past and start from there.”
Have you taken any of your older songs and updated them into new songs?
Itsuka: “No, usually all the songs are new.”
What about the lyrics? Where do you draw inspiration from for them?
Itsuka: “When I used to work in the office the lyrics were based on events there, but since I stopped working there I just tend to go to a café and sit next to two girls, perhaps, and listen to what they say and take notes to get inspiration from them.”
How did your manager react to the fact you brought your work experiences into the music?
Itsuka: “He was scared towards the end, because he thought that some things were about him. I would say, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry.’”
What did you do in your office?
Itsuka: “Just admin, record sales and sorting out stock, things like that.”
What kind of industry was it in?
Itsuka: “It was a retail business, bringing goods from Hawaii and importing into Japan.”
Your choreography is quite cool; you use a ladder and have selfie sticks. How did you come up with it, and why did you decide to use a ladder?
Itsuka: “I get inspiration when I’m working on a song, particularly for ‘Otubone Rock’ I got inspiration for the ladder from a Japanese drama called Shomuni (Power Office Girls). It’s about the feeling that even if you’ve been beaten you can still come back stronger.”
How does the ladder represent that?
Itsuka: “In the drama the main character is always carrying a ladder. It’s set in the office environment and they are office ladies. That strong woman image was what we wanted to use, so in the drama their day-to-day job is pretty much changing lightbulbs in the office. But when something critical happens in the office they take on a crucial role and must save the company.”
You talked about the drama being about people that are beaten and then have to come back again. Have you experienced that yourself?
Itsuka: “I believe that I am the kind of person that the more difficult situation I am in the better I would get. So if I am pushed or battered I am more resilient and feel a fire in me.”
What about you?
Gonchi: “I am the opposite.”
Maybe that’s why you are so perfect together.
Itsuka: “Not sure about that.”
You have a lot of charisma on stage and can get the crowd excited very easily. Is your name ironic?
Itsuka: “When we came up with the name we didn’t think too much about it. We chose Charisma because of how the word is understood normally, and we chose the ‘.com’ because we thought it meant company. So we used that thinking that more and more cool people would come to join our company but it turned out it meant commercial.”
Does that make you unhappy? You don’t think your music is commercial?
Itsuka: “We don’t mind at all, because as long as it is good we are happy to do anything commercial.”
How do you promote your music? Do you have your music used in TV shows or dramas?
Itsuka: “Maybe I should start acting!”
Do you think you are a good actress?
Itsuka: “Yes, I think I can play a good villain.”
What kind of villain?
Itsuka: “A witch, with a broomstick. I would want to be Snape!”
But Snape is good in the end.
Itsuka: “That’s true, me too.”
You recently joined Warner Japan. Since you’ve joined such a big record label what would you like to do in the future?
Itsuka: “Even though it’s a bigger company, in terms of activities we would like to continue as we were doing and to keep our style. There’s the idea that if you’re with a bigger company they would try to change your style so that you appeal to more people, but we are not bothered by that and would like to continue as we have been doing.”
This is a slightly random question to end things on, but if somebody decided to make a videogame about your group, what would it be and why?
Itsuka: “No, not RPG. Donkey Kong. Maybe rather than physically being strong and stamping on people I could say something that the person wouldn’t like and that would be my fight force.”
Why did you say RPG?
Gonchi: “Because you collect different items as you go along and fight your way, and is a good representation of what we do.”
Interview by Roxy Simons and Adam Riley of K-Pop Korner