STORGY takes pride in seeking out new literary fiction from across the globe – as well as showcasing film reviews and other cultural items of interest. Our mission has always been to showcase artists and shine a spotlight on their work. On our travels we occasionally come across revered talent from different works of life – whether this be in the form of visual artistry, performance art, street life or music – we love it all.
Cream with a K is all of the above. A musician, visual artist and former model, she is now based in London and having spent the past 9 years in Tokyo fronting the Bubblegum Japanese Pop band NEKO PUNCH (Universal Japan/ASOBI SYSTEM), she’s back with a kickass no-nonsense attitide to blow your eardrums with her unique alternate sound.
Bilingual in Japanese and English, in Tokyo she is a recognisable media figure and was the TV host of the Japanese Rock music TV show, NHK’s “Nippin Rocks” series. Having achieved success in Japan with her previous band, as well as writing for other artists, it was only after a chance meeting in Tokyo with one of her biggest inspirations, BECK, that she decided it was time to reconnect with the West and make music that was better aligned to her new ideas and vision.
STORGY sat down with Cream with a K to discuss life, music, identity theft, Wayne’s World and everything else in between:
STORGY: Hi Lee. Who is ‘Cream with a K’ to people that don’t know?
Cream with a K: I’ve been really careful with Cream with a K’s identity because I’m trying not to define it too much, because I sometimes feel like I am the person of a million faces, with so many different names – in Japan I’m called something else, my family call me something else and it’s like, I don’t want to get boxed in anywhere. It’s natural for people to evolve and change so that room is important to me. When I was with NEKO PUNCH, hair and make-up was decided, it was always someone else’s interpretation of the best I could be…so with Cream with a K it’s like…
STORGY: Your own brand of identity?
Cream with a K: It’s abstract, so abstract, really. Identity is a construct. Apparently, you meet a bunch of people in your life and you just kind of borrow little bits here and there…you learn from your family and friends. I guess I just try to focus on self expression.
STORGY: And you play quite a few musical instruments, is that right?
Cream with a K: Yeah…I’m not amazing at anything but I play piano, I play guitar, a bit of bass and drums as well sometimes.
STORGY: Well, that’s four more instruments you play more than me so (laughs) The triangle would probably be my instrument of choice.
Cream with a K: (laughs) I’m getting really good at tambourine now though
STORGY: And then the harmonica would be the next step!
Cream with a K: Maybe the next one, yeah.
STORGY: So you spent the last nine years in Tokyo, fronting the Japanese pop band NEKO PUNCH, how was the transition from the band to solo and can you also tell us a little about that?
Cream with a K: It was pretty…it was really hard because I had a lot of people upset with the fact that I quit the band, but it was just self preservation, I couldn’t continue doing something that was literally destroying me and I just got to the point where all these expectations had just piled up and this pressure was just…I mean, just being taken advantage of by so many people who were calling themselves friends. It’s funny, I quit and I lost a lot of friends, I lost fans but anyone who is ok watching me in this state is not worth having in my life.
STORGY: Do you feel that you’re there yet with Cream with a K? Or are you still on the journey?
Cream with a K: I feel that I’ve just managed to reach the start line, recently now that the LP is done, that was a lot of soul searching – at the beginning of last year, I think just after I met you I went to Mexico for a photo shoot, and then on to LA, I found a producer and he was keen on producing me and there was talk of me coming back to LA so we could work together. On the strength of this I did go back to LA but apparently, he’d just disappeared from the planet…ha ha… Then…long story…short, one day my roommate stole my IPhone and my identity and started to charge all sorts of things to my credit cards.
STORGY: Wow. What?
Cream with a K: Yeah, she locked me out of the house, she stole everything…I really hit rock bottom – that was March of last year. Around then I met a new producer who I ended up working with. He restored my faith in human nature. I realised then that what I actually needed was more of a co-producer, so we just re-recorded all my songs together and made everything more analogue, just the way I wanted. I even learned how to mix by myself.
STORGY: That’s impressive. You kind of find sometimes that people will have one specific area where they manage but it seems like you’ve taken on a lot with this LP – there’s the stuff in the background that you have to do that not many people may be aware of…the promotion, the marketing…would you say you’re a driven person when it comes to that kind of stuff?
Cream with a K: Yeah. I mean, at this point it’s probably a quicker way to get my vision across. The more stuff I do by myself…I mean it’s like ‘Burn,’ the music video – I literally did that in my living room, with a green-screen…
STORGY: I was going to say, with the most recent single – in the words of Keith Lemon on Celebrity Juice, “What’s the Message?”
Cream with a K: I just wanted to make something super creative out of nothing. Just to see what I could produce and I was inspired by The Smashing Pumpkins and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and I really liked the ones that are really old and rubbish (in a good way) music videos and I always wanted to make something like that. When you make something high budget, or it looks high budget, it can sometimes look so cheap because it’s all treatment and no ideas. So I wanted to make…you know, like the idea didn’t cost a penny. I recently spent something like two grand on a music video that never even came to completion and actually, the story behind ‘Burn’ came from that… and that’s what forced me to become more self-sufficient and avoid people who promise more than they can deliver. So that’s the real story behind Burn.
STORGY: Well that’s quite relevant at the moment, I mean we’re still processing a lot from the #metoo campaign and there fundamentally seems to be a schism shifting movement occurring – I mean have you experienced and from what you’ve said so far, is there…I don’t want to say repressing, but…
Cream with a K: Yeah! Controlling, literally I’ve been mind controlled for I think a lot of my life, especially as a teenager in Tokyo…you’re really expected to be a certain way at a certain time. I started out being a model when I was eighteen and you’re still so…your brain is so soft and you’re listening to everyone…
Cream with a K: Yeah, everyone’s telling you that you’re actually too fat or you’re meant to look like this or you’re too tall and you just absorb all that and it’s even stuff, like, in Japan they’ll have skin cream adverts with slogans saying that ‘my boyfriend thinks I’m pretty now that I don’t have acne,’ or something like that and it’s basically saying that all your worth is dependent on the opinion of your boyfriend or it’s like they’ll have little manga cartoons for laser hair removal for women and it’s basically men running away from this woman who has hairy arms, or hairy knuckles, and I thought it was just weird…the older I got and the more I got in touch with normalcy, the more I knew I was being brainwashed on that subtle kind of scale. To think that I needed to look a certain way…but I don’t know, even my agency would say that I should just be cute and stop being fashionable.
Cream with a K: ‘And you can’t say stuff like that! You have to speak like this!’ And on TV you can’t give your real opinion, if they give you something like…if you’re with a bunch of celebrities and you’re eating pie you have to say it’s the most amazing pie you’ve ever eaten or people will hate you. So, it was an environment of people just constantly telling me how to behave, how to act, how to dress, how to do my make-up, how to do my hair. Oh, actually there’s one other thing – as a songwriter, no one would actually believe that I wrote the songs.
Cream with a K: When I was with NEKO PUNCH, my fellow band member was taking credit for all the songs. We agreed to share the percentage, but for some reason his name was even put on songs that I wrote when I was eighteen. My label or agency wouldn’t believe me either, – they were ‘how could a girl like you be writing music?’ And they would be complaining to the guy, saying ‘you know, with this song the melody isn’t so strong,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, I wrote the melody and I wrote the lyrics and I may be a foreigner, and a girl, but you can talk to me about it.
STORGY: Do you think people felt as a westerner and as a girl that was part of…
Cream with a K: Yeah, they baby you…I would say there is an undertone of inequality…they just kind of see you as a baby because your Japanese may not be perfect. Japanese is a difficult language to speak, I’ve been speaking it for ten years, but you’re not one hundred percent native in the culture, you know?
STORGY: So there was element of exploitation as you weren’t a native in the country? It feels like you’ve broken free of those shackles, with creating your own sound…so tell us more about that and with your song, Terrible Voices. What was your influence on that song in particular?
Cream with a K: I think at the time I was really going through a depression, more than I ever knew…I think I was very toxic in certain ways and it was like a release…I was just getting all this gunk out (Laughs)
STORGY: All coming through the pipes.
Cream with a K: The lyrics and everything is just so dark. (Laughs) It was just waiting to come out and as soon as I gave it space it just came out quite naturally. I think…I was in an abusive relationship and I wasn’t even allowed to write songs for things other than my work, so I was actually writing new songs, secretly in Starbucks. I would go there for four hours a day, until the battery on my laptop ran out…that was the time to work on my songs…
STORGY: Kind of like a therapeutic sort of way of working?
Cream with a K: Yeah, yeah…so that was actually the start of Cream with a K. I had the songs before anything else.
STORGY: So you’re in London at the moment, could you tell our readership about your plans? Is there any gigs coming up in the near future? Where can you find you on social media?
Cream with a K: Instagram is my biggest social media baby, I think. I find it easy to communicate with people and I like talking to my fans and also stalk their walls (Laughs) So Instagram is the best way to find me. At the beginning of May I’m releasing my next single, Five Thirty-Five, which is about riding the early morning Tokyo Ginza Line Train and the video will be coming out at the same time. Also, I’m releasing an Album CD in Japan, late April, which will be in Tower Records and other record shops…I’m looking to do a worldwide digital release, hopefully, around June.
STORGY: Because you spend so much time in Tokyo, can you tell us what you find contrasting about that country and London?
Cream with a K: I do love that English people are…I feel that they’re really real, in general. Even meeting promoters or people like that, some can just be outright bastards, but they’re honest about it. You can meet someone and you’ll feel that he’s not a good guy, but in LA and Tokyo it will take you a while to figure out who’s the real deal, you know?
STORGY: Do you think you’re more adapt at cutting through the bullshit?
Cream with a K: I’m still cutting through it. It’s really difficult…it goes back to the #metoo thing, I had an investor who seemed okay but then it turned out that his motivation was questionable. It just takes time and you have to be very cautious and I think, as a woman, it’s the sad truth that you can’t open up your heart too quickly to anything…you just have to take people as they come. So I think if you’re working by yourself, then especially you have to be careful. I feel I was babied when I was in Tokyo – people did everything for me, people running around for me but now I’m making my own decisions, like who I work with.
STORGY: So I imagine that’s quite scary but also quite liberating too.
Cream with a K: Yeah, it is. You can meet and work with the nicest people that you could wish for and their vision is amazing but then you can also meet the wolves in sheep’s clothing and I realised that when there’s change, when you’re doing something really well, that’s when it exposes the toxic people who are trying to keep you down.
STORGY: You’ve got to be on your toes, basically?
Cream with a K: Yeah, I think you just have to be very conscious of your environment and the people you surround yourself with.
STORGY: What advice would you give to any women or anyone that’s trying to form a band or as a soloist, especially as we live in a world nowadays where someone can become famous overnight with YouTube or a television show that doesn’t necessarily have the interest of the artist at heart, from your experiences what advice would you give?
Cream with a K: I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is that you really have to root yourself, somehow, in who you actually are. Because, if like for example, you’re a YouTube singer or you’ve suddenly become famous on X Factor it’s like, success…can be like a free-for-all. You can have so many new faces trying to get a piece of you and everyone’s trying to give you advice, but you don’t listen to advice one hundred percent. You’ve got to root yourself and think about what feels right. You have to be ready for that free run. The hardest thing is to maintain success…it’s like you have to…
STORGY: Know thyself?
Cream with a K: Yeah, you have to know yourself. You’ve got to find someone… someone who will root you, maybe it’s your family or friends…the people that have been with you through thick and thin.
STORGY: For STORGY, if you found yourself stuck on a desert Island, what would be the one film, one book and one album you would take with you?
Cream with a K: Arrrgh! For the album I definitely know…the one book…I have a lot of favourite books…
STORGY: What’s the song?
Cream with a K: The song would be “I just wasn’t made for these times” by The Beachboys, yeah. One film?
Cream with a K: For the desert island film…this is going to be…I’d need a feel-good film so I’d have to say Wayne’s World (laughs)
Cream with a K: The book…I’m halfway through a lot of different books at the moment…I’m trying to find something right for my mood…I’m reading Kim Gordon’s ‘The Girl in a Band,’ right now…but it’s too close to my own story (Laughs)
STORGY: (Laughs) So you need to distance yourself from that a little bit?
Cream with a K: Yeah. 1984 maybe? But I don’t think it’s a good one to take to a desert island(Laughs). A bible or something might be better, in case I’m there for a long time!(Laughs)
STORGY: Quoting scripture as you’re going mad on this island.
Cream with a K: (Laughs) Yeah probably, I really don’t know. (Laughs)
STORGY: Well, it sounds to me that with the new album, you’re fighting back against the repression you’ve faced formerly and finding a new voice. My next question was going to be what’s next for you, but you’ve mentioned releasing the LP and you’re going back to Tokyo now so…
Cream with a K: Yeah, I’m going back to Tokyo and I’ll be there for two months so we’ll be doing the 5:35 release and the Album CD’s. After that, I come back to UK in May and I think…then I have to go to LA in June to shoot the next music video. I just feel London can be quite hard for artists, it’s all about politics and calling in favours. But at the end of the day I think you can pretty much become a millionaire doing anything, whether you want to be a basket weaver or you want to be a rock star. I think if you fully align yourself to the thing you want to do, then there’s nothing that can stop you literally manifesting that reality.
STORGY: That’s great – thanks for your time, Lee.
Available on Spotify https://open.spotify.com/track/6Z1KPc…
Available on Itunes https://itun.es/gb/IW0Ddb
Official Website http://www.creamwithak.com