Thank you

In June 2016, I became more unwell than I had ever been in my life.

My story of chronic illness in Japan  has been told elsewhere but essentially after 8 months of pain, doubt and sickness I quit Japan and moved back in with my parents in Essex. For 2 months I temped in a call center and blew my savings visiting a swanky Harley Street doctor in the hope that he could fix me.

These two months could have been really shit but during this period I had the chance to reconnected with wonderful UK friends. Thanks to these people, I feel I recovered spiritually as well as physically.

One of them was Oliver Wood, a wonderfully talented musician and producer that I know from my time in the Essex Youth Orchestra. During my exile to the home counties, we recorded my EP In Distance, Everything is Poetry together. It was the kind of recording experience I’ve always craved, relaxed but bursting with creativity. Olly drew my best playing out of me and we had a lot of fun getting the tracks done. His string arrangements and post production are stunning and I feel he’s really brought my songs to life.

In May 2017 I made the decision to return to Japan, this time not with the protection of a steady job, but as a freelancer. Perhaps a crazy choice given I was recently ‘recovered’ (what I have doesn’t usually go away completely but I’m 90%) and broke thanks to the swanky doctor. But illness sometimes brings into perspective what is really important to you. When I was faced with the prospect of possibly never being able to work full time again I realised that I had spent my entire life doing things I was never really that into.

I don’t mean I’ve lived an unhappy life, far from it. Most of the things I’ve done with it – uni, music PR, teaching – have been worthwhile, good things that I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from them. I mean that, to be honest, I was never super passionate about any of them them, even if I told myself I was. Illness taught me that life can take time and opportunities away when you least expect it. I had spent my first 23 years hitting targets and doing the things I was supposed to do. Now it was time to chase what I actually wanted.

The last 6 months have been the most exciting of my life but also some of the most challenging. For the first time I feel like I’m spending most of my time pursuing things I actually, really care about. It is tough as hell but also hugely fulfilling.

On Friday I released the EP and yesterday I held a release party at the Cheshmeh in Sasazuka, Tokyo. The venue was packed; I felt bad because a lot of people had to stand or sit on the floor, but we opened up half of the stage for extra seating space. Two wonderful female artist friends opened for me. I enjoyed this performance more than I have in ages and I will always remember looking out into the crowd, unable to believe that I had this – a release party in a beautiful venue packed with people of a variety of ages and nationalities but united in their warmth and love of art.

There are so many people in my life I have to be grateful for. The musicians I perform with and the venue owners who book me. My wonderful producer Oliver Wood and Isabel Galwey who made the beautiful album art. Everyone who bought a CD, came to a gig or shared my work. I have found Tokyo to be a wonderful place where so many people are enthusiastic about music and supportive of musicians. It’s the kind of artistic community I’ve been looking for all of my life to be honest.

What I have to be grateful for goes beyond my art. Every friend who listened to me when I was sick, my parents who let their daughter in her mid 20s move back in and eat their food, my long suffering boyfriend who has supported me through thick and thin. Everyone, thank you so much.

I’m collapsed in a bit of a pile right now. Over the last couple of months I have performed my original material more intensively than ever before. Putting on shows is a lot of fun but it is exhausting, physically, emotionally and socially. Actually the social one is a biggie – I think one of the main reasons I didn’t get seriously into performing original material before graduating is because I hadn’t got enough experience points to level up to the required social level back then. You need to make friends with musicians, make friends with venue owners, invite everyone to your events, hustle on social media, and talk to everyone competently after the performance. Yesterday, people asked me to sign CDs. I mean, me. Signing CDs. I can’t get over it.

So yeah, I’m on my sofa in a pile eating takeaway sushi, catching up on Netflix. I usually work out twice or three times a week but I have been so busy I haven’t in almost three weeks. Maybe I’ll catch up on that too.

The world won’t stop for me. I actually have a huge writing deadline tomorrow. My next solo show is on Friday, then another on Sunday then I need to get to work on learning a tonne of material for a corporate event in December.

But for the next couple of hours, rest, relaxation and gratitude. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much.

My wonderful support acts ❤ 

Marie Dangerfield and her beautiful Amy Winehouse style voice
Marie Dangerfield

The trilingual electropop stylings of Juliette Jemm
Juliette Jemm

Resolving the Unresolvable

I dream of a place where I can meet the people I have messy, unresolved issues with and come to understand each other. Some kind of purgatory where no one can pretend they didn’t see the other person it’s somehow safe and OK to talk it out.

I have spent hours fantasizing about how I will meet certain people from my past in an airport terminal. Some kind of neutral ground where we can sit down together and discuss what the hell happened with us.
“Why? Why did you do what you did? How were you actually feeling? Why did you run and deny me the closure I needed? Have you stayed up late wondering what happened to me, too?”

I love literature because of the patterns. I’m good at spotting and unpicking the the threads of the tapestry, explaining what everything means and why things are the way they are. Whereas music is something I have had to work very hard at I am a ‘natural’ at words and stories. I’m the friend who always knows the meaning to the song and can usually guess who the killer is. Tropes are rich and beautiful but ultimately they make literature predictable. I find comfort in that.

Because more than anything else, books have endings. Sometimes violent, sometimes unsatisfying, but the prose has been deliberately crafted to come to a head. Circles complete, Chekhov’s gun is usually fired and something or other will happen with the UST between those two will lead to something or other.

Of course in real life, things stay unresolved and it kills me. Give me an ending even if it’s painful. Let me understand, even if I don’t like what I hear. Say and do the horrible things you will, just don’t ignore me or leave me at a loss, wondering…

Of course this is extremely hypocritical of me because there was that one time when a toxic friendship became to much for me and I did cut off contact without explanation, even physically distancing myself hundreds of miles from the person concerned, receiving judgement from my friends for doing so. But although someone kind might say I was protecting myself the truth is I saw it act of violence: for me, no explanation and no resolution was the worst thing that could have happened to me and I wanted to hurt the person who had wronged me. Of course, probably this decision was the best thing for both of our well-being, and time proved this to be so. I even received apologies from the friends who had judged me for cutting the toxic person off. I was just ‘practicing self-care’ after all.

Who knows, maybe I was acting on self-preservation rather than hatred.
Sometimes I like to think I’m better than I think I am, rather than worse.

I realized I had grown up a lot recently when talking to a friend about a messy, unresolved break up made me re-examine my own life. She was asking me what she was supposed to do with all these feelings and how her ex could expect her to go on without the necessary closure.

“Sometimes, we have to accept that we will never get the closure we want.”
The words fell out of my mouth without thinking but as soon as I spoke them I knew 1) that they were true and 2) that somewhere along the line I had, somehow, accepted this for the messy, unresolved situations in my own life. Maybe I am learning after all.

People who only know me online and are on the receiving end of my feelings vomit five times a day may not suspect that in person I am actually very logical and practical most of the time. I am a thinker, not a feeler and my inner world is one of analysis and intellect. This is an advantage a lot of the time but can sometimes bite me in the ass.

It’s taken me a while to realise that I am actually very bad at knowing what I am feeling and allowing myself to feel it most of the time. I self-flagellate to an astonishing degree fervently deny to others and myself when I am feeling something I deem ‘inappropriate.’ Whereas if I would just admit that I’m a little bit upset about failing that audition or missing out on that party, or missing that person maybe these things wouldn’t get repressed and stay under my skin for years.

Sometimes, you need to sit alone with some sake on a Tuesday night and let yourself cry about what happened. Allow yourself to feel all the messed up crazy feelings you have for once.

Type their name into google and force yourself to look at them. Even if it was almost three years ago now and ‘never a big deal in the first place,’ sometimes the things that matter to you the most aren’t logical and that’s ok.

You will never see this person again. You will never get the resolution you want. It is over.

And in accepting that I will never have the closure I desire, I have found some peace.

2015-12-07 15.48.43

Homesickness when you’re ‘living the dream’

It’s getting colder in the UK now and I wish I was hungover in London.

Not too hungover you understand. Just that kind of grogginess that is almost pleasant because it comes from having a really great night out with your friends. If the friends have stayed on your sofa and none of you have much to do that day then so much the better.

I want an English Breakfast with real bacon, a sofa and hot drinks, and the promise of hours of chatting about nothing much. Maybe we’ll venture into the cold air to go out to lunch and chat some more or go for a walk in the park. The leaves will be changing colour and the autumn wind will freshen me out of my sleepiness.

I saw a view of a grey, redbrick London buildings via Skype today and I almost teared up. I miss old buildings. I miss the crisp feeling of an autumn morning. Hell, I miss the grey, all these sunny days can get kind of oppressive. I always feel guilty that I’m inside working instead of out enjoying it and this sounds weird but I sometimes feel that the sky in Japan is boring.

I really should not feel this way. I know for perhaps the first time in my life I am exactly where I want to be pursuing what I really want to do. I am so so lucky to be able to make music and write in Tokyo.

And yet and yet my ‘To Do’ list is horrendous, the stakes are high and the pressure gets to me sometimes. I am trying so hard to achieve my goals but I’m aware it may not be hard enough. Sometimes I get three rejections a day for jobs and the acceptances I do get often clash and I have to work out how to be in two places at once. Editors can be mean. Speaking in Japanese can be exhausting. My skin is also awful this week for some reason.

I guess homesickness pangs will come even when you’re ‘living the dream.’ In a way I’m glad they do. It reminds me that I’m a human being instead of a productivity machine. It’s also reassuring to know that, god, I do love my country. A stupid part of me sometimes associates moving back home with ‘life being over’ so it’s nice to think of British things I can look forward to, when and if the time to 帰宅  comes.

Hyde Park
About four years ago when I lived with in walking distance of Hyde Park

 

 

My first time on Japanese TV

You’ll always remember your first time.

My maiden voyage into the world of Japanese TV was almost a year ago now and it was as exciting as it was random. I’ve been on TV several times since then but this appearance is still probably the most fun (so far!). A lot of people have asked me about it and I even got recognized by strangers a few times afterwards but for some reason I never got around to writing about it until now.

It was October 2016 and my good friends and long term collaborators Megan Valentine and Tomas Eduardo had come to Tokyo for a mini tour and had kindly invited me to perform with them. I think it was only their second day in Tokyo when Meg and Tom were in Shibuya for some sightseeing. As there often are there were some camera crews hanging around picking out interesting looking foreigners to interview. As luck would have it, the topic of the day was Japanese music! They asked Meg to sing a bit from her favorite Japanese song and they were super impressed (of course, she’s pretty great). Meg being Meg, she went straight into PR mode and started promoting our first gig of the mini tour at Shimokitazawa Waver. To our amazement the film crew said they would come and film the performance!

Turns out the film crew were from Zip! TV, a popular breakfast show (for my UK peeps, similar kind of deal to Channel 4). We had only been rehearsing together a few days so the prospect of playing my harp on Japanese TV was… a little bit daunting.

Julia Mascetti Japanese TV Zip! harp
Screenshot of the Zip! program that featured us. They filmed our performance of Moonlight Densetsu at Shimokitazawa Waver

I was happy with our performance though. Honestly it was a great experience. Waver is a really friendly venue and the vibe gave me confidence to keep my nerves under control despite a camera man being 3ft from my harp. It was nearly Halloween, there was a good turnout and the decorations were on point.

We were playing a mix of covers and originals but of course this is Japanese TV and so they were most interested in the song we were singing in Japanese – Moonlight Densetsu, the opening from Sailor Moon. As well as filming us they interviewed us backstage on why we liked Japanese music and what had brought us to where we were tonight.

I love crazy coincidences and that was one night where things just fell into place. My old friends had come to London and obviously a lot of my Japan friends had come to the gig when they heard that it would be on TV…
After our set the camera crew left and we all danced like crazy to the final band of the evening. I will treasure that memory.

I cropped the most harp intensive segment and stuck it on my Instagram:

Or if you’re interested in a better quality recording of the performance (taken by our photographer, not the film crew) and Meg’s commentary, check out her video blog:

New girl-crush: Amina du Jean

How could you not listen to an idol track called ‘seppuku?’

‘seppuku’ is Japanese ritual disembowelment, originally reserved for samurai who wished to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.

In the new track from former idol amina du jean, she takes these lyrical themes of graphic violence and atonement for grave wrongdoing and throws them at her ex.

Which I get. 20 year old women scorned in love are some of the most terrifying people alive. I should know. I’ve been one.

The resulting track is almost exactly what you would expect, in a good way. Addictive melody, syrupy beats, no fewer than three key changes. My inner music scholar cringes but the kawaii trash part of me is dancing around the kitchen. It’s difficult navigating these inner conflicts all the time.

Again, combing sugary brightness with gruesome subject matter is hardly new ground but there is a lot of interesting and amusing stuff going on from this bilingual wordsmith. There is so much potential for linguistic interest in the mixing of English and Japanese in idol music but it’s often mediocre. Amina chan expertly weaves her Japanese into English style rhyme and stress patterns, with just the right amount of F bombs for ex evisceration.

Basically I like it and you should download it on Amina’s bandcamp.

I would do a harp cover of it but with a mug like mine it would be just terrifying instead of cutsey terrifying.

So I’ve been listening to this track and stalking Amina on social media all day. Definitely a girl-crush but I think she is way too hardcore for me. Alas, like many love affairs with idols, maybe it’s better if it remains a beautiful (and vengeful) fantasy.

Amina du Jean
Photo credit: Shintaro Kago.

NEW EP ‘In Distance, Everything is Poetry’ to be released 10 November 2017

I’ve got a new EP coming out and it’s title will be ‘In Distance, Everything is Poetry.’

The release date is Friday 10 November 2017 and I am SO FRICKIN EXCITED.

As the title suggests, this one is influenced by my life in Japan. Lyrics explore culture shock, long distance relationships and being young and broke in the two most exciting, alienating and expensive cities in the world (which are Tokyo and London duh, no arguing).

This blog is Tokyo Harp but my identity as the song-writer Julia Mascetti is slightly broader, which is why I tried to make this a Japan influenced EP instead of a ‘Japan EP.’ I think I’ve succeeded. I don’t think ‘distance’ is a subject matter only relevant to those of us crazy enough to uproot to the other side of the world. These days very few of us live our entire lives in the area we are born. We study and work far from our families, make connections online that compete with people we see every day and our loyalties and priorities are blurred in ways that can be confusing and painful but also interesting to write about. So I hope most of you can find something to relate to in my lyrics, and if not, everyone likes harp music right?

I’m working with some amazing people to bring this thing to life and the first I’d like to introduce is the fantastic London based photographer Emily Valentine. Nature and romance are two big themes of the EP and I feel she captured both perfectly during our shoot in Greenwich park.

I have never been this excited about anything I made in my life and I truly can’t wait to share this EP with you.

Julia
xxx

Julia Mascetti harp Emily Valentine
My harp in Greenwich park. Photo credit: Emily Valentine

 

Work and Play

“What do you do?”

Ever since I’ve started doing this Japan freelance thing, this question has become a minefield.

There are two answers I give. 1) “I’m a harpist, who does some other stuff on too.” This answer gets some searching looks and questions to determine whether I’m a ‘legitimate musician’ by that person’s standards. Sometimes I pass the legit test (I have a music degree, I earn money with the harp), sometimes I fail (I don’t play in an orchestra, I have other jobs).

So I don’t like giving that answer because I don’t like facing this scrutiny in the first five minutes I meet a new person. But the other answer is… sort of insufferable.
“There are several things I do to make money and the proportion of my income they makes varies from month to month. These include playing the harp, music teaching, English teaching, modelling, English checking, writing and leading ‘English through Musical Theatre’ workshops. (Ok, the last one happened a grand total of twice but it was really fun, I want to do it more!)”
You see the problem? I’m not arrogant enough to think that a stranger wants to hear that much detail about my life.

People like to pigeon hole, I get it. Pigeon holing saves a lot of time. And there are people for whom things are very simple; they have a ‘profession’ such as doctor, lawyer, vet, teacher, and they go to work and then they go home. Good for them. But haven’t you noticed that, in our late capitalist dystopia, the boundaries are becoming blurred? Certain jobs are ceasing to exist, new ways of making money pop up, what was once secure and now predictable has become uncertain and random. What even is ‘work’ anyway?

Sometimes it seems there is almost an inverse correlation in how difficult a job is and how much I earn. One of the times I worked the hardest in my life was a year doing an internship in classical music PR and the pay was below minimum wage. Sometimes I feel guilty calling that position a ‘job’ because the pay was so low. But of course it was! I had responsibilities, I achieved things, I performed a service. I was a damn sight more productive than in many of the ‘real jobs’ I’ve had. On the other hand, sometimes I’ve played harp at wedding receptions for £50+ an hour and I feel like a sack of potatoes could do the job as long as we put it in a nice dress and sat it behind the harp. No one is listening, everyone is drunk and talking super loud. Sometimes I’m sure that I could just play scales and no one would care. I don’t of course, because I try to be professional, but chances are I would get away with it.

And it’s not just me. I have friends with well paid, respectable jobs who have admitted to me that on a normal 8.5 hour day they do about 3 hours of actual work. I’ve done temping in offices too and I’ve got so bored on occasion that I learned basic coding and a lot about the autonomous constituent country of Greenland. A friend started a translation job in Japan and spent a month being paid for absolutely nothing because his managers didn’t know what to do with him. The office had some manga hanging around of franchises they had translated for so he ended up being paid decent money for spending 3 weeks reading manga, which was encouraged by his employers because they felt bad for not giving him any work.

My point is that we all know that the links between productivity, skill and how much you earn is kind of bullshit. And yet, and yet if we can’t put our finger on someone’s ‘profession’ it makes us uncomfortable. And sometimes, if we can’t name a defined profession for ourselves, we get uncomfortable too. But I’m done with that.

I’m not much of a leftist but I studied some leftist thinkers at university and their thought is really useful to me in how I conduct my life. Why should the thing that earns us the most income be defined as our ‘profession?’ Ok, I’ll admit, I’m not earning the majority of my money from performing harp at the moment, but practicing, performing and networking still take up more of my time and passion than anything else so why not call myself a harpist? Capitalism tells me that I should want to make all of my money from my playing, and if I don’t I’m not a ‘real’ musician. Maybe that would be nice, and I haven’t turned down a paid gig yet but to be honest I’m not completely sure I would even want to be a 100% full time harpist. I’m a curious person with a broad skill set who enjoys variety in their life and my various income revenues allow me to life flexibly and comfortably. But still, sometimes I feel like society wants to make me feel like if I can’t pigeon hole myself as a 100% professional harpist, I’m a failure.

As much as the gig economy probably isn’t the best thing, I think while it’s here I might as well make it my bitch. At least for now. I’m not pretending that there may come a time when I want simplicity, security and simple tax returns. But for now, I’m loving life.

If you’re say, an oil painter, who’s never earned a quid for your art in your life, but you think lots about oil painting, you spend lots of time oil painting, and oil painting is what you love to do, then feel free do answer the “What do you do?” question with, “Oil painting” instead of your so-called “day job.” Whatever you want. And if you’re a lawyer and lawyering is your jam, and that is how you make your money, great! Call yourself a lawyer. Call yourself anything. Do what you want, I don’t care.

I actually think the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘play’ can be very harmful, especially for the creatives amongst us. I know so many people who loved playing their instruments when they were in secondary school when it was ‘just play.’ Usually high quality play, but still ‘just for fun.’ Then they go to music college to become ‘professionals’ and suddenly it’s serious business.  It’s now work not play so they’re feeling the heaviness and they lose all the joy they used to get from their art. And ironically enough, often their playing gets worse because performance anxiety, muscle tension, exhaustion and conservatoire bitching isn’t the best recipe for a great stage presence.

I’ve done some of my best playing and songwriting when I’ve been light and playful about it. Same goes for a my other work actually, especially my teaching. Children are playful by nature so when I get it into my head that ‘I am going to be THE BEST music teacher and deliver a HIGH QUALITY LESSON because these parents are PAYING A LOT for it,’ it usually doesn’t go down that well. But if I take the pressure of myself, stop worrying if I deserve what I’m getting paid and just get really enthused about my lesson plan and the kids then I can deliver like no one’s business.

The work and play distinction is also harmful because it gets the idea into our heads that work = something we should try hard at, and play = anything outside of work; we don’t need to put in any effort because it’s ‘free time.’ No! Have you seen children playing? Have you seen how seriously they take it? Take play seriously! If you enjoy something give it your time, your attention and your passion even if you’re not getting paid. Show up on time for your band rehearsal. Learn a language, even if that means you need to get up early to practice kanji for 15 minutes every morning. Go to football practice even if you’re tired. Throw fantastic themed parties even if it’s ‘effort’ to clean up your house and make a costume. Do whatever is your jam.  And you will make things of value, form friendships and create an identity outside of your ‘work.’

People who don’t take play seriously are often in danger of becoming the most boring, passive consumers. Of course, sometimes you’re working long ass hours and you really don’t have any time. And if your job is fulfilling you, all of you, great! But to be honest, most of my most successful friends (and this time, I mean ‘conventionally successful,’ not a ‘are you fulfilled’ definition by a dirty hippy like me), are the ones who take play most seriously. The doctor who who plays the oboe. The boy-wonder academic who still has time to paint. The executive who cooks amazing food from scratch every night. Maybe life’s winners aren’t the ones who are martyring themselves, working so hard, but those who are curious and take life lightly.

In the words of Mother Teresa,
“Life is a game. Play it.”

julia mascetti freelance harp