//EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW//

Gorillaz-Unofficial meets Haruka Kuroda


All Gorillaz fans will be familiar with Haruka Kuroda's work on the Gorillaz project, even if they don't know that they are. Haruka is the actress and singer who gives the character Noodle, guitar player in the animated four-piece, her voice. Haruka has always done the speaking voice of Noodle, and since the start of Gorillaz activity back in November 2000 she's been called upon to do the voice over for radio interviews, video and radio idents, and the 'Gorilla Bites' animated shorts. She also performed as Noodle at all the Gorillaz live dates in 2001 and 2002. For the Gorillaz live shows, a band played behind a screen on which lights and animation were projected, and it was Haruka's job to let the audience know Noodle was in the house - through her acted childlike chatter, her backing vocals and by forming a convincing silhouette on the screen when the lights shone on her. In fact the only time when Noodle hasn't been voiced by Haruka was when the artist Miho Hatori provided the backing vocals for the tracks on the debut album sessions, which were also attributed to Noodle.

Haruka Kuroda trained at the IRIS School of Music in Kyoto, Japan, and at the Guildford School of Acting in the UK. She is proficient in many types of dance and stage-fighting, and is a trained singer and pianist. She has had parts in a variety of UK tv programs both as an actress and doing voiceovers, and has worked in the theatre.

Gorillaz-Unofficial meets Haruka on a warm spring day in London. She's in town to guest at a live show by her friends, the band The Active M,(website
http://www.activemworld.com/ ) whose addictive brand of pop-punk, indie metal and all things inbetween will be gracing the stage of Oxford Street's hip Metro club later that evening (more on their show and Haruka's performance later). When we first hear her voice, there's just a hint of Noodle in there, and it's just slightly disquieting to hear echoes of the voice of the pre-teen Asian axe princess coming from a grown woman in her twenties. Fortunately for us, Haruka is even more articulate than the recently loquacious Gorillaz member, and in a nearby cafe I ask her some questions about her Gorillaz work, and the Gorillaz plans for the future.

 

Gorillaz-Unofficial: I guess a logical start would be, how did you get involved with Gorillaz in the first place?
Haruka Kuroda: After they recorded the album and before they were going to go to the whole [promotion] thing, they looked for all the people who could do the voices. For Noodle they simply looked for an actress who could speak Japanese. There was an audition for the part at Damon’s studio. I didn’t meet Damon at that time though.

G-U: Were you daunted at that time about working with Damon? Did you have any preconceptions about him that were confirmed or shattered?

HK: For me, Damon’s name… I knew Blur but Damon’s name or Jamie Hewlett or anything didn’t mean anything to me.

G-U: Did you think back then that Gorillaz would go on to be as successful as it turned out to be?

HK: My agent originally called me and said, this band is going to be created and they want a Japanese girl, and they want to hear your voice. And I’m like, okay, yeah, fine, and after I got the job, it wasn’t a big deal, I was like, oh, I got the job, fine. Then I did the first bit of voiceover at the end of the year 2000, and I didn’t think much of it. Nothing really happened for a few months. Then the next thing I remember is Clint Eastwood… I was shopping in Top Shop, and you know how they have a big screen, and they played the video and I’m like, cor! So it kind of clicked then that it was quite a big thing.

G-U: Then of course the live shows happened after that. So when did they contact you about that? Was it after?

HK: I don’t think they had any plans to do the live gigs at first. I think they just thought that it wasn’t quite possible. Because of the success of the single, because of the demand, they said, right, we have to do it. But Miho Hatori, who had sung [Noodle’s bits] on the album, obviously couldn’t do it because of her commitments. So they called me and said, can you sing? And I said, yes I can…

G-U: And play the guitar as well?

HK: Oh, no. I don’t. I mimed [playing guitar at the live shows]! Then that was when I first met Damon in the studio. We went through a couple of things and he then said ‘well I’ve actually got someone else to have a go as well, but it really makes sense if you can do it, if you can sing, because you’re already doing the voice of Noodle anyway’. But it wasn’t certain then. And then the day after they said, right, we’re going to go for you. And then we just started rehearsing for the Scala, our very first one. And yeah, it just went from there.

G-U: So in 2001 and in the US in 2002 you did quite a few dates with the band, you effectively went on tour with them, what was the atmosphere like on tour?

HK: It was great fun. For me, it was great, because we had time to look around and so on. For the other guys, including Damon, and a lot of the guys that had worked with Damon before or worked in the industry before, so they had done the whole world tour thing already, like the mixer [Darren Galea], being an ex-member of Jamiroquai , and the guy who did the keyboards [Mike Smith], who had worked with Damon for a long long time. So for them, they just kind of did the gig, big night out, and then stayed in the hotel. But I was all, ‘oh my God! This is so amazing!’

G-U: What was it like having to perform behind a screen?
HK: For me, as an actress… to begin with it was weird because the screen was not far in front of us, literally in front of us, so the silhouettes would come up. For the American tour they changed it slightly, so that there was six layers of gauze, so that when the lights hit, when you were right under, you can see, not just the shadows, but you can see people, and we could sort of see [the audience]. But I just had to be silly, you know, doing the whole Noodle thing like she is…

G-U: With her radio hat too, of course.
[at the live shows, ‘Noodle’ could be seen wearing her trademark radio hat that had appeared in the official artwork]
HK: Well yes, until in the midst of somewhere, someone lost it! We didn’t have it for the American tour.

Noodle in her trademark hat
Haruka behind the screens on the tour

G-U: What was the hat like, was it a proper radio hat?
H-K: It was proper… well, for the Scala gig, someone kind of took some headphones and put chopsticks up to make it work with the shadow. But for the European dates, or maybe the Japanese ones, I can’t remember now, they actually made it, and apparently it was really expensive, and it was a proper full thing. And someone somewhere, lost it! So I had to have bunches instead!

G-U: I was at the London Forum gig [September 2001] and what was notable about that gig, was that you had Damon doing the 2D speaking voice, why didn’t he do it at the other shows?

HK: No, that wasn’t Damon. Damon doesn’t do the speaking voice [of 2D]. There is another guy, who does the voice for 2D, Nelson [listed on the 'Celebrity Take Down DVD as 'Nelson De Freitas']..

G-U: Wow! Don’t you think he sounds a lot like him [Damon]?
HK: Hmm, I suppose! When we were doing London gigs, the other actors, who live near London, like Phil Cornwell [who does the voice of Murdoc] and Nelson could pop in. But for all the international tours they couldn’t afford for all the actors to come along. So I was the only one doing the speaking.

G-U: What about Russel’s voice? Something that fans have picked up on is that, you’ve always done Noodle’s voice, Phil Cornwell’s always done Murdoc’s, and 2D seems to stay the same, but Russel seems to vary?
HK: No, it’s always the same guy. Remi [Kabaka]. But for this launch of what we’ve doing so far, because he’s a very East London boy, his accent was kind of slipping sometimes, so for this, everything we’ve done for this album, they’ve got some kind of voice coach to get the accent spot on. So you might find his voice slightly different, because his tones kind of go lower, as they work better. At the end of the American tour, that was something people picked up on, especially being in America, and we had the Gorilla Bites between the songs, people picked up that it wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite American, as Russel’s meant to be from New York. So they got a voice coach in.

G-U: Moving on, Damon’s been talking about live dates for the summer…

HK: What, for this album?

G-U: Yeah, for this album, so he hasn’t talked to you about that?

HK: Well I’m the last one to be told!*laughs* I find out they’re doing some recording an hour before. It’s like, so you expect me to be doing nothing, and expect me to be there *laughs*

G-U: They did the album launch out in Texas and Zane Lowe [BBC Radio 1 DJ] talked to him, and asked him what have you got planned, and Damon said we’ve got some gigs in the summer. So I don’t know…

HK: I might be wrong but it in the very first session when I went back [to doing stuff for Phase Two], they told me, I don’t know if it’s going to be like that, but it’s going to be, possibly, literally, like, a film, and music. The reason being that it costs so much money to do a Gorillaz gig. Not just the people who are behind the screens performing, but the people who do the all the video screens, all the technicians. For example people in Australia wanted us to be there for a gig, but it would just have been far too expensive. So I think that’s why they’re going to make it like that. So obviously they can just send a tape to anywhere. Bad news for me, because I won’t get to go around again! But it hasn’t been confirmed.

G-U: About the Gorillaz film, in 2002 we had Damon and Jamie saying the film’s the next thing, second album the soundtrack. So what happened with that?

HK: I only very recently found out that it wasn’t going to happen.When we were in LA, Damon said to me, we’ll be in Hollywood next year! And I was all *breathless sigh*! But, it didn’t happen. Apparently because at the end Jamie wasn’t happy with the the script. I think they went through so many scripts. I think they were working with the people who do the scripts for either South Park or The Simpsons. So I think they had a team in America as well. But it just didn’t work out. From Jamie’s point of view, unless it was going to be good, he just doesn’t want to do it.

G-U: Well they seem to be keeping their options open so, who knows, maybe in the future you’ll be out there in Hollywood…
HK: Have you seen the video for Feel Good Inc? That took them three months. They were saying that to do an animated film would obviously take a long, long time. But I had no contact with them for two years. The last thing I did was the Portugal gig [July 2002]. After that I had absolutely no contact with them, either saying there will be a film, or not. They said it would take a good couple of years. That was fine, you know, it’s not my only job. But when I finally I heard, I thought, oh no!

G-U: How about the changes to Noodle this time round?

HK: She’s more talkative…

G-U: Yeah! For one thing, she speaks more English now…

HK: Tell me about it! *laughs*

G-U: And there’s the whole new story they’ve put out, about her being trained by the Japanese military and so on. Are you enjoying the development of the character?
HK: Well I was told that Noodle can now speak English, so I thought, that’s fine. Next thing, everything the band says is from Noodle! Script after script is Noodle, Noodle! When we did some radio interview or something, we had two days continuous recording. And I had the flu. So I don’t know, but some of the voices, Noodle might have a very husky voice! I was blowing my nose between takes, and my voice was going, and it was script after script Noodle, and I thought, why can Noodle speak English now! *laughs* Before then I only had to scream behind someone!

G-U: Have you heard the new album?
HK: no comment...... I have not yet heard it..!

G-U: The new single's all over the radio and music video channels. Any thoughts on that?
HK: I’m starting to really like ‘Feel Good Inc’. The first time I heard I thought ‘hmm, that’s catchy’. But I think it’s one of those things that really grows on you. Well, hopefully, who knows how well it will do in the charts.

G-U: I think it should do pretty well! Thanks very much for your time Haruka and all the best in the future.

 

Later that evening we head over to Oxford Street's Metro Club. Haruka is helping out band The Active M on a track, 'Maladaptive' which appears on their full-length promotional CD 'Octopus'. The band begin with the pulsating pop-rock of 'Just A Girl'. Energetic and rounded off with an infectious chorus, it's a confident opening. The songs move between styles, around an indie-pop centre, as the show goes on but pop sensibilities and an ear for a good tune remain to the fore. 'Sunshine' is unapologetically bright and breezy with an enchantingly picked out guitar riff. Echoes of early Stone Roses abound, couple with the fuzzier Strokes sound. A real strength of the act is their vocalists; Lead singer JC has a strong and likeable voice and he is complemented by the backing vocals of bassist Anna on many of the tracks.

Mid-set Haruka takes the stage for 'Maladaptive'. On the track a major part of Haruka's contribution is a repeating vocal loop, which she reproduces by singing the same lineover and over. The hypnotic Dandys-esque hooks seem to be one of their trademarks. She also adds backing vocals, and there are more than just shades of 'Get the cool shoeshine' in there. But this isn't '19/2000' by any means. Its darker undertones set it apart from the Gorillaz track, but this is spiky head-nodding pop at its best and one of the set highlights.

The set takes another turn when Paul (keyboards) pulls out a trombone, yet after a few changes of style and tempo, it's clear The Active M, for this set at least, manage to pull off diversity - at least variations on the indie theme - without spreading themselves too thinly. They close with the raucous unadulterated punk of 'Beauty Spot'. If it were just a stomp, despite the passion, it'd be just another anonymous thrash-session. Yet The Active M have tunes, and they're not afraid to let them shine.


Haruka onstage with The Active M


Thanks again to Haruka from all at Gorillaz-Unofficial!


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