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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week - Murai
Monday, January 17, 2011

Downtempo and hip-hop have always had an interesting relationship. Not technically brother and sister, but perhaps distant cousins, the two just seem to get along well. Many hip-hop fans count even themselves as downtempo fans, as well. This is why it wasn’t completely surprising when Happ G told me about the latest KRU release, Murai’s Tozai, and how it’s a downtempo album that also features some hip-hop artists. Their sound is really dope and this week I caught up with the Murai duo of Greg and Yui to get the full scoop on how their connection is more than just musical, in what ways they’ve personally seen music overcome a language barrier, and why they decided to combine downtempo with hip-hop.

Adam Bernard: Start me off with a little bit of the group’s history. Who is Murai, how did you both get your start in music, and how did you come together to from Murai?
Greg Smith: I’m a drummer who went to music school to become a composer. Disillusioned by formal music education, I promptly left and started working as an audio engineer for more than a decade working with various types of artists in Philly. When I met Yui I had no idea she was a singer. It wasn't till a few weeks later when one day she just started singing for me in Japanese, a light bulb went off! Within weeks we began writing songs together. We've been married and writing together for over five years now. It was time to put out a project.

Adam Bernard: That’s a great story. Is there an equally great story behind the name Murai?
Yui Murai-Smith: It’s my last name. We couldn’t use Greg’s last name for our group name as The Smiths was already taken, as you know. We tried to come up with a name inspired by Japanese language, but we couldn't find any word that sounded better than Murai.

Adam Bernard: Yui, how different is the music scene you’re in now from the one where you’re originally from?
Yui Murai-Smith: I see no difference, other than linguistic differences in lyrics. Music is universal. When we went to Japan few years ago, Greg had a chance to jam with people at a bar. They didn't know each other and just exchanged a few English words, not even complete sentences, yet they started playing music together, no words were needed. They communicated with each other’s instruments and had a great time together. That was the moment we learned that music is universal.

Adam Bernard: You’re a downtempo duo on an underground hip-hop label. How did you land with Karma Response Unit?
Greg Smith: I have been recording Karma Response Unit Records projects for over a decade. I know all the artsists on the label and work really well with Happ G, CEO of KRU. We both respect each other’s music so it was just a natural progression that we put out a project together.

Adam Bernard: That project is Tozai. What were your goals musically for the Tozai and how did you go about accomplishing them?
Yui Murai-Smith: As for our sound, no goals. We simply expressed moments of everybody’s life in Murai’s way. Though some of the songs are based on Murai’s experiences, we try to deliver a story/emotion as everybody receives it as their own. The only concern we had was how people would respond to Japanese lyrics in some of our songs, but everyone seems to have no problem at all, and rather finds calmness in those foreign words. As for business goals, we want to hear our songs on movie soundtracks. Greg has done a considerable amount of composing for modern dance and on the web, so film and TV just seems like the natural progression.

Adam Bernard: There are quite a few emcees featured on your album. Why do you think downtempo and hip-hop work well together?
Greg Smith: That was an experiment to us. We were looking for a way to tie in Murai with Karma Response Unit. We had no idea how it would work, but we have total respect for the emcees from KRU so we just jumped on it. “Another Day” was the first project with emcees and it ended up as the first single from Tozai. The songs with the emcees have become some of my favorites.

Adam Bernard: What’s a live Murai show like?
Greg Smith: We are mainly a studio band, as I play most of the music and Yui does the vocal leads and background. We will be moving around a lot in the next few years so we have to keep our shows simple, just Yui and a mic, and me with my trusty MacBook and bass.

Adam Bernard: Finally, since this is the start of 2011, what are your hopes for the year, both musically and otherwise?
Yui Murai-Smith: To keep doing what we are doing. We love the sound that came out of Tozai. We both love vocal harmony, so I would look for plenty of that on the next album.

Related Links

KRU Records: krurecords.com
GJS Music Works: gjsmusicworks.com
iTunes: itunes.com/murai


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:27 AM  
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