You can take the boy out of Japan, but you can’t take Japan out of the boy. Unfortunately for Joe Inoue’s parents, it took them over 20 years to realise that. Long before their son was recording songs for anime, or rapping alongside rock royalty, the pair had migrated to Los Angeles for work. There, little-Joe would later be born and raised. Ironically, a couple of decades later and it’s their son’s career that’s brought the Inoues full circle, back to Japan.
His parents were always big followers of music. So much, in fact, that on the day little Joe popped into the world, his father baptized the new born in the way of British pop-rock via the wails of Sting. The former Police frontman had recently released his debut solo album at the time, and it was riding high in the American charts. Mr Inoue wanted it to be the first sound that his son heard. Fortunately, it didn’t result in any Sting-based trauma in Joe’s later life. Instead, the bombardment of British pop-rock, combined with America’s own diverse music scene and influences from his parents’ Japanese CDs – and his own anime collection – meant that Joe grew up in an environment which enabled him to appreciate all kinds of music.
It wasn’t until middle school that Joe started to take his music appreciation to the next level by learning an instrument. And then another. And another. By the time he graduated from the American education system, he had become a lean, mean, one-man music producing machine.
After some experimentation, Joe recorded a demo from the comfort of his room on a multi-track mixing desk. All instruments were performed by him, and the sound was a combination of his eclectic upbringing. He sent the self-produced demo to a few sources before the idea hit him to target Japan. Thankfully for him, an upbringing of anime, manga and having native parents to practice with meant that his Japanese language skills weren’t too rusty. So, with not having much luck in America, he changed the lyrics to Japanese and tried to get some attention in Japan. And Sony’s Ki/oon label took the bait!
His first single ‘HELLO!’ barely scraped the top 200 of the Oricon chart, despite its use in a Pocky advert. His second single was much more successful. Called ‘Closer’, the song peaked just outside of the top 20 after appearing as the fourth opening theme to Naruto Shippuden, and it made people start to sit up and listen.
One of those people whose attention it caught was none other than L’Arc en Ciel’s leader tetsuya (with a little t… don’t get me started – Ed.), who was fascinated by Joe’s perfect English pronunciation. So impressed he was, he asked the youngster to appear on his 2011 solo album Come On!, alongside J-pop legend Takanori Nishikawa (T.M.Revolution), J-urban songstress May J, and even Nana author Ai Yazawa!
Joe’s contribution to Come On! can be found on the tracks ‘Eden’ and ‘Mahou no Kotoba’. Sadly the album, as well as Joe’s own releases, are currently unavailable in the UK. So if you want to hear the song that started his career, legally, you’ll need to track down the latest boxset of Naruto Shippuden that’s scheduled for the UK.
Naruto Shippuden Box Set 8, featuring Joe Inoue’s ‘Closer’, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment from 27 February.
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