Music has been a huge part of Rayko’s life since the age of four, and there was never a question that it would be in her professional future. Eventually, she left Japan to pursue a career in the U.S., which she has been creating and performing ever since.
The multi-talented artist composes for film and TV in addition to creating music for her own band and beyond. We talked about her career and her creative process, which I was delighted to hear includes literally dreaming music into reality.
Tell me about your start in music.
I was about four when I started playing the piano. There was a theme song that I started playing without sheet music and people freaked out, I thought ‘oh wow I love this.’ It was very natural. My mom used to say that she’d give me a bottle of milk and I’d go lay down under the piano and wouldn’t move from there.
I think I was five when I started writing music. My piano teacher was a very progressive Japanese woman. One day I threw a tantrum saying that I hated the piano and these lessons, and she came to me that we could go in the backyard and destroy all my sheet music. And we did. And we came back and I thought she was going to leave and it would just be that. But it turns out she was a playing a game.
She wanted me to start naming the chords and then two weeks later she told me to come back to the piano and said “Okay I want you to play mother. I believe in your ear, I believe in your conscience, I believe in your emotions. When you think about something you can play it, which not too many people can do. I think that it if you close your eyes and take a moment to think about your mom, I know that you can compose a piece of music about your mother.”
And that was my first composition, about my mom. I owe everything to her. I don’t think I would ever gotten to the point where I am now without that.
And then you came to the U.S. to pursue a career?
You have to be in the United States to be big, I always loved everything from the U.S. But to be accepted by the U.S. you have to understand the soil, the language, the culture, the pop culture, what they’re into. I wanted to be relatable. I had an older sister who was married and living in the United States so I just decided to go stay with her and start living and breathing the American culture and become an American.
As soon as I got here I found a little demo studio and I started taping demos of the songs that I had already had and kept writing new ones. And then from there, I’d go to community colleges, universities, anything I could find locally. I’d fill up two backpacks with demos and pass them around to everyone I ran into. That’s how I started.
Wow. So where did this turn to composing for film and TV?
I was introduced to an agent named Peter Kimmel at a meeting and I contacted him that night. I don’t really like to wait around so the next morning we met, the meeting went great, and ever since then we’ve been working together.
After quite a few submissions he called me about a project for the series The Man in the High Castle. They were looking for three songs in Japanese, 1940’s to 50’s, not at all influenced by the U.S. I could only use the instruments that were available at that time in Japan…and I had like two and a half days to do it. Music is always like that.
And then you have a band as well…
Lolita Dark started as a five-piece band, I’m the composer, singer, guitar player and keyboardist. I have another keyboardist and singer and have a lead guitar player and a bass player. I’d been playing with this band and one day this conductor contacted me and said we’ve been looking for this voice and we found it in you, we’re wondering if you can collaborate.
From that point on we started playing together all the time. I love orchestra. I call my music symphonic rock, we do everything bilingual in both Japanese and English. We get called to perform at various anime conventions and are well known in the gaming community. We also play at venues like The Viper Room, The Whiskey, all over the place. We have another festival that we’re going to be on August 11 in downtown L.A.
Tell me about your writing process, do you sit down to write or does it come to you randomly?
I have never ever sat down to write a song in my life. Never. It’s always that I’m either driving or sleeping, 4 in the morning. Music just wakes me up…along with a music video, and I have to get up and start singing into my phone.
I’m glad I record it because most of the time I don’t remember. The only thing that I sit down to write is the words. Sometimes it even happens when I’m conversing with a friend. People call me an emotional conduit. I feel so much when I’m with people and then background music starts to play.
Do you ever have to look for creativity or is it always there?
I can’t say that I don’t hit a block every once in a while if I get upset or depressed about things, but then all of the sudden there’s a music for my depression. I think it’s a blessing that I can write so many genres of music because every mood has different tempos, a different feel, attitude. I turn everything to music. I’m surrounded by creative minds.
Do you meditate?
I go to church to ground myself. I have a personal relationship with spirituality, I don’t really fit into organized religion, but I do go to this very conservative Lutheran church and they accept me for who I am. They welcome me to sing solo. I guess you could say that I meditate there. I just know that I was born with nothing and I’m going to go with nothing, so I make sure to be as generous and loving and as caring as I can, no matter what.
You wrote a song that’s pertinent to the #MeToo movement.
I wrote “Gender Genocide” for the men or women who are victimized by mighty moguls, as I call them. The song is for the people who used to be voiceless, they can speak again. I came here at a young age and as an Asian female, I have countless stories of what people are starting to talk about now. Fortunately, a blessing in disguise, I am from quite a broken family so my biggest turn off has always been men who abuse power.
I have so much respect for both males and females who are generous and who live with compassion, dignity, integrity, respect, all that. As soon as I saw anyone who was about abusing their power, I walked away. I turned downed countless opportunities and I’m glad that I did. I always thought how my art got its attention was important.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a project of nine songs that are accommodated by visuals used to uplift the spirit, calm the mind. Like videos to start the day right. My mom is an authentic Japanese ceremony tea master and I just received the intermediate license myself, you know it’s all about respect, honor, positivity. That’s what I try to live by. I thought it would be the perfect project. Lots of writing in general, Lolita Dark is going strong, I’m constantly working.
Rayko can be found on Instagram and at www.rayko.com.