Shortly after SQEX updated the official NieR:Automata site with the English version of the new theme song, I was intrigued to find out as much as I could about the vocalist.
The quality of her voice reminded me a lot of the Japanese singer AI. I looked into it some more and came to the conclusion that this wasn’t AI, but probably an entirely different vocalist than we’ve heard before.
A week later, I was able to attend the NieR Music Concert & Talk Live concert and we learned the name of the new vocalist: J’Nique Nicole.
Ever since then, I had been working on this interview and, being delayed by many personal ups and downs in my life, I feel badly that it’s taken me this long to put the final touches on this to share. So, for everyone involved, I’m very sorry for working so slowly.
Then, without further adieu, please enjoy the interview:
ーFirst of all, before we get into the nitty-gritty NieR goodness, I’d like to know a little bit more about yourself!
J’Nique Nicole (from here on referred to as JN): Okay, well, for starters, my full name is J’Nique Nicole Johnson, but I go by J’Nique Nicole as my stage name and I’m also known as Nikki, which is my nickname. I’m a professional singer based in Tokyo. I’m 27 years old, and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee.
ーSo, is J’Nique your real first name? I’m curious about this since it’s been said that it’s relatively “naughty” French.
JN: (haha) I knew this question was coming. Yes, J’Nique is my real first name. My mother apparently had no knowledge of what it meant in French and she liked it, so she chose it as my name. I honestly didn’t find out what it meant until moving to Japan and meeting a French guy who told me. I definitely feel a little uncomfortable around French people now because of it, but it is what it is. It’s my name and I’m not gonna change it so that’s that. (haha)
ーWhat originally brought you to Japan?
JN: My father was stationed at Yokota Air Force Base in Tokyo when I was 3 years old and we stayed there until I was 12. After that we moved to my mother’s hometown of Nashville and I stayed there until I graduated college. It was always my dream to return to Tokyo and live in the city so I could be immersed by Japanese culture and learn the language, so here I am! I’ve been here for almost 4 years now.
ーPrior to becoming involved on the NieR:Automata team, were you familiar with the NieR series, Square Enix, or video games in general?
JN: I was not familiar with NieR or Square Enix at all, but I did know about some of their video games like a Final Fantasy.
ーHow did you come to be involved in this particular project?
JN: I met Emi Evans about 4 years ago when I first came to Japan. My mother, who is also a singer here, took me on a gig that she had with her and allowed me to sing a few songs just as a way to get me acquainted with the industry here. Emi was very sweet and after the gig said she hoped to work with me again in the future. Then a few months ago I received a message from her asking if I would be interested in auditioning for a video game soundtrack opportunity. It was actually offered to both me and my mother, but I believe she was very busy at the time, so I accepted the audition and ended up being offered the gig.
ーFrom what I understand, you had a hand in creating the new NieR:Automata theme song. Is that correct? What specific things did you work on?
JN: Yes, I did. I wrote the lyrics for the theme. The melody and concept were already laid out.
ーWhat do you mean by concept? Were you also involved in the musical side of the song as well?
JN: When I say concept, I mean the overall content of the song. They already had an idea of what they wanted the song to be about and what they wanted the meaning of each line to be, so I just took those directions and put them into a more poetic format that fit the melody that they already had laid out. I hope that makes sense. (haha)
ーWere you given any themes or clues into the story for the song?
JN: No, not really. They just gave me the concept for the song, and I did my best to work with that. There were a few areas that they asked me to change in the song before it was finalized, but it worked out really well.
ーWhat was your impression of working with the other talented vocalists for this project, Emi Evans and Nakagawa Nami?
JN: They are both amazing! They have beautiful voices and are extremely talented. I think of them as my “sempais”. (haha) They are so respected in the video game industry, so it’s a huge honor to be listed among them in the credits for this.
ーEarlier this April, NieR fans were given a real treat with the NieR Music Concert & Talk Live event that was held on April 16. Unlike the previous NieR Piano Concert that was held in 2012, which was broadcast on uStream and could only accommodate up to 200 people, this venue was able to accommodate nearly 1,000 people. That being so, this was still far below the level of demand, and many interested parties were unable get tickets to the show. If it were any consolation, however, the event was broadcast live on NicoNico Douga and there will be a nice Blu-ray release later this December.
This particular event was sort of a “big deal” for NieR fans, so regarding your performance and participation in this concert, what was your impression of the concert?
JN: The concert was a very new experience for me. I’ve never sang solo in front of such a large crowd, so I was very nervous, especially since I was singing a genre that I’m not used to singing; but I had so much fun, and it’s definitely something that I will never forget. Being apart of the creation of NieR:Automata is such a huge accomplishment for me, and I hope to have many more amazing experiences like this in the future.
( Excerpt from the concert: )
Okabe: Yoko-san suddenly asked to release the new song and have J’Nique perform it live on stage, so it was quite sudden. -Really- sudden. We’re really sorry for that abrupt request!
Yoko: Please forgive us!
- Please note that the new NieR:Automata theme has not yet been given an official title. When I released a copy of the theme to YouTube, I took part of the lyrics from the melody and used that as the title: The Weight of the World. Consecutively, other people saw this and merely followed my lead and used this name for the title of the song; but, however aptly titled, this was my own creative license. 😛 Please do not think that this is the official title for the song!!
ーDo you have any cute interactions or stories regarding them that you’d like to share?
JN: Um…well, when the theme for NieR:Automata was first released, I was getting a lot of flack for not being Emi Evans. I saw a lot of comments on the press release that said things like “this song sucks, she’s no Emi Evans” or “her voice isn’t as good as Emi’s. It’s too harsh”… things like that. I felt a little defeated, but on the day of the NieR Music Concert, Emi gave me words of encouragement and told me that I was offered this gig for a reason, and that the song was great. She was really sweet and positive. I’m not sure if this would be considered “a cute interaction”, but it’s definitely something that sticks with me. It taught me that no matter what people say, I have to remember that I’m in this position for a reason, and I need to hold on to my blessings regardless of what they say.
Nakagawa Nami was really sweet as well. On the day of the concert, she told me I looked beautiful and wished me good luck, and I told her the same. We all took pictures together in our dressing room. It was a good day. (haha)
ーPersonally, I really think your vocals for this title are amazing! I really hope to hear more of your work in the future, too!
In terms of recording the soundtrack, could you briefly let us know what the general flow was like, what you did to prepare or learn the music before recording and then what it was like during the actual recording. I assume this all took place at the MONACA studio, correct?
JN: Honestly, it’s a lot simpler than you think it would be. I go to the MONACA studio and they play the track & melody for me and give me the sheet music with the lyrics on it. I listen to it a few times and sing along to it in order to familiarize myself with the song. Then once I’m comfortable I go into the recording booth and do a few practice takes. Then we record the real thing as many times as it takes for me to get the perfect take and that’s pretty much it. The time it takes usually depends on how many songs I have to do in one session. The most I’ve done is 3 and that took about 4 hours or so.
ーAs a professional singer, do you feel like there’s any significant difference between singing live as opposed to the recording booth? Are you more comfortable with one over the other?
JN: There’s definitely a huge difference. Singing live in my opinion is much easier. You can feed off the crowd a lot more and do what you feel where as in the studio you have to get everything perfect and do multiple layers and it can be very difficult. But I like both of them equally because they can both be very rewarding. It’s refreshing to hear something you created in the studio come together after all of the hard work you put into it. And with live performing it’s rewarding to see the crowd react to your performance and connect with you while you sing.
ーWell, rest assured, I was thoroughly in tears throughout this songーwhich is something I view as a good thing! Tears are a sign of a strong emotional connection. I really believe the more you can connect with a piece of music–or any creative work for that matter–on an emotional level, the more in tune you are with the performer and the overall intention of the piece. On the other hand, I get a little apprehensive when I don’t feel compelled to bawl my eyes out. (haha)
Moving a little away from the NieR world, you normally sing in the R&B genre. Were you apprehensive at all to sing outside of your comfort zone?
JN: Yes, very. During the recordings I felt a little defeated at times because I felt like I couldn’t give the producers what they wanted but with a little coaching and practice we got it right. It took a few hours but it all came together really well.
ーI hear that you are currently singing with AI on her “The Best Tour”. Back when the theme song was first uploaded to the Automata website, people were speculating who the vocalist was. I originally thought perhaps AI was the vocalist. The quality of your voice and style seems so much like AI! Is this what drew you to work with her?
JN: Wow that’s crazy! (haha) I’m definitely very flattered that you would compare me to her because she’s amazing. Actually what drew me to her was my mother. She was one of AI’s first backing vocalists when she debuted as an artist back in the early 2000s. My mother told her that I sing, too, and AI expressed interest in working with me at that point. I believe I was still in high school at the time.
When I finally moved here, I met AI at an event and she again expressed interest in working with me. So, when her current tour was announced, she asked me if I would audition, so I did and that’s how I got the gig. It was my dream to work with her ever since her debut, so this opportunity is like a dream come true for me.
We just finished the first half of the tour. It was awesome! The tour starts back up on September 18th and we have a show at Budokan on November 1st. I hope you can make it!
ーExcellent! That’s certainly something to look forward to! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, and I hope to hear more of your work in the future!
Want to find out more? Check out J’Nique’s various social media sites below!
The NieR Music Concert & Talk Live Blu-ray is scheduled for release on December 14, 2016. Please go to the Square Enix official site to pre-order your copy today!