When she was 22, Jinnai Juri moved from Tokyo to Boston, Massachusetts, and started down the road to becoming Emergency Tiara. After graduating from Berklee College of Music, the classically trained and yet-to-be-signed solo artist headed to New York City, where she honed a bubbly pop sound that is as fully realized as her polished, vintage-inspired lewks. Her new single, “Love Me Old Fashioned,” is a buoyant, horn-filled tune, and you can give it a listen…now!
I chatted with Emergency Tiara over email about her childhood, moving to the U.S. from Japan, and how she manages to wear her positivity on her (very well-tailored) sleeves.
ANNE T. DONAHUE: Where did the title of your new track “Love Me Old Fashioned” come from?
EMERGENCY TIARA: The line “I don’t wanna dance if I have to dance without you” came to me first, and that inspired me to write about love and life before iPhones and Facebook.
Do you think technology negatively impacts relationships?
I don’t think it’s always negative, but I’m glad that I grew up with both pen pals and text messages. What I was trying to say in the song is—let’s not get trapped with stuff like iPhones. Sometimes it’s more romantic to communicate in more basic ways!
How did you come up with the name Emergency Tiara?
Around the time I was looking for a name that represented who I was, my friend handed me a little tiara and said, “There’s your emergency tiara!”
Ha! I love that! Your fashion sense is really distinctive and your bio mentions Victoria Beckham as an inspiration, which I can totally see. How has your own style evolved?
My personal style ideas keep getting clearer and clearer, but the retro styles of the late ’50s, the ’60s, and early ’70s continue to influence me. That hasn’t changed at all.
Was it your parents who sparked your interest in the fashion of those decades?
My mother is very fashion-forward, and I get so much inspiration—and so many clothes!—from her. She was a teenage girl in the ’60s and ’70s, so I’m sure that’s where my love of retro fashion comes from. The style of those decades is so colorful, feminine, and happy.
How did you dress in high school? Were there certain artists or designers whose work was an aesthetic inspiration?
My school didn’t have a school uniform, but on school days I still dressed like a regular Japanese schoolgirl in Ralph Lauren polos and Burberry plaid skirts because that looked the closest to standard school uniform. I liked dressing like that because me and my friends could go shopping and buy matching outfits! On weekends, I wore clothes by a Japanese brand called Hysteric Glamour: crochet tops with denim overalls—very ’70s. That designer’s clothes are all very colorful and exciting, and they’re often covered in lots of smiley faces; I found it very cheerful and charming.
When did you realize that music was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
I was singing before I learned to talk: I always knew I was born to do music.
That’s amazing. How did classical training in music help you cultivate your sound and image?
Getting better at the technical side of music meant having more tools, more room, and more freedom to express what I see and how I feel.
As well as the technical stuff, did university also play a role in finding yourself musically?
Absolutely. Berklee College of Music teaches styles and genres from all over the world, and you get to play that music with some of the most talented musicians. When I graduated I was still going back and forth between my love of R&B, soul, and pop, but college definitely helped me to decide which direction to go.
So when did you realize that you wanted to make pop music and not, say, soul? Were there particular artists that were influencing you?
Maybe six years ago I was making a playlist, and as I was putting the songs together I realized that I hadn’t included any of the Japanese and French music that I grew up listening to! I started listening to my old CDs again, and they brought me so much joy. I realized that’s what I wanted to do: I wanted my music to bring people joy and make them smile.
Was moving from Tokyo to Boston a big transition?
I was 22, so I was just so excited to be in a new place and meet new people that the fact that I didn’t speak any English didn’t bother me at all.
Damn, so you also had to learn English at Berklee? What was it like learning English in an academic environment?
Well I went to an English [language] school in Boston before I went to Berklee. I had a good time: I’m a nerd, and I love school! My I want to be the best student mode kicked in, so I made friends with all the teachers and students and learned a lot from them.
What were you most afraid of when you got to Berklee?
My English level.
How did you combat that fear?
I tried to mostly hang out with friends who didn’t speak Japanese, so that I would push myself to use English in daily life.
Did it take a long time for Boston to feel like home?
Hmmmm…I couldn’t make Boston feel like home! I was there only for three and a half years, and most of it I was just busy inhaling the new culture.
What about New York? Does it feel like home now?
Yes! New York is my home. It didn’t take long for me to feel at home here. I think it’s because I grew up in Tokyo—another big city—so I feel more comfortable when I’m in big cities.
You’re so super-stylish. How long before we see a fashion line from you?
Hopefully soon! I’m working on it with my amazing stylist, Cassidy Mosher, so stay tuned! ♦