Yumiko Shiina (椎名 裕美子 Shiina Yumiko?, born November 25, 1978), known by her stage name Ringo Sheena (椎名 林檎 Shiina Ringo?), is a Japanese singer-songwriter, music composer and music producer. She is also the founder and lead vocalist of the band Tokyo Jihen.
She describes herself as "Shinjuku-kei Jisaku-Jien-ya (新宿系自作自演屋 a Shinjuku-style writer-performer?)". She was ranked number 36 in a list of Japan's top 100 musicians compiled by HMV in 2003.
Sheena was born in Urawa (now part of Saitama), Saitama Prefecture, to Kōtarō Shiina, an employee of the oil companies, and Akiko, a homemaker. She was born with an esophageal atresia in which the esophagus narrows as it approaches the stomach. Treatment of this involved several operations, at least one of which required her right shoulder blade to be cut open. These surgeries left Sheena with large scars on her shoulder blades, said to give the impression that an angel's wings had been removed.
Her first exposure to music came from her father's interest in jazz and classical music; her mother had majored in dance in college and practiced ballet. Her parents owned a large collection of music, a piano, and a guitar, and her father was a devoted reader of music magazines. Sheena started piano lessons at four and studied classical ballet the following year.
While very outgoing as a young child, Sheena became shy and quiet after she and her older brother, Junpei, moved to Shimizu (now Shimizu-ku, Shizuoka), Shizuoka Prefecture due to their father's job. Her parents remember her as a mostly trouble-free child and a good student, except that she could not stand being alone and would throw tantrums if she could not have a friend to play with.
The family next relocated to Sawara-ku, Fukuoka in Fukuoka Prefecture, and Sheena entered junior high school there. While in Fukuoka, she again became an outgoing person. Her official biography was published as her introducing herself from Fukuoka. In later years, she spoke to interviewers in Fukuoka's Hakata dialect.
Entering junior high school, she realized that it was impossible to become a ballet dancer or professional piano player. Her body had become less symmetrical, due to the results of the operations in her infancy. She could not give power equally to the right and left sides of her body, and she eventually stopped taking ballet and piano lessons. She started listening to a wider range of music other than classical music or her parents' records. She got interested in drama and stage design. She was asked by her drama teacher to add music to the lines of a play, and taking advantage of this opportunity, she began her musical activities. She formed a band with her classmates and performed in the school festival. She initially played drums, but later became the lead singer. Although the band broke up, Sheena began to make demos with the aim of being a professional musician. While in high school, she worked in about ten bands and improved her musical skills by performing live. She was a guitarist and a lead singer in one band, but she played keyboards, bass, or drums in others. At the same time, she busked near Nishitetsu Fukuoka station in Tenjin.
In 1994 Sheena participated in The 19th Horipro Talent Scout Caravan (a series of auditions held by the Horipro agency). However she was unaware that this event was designed to discover budding idols, as opposed to more serious talent, and said on local radio: "Right up to the national finals I had no idea that there'd be a swimsuit contest!" Sheena was chosen as representative for the Kyushu area but lost out to Sakura Uehara in the final round.
In 1995, she participated in the Yamaha sponsored "The 9th Teens' Music Festival" as vocalist in the all-girl band, the Marvelous Marbles. The band won a youth encouragement prize. During this time Sheena became acquainted with fellow performers Aiko and Takashi Taniguchi with whom she became friends both on and off stage.
She became a fan of the indie rock group Number Girl at that time because Hisako Tabuchi had joined the group. She began to play the guitar, emulating Hisako Tabuchi. She attended various shows when possible. A few years later, she asked Hisako Tabuchi to play guitar in recording some of her songs, and they formed the Indie rock band called Hatsuiku Status. Ahito Inazawa, the drummer of Number Girl, participated in the recording of her third album, Karuki Zaamen Kuri-no-Hana. She worked on the album of the new band Zazen Boys, which also featured Shutoku Mukai and Inazawa from Number Girl.
In 1996, she quit senior high school, and participated in "The 5th Music Quest 1996", a competition sponsored by Yamaha Corporation. She also held two part-time jobs. She had already received offers from several record labels, but did not want to make a commitment until the contest was over just in case and won an Award of Excellence. She turned down a contract with Yamaha, and signed with Toshiba EMI.
Since she had already finished composing enough material for two albums, she submitted them at a meeting to plan her debut. She was harshly criticized by the directors of EMI about her lyrics, and her opinions clashed with theirs many times. She left for the United Kingdom in January 1997. The lyrics of "Tadashii Machi" and "Identity" expressed her feelings about this period. She went back to Japan three months later.
Ringo Sheena's first official single was released in May 1998, when she was 19 years old. It was entitled "Kōfukuron". In the music video for this single, Sheena alluded to her surgery scars by wearing a pair of wings on her back. Although it was the title track, she did not like the arrangement of this song as she felt it was too similar to her demo version. She wanted to make "Suberidai" the title song, but this idea was rejected by EMI as they felt the song would not be a big seller. She wanted to release "Keikoku" or "Gips" as the first single, but the then EMI director rejected that idea as well. After the relative failure of the single, EMI let her have more input into the promotion of her music.
She chose "Kabukichō no Joō" as the second single. She helped with the direction of the music video and chose the location of the video shoot. Although the song was not a big seller, its sensational lyrics and melody which was reminiscent of older Japanese pop music, gave her valuable exposure. Sheena dedicated the song to Ryōko Hirosue, who had declared that she was a fan of Sheena's. Hirosue attended the "Senkō Ecstasy" tour in the front row, mingling with regular fans.
Her third single and first hit was "Koko de Kiss Shite", which had a catchy tune and was a radical change from her prior singles. In the music video, she chose to replace a scene in which she appeared by herself and used a scene that had all the band members playing together instead. Encouraged by this success, she re-released "Kōfukuron", and this time it was a hit. She dedicated the song to her friend Rie Tomosaka.
This was followed by the release of her first album, Muzai Moratorium, in February 1999. The album was a major hit. "Gips" was due to be the next single, but when Sheena had to cancel recording due to illness, "Honnō" was released as the fourth single instead. Shina chose a hospital as the setting for the music video for "Honnō". This choice stemmed from her frequent hospital visits as a child and her more recent hospitalization. Although Sheena intended the video to have a cyberpunk feel or to portray the image of a spacecraft's interior, many people interpreted it as cosplay, which disappointed her.
The fifth and sixth singles, "Gips" and "Tsumi to Batsu", were released at the same time to prevent overlap with the release of her second album, Shōso Strip, in March 2000. This album was a success and is her best selling album to date.
Sheena had initially indicated that she would retire as "Sheena Ringo" when she had released three albums. At the time the second album was released, she was among the top three Japanese female artists, along with Hikaru Utada and Ayumi Hamasaki, in terms of popularity and annual income. However, she was uncomfortable with being regarded as an icon, and wanted her career to branch out more from the mainstream. When she began to produce her third album under the tentative title "Fushigi, Waizatsu, Ekisentorikku (不思議・猥雑・エキセントリック Wonder, Vulgar, Eccentric?)" she intended to make it her last solo album.
She released the single "Mayonaka wa Junketsu" in March 2001, with the intention of including it on a third album. The music video was created in a retro-anime style that depicted Ringo as a sort of mid-'60s spy movie heroine. In 2002, she released a two-disc multilingual cover album Utaite Myōri: Sono Ichi. Since she felt that a cover album did not count as a bona fide album, she began to work on her third original album.
People around her suggested that she expand internationally, but Sheena refused the proposal of a foreign label to sell her third album in countries outside of Japan. She said, "The work I already have in Japan is as much as I can manage."
In 2003, she released her third album, titled Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana. Sheena chose the members of the tour for the third album. She wanted next to focus on composing music for other artists rather than performing herself. She appeared in the media after a long absence on two major evening news programs, News Station and News 23.
Towards the conclusion of her solo career, she had her trademark beauty mark removed, and released her final solo single, "Ringo no Uta" ("Apple's Song"), which was adopted by the national children's song TV program Minna no Uta. This song had a summation of her career, and the music video included references to all of her previous videos.
In 2004, Sheena undertook the role of music director for the stage play KKP (Kentaro Kobayashi Produce) #004 Lens, which is based on the story of her short film Tanpen Kinema Hyaku-Iro Megane.
On May 31, 2004, Sheena formed a band called Tokyo Jihen. Tokyo Jihen is Japanese for "The Tokyo Incidents". The band was first introduced in Sheena's Sugoroku Ecstasy tour and is featured on Sheena's Electric Mole DVD.
The original lineup of Tokyo Jihen was Ringo Sheena (vocals, guitar, melodica); Mikio Hirama (ヒラマミキオ Hirama Mikio?, also known as Mikki) (guitar, backing vocals); Seiji Kameda (亀田誠治 Kameda Seiji?) (bass guitar); H Zett M (H是都M HZM?), also known as Masayuki Hiizumi (ヒイズミマサユ機 Hiizumi Masayuki?, from jazz instrumental band PE'Z), (keyboard/piano); and Toshiki Hata (刄田綴色 Hata Toshiki?) (drums). All of them were members of the back-up band for Sheena Ringo's solo tour "Sugoroku Ecstasy" in 2003.
Hiizumi and Hirama left Tokyo Jihen in July 2005, and the band selected two new members: Ryosuke Nagaoka (長岡亮介 Nagaoka Ryosuke?), also known as Ukigumo (浮雲 Drifting Cloud?), on guitar and backing vocals, and Keitaro Izawa (伊澤啓太郎 Izawa Keitaro?), also known as Ichiyou Izawa (伊澤一葉 Izawa Ichiyou?), on keyboards in September 2005. The band released its second album (featuring the new lineup) in January 2006, and played two concerts, at the Osaka-Jo Hall in Osaka and the Budokan in Tokyo, in February 2006.
Resumption of solo work
In late 2006, Ringo announced that she would resume work as a solo artist as the Music Director for the 2007 film Sakuran. The album Heisei Fūzoku (2007) is the soundtrack from this film. Violinist Neko Saitō and the band Soil & "Pimp" Sessions appear on the album. A song featuring her and Soil, "Karisome Otome (Death Jazz version)" was released on iTunes Japan exclusively on November 11, 2006. It went to the top of the charts and remained there for days.
In June 2007, Sheena was asked to compose music for the kabuki Sannin Kichisa by Kanzaburo Nakamura. She composed the ending theme and some other music.
In September 2008, Sheena provided Japanese boy's band, Tokio with two songs for their singles.
In February 2009, Sheena provided Japanese rock duo Puffy AmiYumi with songs. Ami and Sheena were introduced by Hikaru Utada. Ami was a fan of Sheena's music, and now they are friends.
In March 2009, Sheena Ringo received an award from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. It was a newcomer Fine Arts Award in the Popular Culture category. In May 2009, Sheena released a solo single titled "Ariamaru Tomi". It was used as the theme song of the TV drama Smile. In June 2009, Sheena released her solo album titled Sanmon Gossip after a long hiatus. On December 2, 2009, Sheena releases the single "Nōdōteki Sanpunkan" with Tokyo Jihen after an interval of about two years.
Singing and songwriting style
Sheena is an accomplished musician and songwriter who writes music spanning numerous genres. She is well known for her eccentricity, rolling her "r"s and creating promotional music videos with striking visuals.
She admired Eddi Reader's voice, but felt her own voice was not as clear and sounded hoarse. She admired Janis Ian's singing and wrote "Seventeen" in tribute to Ian's "At Seventeen". She later covered "Love Is Blind". She listens to many genres of music. At the time of her debut, she has ten closely written pages of lists of her favorite musicians. They included various genres such as classical music, Japanese and American popular music from the 1950s and 1960s, contemporary rock, and the local band Fukuoka.
She mainly plays rhythm guitar, but she plays other musical instruments. During live shows she sometimes plays the piano and occasionally plays the bass guitar. While recording, she sometimes plays piano and drums, and occasionally uses uncommon musical instruments such as a melodica and a samisen. Sheena's lyrics often contain complex and archaic language. Printed lyrics in her liner notes regularly feature kanji that are not in common use.
Sheena's songwriting style steadily became more complex over the course of her solo career, incorporating a wider variety of instruments and more elaborate production with each album. Sheena's influence in songwriting is still dominant in Tokyo Jihen, and the arrangements have been stripped down to a more standard rock and roll style, highlighting the roles of the individual players in the band.
At her audition in 1996, she introduced herself as "Sheena Ringo" for the first time. "Ringo" means "apple" in Japanese. She said that "Ringo" originated from her class nickname when she often blushed in public, and from The Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr.
She declared recently that she followed the naming of the pen name of her favorite manga artist, Sensha Yoshida. His first name is just a name of an object like Ringo ("Sensha" in this case meaning a "tank" in English). She thought that those who heard her name would be shocked by that.
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The music that dominated Sheena's childhood were Debussy's piano pieces. Due to her piano and ballet background, Sheena particularly fond of music for the piano, and she also enjoyed the Peanuts, a favorite group of her father. Sheena enjoyed music for the ballet as played by symphony orchestras, and she often listened to the records that ballerina Yoko Morishita had created for use by dance instructors.
In her primary school days, Sheena often listened to the sound track from the film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind; "Toward the Faraway land ..." by Joe Hisaishi; and "Rendezvous" by Sadao Watanabe. Her parents owned records by Billy Joel, Mayumi Itsuwa, and others. Under her mother's influence, Sheena loved the older Japanese pop songs.
In junior high, Sheena enjoyed the Motown sound, and became fans of Soul Train under the influence of her older brother. Marvin Gaye was a favorite. During this period, Sheena rarely listened to Japanese music.
Whilst attending senior high school, Sheena started listening to Blankey Jet City, Radiohead, Björk and the Sex Pistols. She thought that Japanese lyrics is not suitable for music influenced by Western music like rock music. However, she altered her way of thinking thanks to Ken'ichi Asai who was a lead singer of Blankey Jet City, and came to listen to Japanese songs again. She said that she respected Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and Peter Greenaway and Ken'ichi Asai from Blankey Jet City. She said that when she listened to Björk, her heart was freed. She was influenced by the Sex Pistols for their stage presence rather than their musicality. Sheena liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She named Evil Empire by Rage Against the Machine and No Code by Pearl Jam to be some of her favorite albums of all time.
After leaving high school, she listened to Todd Rundgren, Led Zeppelin, and The White Album by the Beatles. Sheena admired Madonna for her music and her self-sufficiency.
In popular culture
Ringo Sheena is one of the driving forces that caused a songstress boom from the late 1990s to early 2000s in Japan. Nearly half of them debuted in 1998. Sheena was also one of fashion icon around 2000. There have also been girls called Ringo Gal who imitated Sheena's clothing, and were featured by a Japanese tabloid TV show in 1999. The Duesenberg Starplayer guitar which Sheena has used recorded the historical sales of about 1000 sets in Japan in 2000.
Sheena's name often appeared on the books, movies, TV dramas and songs, such as the Japanese movie All About Lily Chou-Chou (with The Beatles, Björk, and UA), Maximum the Hormone's song "Sheena basu tei de matsu.", Kreva's single "Idome", the Japanese movie Linda Linda Linda, the TV drama Furuhata Ninzaburō final series, the book by Taro Aso who is the 92nd Prime Minister of Japan Totetsumonai Nihon (as a singer representative of Jpop with Hikaru Utada).
Sheena is a model for a lot of characters of manga, anime and video games, such as Nana Osaki (Nana), Haruko Haruhara (FLCL), Ringo Awaya, the favourite singer of Anna Kyoyama (Shaman King, Butsu Zone), I-No (the fighting game; Guilty Gear XX), Mayumi, the nurse with brown-dyed hair (Hideo Okuda's novel; Psychiatrist Irabu series), Murasaki (video game; pop'n music 7). Harold Sakuishi drew the frontispiece of his manga Beck on the model for the record sleeve of Sheena's single "Honnou".
Lenny Kravitz stated that he admired Ringo's music video and both her way of making music and the presentation, and said that he wanted to meet her in 2000. When Courtney Love visited Japan in 2001, she was recommended Japanese female rock singers by the music magazine editor of rockin'on. Sheena and Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her were in Courtney's favor. Courtney tried to make contact with Sheena or to give the song to Sheena, but she failed. Mika visited to Japan in 2007 and mentioned Ringo in several interviews as one of his favorite Japanese artists, along with Puffy AmiYumi, The Yellow Monkey, Yoko Kanno, and the Yoshida Brothers. Jack Barnett of These New Puritans who was visiting Japan for the Summer Sonic 08 said in an interview that he was a great fan of Ringo Sheena and bought all her works while he was there, as they were not available in the United Kingdom.
Her third album, Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana, was ranked second in the most under-appreciated Japanese music of the last decade by CNN International Asia on December 22, 2009. Sheena got a mention in The Guardian as an artist who deserves to be seen and heard in the west in 2010.
Sheena's older brother Junpei Shiina is an R&B musician, who debuted in 2000 under Sony. Since 2006, he has been managed by Kronekodow, Sheena's personal management agency. The pair have collaborated musically several times. In 2002, they covered three songs in English: Marvin Gaye's "The Onion Song" for Sheena's album Utaite Myōri, "Where Is the Love" (originally performed by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway) for Junpei Shiina's album Discover, and Toto's "Georgy Porgy." "Georgy Porgy" was recorded as a part of a special unit called Yokoshima, featuring Jumpei Shiina on keyboards and Ringo Sheena on chorus. In 2007, the pair sang a duet on her single "Kono Yo no Kagiri."
In November 2000, Sheena married guitarist Junji Yayoshi, who was a member of her backing band Gyakutai Glycogen. Sheena gave birth to a son in July 2001. The pair then later divorced in January 2002.
In September 2013, gossip magazine Josei Jishin published an article about Sheena, linking her romantically with music director Yuichi Kodama and stating that she was secretly giving birth to her second child. Sheena addressed these rumours publicly during her Tōtaikai concerts in November 2013, announcing that she gave birth in spring 2013 to a girl. As this was close to the release of her single "Irohanihoheto/Kodoku no Akatsuki," she did not feel it was appropriate to link the birth of her daughter with single promotions, so decided not to announce it at the time. The footage of her announcement was released her Tōtaikai DVD in March 2014.
Muzai Moratorium (1999)
Shōso Strip (2000)
Utaite Myōri (2002)
Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana (2003)
Heisei Fūzoku (2007
Sanmon Gossip (2009)
Hi Izuru Tokoro (2014)
Sources: Last.fm, Wikipedia
Ringo Shiina in the news
|Songs by Ringo Shiina|