Interview with Cream with a K
After five years of fronting the Japanese pop band Neko Punch, British musician Lee Tatlock is set to release her first full-length solo album as Cream with a K. Drawing inspiration from both grunge and pop sounds, Cream with a K’s debut album is due for release at the end of the summer. We caught up with Lee to talk about her international career, the challenges of being a developing artist, and the advantages of taking your music into your own hands.
First, Cream with a K. Tell us the story behind the name.
I think it’s more of an anti-name. I was having an identity crisis with all my different stage personas, and this time I wanted all the focus on the music and not so much on me. As a female musician, I always felt things like fashion, looks, and sexuality were put before the sound. It’s annoying. Also, the impersonal nature of the name definitely helps keep my ego in check, haha.
Your previous project, Neko Punch, was a Japanese pop band, and you now describe Cream with a K as the Breeders x St Vincent. Are there any differences you’ve noticed with the genre hop? How about the change from being on a major label in Japan to being completely independent now?
I don’t know if I could shamelessly describe my own music like the Breeders x St Vincent, but I was told that by someone and was completely stoked. I've also been told my sound is like Smashing Pumpkins x Lana Del Rey, which is another great combination.
In the pop world, to be honest, I didn’t have much say on music or creative direction. It was like writing, modeling, and performing to a client’s specifications. I perform my service as a professional, in return you get privilege, perks, free stuff. But when I’d pitch an idea to my label or management that made me excited, I often got told “that’s too creative/artistic/new” or “your artistic identity is too strong.” I also found that people didn’t believe that I was writing any of the music myself, based purely on my gender and looks — even my own management. And creatively, I was a bit deflated and stressed out from the overwhelming amount of work I had booked.
As an indie artist you have to work a lot harder to create the same size ripples. But I feel a lot more excited, energized, and positive. I’m hungry for new ideas and I get to work with the most wonderful people. Most of all, it’s a great feeling to write music that is a true expression of who I am.All in all, I’m grateful that I’ve experienced both sides of the industry. They both have perks and downfalls.
What’s been the biggest challenge of being a truly international artist, with bases in Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles?
Because my music career was kickstarted in Japan, I have a mostly Japanese work ethic. In Japanese culture people who are like, “Hey I’m great, everyone loves me! Give me work!” are extremely unlikable and will never be given opportunities. Ideally, you should be modest, affable, and linger around with the right people. If they like you, they'll do whatever's in their power to help you and give you a chance to show people what you can do. Whether you’re a pop-star or salary man, this is the formula.
Obviously, this method doesn’t work in London or LA. Someone told me the other day that whoever shouts the loudest is heard. I’d never heard that expression before and it made me laugh, because in Japan they say, “the nail that sticks out will be hammered down!” Rewiring myself to the different cultures is one of the biggest challenges.
In Neko Punch, you played the biggest festivals in Japan, at Embassies, and other huge live opportunities. What was your favorite live experience? Can you talk a bit about playing festivals versus playing clubs?
I have played at some big places like the Yoyogi National Stadium and Sendai Arena, which was great fun. But I love singing outside, so outdoor festivals are the best. My favourite one I played at would be a big beach festival called Sunset Live Festival in Fukuoka. I remember it was teeming with rain just before we started to play. I was so worried no one would come to see us. But as we started playing, this sea of people in plastic ponchos formed. They came out running, dancing, and rocking out in the crazy rain showers. It was more people than I had ever seen before. There was this incredible surge of energy that you just don’t get when you’re in a club or something. I think there’s some kind of primal instinct that humans have when they are listening and dancing to music outdoors.
You write all of your own music. Can you tell us about your writing process?
I write for myself and sometimes other artists too. I have a very intimate relationship with music. If I’m not writing well, I know there is something wrong that I need to address, probably emotionally or spiritually. I think it tells me a lot about openness to the other relationships in my life, too. When I’m writing music I feel like I’m conversing with something outside of me and I’m just organizing those ideas and thoughts through music and poetry. I am more of an intuitive writer and I don’t really have much knowledge of theory.
You’ve also done some work outside of writing and performing, like hosting music TV shows and fashion work. What has been your most unique non-music experience, and what would you like to add to the resume?
I hosted the TV show Nippon Rock on NHK, which is the BBC of Japan. It was weird not being the one inside the fish bowl and being the interviewer instead! It changed my perspective a lot. I sometimes do some modeling work; I’ve shot for some big clothing brands like Yohji Yamamoto, Marc Jacobs, Dsquared, and Lowe. Recently, I’ve gotten really into making music videos and have been directing and editing my own. One day, I'd like to extend this to making videos for other artists too, or perhaps even a short film.
As an artist who has gone through quite a bit in your career — both good and bad — what advice would you give for developing artists?
I always say this to people, as it’s a good affirmation for myself too: you have to really root yourself in who you are and how you feel. When there is success and then things somehow get bad, there is suddenly a lot of advice, opinions and blame floating around. It’s very scary and confusing — you can lose yourself easily.
The really sad truth is 95% of people don’t authentically have your best interests at heart. You need to know who your core people are. They are your family members and the friends who have helped and supported you unconditionally through the test of time.
Finally, what’s next for Cream with a K?
I’m currently in Tokyo. I’m releasing a limited-edition pre-release of my new album Cream with a K (Self Titled) at Tower Records stores. Only available in Japan, there are only 300 copies — some are even signed. Now that I think of it, it’s totally a Willy-Wonka-esque deal. But for those not living in Japan, there will be an international single release coming soon and the full album out end of summer, so please check my Instagram to be updated!