Rié (pronounced ree-ay) Funakoshi - known simply as Rié -
is a singer-songwriter of rare melodic grace whose music resonates with the lush splendour of Karen Carpenter and the acoustic intimacy of Suzanne Vega. But there are signs in her sound of an artist teetering on the edge between MOR and the avant-garde.
Listening to her reminds you that, from Kate Bush and Björk to Bat For Lash-es, some of the most interesting, experimental pop has one ear attuned to the mainstream.
She came to music via painting, having studied Fine Art at London’s Central Saint Martin’s. When speaking about her art-based background: “I never thought I’d be a singer because I was shy and wanted to create and paint rather than have people look at me onstage,” admits Rié, who was born in Japan and grew up in Tokyo in a family of medics (“I didn’t get any of their doctor DNA,” she laughs).
She has also lived in Singapore and the States but is now based in South London with her English husband.Nevertheless, the young woman with the striking pink-streaked hair always enjoyed singing in the choir at school and began playing the guitar, discovering a facility for songwriting - she was soon composing around 30 songs a month.
They were, she says, “songs about personal dilemmas”, and they drew the attention of Sony Japan, who started releasing her first music when she was 19. Her debut single was titled ‘Decay’ and was “a cynical look at youth and the environment I was in,” she explains.
Her debut album, Rié Fu, came out the following year; it included ‘Life Is Like a Boat’, her best-known song in Japan after it was chosen as the closing theme for the anime series, Bleach. Since then, she has released a long-player of self-penned material almost every year – and in 2015 she toured around Asia.
Now she is releasing new tracks - paying homage to Japan and to the UK - that prove she is entering her most intriguing phase to date.
The songs are at once more daring and lustrously melodic, with a move towards a richly detailed electronic sound.
When she’s not making music, Rié paints paintings of construction sites: a modern urban take on the great British landscape paintings of Turner and Constable.
As she says, “Construction sites are the unique landscapes of this century - there weren't any 100 years ago.
A Rié song might be about anything - she even has one about eyelash extensions - but these are merely the launchpad for a series of thrillingly inventive meditations on the human condition.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t write about,” she says. “I’d welcome the challenge of writing about the most unexpected thing. ”
“Japanese poetry and writing are all about saying something through something else, implying obliquely,” she muses.
“In a Japanese poem, if something is beautiful, you never use the word ‘beautiful’; you refer to it without spelling it out.”
Paul Lester, September 2016
Press shot by Toshi Senda / Logo by Kotaro Hachinohe