Many people who qualify for the “Big in Japan” tag acquire it in the most serendipitous of ways. Just look at Scott Murphy.
Part of the late-’90s pop-punk movement, the Chicago native first came to Japan in 2001 with his band Allister and experienced enough success to be invited back several times over the next few years.
“We had put out a CD, and when you put out a CD here, they ask you for a bonus track to make it different from the import,” the unassuming Murphy recalls over coffee in Shibuya. “We didn’t have any new songs at the time [in 2006], and I’d been studying Japanese, so I was like, ‘What do you guys think if we do a Japanese cover?’”
Local fans went crazy for Allister’s version of the Boom standard “Shima Uta,” and a flood of emails came in demanding more.
“So I brought up the idea of doing an EP of Japanese cover songs after the tour,” Murphy continues. “We did that and put it out during our next tour with Ellegarden. Since we were doing a three-month tour, we wanted to release something new, but it had to be easy to do and fun. So we did that and it went gold over here, selling at least 200,000 copies. That was the first of the 'Guilty Pleasures' series.”
At loose ends after the breakup of Allister in 2007, Murphy decided to accept Universal’s invitation to follow up on the success of the album. Nearly three years later, he’s already on his fourth in the series. Along the way, he has racked up half a million in sales, placing himself alongside Monkey Majik and Jero as one of a new crop of foreign pop artists enjoying remarkable success singing in Japanese.
“When Jero came out, I had already been releasing songs, and it was interesting because people started calling me ‘The White Jero,’” notes Murphy ruefully. “Not only had I been doing it before him, but I was doing rock. I guess we’re both gaijin and in that sense similar…”
For the new 'Guilty Pleasures Love,' Murphy decided to go topical.
“I figured it would be more interesting to have a theme,” he explains. “I was torn between a chronological theme, or doing themes like ‘Love’ or ‘Animation Songs.’ I have a whole list of songs that I’d like to do, and a lot of them were love songs, so I figured it would be the easiest choice.”
Singing in remarkably strong self-taught Japanese, Murphy gives the pop-punk once-over to songs ranging from Dreams Come True’s “Mirai Yosouzu 2” to Kiroro’s “Nagai Aida.”
“I make about 95% of the choices myself,” he says, citing artists like Shiina Ringo and Clammbon as among his favorites. “Sometimes the label will make suggestions, and if I think they are interesting, I will do them. I have the Top 100 Oricon charts for every year since 1980 on my iTunes and generally choose songs that people know and are fun to sing along with.”
In his few short years of being big in Japan, Murphy, now 30, has experienced everything from adulation to being interviewed by a live pig on television. But he has mixed feelings about his instant celebrity here, and despite invitations to relocate to Japan, he spends half his time back home in Chicago.
“I think I’ve focused too much here — put all my eggs in one basket,” he says. “I think I got a little overzealous. Because I was doing so well, I just kept wanting to do more, and I think it took its toll on me. When I get home, I have some time off, which will be the first time this year, and I hope to put a band together there.”
Still, Murphy isn’t about to kick a gift horse in the mouth.
“I’d like to put out another original and cover album here,” he says. “I have more fun with the originals because I put more of myself into it. But I like arranging, so as long as I can, I will do it.”
"Guilty Pleasures Love" is available on Universal J.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today