Amanda Sumimoto (Himeko)
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My name is Amanda Marie Stanley on my American birth certificate and Amanda Marie Sumimoto on my Japanese. In recent years, I’ve started to identify as Amanda Sumimoto even in the States. My project name is Himeko. I’m a music producer, guitarist, and vocalist.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? My ethnic background is half Japanese, half (Southern) white American. I have dual citizenship, although I was supposed to choose one country permanently and renounce the other by the time I was 23 (a Japanese national rule), which I never did.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? Neither of my parents are musicians. Actually, my parents don’t particularly even like music. I just say this because they didn’t really listen to music around me when I was growing up and I never got any kind of musical influence from them except that my mom always listened to the same soft rock station in the car and my dad kind of seemingly liked jazz and classical music sometimes. Once I asked my dad why he and my mom don’t like music and he said it’s because they’re both deaf in one ear. They did make my siblings and I learn classical instruments though, for the purpose of getting into schools later, which is where my original musical exposure comes from. I used to daydream in elementary school about shredding guitar, but they made me take piano and my three siblings violin.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. I moved to America from Japan when I was five to the whitest area you could imagine outside of Boston in the countryside/suburbs and attended Catholic schools until I was 16. My family experienced some minor forms of hate crimes growing up and of course at schools and in my social circles I endured micro-aggressions, stereotyping and sometimes straight up racism all throughout my life even during my hyper-progressive college days. Pretty much most of my life has been experienced around white people so although I had a racialized experience and constantly felt otherized, at the same time I was kind of socialized to view reality through a white lens; kind of a mind-fuck. After college I moved to Japan for 2 years and then LA. It was during these years that I was finally able to experience life via shared racialized experiences with other people of color and feel as though my existence was finally “normal”.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I feel really connected to my Japanese heritage and culture because I was born in Japan and lived there until I was five, visited many times since moving, reconnected to my roots by moving there for a period of time, and I fluently speak Japanese.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? I got my Bachelors in Global Studies with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. I knew even before I graduated that I didn’t want to go into a profession related to my major because it depressed me so much to even study those fields. I moved to Japan after college to teach English, but was pretty lost at the time in terms of what I wanted to do career wise. Around the same time I started noticing that I only dated musicians. I was interested in guys that played music or knew a lot about music. And I started noticing that I knew a lot about music for someone who wasn’t a musician and that I had a craving to get good at guitar. So that’s what I started to try and do, in my mid 20s.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I decided I was going to pursue music professionally when I was 26. It was scary because according to society’s standards, I felt like it was so late in life to start something new. I decided I was going to start from scratch and learn how to produce while simultaneously getting better at guitar and I would eventually release full songs and start an all female band. My parents had a pretty negative reaction to my decision. They always wanted me to be an academic or lawyer or doctor or something. At the time when I told them I was dating a professional musician and reassured them that I had the right support and the right connections to pursue this and they were semi reassured at the time. Currently, I’m pretty sure they don’t know what I do or that I’m still pursuing music.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? I’m proud of my first song I ever released because I mostly produced it myself (with added production and mixing by my boyfriend, Jacob Brody). I also released it with an amazing music video that all of my friends and coworkers are in. It takes place in a strip club and was created to shine a light on the softer and more realistic side of being a stripper, highlighting the friendships and connections made while being a dancer, something that most music videos showcasing strippers neglect to show. I feel like my song, although not about being a dancer, was a good match for the concept of the video and I’m proud of and grateful for all of my friends in the video.
Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. No other music credits yet.
8. Describe to me your dream project. My dream project would be touring with my project Himeko. I hope we find some awesome female musicians to join and that I can drop enough music in the next year that we can play shows and tour as Himeko in the near future.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? I haven’t personally experienced any racially-based obstacles yet, except for the issue of lack of representation in the past, which definitely hindered my desire when I was younger to even want to be a musician. Because I never saw any or heard of any Asian female guitarists, I didn’t even believe it was possible in my scope of perception that one could even exist. I also feel from observation that across the board in any genre, it’s been more difficult for Asian Americans to receive the same recognition and opportunities to rise to the same level of fame as many white musicians. Although, the industry’s definitely changing now with the dominance of social media and now the masses are better able to take back power and decide who’s popular, not just based on race.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Yvette Young, Kazuki Isogai, Mellow Fellow, Japanese Breakfast, Ruru, Cehryl, Chai, Jay Som, Luna Li, Tiana O’Hara, Beabadoobee are just some AAPI artists that currently inspire me and have in the past. Yvette especially was probably one of my first inspirations to get better at guitar because when I discovered her it was kind of the first time in my life that I had really seen someone that looks like me doing something that I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t really think was possible.
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? In my genre especially (Indie), AAPI, specifically AAPI female musicians have been killing it lately. I think it’s a special time right now for female Indie musicians. More women are picking up instruments and producing, not just singing, and the previously male dominated scene is actually stepping off and making room for us. I see a lot more female guitarists, female bassists, all girl bands popping up and many of them AAPI women that are making waves and gaining recognition. It makes me really emotional and motivated to keep going and make my own contributions.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? I would put my younger self on to some fire music. Haha but seriously I would show her so much music and expose her to so many sounds and feelings through music to help her cope with reality. My teenage years were when I was first starting to discover music I liked but I would show her what I know now about music and the instrumentalists and musicians behind making
it, especially female musicians. What they can do, what’s possible. Then I would tell her that guitar isn’t just for men and that she has every capability to do the same. I would also tell her to fuck whatever she’s been doing or planning on doing and just practice music because in the end it’s what she’s going to feel the most passion doing and that everything will come easier if she starts now.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I’m working on an EP that I hope I can drop by the fall.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. I’m really into astrology and spirituality. Also, sociology and politics because that’s what I mainly studied in college. I also enjoy practicing pole, painting, photography, any other art medium that gets my mind off music when it gets too intense. Right now my sister and I are working on growing a small jewelry business too.
14. Any final thoughts? (non-self-promotional). Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? I guess a final thought would be that I’m stoked you’ve created this project. It’s so important for spaces and communities like this to exist within the greater community of music. It’s important to discuss and share our experiences and have other POCs share as well. Representation is key and will always inspire someone from the same background to achieve their dream. And, the more everyone strives to understand each other’s racialized experience and how it affects the micro and macro is how we can grow and develop as humans.
Photo provided by Amanda Sumimoto