Rayko: Rocker Girl

Date: 11-01-2001

By Alex Luu, Yolk Magazine, issue 22 (2001/No.6)

It is standing room only inside The Gig on a Saturday night in Hollywood. The vibe amongst the diverse crowd is unmistakably electric, ready to spill out into the surprisingly empty main drag of Melrose Avenue. The usual weekend Melrose partygoers, weirdos, and rock/punk headbangers have crammed themselves into the dark club to witness the second coming of no-nonsense hardcore rock and roll. In this age of Britney lip syncs and boy band buffoons, true fans of crafty songwriting and real singing turn to places like The Gig, The Viper Room, and The Roxy in hopes of discovering a real band with a real singer who actually writes his/her own songs.

Tonight, a petite yet physically endowed 20-something Asian woman stands front and center at the mike. She is dressed in an extremely tight sheer long sleeve top that both pulls at and kisses her full voluptuous breasts and a pair of blue jean short-shorts that ride up her backside. The blue spotlight casts a shimmering velvet glow across her toned smooth legs. She stands a couple of feet taller than the mike stand, supported by a pair of monster platform boots. Her guitar player Morgan Lewis, bass player Ralph Rivers, drummer Joey Felix, and DJ True rip into the first hauntingly electrifying opening chords of "Crave," the fifth song in a tight 40-minute set. She closes her eyes, feels the ear-shattering cheers of the crowd, wraps her small hands across her chest. With eyes closed, the painful opening lines float out of her mouth, her voice high and light like a little girl. "I will die for you/and if I die tonight/will you cry to see me go/And I'll lie--yeah, I'll lie to you tonight..."

Then without warning, as if out of a trance, she springs to life like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Her flexible body explodes into raunchy yet graceful gyrations as she launches into the song's abrupt and faster second stanza and chorus. Her voice becomes harder and more defiant, spitting out the acid lyrics in a thunderous yet sexy cry. "I will steal the sky/and I'll write your ugly name/and I'll spit all over you tonight..." The crowd goes wild, singing along and pumping their fists in the air. Charged by this burst of energy, she leaps into the air, her long wispy blonde hair glowing like a lion's gorgeous mane. Tears roll down her face, and she is visibly enraptured by the moment, at once conscious of and oblivious to the screaming fans. "And if I shoot and kill your many, many friends--nothing really matters/nothing really matters to you/Kill me daddy, I love you/Kill me daddy, love me back/When was the last time you saw my mommy's face--nothing really matters, nothing really matters to you."

Welcome to the hard rocking non-stop world of Rayko. A world of heartbreaking songs and blood, sweat and tears indie rock/pop with a lethal dose of hip hop punk, all delivered by a beautiful woman with brains, guts, mischievous angel's voice, and a body to die for.

Just two days later, Rayko strides into a nondescript cafe; in Old Town Pasadena for some midday coffee and conversation about music. Dressed in a pair of brown thigh-hugging jeans, black vest with a plunging neckline, and black sunglasses, Rayko looks more like a model than a girl rocker. "I did dabble in modeling and acting for a while when I came here," says the Tokyo, Japan, transplant. "That was seven years ago and all through that time music was always the main focus in my life." Listening to Rayko speak and move--her wide flailing gestures of arms and hands like a seagull flapping its expansive wings--one would have no clue that this is a woman who comes from a much more conservative and repressive culture. But that's where everything started for her, her native Japan. "I was a classically trained pianist, and my parents were into jazz music and they used to have these jazz parties," Rayko remembers. "At first I didn't really appreciate it, and like any other kid I wanted to be outside and play with my friends. I have an older sister and we used to play and write and sing together. My introduction to all styles of music really came from her."

That early formal education in music made a lasting impact on a young Rayko. It was only a few years later that she decided to follow her sister to the America. "Everything here was so cheap compared to Japan!" Reasonable rent and groceries notwithstanding, Rayko quickly realized the freedom that the United States offered. "The true reason I decided to stay here is because you can be different and be true to yourself, and people would accept you."

Once here, Rayko quickly parlayed her love of music into a passionate and no-holds-barred focus into turning her dream of becoming a rock singer into reality. Self-producing and writing her own songs, Rayko managed to produce her first CD and followed that up with the second breakout CD Crave. The "studio cats" who played on Crave were all accomplished musicians, some of whom have played with Paula Cole, Taylor Dayne and The Rembrandts. Right after the recording of Crave, Rayko assembled the current lineup and played every local and out-of-town gig they book. "You just have to go out there and give it everything you got," she says. "That's the only way you're going to build a following."

The hard work of touring and playing has definitely paid off for Rayko. The band's website rayko.com now boasts roughly 1,500 fans that have stormed her shows with infectious devotion and grassroots outreach. "There are always new fans of my music after each club gig, which is a great feeling. It's nice to know that the songs are touching people and that the word-of-mouth spreads out." Add to that three nominations for "Best Alternative Band," "Best Pop Band," and "Best Female Vocalist" at the prestigious 2001 Rock City News Awards. "I don't want to do anything half-assed. I want to put a hundred and fifty percent attention to my music," she declares.

And what about the highly personal lyrics? Do her fans connect with her mostly autobiographical songs? "Yeah, it's all about me, especially 'Crave' and 'In Your House,' Rayko explains of the two amazingly raw and emotionally naked tracks from the Crave CD. "My father died this past January and we became the best of friends in the last 10-15 years. He was a very smart man, very hardworking individual. My dad had some problems within our family. My sister, my mother and I experienced some difficulties with him. I had never explained that to him in words, because in Asian culture you don't really talk as father and daughter. We don't talk to each other and say, "I love you" when you leave the house. I got to express my anger and feelings through songwriting. After all that was said and done he's been the greatest guy; I miss him very much. I'm so very happy that we got to be the best of friends. He had complete faith in me making it in music than anyone else."

The idea of "making it" is also filtered through a non-traditional perspective.

Since she's been writing, producing, and singing her own music, Rayko takes the anticipation of signing with a major record label all in stride. "I really admire bands like Creed and Green Day because they moved a lot of units before they were signed," she offers. "They toured a lot by themselves and built a strong fan base. Record companies see that so they negotiate really good deals with those bands. Of course you're going to lose a lot on the first record deal but I don't just want to have one record. I want to be able to have at least five, six records. I want to get to the point where the record company will have faith in us by our success with the units we're able to move and our live shows."

Now hard at work in the studio recording the third CD, Rayko has little time to breathe. "I have no second life. This is what I do. I never leave home without the new promotional CD for the third album," Rayko says, leaning in and taking off her sunglasses for maximum effect. "I don't want to be another chick band. I want to be one of the dudes so I need to keep up with it. It's still a chauvinist world out there. So I have to be heavy and energetic and kick-ass. I take all that stuff, all these obstacles into a positive thinking. I'm Asian and I'm a girl and I kick ass."

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