One year passed since your solo debut. Looking back, what do you feel about it ?
In fact, it was the fourth debut in my life (Aa!, ℃-ute, Buono!, solo), and usually during the first year of a debut, everything seems new to me, I'm having a lot of fun and ends up thinking "that year went by so fast !". However this time, it felt like it was my third year a solo artist already. Even though I was an Idol for 15 years, there were many things I've experienced for the first time, and it just felt like "one more year". It was a very fruitful and rich year.

Are there any things you've changed in that past year ?
I think there are. To me, I just feel like my usual self but when I met my college friends for the first time in a while, they told me "Airi, you've changed so much".

Can you give us an example ?
They told me I looked independant. "Looks like you can live by yourself now" and things like that (laughs) But it's when they've told me this that I thought "Indeed, I couldn't take any initiative when I was in a group". I was the type that was talking only when asked about something, or when I was making jokes. But since I've became a solo artist, I need to be self-contained. So when I started my first lives as a solo artist, my MC would last 20 minutes. Even though I was told "You won't last 3 minutes" at first, the staff's getting angry at me for talking too much now (laughs)

I don't know the person you were when you were in a group, but when I remember the interview I did of you last time, and when I see YouTube videos, you look like somebody who's really talkative though. 
I know right ! I also came to think that way by looking at myself objectively (laughs)

So you weren't like this before ?
I wonder. When I was in a group, that part of me may have been suppressed without me noticing it. When I'm with 3 people or more, I become that shy again. I can't win against people who can speak loudly in pubs or something. I always end up becoming a listener.

■ You mentioned on your blog that you were greatly inspired by the recording of "Sound Inn 'S'" which aired last fall. What happened ?
It was a program where many famous musicians arranged your own songs, and I was able to sing rearranged versions of my own songs "start again" by Shimada Masanori-san, "Watashi no Migigawa" by Saitou Neko-san, but also Ayaka's "Mikazuki" arranged by Honma Akimitsu-san. Until then, I always sang a song after understanding its worldview, but thanks to this recording I felt it was okay to expose your own emotions while singing ? Like, not thinking about your facial expressions, just filling your voice with all kinds of emotions and thinking "Ah, it's fun !". Especially when I sang "Mikazuki" arranged by Honma-san, I received a lot of guidance, and I felt like I understand the moment when my own heart's feelings are tied together and overflows.

So you weren't singing emotionally until now ?
I used to be ashamed to show my own feelings. Even since I became a solo artist, things like sending the lyrics I wrote to my manager makes me feel so uneasy (laughs) It's like he's reading my diary. But I've also appeared in a drama since then, so I'm not embarrassed anymore ! I'm flooding him (laughs) I feel that's where I got stronger, and changed the most.

As an Idol, did you feel like you were acting ?
If anything, I had to care about my appearance, the expressions I pulled out to the camera for simply one second... I had to keep polishing that kind of things. However, you look like a robot if you do this as a solo artist. It's always only me, all the time, and I have to be perfect at every single moment. There was a period where I couldn't do that properly, and that's thanks to "Sound Inn 'S'" that I started to think that it'd look good if I combined all of the things I know in a good balance. I'm still trying and making mistakes, but I think that I've finally started to understand how to do it all at once.

Do you feel like you're expressing your true self more than before when you're singing ?
I do. My MC have always been pretty simple, but I always wanted to sing more "humanly". Lately, I feel it's easier to enter the world of songs that share such feelings.

Your first single will be your first release since June from last year. Why did you wait one year to release another thing, even though you're performing so many new songs during your lives ? 
That's adult matters (laughs)

That's what you wrote on your blog, too (laughs)
Because everybody keeps asking me ! (laughs) But thanks to this, I'm now the type of artist who perform new songs in live before releasing an official preview. Making a new song in line with the ongoing tour, so to make sure that people who listened to it for the first time in live are not left behind, that's my way of doing things as a solo artist. All the new songs performed during last year's "PARALLEL DATE" and this years' "Escape" tours are enough to make a full album.

If you have that songs stock, why did you chose "Escape" as your first single ?
We really talked about it thoroughly. A single would strenghthen my image as an artist, so it'd be difficult to express the chameleon theme (singing various type of songs) that was raised for my solo debut. Also, the staff told me they'd like it to be a dance song, so we really thought about it, and as the first song of my first album "DISTANCE" had an impressive melody line, it would be bad to release a single not on the same page.

Indeed, "Escape" leaves a strong feeling from the intro already.
Also "Escape" was arranged by Hara Kazuhiro-san, who worked for many songs for BoA, who I admire since my childhood. So it's a really miraculous encounter. Even before deciding it would be my first single, I wanted it to be the lead song of my tour.

The release of your first single is on September, but your tour started in May.
As you have to think about the production details for a tour, we started the meetings at the beginning of the year. First, we decide of a story, and when we put together the song that could make this story, "Escape" felt like the right choice thanks to its rhythm and lyrics.

"Escape" has a "please catch me" theme. Why did you chose it ?
Because I want my lives to be places where people escape their daily lives. I thought about many other stories for the live, but because there are things I could specifically make because it was a hall tour, I wanted to show my chameleon side by disguising a lot and running away.

What would you like to convey through this song ?
The lyrics have been done by Karasawa Miho-san, who's writing for a lot of voice actors. There are many catch phrases in the lyrics. I sing it while thinking the combination of the lyrics and Hara-san's latin melody is very interesting. It's a song that can really shine on stage. Also I've shot the MV lately, but it's a song which atmosphere is really easy to create.

I was drawn in the worldview of the songs simply with the "If you try to catch me / I'll want to escape / Try to catch me " phrase of the first part. 
It's provocative (laughs) I'm already 25 so I also thought I'd like to share such feminity. We've made "DISTANCE" to express some coolness and the feeling of running through the solo debut, but "Escape" is a dance number that puts out feminity and burning passion. I think it's a song that sticks in your head even when you listen to it for a short time.

Suzuki-san always appears to joyful and hyper. Isn't that pretty different from the girl that's drawn in "Escape" ?
I'm a little worried (laughs)

Rather, it's pretty surprising (laughs)
But I really understand the "The more you chase me, the more I want to escape". I don't really want people to catch me (laughs) It's a common contradictory feeling girls have. It annoys us if you don't chase us, but it's also annoying to always be chased. It'd be fun if the song could express these girls' deep felings.

Girls are so difficult (laughs) You talked about the "chameleon theme", but the B/Side of the single, "IDENTITY", is the complete opposite of "Escape". Your album is also composed with dance songs and band songs. Is that the same kind of variety you wanted to show ?
That's right. And "IDENTITY" is one of my favorite song. I really wanted it to be on the single.

What makes it one of your favorite song ?
It was done by the same person who did Buono!'s "Hatsukoi Cider", Shihori-san. "Hatsukoi Cider" is a song that is easily accepted by people, even when I sing it solo. It became so famous without me noticing, to the point it's even covered by other Idol groups. It's a Buono! song that became kind of like my own, and that made me happy, but also bitter...

Because it's definitely a Buono! song ?
Exactly. "Hatsukoi Cider" can definitely be sung by 3 people, and it's not my own. I felt it was bad for me to always sing it alone and make it like my own song. That's a feeling I've constantly had whenever I performed it this past year. So I asked Shihori-san for a song "That exceed 'Hatsukoi Cider' and which I can sing alone !". And the song she created has lyrics that fits me so well, and it feels so good to sing it. From the moment I performed it for the first time, I deeply felt that this song will help me grow.

Did you talk to Shihori-san about your feelings ?
We couldn't meet, but she was always watching over me from that time, so I think she wrote it by reading into me. I really sing it as my own feelings.

Personally, I really loved the "And if I end up losing my way / I'll chose the one where you're laughing" part. 
I do too ! I kept that feeling in mind when creating my own team for my solo activities. I wanted to do this surrounded by kind people. That's why, everyone that is surrounding me now is kind, fun, and I feel like I can overcome the difficulties with these people. These lyrics are really perfect.

I also want to know more about the lyrics "Putting priority on my appearance or / Give out numbers / I understand that to some extent". Was there any times you had to face this type of things ?
Well, there have been (laughs) More than me personally, these are things that adults can understand. But the thing that is expressed with these lyrics is that I have more to convey than simply these.