Hinako Omori on her debut album, a journey...

After working as a session musician for a who’s who of pop talent, Hinako Omori is ready to take centre stage with the release of her debut album, a journey...

Feature by Michael Lawson | 14 Mar 2022
  • Hinako Omori

Hinako Omori’s debut album is, in her own words, a “happy accident.” Its formation stemmed from the musician, producer and sound engineer being asked to contribute to WOMAD at HOME, an online series inviting artists to use the world-class recording facilities of Real World Studios and live streaming the results. 

“I had all of these demos that I’d accumulated over the years,” Omori recalls. “They were basically just recordings of me experimenting with my synthesisers. Rather than creating an entirely new composition, I thought that I’d try and string them together to create one continuous piece of work. Somehow it all seemed to fit quite naturally.”

Suddenly Omori found herself in possession of a fully-formed LP: a stunning collection of lucid ambient soundscapes interwoven with enchanting field recordings. Aptly-titled a journey…, the ten-track release offers a vivid snapshot of an artist who has spent much of her adult life immersed in music. 

Born in Yokohama, Japan and raised in London, her musical journey can be traced back to learning the piano for the first time as a child. After receiving a recommendation from a friend, she then decided to take things further by enrolling in a music technology course at Reigate College, which blossomed into a sound engineering degree from the University of Surrey. “I really owe a lot to my lecturers at both college and university,” she stresses. “Particularly my lecturer Lloyd and classmates at Reigate – we all inspired each other to make our own music and that helped convince me to take the path that I did.” 

That said, she is quick to dismiss the notion that an academic background is essential for a successful career in music. “It’s definitely useful but I don’t necessarily think you need it,” she explains. “There’s no right or wrong way to do things and, if anything, I think people with no musical training have a wonderful advantage in terms of finding their own unique path. It all boils down to choosing what’s right for you.”

Tapping into a passion for synthesisers during her university years, Omori immediately found work as a session musician upon graduating, working with the likes of KT Tunstall, James Bay and Ellie Goulding, and later lending her synth and keyboard expertise to the live shows of Kae Tempest and Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien. Despite this fruitful foray into the pop world, Omori soon found herself gravitating towards slower tempos and altogether more meditative sounds – a shift reflective of her general outlook and pace of life. “It’s funny, I’ve had the nickname ‘Grandma’ ever since I was a kid,” she laughs. “I think I operate at an average of about 20 BPM!”

By the time she released the hazy, explorative sonics of her debut EP Auraelia in 2019, she was well on her way to ambient nirvana – a journey that was subsequently expedited by the isolation of multiple COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Recently I’ve felt the need for calming music more than ever,” she agrees. “I’m sure lockdown and the general situation of the last couple of years have contributed to that. It’s something that can help nurture a gentler environment and I feel like it’s become more prominent with everyone’s pace of life slowing down during this period.”

So how does one stand out in the increasingly oversaturated ambient music market? Particularly when the product, according to one of its founding fathers, must be “as ignorable as it is interesting”? In the case of her new album, Omori went above and beyond, making 360° field recordings of the surrounding woodlands using a binaural head she borrowed from Real World – a technique that enables the listener to feel immersed within nature. 

Playing out as one continuous stream of consciousness, it’s a project partly inspired by the cognitive distortions that occur when delving into old memories. “I wanted to revisit those memories and make peace with them,” she expands. “Sound as a healing process.”

Looking ahead, Omori expresses equal parts excitement and nervousness at the prospect of a headline show at the Southbank Centre on 19 March. In collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra, the landmark performance will see a journey... reimagined from a live perspective, with the aim of “blurring the lines between organic instrumentation and the electronic side of things.”

Staying firmly on brand, she intends to conduct a guided meditation prior to performing, as a means of eliciting a sense of calm among the audience. It’s the creative approach of an artist who communicates every inch of her blissful being through her music – from the therapeutic frequencies to her own soothing vocal tones.

“I didn’t necessarily think I’d end up making music,” she reflects. “I didn’t set out to become a performer or anything like that, but I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to make a living doing something I enjoy. I can’t call it a job because I love it too much."

a journey… is released on 18 Mar via Houndstooth