When Jrock Revolution first caught notice of AGE-OF-EP, we found their music refreshing in the convergence of heavy rock undertones with catchy melodic pop motifs, pleasantly surprising contrast. But what really caught our attention was the uniqueness of their identity. AGE-OF-EP is not your everyday band, and that’s clear from the moment we stepped into the room. By day, they’re a set of dynamic musicians, fully devoted to the development of their careers; by night, they transform into stars of the popular host club, Club ACQUA, which boasts branches in both Tokyo and Osaka.
Hosts are a popular phenomenon in Japan, albeit controversially so. In a country that traditionally assigns women to the role of the housewife, the mother, or a position always second class to men, it is rare for a Japanese woman to experience uninterrupted attention lavished upon her by a charming, young, handsome man who will listen to her, laugh with her, cry with her, and most importantly, îserve drinks to her. Culturally, the roles are reversed, with women pouring the drinks, serving other refreshments, and offering entertainment. In the world of hosts, how charming he is, how witty he is, and how well he pours drinks is of utmost importance, as a host’s salary comes directly from the sale of alcohol.
Some hosts perform so well, they make in a month what most Japanese salarymen make in any given year. Other hosts accept lavish gifts from their clients that include name brand jewelry, designer suits. Sometimes, even exotic cars and luxury apartments are offered as presents from the wealthiest clientele. In many ways, a host’s job is a combination of entertainer, confidante, drinking partner, and salesman. It is a very challenging career, with ongoing internal competition that ranks hosts based on how much alcohol they sell. The higher on the chain of command a host travels, the more respect he commands, not just within the club, but also in the host industry as well.
Formed by legendary former "ichiban" host, SEIJI, who is the producer of both club ACQUA establishments, AGE-OF-EP (not including SEIJI) take up the first six slots on the top ten rankings within club ACQUA. At this particular interview, SEIJI brought along ICHIRO and RYO with him. Even though we‚Äôd thoroughly researched hosts before arriving at the interview, we hadn’t expected them to arrive earlier than we did, despite having arrived early to the interview location. It is a host’s job to make a woman feel comfortable, and arriving early is a sign of respect for her, as well as a symbol of accountability. Upon entering the room, we noticed that SEIJI, ICHIRO, and RYO were standing behind the chairs that each host had chosen, despite the fact that their managers were already seated. They offered bright smiles and respectful dips of the head as we entered, and waited for us to speak to them first before responding. It wasn’t until we asked them to take a seat that they finally did, and carefully studied each of our business cards that we offered, making sure to memorize our full names, as well as our respective titles. The small bottles of water we offered them were taken with appreciative thanks, but left untouched. It wasn’t until we opened our bottles of water to drink that SEIJI took the lead by thanking us again for the water, before politely offering an, "Itadakimasu," and taking a sip, a gesture that ICHIRO and RYO both followed in suit moments later. Christina, JaNei, and I exchanged glances. This was definitely not going to be a typical interview.
KURI: We understand AGE-OF-EP was SEIJI’s idea. How did that come about?
SEIJI: Our main job is hosts, a job that makes guests happy by talking to them, a type of entertainment in itself. We are extremely confident that our skills in making people happy by talking to them are the best in Japan, so I thought, why not try combining that skill with music and see what happens? Then we tried grouping into a band and figured we could provide even better entertainment if we look good and have good music, and decided to give it a shot. All of us like music, of course.
KURI: Many foreign fans do not know about you and will be exposed to you for the first time. Could you tell us about your band?
SEIJI: Basically, music-wise we are rock-based, with elements from hip-hop. Our concept is to use our music to help listeners become beautiful from within, and feel better about themselves. We think it’d be great if listeners feel moved by our music and feel beautiful on the inside.
KURI: Could you tell us the history of the band?
SEIJI: We started out in May 2nd of 2006 as ACQUA-EP, it was a host-only band, and we disbanded that in July this year (2007). The reason we ended that band was, we originally had 8 members and I had thought that without any one member missing, it would not be the same band. So after one member left, we regrouped the band and turned it into AGE-OF-EP. And from AGE-OF-EP, we wanted to derive into different areas of entertainment, such as the visual kei band AGE.
KURI: Why did you decide to make it a visual-kei band?
SEIJI: After the S.K.I.N. concert last June, I had the opportunity to speak with YOSHIKI about his views on music at an izakaya (drinking restaurant that offers food to accompany the drinks). I’ve always liked X JAPAN’s music and actually got into this path because I was influenced by their music. After speaking with him about the expansion of Jrock into foreign countries, I was very excited because the music that I like is receiving recognition, and I realized that Jrock is the only Japanese music that has penetrated the oversea cultures, so I want to become a part of that too and thus made the visual kei band AGE.
(After CHRISTINA translates to KURI) KURI: I got about 50% of that, so yeah.
RYO: Yeah! (imitates KURI)
KURI: You’ve worked with CHIROLYN, D.I.E., and RYUICHI NISHIDA.
SEIJI: RYUICHI NISHIDA? Oh you mean RYU-san. Sorry I didn’t know his full name.
KURI: Yes, from GACKT JOB. Did they compose any music for you?
SEIJI: No, they just help us out with the recording and live concerts, and PVs.
KURI: They’re really famous.
SEIJI: Oh are they famous overseas too?
CHRISTINA: Yes, because D.I.E. and CHIROLYN worked with HIDE.
SEIJI: Oh that’s right.‘ Do you know KIYOHARU?‘ He wrote the lyrics for our first single, and composed our second single.
KURI: How did it feel like to work with KIYOHARU and all those amazing artists?
SEIJI: I feel very honored to be able to work with them, especially since I have liked their music and listened to their CDs and watched their videos since when I was in junior high. I was very excited about working with them and I was also able to learn a lot from them as well. It is very exciting.
KURI: What about these two? (gesturing to ICHIRO and RYO)
SEIJI: Let’s start with ICHIRO then. From ICHIROLYN (a pun on CHIROLYN‘s name). *laugh*
ICHIRO: I really look up to them. I actually got into music because I was inspired by HIDE, so it is truly great to be able to work with those musicians.
RYO: CHIROLYN !$#!*_) D.I.E. %*$!@#* (pretending to speak English)
SEIJI: Bokende! (Kansai dialect: You’re fooling around!) *laugh*
RYO: This is called "sandan ochi*" (comedy situation where the comedians take turn to make normal comments and the last one to do so purposely gives you a random/completely unrelated comment to make it sound silly)
SEIJI: We can’t explain that! *laugh*
(CHRISTINA explains to KURI what they just did) CHRISTINA: That’s what Japanese comedians do.
RYO: Japanese comedian! (imitates CHRISTINA in English) *laugh* Well, those are the people we’ve seen on TV, so it was quite unbelievable to be able to stand on the same stage as them. And as we get more involved in working with them, we are amazed by their professionalism.
SEIJI: It’s good because we get to hear even their breathing.
SEIJI: We work so closely that we can even hear them breathing.Their outlook on music is completely different from what I had thought. They put in so much of their energy, of their life into music. We truly learned a lot from them.
KURI: That’s really great to hear. So, let’s go back to the host side of things. What is it like to be a host? What does it entail?
SEIJI: It is probably difficult to understand. we get a lot of overseas media asking us to explain the job of a host. Well, we have female guests and we drink with them in a, how should I put it.
SEIJI: No it’s not quite like a party, we say jokes to make them laugh, we offer advice if they need help, and sometimes we’re like a couple in love, just within the club. I guess this is a hard concept to grasp for non-Japanese. Basically we offer advice, tell them jokes, and act like a couple in love. We build a wall between guests and ourselves so we don’t get involved emotionally. Isn’t there a big gap between artists and their fans, from stage to the seating area? A host essentially does the same thing while maintaining a distance to the guests.
ICHIRO: In one sentence: We drink and make women happy!
KURI: (Directed at SEIJI) Are you the number one host?
SEIJI: I am no longer a host; I just produce the hosts now.
KURI: What about ICHIRO and RYO?
MANAGER: Who do you think is the more popular host?
SEIJI: ICHIRO and RYO are both very popular. There are over 10,000 hosts in Japan, the hosts that I produce, and the members of AGE are all members of the top class of hosts in Japan.
KURI: What is the popularity ranking of each member of AGE?
SEIJI: Ranking wise, JUZA is #1, #2 is RYO, #3 MAKOTO, #4 NAOYA, #5 ICHIRO, #6 is my younger brother, NAOTO.
CHRISTINA: ICHIRO, do you play baseball?
ICHIRO: No I don’t. *laugh* It’s interesting how you came up with that.
SEIJI: She got that from your name.
ICHIRO: That’s the first time I’ve been asked that question at an interview *laugh*
KURI: The jobs of a recording artist and host are both very demanding. How do you keep the two balanced?
SEIJI: We try to balance both, so for example if we have recording the next day, we would take a day off work the day before and the day of the recording, so we can save our voices. When we work as artists we do just artist-related work, and vice versa. We keep the two separate.
KURI: What are the business hours of a host club?
SEIJI: There are two shifts: the first shift is from 6PM to 1AM, and the second shift is from 6AM to 2PM.
CHRISTINA: So did you have to work yesterday?
SEIJI: Raise your hand if you worked yesterday! They are both currently hosts.
(RYO raises his hand)
RYO: 2PM! (in English)
SEIJI: You can speak Japanese! *laugh*
RYO: From 3PM.
KURI: So you’re a charismatic host?
RYO: Souyade. ("Oh yeah‚" in Kansai accent) *laugh*
SEIJI: Miyavi is also from the Kansai region.
KURI: The Kansai dialect is difficult to understand, isn’t it?
KURI:Honma ni! ("seriously" in the Kansai dialect) *laugh* So, what was the change you experienced when you became a recording artist?
SEIJI: When being an artist, you are facing hundreds, even thousands of audience, whereas as a host you are only dealing anywhere from one to three people at once, so there’s a big difference in number. But the objective of entertaining the guests is the same; it’s just that the audience turned from one person to over a thousand people.‘ Otherwise there’s not a difference at all.
KURI: Has it become more difficult to work as a host now that you have a following?
SEIJI: I think it has become harder for them. (the other members)
RYO: Not that much *laugh* The number of guests have increased by a lot, but I am still the same, on or off stage.
CHRISTINA: What is the age range of your guests/clients?
RYO: There’s a wide range, from 18‚ 20 and on, since you have to be 20 to enter the store, and up to women in their 50s.
ICHIRO: It’s really busy. Every time I go the number of fans increase.
CHRISTINA: You must be happy.
ICHIRO: I’m very happy about that, but it also keeps me really busy.
RYO: Are you not lying?
ICHIRO: No *laugh* I’m fine.
KURI: Were your clients surprised when you got the piercing? (to ICHIRO, who has a piercing in the bridge of his nose, and also his lip.)
ICHIRO: Not really.
CHRISTINA: When did you get it done?
ICHIRO: Around the beginning of 2007.
CHRISTINA: Does it hurt?
ICHIRO: No. But I wonder if the metal detector at the airport would catch it?
KURI: So, what other music experiences did you have, prior to becoming an artist?
SEIJI: I played the guitar throughout junior high school and also had a little band with my friends.
CHRISTINA: What kind of music did you play?
SEIJI: Hmm, such as Eric Clapton. I liked those so I played those.
CHRISTINA: Did you play any X songs?
SEIJI: It was too difficult for me so I couldn’t play.
KURI: What about LUNA SEA songs?
SEIJI: We didn’t really cover their songs. We played mostly Eric Clapton‘s songs, and oh yeah, LUNA SEA’s "TRUE BLUE" and a couple of the more popular songs.
ICHIRO: I played the guitar when I was a student, and also had a copy band.
CHRISTINA: What kind of music did you play?
ICHIRO: X, LUNA SEA, and some J-pop. And when we started working, NAOTO played the guitar and I played the bass, and had another copy band.
CHRISTINA: What other music do you like? Like ones you’d sing at a karaoke.
RYO: I like western music, such as hip-hop.
KURI: Such as KANYE WEST?
RYO: Yes. Fabulous. New York. I’ve been to New York before.
KURI: I live in New York.
RYO: Oh? I have been to New York about twice, because I wanted to hear the real American hip-hop.
KURI: Do you have plans on branching out to different fields in the entertainment world, such as acting?
RYO: Yeah I acted in a drama.
CHRISTINA: What kind of drama is it?
RYO: I am a beautician in it. The series just ended a couple days ago (prior to the interview date of 12/27). I was in episodes 11, 12, and 13. The ending theme is our song "SAMENAI YUME." The name of the drama is called "BIYOU SHONEN CELEBRITY."
CHRISTINA: What is your character like?
RYO: Umm, a bad guy. A badass beautician, with platinum hair.
KURI: Oh~~.What about SEIJI and ICHIRO?
SEIJI: I’m into comedy stuff.
ICHIRO: I play the bass only.
KURI: So, many of the questions we asked earlier were from your fans in America.
CHRISTINA: So you should come to America.
RYO: Yeah we should go.
SEIJI: Yeah, let’s go.
CHRISTINA: I live in L.A.
SEIJI: Oh I was there. It’s clean and they have everything there.
CHRISTINA: Clean. Ermm.. there are clean and not-so-clean places.
SEIJI: I went to downtown L.A. too.
CHRISTINA: I live south of L.A. county, it’s cleaner there.
SEIJI: Oh. I also went to Hollywood.
KURI: You have just finished a tour. What was that like?
SEIJI: We did two tours this year (2007), one in July and one in October. The ones in July, we did those like a major artist, touring big concert halls, with a ton of staff. The ones in October, we did at smaller venues, ones that fit a maximum of 300 ~ 500 people, and toured throughout Japan. We went to six places and did seven lives, drove around Japan by ourselves, carried the equipment ourselves.¬† It felt like being back to a beginning artist. I enjoyed that.
KURI: Not to go too off topic, but, I saw on your website that you have a lot of pets?
SEIJI: I have about ten different kinds. (including a Chihuahua, a miniature Dachshund, a cat, a fox)
KURI: You have a tiny pet monkey; what is it?
SEIJI: It’s a Pygmy Marmoset (the world’s smallest breed of monkey).
CHRISTINA: Does it get any bigger?
SEIJI: No, it’s just about the size of a palm.
CHRISTINA: Did you purchase it at a pet store?
SEIJI: No, you can’t buy it at a pet shop. I got it from the original owner.
RYO: I have dogs, Miniature Dachshund. Named Riru, Lala, Leno, Nou, Haku. Five dogs.
ICHIRO: I used to have a pet but not anymore.
KURI: Do the members who do not play an instrument have any plans on picking up one?
SEIJI: I am thinking of playing the guitar again, since I played it in junior high, I’d like to try it again. I’m now 30 so I think I can still do it.
CHRISTINA: Yes you are still young!
SEIJI: Thank you! *laugh*
CHRISTINA: What about RYO?
RYO: I want to do rap.
CHRISTINA: No instruments?
CHRISTINA: Too much trouble?
RYO: Instruments are difficult. We went to see Miyavi‘s live yesterday and were really impressed by the voice percussion, and it made me want to try it.
CHRISTINA: ICHIRO plays the bass only?
ICHIRO: Yes. I do want to learn more, though. Guitar is quite easy for me, since I played it in school.
CHRISTINA: Who is your favorite bassist?
ICHIRO: Within Japan, it’d be CHIROLYN; and overseas there are so many. I guess my favorite bassist would be BILLY SEEHAN of MR. BIG.
KURI: What about your favorite guitarist?
ICHIRO: ERIC CLAPTION and STEVE VAI, and the other bassist I like would be MARCUS MILLER.
RYO: My favorite foreign artists include 2PAC, and Japanese artist would be MR. CHILDREN.
KURI: Oh MR. CHILDREN.
RYO: You know Japanese artists better than American artists! You must be lying about living in New York! *laugh*
KURI: What is the best experience you’ve had so far as a band?
SEIJI: We’ve came to realize the happiness and the gratification you gain in making music. Up till now, when we get a CD from an artist, we only know of the final product. But in order to make such a product, it takes a lot of time, with the involvement of many people. So when people’s hopes and efforts materialize into the final product, it is a great feeling. We put in a lot of love into our work, so it’s a great thing.
(To be continued in Part II)
SEIJI: Hello, overseas rock fans, this is SEIJI from AGE-OF-EP. We are from the Kansai region, so I would like to say something in the Kansai dialect: Thank you for listening to us, Ookini!
ICHIRO: Hello, this is ICHIRO. Please continue to show your support for us! Thank you!
RYO: Hi, this is RYO. Please support AGE-OF-EP. Thank you. Whoah!
Text by Kuri
Interview by Kuri, Christina, and JaNaye
Additional questions by Meg, Kimi J., Jing, Justine, and the Acqua EP LJ Community
AGE-OF-EP appears courtesy of RUNDING BaUN