To kick off our series on international Jrock, here is our first piece. Read on for our interview with RUSIKA!
Formed in December of 2006, RUSIKA is the unique musical creation of talented Japanese guitarist and vocalist Natsuo, who is known affectionately to his fans as Natz. As the golden heart and soul of RUSIKA, Natz entwines his poetic and eloquent lyrics with sweet melodic guitar tunes into a truly original blend of genres. The vibrant music of RUSIKA ranges from songs that will pump you up and make you jump or mellow you out and make you sway. With a mission to break down barriers with a bang, Natz has been taking RUSIKA to several venues and anime conventions around the Jrock scene of Los Angeles.
We were fortunate enough to get our hot little hands on an up close and personal interview with Natz himself to dish out all the goods on RUSIKA! That’s not all there is! We’ve also got some pretty sweet audio candy from Mr. Natz for your Jrock sweet tooth — we knew you’d be craving it, so check out our MySpace player.
JRR: Please, introduce yourself and any other members of RUSIKA.
Natz: Hello. I am Natsuo (NATZ) of RUSIKA. I am the vocalist and guitarist. Currently, I am the only member of RUSIKA and I’m playing with talented local support musicians.
JRR: Describe your sound to people who might not be very familiar with your music.
Natz: I listen to Japanese indie pop as well as American rock and metal. My music is influenced by this variety of music, but if I categorize my songs, most of the songs range from alternative/hard rock to soft ballads. I often have romantic or philosophical themes in my songs, so they are emotional even when they get heavy. But it sounds very unique and distinctive compared to current Japanese bands, so you should listen to my songs. I have gained fans from early teens all the way to 50-somethings with my music!
JRR: What or who was it that inspired/attracted you to play guitar and make and perform music in general?
Natz: I wanted to play the guitar arpeggio of a song called "Robinson" from the Japanese pop rock band, Spitz, when I was 14. That’s why I started playing guitar. I am not quite sure why I started to perform music … It is too natural for me to express myself through music, so it is hard to say what attracted me to perform music in general … maybe music itself.
JRR: What was the first live show you ever went to (as a fan not as a performer) and what was the experience like for you?
Natz: It was X JAPAN’s show in Tokyo Dome on December 31, 1995. My friend loved X JAPAN so much, and it was somewhat scary for a teenage boy to go to their live alone. So, I went to the concert with him by his mother’s request. I didn’t know about X JAPAN that much at that time, but I just remember crazy screams from lots of dressed up girls.
JRR: Who are your musical influences and favorite musicians/bands?
Natz: There are too many favorite bands to mention. But I practiced songs from Spitz and Mr. Children, which are both famous bands in 90s, a lot for 10 years. But my music doesn’t seem to be influenced by them at all because I cannot sing like them. Recently, I practiced Miyavi’s guitar slapping technique and Kyo’s screaming, but my efforts do not sound cool at all. I am naturally original. My voice is too deep to sing like them, and my hands are too sensitive to keep slapping guitar. My recent songs seem to be influenced by LUNA SEA or L’arc-en-ciel, but also influenced by modern alternative and new wave bands, such as Interpol.
JRR: Do you play any other instruments in addition to guitar?
Natz: Hmmmm…technically no, but I am really good at playing Drum Mania and Taiko Drum Master at arcades, hahaha.
JRR: How did you come up with the name "RUSIKA" and what does it mean?
Natz: First, I wanted to make a new word which is neither Japanese nor English. I also wanted to have romantic and artistic name for the band. RUSIKA is from my original word "rushika." I based it off Japanese words that have meaning individually, but do not exist in a word together. "Ru" means flow, "shi" means poem, and "ka" means music. The aggregated mean is "the flow of poem and music." That sounds cool and meaningful as well as romantic and artistic.
JRR: Your MySpace says that RUSIKA is based in Los Angeles. Being from Japan, what made you decide to pursue a career in music from the United States as opposed to Japan?
Natz: It is just because of the simple question: "Why do Japanese listen to English songs every day even though American people barely know Japanese music?" Apparently, we are learning English every day in middle and high school, so we are accustomed to English, and the language barrier is very low when it comes to accepting new music. On the other hand, American people have much less opportunity to learn Japanese. For Japanese musicians, the barrier of language is tougher than for American musicians in Japan. For Americans to be accustomed to listening to Japanese music under such a situation, somebody needs to keep singing for his/her entire life in the USA. I am willing to do that. That’s why I am staying in the USA. But I really want to tour Europe and South America, too, because music connects all kinds of people!
JRR: Describe your first live in the United States. When did that happen and what kind of impact did it have on you?
Natz: It was an acoustic show in a tiny coffeehouse in Indio, Ca., in 2005. The coffeehouse does not exist any more. I played a showcase with my friends’ band. Hmm … my singing was not that good those days. Also, I had a really bad anxiety attack before the show. My American friends had encouraged me to start playing music publically again, even though I had never considered such a thing before. I didn’t know if Americans would listen to a Japanese musician. I also had not played a show in over a year since because I was concentrating on studying for college. Prior to the show, my entire body shook and did not move. That had never happened to me before! I praised myself for finishing the show with shaky hands and voice.
JRR: How would you compare the feel of a live performance in the United States versus in Japan? Do you feel you perform differently in the two countries?
Natz: American RUSIKA fans like communicating with me during the show, and I love it. When I talk to them, they respond loudly and energetically. They seem to want to get more involved with promoting RUSIKA than what I was used to in Japan. I am always trying to be great and exciting for them. I don’t feel I am doing it differently in Japan and USA, but I am always thinking how to communicate with American fans better because of my present English skills.
JRR: Have there been any instances where you might have thought to go move back to Japan? If yes, how did you overcome them?
Natz: Oh, when I was told "We are promoting only Japanese bands from Japan" by one Jrock promoter, I really felt like going back to Japan. But like I said before, somebody needs to keep singing Japanese music in America, and fortunately or unfortunately, I feel that "somebody" should be me. I will stay in USA until drunken Americans hum Japanese songs in the bar.
JRR: What are your plans/goals as for RUSIKA for the next 5-10 years? Do you plan to take your music to Japan eventually? Is there anywhere else in the world you’d like to play?
Natz: In the next 5 years, I want to play at SXSW and the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. Those are the famous indie rock festivals, and I really want to play there. Also, I want to open for famous bands from Japan when they play the LA area. To do so, I have to make at least two full albums. That means I have to make at least 20 recorded songs. Then I can meet more average music fans as well as Jrock fans. In the next 10 years, I want to tour in Europe and South America as I mentioned. I want to large-scale tour of Japan, too. There are so many great festivals all over the world, so I want to play at those festivals in the next 10 years. Then I can meet more international music fans as well as international Jrock fans!! Whoo – hoo!!
JRR: Is there a specific venue that would be personally meaningful for you to perform at? If yes, which venue and why does it hold personal meaning to you?
Natz: Yes! I would say the Coachella Festival because that is the first concert I ever attended in the USA! The Red Hot Chili Peppers were the headliner and during their show, somebody hit my face by his/her elbow and I lost my glasses. I never found them and had to buy new ones. But I still had fun!
JRR: Who would you most love to share a stage with or work with (along side of, produced by, etc.)?
Natz: You, who are reading this interview. My stage means the entire venue. Let’s make a great live show together!!
Considering recording work, I would like to work again with my previous band members in Japan. They are not famous but I think they are some of the best musicians for RUSIKA.
JRR: Many Jrock musicians seem to be simultaneously involved in other careers such as acting, modeling and fashion/jewelry design. Are you currently involved in any other professions or do you perhaps plan to be? If not, which ones would you like to attempt?
Natz: Actually, my main job is being an accountant! Maybe that’s not cool, but it helps support my music activities. So, I am already in another profession. I have always been very interested in possibly acting, too. If I had the chance, I would want to act in a very unique and distinctive role exactly like my music.
JRR: What advice would you give to other musicians pursuing a Jrock career in the United States?
Natz: If you want to be a Jrocker, that is a great thing!! Keep playing Jrock, and there will be many new discoveries. It may be difficult and the scene is still small, but don’t give up. Let’s make the Jrock scene bigger, together.
JRR: Please give a message from RUSIKA to our readers.
Natz: Thank you for reading this interview. I will keep playing Japanese music and making great songs! Music has no boundaries, so don’t let the language barrier stop us. I believe RUSIKA has potential to communicate to the whole world. If you are interested in RUSIKA via this interview and sample songs, please feel free to contact me on Jrock Revolution! You are great!
RUSIKA MySpace: www.myspace.com/rusika
Biography and Interview by: Nikki
Edited by: Kia and Kelly T.