Before their performance at the 2010 South by Southwest, had the privilege of talking with Mitsu and Masa of the Visual Kei group, Dolly. They were among other Japanese artists as part of the annual Japan Nite showcase at SXSW.

Please introduce yourselves.

Mitsu: Hi I’m the vocalist Mitsu.

Masa: I’m the guitarist Masa.


Is this your first time at SXSW?

Mitsu: Yes. It’s our first time.

That means today’s show will be your first show here. Have you been to the US before?

Mitsu: No, that’s another first for us.

So that’s a lot of first times for you guys. How do you feel about all of this?

Mitsu: Well it’s actually our first time being outside of Japan too so we’re a bit influenced by it. The scenery is completely different.

Masa: I’m actually the opposite – I guess I’m the same way wherever I am.

We were talking about the traffic in downtown Austin earlier but that is another difference between the US and Japan. There’s no other place that has a better public transportation system than Japan – buses, trains, subways – everything comes on time. Have you had trouble assimilating to the difference here?

Mitsu: Well not so much yet. But I do feel weird when I’m in a car since everyone drives on the right side of the road here!

Have you had any free time to walk around at SXSW yet? Tell us about any shows you’ve seen or any restaurants you’ve tried.

Mitsu: We were walking down the main road yesterday and it wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before. So many bands were playing at the same time I was quite amazed.

Masa: I found it very interesting that if I walk down the street I’ll hear all different kinds of music coming from all directions. I had thought that the shows were going to be in a more enclosed environment but I guess a lot of it is open! I’ve seen a lot of performances on tiny stages right by the entrance.

Are there any artists that are on SXSW that you’d like to see?

Mitsu: There are a lot of international artists here, but I’m actually interested in seeing our fellow Japanese bands perform. I’m curious to see what kind of performance they are going to show here in the US, so I’d like to check them out.

Masa: For me it’s not so much about a particular band I want to see. I want to enjoy the vibes here.

Are there any international artists that you are inspired by?

Mitsu: I listen to some bands from the UK like Underworld and Radiohead, so I guess I’m a bit inspired by that.

Masa: Not really.

What artist has inspired you the most?

Mitsu: I’m a vocalist and I write the lyrical content, so my biggest inspiration leans more towards Japanese novelists and writers rather than musicians.

So you are inspired by the art of words.

Mitsu: Yes!

Masa: I’m really inspired by the Yellow Monkey [Japanese rock band].

What made you want to start playing music?

Mitsu: Well I used to be a very “normal” student but one day I became conscious of myself. I think I was in middle school. One day a friend of mine asked me to sing with him for the school culture festival – it came at a good time when I was thinking to myself that I should do something that not everyone can do. This was the start of it all.

Masa: For me, my friend was playing guitar for a school event and I thought to myself that I can play if I wanted to. With a little practice of course. My family plays music so maybe I was born in a good environment for that too.

So you’ve seen guitars lying around your house since you were little?

Masa: Yes we had some guitars.

Are there any hobbies are interests that you have outside of music?

Mitsu: I enjoy film, and as I mentioned before I love novels/literature.

Oh, what movie have you seen recently?

Mitsu: I can’t go see movies in the theatre when we get too busy but I watch them at home on DVD. I enjoy Tim Burton movies.

Alice in Wonderland just came out.

Mitsu: Oh yes, but I haven’t seen it yet. I really like Tim Burton’s vision so I really want to see it.

How about you Masa, any hobbies?

Masa: Hmm not really. I like playing with my dog.

Mitsu, did you check out the Academy Awards at all?

Mitsu: I’m not that interested on what others praise as “good.” To me, it doesn’t matter how big the movie is. I’ve never been the type to pay attention to awards so I didn’t really watch it. I do respect all of the directors and films that are awarded though. But talented people are talented regardless of whether the public praises them or not so I’m not too concerned with awards.

Whether it be music, anime, fashion or food, the gateway drug into Japanese cultures differs with everyone, but what do you think is Japan’s greatest treasure that the world should know about?

Mitsu: Visual Kei music for one, but I’d like to push Japan’s artistic sense overall.

Whether it be music or anime, I think Japan has it’s own aesthetic point of view unlike any other country. This unique aesthetic is definitely world class.

Masa: I think there are phrases and certain rhythms that only Japanese people live by and understand… it’s like this groove that we have. Well and there’s Ochazuke (a simple bowl of rice, seasoning, with hot green tea poured on top).

Do you miss Japan yet?

Mitsu: Hmm yes I’m starting to get a craving for rice. There are a lot of good food places out here too but it seems like bread is the main carb. There are only a few places with rice, so I miss the convenience stores that stock rice balls and what not.

Masa: There are convenience stores here? I haven’t seen any yet.

What is the theme of your band?

Mitsu: We aim to be a band with a story – much like the Grim Brothers fairy tales. Our band name Dolly was named after the black sheep. This may be due to my twisted train of thought, but in this world full of the same people, I saw the black sheep as something that’s one of its kind. People look like mere copies of each other – they’re dressed the same way and are singing the same songs. The black sheep is unique, and original. I wanted the band to be something like that – one of its kind. Therefore we became known as Dolly. We want to create a story that no one else can create.

For a first time listener of your music, what song would you recommend?

Mitsu: Hmmm everything. (laughs)

Masa: Please listen to all that you can.

Well what is your favorite song to perform live?

Mitsu: There’s a song called “Play” which will be released world wide and it’s a song that’s really fun to perform. It sort of symbolizes the new step that Dolly is taking in going outside of Japan and spreading our music to a wider audience so I’d really like it if people can take a listen to that song.

What has been the most difficult part of your career as a musician so far?

Mitsu: There are a lot of things but I find it the hardest when I come to a writers block and can’t write any material. There are mental blocks and physical blocks too – we’ve had to postpone a show because I was in the hospital.

Masa: The same for me. There are times when it’s just difficult to produce new songs, and times when I can’t take the song to it’s completed form. Those times are the hardest.

You guys are not all from Tokyo. How did you get together as a band?

Mitsu: Everyone but Tsubuki is from Ehime-Ken (prefecture on the Shikoku Island). Those of us who are serious about playing music tend to find each other. You know, a lot of us start playing music just for fun, but a lot of us quit or our interests go to other things in life. Some people just give up. If you continue to pursue what you want to do and are serious about it, birds of a feather flock together – and that’s how we all met. We met Tsubuki when we made the move to Tokyo.

How did make your decision to go to Tokyo to pursue your music career?

Mitsu: Tokyo is the transmission source for Japan so we wanted to play music there and increase our chances of getting more people to listen to our stuff. That’s why we decided to go to Tokyo.

What are you plans for this year? Any tours or releases?

Mitsu: I touched on this a bit earlier, but we have our single “Play” which will be available worldwide digitally on March 19th. The album release will come either at the beginning or mid September. After that we’ll be doing a headlining tour in Japan to promote the album.

Interview by: Akiko
Photography by: Hans W.
Edited by: Jen M.

Check out more Dolly and SXSW coverage on the site, or here at Akiko’s Blog!