JrockRevolution.com met up with akai SKY the morning after their concert at Anime Vegas. By morning, we mean 7:30 AM. So one of the first things we did after our initial meet up was to find coffee. The Dunkin’ Donuts nearest to our Fremont Street location, didn’t open until 11:00 AM, so we managed to find ourselves a Starbuck’s just down the street.
Everyone stood in line, quietly; presumably we were all still trying to get our brains to function. Once coffees and teas were in everyone’s hands, the interview was finally ready to begin.
Alright, let’s start with introductions. If everyone can say their name, part in the band and something about yourself?
Ryuusei: Alright, I’m Ryuusei. I’m the vocalist for akai SKY and I like Electronic Music. [What kind?] I like all kinds, but I’m really big on Electro Pop.
Hayashi: I’m Hayashi. I’m the guitarist… I like playing guitar [Burst of laughter from the group]. I like listening to Japanese music. I ordered a Shaken Ice Green Tea, tall, sweet.
Ryuusei: Oh, those are good.
Jinra: I’m Jinra and I’m the drummer of akai SKY and… I’m very sleepy [It is 7:42 AM].
Umi: [Trying to not laugh too much at Jinra] I’m Umi. I’m the bassist of akai SKY and one of my big interests is fashion, particularly Lolita fashion.
How are you enjoying Vegas so far? Have you done anything exciting?
Umi: We went out to eat last night and three of us had the same exact meal, it was prime rib and we were all really happy.
Hayashi: Yeah, the prime rib with a baked potato. It was real good. Oh and fried calamari, breaded mushrooms…
Ryuusei: Micro-brew samplers.
Umi: And a few of us, I’m not going to say who, were kind of wobbling afterwards.
[Band laughs at Ryuusei]
Ryuusei: I am not going to say anything.
I’m going to ask a little about yesterday’s performance. You played with five other musical acts, are you guys used to such an event where bands are lined up back to back?
Umi: I don’t think we’ve ever been in a line up where it’s been six acts lined up together. Usually, they break them up into little mini-concerts. So, I think that it was the first time we performed like that.
Hayashi: Yeah, it was like a festival where you go back to back, where you just switch in and switch out.
Umi: But, it was really well done. I think that it was done the way a concert like that should be done.
Hayashi: Yeah, the sound guys at [Anime] Vegas were great, probably some of the best we’ve ever worked with.
How did it feel to be the first performers of the whole line-up? [akai SKY was the opening act that night]
Hayashi: Initially, we were kind of worried. Like, "Oooh noooo. [wavering voice]"
Umi: Like, will there be anyone there?
Hayashi: Yeah, will anyone be there? Will anyone care? You know… But, it went well. I think for each act, the proper fans showed up for each show. I think we had an awesome audience.
Ryuusei, I saw you rocking out to RUSIKA off to the side, during their sound check. What did you think of them?
Ryuusei: Was it RUSIKA’s sound check? [Yup!] I don’t know…I don’t really remember. The little flame things were going and it was the bassist going at first. It was—I don’t know it was really funky. They just had a good rhythm while they were warming up. I don’t think I actually heard them play any of their original songs. It was just; they seemed like a lot of fun.
Hayashi: Yeah, every time we’ve played with RUSIKA or Natz, it’s always acoustic where he normally doesn’t have the band.
Umi: Yeah, one time we weren’t on the same bill, but went to go watch him. He was playing with the drummer; they were kind of doing the White Stripes thing. You know?
Hayashi: Oh, yeah yeah.
Umi: But this is the first time we’ve seen them all as a full band.
Did you guys get to meet any other performers?
Hayashi: Yeah, we got to hang out with Makenai for a little bit.
Ryuusei: Oh, that’s a good story. We were coming down the elevator, Saturday morning, and we are piled in the elevator, we’ve got all of our gear, and we stop at floor nine or something like that. Umi: And a bunch of people walk in with like, guitar gear and stuff like that and there was these girls with matching shirts. And we were like, "Wait, are you guys Makenai?" and they were like, "Yeah, and you guys are akai SKY."
Ryuusei: Yeah, we know them, but we’ve never actually met them in person.
Hayashi: And then we were talking with Momoi’s crew/translator. Not really that much with her [Momoi] because she was getting ready.
Umi: We did take a picture together, though. And we ran into some of the members of ALSDEAD. Hayashi: Yeah, we would run into some of them backstage.
We’re going to switch over to talking about Jrock. When you think of Jrock, what comes to mind?
Hayashi: Japanese Rock. [Group laughter] Alright, we have peaked in this interview. [More laughter]. But, yeah, obviously, Japanese rock. But, I think specifically, the brand of Japanese rock, which is different from other countries. Not just the language, but the way it sounds or arranged, even the way it’s produced. Everything.
Umi: Jrock, you just know, even if it wasn’t for the language barrier, you know it would sound very different from the rock that you hear in other… well, in America. Internationally, I think there’s a little bit more similarity.
Hayashi: Yeah, compared to maybe Cantonese music, Korean or where ever, it’s just there are similarities in the way they are produced since they are Asian countries.
Ryuusei: I don’t know about that.
Hayashi: Well, it depends.
Ryuusei: Well, certain aspects. Just because I’m more familiar with Indie Jrock, than other ones. Where with the other Asian countries I am more familiar with the popular stuff.
What has it been like, watching the Jrock fandom grow here in the U.S.?
Hayashi: It’s been great. Yeah, I think when I first started to listen to Japanese music; there was no scene whatsoever. It was hard finding like-minded people. Now there are so many more Jrock fans.
I mean, I think it can be attributed to the fact that younger kids are more open-minded towards other languages. When you get older, people can be less open-minded about other cultures and things that are different from them. So, for a [younger] kid, he doesn’t judge the music saying, "Stupid language, I don’t know what that’s about."
Are there any sounds or styles in Jrock that have inspired you?
Ryuusei: I listen to bands no one’s ever heard of. I am really big on a band called School Food Punishment. I really like female fronted bands.
Jinra: What was that one band we were listening to on the way back from L.A.?
Ryuusei: Uhh…that was Trademark, it’s a shoegaze/dream pop band.
Jinra: Yeah, we listen to THEE OUT MODS, also. They’re awesome.
Ryuusei: I’ve also been listening to, well, my friend gave me this CD and I can’t remember what’s on it…
Umi: I do the same thing. I’ll listen to CD’s and I have no idea what the songs are called because I’m not looking at the track list. So, I’m like, "I don’t know. What’s that song…? Number five!"
Hayashi: I am the opposite. I listen to a song for two seconds and I’m like, that’s "this" song off of "this" album, by "this" artist. But, oh, yeah, I like more mainstream rock like L’Arc-en-ciel, B’z, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, The Back Horn, Straightener… stuff like that.
Jinra: Yeah, more somewhat like Asian Kung-Fu. But, my favorite bands are the GazettE, for one, and Luna Sea.
Umi: I think, probably, the first band I got into was L’Arc-en-ciel. Their bassist is my idol. I think if I could grow up to be like him, I’d be so happy.
Hayashi: Grow up to be a man?
Umi: Yes! But, yes, and then Siam Shade. I also like An Cafe. I would say those have left an impression on me, but I’m not sure I actually emulate them in my songwriting.
How about any non-Japanese music or styles that inspires you?
Ryuusei: I’m really big on singer/songwriter types of music. The things I’m into lately…Regina Spektor, Jason Mraz, Ani DiFranco. I’m kind of all over the place.
Hayashi: Similar to my Jrock taste, straightforward rock music. Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, U2, Paramore. Stuff like that.
Jinra: I don’t listen to any one band in particular. I maybe have one or two songs from a whole bunch of bands or a whole bunch of artists. I can’t really get into buying just one whole album. But, yeah, I like Weezer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, but there’s not just one.
Umi: [sigh] I’m not as strong in liking Non-Japanese bands as I am Japanese Bands. But, I do like Weezer and Green Day. I really like Journey. [Laughs as Hayashi expresses how much she likes Journey.] And, actually, when I was growing up I was really into 60’s Motown or 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. So, I think that has actually crept up into some of my songs, a little bit.
Have you ever encountered or felt resistance from Jrock fans because the band is not from Japan?
Hayashi: I think it depends. A lot of times people are very receptive. I think it is amazing when anybody shows up to our shows, especially when we aren’t from Japan but sing original Japanese music. We’re really grateful for that. But when you think about Jrock bands in America, we don’t really fit the bill most people have in mind.
Umi: Yeah, I think, there will always be people a group of people who don’t like a particular sound.
Hayashi: Even the greatest band in the world will have people that don’t like them. Maybe because we don’t have long hair and have make-up, or people just don’t like our style of music. But, on the other side of the coin, there are always people that go, "Oh, you guys are ‘this’ kind of Jrock band. That’s awesome!"
Now, a little on akai SKY’s music. Who writes the band’s music? Is it just one person or is it a group effort?
Hayashi: It depends from song to song. Normally, one person does the core writing, like the melody or progression, but Ryuusei always does the lyrics. But depending on where it came from, we proceed differently. Umi may write a song and it’s like, "Hey, here you go. Could you write the guitar for it." So, it’s more like collaboration if anything. But, it’s always that one person who originates the idea.
Lyrics, Ryuusei, since you always write them, is it difficult to write the lyrics in Japanese?
Ryuusei: It’s not easy. Obviously, Japanese isn’t my first language, but it’s fun. You know, there is just one of those things about being restricted to a set of tools you may not be as familiar with. Like, I’m also a visual artist [as in a painter] and there is something about using a medium and the limitations to that, that brings out certain aspects. It’s also a lot easier to rhyme in Japanese.
When you are creating music, are there any particular themes of concepts you have a tendency to gravitate towards?
Hayashi: I tend to write songs to try to invoke empathy from the listener based on emotions or experiences I felt myself or have observed in others. If the listener can feel what I feel, that’s a very liberating experience. It’s like you understand me!
Umi: When I write songs I have a general sense of what type of emotion I’m trying to evoke. For example some of my songs have started off my with desire to create a happy song that makes you want to move or an aggressive-sounding song about people that bug me.
Performances in general. You mainly perform in Calif., do you think you may expand more in the future? And where else would you like to perform?
Hayashi: We just perform anywhere. In the past we’ve performed in [Las] Vegas, Texas, and Florida. Anywhere that appreciates Japanese music, we are so down [as in ‘willing to go’]. We love playing live. Just to go out there is a great experience.
Umi: That’s not to say we won’t play where people don’t like Japanese music. I mean, we’ve done that before. [Laughter]
Hayashi: I know! There was this one time we played at a bar and the bill was all punk rock and we were stuck smack dab in the middle. We were like, "Alright everybody, we’re akai SKY. Japanese Music – let’s go!" [Everyone joins in laughing] But, they appreciated it though, you know? Then again these were all rock musicians, which is a common bond.
Do you think maybe someday you would like to perform in Japan?
Ryuusei: That would be awesome.
Alright, where would you like to perform?
Ryuusei: I’d like to play in Shimokitazawa. [The whole band agrees]
Umi: It’s like this little college town. And I don’t know if it has the highest percentage of live houses per square foot, but there is a lot.
Ryuusei: I have a story. I went to see a live show in Shimokitazawa and I was trying to figure out where I was. I had my little map and I’m like, "I don’t know where I am." It was this little bar and when I get there, there’s actually two doors. Two live houses just facing each other. But, I went and I turned and looked going, "Which band is playing here because I don’t know where to go."
Hayashi: One time on vacation, we walked into a record store and asked if there were any live houses. There was this table they pointed to where there with like 50,000 flyers and we’re all, "Um, okay, let’s go randomly check them out!"
A couple of fun questions. Being Jrockers, what is your favorite thing about Japan?
Ryuusei: Obviously the music. But, besides that, the trains.
Hayashi: My best memory of Japan, I remember waking up for school, it was maybe June or July, but waking up and hearing that electrical buzz on the street. Like you hear in anime when it goes, [mimics buzzing sound], and I hear this thing that’s like, [mimics heavy thumping sounds], like a pile driver and I’m all, "Am I in Evangelion!?" But, yeah, that’s the first powerful memory I have. Jinra: Mainly, other than music, would be food. I enjoy sushi a lot, but I also enjoy all the ‘yaki’ foods. So like Yakisoba, which, is one of my favorite foods?
[Discussion about convenience stores in Japan and the 100 yen rice balls. Followed by how ingenious the wrapping is for the rice balls. Hayashi: "It keeps the seaweed dry!"]
Umi: Part of me wants to say the shopping. There is just so much to look at. But, the other part of me wants to say it’s the fact that you can walk around with open canisters of alcohol. [Group Laughs] Not that I’ve ever done that before. It’s just you see it and you go, "Whoa, that’s really weird."
Jinra: Actually, another thing I like is that it seems more relaxed than here. They actually have a sense of humor, whereas here [In the U.S.] everything you do would be out of bounds.
Hayashi: Oh, like we take ourselves too seriously?
Jinra: Yeah, we take ourselves too seriously.
If life really was a box of chocolates, which kind of chocolate would you hope to pick out and why?
Umi: Anything with a caramel filling. I think it is the shining example of what a chocolate should be like within the package. [Laughter]
Umi: I was trying to come up with a good reason other than "I like caramel." [More laughter]
Ryuusei: Dark chocolate. Kind of bitter, kind of sweet.
Hayashi: I don’t like boxed chocolate. I like Snickers and Reese’s pieces. I like really low end chocolate. Like, when I eat ice cream, I don’t want Ben and Jerry’s. I want the Safeway brand or whatever.
Umi: Oh, man, are you saying you’re a low end kind of guy?
Hayashi: Maybe. You see, I would rather not go to a restaurant that had a long line outside. I would rather go to the hole in the wall where it’s empty.
Jinra: I’m opposite of you, Hayashi. I generally don’t like chocolate, like Hershey’s. I like the fancy Godiva chocolates. If life was chocolates…I’d eat every one.
Ryuusei: I have to give props to Anime Vegas. They gave us this gift bag, you know, and there were Godiva chocolate bars in there. When I opened up the packages, there were like 20 of them. And I’m like, "Are we suppose to eat all this before the show!?"
[This is followed by both Ryuusei and Hayashi doing impressions of a sugar rush during performing and sound checks, while everyone else laughs along.]
Could you each say what you like most about your fellow band members?
Umi: I think they all have pretty impressive hair. Yeah, I like that.
Hayashi: They’re all very talented. I can say, "Hey, I want you to have a part like this," and they will take the instructions and interpret it in a way where I’m like, "Man, that came out way better than anything I could ever think of." I like working in a band because each member is really good at what they do. I mean, I’m not qualified to write bass lines, but say if I bring something to Umi, she will write an amazing bass line where I’m just, "Wow." Or an amazing kick pattern from Jinra. I couldn’t do it.
Jinra: I like how everyone works hard at what they do. Because I have been in bands where people don’t put in the effort. Where you try to do one thing to link one song to another song, and the next week you come in and no one really took the time to learn any of it. But this band, is every work, they work really hard.
Hayashi: I have the famous Hayashi weekly email.
Ryuusei: Oooh, gosh.
Ryuusei: This guy is always IMing me, "Did you do this? Did you do this?" and I’m like, "Oooh, no, I have to work!" But no really, I think everyone just brings in so much cool stuff, musically. So it’s two things, first of all we work really well together. Collaboration is generally pretty smooth, we’re able to communicate. With these guys, I remember this one experience where I had some idea for the guitar, I laid down a basic drum track for rhythm. I don’t think I had anything for bass and these guys just tore it up. When they started doing it, I was like, "Oh, that is so awesome. I never would have thought of that."
[Hayashi reminiscing about the development of the song and Ryuusei commenting that his song became five times better.]
Umi: Well, now my answer seems shallow. [Group Laughter]
Please, leave a message for the readers.
Hayashi: We’re akai SKY, we love playing for everybody. We had fun in [Las] Vegas at the show. We hope to have more shows, so if you can make it, please come out. You can visit our website at akaisky.com or hit us up on out MySpace at myspace.com/akaisky. We tweet a lot so follow us on twitter. So yeah, that’s about it.
akai SKY has some demo tracks for everyone to listen to their music on their official MySpace page, located at www.myspace.com/akaisky. They will also be releasing an EP early next year. So, check out their MySpace and Web site (www.akaisky.com) and watch out their release in the future.
Interview by: Jen M.
Edited by: Ali W.