JRR: We know that you all have talents in addition to your musical talents. Please tell us about the talents of the person next to you.
TAKA: MASATO… he has minus ions. He makes you feel comfortable around him.
TAL: He’s good with computers and design work.
TAKA: He can play the drums, too.
JRR: What is your design style?
MASATO: I like to do a variety of things; I’m not limited to certain styles.
TAKA: He’s done flyer designs for the band way back when, CD jackets, tour goods, etc.
JRR: Do you still do any of that for the band now?
JRR: What are MASAKI’s talents?
MASATO: He eats a lot and eats fast. (Laughs.) Sometimes when we go out and eat together, just when we start to eat, he’d be almost done! It’s amazing.
JRR: Maybe MASAKI can be in a eating contest.
RYO: Yeah, he can definitely do it… like the hot dog eating contest.
MASAKI: But I can’t really eat that much. I just eat fast. (Laughs.) Okay, TAL. He has a lot. He’s good at baseball and mah-jong, almost at a professional level. (Laughs.)
JRR: Do you play mah-jong together?
RYO: Yeah, sometimes.
MASAKI: He’s also really good at bargaining prices!
JRR: Can you bargain in Osaka?
TAL: Yeah, you can.
JRR: You can’t really do it in Tokyo, though. Right?
TAL: Not necessarily; like, yesterday, I bargained something that was 47,800 yen down to 34,000 yen.
MASAKI: He’d go to a store and pick a salesperson that seems easier to negotiate with.
TAL: I think, usually in stores (without set prices), the sales people are given a certain amount that they can discount for, so I’d select a salesperson to bargain with. After I bargained it down to 38,000 yen, I’d ask for a different sales person (with higher ranking) to get more of a discount.
JRR: Will you try to bargain in English when you go to America?
TAL: I can say, “I have no money!” (Laughs.) What was it… when we went to Starbucks there last time, I mistook a twenty dollar bill for a two dollar bill and paid with it, and then left without taking the change.
MASAKI: I happened to be right behind him. I went and ordered, and the store clerk was like, “Your friend’s money.” (Laughs.)
TAL: RYO is really good at remembering names and faces.
RYO: I’ve got your faces down.
JRR: What are our names?
RYO: … (Laughs.) I was afraid you would ask that (Laughs.)
TAL: Ten years ago, when we started the band, there were a lot of other bands whom we came into contact with. While the rest of us just couldn’t remember them all, he was able to remember what other bands they were in or what the band was like, etc. So I think he’ll probably memorize all the bands from RTOC.
RYO: I’m going to memorize all the bands’ members.
JRR: Please don’t forget us, too.
RYO: No problem; I remember now.
JRR: And what are our names?
RYO: … (Laughs.) Erm… (Names interviewers, laughs.) Okay, so TAKA is very good at drawing/illustrating free hand.
JRR: Such as portraits?
TAKA: No, more like anime styled drawings.
RYO: He also designed some tour goods. He and MASATO worked together.
TAKA: Generally, even when it’s not musically related, we still try to do as much as possible ourselves. I see each design opportunity as one way to get our band name even better known by way of expression through artwork.
JRR: How do you come up with your songs? What is your process of composing?
MASATO: We’d each compose by ourselves, meet up together, and present to each other. Then we’d each put in our thoughts, try playing, and then add stuff and edit as necessary. Basically: we’d each put in our parts, such as programming, bass, guitar, add the melody, etc. to make the demo.
TAL: Then TAKA would add the lyrics and, after reading the lyrics, we’d make more adjustments to make the song fit with the lyrics.
JRR: When are you going to release something as THE UNDERNEATH?
TAKA: We already have all the songs recorded. The CD will be released before the tour starts.
(Ed. Note: the Underneath’s debut CD will be released first in the United States on March 18, with a pre-sale in advance on JRR.)
JRR: Osaka is famous for its comedians. Are there any comedians that you like?
RYO: Kendo Kobayashi.
JRR: What is he like?
TAKA: (To RYO) You wanna do an impersonation? (Laughs.)
RYO: No! (Laughs.)
TAKA: Warai Meshi.
TAL: Tamura Kenji.
MASATO: I like Shimura Ken.
RYO: He’s not from Osaka, though! (Laughs.)
JRR: When you are touring with RTOC, will TAKA do all the MCs, or will the rest of the members get to talk, too?
TAKA: Just me.
JRR: Will you be doing it in English?
TAKA: I might do both.
JRR: What was it like for you when growing up? How would you compare that to the kids nowadays, who have access to so many new technologies?
TAKA: When we were growing up, there were pagers, then cell phones, then the internet. We thought those were really convenient. Things we grew up with—such as records and cassette tapes—we were accustomed to them since they were already around when we were born. Kids nowadays don’t even know what a MD is, let alone see an actual record. For them, cell phones and the internet are just something natural since those were already around when they were born. So I guess it’s just evolution and the advancement of technology.
TAL: Technology-wise, it has definitely improved and changed a lot; but people’s hearts, for example—those who think of their parents, emotions of love—are still the same in my opinion. People still get moved by the same type of dramas. Fundamentally, people are still the same. Well, bullying has certainly become a much bigger problem… but I think those are problems that can be dealt with.
RYO: It’s really depressing to see parks that we used to play at as kids disappear. Nowadays, kids play indoors most of the time. When we were kids, we’d play at parks, play baseball or other sports until it was dark; it’s kind of sad to not be able to see kids play like that anymore. But I guess it’s just the natural process of life. It’s quite lonely.
JRR: A lot of the kids just play video games.
TAL: Yeah… or you’d see kids at the park playing DS or something.
RYO: Or the kids would conglomerate in front of the video games in electronic stores. It’s quite a view. But then it’s like, if a kid doesn’t follow suit, he might get picked on. It’s almost like the kids have their own rules amongst themselves. (Laughs.) I think it’s really tough being them.
TAL: Or a 4th grader’s Christmas present is a hard disk drive… (Laughs.) “Oh, it’s about time to upgrade…”
MASATO: I think those kids are really lucky. When I was little, the kid who owns the FamiCon (Nintendo) would be the envy amongst the other kids, and we’d try to go to his house so we can borrow it and play. Now game consoles are so common and there are tons of games on the market. It’s really impressive, but it also makes me worried if it’s all right for such things to be so easily accessible. Does it affect the kids’ sense of value?
TAL: There was a survey conducted with elementary school and junior high school kids where they were asked how they approached someone they liked and confessed their feelings for them, such as by phone or in person or through a friend, and email was an option, too. Phone and in person confessions were still the most popular. Email was dead last, so I guess some things that work best will never change.
JRR: How old were you when you first made a confession to the girl you liked?
TAL: I didn’t do one until late… usually it was the girls confessing to me. (Laughs.)
RYO: Me, too. (Laughs.)
MASAKI: I think that, in many ways, the kids now are really fortunate; so much information is accessible to them via the internet, which was completely unthinkable when we were kids. But there have been unusual crimes [committed by adolescents], coincidental with the improvement in the realism of video/computer games, which skewed the perspectives of those kids. That is, not to say that it’s the fault of the advancement in technology or the children themselves. Instead, I think the parents are to blame.
TAL: Just like what I was referring to earlier regarding making confessions; fundamentally, people are still the same, so parents have to be responsible for the actions of their children.
JRR: Speaking of video games, the game Guitar Hero has become very popular in the U.S. Some kids who play it think of themselves like they’re actual guitarists. What are your thoughts on that?
TAL: If they can clear the hardest stages of that game, they probably could play guitar! (Laughs.) I think the most important thing is for them to enjoy the ability to make sound through the instrument, and then come to realize the difference between the game and real guitar playing.
RYO: I think it makes a good segue for them to get more involved with music.
JRR: There’s also a game called Rock Band where you can have a vocalist, drummer, and so on.
TAKA: I understand the mentality; I played the guitar a little bit before because, when I saw guitarists play, I thought they looked really cool. Basically, I was influenced by how they looked and got into music myself. It’s likely that those kids will become real guitarists one day.
TAL: The most important thing is for them to find the enjoyment in music and bands, and then realize that the real guitar is more fun than the game. Isn’t that true? If you play that game about thirty times, you can probably use that money to get a cheap guitar. (Laughs.)
JRR: Do you all play video games?
TAKA: Not recently.
RYO: I play the Wii.
JRR: What kind of games?
RYO: Things like the Mario games, the party ones. I like the mini games in those.
MASATO: I used to play a soccer game called WINNING ELEVEN.
JRR: Right now, there’s an increasing number of kids who would like to start a band or join a band. Could you give some advice or a message to them?
MASAKI: If they have the interest and desire, then definitely go with it. Don’t worry about being able to succeed or make it big; the most important thing is to have the heart to do it.
TAKA: It is important to keep working on it, continuing to play. We have been doing this for over ten years and, even now, I still enjoy it as much as I did ten years ago. I still find music fun and stimulating. I hope everyone will find the enjoyment in it as they continue on playing music.
TAL: I think, for the young people out there, they should play for around three years. You could get pretty good in three years and it’s not really that long of a period, so just take this time to experiment with it. You don’t have to be serious about it; just see it as enjoyment. If you have so much fun that you decide to continue, that’s great; if not, you can just quit and you haven’t really wasted that much time.
RYO: For kids who have guitarists that they respect—for example, like Steve Vai—just remember that even he couldn’t play when he first started. He had to start learning somewhere. There’s a Japanese proverb that says, “Suki koso monono jyouzu nare,” which means liking something or having an interest in something leads the way to getting good at it. I think it’s important to have such a mindset.
MASATO: I think practicing an instrument and becoming good at it is a very fun thing to do. Playing in a band is almost like doing a team sport; you set a goal and, once you achieve that goal, you set a new one to work towards. It requires a lot of team work and it is a very fun experience that I hope everyone would enjoy.
JRR: What is “rock” to you?
TAKA: I think it’s a mindset; if a person feels that it’s “rock,” then it’s rock. You don’t have to be restricted to a style or genre. It’s better to go with your own style and continue with what you believe. I think that’s rock.
RYO: It’s a part of my life; it is what it is. It’s something that’s just there, something that I just do. It’s a life style/way of life.
TAL: It’s hard to put into words but, for me, it is a bond: we gathered together because of rock, we are able to go to the U.S. because of it, and we are able to have the same feelings with the American listeners because of it. There are no other examples I can think of. It’s something that transcends nationality and can be understood by all people.
MASAKI: I agree with what they said; it is something that gives us opportunities, that brought us together. I have been playing music for so long. About half of my life, I’ve been in a band. It is irreplaceable and precious to me.
MASATO: It’s difficult to describe… some people think head banging at rock concerts is rock, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a certain way. Just like what TAKA said, it is what you feel.
JRR: Please give a message to the overseas fans that are coming to see you at RTOC.
TAKA: Our new band, the Underneath, is a new addition to the Jrock scene, but we have been active as a band for over ten years. Our concept and the way we do music has slowly evolved over the years, but—no matter what—this is the music that the five of us make. We really would like you to experience and feel our music.
RYO: We will show our abilities with confidence and ROCK YOU.
TAL: I’m very excited about being on this tour; it was a dream of mine to perform in front of the American audience since I like America. If we can get a good response from the American audience, that would truly be great. I plan to show my best.
MASAKI: THE UNDERNEATH is a new band with a new concept, and it has its own “color.” It would be great if everyone who comes to see us can contribute to the growth of the band so that, eventually, it will change into a different color. I look forward to seeing you all.
MASATO: The RTOC is definitely one of the largest events we will do and it is still hard for me to imagine touring North America on the bus, but I am very excited about presenting the music that we have made with confidence to the American audience. I hope you will all enjoy our show.