Interview with ROA at HYPER JAPAN Festival 2018

interview - 08.25.2018 20:01

The shamisen rockers talk to us about their music and latest album, "RODIAC".

Shamisen rock band ROA are the latest addition to JPU Records’ ever-expanding roster of artists, and they hit the HYPER JAPAN Festival for their UK debut, followed by their own headline show at The Underworld in Camden. The band took time out from their busy weekend to speak with JaME about their music and their new album, RODIAC. They were joined by their manager Josh, who kindly acted as the translator.

Welcome to England. How are you enjoying Europe and the UK so far?

ROA: Awesome!

You describe your music as “wayo settyo”. Could you explain that concept for us?

Akaba: Simply, it’s just the mix of western cultures and eastern cultures combining together.

When you’re writing songs how do you go about combining the guitar and shamisen, which are quite different sounding instruments?

Tono: We ignore the shamisen to begin with. Akaba, the drummer, he writes all the music. He just writes the music that he wants to write and then after that we put the shamisen on top of it. So basically, even without the shamisen we make good rock music.

With guitars there’s usually a lead guitar and a rhythm guitar. How does it work with two shamisen?

Tono: It’s not really about lead or rhythm with the shamisen. At first, there was only one shamisen player. When we introduced the second shamisen player what we were able to do was to introduce shamisen harmonies and different intonations between different notes. Rather than lead and rhythm, it’s more or less combining with each other to create a composition.

Does that cause a problem when Moroboshimann jumps into the crowd?

ROA: (laughs)
Tono: Occasionally! Basically, if you want to hear it properly, buy the CD! Live is the show, that’s the performance.

Moroboshimann and Mani, why did you start playing the shamisen?

Moroboshimann: I saw an advert in a newspaper selling a shamisen and that’s why I started.
Mani: My mother was a shamisen player so that’s where I got my inspiration from.

If you could actually fit any more musicians on stage, what other traditional instruments would you consider using?

Tono: Shakuhachi (Japanese flute).

You combine western and Japanese instruments but you also combine English and Japanese lyrics. Does this cause any issues, like you have combining the different instruments?

Tono: Using English is more to get that punch for the lyrics. The English sounds are different from the Japanese sounds, so the words that are put into the lyrics get that extra punch.

Do you think that using English lyrics in your songs is important for international success?

Tono: It’s not important at all. It shouldn’t be about the lyrics. There are a lot of Japanese bands who will only sing in English because they think it will give them more of a chance to be seen abroad. For us, it’s about the creativity. The music we make is the music we make and if people abroad see what we’re doing and like what we’re doing, then we’ve become a success.

As a band, have you always had international ambitions since the beginning?

ROA: Yes!

You recently signed with JPU Records, which must play a big part in that. How did that come about?

Tono: The manager of BAND-MAID is a friend and he thought Tom (Tom Smith, boss of JPU Records) would really like ROA, so he introduced the band to Tom. It took just one email. BAND-MAID’s manager just emailed with SHU cc’ed in, and done.

JPU Records are releasing your new album RODIAC, which has a zodiac theme. Where did that idea come from?

Masatomo: We originally had one song written about the animal that’s in the story of the famous Japanese character Momotaro. When we were deciding to make an album we thought, “Okay, let’s just keep this theme and make it into the zodiac.” So it started from one song and just expanded.

The songs have zodiac animals worked into the titles. Do the songs have the same characteristics as the zodiac animals?

Masatomo: It’s not in all the songs, but in most of the songs they’re in the lyrics. We write the lyrics from left to right in Japanese, then if you look from right to left it becomes a phrase with a different meaning. The lyrics written from right to left and top to bottom are kind of influenced by each animal. If you look at the lyrics written properly, you’d get that.

Your live performances here at HYPER JAPAN have had an entertaining boxing match-style introduction. Where did the idea for that come from?

Josh: We were messing around in Japan. When we came to England HYPER JAPAN wanted us to write an MC before we go onstage. I said we should do a boxing intro and then we went into the studio and recorded me doing it. It was more because HYPER JAPAN wanted an intro MC and instead of just writing “We are ROA from Japan, we hope you like our show”, it’s more – let’s make it fun.

Is that something you’d also do for shows in Japan or elsewhere?

Miyo-C: No!
Masotomo: If we ever make an album that has boxing as a theme we’re going to stick it in!

Between album recordings and live shows, do you see live performances as more important?

Masotomo: It’s not really about which is more important. If you want to listen to it clean and well-made then the CD is great, but if you want to see the performance, the performance is a whole other experience. They are both as important as each other.
Tono: The creative part of what we do, in this modern age when people are just downloading and streaming and not really buying CDs, with our CDs it’s more than just the music. With the album covers, the artwork, the way the lyrics are written, you see it going from right to left with the different meanings involved. That’s what we want to show. It’s the creative side of our music. It’s not just the live performances, it’s not just the music we make, it’s everything that incorporates us as a band.
Masotomo: With our album Ooparts, when you open up the album cover like Japanese doors, it opens up with Raijin and Fujin, the Japanese gods. So that kind of thing, that kind of artwork, is something we think that for a western audience, that’s something that says, “This is Japan, this is creative.”

Do you think that, to reach a foreign audience, streaming and downloading is going to end up being more important anyway?

Tono: The live performances are important, but the music that we make is definitely the big thing. It’s got to be good music.

What are your plans for the future after this album?

Tono: We want to get on the Spotify worldwide charts!

Could you leave a message for our readers?

Tono: We want to tell everyone that we’re a band creating this stuff that’s not just Japanese music. It’s not just western music. We are a creative group of artists making something that’s for everyone worldwide, and we want you to listen to it and appreciate it.

ROA’s latest album RODIAC is available in CD and digital versions from JPU Records.

JaME would like to thank ROA and HYPER JAPAN for this interview opportunity.
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