Sunday, August 22, 2010
"As a musician (albeit an inactive one) in Japan with a lot of old VK influences, I'm always surprised to talk with guys who play Japanese rock because generally, the influences they cite are predominately American or British. A lot of musicians (and mainstream music fans) over here seem to think of Jrock as less cool/authentic than American rock. Why do you think think that is, and do you and the other CPS dudes have any all time favorite Jrock bands? :)"
I do suspect that some of the reason they find British/American/etc music so exciting is the same reason you find Japanese music so exciting.
Another thing is, they are surrounded by Japanese music, inundated by it, every day. They have experienced the stagnation and homogenization first hand, and in real time. They will tire of it quicker than you do.
Another thing I have found is that, unlike in the west, to most young Japanese people, it does not matter what a group's fans are like, it just matters if they think the music is cool. Thus they have no cultural analog to show them why some people don't like the kind of people that bands like, say, Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy, Slipknot, etc. might attract. And that is really neat to me. I have deepened my appreciation for pop music by ignoring what I used to think of as the teeny bopper contingent, as well as my appreciation for heavier bands by disregarding stereotypes of angsty hot topic shoppers. Because an audience should have no bearing on the merits of a piece of music. (There was a great review of Scott Pilgrim that touched on this point that Neil Gaiman linked to on twitter, and I would search for it but it's too hot and I'm going to use that as an excuse.)
Anyway. Thanks to the internet we can know a lot more than we used to be able to about the Japanese scene, but unless you are subjected to the entire machine at once, every day--TV, magazines, billboards, radio, commercials, etc.--you can't really see why things seem a bit more boring to the musicians over here. Though, I suspect that since you're here, you'll start to be able to put it into words better than I can very soon.
As for the jrock bands that are universally respected, it would be Luna Sea all around, I think. You don't meet too many guys who admit to liking X anymore. Tenten and Joe grew up really liking The Brilliant Green, too. Tenten got into vk thanks to Rouage and really likes Ellegarden. Joe likes Plastic Tree, Number Girl and stuff like that. We all like 9mm Parabellum Bullet and Radwimps, and MAN there is this one band we're really into but I canNOT remember their name right now. This is going to bug me all day. Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Written by Elec at 2:43 PM
Cosmos asks some more:
"Ok, here goes another: have you faced any kind of discrimination in the visual scene because of your origin? I mean, being and American in the middle of the Japanese, wasn't it a bit strange?"
Here's the deal: if you can communicate easily and are good at your instrument, you will have no problems. Young people are not that bigoted. They may be misinformed, ignorant, and wrong about a lot of the world, but they are curious and will take the time to get to know you. It takes patience on both sides.
Actually, I have noticed that the reverse is true: I didn't face discrimination, so much as I faced some sort of...Charisma Man transformation. People were interested in me, people thought I was interesting or talented solely because of my non-Japanese origin. I'm actually not all that interesting but somehow they hear about the other things I've done and they think I am. Then again, these are people who don't remember much of their Jr. High English class and have probably never traveled outside Japan, so I guess it makes sense. It's slow going trying to convince people I'm just as normal as they are!
I have found at this point that I will not be discriminated against because I am a white American; if I am disparaged at all it will be because I was a jerk or I sucked or something. Sometimes it isn't about race.
Basically, communication is key!!!!!
Written by Elec at 2:25 PM
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Mizuka also asks:
"Anyway, I read on your twitter that you're not even a little japanese, then, must how do you get in a visual kei band? You already knew some of the members? And how you live in Japan without being Japanese?"
Sometimes I forget that there are a lot of readers of this blog who weren't with me at the beginning, which is really neat. So I forget that people sort of don't know where I come from or how or why I'm here. Let me bring you up to speed, which will double as a resume of sorts:
I am a white American born in Napa, California but raised in Clovis, California. I grew up playing lots of music and lots of instruments and lots of genres in lots of formations. I also did dance, and lots of acting and theater, dramatic and comedic.
I started learning Japanese language at the local Japanese school at the Buddhist temple for Japanese Americans when I was 16, mostly because I just wanted to learn a language that didn't use the Roman alphabet for kicks.
I went to the University of California, Davis, came to Japan for an internship at an orphanage, went back, graduated, came back to Japan on the JET program, then started trying to see if I could do anything in music or acting again.
After trying to join a band for awhile, I met up with Yue and Ryota and formed Laverite. One day we played with a session band called Kanabun, whose singer was Masaki from Sulfuric Acid. He and I met later, totally by accident, at a beer garden in Ueno Park, became friends, and he introduced me to Hizaki from Versailles.
Hizaki introduced me to Tenten, who was looking for a bassist, and here I am in Chemical Pictures.
I've also done TV and music videos on the side, mostly through having registered at several casting agencies for foreigners in Tokyo, but also through friends subsequently made on the job. At first it was genuinely non-exciting stuff: background in a Toyota cm, or background in a tokusatsu children's show, or going with a newscaster on a variety show to check out a weird kind of maid cafe, but luckily someone I'd met on a previous job recommended me for a music video that was being cast and needed a decidedly rock guitarist.
That's how I started doing music videos. That one was for Becca; through that job I was chosen to be in several videos for Tommy Heavenly6/February6, which is how I met JJ, with whom I have worked on AJ McLean TV appearances as well as Steve Appleton tours and TV appearances. I've also done videos with UVERworld and YUI. (My advice is to avoid jobs for saigen (re-creation/dramatization) as much as you can!)
That's pretty much it! It looks like a lot but that's been over several years, and I still keep a day job. (I am not an English teacher, though.)
"Y'know, I dream to participate in a visual band from Japan someday, so I'm asking to have a basis for my future. And, at the moment, you and JJ are the people that inspire me most. And, about my dream, you have any tips for me?"
That's cool that you have a dream. I always ask people, what exactly is the motivation? I was brought into the whole Japan thing 10 (or so) years ago by a series of coincidences, so the love of Japanese rock music came later. (I did not actually like heavy music until that point, actually.) Is it for the novelty of the genre, or the novelty of being a non-Japanese person? Is it out of a love for music? Keep in mind, though we are super tight buddies, JJ and I are doing completely different things. (I'm know he would be super happy that hear that you're inspired by him!!)
Also, be prepared to work hard and not see any profit for awhile if its a vk band. ...or really any band! Just like a new company doesn't pay off its investors/make money until a few years later (or something), bands are investments too. Very rare is the band that lives solely off its own music.
So, if you've got all that in mind, you still want to go forward with it. Awesome. Try what you love and never quit unless there's a good reason, then try something else you love. (Love a lot of things, that's my motto.)
So my advice? Learn Japanese. Learn it. Learn to speak and listen relatively comfortably in normal conversations, and most importantly, learn to read and write. You'll be able to pick up all the music- and scene-related lingo later. Everyone will know that you're not Japanese so you're Japanese won't be perfect, but good people are willing to talk until you're both in understanding. However, this should not be your greatest weakness.
Do not get full of yourself for being a rare non-Japanese person, because there are plenty of non-Japanese people all over the country who are way more awesome than you or me. Guaranteed. However, do not also fall into the trap of thinking that you have assimilated 100%. You're always going to be a little different, so find a way of operating normally in that framework.
Learn your instrument. You need to bring something special to the table. If possible, learn about equipment. I can play my instrument with pride but I don't know enough about gear; try to learn at least more than I do. ;)
Then, just go to shows, make friends, check out the "musician wanted" lists at rehearsal studios, and do your best!
Also, keep a day job for as long as you can, make sure you have a proper visa, and always, always have a backup plan, even just a tiny one!
Hope that helps!! :D
Written by Elec at 5:46 PM
Thennary Nak asks:
"And speaking of cdjapan, do you guys have any say on where the singles were available? Or do you just have to hope that the label you're working with will see the merit of having a release available to an overseas friendly store?"
All that's handled by Speed Disk, although I think more and more places are realizing the importance of making things available overseas, at the very least to Korea and Taiwan, where VK has some solid popularity. And they may have realized that if they don't make Chemical Pictures, with an American in the band, available to Americans, I wouldn't be very pleased. :-P
"I mean with the recent singles on a site like cdjapan it makes purchasing them pretty easy for an overseas fan like myself and I would love to be able to buy a copy of Präparat as well if it was available there."
I'd love to have Praparat available, but distribution for that is handled by Marder Suitcase, who did not market it as well as we would have liked. ;_; I suggest at the very least finding some mp3's!!
"And have you thought about teaming up with a company like Japan Files or Maru Music to have your music released digitally for overseas to buy as some other vk bands have done?"
To be quite honest, I'm wary of these companies for a few reasons. If we did I'd actually like to read over the contract personally. It's a lot easier when it's someone I know and trust--the guy that runs Hear Japan is a friend--and can tell me the ins and outs of the business. It's a new business model and I think everyone's a bit apprehensive, especially when you have this tiny network of indie bands who suddenly have all this attention from new sites like that wanting to sell your music. It sounds exciting but you want to go into it level-headed.
Also, one of the reasons that Japanese bands haven't necessarily marketed toward overseas very heavily is that profits from live shows tend to have a more immediate monetary value for bands. You get a headcount every night, a payout every night, money from your merch table, you pay your makeup girl, your staff person, and then you put the rest in the band account. CD sales are a bit more complicated.
It's all pretty confusing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Written by Elec at 5:16 PM
Sai asks some more:
"Do you think that the band can be successful without falling into the particular traps that most V-Kei bands fall into?"
Only if we start promoting outside the genre, to be honest. Difficult to convince people of, though.
"Do you think that you guys can continue making music and stay on the outskirts of the genre, or do you plan on integrating your music slowly?"
We'll probably just keep making the kind of music we want to play and listen to. We're sort of stubborn like that. ;-P
"From those exercises you have tried, it looks like your musical sounds and those of 'modern' bands just clash so much that they can't be connected, but do you think they can be? Or will you guys just say 'screw it' and keep going without a care to whether the larger audience is willing to bend?"
I mean I would LOVE a larger audience but who really knows how to snag them? For every band you think has the formula down, there are just as many struggling artists doing the exact same thing/sound, but not selling at all. Best to just do what you like and see if it sicks!
I think if we just focus on making good songs, 'modern' will have nothing to do with it, I hope. Hopefully, 'good songwriting' will then become the norm.
"Do you think that visual Kei as a genre needs to be revamped to allow the music to breathe? Or has it become so marketable the way it is that changing it is out of the question?"
I think the Japanese industry as a whole needs to be revamped. Even leaving the shadiness of some VK business behind, just take a look at how everything else is run. Usually it goes off without a hitch, but there's no denying that something needs to change. It's a shame because some very huge artists are still occasionally breaking ground with certain songs but those are never the singles, never the songs fans claim as their favorite. It has as much to do with the industry mindset as it does with the mindset of the average Japanese consumer.
It works on the flipside for any other place, though. We may wonder what the heck the labels are thinking, but they wouldn't push the crap if a ton of people didn't actually like the crap and buy it. No one's being tricked.
So, all that said, it is really nice when once in awhile, art that really deserves it, like Nogod, go major and I randomly see them in Young Guitar and Burrrn! :)
...not sure how well I answered these questions; a bit scatterbrained, sorry!
Written by Elec at 5:08 PM
Friday, August 20, 2010
Written by Elec at 5:35 PM
Sai asks some more:
“It's nice to hear that you're sticking with the indie-roots for the most part, despite being considered part of Speed Disk. Is that a permanent thing, or will you guys be parting with the company once the one-man and the release of your final of the five singles? Or do you think that you'll stay with them and put out an album? (Are you guys planning an album?)"
That’s still up in the air. We’d like to continue if they’d like to take us on more.
Not sure about an album yet!
“My brother plays guitar for an American band and he says one of his biggest fears is getting his band well-known, signed to a label, and then losing all artistic integrity.”
That’s awesome, and I’m glad he’s thinking about that. I'd love to check them out!
Me, on the other hand… I’ve done a lot of work with other artists here in Japan, as well as foreign artists coming to Japan, and the more I look at it all, I’m never really sure what ‘losing artistic integrity’ really means, and if it doesn’t mean different things to different people. I do, however, think it’s admirable to be dedicated to that. I’m the kind of person who just plain doesn’t like financial situations being up in the air, so if something can make me money, I’m more willing to consider that than the overall integrity of the product. Then again, maybe I’m just a huge sell-out! :-P
“It's nice to hear that CP isn't having those kinds of problems.”
Well, being in a visual kei band means that you do have those kind of problems, even if they’re small. It’s pretty obvious that in order to be a huge-selling vk band you sort of have to sound and do things a certain way. One of them is in terms of song-writing. Some bands are lucky and can generate hits, or a nicely-sized following, with their own style, but some are tempted to appeal to the masses a bit more. I don’t see that much of a problem in that, as long as you make your standards and boundaries clear on both sides before inking a deal, I suppose.
Another lies in image. Bands started to look like more harmless hosts and toned down for a reason, and it pays to look relatively harmless. We must face facts: most big-selling modern vk is, essentially, pop idol-dom, just add guitars. I am not saying this pejoratively.
Our problem lies in the fact that we are often told, in both good and bad ways, that we do not sound like a visual kei band. As an exercise, we have tried writing vk-ish songs, and they still end up not sounding very vk to listeners. Those who pledge their allegiance to vk as a whole concept haven’t quite warmed up to us yet, and those who try to avoid the vk stigma probably haven’t given us a chance. It also limits the media you can appear in, at least at first.
“It's also nice that you guys are working closely with only a few people, rather than a lot. I would imagine that it makes the process a little easier, or at least more comfortable. Better to have a few people you know and are able to form connections with than having nameless faces.”
This I definitely agree with, you’re right. I’m much more comfortable knowing everybody’s name, or at least knowing that I’ve seen such-and-such a person before. :-P
“As for the recording-- it sounds like it was quite an experience. You think you'll ever do it again? Think you CAN do it again? Do you think you'll ever WANT to do it again?”
“Impressive that you guys didn't break down into sad piles of musician-goo by the end of that.”
I don’t think it ever occurred to us to take a break!
“Also, you got to play around with some of the songs? Which one did you have the most fun editing?”
My skills were more in the music theory department. Do these parts actually match up on record, or did they just feel good at the time and did we not think it through? My job was to do all synth parts, which means the strings in Canvas, the horns, piano, and organ in Ashland, and some of the various noises on the first two singles. (The beeps and boops in the main part of Canvas, however, was all Joe.)
I was also in charge of all vocal arrangements; that is, everything that was not a main vocal line or harmony part. Any sort of choir in the back chorus, though sung by Tenten, was arranged by me. I also wrote the female vocal parts. I also wrote all the English lyrics, though that should be apparent. Most of it was either based directly on lyrics Tenten gave me, or based abstractly on themes he discussed with me, or made up entirely. :-P
The background chorus arrangements were difficult because Harlot, Bellamy, and Memento Mori were written just like that. The rest were sort of added as we went along, which means they aren’t as artfully crafted to my ears as those others, though I really like the parts I wrote for both ladies, and I think the choruses in Irotoridori and Sakana turned out really nicely.
My mother is a conservatory-trained pianist and vocal teacher, so I’m hope she’s proud!
Written by Elec at 5:15 PM
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Thursday, August 19, 2010
If anyone has any questions about the songs, lyrics, instrumentation, recording process, equipment, etc. of any of our singles up to now, please ask in a comment!
Written by Elec at 4:44 PM
Monday, August 16, 2010
Go made this awesome ringtone of the Chemical Pictures song, Yami ni furu Planetarium, check it out.
We have official ringtone songs for sale in Japan, but I hate song ringtones, BUT I like SOUNDS in certain songs, and this is definitely the right idea!
...just thought that a cool sound for when I get a text would be the "stand by!" line from Bellamy. :-P
Written by Elec at 2:30 PM
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
So Summer Sonic 2010 is over.
If you aren't on twitter, here is a condensed version of my elbow-rubbing-with-famous-musicians-highlights:
-Damon from Bigelf being really nice and having a chat with me, he wears the top hat all the time
-I saw Taylor Swift's back (it was a cute back)
-Michael Monroe asked me if the gyoza at catering had meat in them (they did), then thanked me for translating
-Monkey Majik guys bein' totally chill and didn't give two craps that I was also a foreign musician living in Japan, just glad to meet other musicians, that was seriously bomb
-Playing pool at the table next to John Petrucci and his son, and while I was debating being a jerk and interrupting to say hi, Orianthi walked right up to them and JP snapped a pic of her and his son and then they went to a production meeting
-Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess walked past me to catering, and so did James LaBrie, but on the way back LaBrie looked at me and said, "hey, how ya doin'?" and I responded with speechlessness.
-Stevie Wonder walked right past me.
-There was a V.I.P. ARTIST HOSPITALITY area to which I had access, because I AM AN ARTIST. It was PRETTY COOL. There were GIRLS hired to TALK TO ME and make me feel like less of a LOSER because I wasn't the one being interview by MTV or RADIO or MAGAZINES. :-P
-Our group needed to catch a shuttle back to Tokyo so I only caught 30 minutes of Dream Theater's set. This meant two songs and a keyboard solo on an iPad.
HERE ARE SOME VIDEOS IN WHICH YOU CAN SEE ME
Written by Elec at 11:32 PM