VAMPS Featured

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VAMPS Photograph courtesy of Lynks International Corporation

Japanese Rock Phenoms HYDE and K.A.Z

Not many Japanese bands tour internationally a year after their founding, let alone perform on the battleship USS Missouri, but VAMPS did just that. Formed in 2008 by L’Arc~en~Ciel vocalist HYDE and Oblivion Dust guitarist K.A.Z, each of the four records released by VAMPS between 2009 and 2014 has reached the top ten on Japan’s Oricon music chart. A stadium headliner in Japan, VAMPS supported Finnish metal band Apocalyptica and the L.A. hard-rock band Sixx:A.M. (featuring Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe fame) for 12 stops on their 2015 North American tour. Tokyo Journal’s Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie spoke with HYDE and K.A.Z in Los Angeles.

TJ: How did the tour with Sixx:A.M. and Apocalyptica come about?
HYDE: Sixx:A.M. and Apocalyptica had decided to tour together and they were looking for a unique and interesting band to team up with.

TJ: How was the experience of touring with them?
K.A.Z: Because we are still new to the international scene, we face some limitations with equipment and the performance time available. But the most important thing to me is to give the audience a true VAMPS experience.
HYDE: We are already popular in Japan and our audience knows us. So we are always trying to show them what’s new. But in other countries people are still getting to know VAMPS, so we just keep trying to give them the VAMPS experience. In Japan, I can’t go out anywhere by myself, and when we perform the fans are always screaming. However, when we came to the U.S., we had to perform as the opening act. I had never had an experience like this before. As the first opening act, there is nobody before you and the pressure is on. But I thought to myself, “This is what’s in front of me. How can I take care of it?” It was a growing experience. Sometimes after putting it all out there, there was no response from the audience. I didn’t know what to do about it and it broke my heart. But I just kept telling myself, “I believe in my music. I can break through,” and I just kept moving forward.

TJ: Can you tell us about the biggest performance of this tour?
HYDE: At the beginning of this tour, we did a couple of festivals. They said, “You’re not going to use ear monitors. There’s no sound check. Just go on stage and play!” That was like, wow, real culture shock. The band right before us had the fans really screaming. Then we went out and there were only 10 VAMPS fans in front of us and we thought, “What are we going to do?” That was really hard, but by facing reality and the real world, it made us stronger. The last stop on the tour was Rock on the Range. There was a mosh pit between the audience and us. So that was, wow! Insane. I remember thinking, “If we keep doing this and believe in our music– yes it’s working! We can do this.” That was the most memorable moment on the tour and it reminded us that we should believe in ourselves.

TJ: What is the biggest challenge Japanese bands face internationally?
HYDE: I think it’s the language barrier.
K.A.Z: If you really want to perform internationally, you have to work hard. It’s just like starting over, just like when we started in Japan. It’s a tough situation. You have to be committed and ready for it. But to have people in other countries listening to our music is wonderful.

TJ: Do you hope for your band to be recognized internationally?
HYDE: Our first priority is to break into the U.S. market, so we have been performing here. But when we went to Florida, we were close to the U.S. border. There were a lot of people from Latin America that came to the show and their response was amazing.

TJ: Do you still get nervous before performances?
HYDE: Not as much in Japan as in the U.S. (laughs). It takes me a long time to get used to the environment, so I’m not good at being in a unique environment.
K.A.Z: Yeah, when I haven’t performed in a long time, sometimes I overdo it.

TJ: How would you describe VAMPS?
HYDE: We play hard rock, but our background is a mix of British new wave and hard rock. It’s not just cool... there’s something unique in the sound.

TJ: K.A.Z, what is HYDE’s greatest talent?
K.A.Z: He has a charisma that draws people’s attention to him without him having to try. Also, he transforms into a vampire on stage.

TJ: HYDE, what is your image of yourself?
HYDE: I guess I’d describe myself as a rock musician who loves horror.

TJ: How do you want to be seen by your foreign fans?
HYDE: Well, I think some people might assume I’m just the stereotypical Japanese rocker and question if my music is real or unique enough. I’m a rock musician and I play my music from the heart. I want people to get past the stereotype so that they can feel my music and get into it.

TJ: What’s the biggest difference between you as a rock star and you as a person?
HYDE: It’s like day and night (laughs).
K.A.Z: I guess I am different. There is the power of adrenaline when you’re on stage (laughs).

TJ: I met you and you were one person, and then I saw you on stage and you totally shocked me! You were completely different. It was like you were possessed, but in a good way!
HYDE: (Laughs) I don’t take drugs!

TJ: So how do you get energy for your performances?
HYDE: To me, the stage is like a big canvas of freedom. It’s the only place I can express everything about myself freely without limitation.

TJ: The two of you have played with other bands – L’Arc~en~Ciel and Oblivion Dust. What’s different about playing with VAMPS?
HYDE: L’Arc~en~Ciel played many kinds of musical genres but VAMPS definitely performs rock music. We’re playing the kind of music I was into when I was young.
K.A.Z: Oblivion Dust’s lyrics were all in English. However, the performers are definitely different from VAMPS. Each one of them has a unique character. When you have different performers, you have a different chemistry that creates a different sound and a different type of music. It’s really a lot of fun.

TJ: Where has your greatest musical influence come from?
HYDE: 1980s American hard rock and British new wave... Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Dokken, Metallica, Slayer... so many.
K.A.Z: Killing Joke, Depeche Mode, Linkin Park...

TJ: Why did you start singing in English?
HYDE: It goes back to your last question: because I loved rock music and admired artists like Mötley Crüe when I was growing up, I always wanted to sing in English.

TJ: Your English is great!
HYDE: Thanks! I study English at home by reading books.

TJ: Is learning English important?
HYDE: It’s very important. I regret that I didn’t study English when I was younger. Now I’m into it.

TJ: Are you guys based in L.A. now?
HYDE: About half and half.

TJ: Do you prefer to perform in smaller clubs or larger concert halls?
HYDE: Well, we’ve never performed in a really big venue in the United States as VAMPS yet. So it would be great to see how it goes if we play a big venue in the U.S.

TJ: When you were with L’Arc~en~Ciel, you played at Madison Square Garden and were the first Japanese band in history to do that. Does VAMPS want to play at MSG?
HYDE: Yeah, definitely.

TJ: What was it like to perform on the USS Missouri in Hawaii?
HYDE: It was amazing.
K.A.Z: The view was just like in the movies.

TJ: How did that concert come about?
HYDE: The USS Missouri was going into restoration soon, and they wanted us to perform on the ship before the restoration started. The timing was good for our schedule and it helped to strengthen ties and relations between the U.S. and Japan.

TJ: Which international musician would you like to collaborate with the most?
K.A.Z: If they’re still alive, I definitely want to perform with the bands I said were my favorite (laughs).
HYDE: Kurt Cobain... but unfortunately he passed away.

TJ: HYDE, you’ve done some voice acting for anime. Do you want to do more?
HYDE: Yeah, I did a little bit. If I have another chance to do so, I would. However, I have no intention of continuing to work as a voice actor.

TJ: Are you an anime fan yourself?
HYDE: I’m not big into anime, but I watch Evangelion.

TJ: What projects are you working on right now as a band?
HYDE: We released our newest album internationally last year, so we’ve been performing in Asia, Europe and the United States this year.
K.A.Z: We have a big concert in Japan by the seaside in August. Also, we have the Ozzfest in Japan and a UK tour with Apocalyptica in November.

TJ: What advice do you have for new musicians?
K.A.Z: I have a dream and I keep pursuing my dream to be who I am right now.I am doing the interview with you today as a result of this dream. So what I want to say to young musicians is keep your dream alive.
HYDE: Being a rockstar is pretty fun; you can be popular with girls, get paid and drink. Also, in my opinion, what is the most interesting is that men look the coolest when they are working, no matter what kind of job they have. Normally, they can’t be seen working, but rock is show business where we can be seen, so we can be seen at our best. I think that’s very cool. tj

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Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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