The Wagakki Band, which consists of seven musicians and the singer Yuko Suzuhana, deftly fuses traditional Japanese instruments with contemporary rock, manage to put on a surprisingly dynamic and cohesive performance. After the first Album, titled Vocalo Zanmai, released, they were just releasing their first single “Hanabi”. Kojacon team finally could see their performance at A-Nation Singapore last month. So let’s check out our interview with them.
Can you tell us why you name yourselves “Wagakki Band”?
Just like “sushi” and “kimono” are standard words used internationally, I think it would be great for “wagakki” to be recognised as such one day. On top of that, we intentionally wanted to give the band a simpler name.
Who starts the idea to mix traditional instruments with visual kei style?
The idea to start a band that made use of traditional instruments and western instruments, in other words the fusion with rock, came from myself, the vocalist. Rather than coming up with the idea, it was more of a desire to create something special with the professionals that I have met in my musical activities. It is because of this desire to make music together, that naturally the band came together.
Who is the most excited member regarding concert/tour?
As we are all very close to each other, even during rehearsals, we get excited and enjoy the experience together, to create an even more wonderful atmosphere.
If there is a festival or concert to be attended, which one do you like to ride : bus, car, train, or plane? Why?
A privately chartered bus. It allows us to have all 8 members together, and the freedom within the vehicle to enjoy.
Is there any plan to have a New Year party concert or world tour?
In the new year, at the Shibuya Public Hall, we will be having a solo concert, with a very apt Japanese title caller “Shinnenkai (New Year’s Party). Thanks to everyone’s support, it has sold out. In the near future, I would need to discuss with the members if they too would like to go on a world tour.
Can you tell us a little bit about your next album? Will you cover vocaloid again or more new songs? Or maybe you’ll remix new genre?
Just like our latest single, from now on, we are planning to release more original songs. As the band is a collection of members who have been writing songs, we would like to be able to perform different arrangements, based on each member’s proficiencies in any particular genre. Through brainstorming, we create new music. The possibilities are overflowing, and we are really excited about it.
Who is the most mature member and the most childish one?
The most mature person is Kurona, and he’s always watching over us. There isn’t anyone who’s childish. In a good way, everyone are adults. Wasabi and Kiyoshi do exude an aura of innocence, but deep down they are steady personalities.
Do you collect guitars since it seems you have lots of guitars? Besides guitar, can you play traditional instruments too?
In the creation of our music, it was necessary to use the guitars. It ended being that way that the number of guitars I have increased, not as a result of any effort to collect them specifically. I haven’t had the chance to get in touch with Japanese instruments up till now, so I can’t play them yet.
Why do you choose shakuhachi since it’s rare to see musician on stage using flute? I read somewhere that you like to play flute after listening to a game soundtrack, can you tell us more about it?
I have been playing classical piano since I was young, but I wanted to try out other instruments that can express things that a piano couldn’t. This led me to discovering the shakuhachi. At first, I was performing traditional music, but I realised the new possibilities in bringing out vocals and music through playing shakuhachi when I had the chance to perform with a rock band as well as in other casual settings.
I loved game music since I was young. Even on piano, all I played was game music. Even as a shakuhachi player, this love has not changed. To me, my music is very much rooted in game music, and very precious to me.
Can you tell us when you fell in love with traditional instrument and why you chose taiko?
My family was involved in a taiko team, hence I grew up in an environment surrounded by traditional instruments. Naturally, I ended up playing the taiko as well. Because of the old-fashioned image it gives out, at one time, I switched to playing bass, and formed a band. We even played as the opening act for an American band once. When I saw the members holding their guitars, I came to the painful realisation that “No matter how the Japanese tries to imitate the real thing, there is no way of catching up to real rock music”, and I left the band because of this. As I reflect on what I can do to challenge the world as a Japanese, I recalled the taiko from my childhood and began to play it seriously once again. Now, I express myself through the taiko. Not being bounded by tradition, I believe there’s a meaning in creating new music using traditional instruments, and my activities are a representation of this.
Do you have any favorite genre to sing? Among vocaloid songs you sang in the first album, which one is the most difficult to sing?
I love ballads. I played classical piano in my childhood, thus I also love music that’s gentle.
The songs that are hard to sing in Vocalo Zanmai are the raps on Noushou Sakuretsu Girland others. But I’m already used to them (LOL)
Who is the closest member to you and what kind of song/ music that you listen?
I’m close to everyone! The other day I went for a meal with Machiya-san, training together with Kaminaga-san and so on (laughs). Recently I’ve been hooked on Metal and Pop Punk.
Is it hard to play tsugaru shamisen? What’s the different with the usual shamisen? Can you also play Okinawa Sanshin?
Regarding playing the instrument, it is not difficult since I’ve been playing from my younger days. It was difficult at the start, but you would get used to it. However, while it’s interesting to think of new techniques and arrangements for the shamisen, it is difficult. For shamisens, even for Okinawa shanshin, there are thin, middle and thick necks, which creates different tones due to the different structures. My Tsugaru Shamisen has a thick neck, and has the largest structure with a characteristic powerful tone. Rather than “playing”, it’s more of “hitting” expression. The skin is made of materials that can withstand that kind of playing.
In Wagakki’s PV/concert, we noticed that you like to write kanji words on your back, how do you get the idea for it? Do you think it’s connected with the song you play?
While performing, the kanji for the song that is being played comes out by itself on my back.
From what I know is that you like jazz genre, but then suddenly you chose to play koto? Is there any reason behind this?
While I once had a strong desire to study jazz in America, I came upon the question, why would a Japanese cross an ocean to study music overseas, while not knowing anything about Japanese music itself. This was the trigger for me to choose the koto. As a Japanese, I want to be actively, when performing overseas, playing my music on stage.
Special thanks to AVEX and Asiaprwerkz to make this interview happened.