Hello KKS readers! Today we bring you an exclusive interview with California’s #1 American J-Rock Band! Based in San Francisco, we have, joining us in this post (L -> R in photo), Jinra (DR), Ryuusei (VO), Umi (BA), & Hayashi (GT) from akai SKY.
For those of you who are not familiar with akai SKY, the band was formed by Hayashi & Umi in 2005. The band was completed in 2008 when Jinra & Ryuusei joined. Together, they play modern rock music with English and Japanese Lyrics. If you ever listened to bands like Siam Shade, Muse, L’Arc~en~Ciel, Luna Sea, and U2, you will find the music of akai SKY are greatly influenced by those renowned rock bands.
akai SKY released their first four-track EP album, “Tokyo Beat Riot“, in May 2010 and in 2012, contributed a song to the 20th anniversary tribute album of the internationally acclaimed J-Rock band, L’Arc~en~Ciel. The band released their heavily anticipated sophomore follow-up EP, “Heart, Attack!”, on March 27, 2013.
Without furtherado, here’s our interview with the band.
What drove you guys to become an American J-Rock Band?
Ryuusei: Love of JRock music. There was a period when I was primarily listening to JRock. When I saw akai SKY was looking for a vocalist, I thought it would be perfect!
Hayashi: I first started listening to rock music because of J-Rock so it wasn’t so much that I chose the genre. It was the natural progression from loving to play music.
Jinra: I grew up listening to Japanese music. It transitioned from watching anime to discovering the bands behind the opening and ending themes to researching bands beyond that. Eventually I become comfortable with the style of music and decided I wanted to be part of what defined my childhood. I found akai SKY in mid-2008 and we’ve been gigging ever since.
Jinra mentions that it was a progression from watching Anime and listening to OP/ED theme songs that got him to J-music. Any particular OP/ED theme songs the band really likes? My personal favorite would be “Rewrite” by Asian Kung-Fu Generations from FullMetal Alchemist and “Believe” by Folder 5 from One Piece.
Umi: The opening and ending themes from Rurouni Kenshin were a big factor in developing my interest in J-Rock music. The songs by Judy and Mary, L’Arc~en~Ciel and Siam Shade in particular lead me to seek out more music from those same artists which lead me to other popular J-Rock artists at the time like GLAY and Luna Sea.
Hayashi: When I was young, my brother introduced me to Macross so I listened to a lot of Mari Iijima music and other Jpop music when growing up. I guess when I was learning to play guitar, some OP/ED themes I liked were Kirei na Kanjou from Noir and Duvet from Serial Experiments Lain. In terms of rock, I liked L’arc~en~Ciel’s The Fourth Avenue Cafe from Rurouni Kenshin and any of The Pillows songs from FLCL.
Ryuusei: One of my favorite songs is “Voices” from Macross Plus. Not really a standard opening/ending, but just a beautiful song used throughout the four OAV episodes. Another one is “Sekai ga Owaru made wa” from Slam Dunk. It was actually I song I sang when I auditioned for akai SKY!
I’m not too familiar with this but it seems like Anime theme songs are getting the English dub treatment instead going full original like back in the days. For example, Vic Mignogna covered a few opening themes such as Dragon Ball Kai and One Piece. Which Anime would you guys like to do a theme song for or cover?
Hayashi: Yeah, I noticed that too. I was shocked to see Two-Mix’s Just Communication from Gundam Wing on American TV in unedited Japanese when that aired. I think it was a great step forward in accepting Japanese music in American mainstream culture. I would love for us to write a new opening theme for a new Gundam anime, and maybe have it in both Japanese and English for viewers at home!
Umi: My choice would be to do an original song for something action-oriented like the new season of Kuroko’s Basketball.
Which J-Rock Bands are your inspirations?
Ryuusei: I really appreciate the way Spitz writes melodies.
Umi: For me, it is mostly L’Arc~en~Ciel. Their music and the basslines in particular are part of what inspired me to become a bassist.
Jinra: I’m a fan of a couple bands like the GazettE, Asian Kung Fu Generation, ONE OK ROCK to name a few. I’m not tied down to any one genre and enjoy things ranging from pop/pop rock to heavy metal and progressive; whatever sounds good really.
Hayashi: I think L’Arc~en~Ciel had the greatest impact on my playing and song writing. I think the straight forward rock n’ roll of B’z also probably had a strong influence on the way I think about music, being the first band I ever saw live.
Current Favorite JRock Band/American Band?
Jinra: I’m a big fan of Muse because of their songwriting combined with their performance talent. I find it amazing that Matt Bellamy can sing while playing complex guitar parts live. I’ve also been listening to more and more of Scandal. They don’t write most their own stuff but I love their dedication to the performance and ability.
Hayashi: These days I’m really into The Back Horn and Straightener. They bring a raw and refined quality respectively, and I like to think our music reflects both of those sides of J-Rock music today.
Ryuusei: I’m sad to just find out recently that one of my favorite JRock bands, School Food Punishment, broke up a year ago. As for American artists, I’ve been into Owl City lately.
Umi: Currently, I’m really getting into jealkb, vistlip and ONE OK ROCK. I’m not really into any American bands at the moment, but I’m in a constant state of rediscovery of 80s hair metal. I’ve also been listening to a lot of AC/DC’s Back In Black album lately.
A question for each respective member. Who is your idol(s) vocalist/bassist/guitarist/drummer?
Ryuusei: It varies a lot. I’m watching the TV show ‘The Voice’ right now and Judith Hill makes me want to go take some voice lessons!
Umi: I admire tetsuya of L’Arc~en~Ciel because his basslines are so dynamic.
Hayashi: I would have to say ken from L’arc~en~Ciel and The Edge from U2 are my biggest influences. Idol is a hard word to use since I don’t really put them up on a pedestal. They are great and famous musicians, but I strive to be myself!
What are some challenges do you guys face as a band and how did you guys overcome of some of your past challenges?
Hayashi: Generally speaking, most people who listen to English language music don’t really get what we are doing with our brand of American J-Rock. It’s one thing for bands to like and be influenced by J-Rock music and write English lyrics, but it’s a totally different thing if you are a band that writes in Japanese lyrics. In America, that’s a major barrier to overcome which makes us starkly different from other bands in our scene. The best way we know to overcome this initial hesitation is to educate people, and write the most kick ass songs we can so that the listener, regardless of whether they listen to J-Rock at all, can’t deny the impact of our songs.
Jinra: I believe a challenge for any band starting out is exposure. You can make the best music in your genre and it wont mean much unless you’re only doing it for yourself. Getting exposure itself is hard for any band; getting exposure for a band in such a niche genre is even harder. Luckily we have the convention and anime scene to help us out.
Ryuusei: Equipment is an interesting challenge. We’ve had to play with incomplete drum kits, tiny amplifiers, and minimal PAs. We do our best to bring enough equipment to be self-sufficient, and otherwise we play with whatever equipment we have!
Umi: Being a proud DIY band, one of the constant challenges is just finding enough time to do everything. We’re not just writing, recording and performing music, but also doing our own promotion, booking and everything else.
Jinra mentions it is hard for gain exposure for any bands. YouTube has been a great platform for artists to expose their music to an audience. David Choi, Boyce Avenue, & Nylon Pink started off as cover artists before showcasing their original songs. Was this or would this be an approach the band consider?
Umi: Like lots of bands, we started off as a cover band, but our focus is and always has been live performance rather than developing video content. I wouldn’t mind developing more video content, but video editing is not a skill any of us have, so the videos we do have are made simply. For example, we do a monthly video called SKYer of the Month, where we feature one of our fans and make up a short song about them on the spot. It takes us a few minutes to record and we do some pretty minimal editing to add bumper images to the video itself. But, these aren’t meant as a way to get exposure, but to show appreciation to the people that like and support our music.
Ryuusei: I actually did a cover of Suga Shikao’s ‘Sorosoro Ikanakucha’ a few years back that is on YouTube. Covers are definitely fun for us, but our focus is definitely original music!
I am curious, how did Vivid Covers came to be and how did you guys become part of the collaboration?
Hayashi: We were actually in Tokyo watching the L’arc~en~Ciel 20th Anniversary shows at the time when we got approached by the record label. It was a weird and welcomed coincidence! Since we would be on the same compilation as other J-Rock bands around the world, we were very blessed to be able to help represent West Coast J-Rock. When we picked Daybreak’s Bell, we wanted to change up the arrangement a bit so that it represented the kind of sound and style that best represents akai SKY so that it paid homage to the way that L’arc has influenced us.
Umi: I was really honored that Cleopatra Records asked us to participate especially because L’Arc~en~Ciel is a big influence on me musically.
That’s awesome! Congratulations! I wasn’t able to get the CD but from the previews, I recalled liking your guy’s cover, Keshiki’s Niji, and Poel’s Lies and Truth. Why did you guys pick Daybreak’s Bell? Any significance?
Hayashi: We loved music from every era of L’arc~en~Ciel, so it was definitely hard to pick just one to do. Our initial choice was Daybreak’s Bell since it has heavy guitars and solos, and a general rock feel. It was also from a popular anime and somewhat current, so we thought it might be a recognizable choice. But, we didn’t want to rush a decision so we actually went through L’Arc~en~Ciel’s entire discography and selected a short list, even looking at the music notation. But after a few hours of discussion, we ended up choosing Daybreak’s Bell anyway! We thought we could make the instrumentation a bit heavier and change around the arrangement so that it represented akai SKY’s style and paid homage to the original song.
For our readers who aren’t familiar with you, which song(s) would you recommend for them to start?
Ryuusei: The whole Heart, Attack! EP!
Hayashi: Everything from out new EP “Heart, Attack!”. We made a conscious effort to put a wide variety of songs on that album to represent our current evolution as a band. “Break Down!” is the straight ahead, no frills rock song. “In Black” in the darker, percussive track. “To The Sea” is the sweet, power ballad. “Mugen” is the driving, powerful punch in the face.
Jinra: To get the purest sense of who we are, I’d recommend seeing us live if we’re ever in your area, next best thing would be to check out our latest EP at akaisky.bandcamp.com. The songs are 100% free to listen to and only costs a few bucks to download as a high quality audio. My favorite of the EP is Mugen, but that’s probably because I wrote it.
I listened to “Break Down!” LOVED it! And “Mugen”‘s got some sick bass-ing going on! When is the next time the band is going to perform in Los Angeles? And when and where is the upcoming gigs? Any tours lined up?
Hayashi: Thanks for the kind words. We always try to make sure the bass is present in all of our songs since it’s a big part of the identity of the band.
Umi: So far, we don’t have any shows lined up in Los Angeles, but we’re always looking for opportunities to go. So far this year, we’re hitting up our neighbors to the north a few times with shows at DAiCon on May 4 at UC Davis, the Pacific Rim Festival on May 19 in Sacramento and Sac-Anime at the end of August. We’re also scheduled to do a show at Kin-Yoobi Con in Newark, California during the second weekend in August.
I went on your guys’ YouTube and thought it is great you guys give thanks to your fans by making them a video! What about your own music videos? Has the band made any in the past? If not, which song would you guys like to do a music video for first?
Umi: We’re actually in the process of making our first music video for our song Break Down! It’s all self-shot and will be self-edited, so it’s more like a DIY experiment to see if we can pull it off.
Awesome! I was thinking Break Down! would be a great song to start with as well! Can’t wait to see it!
Umi: We’ll work hard on it!
Our blog strives to find cute, cool, and awesome things. What do each member of akai SKY find cute, cool, & awesome?
Umi: I like deco nails, even though I can’t wear them because I have to keep my nails short to play bass. I also like the various fashion styles of Harajuku – punk, Lolita, gothic, fairy kei, mori girl, etc. The latest thing to make me laugh is the Cho Chabudai Gaeshi arcade game where the objective is to get angry, flip a table and cause the most damage as possible.
Jinra: I find cats cute, and chinchillas. I find technology both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. I like to tinker, so I really get down into how things work. When I try to dive into the technology of music, it’s both amazing and complex, but still awesome!
Hayashi: I find cats and girls wearing glasses to be cute, but not at the same time so I guess that excludes megane-neko. I find people who do what they want and don’t hold back to be cool. It takes a lot of courage, charisma and confidence to do that. I find people who take the time to listen to our music and watch us play to be awesome!
Ryuusei: I love cats! I also saw some adorable baby sheep recently! I’m a big fan of all kinds of animation. I’m really into the talkbox right now and am trying to learn an awesome new instrument!
Umi: So basically, everyone likes cats except for me.
*GASP* Cats are awesome! I befriended one the other night haha. Thanks for the interview akai SKY!
For more of akai SKY & when their next performances are, go to these following links: