Tokyo, Bebop, and Saxaphone Thunder: My interview with KAGERO

KAGERO
By: Harrison Giza

KAGERO are a band that can melt your face. They sting with the passionate, envelope with their mastery of technique, and push punk-fusion through the lens of cinematic jazz. Their discography is full of distorted sounds, and that’s what they aim for. The insanity, looseness, and careful practice they have put into their instruments is apparent from the first listen. I usually don’t listen to bands from Tokyo, but after stumbling into “OVERDRIVE,” a song equivalent to a sax-filled-firefight, I was stuck and swallowed whole. One might say that the purest of Youtube accidents lead to this interview.

There are only four people in the group – a piano player, bass guitarist, drummer, and saxophone pioneer. However, the four come with varied musical interests and individual musical perspective. Their influences stem from At The Drive In and end with Queen. The only generality to be made there is a love for rock supremacy.

Whenever I hear them, I get a smack of Cowboy Bebop and the ol’ AMV chills. What they write are basically Japanese James Chance tunes… but with thunderous saxophone instead of vocal wailing. KAGERO experiment with pre-acid jazzhead veracity, never failing to meet their core ideals of raucous riffing and bubonic breakdowns.

My time with them was short, but held enough sweetness to talk about their humble beginnings and favorite bands. Follow them to see how far they’ll expand… but remember them for how much they rule.

 


 

白水悠 / YU SHIROMIZU : Bass
佐々木瑠 / RYU “RUPPA” SASAKI : Sax
菊池智恵子 / CHIEKO KIKUCHI : Piano
萩原朋学 / TOMOMICHI HAGIWARA : Drums
HG: What is it like to be punk-jazz band from Japan?

YU: We’ve been labeled that from the beginning and we weren’t sure if what we do is that different from what others do. But when we look around, there’s actually no band like us in Tokyo, Japan and maybe not in the US. There’s nothing special… and I guess that’s all.

HG: How do you know when you’ve finished a song? The way you guys play, it seems you are constantly experimenting.

YU: Lately, I see the whole shape of the song right after I start working on it at the very beginning. A whole picture of the soundwaves comes up in my mind like paintings, and all I do is to try to capture it and make it as it is. It may be a momentary thing, so in a sense my songs never will be finished. I may be able to finish them completely if I use all kinds of instruments, because I know it widens my expression, but we are only bass, drums, sax, and piano. So, I guess all we can do is play those four instruments to their limit.

HG: Who are your favorite musicians?
Tomomichi: AT THE DRIVE IN (Tomomichi)

YU: Whenever I can feel insanity. Any type of music made by sacrificing various important things.

Ruppa: Pepper Adams, Dexter Gordon, QUEEN, and PASSPO.

Chieko: Franz Schubert.

HG: How did the band come together? What was the first song you played?

YU: Our original members met in the same band/music circle at college. Ruppa was older than me. Chieko joined the band after the college. She was a member of a different band and we met when we played together at a venue in Tokyo. Tomomichi was from the same college with me and Ruppa, and we knew each other well but he joined us after Chieko
The very first songs we played were an original song called “MR.BROADKASTER” (http://youtu.be/zjho7F1cMAk)  and a cover of a song called “Sing Sing Sing.”

HG: Describe your perfect breakfast.

YU: What is this funny question for? (laughs) For me, Natto over rice .

Tomomichi: Just bread.

Ruppa: Papaya with lime.

Chieko: A sausage egg and cheese croissant from Dunkin Donuts.

HG: Tell me about playing live. What are your shows like?

YU: That’s a hard question. Previously, all I expressed onstage might be only madness and anger. It was not like acting. I didn’t really care how the audience reacted to it… if I could play and express myself on stage. But recently, I started having fun with live shows and I get energy from the audience when I see them dancing and going crazy when we play. Last year, when we toured the US, I was really heated up because I fell in love with American audience reaction. I got so excited especially when I saw people in Boston start a circle mosh!

HG: Where does the name come from?

YU: Unfortunately it doesn’t have a big meaning, but there are two meanings for KAGERO in Japanese. One is a kind of insect and the other stands for natural phenomenon. Both carry a meaning of brevity and impermanence and I think playing music with the band is kind of miracle itself. I mean it’s not something usual. So the name started out with no strong reason, but I think of it that way now.

HG: I love “Scorpio” Where were you when you guys wrote that?

YU: I think it was the very first studio session we did. As soon as I started playing that riff, the other members reacted to it so well. I felt like the song started flying to the air with its own centrifugal force so I took it back home and blushed it up right away.
It was finished so fast… and that was when I started to appreciate that we don’t have a singer. Thank you!

HG: Ryu, how are you able to write such dazzling sax lines? When did you start playing?

Ruppa: When I was thirteen years old, I got my first sax. Since then I’ve been using it the whole time and, of course, for all of KAGERO‘s albums. I feel that jazzy phrase is too complicated now. Fun to play, but it often makes me feel less emotionally. I play the sax with my heart. So, tone and simple lines are important. Our main songwriter (Yu Shiromizu) has beautiful, honest melody. So we can mix various tastes of music!

HG: I can’t stand the musical, but you guys pulled off a great “Phantom of the Opera” cover. What makes you want to cover a song?

RUPPA: Because I love that musical, and movie too. I was in NY a week after 9/11 and watched that musical. It became a symbol of power “show must go on!” for me.

YU: We decided to make a cover album of movie songs and I let Ruppa do the songlisting because he loves movies and that is his specialty. Somehow I thought the song carries some exotic and sexy atmosphere, so, I easily came up with the arrangement.

11. Tell me about your favorite films. Any in particular?

YU: Oceans 11 and Oceans 12.

Tomomichi: MIST.

Ruppa: From Dusk Till Dawn, Fast Five, GODZILLA (1954)

Chieko: The Incredibles

12. I’m curious.. do you guys like Cowboy Bebop? Your music sounds like the “Tank”
theme on steroids and crack.

YU: I am sorry. I’ve heard that several times before, but don’t really know about it. I suppose it’s Japanese anime (he supposes) but the only animation I’ve watched is “Lupin the Third” and some from Ghibli.

HG: How did you land on the punk/jazz combination?

YU: When I was teen, I listened to all different kinds of, at least to me, “punk,” like Richard Hell, Guns ‘N Roses, Pantera, and so on. Something fast and intense. Then when I was about 20, I met swing beat, which gave me a shock and provoked me with its insanity. So to me, it came very naturally to mix them together as one. I was gonna do the band with a singer but I just thought it might be cool to play music with this formation, so, we did a show and it was the start of KAGERO. People started saying good things about us and it made us feel good. As I have continued to play music with KAGERO, it has sharpened my expression and sensibility for sure… I also need much higher temperature for the performances. I believe that’s what makes KAGERO.

HG: Where will Kagero be five years from now?

YU: I just can’t wait five years. I want to go tour the US, EUROPE, and anywhere in the world RIGHT NOW. Youtube and other SNS make the world very convenient… yet you can never experience shock or rawness of something LIVE through internet. When we toured US east coast last year, it was fantastic because we felt different good vibes in a different country. We really wanna excite people and continue to give them a blast with our non-verbal music. There should be something that only music without words can do. Five years from now, I hope we can do whatever we wanna do more freely! (laughs)

Twitter: @kagero_official

Youtube: youtube.com/KAGEROTV

BHB Contact: blueharvestbeat@gmail.com

Twitter: @cokedupharry

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