Interview: SCANDALby Michael Toole,
All-female Japanese rock group SCANDAL formed in 2006 when high school girls Haruna Ono, Mami Sasazaki, Tomomi Ogawa and Rina Suzuki would play live performances in Osaka Castle Park until they were signed to Kitty Records in 2008. The band burst onto the scene with theme songs for anime like Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and are just about to embark on their first world tour. We had the opportunity to sit down with SCANDAL and chat about their career, their upcoming tour, and what's next.
The band was kind enough to tape an exclusive greeting for our readers!
You can see SCANDAL perform live for yourself at any one of their upcoming US Tour dates, including a gig on May 16th at Anime Central, May 22nd at the House of Blues Los Angeles, and May 23rd at the House of Blues at Downtown Disney in Anaheim.
Photos courtesy Epic Records Japan.
ANN: Scandal appeared at Sakura-con in 2008, so visiting the US isn't a new thing for the band. But how did the World Tour come about? Was it a key objective to try and play in a variety of international locations?
RINA: Our latest album represents our current selves and we wanted to bring the songs on “HELLO WORLD” to international fans. So the fact that we are able to travel around the world through our very first world tour, makes us ecstatic. This latest album expresses emotions and different seasons of Japan so we definitely want international fans to listen to the album! If people can love Japan more through us (and our music), then it would be such a joy!
Not a lot of Japanese artists get to tour the US. Do you see yourselves as cultural ambassadors, or role models, just another rock band?
MAMI: When we first started, we didn't really have experience playing instruments or the concept of a band.
So reflecting back now, we couldn't have imagined that this many people would listen to our music and come to our shows. We are so happy and fortunate.
Have you noticed any notable differences between the US and Japanese music businesses, or musical culture? For example, CDs are in decline in the US. One of Scandal's big debuts was via Tower Records Japan, but Tower's long gone in the US. Does that surprise you?
HARUNA: To be honest even in Japan, CD sales have not been what they were.
I think it's great that there are platforms such as iTunes that make it more easier to listen to music.
On the other hand, artists put a lot thought when designing a CD package with the layout and photos. On top of that the sound quality of a CD is unique. So I think if fans have an opportunity to get a physical copy in their hands, it is a special experience.
Let's talk about Image, the lead single on your new record. It's very bass-heavy, and seems to emphasize texture over melody. Was that something you intentionally planned, or did you work with the producer to find a particular sound for the song?
MAMI: “Image” is a song that has a lot of bass activity. I think it's a really cool bass line! The instruments and the melody are played in sync, creating a perfect harmony. We told the arranger our vision and it was created as such.
Mami's lyrics in Image are about fresh starts. How personal are your lyrics? Do you draw on your own experiences a lot, or think of messages for your fans?
MAMI: Depending on my feelings at the time, the lyrics I create can reflect that. After we finished our arena tour last year, it gave us a reason play this song. Personally and as a band, I think this song represents our first step to the next stage.
Another track on the album is Your Song - a team effort by the whole band. What was it like to collaborate on creating that song?
RINA: It was written during our JAPAN TOUR. During our rehearsals (before our concerts), we would record the arrangement and composition. Afterwards, we would meet up in the hotel room and work on it more. This song was inspired by fan letters we received from the viewers of the TV show “J-MELO” (broadcasted on NHK). So this was a song we created together with the fans.
When we play it at our concerts, it creates a great atmosphere.
You often work with composers and producers to complete songs, but the lyrics are usually straight from the band. How does your creative process work? Do you have a notebook? Do you sit at a desk, or write lyrics on the train?
HARUNA: Things that come to mind daily, I put them into my smart phone and transfer into a notebook afterwards. There are many times when my ideas just pour out during my commute.
What inspires you to create music? Anything recent come to mind?
TOMOMI: Books, movies, and conversations with friends.
Do you ever get creatively blocked? How do you deal with that?
RINA: Yes, there are times when we have exhausted all our ideas and our mind goes blank. When that happens, I usually listen to new music or watch my favorite movie. I think it's important to do things that give your mind stimulus and in that way, the world tour is a great for us.
Your musical style is pretty well defined. Is there a kind of music you'd like to create way outside of your genre, like jazz or funk or hip hop?
TOMOMI: I like funk music so would like to try that out.
Do you use social media a lot? Do you follow other people's twitter, or Facebook, or Tumblr/Instagram pages?
RINA: We use our official SCANDAL social media accounts! For our Twitter account we can take time to think about what we want to write, so it's in both Japanese and English. We recently started an official Instagram account and that one we update in all English, so that we can connect more with international fans! Please follow us!
As kids, what was the first record you ever bought with your own money?
RINA: Morning Musume's best album. At the time, I was in elementary school and they were extremely popular. I created a dance team and copied their dance moves.
Growing up, did you listen to seminal Japanese punk, like the Blue Hearts, or focus on western musical acts?
MAMI: Before, I didn't listen to many band acts. But since we formed the band, we listen to many different kinds of music, regardless of genre.
I've read that Rina thinks of Steve Gadd as one of her influences. That's a very interesting choice - he's a session guy, not a big rock star. Do you each feel an affinity for other popular acts, or do you carefully for new music to listen to?
RINA: At the same time I started playing the drums, I also started to buy and read drum magazines. The first drum magazine I bought had Steve Gadd on the front cover and he was actually my father's favorite drummer. Reading though the interview, I learned that he did tap dancing and made me interested in a totally new world. When I listen to new music, I don't think whether they are popular or not, although I have my own tastes, I listen to almost anything!
How'd the members of Scandal meet up as students? I know you went to the same dance school, but was it really as simple as that? Can you remember the first time you all met?
TOMOMI: We met during our summer and winter breaks during our (dance) training camps. In the beginning we hadn't talk together too much but Rina was the most assertive, so it took us a while to develop our friendship.
What was Scandal's first live performance as a band like? Did you rehearse for it a lot? How many fans were there?
HARUNA: Our first live performance was based off our first album and we rehearsed a lot. There were so many fans that came out to the live house where we performed, that we had to add more shows.
What was it like starting as an indie, and then making the transition to a major label? It only took Scandal about 2 years from forming to joining a major label. Have expectations changed?
MAMI: When we were announced to debut (on a major label) we were so happy. It made our resolve that much stronger that we are going make it as a band!
You've had several of your songs featured in popular anime, and have won some of your overseas fans that way. Do you like using anime as sort of a bridge to reach new fans?
MAMI: I love manga and anime! I feel it's a beautiful thing when Japanese culture crosses borders and is loved by many people.
I feel so happy when people find SCANDAL through anime and there must be a lot of people who became our fans that way.
Do you all ever watch anime, or are you just too busy?
MAMI: I love to read/watch on manga/anime a regular basis! Recently, I've been reading Attack on Titan!
7 years in, how are you feeling about Scandal? Looking forward to the tour, or already planning for the future?
TOMOMI: I feel that we are a band evolves with each generation. Of course we are so excited for the world tour and at the same time thinking of our next step.
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