Interview: VAMPS' HYDE and K.A.Zby Zac Bertschy,
VAMPS is the brainchild of maybe the most famous Japanese rock musician of the modern era: HYDE, lead vocalist of L'arc~en~Ciel, and K.A.Z, the guitarist and composer for Oblivion Dust. Together they toured the world with VAMPS’ signature look and style back in 2009, and this fall they're touring the US again. Starting next week they're back for another round of live shows in the US; you can catch them at The Roxy in Los Angeles on October 5 and at Slim's in San Francisco on October 7th. We had the chance to sit down with both HYDE and K.A.Z in advance of their visit to the US to chat about their careers, the future of rock music, and just what musicians and vampires have in common anyway.
ANN: VAMPS came out of your solo career – what made you decide to transform your solo brand into VAMPS?
HYDE: I wanted K.A.Z to be involved to my project, so it would be strange if the project were still called HYDE.
What special quality do you think your music with VAMPS has that stands out from your other work?
I'm very devoted to rock music. I'm obsessed with creating the rock band that I've pictured in my head since I was boy.
Do you think there are similarities between vampires and rock stars, in terms of how they manipulate and enchant an audience?
Yes, I think there is. The excitement during a concert is very magical. For us, playing a show is just like sucking blood. The more blood we suck, the more energy we gain.
When you're performing with VAMPS, do you feel like you're playing a role? For instance, when you're selecting an outfit or deciding on a performance style for a VAMPS gig, are your choices deeply personal – meaning representative of you, HYDE, as an artist – or are you thinking “this is VAMPS, it's different”.
Very interesting question. I have never thought of it but I might be “playing” a version of myself! You're right, I'm conscious about “producing” myself, given the situation, for example, when we're in a burger place versus a fancy restaurant, the attitude is gonna be different, right? So that “role” might change depending on the band I'm performing with.
If it is a role you're playing, Is the character you're playing on stage still representative of you, or do you disappear into a persona for your VAMPS performances?
I'm not good at acting at all! I can't lose my real persona completely. With VAMPS I'm expressing my “extreme” side.
What were the major inspirations for VAMPS, both musically and visually?
Horror bands like Motley Crue, Hanoi Rocks and Misfits and new wave bands like Depeche Mode.
Does VAMPS allow you to express yourself as a musician in a way you couldn't otherwise? If so, how?
With VAMPS I'm playing rock ‘n roll as evil music.
What's the biggest difference between performing in Japan and America?
To me it is the language. I need to learn pronunciation.
VAMPS is undeniably very theatrical and even fantastical – do you think there's room for more theatricality in rock music? Sets and costumes and larger-than-life roles for the musicians, a'la KISS?
VAMPS adheres to the principles of “ROCK” but we express ourselves with a variety of methods. Acoustic shows, gigs at a live house, arena shows, live at the beach, Halloween parties... every occasion has a different expression behind it. When we play an arena, it's much more of a spectacle.
What do you want the audience to get from a VAMPS show the most? What feeling do you want them to take away from a live performance?
I want them to feel “toxic” side of rock, which I had felt when I was a young boy.
As an art form, where do you think rock music is right now? Are there any bands out there doing work you really admire? Who are you listening to now that really blows your mind?
I think in general, rock music has slowly become the minority in music. I have not listened to other music much. The last band I came to like is Linkin Park.
You're credited with directing the future of rock music in Japan – where do you think it is right now, as an art form? Do you see it still dominating the cultural zeitgeist in Japan?
I am feeling current rock music – even the music market in general is shrinking, especially when compared to its peak.
Information you get about the music industry via TV is biased. There are fewer truly creative artists now, so I'm not much impressed by most of the latest music. This industry has been paying attention more to teen pop stars. Quality music doesn't have much of a chance in Japan. “How to look attractive”, that's what's more successful right now?
How do you think rock music has changed since you got your start? Are there any elements of the old days you wish were still around?
We used to hear a lot of international music through TV/Radio, but now, not as much. There are many young people who don't listen to international music now, and at the same time, I can see the most of the recent musicians who play rock music have been brought up only listening to the Japanese domestic rock music.
I still believe listening to music produced both inside and outside of Japan inspires you and gives you the opportunity to expand your mind.
In terms of rock music, you can find a nostalgic sound from a new band, or an established band with a long history that is still progressing and always sounds new. As times change, the color of rock increases.
What do you think the biggest secret is to being a successful musician in 2015 that most people might not know about?
It's important to broaden your reach and make sure your music is heard globally.
You've collaborated with a lot of very famous and talented musicians – do you think that's the future of the music industry? Headlining collaborations between two giant, popular acts?
I don't think just doing collaborations is the future for musicians, however, we can learn different music styles and new ways of approaching music through collaborating with other artists, so I still think it's very meaningful.
Do you find collaboration with one of your peers, both onstage and off, to be more creatively fulfilling than working solo?
Yes, I'd like continue to work together with the artists who are attractive, both visually and musically.
You composed the score for the Detroit Metal City film – what was that experience like? Would you like to work on film scores more often?
I was lucky to get that chance. On the same day I discussed that project, I composed some fun, very metal-esque songs for it, and the producers of the film loved them! I was very surprised!
If you could go back and work on the score for any film, what would it be?
How do you approach VAMPS as a performer? Do you assume a persona on stage?
I play pretty natural, but it could be that I'm assuming a persona.
Are there any rock bands out there right now whose work you admire? Who should everyone be listening to?
KILLING JOKE, NINE INCH NAILS, Celldweller, and more.
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