Interview: Up-and-coming J-Rock Group BRATSby Cindy Sibilsky,
To usher in a new year, the next decade and the release of their digital latest digital single “Excuser”, the female Japanese JRock group BRATS performed their first U.S. concert at Anime Los Angeles on January 10, 2020. Though the all-girl band is relatively fresh, their influence, output and presence has been on the rise exponentially in both their native Japan and internationally -- much like a teenager experiencing a rapid growth spurt -- since they first burst on the scene as pre-teens with a punk rock approach. The conception of BRATS began in 2011 as the brainchild of sisters Rei and Aya Kuromiya, when they were 10- and 12-years-old, respectively and is a reference to Rei's defiant personality. Though they merited some awareness after receiving a special award the 634 Band Contest at Azumabashi Fest following their very first performance and CD demo in 2012, then performed at Imax Live at RUIDO K32013 and their first solo show at the same venue in 2013, BRATS really began to gain notice and shape their sound as a unit when they added guitarist Hinako to the group and released their independently-produced first single, "Misery" in 2015. That garnered them the attention of Urbangarde's Temma Matsunaga, who acted as producer of their song "14-sai-byou" ("14-year-old disease"). After a brief hiatus, the band reunited and found their authentic sound again with "Ainikoiyo", the opening theme from the anime series To Be Hero, which debuted December 2016 and showcased a harder rock style -- a departure from their previous music -- which they felt was more indicative of their maturity and vision for the future of BRATS.
From then on it has been a non-stop thrill-ride for the female-driven group. In 2017 they returned to live performances at free solo concerts and festivals across Japan, released the single and music video for “Nounai Shoukyo Game", the theme song for the Japanese film Slavemen, and released both Japanese and international editions of a double-A-side single (planting seeds for the global market) featuring “Nounai Shoukyo Game" and "Ainikoiyo". Though the unit did not release their first full-length album -- self-titled BRATS -- until 2018, they had already been hard at work establishing themselves as a band to reckon with, through their unique brand of angsty neo-punk JRock with a heavy dose of attitude, edginess and rebellious spirit with a distinctly female voice. By the time the debut album BRATS dropped, they were already touring extensively in Japan, and continued to do so throughout 2018 and 2019. The good foresight to promote their music internationally early on paid off when BRATS performed their first gigs outside of Japan in South Korea and Taiwan in 2019, and then arrived on American shores at the very dawn of 2020. From their rapid success rate, unflaggable energy and sincere devotion to rocking out while expanding their impact to fans on a global and local scale, following these BRATS is sure to be a fascinating journey and a wild ride! BRATS granted ANN an interview while visiting Los Angeles to share their story and vision for 2020 and beyond.
ANN: For those unfamiliar with BRATS, when, why, and how was the group started and formed?
Rei: Aya and I used to belong to the same talent agency. We felt that just working as models was a little boring, and we wanted to do something different so we joined up with a few friends from the same agency and decided to form the band. I was in 5th grade and Aya was in the 7th. That's how we started. Then we resumed activities in 2016, but having a band and working as an idol at the same time damaged my throat. Some people misunderstood, and they think I started a band after I was working as an idol, but it was the other way around. My band activity was always my main focus, and when I took a break from the idol activities, we used that time to discuss the concept and musical direction of BRATS. That break ended up being a good recharging time for us, and gave us a chance to be creative.
What has the journey been since then and how has your style developed?
Aya: In the beginning, there were a lot of similarities to “idol bands”, but now we're legit, we're a real rock band. I definitely feel more comfortable that way.
What makes BRATS unique?
Hinako: It's our personalities. Each member's personality is strong and really different, both as an individual and as members of this band. We each bring something no one else has, and that makes BRATS’ message unique for the people who listen to us. The way we talk is sometimes different from other “normal” girls, and we put that into our lyrics – maybe that's what attracts fans to BRATS.
Have you ever been to L.A. or America? What were your initial impressions and did it live up to your expectations?
Rei: I've visited America before, but this is the best experience by far. The live show was amazing. Even when we visited some other places, I was still thinking about that show.
Aya: It's my first time, I'm having so much fun.
Hinako: There are so many types of people here, and there's a great feeling I get from seeing everyone's fashion. Everybody has their own style and their own music that they carry around with them, and the city's atmosphere is really exciting.
It's awesome and empowering to see young female guitarists and bass players in a traditionally male-dominated industry. When did you start playing and what drew you to your instruments?
Aya: I chose the bass because it was the last instrument left when we were picking our parts! Before I knew anything about music, maybe I might have considered trying the drums, but now I can't imagine playing any other instrument besides the bass.
Hinako: I saw my brother play guitar at a school festival, and that gave me the idea to try it for myself. The whole idea of “Wow! I could be in a band” was thrilling. I started playing Ellegarden songs, because that was the songbook we had at home. After that, I moved on to things like Sum 41, and just dove into that world without looking back.
You'd already done a theme song for a movie (Slavemen) and an opening song for anime (To Be Hero) before you even had your first full length album out. Quite impressive! What was it like to work on those projects and would you like to do more music for film, anime or video games?
Rei: I wasn't too shocked, I guess I didn't think about it too much, I just thought about getting the song right. I'd like to do more theme songs, anything that will get our music out into the world so people can experience it. We're not playing around, we'll take any chance we can.
You've toured Japan of course and are now playing in L.A. but you've also toured other Asian nations such as South Korea and Taiwan. How do the fans' responses and reactions differ between the various places and cultures?
Hinako: In Korea, I felt like the audience was already familiar with us, and they already knew what to do, how to react to the different songs. Here in the U.S., the audience at Anime Los Angeles didn't know us, but they were ready to support us anyway.
Rei: Maybe Asian countries know more about Japanese entertainment in general – they know music and bands and actors and actresses. I think most people in the U.S. might learn about Japanese culture through anime or food, so live entertainment from Japan isn't as common, and it's not as easy to get everyone to check us out.
Style and fashion certainly seem to play a big role in your performance and presentation as a group — especially the hair! Can you speak to how your style helps communicate the message of your music?
Rei: I honestly don't think about my hair very much, I just do whatever. I used to wear a lot of black clothing for the live shows, but I felt like it didn't stand out, so now I wear a lot of white to make sure the audience can see me, And white catches the colors of the lights on the stage and makes us part of the scene and adds a lot of energy.
Aya: (to Rei) But you're wearing the black boots!
Rei: Aya is more boyish.
Aya: I feel like that's right. I usually go for that kind of look, with skinny black jeans and long sleeves.
Hinako: We always try to match, always black and white. I don't try to keep any certain style, but it's always something comfortable for sure.
This year marks a new decade and a very exciting year, particularly for Japan – 2020 Olympics. What are you most excited about, individually and for BRATS?
Rei: “More.” That's how I want to say it, if I can just say that.
Aya: We have seven singles in seven months this year, and that's on my mind a lot. “Excuser” came out the same day as our first live show in the U.S., and the next song is already coming out in a few weeks from now.
Hinako: Maybe some music festivals, I'm hoping we can get involved in those.
Rei: Okay, I want to say a bit about “more”… To me “more” means we can always do better, we can always go higher. If you ask me about goals for BRATS, I can say “more” too – more performances in Japan, more shows overseas, more tie-ups, more everything. I'd love to go do something in New York. Because of this experience at Anime Los Angeles, we gained a lot more confidence. We want to take this experience and keep growing as a band. I want to cherish this moment and move forward.
BRATS Official Website: http://brats-official.com