Interview with akai SKY

Visual Kei Heaven now presents you with our long-awaited interview with akai SKY! The band was extremely gracious to answer our questions, including our follow-ups. We hope you enjoy their answers as much as we did!

VKH: First, would you please introduce yourselves!

Ryuusei: I'm Ryuusei, akai SKY's lead vocalist.

Hayashi: Ossu! Hayashi here, I play lead guitar and sometimes try to sing.

Umi: I’m Umi. I play bass.

Jinra: Jinra here, drummer of akai SKY.

VKH: Who or what influences your music style?

Ryuusei: I'm influenced by all kinds of music. Melody is really important to me, so I pull from everywhere including Pop, Folk, and Broadway Musicals.

Umi: In terms of writing basslines, and sometimes songs, I’m mostly influenced by 90s era J-Rock music, old school Punk music and a little bit of American Motown. Collectively as a band, our musical styles come together in a merger of American Alternative Rock and modern Japanese Pop and Rock.

VKH: Where does the name "akai SKY" come from?

Umi: The name came by accident after a really painful process of trying to name ourselves. Of course, picking a band name is really important and we wanted to get it right. We hated everything we came up with and were getting desperate. As a joke, I suggested akai SKY taking a cue from a song Hayashi was listening to at the time called “Red Sky.” Although it was a joke, everyone immediately liked it because it rhymed  so, that’s what we stuck with.

VKH: What does it mean to you?

Hayashi: To me, akai SKY represents the fusion in our American J-Rock style. Having a word in English and a word in Japanese really represents the concept we work from. Since having this mesh of music along with Japanese lyrics is unique, I like that our name is unique as well.

VKH: What do you want others to think when they hear it?

Umi: When people hear the name akai SKY, I think they might have the tendency to associate the color red with something like anger or blood, but I like to think about a setting or rising sun. The sun is usually yellow and when the sun sets or rises, the sky usually turns orange. Only very rarely does it actually look red, so when it does, it’s really special.

Hayashi: I hope people find it charming that in rhymes and that it's easy to find on Google!

VKH: Would that song that Hayashi had been listening to,"Red Sky,” happen to be from the Hellsing soundtrack or was it something different?

Hayashi: The “Red Sky” song I was listening to was from the band, Sons of All Pussys. It's not even my favorite song from them but a good song nonetheless! S.O.A.P has influenced me greatly when I was learning to play guitar and has probably had the biggest impact on me as a guitarist.

VKH: How did you form?

Umi: Hayashi and I founded the band in 2005 along with a friend of ours who was both a singer and drummer. He eventually left the band to focus on school and his career. We were just doing the band for fun back then, but when he left, it forced us to take a serious look at music and we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t done yet. We needed to keep going, so we sought other band members to complete the line-up.

Ryuusei: Jinra and I joined akai SKY in 2008. I found out they were looking for a singer through MySpace or Craigslist, as I recall.

VKH: How was it that you came to terms with your music?

Hayashi: I might have not yet! I think as artist you always feel a bit self-conscious. Am I doing the right thing? Does anyone care what we are doing? Is this path too hard? At the end, I think as long as we're having fun and doing what we want to do, regardless of what anyone else thinks, it's the best way to find peace. I think inside, all of us are a bit punk rock and have this "fuck off!" attitude.

Ryuusei: I write music with akai SKY as well as other personal music. It's always a struggle wondering if what we create is any good. I'm getting better at just creating and not worrying so much about judging it. I find akai SKY helps me a lot though. Creating with a group, I find I don't censor myself as much. Everyone also provides invaluable feedback as well.

Umi: Writing music can be a struggle – to evoke the right feeling through a series of notes, to create parts that meld with the rest of the band, to write and re-write sections that don’t come out quite right. It can be a frustrating process and because music is our art and we’re emotionally invested in it, there are times when there are tears or arguments. When we finish a song, it’s an emotional release and I think that whole process helps us come to terms.

VKH: Why didn't you think you were finished?

Hayashi: In the early days, we went through a few member changes. At first, I wasn't so worried about it because I was just doing music casually. But one time, me and Umi were feeling especially down while trying to find a new singer and drummer. At that point, we questioned whether or not it was worth going through all the heartache to find new members. We took a break from music and then sometime later went to a Paramore concert, who, a few years later, lost their guitarist and drummer, ironically enough. After seeing a hungry band give their all on stage and really "want it", we both knew we wanted that too!

VKH: When do you believe your mission is accomplished?

Ryuusei: As a musician, never. At a show or on a record, I feel we've accomplished our mission if our audience can feel the emotion of the music we've created.

Jinra: I feel like I've truly succeeded once I'm able to quit my job and play music full time.

Hayashi: I think music is not a goal at the end of the road, but a journey where each destination enriches your life and the people around you. You can visit every destination more than once, and every time see things you didn't see the first time.

VKH: As an American J-Rock band do you hope to spread the word about J-Rock to all of the US?

Umi: There are a lot of people in the United States that will immediately dismiss music if it’s sung in a foreign language. While I think that’s a shame, that type of resistance will probably always exist. It’s a shame, because there is a lot of amazing music being created around the world and I think for people that like Rock music, J-Rock offers something very unique and different. Our goals aren’t to change the way the U.S. listens to music, but what we do want to do is reach open-minded music lovers, share our love of J-Rock music with people that already love it and expose others to it.

VKH: What is it that you found in J-rock that you couldn't find in American Rock music?

Hayashi: I like the heaviness and sincerity of American and British Rock, but J-Rock I think has a leg up in melody and arrangement. The musical sensibilities of J-Rock are more skewed to be deeper emotionally for me. So when you fuse them together it brings the best from both worlds.

Jinra: For me, I liked how Japanese Rock takes Western Rock sounds and makes it its own. Since it is in another language, it helped me focus on the actual music and instrumentals and gave me a different perspective on the anatomy of music in general.

Ryuusei: I think J-Rock is more complementary to American Rock than a replacement. I do feel like J-Rock listens to Rock from around the world and innovates based on that more than the other way around.

VKH: What are your other thoughts on the J-Rock scene? Where do you think it stands in the US and/or internationally?

Hayashi: It’s tough for any non-English language music in America to get wide spread appeal because people relate so closely with lyrics. I think that you definitely need to relate personally to the message of music as the listener. But I was swayed by J-Rock without considering the language barrier and I feel it has enriched my life. The American J-Rock scene in the US is small with a few strong bands trying to make a stand. Internationally, especially in Europe and South America, I see a lot of great visual bands getting together and making a serious run.

Ryuusei: There are huge fans of J-Rock all around the world. What I would like to see is exposure and new fans for not just the huge high profile bands, but for smaller indie bands as well.

Jinra: I think J-Rock may never really become big in the US since songs in a foreign language tend to put people off, but I think there's plenty of room to grow. Eventually, we can probably make the scene fairly well-known compared to what we see today.

VKH: What sort of bands influence your music and who? Visual kei, American...?

Ryuusei: Lately I've been listening to Bonnie Pink and Love Psychedelico. Not only are they immensely talented musicians and songwriters, they incorporate both English and Japanese in their lyrics.

Hayashi: I'm into music that is riff based and has guitar solos. That covers a lot of rock music from the 70's until today. I love L'Arc~en~Ciel, Luna Sea and The Back Horn for J-Rock. As for English language bands, I like Weezer, Alice In Chains and U2.

Umi:  Aside from L’Arc which was already mentioned, I’m not sure that I really take direct musical queues from any artist in particular. But my discovery of J-Rock music is what inspired me to learn bass and form a band. So in a way, all the bands I listen to influence me to keep on doing what I’m doing. In addition to some of the groups already named, GLAY, Malice Mizer and Siam Shade were some other bands that I listened to a lot when I first discovered J-Rock. Lately, I’ve been really enjoying groups like jealkb, NoGoD, ONE OK ROCK and vistlip.

VKH: If you all could have aspired to be anything other than musicians, what would you be and why?

Ryuusei: I'd love to draw comics!

Jinra: I would want to be a baker. I've always loved cooking, and working with dough has always been a favorite of mine. I eat tons of pastries too so it's a win-win!

VKH: You've only released two albums so far… are there any plans in the future for a new album or single to come out?

Hayashi: We hope to hit the studio at the end of the year or maybe the beginning of next to record another EP. We already have a few songs written and this summer we are focusing on writing some new material to play for the upcoming gigs this year.

VKH: Since you're a J-Rock band, have you all come into any contact with any other bands? If so did you gain any influences from them?

Umi: We’ve been around for  a while, so we’ve definitely run into other J-Rock bands from Japan like Alsdead and Satsuki but also American J-Rock bands like Lemon Drop Kick and Lolita Dark. I tend to be pretty shy so I didn’t get to talk to as many of these bands as much as I wish I had, but one of the best things I’ve learned is to be fully committed to your performance and get past any hiccups as smoothly as possible.

Hayashi: Yeah it's really important to fully commit and be sincere when on stage which a lot of these professional acts do. Don't let the small stuff distract you on stage and make a big deal about it. If equipment fails or there is a missed cue in a song or whatever, just work through it. The audience doesn't care so you shouldn't either!

VKH: What inspires each of you to perform the music you do?

Jinra: I perform my music for the same reason most others do; to try and make it big. It would be great if I could live purely off my music someday.

Ryuusei: I love singing. I'm inspired to keep singing on stage by the people who listen to and appreciate our music!

Umi: After I discovered J-Rock music, I felt an enormous pull to it. I keep performing and writing and working hard at it because I can’t imagine not having it in my life.

Hayashi: I think I'm all about empathy. I just want the audience and listener to feel the same way I do. So, if I can convey that in our music or in our performance, I think it's just one step forward in getting all of us closer in sharing a musical experience.

VKH: Hayashi, why name your guitar "Elizabeth"?

Hayashi: Ha! It's kind of an easy question to answer. I bought a L'Arc~en~Ciel ken model guitar from Japan. I then stripped out all the hardware and electronics and replaced them with my own to make a Hayashi special hybrid. But on the 12th fret inlay there is a picture of a cat. That cat is actually Elizabeth, the name of ken's pet cat. So there you go!

VKH: Your current musical direction, as we mentioned in our review, sounds closer to Iryou Kei due to the ease of hearing the bass. Is there any reason behind that?

Hayashi: I don't think we were consciously trying to emulate any style out there right now. Umi is a big fan of tetsuya from L'Arc~en~Ciel and his basslines are very intricate and interesting. So when writing music for akai SKY, we wanted to be sure the bass stuck out as well. In a lot of music, the bass just follows the guitar or the drums, but doesn't have a personality of its own. I think this way, I can do more complex guitar rhythm work while Umi takes a more lead bass role, and then we trade when I do guitar solos and she holds down the rhythm. We don't let anyone in the band hide!

Umi: If I’m going to the trouble of writing an interesting bassline, I want to make sure it’s heard in the recordings!

VKH: What are your future plans?

Umi: We consider ourselves primarily a live band, so we’re always looking to do more shows. We have a few lined up for August including Kin-Yoobi Con in Newark, Calif. on August 10thand Sac-Anime on August 31st. Beyond playing more live shows, we’d like to record again. There was a three year gap between the release of our first and second EPs, but moving forward we’d like to release something every year. We want to constantly improve our songs and our performance and meet more people. Everything else beyond that is just a bonus.

VKH: Would you please send a message to our readers and your fans!

Ryuusei: Thanks for listening to our music! Please say hi to us if you come to one of our shows or just say hi on Facebook!

Jinra: If you want to learn an instrument, it's never too late to start!

Hayashi: Please listen and support our music! We work very hard to do our very best and any feedback from you is much appreciated!

Umi: Have big dreams, but don’t get so distracted by the end destination that you avoid taking the first few steps. Just keep moving forward and you’ll eventually get there!

We at Visual Kei Heaven would like to thank the members of akai SKY for taking the time to answer our questions! We hope you, our readers, take the time to listen to them!

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