INTERVIEW: Wagakki Band @ The Fillmore [DEEP IMPACT US Tour]

Earlier this year, VKH Press had the opportunity to sit down with Suzuhana Yuko,  Kurona, and Kiyoshi Ibukuro of Wagakki Band (和楽器バンド) during their DEEP IMPACT California tour in the US. With their unique blend of traditional Japanese music and modern rock, Wagakki Band have taken the world by storm. Their music is reflected in their visuals through traditional Japanese clothing, performances, and elements such as kimono,  calligraphy, and dances with an avant-garde twist that makes their fashion look completely new. With 8 members in total, they bring forth their own version of Japanese rock.

VKH Press: Thank you so much for your time! First, would you please introduce yourselves?

Suzuhana Yuko: I’m the vocalist Suzuhana Yuko.

Kurona: I’m Kurona on the Wadaiko

Kiyoshi Ibukuro: I’m the Koto player Kiyoshi Ibukuro

VKH Press: How has your tour been so far?

Suzuhana Yuko: This tour is our first and I never thought it would happen that quickly. We only have one show remaining but each of the places we visited had their own charm and we got really excited everywhere we went. We did a show in L.A. and a one-man live in New York and one in Texas. We definitely made the most of those experiences and I really want to do more shows. 

VKH Press: You’ve come to California a lot!

Suzuhana Yuko: It’s our second time as a band but I want to visit more!

VKH Press: The last time you were here was for Anime Expo. How does the audience compare with the one last year?

Suzuhana Yuko: I think they developed a sense of unity. The last time when we performed for the first time in LA, the audience had smoke coming out of their mouths...

VKH Press: Were they vaping?!

Suzuhana Yuko: I don’t know but there were people spinning around and they were all enjoying themselves individually and it was great to see them so excited. This time, however, they behaved like a Japanese audience and Kurona thought they definitely developed a sense of unity. Everyone was chanting “Oi! Oi!” and we all felt like “This is like Japan”.

VKH Press: Everyone probably did their research!

Suzuhana Yuko: That’s right. 

VKH Press: Most bands have 4 or 5 members, but you guys have twice that amount - instruments included. How are you able to accomplish this tour with so many people and so much equipment?

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: We’ve decreased the number of instruments a bit and revised the arrangements of our songs to fit the venue. Also, I extended the frets of the guitar so I could continue playing without switching instruments. We also made a wooden guitar and this time we had a smaller koto. 

VKH Press: That’s right, it’s usually really large!

Kurona: We don’t do this usually but we made them especially this time. 

VKH Press: We’re happy to hear that there are special song arrangements just for America! So between the 8 of you, who is the leader?

Suzuhana Yuko: That would be me. Or that’s what we say but that’s just because I was the one who decided to put together the bend. In reality, instead of the conversation on “who is the leader”, lots of members do it together. For example, I tend to say my opinion often but also Kurona-san and our guitarist Machiya-san. So much of the time, the conversation is between the 3 of us. 

VKH Press: You formed in 2013, and we have to admit that we had a really good feeling that you would become popular really fast. How do you feel about being at this level musically within three years of your formation?

Suzuhana Yuko: We all have separate projects and although it’s only been 3 years for this band, we’ve all had our individual careers. Regarding the 8 of us together, there’s really been many times when we feel like “We did it”. Also, times when we thought “It would be nice to do this but it’s gonna be so difficult” but then we accomplished it and felt like we had a shot at becoming very popular. We do have an idea of where we want to be but that depends on all 8 of us. The amount of supporter we have has also increased and the things that we can actually accomplish has grown steadily over these 3 years. We’ve become a band that can accomplish our goals. 

VKH Press: What is your ultimate goal with Wagakki Band?

Suzuhana Yuko: We definitely have a lot! My impression is that in Japan gets a lot of cultural influences from other countries. Of course, Japan has it’s own history and culture but we’ve really adopted a lot from America. That’s why it would be great if we could get people to become interested in us as something originating in Japan. I don’t think there are many Japanese artists that are well known outside of Japan so becoming one of them is a dream that we have.

VKH Press: So it’s somewhat of a cultural exchange.

Suzuhana Yuko: We’ll be really grateful if people become interested in us. Even if it just something like “I wonder what they’re saying in Japanese?”. Also, we’re happy to see people who cosplay!

VKH Press: What is one fact about the band that fans may not know?

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: I feel like there isn’t much that the fans don’t know about us.

Kurona: We’re quite open.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: We do lots of pranks doing rehearsals. The staff also join in. For example, we’ll put things on Kurona’s wadaiko or exchange the mic for a toy. It was actually candy. That sort of thing. We like to have fun when we’re rehearsing. These are the kinds of things that we send to people in the fanclub.

VKH Press: The overseas fans probably don’t know then.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: That’s true. Also our shakuhachi player Kaminaga can play anything like a flute. The overseas fans probably don’t know this.

Suzuhana Yuko: The other day he played a chikuwa (tube-shaped fish cake)

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: He also played the mouths of the male staff members. Sound came out and everything.

Kurona: He also played boots.

Suzuhana Yuko: We’re releasing videos sporadically so there’s probably many people that don’t know these things but from now we’ll be releasing this kind of footage. It’ll definitely be interesting to take a look.

VKH Press: Wagakki band uses very strong images and visuals. Your fashion, instruments, lyrics and music video themes are all tied together. How do you decide on new concepts and visuals?

Kurona: We start by composing the music and each piece has a different outlook. The song “Strong Fate” has a very dark outlook along with the many songs we composed at that time. This time, however, “Kishi Kaisei” is an olympic song so it’s has a very bright outlook. I’ve been composing for about 8 years and create based on the various outlooks of each song.

Suzuhana Yuko: Once we have the music, everyone gives their input on what would be good. It’s a really good creative process and we make an interesting MV from there. 

VKH Press: Does everyone come up with the ideas together or give their opinion one by one?

Suzuhana Yuko: We recently released the “Strong Fate” MV. For that, we really wanted to express Japanese horror in all it’s glory. One of the things I suggested was the idea of “summoning all the gods” where we would have representations of Japanese ghosts and spirits and I wanted the calligraphy on my face as well. We all control what we want to show in the MV so I also said that I wanted to have the two different faces as well.

VKH Press: How do you compose and arrange your music?

Suzuhana Yuko: Since our band has many of composers, once we decide who’s song we’re going to do, that person takes the lead and then everyone says where they would like to have their instruments and we all create the song together. Of course, if the composer decides “This part would definitely sound good with a shamisen” then we do that but if not, then we all give different ideas and make the song. That’s our style of doing it. 

VKH Press: How do you choreograph your kenbu and shibu performances?

Suzuhana Yuko: Well there are parts of the songs where it’s decided and there are also parts where we can do whatever we like. There’s also parts which we would like people to copy as well. 

VKH Press: You’ve done many collaborations like Shingeki no Kyojin’s “Hangeki no Yaiba” and Suzuhana Yuko was chosen to do the SD Gundam Generation Genesis theme song. What were those experiences like?

Suzuhana Yuko: I was really happy. In Japan, there are many otaku anime fans and they’re the same in America. Our shamisen player Ninagawa is also an anime otaku. Even if they don’t know about us, since they like anime it creates a chance for them to start liking Wagakki Band as well. Getting to experience a different worldview was also very interesting.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: When we do collaborations, the worldview of those works tend to be a bit more “out there” than what we normally do. For example, there’s Gundam or “Hangeki no Yaiba” which we mentioned before. Since we have to match our lyrics and compositions to fit these different worldviews, we get to create something that we probably would never have done if we didn’t do the collaboration. It’s so interesting.

VKH Press: Is there a collaboration you’d like to do in the future?

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: I want to do a movie soundtrack.

Suzuhana Yuko: Yes! A movie soundtrack.

VKH Press: Any particular genre?

Suzuhana Yuko: A Hollywood movie.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: I think we’d go well with an action movie. A blockbuster would be awesome.

Suzuhana Yuko: I feel like you could really make use of a koto or a shakuhachi in a Hollywood movie. Then Wagakki Band could do the theme song.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: That would be good. If it were a movie with Watanabe Ken or another big-name actor. Then Wagakki Band would do the BGM.

Suzuhana Yuko: I can also vocalize in a way that’s like an instrument and I’d love it if there were more chances for people to hear it.

VKH Press: If you were not musicians, what would you be instead?

Suzuhana Yuko: In my case, my mother was a piano teacher and I’ve done classic piano since I was 3. Because of that, deciding to do music was a natural progression. As long as I can remember music has been important. I even went to a music university. So even though it’s music, I would’ve been a piano teacher. If not, then I have a weak body and was hospitalised often and I’ve always respected the nurses. So it’s either a nurse or a piano teacher.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: For me, since I was little it was carpentry. There are carpenters who exclusively build shrines and temples in Japan. I wanted to become someone like that. If not then I was also interested in being someone who makes katanas. So I love craftsman jobs.

Kurona: My mother is a beautician so if I never did wadaiko, I would become a beautician.

VKH Press: If you were in an RPG, what job would you have?

Suzuhana Yuko: I’d be a magic wielder. 

VKH Press: Black magic or white magic?

Suzuhana Yuko: Hmm, a warrior of light.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: A warrior of light would use white magic.

Suzuhana Yuko: That’s true.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: Either a thief or a summoner.

Kurona: A summoner is good.

Suzuhana Yuko: I want the 8 of us to fight evil together.

Ibukuro Kiyoshi: If it’s 8 of us then we should be warriors.

Kurona: Okay warrior.

Suzuhana Yuko: Warrior.

VKH Press: Can you share some of your future plans?

Suzuhana Yuko: Firstly, we’re going to be doing a lot of TV appearances in Japan soon. Up to now, we’ve been somewhat of a mystery since we hardly ever make appearances so we wanted to do more. Also, we definitely want to try releasing a CD overseas. We’re very confident in our ability to deliver great live performances so we also want to do more shows. 

VKH Press: Thank you very much for your time! Would you please leave a message to your fans and VKH Press readers? 

Suzuhana Yuko: (In English) I wanna come back to the US many many many times! I love you!!

Special thanks to Avex for making this interview possible and Wagakki Band for their time!

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Official Twitter: @WagakkiBand
Official Instagram: @wagakkiband
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