Journey into Fantasy with Xenophobia
An interview with eclectic Japanese rock band Xenophobia’s Western vocalist.
1) When was your fist contact with japanese bands? How did it happen?
It all started in the 1990’s in California. I had many Japanese friends who introduced me to the music from their country, and little by little I began to gravitate towards the dark sounding cross dressing bands (laughs). In 1999 I was placed under house arrest so naturally dove straight into the rapidly developing cyberspace of the internet to escape my boredom! I got deeply in to many an obscure Japanese band of the time and played with some like minded musicians in my home (the San Francisco Bay Area). I then moved to Tokyo in 2000 to do it in the motherland!
2)Were you in touch with Japan before the whole music thing (traveling there, etc.)?
Yes, I had good friends from childhood who lived near Tokyo. I visited them a few times over the years before moving here and also made summer pilgrimages where I would explore the intense stimuli of the futuristic metropolis! It was such a magnificent culture shock!
3) What does it feel like to be a Western musician in the middle of the “Samurai’s land”? Did you have any difficulty adapting? What do you think about the integration of Western artists in Japan?
In the beginning I really had no idea what was going on! Kyoka was the veteran and took care of the details, but also taught me the ropes of the Japanese band scene. The Visual-kei world was not at all what I expected. I thought everyone would be these mad psychos after seeing their videos, but it was largely just an act. Most musicians in the scene were quite orderly and polite. It seems the older generation was more out of control and things used to be VERY violent. I actually did see some ugly fist fights break out in the dressing rooms when we played with older bands! You must respect your elders in the VK genre…
As for Western artists in Japan, it is in many ways a double edged sword. You get some people who are interested in you as something different or refreshing, but then you are also seen as a novelty at times. I also found that singing in Japanese will sometimes turn people off. There are some listeners who seem to want to maintain a certain distance with a foreign entertainer. When they hear a “gaijin” singing in Japanese, they somehow see them as inferior, perhaps because they are bowing to the Japanese way. Almost like a reverse inferiority complex? I feel the bands who come from overseas are treated with more respect than the foreigners who live here and speak/sing Japanese. Little by little, things do appear to be changing though. Lately I see more local foreign artists being embraced for their talents and not being treated as much like gimmicks.
4) You became more internationally known after your work with Chaos System (the band of Visual-kei artist Kyoka). What can you tell us about that project? How did you meet? Is it true that you played a concert in the USA?
I immediately tried to find musicians to play with after moving to Tokyo, but wasn’t having much luck. Soon after my friend sean.katsu (the original guitarist from Xenophobia) also moved to Tokyo from San Francisco. We met with endless people trying to get a band together, but ended up parting ways with most of them before even playing a gig. We met SO MANY guys who wanted to play Bon Jovi style hard rock! In the year 2001! sean.katsu was also in another band with Kyoka’s roadie Takumi at the time and one day we all met at Tower Records in Shinjuku (I think it was the heavy metal section). We said hello to Kyoka and told him we loved his work with Aliene Ma’riage. He was polite, but not very responsive, so we soon left and I was complaining “He didn’t even really talk to us! What the hell?!” But a few days later we were called to the studio for an audition! One thing led to another, and we were playing shows in a few months. This was my first experience playing shows in Japan. We were invited in 2005 to play a J-rock convention style gig in California, USA. It was our first time at such an event, but we all had a fabulous time. The fans were truly amazing.
5) Tell us more about Xenophobia- why did you choose this name? (are you xenophobic?! lol) How did this musical project start?
Well it was the late 90’s and I was maybe one of the only aspiring VK musicians back in the San Francisco area. sean.katsu and I met on the internet – I think some archaic chat program called ICQ, haha. We traded some rare cds and demo tapes and I figured, hey this guy lives not too far from me – we should start a band! After some prodding, we eventually got together at his place in Twin Peaks and started to jam quite regularly.
We were trying to find a fitting band name and were just looking through a dictionary when we came across: Xenophobia – the fear of foreigners. First and foremost we just liked the phonetics- the word sounded like what we were trying to express with our sound. We also found it an added bonus that I was the only “gaijin” in an all Japanese band whose name meant fear / hatred of foreigners. Hilarious, right? Over the years we have come to adopt the deeper meaning – the fear of the stranger – in that we always want to be considered the musical stranger. The project was revamped in 2005 in Tokyo and was extremely active for 7 years, but has been on a hiatus since our show in April, 2012.
6)What are your favorite Western and Eastern bands at the moment? Which bands have been the most influential in your life?
Recently I am enjoying Aphex Twin’s Syro, Morrissey’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business, the new Buck-Tick album and Sukekiyo’s debut (among many, many others)! I often listen to a youtube channel called solidsmokinrockabilly that plays old records from the 50s. I also like 90’s hip-hop, reggae, surf, it goes on and on… Tom Waits is also a favorite!
7) Would you recommend a band to our readers?
THE JUNEJULYAUGUST, 101A, Speecies, HERE, lloy, the god and death stars, MUNI MUNI, Ziz. These are all great underground Japanese bands.
8)What are your hobbies (films, literature, video games…)?
Traveling to unknown locations is my favorite thing to do. Last year I visited the mystical island of Yakushima in the very south of Japan. I also love most genres of film and surrealist art of any kind. Going to see live music is also a must. And don’t forget playing vintage pinball machines!
9)What is your vision of the current Japanese band scene overseas (not only the music field)?
I fear they are often treated as a novelties or idols. I would like to see more embracing of bands for their musical talents, although this is often difficult due to the language barrier. One band called MONO has been touring all over… I think their approach is the way to go. A great band that happens to also be from Japan! Not selling the Japanese part of themselves…. I get so tired of that gimmick (both directions). Of course, they have the benefit of being an instrumental band.
10) What do you think about the current state of Visual-kei? What’s your view of the situation?
I must say I have no hope at all. I came here looking for the descendants of the 90s gothic legends but found the scene in the 2000s to be full of cutesy hosts (bar tender / fringe male prostitutes) or complete copycat bands. Of course there are still some great major artists from the old days and even some from recently, but as an up and coming scene it feels almost completely void of artistic merit. The fans are also very juvenile and are usually just chasing after the band member they have a crush on. I often feel that music is not really important to current Vk, like it is more of a dating scene. Luckily, or perhaps because of this dire turn of events, a separate scene has developed around the
Ikebukuro Chop :
Koenji High :
Shinjuku Loft :
live venues which is more of an undergound gothic / 90’s visual kei vibe. This is where Xenophobia plays most of our gigs.
12) ) Do you have plans to play with your band in any other countries?
I would accept most any invitation. We love to travel the planet and are eager to spread our message of the tragicomic to those across the globe!
13) Well, we have come to the last question. Do you have any tips on buying your CDs for people in countries who cannot do it through your website?
We have 2 albums (The Only Home We Know and The Gypsy Circus) on itunes, Cd Baby, and Amazon digital worldwide.
If you want an actual physical CD, you must use our website. We can accept paypal or credit card or you can just send us cash! We love us some cold, hard cash.
Upon request we can also sell cds through ebay.
14) Any message for your fans of Chile and Latin America?
Thank you all for listening and joining us on our fantastical journey! We hope to bring our traveling sideshow to your town someday!
Official HP : http://xenophobia.jp