Hybrid melodic punk and the legacy of FACT – an interview with Shadows
While Shadows – which plays a unique version of melodic punk rock with a bit of a hardcore and metalcore influence – is a pretty new band, that’s only been around since early 2016, its three members are considered veterans of the scene, as they are all coming from FACT, a group with a long and successful career. FACT formed in 1999, had its commercial breakthrough with its eponymous 2009 album, did a couple of tours around the world, released its strongest album, KTHEAT early 2015 and then announced disbandment soon afterwards. Shadows was started a few months later by three of the ex-members, Hiro (vocals), Kazuki (guitar, vocals) and Takahiro (guitar, vocals) and so far released two excellent EPs, that picked up just where KTHEAT left off. They were in the middle of their first longer, nationwide tour, full of sold out dates, when we sat down back in September, 2016 in the noisy backstage of RIPS, a club in Tokyo’s Hachioji district, to talk about their influences, plans, overseas adventures and about what sets Japan apart from the rest of the World.
Why did you decide to disband FACT, your previous group after being together for 15 years?
Kazuki: We have been friends since childhood and it was the three of us that originally started FACT. We always had the same mindset, same ideas, same direction, so it was kind of natural, that we decided to start it all over again.
From what I’ve heard so far, Joy Opposites, the band the rest of the guys formed is going to a very different direction musically, while you are closely following on the footsteps of FACT… (So, was it your aim to follow more closely on the footsteps of FACT?)
Kazuki: It is what we like. In FACT, it was basically us who were writing the music, so Shadows sounds similar because it is really just us doing what we like to do, not because we wanted to continue what FACT was doing.
Hiro: And because that’s the only thing he can do! (laughs) But seriously, that’s just what we are good at.
Your music is a mixture of many different music styles, including hardcore and metalcore, but the central element seems to be punk rock. Is that what you consider as your main musical influence?
Kazuki: Yes, melodic punk is definitely the strongest influence in our music.
Takahiro: We were listening to that kind of music ever since we were kids, so that’s what we have in our mind.
And how would you describe your music style to someone who have never heard what you are doing?
Kazuki: Hybrid melodic punk? Maybe new skate punk?
What was the moment when you decided to become musicians?
Kazuki: Well, we like to be musicians of course, but actually for us it was always more about being in a band together and not about being an artist or a musician.
And what bands were the main influences for each of you? Were they mostly foreign or local bands?
Kazuki: NOFX and Green Day.
So, the classic melodic punk groups?
Takahiro: And for me, it was Belvedere, a Canadian melodic punk group.
And amongst local bands?
Takahiro: The Blue Hearts
Hiro: And for me it was also Hi-Standard.
And what are the bands that you find inspiring nowadays?
Kazuki: I think White Noise for example, is pretty cool.
Takahiro: Pears, an American band.
Hiro: Crystal Lake! They are the best!
You sing in English.. why did you decide to do so? You can express yourself better this way? Or to be able to reach an international audience easier?
Kazuki: Because of the sound. We tried it in Japanese as well, but it just did not turn out the way we wanted to. In English it is much closer to what we have in mind.
Hiro: I think this difference is something, that only the Japanese can understand.
I think it is the same for most non-English speaking countries… in Hungary, where I came from we have same with some bands singing in Hungarian and some others choosing English, because that suits there music better.
Hiro: Yeah, it is the same for us.
And what is the theme of your lyrics?
Hiro: It is sometimes really hard to express something to someone, but in the lyrics I can write what I am thinking and can convey my message easier. I don’t want to be bossy in the lyrics, to tell people to do this and do that, like some artists do, that are very aggressive about their message, basically I just want to express what I am thinking and what I want at the moment.
While you are officially a three piece band, you have a support drummer and bassist, that help you out both in the studio and during your shows… could you tell us about them?
Kazuki: Ryo (Ryo Yamamoto), the drummer used to be in Garlic Boys, that also disbanded a while ago and when we were looking for a drummer we met him and he agreed to join in. As for the bassist (Hayato Sone), we told him that we are looking for someone with a mohawk hairstyle and he did it, so that it why he is part of the band, it’s that simple (laughs).
And what about your band name, why did you pick “Shadows”?
Takahiro: Just the way it looks.
Kazuki: And the way it sounds, so there is no special meaning.
The cover of Progress, your second EP is truly amazing, who was the artist who did it?
Kazuki: It was done by Florian Bertmer, who is a painter from Germany.
Why did you decide to re-record two songs from your first EP for Progress?
Kazuki: The previous EP was basically recorded in one take in a warehouse, as we wanted something really natural. But we wanted to rebuild them and make them stronger, so that is why we re-recorded them in the studio for the second EP.
And besides the self-covers, the EP also contains a cover of Nirvana’s Tourette’s, why did you choose that one?
Takahiro: Oh, actually that was because many years ago we were in a cover band, and that’s one of the songs we were playing back then!
With FACT you toured the UK and Europe… twice I think?
Hiro: Hmm… three…? It was three I think or four maybe?
Takahiro: Yeah, I think it was four.
And now do you also have plans for Europe with Shadows as well?
Hiro: Yeah, definitely! And also we would like to play at music festivals in Europe. Are there any music festivals in Hungary?
Yes, many actually.
Hiro: So, please get our interview to the audience in Hungary, so, they will know us and we get invited to your festivals!
Kazuki: And we will give you 500 CDs for promotion! (laughs)
During your European visits did you notice any significant difference between the audiences in EU and JP?
Kazuki: There were some girls at one of the shows in London, that did not know about circle pit and were totally surprised by what is going on. In Japan, everyone seems to known what a circle pit is, isn’t it that common in Europe?
It depends on the audience actually. For punk and hardcore crowds, it is absolutely common, but there are many people that are hooked on Japanese music in general or go to a show just out of curiosity and they might not know about it.
Kazuki: Ahh, I see. And other interesting thing was that in Amsterdam, there were people lining up on both sides of the stage to stage dive.
Takahiro: And in Korea, when we said circle pit, people were just standing in circles. They just couldn’t understand the concept.
And how is the hardcore and punk audience in Japan?
Kazuki: I think it is pretty much the same as the European audience.
Takahiro: Maybe the term “punk” means something a bit different to Japanese compared to the Europeans.
Kazuki: The fashion aspect of it is more important in Japan and also, the style of Ken (Ken Yokoyama) from Hi-Standard had a huge influence on fans.
Hiro: What is the punk culture like in Hungary? Is it also more about fashion?
No, not really. It is a very small scene and the people that really lead the punk lifestyle are more like… street punks? The kind that is sitting around on streets with friends, drinking cheapo wine, you know? It is not about fashion the way it is in Japan, partially because they just do not have the money to buy expensive clothes, but some follow that typical, classic punk look, with jackets full of patches and mohawks…
Hiro: They can be our bassists! (laughs)
Takahiro: But I think that is a more typical punk image, having no money and not caring about fashion.
And how is the Japanese hardcore and punk scene nowadays?
Kazuki: About 15 years ago it was at its peak, then groups started to disband and so on, but then it was back again with bands like them *points at my Endzweck t-shirt* getting really popular.
Hiro: However with all the metalcore groups getting popular nowadays, I think we are at a point where we are ready for the next boom.
And what do you think about the small Japanese metalcore / post-hardcore boom that’s been going on in Europe recently, with Crossfaith, Coldrain and such getting very popular?
Kazuki: I think it is a good thing and it was the quality of music that made them accepted in Europe and that they were trying really hard. And maybe it is also the trend that the Japanese culture is starting to be respected by the European. It is more noticeable and more respected now than it was several years ago.
Hiro: Maybe it is that years ago many people did bother about Japanese culture, but thanks to those kind of bands coming to the scene the culture is getting more accepted. When we were doing the tour in the States, at rehearsal some people were like “ehh, who are these guys?”, but when we started to play, they accepted us. But I think it is a kind of natural reaction, when a foreign band, that you never heard about comes to play. But nowadays it is different and thanks to the Internet and youtube, people listen more to what they think is good and also music from everywhere is more easily accessible.
And back to Japan: is it difficult to make a living here as a rock musician?
Kazuki: We did not start out thinking that we want to make money, we just did what we wanted to and luckily we are still here doing it. And I think it is in part because we also have a team behind us, that supports us. If it was just us, it would be a lot more difficult. So, we like what we do, but I think if you start out as a musician with money in your mind, it might be more difficult to succeed.
Most people around the World have a quite stereotypical idea about Japan with geishas, hi-tech gadgets and Tokyo’s skyscrapers. How would you describe the Real Japan?
Kazuki: Well, what really makes a difference are the… night clubs. We have so many kinds of gentlemen’s night clubs! (*everyone bursts out laughing*) I mean, I’ve been to other countries, but Japan has by far the biggest variety!
Haha, so, is that really the Real Japan?!
Kazuki: Of course, for example there is also anime, which is something to be proud of, but the dark side is really different.
Hiro: I think another thing that is special to Japan is omotenashi (a hard-to-translate term, that describes the Japanese attitude towards serving others). That the Japanese like to welcome visitors and guests and serve them and make everything as comfortable as possible. For example… the taxis, they always come on time, unlike some other countries.
And my last question is the usual one: what are your plans with the band for the near future? New releases, more concerts…?
Hiro: The current tour will end on the 4th of November. And then… well, in early December we are ready to go to Hungary! (laughs)
Kazuki: Yes! We will start preparing for that in December! *laughs* But actually after the tour is over, we will start working on our next release, which will be a full length album and it should be out in Spring, 2017!
Thanks for the interview!
All photos above were provided by the band. The photo below was taken after the interview and before their show at Hachioji RIPS.