For a band that is “bigger than God” in Japan, a headlining show at the House of Blues in West Hollywood may seem like a step in the wrong direction — but in reality, this is a monumental step forward for Japan’s VAMPS.
Dubbed Japan’s “most daring duo,” HYDE and K.A.Z are the two artists behind the progressive outfit that is pioneering the expansion of Japanese hard rock and metal overseas. And where better to test the waters than two of rock music’s most legendary cities: Los Angeles and New York.
The two-city promotional run for Sex, Blood, Rock N Roll (VAMPS’ first all-English release via Universal) commenced last night at the House of Blues on Sunset, garnering an impressive turnout for the band’s first stateside outing in over three years.
The floor at the House of Blues was packed with VAMPS loyalists, who were already well-versed in the new material. Throughout the entire headlining set, the crowd (holding up VAMPS signs and flags from different countries) sang and jumped along with all the ultra-catchy hooks peppered throughout an unexpectedly heavy rock set. Although the performance was a little campy for traditional American hard rock and metal purists to fully understand, there is no denying that VAMPS could hold their own in the US circuit.
HYDE has a very respectable metal scream, the musicianship is world-class (especially K.A.Z’s stage left guitar tricks), and the live show has a style that is reminiscent of old-school Motley Crue-meets-Linkin Park and Buckcherry. They nailed the LA rock vibe, but with a decidedly Japanese twist. The incorporation of electronic music and a slight glam-rock flair was a refreshing take on a traditional hard rock set.
If the goal of this outing was to be legitimized by American rock audiences, consider LA a success.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with HYDE and K.A.Z (via interpreter) at their hotel off the Sunset Strip to talk about their venture into the hard rock circuit, how they are putting their own style into the genre, and why playing LA is a great motivator.
How do you like coming to Los Angeles?
HYDE: I like coming to LA. I like the vibe here. It feels good here because it’s dry. It’s really humid in Japan.
K.A.Z: I’ve been here tons of times. In Japan, it’s winter and already snowing in parts of the country. When I come to LA, it’s always sunny and the weather’s always nice. I love that about LA.
We’re in the middle of a lot of rock ‘n roll history right now, especially being right off of the Sunset Strip. Do you draw any inspiration from LA rock history, especially when you get to come here?
HYDE: I grew up in the ’80s listening to LA hard rock and a lot of the rock music that comes from here, so I drew a lot of inspiration and influence from LA bands. When I come here and actually listen to the music, I can get feel why it came from here.
Any bands in particular that you were inspired by?
HYDE: Motley Crue. Back in the day, all the bands that people knew about, like Motley Crue and Metallica, and current bands, like Linkin Park and Korn. Those are the bands that I like.
A lot of rock bands are taking a throwback approach to their albums this year and drawing inspiration from bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden. Do those old-school bands you mentioned influence your music or do you try to be more progressive in your style?
K.A.Z: I grew up listening to hard rock and metal, so it’s already a part of me, but I am more about looking into the future and taking elements of dance music and electronic music and incorporating those new elements into my music.
How is your incorporation of electronic music into rock ‘n roll material taking it somewhere new?
K.A.Z: I’m always thinking of ways to incorporate electronic elements into my music and ways to make my songwriting more interesting. For example, I might take the tempo or the tricks people use in dubstep and incorporate that into songs. Or from dance music, the way they use their synths or the way they approach their beats — I’ll try to use those similar approaches in my songwriting.
What specifically is VAMPS doing with this approach that is different than what other bands have done in the past (or are currently doing)? Korn and Skrillex had a big collaboration in this style, Disturbed has used electronics for a while, Ministry, of course, has been a big name in pioneering this style. How are you approaching it differently?
K.A.Z: What I try to do with the electronic elements is just try to treat it more as one of the instruments. With a lot of bands that do a dubstep collaboration, the song will just turn into a dubstep song, but when I incorporate electronic elements, I want to make it so you can’t tell what genre it is. It’s just one of the sounds in the song and not a sub-genre of dance music.
It’s not just that the new electronic [sound] would be at the forefront in the song. There would be a portion where I will go into something I was influenced by in the ’80s — just all the music I’ve been influenced by will come out in the song in equal ways.
American audiences are really responding well to the collaborations between EDM and hard rock artists. Do you think this current trend makes it a favorable time for VAMPS to be making big moves in the US?
K.A.Z: Since everybody is doing it now, I do feel that I need to take a different approach. I want to make sure people can feel the rock in my music, and also it’s important — being Japanese — that I have that perspective in bringing an Asian musical element into the songs. So those are other musical elements that I use.
This was your first English offering (Sex, Blood, Rock N Roll). What is the biggest challenge in crossing over into the US market?
HYDE: There haven’t been that many Japanese bands that have tried to approach these overseas markets. We are also in a sort of exploration stage; there aren’t any role models or past bands that have succeeded here [in the US] that we can model ourselves after, so that’s a difficulty, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity. There’s nobody that’s been here before us, so we can take the chance. I’m trying to enjoy the moment and this new frontier.
Do you feel intimidated at all playing for audiences in the States, especially here in Los Angeles, the heart of rock ‘n roll?
HYDE: I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure at all. But because LA is such a big rock city, I feel that they can bring a different perspective. I hope it will sound refreshing to them.
It absolutely will. Do you like to play smaller clubs? I know that in Japan that’s something you prefer, but those are still 5,000+ venues. I mean, House of Blues is really small compared to what you are used to.
HYDE: As you were saying, in Japan we do play smaller, intimate venues. Obviously in the US I do hope to play stadiums and bigger venues one day, but I understand getting back to basics and playing smaller venues. I want to make sure I can fill up places like the House of Blues before I can move on to larger venues.
You are such a big star in Japan. Is it humbling at all coming to a place like Los Angeles where you aren’t as recognizable?
HYDE: In Japan when I go out, I have to wear a hat or sunglasses so I don’t get recognized, but out here, I’m not as well known, so I have the freedom to walk around and not be noticed. Along with that freedom, I also have a feeling that I need to work to become more known here. So it’s definitely that dichotomy of having that freedom and having the motivation to be more well known here.
Are you working on any material right now?
K.A.Z: We’re slowly writing new material and new songs.
Are you writing for overseas audiences or will the next project be geared towards your Japanese audiences again?
K.A.Z: I’m trying to write songs that can go both ways. We’ll have songs that will be sung in all Japanese for the Japanese market, but I will make sure to write some songs to be recorded in English as well.
Do you tend to keep most of your material for VAMPS pretty dark?
K.A.Z: [Laughs] I have a dark personality, so the songs end up dark.
Do you find it easier to express yourselves artistically through darker subject matter?
K.A.Z: It comes naturally to me.
HYDE: It’s probably because K.A.Z is a vampire…
Was the name VAMPS or the aesthetic of the band at all inspired by vampires being so big in popular culture or is it just something you gravitated toward on your own?
HYDE: I’ve been a fan of the whole vampire thing for years, so when it came time to name this band, it just came naturally. It was just part of what I liked…I didn’t even notice that it was a trend or what what was going on around me [in popular culture].
You both have a fantastic style. Is there anything or anyone that inspires that side of you as artists, the way you dress or the way you perform?
K.A.Z: I really like Nine Inch Nails.
What do you want your stamp to be on American audiences after these two shows in LA and New York?
HYDE: We are very confident in our live show, but I don’t know how it will translate or how American audiences will respond. I’m praying that people will love what we do.
Do you change your live show for American audiences as opposed to what you do in Japan or South America or Europe?
HYDE: Since this record is the first album we are releasing for the world, for the live show we just took the best parts of our records. We chose the best songs and the parts we’re most confident in and filled our live show with those.
How do you feel about Sid from Slipknot joining these two shows?
HYDE: When I heard that from my manager I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Are you lying?” I was really happy about it.
If you could go out with any American rock or metal bands, who would you want to tour with?
HYDE: There are too many to mention.
K.A.Z: There are too many. Since there are so many, I would want to play a big festival with all those bands. Like Mayhem.
That would be fantastic. I could see you guys out with Rob Zombie. Now, how big is rock and metal culture in Japan?
K.A.Z: There is a definite audience for this kind of music, but it’s not the kind of music that will get into the charts.
It doesn’t here either. You have to find creative ways in hard rock and metal to get your music out. I think it will be beneficial for VAMPS to have that strong live show here in the US.
K.A.Z: I would hope our songs would be played on the radio some day here.
Your songs have great hooks, so that’s really what you need.
K.A.Z: It’s a very American thing, but I would hope my songs would be played in strip clubs here some day. If they’re not good songs, people wouldn’t want to dance to them.
I would love to just end on that…
VAMPS will continue their brief two-show run in the US in support of Sex, Blood, Rock N Roll, at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on December 8th. For more information on VAMPS, check out their artist profile on Universal Music Japan.