Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Interview with akai SKY



Greetings akai SKY, thank you for the opportunity! Before we begin, would you please introduce yourselves?  

Ryuusei: My name is Ryuusei and I'm the singer for akai SKY.

Hayashi: Hayashi here! I'm on lead guitar.

Umi: I play bass.

Jinra: I play cowbell… and drums.


I find story how the band came together rather interesting - for our readers that aren't familiar with the band, could you tell us the story? 

Hayashi: Me and Umi decided to start learning how to play guitar and bass on a whim. I don't have any other artistic skill - I can't sing, dance, draw or anything like that so I just wanted to improve myself artistically as a person. We thought it would be fun. Our good friend Yama picked up drums and we used to practice for fun playing J-Rock covers in his bedroom. From there, we just started playing shows without any real plan in place. Yama then had to finish up his schooling and move on with his life but for me and Umi, we realized we wanted to take this further. We searched for new band members and then in 2008 we hooked up with Ryuusei and Jinra. From there, we've taken gigging and recording seriously. They really completed the akai SKY puzzle.


What JRock bands did you usually end up covering?

Hayashi: The latest cover we did was for the L'Arc~en~Ciel 20th anniversary CD, and we did Daybreak's Bell. But before that, we hadn't done a cover in 3 or 4 years.

Umi: It seems like so long ago that I can barely remember, but I do recall we covered L'Arc~en~Ciel, Uverworld, The Pillows and Asian Kung Fu Generation to name a few.


Ryuusei and Jinra, what attracted you to join the band?

Ryuusei: I was looking for an opportunity to really focus on vocals. I'm really interested in Japanese music and figured I would be a good fit for akai SKY. I was really excited to work with an already established band doing original J-Rock music.

Jinra: I've always wanted to play J-Rock music since I grew up loving it, so a band dedicated to Japanese Rock in San Francisco really got me excited.


akai SKY has performed at many different anime conventions, especially in California, if you had to choose, which performance would be the most memorable?

Umi: When it comes to doing shows, it's really the performance and the connection with the fans both during the show and in-person when we meet them afterwards that matters most. In that way, all of our shows are memorable, but if I had to pick, I think a very memorable performance was Anime Vegas 2009. All the extras made that show really stand out. The stage setup and sound crew were all very professional. We played with Alsdead, Satsuki and Momoi Haruko who were all top notch. Also, the green room was stocked with food and we had our own dressing rooms, so it was easy to relax before and after the show.

Ryuusei: One of the most memorable shows in my mind was Anime Supercon in Florida. It was our first show together with our current lineup and we were still getting used to performing together. Despite a few hiccups, we pulled together for our first performance with a really enthusiastic audience and had a lot of fun!

Jinra: For me, the best anime con show was also Anime Vegas '09. The best show, however, would be the recent J-Rock “Peep” Show we did for our EP release party. Playing to a crowd is great, but playing with other bands that are all friends, even better!

When composing a song, do you find it easier to write lyrics in Japanese or English? 

Ryuusei: Both languages have their benefits. It can often take longer for me to write in Japanese, as I'm not as familiar with it. I personally find, though, that it can be easier to work with the sounds of words in Japanese than in English.


Is it easier for you to express these lyrics in one language over another?

Ryuusei:   Lyrically, my vocabulary is much deeper in English, which gives me more options, but sometimes I find it's easier to focus a song with the more limited set of tools I have in Japanese.


Being influenced by L'Arc~en~Ciel, how did it feel to actually contribute to their 20th anniversary tribute album?

Hayashi: It was great to be part of that album, with L'Arc~en~Ciel being a big influence on our songs and my guitar playing personally. We were actually in Japan watching their 20th Anniversary concerts at the time when the label approached us to take part. We looked forward to showcasing our style of American J-Rock with the other bands around the world who were also on the album, so just being a part of the L'Arc~en~Ciel tribute album in that capacity was a dream come true.


If L'Arc~en~Ciel were to cover an akai SKY song, which song would you hope to hear them perform, and why?

Umi: I can’t even fathom L’Arc~en~Ciel covering one of our songs, but if they did I’m sure it would be amazing.

Hayashi: I would be more interested in seeing which song L’Arc~en~CIel would pick and their thought process behind that. I like all of our songs and would be flattered in any situation.


In celebration of Heart, Attack!'s release, you held an exclusive live show. How did the performance go?

Hayashi: It was great! It was the first time we put on a show by ourselves, and we collaborated with other local bands to make an awesome J-Rock event. It was a packed club atmosphere, and I think it was one of our best shows. We really put in our all and showed how the band had evolved and showcased all the hard work we put into our music until now.

Ryuusei: It was really an amazing experience. I am humbled by and grateful to all the fans that came out and shared their energy with us. It was tons of fun having people singing along to our music.

Jinra: Most. Fun. Show!

Umi: I’m really proud of that show because it was the first show we put together on our own and we made it an all-local J-Rock show, so it was a huge experiment. The show was packed and a little too hot and sweaty, but despite that, the audience was so energetic. I’d definitely call it a success.


Before you went on stage, what did you say to each other? Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Hayashi: I used to try to practice guitar and get warmed up before a show, but I stopped doing that because it just makes me more nervous! Since I come from a team sports background, before a show I get everyone together in a circle with their hands in and give them a pre-show pep talk and review any last minute changes. We do this right before we go on stage, so I want to be sure everyone's mind is in the right place.


What inspired you to organize your own all-local JRock show for Heart, Attack!’s release live?

Umi: We wanted to celebrate our CD release and do something a little different from the festival and convention performances we usually do. Since most of those events are centered around anime or general Japanese culture, we wanted to do a show that was 100% focused on J-Rock. Our show was held on a Sunday night so, logistically, going with an all-local show made sense so everyone could get home at a decent time.

Hayashi: We also wanted to make the event special. We could have just played a regular club show and promoted it, but we really wanted to make an event out of it with friends, family and fans. We spent a lot of time putting together our latest EP, so it was more of a celebration. Also in our area, there aren't a lot of people doing events like this, so we really wanted to help invigorate our local scene a bit and show them that if you want something to happen, you can make it happen!


What was it like performing alongside these bands?

Ryuusei: Seriously great. One of the funnest things about performing live is the opportunity to experience other people's music. Not only do we get to perform, but we get to be fans as well, which is the best of both worlds!

Hayashi: It was a blast! Musicians are a fickle group of people, so it was great to know we can play with and rely on our comrades in arms to put together a rock show. Playing with like-minded bands really added to the atmosphere and made the entire night about Japanese Rock music, not just our CD release.

Jinra:   It's awesome playing with other bands that appreciate our music and who we can relate to on a more personal level. It also boosts the local J-Rock scene.

What has been your overall reception so far regarding “Heart, Attack!”?

Umi: I think more people are starting to take notice of us as a result of our "Heart, Attack!" release. It's exciting.

Hayashi: I think people are really digging our new music. Normally the only way to hear our stuff would be at a live, and I still think that's the best way to experience akai SKY's music. I'm just glad people can hear where our music is now, and see where it could be heading in the future!


If you had to choose your favorite track on “Heart, Attack!”, what would it be and why?

Jinra: “Mugen”! But there is some bias involved, because I wrote it.

Ryuusei: I've always been a fan of “Break Down!” since Hayashi brought it to the band. I think Donald Scully, our producer, managed to capture our energy in this recording. Also, the EP title, Heart Attack! comes from this song. There were some beeping noises in the scratch guitar tracks I kept hearing while I was recording vocals. To me, they sounded like a heart monitor and so I ad-libbed a pathetic sounding (according to Umi) "my heart..." into the microphone. Fortunately that didn't stay in the track, but the heart concept did!

Umi: I like “To The Sea” because it’s really successful in building a mood and setting a beach-like scene. I like when music can convey things that don’t actually have sounds, like rays of sunshine. I find it amazing that music can do that.

Hayashi: I’d pick In Black because I think it really showcases our individually talents as musicians. You can really hear our own individual stamps on the song and overall it’s always a track I enjoy playing live.


Out of all the songs on “Heart, Attack!”, "To The Sea" possesses a different energy to it. What is the story behind this song?

Hayashi: I'm a big fan of having diversity in the kind of music we write. It's also a good idea to have a strong image and vision too, but you can't just keep on putting out the same type of song. I think "To The Sea" was a track to show people that akai SKY can write power ballads. When I was first starting to write the music, I was out of work and just stayed home all day. So I started to run to the beach in mornings to work out and get myself out of the house. From my house, as you run down the hill, you can clearly see Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and that free feeling of peace was something that stuck with me. That feeling, along with the idea that you can love something or someone every day without putting them on a pedestal is the musical inspirations for this song.


Comparing your first four-track EP, "Tokyo Beat Riot" to "Heart, Attack!", what would you say the major differences are, in terms of sound?

Hayashi: The first EP was rushed in a way. We recorded, mixed and mastered all the songs in one day! This time around, we spent more time during the recording process to get the best out of each of the members. I think this time, we really were able to get down on CD how akai SKY really sounds like.

Umi: We used a completely different studio and producer for this album and our new producer, Donald Scully, was much more open to using our existing equipment, which I think has made a huge difference in capturing our unique sound.

Ryuusei: Donald had a particularly big influence on the vocals. I had a few ideas for harmonies to include on the CD, but Donald really pushed that aspect of the recording and I think the harmonies have now become a very important aspect to the sound of Heart, Attack! We liked it so much, in fact, that we've started to incorporate some of those harmonies into our live shows.


akai SKY’s EPs sport some very intriguing cover art, who came up with the concepts, and who is the artist that produced the designs?

Umi: We were sitting around one day trying to figure out what to do for the cover art and somehow the idea of creating a word cloud in the shape of a heart came up. Ryuusei put together the artwork using lyrics from the songs on the EP.


With the release of two four track EPs so far, is a full length album release possibly in the near future?

Hayashi: It's hard to say. We will definitely be putting out more music soon, but with the music industry where it is, as an indie band it might be a better strategy to consistently put out songs on a regular basis rather than compiling 10+ tracks onto a single CD. That being said, I think there is something romantic about putting together a collection of songs.


After establishing yourselves in the top 50 bands on ReverbNation Rock charts for San Francisco, what is the next step for akai SKY?

Hayashi: I think we just made it to the top 30 now in San Francisco, so I wouldn't mind being #1 in the future! I think gigging and recording are our bread and butter. We always want to stay constantly active but at the same time improving our craft and continuing to evolve our sound as an American J-Rock band.

Umi: We see ourselves primarily as a live band, so in the immediate future we're focusing on doing as many shows as possible. We want to go everywhere if we can.


In your own words describe a typical akai SKY concert and what fans can expect by attending your live shows?

Hayashi: I think we shine brightest at live gigs so it's all about dancing, singing and having fun. We play like we need the tips for the cab fare home, so I think that sense of urgency and desire really breathes life into the crowd and fills them with energy. Overall we want to create an environment where you can cut loose!


If you had to pick one place you've always wanted to perform and travel to, where would you choose?

Umi: I'd like to go to New York and put on a show with the J-Rock bands there. I've never been to NYC either, so I want to go and discover the city!

Hayashi: I would love to head up north to our neighbors in Canada since I've never been there before. It would be our first out-of-country gig, too!

Jinra:   I'd love to perform anywhere internationally, since it would also be like a vacation for me!  The top places on my list are Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong. I would love to go to Europe too.


To fans who would love to see you perform in their city, please tell us how they can make that happen.

Hayashi: You can always reach out to us via and let us know where you are and where you want up to play. But more importantly, people can tell their local venues, whether it’s a music club, anime con or festival - that you want akai SKY!  The more people ask for us, the more organizers can't ignore the demand. That usually gets the ball rolling from there.

Thank you for speaking with us! Please share a closing comment with our readers.

Ryuusei: I just want to say thanks to everyone for listening. I hope that everyone can find something to connect to in our music!

Hayashi: I'm glad our new EP "Heart, Attack!" is out! Please listen as it's our heart, bared to all, unabashed. Love it or hate it, just listen to it!

Umi: I want to ask everyone to connect with us on Facebook because we try to be pretty active and post entertaining things. It’s also a great way for us to get to know you. I’m also pretty active on Twitter as well, so look out for me there too!

Jinra: It's never too late to learn an instrument! Spay and neuter your pets!

 Learn more about akai SKY - Official Home Page | Facebook Page | Soundcloud


Also make sure to read our review of Heart, Attack! and leave a comment with your favorite akai SKY song  for your chance to win an autograph copy! Don't delay the deadline to enter is May 15th, 2013!


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This interview with akai SKY was conducted by Rita Nokkaew (Ayva Trance)

Edited by Alicia Thomas

Follow me on twitter at @AyvaTrance


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