Alternative hardcore band ROA is a crew of enthusiastic rockers who marries the traditional Japanese Tsugaru shamisen to the Western guitar, producing a beautiful baby with the essence of both worlds. ROA has given JROCK NEWS a great privilege of premiering their new music video Hitsugenius which follows the band on the JAPAN EXPO SUD 2018 journey. Get the exclusive first look at their music video here:
This seven-man line-up consisting of vocalist Masatomo, guitarist Shu and Tono (殿), bassist Miyo-C, drummer AKABA, shamisen players Moroboshimann and Sakamoto “Mani” Shinjirou (坂本”マニ”真二郎) will be heading over to the U.K. to perform two shows in July. Before that happens, and we have the opportunity to speak with the shamisen rockers to talk about their inspirations and their love for beer.
In your message to fans going to Hyper Japan you mentioned being the only band in the world with two shamisen and two guitars, was it always your goal to be set so far apart from everyone else? Does the stage ever feel crowded?
Masatomo: Rather than wanting to do something different from other bands, it was felt more like we wanted to include Japanese musical instruments in the band. It does feel crowded on the stage, but having a seven-member band is uncommon and not something you experience usually. It’s fun.
Shu: During band activities, I gradually became more aware that this is a band that’s doing innovative things rather than trying to be deliberately different.
AKABA: Although I felt like I wanted to have Japanese musical instruments at the beginning, there was no idea of a shamisen at the time. At first, I thought that I wanted to add a koto, but the shamisen came in like a flash.
What came first, the shamisen or the band? Was it always the plan to incorporate shamisen into your music, or was it something that just happened?
Shu: At first it was trying out the Koto, but as I checked out that the volume was low and tuning was very difficult. Meanwhile, the drummer AKABA invited shamisen player Moroboshimann.
Masatomo: I thought “I want to form a band incorporating Japanese musical instruments”. Shamisen naturally became part of the band and as a result of Mani and Moroboshimann joining.
AKABA: I asked friends if they knew any shamisen players and they introduced me to Moroboshimann! At first, I met with him on my own, but that very day he ended up joining. Other members were surprised [laughs].
Since there is not one but two shamisen players in your band tell us more about yourselves. Who or what were your inspirations for playing the shamisen, how did you meet your instrument?
Mani: I’ve been in the band since 2017, but I also work as a composer. But since with ROA, there are times where Maboroshimann would suddenly disappear during a live show, so I somehow ended up supporting as the shamisen player!
My mother played the shamisen for a long time, so naturally, I also started playing. When I was in high school, I also liked rock music so I played the shamisen with it.
Moroboshimann: I found the shamisen on a net shopping site and started from there.
Do you find at times that it is difficult to achieve the sound you are looking for when incorporating an instrument that is rarely used in the genre?
Masatomo: It is not difficult, because we can write a sound that is suitable for the shamisen.
Shu: Writing songs that include the shamisen tend to end up sounding like typical ‘Japanese songs’. We like West Coast pop-punk, hardcore, rock, and alternative music and so AKABA will create the songs that he wants to make inspired by those genres, without thinking too much of it. I will add the shamisen in afterward. So is it difficult? I’ve not really thought this at all.
I want to create music I want to make. We try not to overthink and just make it first. I will add a shamisen afterward. So is it difficult? I’ve not really thought this at all.
AKABA: It’s easy for me! I’m making songs however I like!
Many of your songs are sung in English or include English phrases, do you have a reason for regularly using English lyrics? Have you come across any challenges when using English?
Masatomo: Using Japanese and English is one of the “western-eclectic” approaches. It is always a challenge to select similarly sounding words in Japanese and English when it comes to rhyming.
Shu: By mixing English and Japanese, the music embodies both Japanese and Western flavors.
On that note, do you feel that using the English language broadens your appeal to international fans?
Masatomo: I think that there is, but I don’t think we will create any songs that use English exclusively at the moment.
Shu: There could be more English songs, but I think that other artists should do it. Just because there are a lot of English speakers in the world, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically succeed or become appealing if you use English in your songs. ROA wants to convey and express to the world what the world of ROA is like, I think the only people who can do this are “artists” and “creators”. The artists who believe that singing all songs in English because they want to compete in the world will not survive because there’s nothing original about it. You need to fight with originality. My goal is to make a “creator group” that can do this.
Mani: Even if the language is different, I believe that music can communicate beyond that. Especially with ROA’s music, the overall sound should be enjoyed first and foremost. I will be happy if you check the contents of the lyrics later.
A lot of your hard work has been as an independent band, what kept you so motivated to eventually meet success as you have now?
Masatomo: What’s most important, for big and small bands alike, is picking a goal that all the members share, and having fun trying to reach it.
Shu: Because I have ideas and way of life that even artists from companies and labels that have a lot of money cannot do, I want to do things that these kinds of people will be envious of.
It is our understanding that as a part of this independent work you have teamed up with Onokuwa Creation, a start-up company looking to bridge the gap between creators and fans. What kind of freedom has this given you?
Shu: We can constantly keep working on and improving the ideas that we wouldn’t have had among only the seven of us with our tremendous sense of speed and humor.
Mani: I think Onokuwa Creation offers exciting and challenging ideas. So I feel that it’s given us more opportunities to pursue bigger and more diverse things.
AKABA: It seems like it provides a place to challenge rather than freedom in terms of being able to think about more interesting things. In that way, it has become more “free”.
Outside of working as a band, what do the members of ROA like to spend their time doing before releasing the next amazing track?
Masatomo: I go out with my family and go out for a drink.
Shu: NETFLIX and beer.
Miyo-c: I like going to places I have never been before, and I often go on small trips.
Tono: I drink every day and sometimes play the guitar.
Mani: I often work on anime and games, but at home, I watch anime, play games, and make plastic models.
AKABA: Making music is my life, I can’t imagine what I would do even if I had a day off. [laughs]
It is our understanding that you are also planning to break out into Europe, is there anything you want to let your European fans know before they come to see you?
Masatomo: Please enjoy the power of the shamisen melody and the seven people to the fullest!
Shu: It is a Japanese band, but we’re not the typical Japanese sound.
From the perspective of your country we may be “Jrock”, but please do not judge whether if we’re good artists by our nationality. Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars—no matter how many people call it “good music”, not everyone is interested.
Miyo-c: All members of ROA love Europe! I’m sure that everyone in Europe will like ROA, so prepare yourself for it on YouTube!
Tono: I’m looking forward to going to Europe! Get ready to rage and wait for me!
Moroboshimann: Please come in clothes that are easy to move to prevent getting injured.
AKABA: I am very much looking forward to the show and the crowd! I want to meet everyone in Europe soon!
Is there anything in particular that you are excited about for the European shows? Any activities you want to do or foods you want to eat?
Masatomo: I am looking forward to drinking and eating food that can’t be found in Japan.
Shu: The people. I’m looking forward to meeting fans and seeing the different reaction. I am looking forward to drinking local alcohol.
Miyo-c: Foods only sold in Europe, eating food that you’ve never eaten is really fun! Also, unlike Japan, Europe gives me the impression of having a lot of beautiful old buildings, so I’d like to simply walk around and tour the city!
Tono: This is something that will not change wherever you are, but it is beer.
AKABA: I’m looking forward to going to the supermarket! I want to find rare things which cannot be easily found in Japan.
Not only will you be playing in Europe, but you have also signed to JPU Records, an amazing feat, how has your experience been so far with JPU?
Masatomo: Honestly, it feels pretty unreal at the moment. I’m looking forward to it kicking in soon.
Shu: I was the first person to speak to Tom first, I told him via email that I did not know what sells well aboard. Since JPU has a lot of wonderful artists, we also want to quickly reach the point when everyone will say “wonderful artists have joined” about ROA too.
Miyo-c: Honestly it feels unreal. I think that belonging to JPU is very important for delivering ROA’s music to Europe and the rest of the world.
Tono: I was touched very much because I never thought that I could belong to a wonderful record company as JPU.
Moroboshimann: We’re very excited.
AKABA: I appreciate being able to join JPU, and I think that I have to do my best to show my appreciation.
Now that ROA is making a name for themselves across the world, what is your next step?
Masatomo: I want the band to be in a state where we can constantly tour aboard!
Shu: China. I think that there are still very few artists who are actively expanding their activities there and the Internet is incredibly restricted. I want to go fight with my traditional musical instrument [the shamisen].
Miyo-c: I personally have a lot of places I’d like to visit, so I want to see the world with ROA and I want to show everyone our music.
Tono: Want to make big busty friends around the world.
Mani: Your answer is terrible, but that’s right!
You take your music seriously, but behind the band, you all look like a fun bunch of guys. So to help fans get to know the members, which fictional character represents you best?
Masatomo: Trafalgar D. Water Law from One Piece.
Shu: Johan from Monster.
Tono: BigBoy the Japanese restaurant mascot.
Finally, we’d like to thank you for taking your time to talk to JROCK NEWS. Is there any message you’d like to give to your fans and readers?
Masatomo: It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, thanks for having us.
Shu: It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Miyo-c: I can’t wait to fly right now! I am looking forward to seeing you all!
Tono: I am looking forward to meeting you all and having fun with you all! I’m having a lot of fun and drinking a lot of beer. Please wait while drinking everyone!
Mani: ROA’s music is not just about the shamisen but also music and live, so please come and experience it!
Moroboshimann: Let’s go on a rampage together at the live stage!
Now we have some more fun questions to get to know you guys, who is your waifu? You can name fictional characters.
Masatomo: Nami from One Piece.
Miyo-c: San from Princess Mononoke
Tono: Mai Shiranui from Fatal Fury and The King of Fighters
Mani: Nikaido from Dorohedoro
Favorite villain in a fictional series?
Masatomo: Kuzan from One Piece
Miyo-c: Dola from Castle in the Sky
Tono: Lust from Full Metal Alchemist
Mani: Tetsuo AKIRA
Where would you hold your dream live performance?
Shu: OOKUBO HOTSHOT.
Mani: Any huge outdoor event!
Thank you for speaking with us ROA! They’ll be playing a couple of shows there too on July 13-15, 2018 at Hyper Japan, London and also July 17, 2018, The Underworld Camden, London so be sure to check them out!