When you think of the visual kei genre, the GazettE is more than likely to come up in conversation. Being one of the few bands in Japan to remain active for over 15 years, the band have a very prolific and lengthy discography with albums that touch upon multiple genres of rock. Having released their latest album NINTH last summer, Japanese visual kei rock stars, the GazettE, are now in the midst of their third ever world tour.
As it has been about three years since their previous world tour, we wanted to find out what exactly set this world tour apart from their previous one, and how their most recent album showcases the musical and thematic evolution from the previous album, DOGMA.
To do so, we strolled down to Sony Music Entertainment’s headquarters in New York to meet up with vocalist Ruki, guitarist Uruha, bassist Reita, and drummer Kai. Unfortunately, guitarist Aoi was not present that day.
With album “DOGMA”, the GazettE introduced a darker and heavier sound, which not only was reflected in your music, but also visually. Even to this day, the “core concept” remains. What triggered this direction and what is the reason that you keep going with it?
Ruki: Ever since we formed the band, we have searched for ways to express ourselves, although it’s been a challenge to find who we are, that’s what we’ve been doing, trying different things. When you refer to “a darker and heavier sound” that we expressed in DOGMA, it is something that started even before the GazettE was formed, and it’s more like it came out once more when we made DOGMA.
How is the concept in album “NINTH” different from “DOGMA”? What ideas did you want to explore?
Ruki: When we did DOGMA, we tried to approach it as a sort of conceptual art. That was something we focused on. But NINTH is looking back at all our past albums because it is the ninth album. So, DOGMA, as one of the nine albums that we have created, NINTH is really here to show “this is how we are today, with all our past experiences”. We just want to showcase how we’ve progressed from our experiences thus far.
The name “GazettE” comes from “cassette” (tapes) as that’s what you used to record your demo songs in the past. With the digital age of today, how do you feel technology have changed your musical process?
Uruha: It had a dramatic change, I would say.
Kai: With the way we make music, the process itself has not changed much, but the method has changed a big deal.
Being a band for 17 years, would you say your attitude and core message in your music has changed?
Ruki: Our individual personalities have gone through a lot of changes, but as a whole, as a band, I don’t believe there has been much of a change from the beginning.
Kai: But our thoughts for our music is much deeper today, because we have more of an urge to make something great.
With the constant shifts in musical trends, do you find yourselves constantly striving for a new approach with music to continue growing and evolving as a band?
Ruki: I always like to try and incorporate modern elements, however, we don’t want to follow trends but we also don’t really want to produce work that sounds old-fashioned or out-of-date. So there is a balance which we have to consider.
Uruha: We don’t want to be super “trendy”, but as a band, as much as we can express trendiness and act of going with the flow, we would like to do it to the limitation of what one band can do.
What is the goal of your world tours and how does this world tour differ from the previous one?
Ruki: When we release a new album, we would usually go on tour in Japan. But as for the world tour, the goal with this is to embrace the fans overseas, the people who are waiting for us and to show what we have done. It’s really more of a routine thing to do as a band.
What do you feel the difference is when it comes to creating music and planning concerts on a national level as opposed to an international level? Does your mindset for creation and planning change knowing you have overseas fans?
Ruki: Well… With the creative side including the artwork and how the music sounds, we are conscious of trying to level-up to our and the world’s standard, as far as the quality goes. Even though our music is in Japanese, we want to be good enough to be on the same level as international bands, not just in Japan.
As you’re without a doubt one of the biggest Japanese band overseas, what responsibilities do you feel that comes with? Do you feel any pressure in terms of the way Japanese music will be perceived overseas?
Reita: [Laughs] So do you mean do we feel like we are the representatives of Japan?
Well, one of them! Because a few Japanese bands pass through in the U.S. so you definitely have a certain type of presence, being one of the biggest.
Ruki: It really doesn’t feel like we are a representative of Japanese pop culture or anything like that, the responsibilities I feel are really more about my commitment to the fans because there are people who come see us, people who like Japanese music, therefore we cannot put on a bad show.
For a band that has been around for a long time, what do you think is the most important aspect of maintaining a long-term collaborative relationship?
Ruki: I’m not really conscious of what we should do to maintain a long relationship, we don’t really think about it. We don’t get really nasty with each other or anything like that.
Uruha: When we’re making music, we just have a blast doing it!
There was a long period, around 2009 till 2013 when you didn’t perform much overseas. What was the reason for that?
Reita: So in 2009, that’s after we did the European tour. At that time, the number of Japanese bands performing overseas was increasing. We didn’t want to be the same as those dudes!
Ruki: There was like what they call a “boom” of bands traveling overseas. It was a trendy thing, right?
Reita: Yeah, it was trendy to do that, we didn’t really want to ride on the trend, so that’s why we chose to stay in Japan.
Ruki, your English has improved dramatically over the years. Would you mind telling us what purpose your English lyrics serve? Was it ever a gateway to reach out to your overseas audience? Or are some things only able to be expressed using English?
[The band members jokingly snort at the comment regarding Ruki’s improved English.]
Ruki: Well I’m not sure if my lyrics are getting to the level of say, a native speaker yet [laughs]—but when writing lyrics in Japanese; Japanese can get lengthy and certain words might not convey exactly what I want. It’s also about the sound of a word and what emotion that sound gives, at these times, English words can have a better sound that matches the feeling that I want to express. The Japanese language is a great language that has its own advantages as well, but I’m mainly just trying to find sounds that go well together. In English, there are times when you can put words together that sound well and they make sense, but in Japanese, it is more difficult to make sure your thoughts are clearly conveyed.
What is something you experience touring abroad that you don’t when performing domestic tours?
Ruki: [Laughs] When we play calmer songs like ballads, the audience sometimes never keeps quiet here! For example, during or after a guitar solo, you can often hear them cheering loudly. That never happens in Japan, I would say that’s usually a pretty noticeable difference.
[Uruha and Reita nod in agreement.]
Uruha: In Japan, there’s more like an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t speak during performances.
We would like to sincerely thank the GazettE for spending time with us and also look forward to catching more of their shows during the world tour!