This interview was originally published by “club Zy.” in Japanese. JROCK NEWS is partnering with club Zy. and Vijuttoke with the aim to popularize Japanese visual kei globally. Learn more about our partnership here.

December 29, 2020, saw the broadcast of “Izakaya Hakuei – Year-End Special” on Live Nico Radio where many guests were invited to the show.

In a roughly eight-hour marathon live session, HAKUEI held himself back and didn’t drink any alcohol for the first half of the broadcast but, towards the end, faced with the formidable conversational prowess of vocalist Dancho of NoGoD, things got a lot more exciting!

This time, just before the broadcast, we planned a leisurely conversation between HAKUEI and Dancho.

“Dancho, the approach that you and Golden Bomber took… It was something I could never have predicted.” —HAKUEI

The last “Izakaya Hakuei” of 2020 is not just a lengthier episode than our normal broadcasts, but also brings in a lot of guests. It has really become a magnificent thing, hasn’t it?

HAKUEI: I was informed about the year-end “Izakaya Hakuei” quite some time ago, but in my mind, I thought it was going to be about three or four hours long [bitter laugh]. If it were about that length, I’d assume it would be over real quick if I was drinking at the same time, but drinking for a solid eight hours is pretty difficult [laugh].

Dancho: You have to first set the pace, right [laugh]?

HAKUEI: I was hoping for it to be a fun end-of-year party, but it ended up being a lot of hard work [laugh]. But, I’m happy though. Throughout the year, I got to meet and speak with a lot of artists and got some good motivation too. But… eight hours… [Bitter laugh]

It’s definitely going to be a fun end-of-year party! But first, before “Izakaya Hakuei” is broadcast, we would like to start with a conversation between the two of you. It’s been a while since you’ve spoken like this, right?

Dancho: It’s been about a year since the last time I was asked to be on “Izakaya Hakuei”, I think?

HAKUEI: Really? A year ago? What did you do in 2020?

Dancho: Well, we couldn’t perform any shows, so I was working on things outside of live music. I did a lot of livestreams. I was invited as a guest on various livestreams, and also host some things—both personally and with the band. Somehow it ended up being a pretty intense year.

HAKUEI: With livestreams, we’ve been able to hold shows where it wouldn’t be possible otherwise now, right? But actually, on December 6, we held our first show in a while where people could actually physically attend and watch (TSUTAYA O-EAST “PENICILLIN LIVE 2020 ‘pulse & impulse’”). The venue was at about half capacity, but even so, I really felt that performances are something that should be held in front of an audience.

Dancho: Ah, yeah I totally get you!

I heard there have been some artists who were moved to tears by it.

HAKUEI: I was pretty close myself during the MC. I couldn’t really get out a “Thank you”—the words got stuck in my throat.

Dancho: I’m so jealous! And so many artists were holding concerts with audiences in attendance at the end of the year, too. But, we decided not to hold any shows with a crowd until April 2021…

HAKUEI: Oh, really?

Dancho: I think there’s a lot of different opinions on the issue, but there’s no right or wrong way to go about things. However, for us, when we say “Hey, we’re performing!”, what worries us most is that we’d be putting the people who attend at even higher risk. We ended up feeling like we didn’t want to increase the number of people coming by holding a show, no matter what.

Also, our parents are all getting on in years, so of course, we’re worried about them too. That’s why until our planned tour in the spring of 2021, we decided not to participate in any events with audiences in the meantime.

But, a lot of people I know are actually performing in front of an audience, and I’ve attended them… A few days ago I even saw MUCC at their Budoukan show and I’m incredibly envious! During the MC, they said, “Ah really, being able to see people’s faces and expressions immediately up the excitement!”.

I really want to be able to do the same. Maybe every musician feels that way, too?

HAKUEI: After all, my generation—of course, I think it’s the same for your generation too Dancho; but isn’t putting on performances the reason we all formed bands? We create music in order to perform it live. That’s the cornerstone for all of us, so this kind of situation is incredibly difficult.

Dancho: It’s hard to find the motivation to create when you can’t share your work.

Everyone is hoping for things to return to normal soon. Next, I’d like to ask you about the relationship between the two of you. First off, could you tell us what you find interesting about the other?

Dancho: Well… HAKUEI is the embodiment of charm, don’t you think? Everything about him! During my teens was exactly when PENICILLIN was all over television. I thought, “Wow bands are cool, they have dreams”, and I was deeply influenced by that. I think when we previously met, I said exactly the same thing. Our generation really hates giving up [bitter laugh]. We have incredible artists who came before us, so I’m totally convinced that being in a band is the way to go.

Even today, a lot of those artists are still active and at the top of their game, leading the way from the frontlines. So we have to protect what they started, we have to take the reigns and continue on. For example, when it comes to livestreams, I thought that some of those older bands would be reluctant to stream but everyone adopted it quite quickly.

PENICILLIN also broadcast streams quite early on. I was really encouraged by how they manage to update their performance. I get the sense that PENICILLIN is staying fresh. Their songs are getting heavier by the year, and they’re doing incredibly interesting work. They’re doing more visually spectacular things than a lot of young artists these days.

Dancho, don’t you also have very spectacular visuals? I think your direction is different from that of HAKUEI’s but…

HAKUEI: No… I think NoGoD is also a breath of fresh air! What is it… it was a trend at the time, but that kind of thing happens regardless of genre, no? Back then, when we couldn’t have possibly imagined what would come next, Dancho, the approach that you and Golden Bomber took… It was something I could never have predicted.

I thought you were really putting yourselves out there [laugh]. And it was totally innovative then. Even now, in my opinion.

Dancho: It’s because people like you created the genre for us, really. Your generation had that kind of mentality of “Everyone around us is really showy, so we have to do something too, we can’t lose”, I think. And from there, you differentiated yourselves from everyone else. But, the 90s was when the format was becoming perfected. However, what we were thinking was “If we were to put on makeup and create a band in the future, what would be best, something that nobody has done yet?”.

It resulted in the concepts “What the hell?” or “Even the ugliest of people can become cool!”, and so on [bitter laugh]. That’s how I got the idea. I took on that “band spirit” but my approach was different [laugh].

HAKUEI: If I were 10, or 20 years younger, I probably would have done the same thing. Even so, there are times when I’m jealous. We older guys can’t do that kind of thing anymore and we don’t have that kind of talent, so I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to even attempt this kind of approach with a half-baked idea. It’s no good to half-ass something. Instead, I think it has made us realize that we need to work on our own skills more.

Recently, it feels like there’s been an increase in bands that distinguish themselves from humans. Like Slipknot and MAN WITH A MISSION…

Dancho: Ah, actually I’ve been really conscious of that. In terms of top rankers like HAKUEI, for example, we’re no match for them. I was already thinking about creating a persona. Even if I went down the same path, we wouldn’t be able to compare, or even compete.

I thought about what kind of things HAKUEI would absolutely not do, like painting your face white or speaking in a strange way. And that happened to be right for me. I think it’s absolutely the same kind of story for Golden Bomber. Though, both I and Kiryuin [vocalist of Golden Bomber] actually wanted to perform in a more normal or traditional way [bitter laugh].

“Our performances as a band have become even better because we started livestreaming.” —Dancho

As we welcome 2021, what kind of things would you both like to do next year?

HAKUEI: First of all, the band that I am in with actor Ryuji Sato, The Brow Beat, will be performing (“The Brow Beat  Live 2021 ‘Last indies’ ~Steal your xxxx~ 2021.4.30 Zepp OSAKA Bayside, 5.4 & 5.5 LINE CUBE SHIBUYA”). This will be our last show as an indie band. We wanted to tour a lot more than we actually have, though.

Will this be a show that people can attend in person?

HAKUEI: Yes. Also, The Brow Beat will take part in “VISUAL SHOCK Fes Yamikawaiihands” (January 8~January 22, 2021) at Tokyu Hands.

I see, going hard from the start of the year! PENICILLIN will also perform live for an in-person audience for the annual Valentine’s show (February 13 and 14, 2021, at Shinjuku ReNY), I can only be happy that you’re so active.

HAKUEI: Right now, restaurants and such are still continuing to operate even if they’re crowded. I feel like live music is much more restricted… Of course, the people working at restaurants have to make a living and I understand that, but the people working in entertainment also have to make a living, no? Recently at shows, everyone is looking in the same direction, wearing masks while watching, and doing their best to prevent the spread of infection. In my personal opinion, it would be good to rethink the guidelines surrounding live music a little.

Naturally, it’s just about whether or not we’re taking the correct precautions. There’s no need to restrict things unnecessarily. And I think live music is a very necessary thing.

Music shouldn’t be stopped!

HAKUEI: That’s right! It’s not just about eating to live. Music is of the same importance as the necessities of life in order to support your soul. Simply, as Dancho said before, going to concerts right now makes the atmosphere at home or work bad since it’s something that isn’t widely accepted in this situation, among other things, and we want to avoid that. It’s hard to find a solution.

Dancho: I would like it if we could spread the word that “As long as we’re taking proper precautions, holding concerts is okay”.

If we’re talking about concerts, NoGoD will also be performing at shows with an in-person audience in 2021 as you mentioned earlier, yes?

Dancho: That’s right. Actually, 2020 was our 15th anniversary as a band and the 10th anniversary of our major debut, so we actually had a lot of plans but… So, we pushed it all to 2021, and everything will start in April. Until then, I want to find more ways to entertain via livestream.

Last year, after the state of emergency was lifted, we decided to livestream as a band once a month, and we change the contents every time. I thought people were probably getting tired of watching livestreams, so at the start, we performed songs that don’t often appear in our setlists, or we would create setlists with some kind of meaning attached to them. But that alone isn’t enough, and it gets boring.

So from around October, we switched to a TV program kind of format and started putting out different content and interesting segments.

HAKUEI: For a band to add that kind of skill, that’s amazing!

Dancho: What I’m most pleased about for the band is that, because we have started livestreaming, our performances have become even better. You really can’t mess up. Well, there are some that say they’re going to hold a “no-audience livestream” but actually just stream pre-recorded footage, however, we are a live band, and will always perform live.

When we stream, the sound is so much clearer than a normal concert, if you miss a phrase or hit the wrong note, it’s so much easier to notice. We have actually learned a lot.

I also started using in-ear monitors over the last six months. Now that I’m using them, I realized that I don’t have to sing as loudly as I thought in order for the audience to hear me, and even when I sing quieter, you can hear the nuance. Also, all the members researched how to sound best when streaming and I feel like we gained a lot of experience as artists.

HAKUEI: Everyone says similar things when it comes to sound. We felt the same thing. And that’s great for that kind of situation, but when we performed for an audience for the first time in a while… Ah, we also livestreamed at the same time though, but after the stream was over, we performed an additional three songs for the fans in the venue. The sense of freedom at that moment! That peaceful feeling was wonderful. It was live, and even if it was a little rough, it felt so good to let loose. Like, “This was exactly how we’ve been performing until now!”.

Moreover, even though they couldn’t shout or sing, you can still feel the response of the audience when they’re right in front of you. We spoke about it before but, during rehearsal, I got nervous just thinking about what I wanted to say and at what point [bitter laugh]. I thought, “Oh damn, the real thing is going to be rough” [laugh]. The words only got stuck in my throat a little during the concert.

Dancho: Even you, HAKUEI, after so many live performances can feel like this, is really a testament to the power of live music, isn’t it?

HAKUEI: I think it’s truly amazing.

Dancho: When we perform in April, I wonder if I’ll suffer from a little incontinence… [Laugh]

HAKUEI: [Big laughter] Tears from below [laugh]. Oh also, it’s not a performance but the jewelry brand I work with (Lips&Tips) had a handover event in Tokyo and Osaka around Christmas. Before the event, I had a PCR test and the event was staggered to avoid the store becoming too crowded. I was able to meet fans in person but, really, it felt like I was seeing family for the first time in a long time… Probably around half of the fans who came cried, too. I felt like, “Ah, I want to go drinking with everyone like this” [laugh].

Dancho: Ah, that sounds so nice!

HAKUEI: There was an acrylic panel between us though and it made me feel like I’d done something bad [bitter laugh]!

The brand is also going to have a New Years Party, correct?

HAKUEI: We usually hold in-person events but obviously, that’s kind of difficult right now. Instead, I think we’ll hold an online event and speak to fans one-on-one.

Dancho: Oh, actually I’ve heard that online talk events are a good idea. Because some fans get really nervous when meeting artists in person and can’t speak. I’ve heard that some people can speak without problems when there’s a computer screen between them.

HAKUEI: That makes sense. Also, you can join in from anywhere.

Dancho: For livestreams, a lot of people from overseas also watch. I’ve even had messages from Japanese people living overseas saying “Thank you for doing these things during the stream, and thank you for streaming at this time during a pandemic; I’m really happy”. There are so many things that make me realize the vast amount of new opportunities.

HAKUEI: If I think about it that way, doing a version of Izakaya Hakuei where we drink alone together could be interesting.

Dancho: That… sounds like it would be super interesting! If you asked Hoshiko, I bet he’d say “Let’s go!” right away [laugh].

HAKUEI: When I was in middle school, I had a huge crush on Momoko Kikuchi [the actress]… if I had the chance to speak with her online back then, I’d probably have burned up, seriously [laugh].

Dancho: The spark of puberty, huh [laugh]?

HAKUEI: More likely from being way too excited [laugh].

Dancho: We’re living in a time where if you have a smartphone, you can watch livestreams anywhere. Ah… I want to see it happen!

That’s up to Hoshiko [laugh]. 2021 seems like it’s going to be an interesting year, too!

Powered by: club Zy.

Original article:

Interviewer: Atsushi Kaie (club Zy.)

Brought to you by the triple partnership between club Zy., JROCK NEWS, and Vijuttoke.

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