11:00 - 16th January 2016, by NEO Staff

The Shape Of Rock To Come

You may not realise you know Asian Kung-Fu Generation, but if you’re an anime fan you’ve heard their music. Their tracks have appeared in Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach and the brilliant Tekkon Kinkreet. The quartet started life as a student band in Yokohama in 1996, during the heyday of the alternative rock boom. Now, poised on the eve of their 20th anniversary, Asian Kung-Fu Generation are one of Japan’s leading rock acts, having opened for Oasis, Third Eye Blind and Weezer. For their eighth album, Wonder Future, the band – vocalist / guitarist Masafumi Gotoh, guitarist Kensuke Kita, bassist Takahiro Yamada, and drummer Kiyoshi Ichiji – headed to the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606, in Northridge, California. “Of course we were influenced by Dave Grohl’s film Sound City,” says Gotoh-san, “but the biggest reason was that we wanted to record our album using the legendary Neve console which was used on a great number of masterpieces. By using that, we thought our music would be also fat and powerful.”

With just 20 days in California, the band worked out the bulk of the music before they arrived so as the main songwriter Gotoh-san had to be prepared. “I find inspiration from different things,” he says. “It could be a film, a novel, and a non-fiction book. I often go to museums, and I also watch plays and Japanese traditional performing arts. I don’t know how those things connect to my songs, but I think I am producing my original song lyrics by outputting those things once I absorb them into my body.”

Roofs And Foundations

Working in Studio 606 introduced the band to some different recording techniques from what they were used to in Japan. “We have some songs using amplifiers and effects from Studio 606,” says Kita-san. “And we also tried ‘line recording’ instead of placing a microphone in front of the amplifier. The mixing engineer modifies the sound afterwards and that was something we haven’t done before.”

“I felt that they record the bass more loosely compared to Japan, not really sparing much time on it,” says Yamada-san, echoing the plaintive cry of overlooked bassists everywhere.

“Recording the drums was also different comparing Japan and LA,” says Gotoh-san. “In general, Japanese care about little things in a superficial way. The roofs of Japanese shrines are very smooth because they shingle a roof with the bark of cypress trees, and they really care about it. But on the other hand, in the US, they care more about the foundation and pillars. We tend to see the superficial texture in Japan, but we tried to see the framework when we were in the US. I thought this cultural difference was really interesting and exciting.”

Dream Big

The band has worked hard in the last few years to build their reputation beyond Japan with tours in Europe and America. “I’m very happy about it because performing overseas had been one of my dreams since I started music,” says Gotoh-san.

“I kind of doubted that we really had fans overseas until I went to Europe two years ago,” says Kita-san. “But that experience made me want to make more good music.”

Playing internationally allows the band to show people that Japanese music is as varied and diverse as anything the west has to offer. “People often talk about Japanese pop music and culture as flashy / kawaii culture, so I was a little bit worried whether ordinary people like us could really be accepted by the audience,” says Yamada-san. “But after playing shows in Europe, I’m now confident that the audience overseas really listens to our music. They sing along in Japanese and also sing the guitar phrases. I was so impressed that we are accepted by the fans with our music.”

“I think they knew us through Naruto or Fullmetal Alchemist,” says Ijichi, “but there were no fans cosplayed as those anime characters. They rather came to listen to our music and that’s why we want to make music for the world.”

Be Here Now

While they may have their sights set on global musical conquest, Asian Kung-Fu Generation still sing in Japanese. “This is a very difficult issue, singing in English. Yeah, I do think about it,” says Gotoh-san. “I could do that if I could think in English or pronounce it just like a native speaker. But would it be really necessary for us to sing in English in countries where there are so many musicians singing in English as their mother tongue? I know that there are Japanese people who only listen to Japanese music because they only listen to what they can understand. And it’s vice versa in English-speaking countries. Of course, if there were ‘a machine that makes you speak English when you eat it’, like in Doraemon, I would absolutely want one.”

The band picks London as their favourite city to play outside Japan. “I had a feeling that fans in London sang guitar riffs the most!” says Kita-san. And the British connection reappears when the band is asked to pick the highlight of their career. “It’s really difficult but we had a vague dream to perform overseas and we didn’t think that the dream would come true this way. It’s a total surprise,” says Gotoh-san. “Career-wise, there was an event in 2006 when we opened for Oasis and that was the most memorable moment. Oasis threw a birthday party for Andy Bell [from Erasure] and they invited us, we started drinking together... Liam Gallagher hugged me but I guess he doesn’t remember it though! These memories are still vivid because it was something we all yearned for since we were rock kids.”

“Yeah the time with Oasis was memorable,” says Kita-san, to which Gotoh-san replies, “Kita drank too much and fell asleep because the Oasis show was too good.”

“I missed the birthday party!” confesses the guitarist.

Don’t miss out like Kita-san! Wonder Future is out now and Asian Kung-Fu Generation will rock the 02 Islington Academy, London, on 8 November.

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