“Before a band has made it, you can’t break them apart with dynamite. After they’ve made it, it takes a butter knife.”
I didn’t understand that line at the time, but now I think I do. Sometimes there is a shift from “We” to “I”. As much as any band I’ve ever seen, Wagakki Band embodies “We”. That’s not to say there aren’t some great individual stories, so let me introduce you to them.
The lead singer (and, if I’m being completely honest, dominant female and leader of the pack) is Yuko Suzuhana. Her training was in classical music. She had particular affection for Claude Debussy. I do too:
And if you think I won’t take the opportunity to link to this, you don’t know me:
The title is a bit provocative, but the album has one of the cleverest openings I’ve ever heard.
Back to Suzuhana. She is a former poetry recital champion (Shigin), and incorporates Shigin into her lyrics for Wagakki. She is also an accomplished pianist (her mother is a piano instructor). One thing that shocked me, and I followed up to confirm it wasn’t an error in translation, was that every single member of the band has songwriting duties. They all offer meaningful contributions. I suppose that is very important when you need to incorporate eight instruments into a rock composition. After that, Yuko has to make sure the lyrics work with both the rhythm and the tenor of the music. That can’t be an easy job, and so far I’d say she’s done quite well at it.
Next up is Professor Daisuke Kaminaga. Daisuke is a master of Tozan-style Shakuhachi. For a very brief introduction to Tozan-style Shakuhachi:
Daisuke has a fun habit of painting the Japanese symbols of the cities he’s playing onto his face. That’s a lot cooler than shouting out “Hello Cleveland”, especially when you’re playing in Cincinnati. As for his musical influences:
Yes, that’s the work of none other than Nobuo Uematsu. Professor Daisuke has good taste. I call him professor because he teaches Tozan-style Shakuhachi at multiple colleges and universities, as well as his own school. He credits Uematsu for as one of his inspirations.
Next up is Kiyoshi Ibukoro playing Koto. Koto is a 13-string instrument with 13 bridges that can modify the sound of each individual string. Can you understand why this might be a tricky band to write music for?
Like most Koto players, Ibukoro found inspiration from New Jersey artists Bon Jovi. Sorry, no link this time. I’m from New York. I must say Kiyoshi struck me as having a great sense of humor being “The harpist in a rock band”. Don’t see many of those these days.
Next up would be Wasabi, but I’m saving him for last. Instead, let’s talk about Asa (with Wasabi in the background):
That song by Asa led to this:
I’m not certain that is the version of the song that got so many hits on NicoNico, but it is my favorite. Yes, bass players can be creative influences. Shame on you for being prejudiced against them.
Next up is Kurona. He is the group’s Wadaiko drummer. I asked him for his musical influences, and he said “There is no one I look up to.” He was referring to other Taiko drummers, though, as he did mention Cozy Powell as a drummer he liked.
So, time for another link:
Kurona gives off a pretty badass aura, which is reflected in his parfaits:
— 黒流-kurona- (@967CrowClass) June 29, 2015
Guitarist Machiya is a Slipknot fan. I’m as surprised as you are. His guitar skills are top-notch, though, so I’ll let it slide.
Beni Ninagawa took up Tsugaru Jamisen after hurting her throat. I must say I admire her determination to fulfill her musical dreams after one avenue closed. Taking her own path is important to her, although that has led to some frustration for the band when she gets on trains going in the wrong direction. True story.
A lot of us talk about being true to ourselves, but she really lives that. Also, she’s an Alan Menken fan. You can bet your butt you’re getting another YouTube link for New Rochelle’s own:
At last, let us talk about their drummer, Wasabi. He’s a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan (I’m seeing a trend), as well as Nirvana. Also, he is familiar with Rush, so he instantly became my favorite member of the band. Professor Daisuke tattooed LA on his face, but Wasabi put it on his entire back. He’s committed to the cause. In fact, they all are. That’s what has impressed me most about Wagakki band.
Wagakki Band’s members were all friends before forming a band together. That they’ve been able to stay friends despite all the stresses of production and touring is a testament to both to their collective will, and their affection for each other. Have you ever tried taking a vacation with a friend? Now add six more, and make that vacation last years. Good luck.
When given the opportunity to discuss their favorite concert, Wagakki Band didn’t hesitate: The two-day concert in Taiwan. The electricity of the crowd energized them and produced a performance both epic and intimate at the same time.
They are not shy about professing their desire to become an international band. When I asked them about potentially touring in New York, they were quite pleased and hopeful that it will soon be a reality. Unfortunately, not all potential tour destinations were as well received. I asked about the possibility of a tour stop in Numazu-Shizuoka and they all failed to contain their laughter. I believe the collective sentiment was that the residents of Numazu can buy a train ticket to Tokyo.
Wagakki Band did mention one other band, and that gives me the opportunity to play my favorite Japanese live TV performance:
I’ll let you guess which band member cited Tokyo Jihen as an influence.
Now that you know about the individual pieces of Wagakki Band, let’s see what they are capable as one unified force: