Location: Anime NYC 2022
Interview Date: 11/17/2022
Header image credit to Rogue Monkey Media, used with permission
Moderator: Having just finished performing in front of a large crowd at Anime NYC, many of whom are Gundam fans, how did it compare to performing in front of a crowd outside of the anime setting?
Kawakami Yoohei: I think they like Gundam more than us. (Laughs)
I felt the energy from the audience. They were more into it. I thought “We can’t eff this up.”
Hiroyuki Isobe: They knew how to have fun.
Kawakami Yoohei: Yeah, exactly.Hiroyuki Isobe: So actually, no difference all around the world. It’s the same thing. I loved the crowd’s energy.
Like I said during the gig, this was our first time in three years, after COVID happened, hearing the audience. In Japan, all the audience has to wear masks and they’re not allowed to shout or sing along.
Kawakami Yoohei: They can’t even speak.Hiroyuki Isobe: Unbelievable, right? There was no time for me to explain that.
Kawakami Yoohei: That was the first time we got to hear the audience sing along to the chorus part to “Senkou”. I was really happy to do it in NY. I’m sure the Japanese fans were jealous.
Hiroyuki Isobe: Since the song was released after COVID happened.
Moderator: New York has been a theme in several of your works, including the album “Sleepless in Brooklyn”. Has the city lived up to your expectations?
Hiroyuki Isobe: Oh yes, definitely. I used to live in LA when I was young. We talked about where to record our new album before Sleepless in Brooklyn came out. My thought was “LA, of course. West coast is best.” That was my first time coming to New York. I totally fell in love with the city. Ever since then it’s so exciting for me to come back to the city. I love it here.
Moderator: Did you ever get to tell the bartender in Brooklyn that you’re an actual legendary rock star.
Kawakami Yoohei: I actually don’t drink. I don’t go to bars that often.
Hiroyuki Isobe: I’ll drink until I die. (Laughs)
There’s this bar in Brooklyn. I used to be a regular there when we’d come to New York very often. And yeah, he knows about the band. I don’t want to call myself a legendary musician yet. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to though.
Hiroyuki Isobe: He came over to Japan actually this year to see a show. I was drinking with him last night. First time in three years.
Moderator: It’s been fifteen years since you formed the band and twelve years since the release of your first studio album “Where’s My Potato?” In your own words, how do you think your sound has evolved over time? If you had to pick five songs other than your major hit “Wataridori” to show that evolution over time, what would they be?
Hiroyuki Isobe: It has changed a lot over twelve years, but the spirit never changes. It’s our sound, but it’s getting better. I like the song called “Untitled.” That would be one. Our sound has improved a lot.Moderator: Who are your musical influences?
Kawakami Yoohei: I’d say Oasis. The first band that came into my life was Oasis. Not only their music, but their attitude, the way they dressed and talked. That was really shocking for a fifth-grade kid. They used the f-word in every sentence. The funny thing is my older brother taught me Guns & Roses. He always loved bands from the US. It was really hard for me to imitate them. They had long hair and wore tight pants. It was hard for a kid to become like them. Liam Gallagher had a mushroom haircut, it was really easy to imitate them.
Hiroyuki Isobe: I was influenced by Yoohei I guess.
Kawakami Yoohei: I tell everyone “He didn’t know anything about rock music.”
Hiroyuki Isobe: When I was back in the states I was in a marching band, playing trumpet. I was on the swimming team, the basketball team. I was more of a sports guy. I knew nothing about rock music. He was like “Just shut up and watch this video.”
Kawakami Yoohei: I brainwashed him. (Laughs)
Hiroyuki Isobe: I got brainwashed. Even now.
Moderator: Do you have a dream collaboration?
Kawakami Yoohei: We did a collaboration with a band called Vansire. We did collaborations with indie bands Easy Life from England, and Almost London for LA. There are lots of bands I’d like to work with. More than that, I’d like to do a split tour between Japan and America.
Moderator: When developing the feature theme song “Senkou” for Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway, was the story or vibe of the film expressed to you in advance, or something left for you to come up with from the ground up without any reference?
Kawakami Yoohei: Both. I was reading the novel first because the movie wasn’t ready yet. It really inspired me.
If you go deep into the story to make music, it’ll be music that’s not upright. I thought it was important to absorb the novel, but make our own song. A song we can play for a decade. At that time we had a new drummer. So that song was really important for us because our fans were conscious of our new drummer. “Senkou” was the first song of these four members. It was really important to us. I think it worked out.
Moderator: After three years of Covid, do you feel individually responsible in some way that your art can pull people back to a place of joy or excitement?
Kawakami Yoohei: For the first month we couldn’t do anything. We had a show that was canceled. I felt “OMG, musicians are not needed in this world. Playing music is something not really important.”
We did an online show. I was looking at the comments. People were so excited. I felt really proud of myself, being a musician. We were doing something that meant something. Before that, I was doing music just for myself. Not for the audience too much. I loved singing, I loved playing guitar, playing rock and roll. I wasn’t really doing something for you guys. But after experiencing Covid and seeing those comments, maybe we’re doing something, helping people’s mental health. Now we have some kind of responsibility, in a good way.Moderator: What did you miss most about performing in America, and what are the differences between performing here and Japan?
Kawakami Yoohei: First of all, I love New York. It’s one of the best places not only to play again, but also just visit. I don’t know why. In Japan I like Osaka better than Tokyo. I say that to the fans. (Laughs)
Kawakami Yoohei: I love the atmosphere, the mood, the people. I also went to LA, went to Washington DC. I love New York, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because of the pizzas.
Hiroyuki Isobe: We have pizzas in LA. (Laughs)
Kawakami Yoohei: New York pizza is the best. That’s not the only reason I love New York though. Yeah, I like playing in New York. I think New York maybe has some similarities to Tokyo.
Japanese fans are kind of shy. Once you get to know each other, they can get excited. In New York, they’re more excited than us. But if they don’t like us after two or three songs, they leave. They’re strict. But also, it can help us improve.
Moderator: What are the band’s future plans?
Kawakami Yoohei: I’d like to direct that question to Mr. Ogata of Bandai. (Laughs)
Hopefully, we’ll do a sequel to Gundam.
We’re actually not allowed to say. Yeah, we’re kind of excited to do a sequel to Gundam.
Moderator: After Anime NYC, is there anything else you’d love to share with your fans?
Kawakami Yoohei: We’d love to come back here to New York. And not just New York, we’d love to go to Europe, and around the world. We’re the kind of band who doesn’t just stay in one place. I’d love to go around the world, so please spread our music.
Hiroyuki Isobe: It was so surprising to find out how big anime is in New York. We’d love to be here again.
Kawakami Yoohei: I feel like I’m in Tokyo.