Interview with ONE OK ROCK in Tokyo
The latest craze in the Japanese rock scene, ONE OK ROCK met with us to answer our questions about their formation, music, future plans and more.
We met ONE OK ROCK in a recording studio in Komazawa, Tokyo, where they were in the middle of recording their album scheduled to be released this fall. They were kind enough to share their time with us and answer our questions.
Could you introduce yourselves one by one please?
Taka: I'm the vocalist, Taka. Nice to meet you.
Tomoya: I'm the drummer, Tomoya. It's nice to meet you.
Toru: I'm in charge of vocals and guitar, Toru.
Ryota: I'm the bassist, Ryota. Nice to see you.
Alex: I'm the guitarist, Alex. Thank you for coming.
Why did you pick the name ONE OK ROCK, what is its meaning and how did the coinage of 'one o'clock' come about?
Taka: We used to always do rehearsals in this studio at 1 o'clock in the morning. Since we started the band, we did rehearsals on Saturday because we were still students and it didn't fit in well with our schedule on weekdays. Saturday and Sunday are a break from school, and Saturday is followed by Sunday, so the best time to practice was from around midnight or 1 o'clock to the next morning and we did that a lot. When we did our first live, we had to think about our band's name. We weren't very serious about choosing the name at first, but when we thought of 1 o'clock, it fit us so well.
Why did you choose the words 'ONE OK ROCK' instead of '1 o'clock'?
Taka: We thought '1 o'clock' didn't have enough punch and although the spelling is different, the Japanese pronunciation of 'rock' is in the word so we decided to use the word 'rock' instead. (In Japanese, there is no distinction between L and R sounds, so they sound the same.)Looking back on it, it was pretty simple (laugh). Then, we changed the left over sound of 'o'c' to'OK', so the band's name changed like that.
How did ONE OK ROCK form? How did you meet and what made you decide to start a band together?
Toru: Ryota, Alex and I went to the same high school so we are high school buddies. When I was in my first or second year in high school, I wanted to do a band so I started to look for members around me, and then I asked Alex and Ryota to join. We went to a studio just for fun, and after about one month a vocalist joined us. We then made our band name ONE OK ROCK and started to do lives. We started our band like this and decided to continue from then on.
You come from Osaka. Were you friends in the same year of the same high school?
Toru: No, Alex is one grade older, and Ryota is one grade younger than me.
Had each of you played in a band before?
Toru: No, we had no experience. This is our first band.
So you started playing instruments, the guitar and bass, at that time?
Alex: I had played guitar for a while.
Taka, after Toru, Ryota and Alex started the band, you joined them a little bit later. What made you decide to join them?
Taka: I was in a band too, and that band was totally different from what I do now. This was the first time for me to really face rock properly. I really liked singing so I always sang songs. I thought rock was more instrumental than vocal, so I considered it irrelevant to me until then. At that time I was in a cover band and we played songs by Maroon 5, our own original songs and we also did two lives. These guys came to see my lives. In the first live, I only knew a few people so I called all of the people whose phone numbers I had in my phone book, and said "come to see us." They were not my friends yet, but my friends introduced them to me....it was like that. I hadn't played with them and I didn't know them yet, but we needed more people to come to our lives, so I asked them and they came to watch. After the live, Toru called me and said, "I'm also in a band, so if you like, come play with us. Let's play together." At first, I was shy and I didn't know much about them at all, so I said, "Well, I'm doing my own band so I can't....." But when I did our second live, they came to see us again. I used to work part-time, and he came to my workplace and said "Let's play together" over and over again until the next morning, he was a little bit forceful. (laugh)
You asked him forcibly. (laugh)
You played totally different music from each other, but what interested you about Taka?
Toru: I was looking for a vocalist who was about the same age as me. I might have found a good guitarist soon, but it was not so easy to find a vocalist who sang very well. I thought "He is the only one. I can't miss him."(laugh), and asked him as soon as I could.
Did you have a lot in common?
Taka: Um, he was very positive. I had never been asked to do something with someone so I was simply happy. But I had never met the other band members; they were still strangers, so I was quite scared about whether I could do a band with people I didn't know. But anyway, I went to the studio at midnight, I saw them for the first time, and things went unexpectedly smoothly.
After you decided to start this band, was it a smooth transition to rock? Were you able to adapt quickly to the different types of music?
Taka: No. I used to sing songs according to very solid music. At that time I played with two other members, a keyboardist and a guitarist. I didn't know that much about instruments, but in that small studio I couldn't see who played which instruments (laugh) and I could just hear loud sounds.(laugh) It was quite comfortable with all the loud sounds. I listened to the real sounds of drums, guitar and bass for the first time. I was so impressed, and it was always interesting to me. Originally, I really liked the band RIZE. The genre that I was used to was totally different, so I felt like I jumped into a new world, and it was fun for me. We played together every week without me really having much knowledge about anything really.
Wasn't it difficult for you to sing over the music?
Taka: Originally, I was confused all the time. It was so fun at first, but when we did our lives, conditions that we were playing in would change, and the sounds we made were quite loud at first. And we didn't know how to get a good balance, and of course, I didn't know either, so we played quite messily.(laugh)
But you did lives, right?
Toru: Yes. We did our first live about three months after we made the band, then we booked various live houses by ourselves and did our lives.
Tomoya, you were the very last to join the band in 2007. How did you get to know the other band members and did you fit in with them right away?
Tomoya: After I graduated from high school and came to Tokyo, I was in another band while I studied at a technical college. There I had a good friend who was a teacher and his band often played with ONE OK ROCK in live events. At that time, ONE OK ROCK didn't have a drummer, and the teacher introduced me to them. Then I met them and talked to them about various things, and I decided to join the band.
Did you get used to the band soon?
Tomoya: I think so. At first I was a support member, but I got used to them gradually.
Was your music like the present style - punk taste, upbeat rock music - from the beginning?
Toru: At first we played more punk, but as each of us gradually concentrated more on our sounds, it changed to our present music. Our music was mostly upbeat like now.
How did each of you get interested in playing an instrument? What do you like best about your instrument?
Alex: When I was in junior high school, I played games a lot and I liked the acoustic guitar music that played at the end when you finished a level. When I played acoustic guitar, I thought electric guitar wasn't legitimate.(laugh) However, when I entered high school and my friends started to play electric, I learned to play it too, and I became interested in it. It's free and different from an acoustic guitar. Acoustic is much more difficult. We don't play acoustic guitar often for single notes. But when I play electric guitar, as I press one place and make one note like puh~n, I can ring a very heavy sound and I can progress into various things from there, which was shocking for me. I then gave up the acoustic guitar.(laugh)
Don't you play acoustic guitar now?
Alex: No, I don't play it at all. I only play electric guitar.
Aren't there any songs you do featuring acoustic guitar?
Alex: We have few, and you can use an electric guitar instead, but the sound is better when you use an acoustic guitar, so we used one there.
Ryota: I started playing bass when Toru said, "We don't have a bassist, so why don't you play bass?" At first, I didn't like bass at all, but as I played it, it became so much fun. The biggest trigger for me was that as I really love the Red Hot Chili Peppers and listened to them, saw their DVD, knew Flea, and I thought, "Bassists are so cool! I want to be a bassist like that!"(laugh). Then I became absorbed in bass and worked hard to play it.
Toru: About one year before I started this band, I began to like music like Good Chalrotte, Zebrahead, Fall Out Boy, and I started thinking I wanted to play in a band, and I was very interested in distorting and loud electric guitar playing. When we played in a studio, it was so fun to play real instruments as it was totally different from listening to CDs. I think I was shocked and became more interested in music.
Toru, you sing songs too. Did you play guitar and do vocals at the same time? Now your rap style singing is well matched to Taka's vocals.
Toru: Yes. We didn't have a vocalist at first, so I sang songs for a while, and I often did rap. But I wasn't that big on singing really; I sometimes sang depending on the song.
Tomoya: I belonged to a brass band club when I was in junior high school, and I was in the percussion group. At first my seniors took the part of drums.(laugh) As you know, I was obligated to do club practice. I did various percussion instruments, such as tambourine and xylophone.(laugh) Then I made a band in the fall of my first year in high school, and I started the band in earnest. While I'm playing, I feel like it's better for me to play in the back rather than to be a guitarist at the front of the stage playing aggressively, so when thinking about my nature as a person I think it was good to have chosen this instrument.
Taka, have you always been a vocalist?
Taka: Yes. My dad and mom were musicians and both of them were vocalists, so I didn't have an opportunity to touch instruments at home. I sang songs naturally and I felt like I didn't need instruments. I remembered my dad used to say things like "People play instruments because they can't sing songs." He said, "If you can sing songs, it means you can take tunes by yourself, so you should sing." I remember him saying things like that.
Alex: Uh~~~n, I feel like he may not be totally correct in that...(laugh)
Taka: Yes, I know, but I understand what he basically meant. If we can do both singing and guitar playing, it's even cooler. My dad and mom used to be solo artists. I was obligated to learn various things, but I couldn't master anything at all, and I hated instruments. I hated playing the piano. I once even wanted a guitar and I bought one, but I didn't play at all.
How do you compose songs? Do you use a keyboard?
Taka: No, I really can't play keyboard.
So you sing by humming and record it?
Taka: I did it like that at first. I remember a while back when I used to buy CDs that included karaoke, I made my own song in karaoke, and I often did that in my head. When I started this band and I made a song for the first time, I thought of the melody first. I couldn't play guitar, which was bad. So I bought a guitar, learned power chords from members, then I made melodies by playing guitar.
So you make songs singing and playing guitar now, right?
Taka: I do so sometimes, and I do it reversely sometimes too, like I put melodies on the song made by other members. I do them alternatively.
How do you usually compose your songs, do you have any specific procedures that you follow?
Toru: I think we do it in the usual ways. We each make demo tapes, bring them in, put them on a melody, put the lyrics in, and record them. This process is pretty normal, I think.
Do you make the lyrics last?
Taka: Yes. the melody is very important to me and I like to have it that way. I think that recently it's not so hard for me to add melodies to the lyrics. I don't find it difficult to be limited. On the contrary, with melodies I write them on the music score note by note like do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do, but singing has delicate nuances, different from guitars and drums. For example the delicate sounds between do, re, mi. At first, I quickly think of an image from the melody, and then put the lyrics on them, so it can grow. It's easier to put melodies on lyrics that are already made. I don't write tightly made lyrics, I wait until the melody is finished most of the time.
Do you imagine the lyrics after you create the melody, like you put a sad love story on this song, or you show your anger towards society?
Taka: With lyrics, they basically don't change what I write. They stay almost the same. I just add a different theme each time and make the lyrics. Basically, my themes are very normal, such as anger, or working hard together, romance, a broken heart, and I don't change a lot from that.
Toru, are you the same way?
Toru: Yeah. Well, but I'm trying to write new lyrics now all the time.
So do you store words? As in write them down and keep them for later.
Toru: Yes. I don't know many words, so I try to make my original world by using my limited knowledge or by looking at what I don't know.
How is the song writing and recording process going so far?
Toru: It's usually like we arrange things together, then discuss it with our arranger, then meet in a studio like today. Then we enter the final stage, like we decide certain things here and there and then go into the studio.
You've been around for three years now and although this isn't a long time your fan base is rather large and you're very successful. What is the secret of your success?
Taka: Well, the first reason is that we have nice faces...(laugh) At a glance, we are good looking.....don't you think so?!(All: burst out laughing) I think most people who become interested in us are interested for that reason. But now we have our own style and people can see more than just our faces. Now most of our fans are the same age as us, and also younger than us. We try to send messages to young people about doing their best in life; that is why I write encouraging songs. I think the lyrics stand out and kind of make us look older. People probably don't respect those who are the same age as themselves, but when age is a little different, even by just a small margine, I think you can look up to a person, as they have had more experiences than yourself. I really look up to RIZE because they have more experience and practice a lot too. You know, it gives you something to aim for. I really feel it when we are going around Japan doing live concerts. We want to absorb various things, make music continuously and take new approaches, so that even those older than us will come to see us too.
At the Shibuya O-EAST live on April 20th, there were many young people of course, but also those in their 30's and 40's too.
Taka: On the right side of the floor, there was an old man of hard rock style with golden long hair who pumped his fist up and down like this (Taka mimics pumping his fist), and I was very happy to see him.(laugh)
Your fans are so energetic. I think your music is full of energy as your fans are also cheerful too, and they enjoy your live all in a sweat. It's great and I saw people of various ages and quite a lot of guys too.
Taka: Yeah we finally made it. When we first started the audience was mostly females. It was like all the people in the front row were girls in every live house (laugh). Recently we see more people wearing sneakers and T shirts instead of high-heels at our concerts. Our motivation has changed gradually, and I think people can feel that.
You went around doing a nationwide one-man live tour, and last year you did a QUATTRO tour too. Did you get a lot from that?
Alex: I think so. That was big for us. I think there was always something there for us to get, and we gradually got bigger after repeating things after we learned them.
When you went to a local area for the first time, weren't you scared about whether people would come to see you? You talked about that in your MC in Shibuya O-EAST. Usually even if a band is quite popular in Tokyo, it's hard to get much of an audience in local areas.
Taka: Yes, I was scared. This time, it was a miracle we didn't have lives that only had a few audience members. But as Alex said, when I heard we would do our tour, we thought at first, "Can we get enough of an audience?" We started thinking about that and did the rehearsals. The tour was coming, and when we went to Sendai for the first day of the tour, we found so many people there. Last time when we did our in-store event in Sendai, not all of the people who gathered there were our fans, but this time we found that our fans had increased, and we realized, "All of the people in the audience who gather here today are coming to see us." When I recognized that, we had to go up to the next step, and we decided to make sure that we gave a live the audience would really like and want to come to again. When we have to go up to the next step, we think we have to not just do 'good lives' but do 'awesome lives' to get a bigger audience. In this tour, it was very much like that, moving from one level to the next. There were many things we could see for ourselves without having to be told, and that too naturally was put into our music and performances.
You guys have released a lot in a very short time, and you perform a lot. Do you have any free time left?
Taka: I don't have enough time now.
Don't you feel a lot of stress building up?
Taka: I sometimes feel that. I often think "Uwaaaaah~~~~!", but when I consider things, if I don't do this, I have nothing left. I'm not so studious. I don't have a driver's license, so I can't be a driver(laugh), for example, a truck driver.(laugh)
All: Hey! You would never do that!(burst out laughing)
Taka: Well, yes, I know that.....but my choice for jobs would become so narrow.(laugh)........I considered that, and feel like "If I don't do the best I can do, I can't do anything else." So how I spend my time determines whether it becomes a plus, a minus or a zero for me. Whenever I feel like I don't want to do something, I try to think, "Yes, I can stop this, but nothing will be left for me to do."(laugh) So naturally I started to work harder recently.
Ryota: Only these two (Taka and Toru) appear in interviews and radio programs, but we (Ryota, Tomoya and Alex) are quite active too.(laugh)
Alex: We are so-called relaxation professionals.(laugh) We are the kind of people who want to reduce our stress by moving our bodies, doing things like playing baseball, so we play sports.
Do you make a team with the three of you?
Ryota: Uh~~~n, I don't do it.
Tomoya: Now my best way to relax is playing baseball for a while, but before I played billiards, and go.
Go seems to take quite long time!?
Tomoya: Yes, I know~.(laugh) I do mahjong and various things too. I also play ping pong. Ah, I bought my racket to play.(laugh)
You really get into things, don't you?(laugh)
Tomoya: Yes, I do. But I easily get tired of them too.(laugh) Anyway, I'm doing various things.
If you are addicted to go, that's terrible.
Tomoya: Yes. And I concentrate on it so much that it makes me tired.(laugh)
In May you will release your album BEAM OF LIGHT; what can we expect of it and how will it be different from your previous releases?
Taka: Japan and America are totally different, and our music certainly features Western music, and we were quite conscious of that more than before, so I just want people to listen to it casually. I'm a little embarrassed to say, "We like America!" and it seems offensive to me to say like "We, Japanese made this CD." The best way for it to be listened to is just to hear us as normal artists. I hope people listen to it casually.
When you made this album, did you see the world, not only Japan, when you made the songs?
Taka: Not really~. As I like melodies best, I concentrated on that most, just like in our other work. I was not conscious of anything in particular this time. I think our favorite music and the music we make are more global. So we really want to do lives in America too. We want to see how much our work will be accepted.
This work has more of a driving feeling than before.
Taka: Yes. This time, we played like we do in lives, so this work tends to be more up-tempo than our previous work, and has quite a driving feeling to it.
If you play these songs in your lives, the lives will be really something. I like the third song 100%(hundred percent) and the fifth song White Ball especially. During the live at Shibuya O-EAST, you performed BEAM OF LIGHT for the first time, and as you said in your MC, did you promise to make a song for them?
Taka: Yes. As I said before, "I found something new in lives." I found something new in the final live in QUATTRO, and I wanted to shape my feelings of "Thank you."
Your English pronunciation is excellent.
Taka: Thank you, but I'm still learning pronunciation. I really want to be able to speak well. If I could make more nuances in slang, it would be cooler, so I want to learn more.
If foreign people listen to your songs, they will think you can speak English well, I think.
Taka: Really!?(laugh) I'm so bad.....but thanks!(laugh)
Do you all have a personal favorite song of ONE OK ROCK?
Alex: In BEAM OF LIGHT, I like Necessity maker (Hitsuzen maker).
This song is good in its contrast of silence and movement.
Alex: It's also easy to understand.
By the way, Alex, you prefer to make rather quiet ballads, right? Is it because you used to play classic guitar?
Alex: Uh~~~n, I don't really know. I make totally different songs depending on my feelings. For example in our previous album Luxe Sick (Zeitakubyou), I made Mirage (Kagerou) and Lujo, which are quiet and wild respectively.
Mirage is a good song, isn't it?
Alex: Yes. I tried to make it 'a good song' for anyone listening to it.
I was so impressed listening to Et Cetera in your live. Taka put so much emotion into the song.
Ryota: I really like Crazy Botch. It's very fun to play. I think it's the best to have fun while playing. I enjoy playing it in our lives.
Vocals are difficult in this song, don't you think so?
Taka: Well~, every song is difficult this time. It took a long time to put the melody on this one. But the sound of this song is very cool. So I hated to make it more pop as I put on the melody. Alex finally thought of a melody and I expanded on that and made the song into what it is.
Are there times when you can't add the lyrics easily?
Taka: Yes, but not often. English lyrics are hard. I don't know English words, or sentences, or grammar well, so I sing in English roughly. I make use of the inspiration I get and just put it into the lyrics. That's the best way. When working in Japanese, I understand the meanings of the words so it's easier to do.
Toru: I like all of our songs.
So you can't choose one of them?
Toru: Well, each of them is totally different. Every song has its own color and shape. I listen to various songs and think each one has its own good points.
If you had to choose one song?(laugh)
Toru: No~, I like all of them.(laugh)
Tomoya: If I dare to choose, it's White ball.
Tomoya: I love listening to this song, as I'm encouraged by it. It begins with a mysterious intro and works up to the main melody. I think this is a good song.
100%(hundred percent) and White ball seem to be liked by American people.
Alex: I play guitar like I'm an American.(laugh)
Taka: I....don't like finished songs so much....I like to play songs in our lives so I can be freer, but....maybe, I like songs more before they are finished.
You mean you like songs of your demo tapes?
Taka: When songs are finished, they are completed. Comparing it to women, I lose my interest when I know everything about them too. With songs, after I finish recording them, I only listen to them for 3-4 days. Of course, I listen to them many times, and as I absorb the songs, I feel like that is enough for me. So it's more difficult for me to keep listening to and research them continuously. I often think that the audience listens to our CD and then comes to our lives, so we have to show more than what is on our CD, or at least the same level as our CD.
As I listen to my songs in our lives, they are totally different from the CD. How you sing and how you make voices are so different. And voices are totally different song by song, so it's very difficult to do it in lives as I don't use an effecter in live shows. So I think I have to listen to the songs more carefully. After we finish songs, I listen to them as I think about that. So I don't have favorites after I finish them basically. I think I purely like songs we haven't finished yet. For example, we'll do pre-production after this interview and we'll make songs, so I'm excited about that. I'll be in a studio and listen to the sounds I sing, and I'll feel like "They have become much cooler~."(laugh)
But for example, in lives, do you feel freshness in singing songs you have done for a long time?
Taka: Well, it's a different feeling somehow. It's like I poke a part of my body where it feels good, which I do on the stage. The part I touch is different depending on the songs, like here is this song, and here is that song. (Taka touches his body.)
Do you feel that, as you are singing?
How about other members? Do you have any experiences where you find something new in your lives after recording?
Alex: No, I don't. I put my feelings into our lives, so I don't think they are the same as our CDs.
Do you reflect after you finish a live every time?
Taka: Yes, we do. But we haven't reached the level yet where we can reflect properly. Well, we found that we have to work harder this time, as we are still in a lower level, and I feel like we'll reflect more on things like this in future. Each of us has to listen more carefully, absorb more and express it in our lives.
You are quite severe on yourself.(laugh)
Taka: Yes, I am. We have to be.
ONE OK ROCK has also attracted a lot of attention overseas. What do you think about this, and would you like to perform overseas in some way?
All: That is the first time I heard that~.(laugh)
Don't you receive fan letters from overseas?
All: No, we don't.(laugh)
Taka: However, I saw some foreigners at our lives.
Toru: Yes, yes. When I saw questionnaires after our lives, I found a few sheets written in English. Ah, when we did a live in Shibuya, there were 5 people who came from Sweden.
Do you want to play overseas?
Any particular region?
Taka: I want to play in America.
How do you think that would be? Would it be very different for you to stand in front of a foreign audience instead of a Japanese one?
Taka: I think they'll be great to play for.
Toru: I think they are very distinctive. If they like the music, they'll react well, but if they don't like it, they might boo I think. We don't know how they are unless we go there and find out. I want to do our lives, have them listen to our CDs, and I hope they enjoy our music.
Looking back on these three years of ONE OK ROCK, what achievements are you most proud of?
Alex: Our first album Luxe Sick (Zeitakubyou), released in November 2007, which was ranked 9th place in the 'new album' section of the Oricon yearly ranking.
Taka: No way! Really? Didn't someone in our manager's office make that up? (laugh)
All: (burst out laughing)
No, no, you guys are great. You did a one-man live tour last year in QUATTRO after only two years!
All: Yeah~, that's our achievement!(laugh)
And it's also your great achievement that you bring more and more fans to your lives!?
Taka: Right, so I want to work harder. As we work harder, we can attract more people.
Do you have any goals you would like to achieve as a band?
Toru: Well, it's not a goal but a transit point that I want to play in a big venue in Japan, and I want to play lives overseas for experience. We have to work hard to meet many people in many places and to send our music to them. I think we can enjoy doing that, so we'll make albums continuously to make things clear one by one, and have various people listen to our music.
Taka: I want to release our CDs overseas.
Please give a message for JaME readers.
Alex: Please listen to our CDs and try to understand the meaning of the lyrics that you like. Overcome geographical borders, and just listen to our music. If you like it, please come to see our lives some day, and I want to enjoy our lives with you.
Ryota: When we go overseas to do lives, please come see us. We want to be a band that can be recognized all over the world.
Toru: I want different people listen to our music. Our CDs are not sold in all of your countries, but maybe you can check our music easily on YouTube. If you get interested in us, please listen to our music and invite us to your countries for lives or events someday, saying for example, "Please do your live here." I think it's not so easy to do lives overseas, but we want to do it, so if there are fans inviting us, I'll be very happy.
Tomoya: I really want to do lives overseas someday, so please come to see us when we do.
Taka: We'll release more and more CDs. We'll do our best to accomplish as much as we can, release CDs overseas, and work hard to send our songs to you, so please support us.
Many thanks to ONE OK ROCK for taking the time to answer our questions.