Earlier this year, ROLLY, a well-known singer and guitarist, and one of the main figureheads of glam rock in Japan, granted us an exclusive interview to talk about his career and his future projects.
While most Japanese fans will probably know of ROLLY for his music career and work as the leader of the glam rock band Scanch, in the West he is mostly known for his acting skills, especially for his interpretation
of the role of Genesis in the 2002 Japanese thriller "Suicide Circle". He has also appeared in the films "Swallowtail" and "Get It On?" and voiced the character Yaha in the PlayStation 2 game "Drag-on Dragoon 2". Read
on to learn more about his unique persona and illustrious career.
Could you please introduce yourself, for any readers who may not know you yet?
ROLLY: Hello, my name is ROLLY. After I debuted as the vocalist and guitarist of the band Scanch in 1990, I was chosen to play the role of Frank-N-Furter in 1995 in the musical “The Rocky Horror
Picture Show”, that you may all know. For the next 30 years, I somehow stayed active by doing rock music, theatre, movies and children’s TV programs. I’m a 57 year-old Virgo who is about to turn 58. My favourite food is frankfurters.
In 2020, you celebrated the 30th anniversary of your major debut with the band Scanch. Could you tell us more about this band? Why did you embark on a career in music, and what were your influences at that time?
ROLLY: We are a four-member rock band named “Scanch”, a slang word from the Kansai region of Japan that when read backwards means “the smell of cheese”, according to my American friend.
One day after eight years of living in obscurity in my hometown of Osaka, which is called Japan’s Hollywood, a recruiter from Sony Records suddenly called me and said “I’ve listened to your music. I’ll take you as far as Madison Square Garden!”
(Supplemental note: It was as a tempting phrase, as if saying “I’ll make you big enough to perform live on a big stage overseas!”).
I was inspired by “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and Disney movies and music. Also Queen and Led Zeppelin, and Scorpions and FRUMPY from Germany. I was influenced by glam rock
bands like Gary Glitter as well.
You are a fan of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Tim Burton and the band KISS. Would you say that you fancy a certain overdone, glam, kitsch/camp, humorous lifestyle and view of rock & roll?
ROLLY: I think listing my favorite movies would give you an idea of my interests, so I’ll list a few: “TOMMY”, “Phantom of the Paradise” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” “House of 1000 Corpses”, “Velvet Goldmine”, “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Galaxy
Quest”. When I’m not on stage, I’m no different than the average middle-aged Japanese person. (Because this is Japan.)
In the West, you are frequently labeled "The Japanese David Bowie". How do you feel when you read that? Was Bowie an important influence for you as an artist?
ROLLY: About 20 years ago, a French film director came to film a fake documentary about a fictional David Bowie-like superstar who died and whose friends talk about his memories. The French film director actually visited me and
took me on a drive. Also, I had a fictitious interview for it at Rainbow Bridge. Even though it was fake, it was a great honour to be chosen to play the role of David’s friend because David Bowie is admired by all earthlings.
However, there’s no information about whether or not the movie was released, and I’ve been called the boy who cried wolf.
You cultivate a very androgynous appearance through the use of makeup and glamorous styling. What drives you to such artistic and aesthetic choices?
ROLLY: When I was three years old, I would secretly put on a bra and panties, makeup, and fishnet tights and I felt extreme pleasure when I’d look at myself in the mirror. I thought of the alluring beauty and singing voice of people like Marlene
Dietrich and Greta Garbo who I had seen on TV and in magazines and I’d think “I want to become like that, too!”. And then the old house maid saw me and called a family meeting and I was forbidden from cross-dressing for many
Japanese society is often said to be ruled by conformity. There are many rules, many of them strict yet unspoken. In your youth, and maybe even today, you might have felt like the odd one out, a provocative and sometimes misunderstood personality.
And yet, you stayed true to yourself to this day. How do you feel about today's youth and what would your message to them be?
ROLLY: I appreciate that you have asked this question after understanding what it is like for me to exist in Japanese society. So, my answer to your question is, “Even if you search the earth...no, the solar system and outer space, you are the
only you, so you are the centre of the entire universe and the star of your own magnificent, spectacular documentary film!” I think it’s important for them to know that the earth is watching over us and monitoring both our good and bad deeds, and this
applies not just to humans but even extends to animals, birds, fish, trees, water and microorganisms.
Some people say that visual kei is a glam rock subgenre. Both as a solo artist and with Scanch, you have never been labeled as a visual kei artist. In your opinion, what differentiates glam rock from visual kei?
ROLLY: That is a very interesting question. I’m very sorry if I am mistaken but I will state my own opinion. Visual kei is “dark purple” in colour and the theme is “death”. The performances are very skillful and they turn loneliness or
a dark internal world view into beautiful makeup while also eating onigiri from the convenience store sometimes. Furthermore, there are many people who are very smart and show their talents in business.
Compared to visual kei, glam rock is “gold” in colour and the theme is “living it up in Dubai”. The performances have a prevalent influence from old rock and a light-handed playing method hasn’t been prohibited.
But no one has performed like that for almost 40 years. If someone were to do that, they’d end up being in the metal genre. It features makeup that ascends beauty and aesthetics and embodies the life of that person as a performer, and people who play
it will be respected by just having a long career.
You are mostly known in the West for your role as Muneo ‘Genesis’ Suzuki in the movie “Suicide Circle”, but you have also acted in other films and television productions. You also voiced several characters, such as Yaha in the “Drag-On Dragoon
2” video game and Tamatoa in the animated movie “Moana”. Why did you choose to branch into acting?
ROLLY: I was influenced by the Disney productions and musical films I had watched as a child as well as cult films. Since I was a child, I would have make-believe musicals with my two older sisters and my cousin (Makihara Noriyuki,
a top-class singer-songwriter in Japan for many years) who is six years younger than me. Somehow I have never once done singing or voice training.
You appeared in most of the episodes of “Rock Fujiyama”, an off-the-wall TV program that was produced by Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman. Can you tell us how you got to know Marty Friedman and how you became involved with this show?
ROLLY: About 14 years ago, there was a TV program called “Heavy Meta-san” before “Rock Fujiyama” where I played in the segment called “Riff Leader” where you would take turns battling with metal guitar riffs. The first song I played was
Cat Scratch Fever by Ted Nugent, who was famous in America but totally unknown to Japanese people. We got excited talking about that one song, and I realized that apart from hard rock, I surprisingly liked bubblegum music too,
and then we became friends.
A number of guests who left a strong impact on Japanese rock history appeared on “Rock Fujiyama”. Can you recall a memorable moment with a guest, or any other incidents from the show that left a strong impression on you?
ROLLY:Mr. Big’s Paul Gilbert and Marty’s “AtoZ” guitar riff were a terrific match! After all, the two of them would definitely play at a tempo faster than the original song. And accurately! Also,
when Shinya, the drummer of LUNA SEA, did a mashup of Soran Bushi (a Japanese folk song) and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. Marty and I always performed together, so I had no rhythm
and was very nervous at that moment, but when Shinya played it was explosively cool! I also performed in a group of three people with Andrew WK, and no matter what songs we played, his performances were amazing! And I’m
sure he came in normal clothes but he would change into his usual white T-shirt before going on stage. But he was a very pleasant person.
You regularly perform at Paris’s Bastille Day chanson festival, and you even played a chanson concert in Paris in 2003. How did you come to know about chanson, and what do you love so much about it?
ROLLY: The origin of my music came from Marlene Dietrich’s Lili Marleen so I naturally also listened to Édith Piaf. On the contrary, when I’d listen to Queen’s
Killer Queen, I shouted “It’s like Les Champs-Élysées!”. I discovered many musical gems of Queen’s music within the music of Édith Piaf.
Do you have a favourite French artist, or a French artist you would like to collaborate with?
ROLLY:Sylvie Vartan, Plastic Bertrand and Telephone.
What do you appreciate the most about French culture?
ROLLY: When I went to the Eiffel Tower, I heard music being performed by a big old automatic musical device (a very large street organ) out on the plaza and I listened to it for a while. I love street organs so much that I even own one.
On February 10th, you live streamed your ROLLY QUATRO SHOW2021, which unfortunately could not be streamed outside of Japan. Once the pandemic is under control, will you continue to live stream some of your concerts as a way to reach fans who
cannot attend your shows in-person?
ROLLY: It is highly likely! I am forever and always performing for the whole world, so I hope you’ll wait a little longer and be able to see it. Until then I hope you will enjoy watching me on YouTube.
What is next for ROLLY? Is there anything new you would like to try as an artist this year?
ROLLY: I will do my best to make ROLLY known to people all around the world who have slightly abnormal tastes and to be liked by them as much as possible.
Do you have a message for JaME’s readers?
ROLLY: This has been translated into many different languages and is now being read by you. When we are one day able to speak to each other telepathically, either by a development in technology or a human mutation, please tell me in what way
Scanch ("smell of cheese") has been explained and translated to you. (laughs)
JaME would like to thank ROLLY and Sony Music Artists for making this interview possible.
Scanch celebrated the 30th anniversary of their major debut in 2020, and they had planned to embark on
a tour that year to mark the occasion. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the dates had to be rescheduled. Their SCANCH'N UTOPIA TOUR kicked off at CLUB CITTA in Kanagawa on August 1st. More details ROLLY's upcoming performances
are available on his official website.
A trailer for the SCANCH'N UTOPIA TOUR can be viewed below.