Scandal are a Japanese all-girl rock band and while relatively unknown on our shores, are bigger than the proverbial Godzilla in their home country. The group have sold out practically every leg of their current world tour, including 2 nights at the mighty 20,000 capacity Budokan in Tokyo and were in the UK to play a capacity concert at the Islington O2 Academy on April 26.
And I have been granted a very rare interview with this enigmatic act.
“Don’t worry! It will be just you, me and the girls” Tom Smith, founder of JPU Records assures me. So I am in no way shocked or surprised or caught off guard when an assortment of dozens of entourage pitch up; cameras, laptops and mobile phones waving everywhere. Bugger.
As our interview starts it is painfully clear everyone is a little nervous; the band studiously avoid eye contact and gaze at the floor; I am sitting on my hands, not because they are cold but because they are shaking and for the two circling camera crews the whole affair must look rather ridiculous.
Tomomi (bass) is particularly withdrawn and looks almost sad so I decide to tell her she has been able to inspire some fans to take up an bass again. And this seems to be the moment when all the girls are able to finally relax. Tomomi seems genuinely delighted to have had such a positive influence “I am extremely happy to have inspired anyone and this will make me practice even harder!”
Scandal’s music is a kind of pop-rock hybrid based on templates of McFly and Busted, but I wanted to know how the girls would describe their sound to a Western audience “we began by playing shows as an indie band in America” says Haruna (guitar and vocals) “we learned lots from live performances, watching the reactions of the crowds and absorbing the culture” she adds. They tell me their influences are “Greenday!”, Rina (drummer) adds “Foo Fighters”, “Weezer” while Hiruna (vocals, guitar) likes “Taylor Swift”, but I can’t be sure she’s serious because the translator has started to laugh.
The band are now regaling me with stories of their tour so far “we were given a CD by a Spanish band who are playing J-Pop and J-Rock songs with English and Japanese music” giggles Rina “we haven’t listened to it yet but there is a song about baking a cake!”. When I point out that some fans followed them over from their Paris show the night before their London date Mami (guitar) excitedly says “some Japanese fans came all the way over from Japan to watch our show because they knew how important it was for us” adding “this is a great privilege for us!”
What I find refreshing about Scandal is the fact they play their own instruments and play their own instrument well ; this is not the norm for UK girl groups “over in Japan it is unusual too” muses Haruna “when we started [in 2006] it was because of our love for the music and it was hard to find other female musicians” and Tomomi chips in “but lately there are more girls playing instruments in Japan”.
There has been a real interest in Japanese music this past year with groups such as The Gazette, AKB48, XJapan and Babymetal all making considerable inroads internationally “I think Japanese music has always been influenced by Western acts from the Beatles onward and this is maybe why we appeal to a Western audience” says Rina “I think also people are intrigued by Japanese bands playing Western style music” she muses.
As our interview winds up it is clear that all signs of nerves have evaporated and smiles abound. The girls have a day off the next day “where should we go!?” asks Haruna rather cheekily, “Richmond Park” I say “it has deer!”. As I gather from the following coos of approval, Scandal rather like deer.
A Best of Scandal CD is available from JPU Records on 4th May and they tour the USA, Mexico and Hong Kong later in the year.
All images copyright Epic Japan, Sony Music Japan