Not be confused with the British band of the same name, this Japanese rock act have been making quite an impression internationally with their brand of hard rock and unique image.
I was fortunate to catch up with them online and asked founding members HYDE and K.A.Z their thoughts on vampires, time travel and, erm, internet marketing.
You recently played Rock On The Range in Ohio and I understand you were received very well by an audience quite unfamiliar with you. Why do you think this was?
HYDE: It was one of the few U.S. festivals we’ve done so far, and closer to the end of our set I noticed there was a mosh pit in the crowd. If we had played longer, we would have been able to get the crowd going even crazier! The fact that we’ve gotten used to playing these festivals abroad certainly helped I’m sure, but that’s probably not the only reason. I mean, we’re proud of ourselves as a live band, so maybe people caught on to that, I’m not sure. There was a build-up, too. We were opening up for SIXX:A.M leading up to that show, so maybe that played a part, too.
There’s so much interest in Japanese rock acts recently. What are your thoughts on this?
K.A.Z: We didn’t really feel that when we toured the U.S. to be honest.
HYDE: Probably the only Japanese rock act that people are interested in is BABYMETAL, you know? (laughs)
But still, compared to a few years ago, there’s more awareness of Japanese music in the western music markets. Have you felt that?
HYDE: That’s probably true, but to be honest, it’s hard to tell because we haven’t played that many shows yet. I remember the last time we toured the U.S. we played the WARPED tour and nobody knew about us. But once we start playing on stage, people start to gather and the crowd grew. Compared to back then, I feel that we’ve improved as a band and have more experience behind us, so we are able to attract new audience even more now.
Do you think that the internet plays a big role in spreading Japanese music worldwide?
K.A.Z: Because there’s so much information on the internet already, it’s almost impossible for someone who aren’t familiar with VAMPS to stumble on to our music via the internet. You need something to lead you there like hearing from a friend who’s been to our shows etc. You can’t just put your music up there and hope people will listen to it. You have to find a way for people to look for your music and make them want to listen to your music. People won’t listen to your music just by seeing your name on a website. You have to do something to generate interest, and I think playing shows and performing our music in front of people who may not know us is the best way to do it. People might go “hey, they sound interesting,” or “Wow, these guys are from Japan. That’s cool!” or whatever. We’re a strong live band, so we hope more and more people will get into our music from seeing us perform live.
This year sees you play at Hyper Japan in London alongside Ling Tosite Sigure, [Alexandros] and Okamoto’s. What are your expectations of the London audience?
HYDE: The show we’re playing this time is kind of like a showcase for Japanese bands. We’re used to playing our own shows, but like K.A.Z was saying, these showcase events are a great opportunity to bring awareness to Japanese music. When we go and play our own shows, we don’t feel like we’re representing Japan or anything. But these types of events are all about Japan, so it feels quite different. But I definitely think it’s one way to get your name out there. If you’re able to get a good reaction from the London crowd this time, it’s something you can build up on for the future. I guess it all comes down to whether you can put on an exciting performance or not. That’s the key. And I feel as VAMPS, we’re sounding really tight at the moment. It should be a great show.
You’ve played in London before, but what is your impression of London audiences?
HYDE: I remember seeing a lot of cute girls in the audience (laughs). I wouldn’t go as far as to say they were equally loud as the Japanese fans, but we did feel a lot of love from them. I felt it we keep going back, the audience will be more familiar with our shows and get crazier. But then again, every country is different and they have their own way of enjoying and getting excited, so it will be fun to see how the audience will react this time.
Some fans travelled hundreds of miles across America to see you perform at different shows. Does this surprise you?
HYDE: We feel more flattered than surprised. We get quite spoiled by our fans in Japan but nobody cares about us in other countries (laughs), so even if it is just one fan in the crowd, we feel so grateful. Just the other day – I think it was in San Francisco – it was late at night and we had just finished rehearsing, and we came out of the venue not expecting any fans to be waiting for us. There was this blond girl waiting outside but we didn’t think she was waiting for us. We thought she was probably waiting for Nikki Sixx or someone. But the next day when we played on stage, she was there dancing in the very front and we realized that she was actually waiting for us! That made us really happy. There may not be that many yet, but there are core fans that make an effort to come to our shows and we are so grateful to them. It can get tough touring in other countries away from home, but they make it all worth it.
You seem to style yourself to some extent on mid 1980’s bands like Motley Crue, Guns n Roses. Were these influences on you? What other bands have shaped your style?
HYDE: That was some of the first music I listened to growing up. Also, there was a certain toxic element you felt from those bands, which you don’t see that much these days. A lot of the bands now don’t even drink alcohol. People might say it has nothing to do with the music, but for me, it had a lot to do with the music. Rock n’ Roll music isn’t supposed to be healthy.
K.A.Z : There should be a sense of danger to it.
HYDE: Yeah. That’s the whole appeal. It’s like cigarettes and alcohol. As a kid you fantasize about them because you’re not supposed to go near them. I don’t want to be a band that forgets all that and all of a sudden puts on a clean image and sings about how everything is going to be OK tomorrow, you know (laughs)? That fundamental Rock n Roll attitude is something I never want to lose. Because I believe that is the essence of rock music.
What other bands have shaped your style?
HYDE: I love Linkin Park. Also, what Marilyn Manson does is something I’ve been doing for a long time and can really relate to. The whole blasphemy stuff can sometimes get too much (laughs), but in terms of dealing with the contradictions we face in this world, the things all human beings have, I think he’s got a point. He does get a lot of criticism for it especially from the Christian society, but he’s basically singing about the paradoxical nature of the human world, which I can totally understand.
If you could travel back in time to the mid 1980’s and meet one of your favorite bands, what would you tell them and why?
HYDE: I heard Nikki Sixx used to be a jerk back then (laughs). I’d really like to meet Nikki when we was a real badass. Probably because he went through some pretty rough times and became who he is now. Some of it may have been exaggerated, but I would love to see how crazy he actually was.
K.A.Z: Instead of meeting a band, I would love to go to a festival that happened in the mid-80s. Just to get to see all the bands at their peak and soak in the vibe.
If you were going to be played on US/UK radio, what songs would you like to be played before and after your song?
K.A.Z: We’ve never been asked that question before.
HYDE: I would like to hear them play Linkin Park and then VAMPS and then Depeche Mode.
Any particular song?
HYDE: I don’t mind. Personally I like the earlier stuff from Linkin Park and as far as Depeche Mode, I love all of their stuff.
What about you K.A.Z?
K.A.Z: Musically they are quite different from us, but maybe play AC/DC before us and…. I don’t know… I would love to hear our songs played at strip clubs. You know how like in the movies they play a lot of classic hard rock music at strip clubs in the US. Like Motley Crue are the perfect example. It would be cool to hear our music played in that kind of environment. It would make us feel like we’ve joined the Rock n Roll boy’s club.
At the time you formed Vamps did you have any idea you would be this popular?
HYDE: I thought we would be way much bigger than this (laughs)! This is hardly what I’d imagined at all. We have a long way to go especially on an international level.
I love vampire films and my favorite is Cronos by Guillermo Del Toro What’s your favorite vampire film?
HYDE: It’s not a cult movie or anything but my favorite to this day is “Interview With The Vampire.” I’ve read a lot of Anne Rice’s novels and really like her depiction of vampires. They seem more real, modern and there’s something sexy about them.
K.A.Z: I don’t know if it’s my favorite one, but there’s this vampire movie I saw as a child and I remember it being really scary. I don’t even remember the title, but it was in black and white and there was this scene where a carriage passes through a graveyard full of dead bodies stabbed by crosses. It’s a really old film that I saw at a really young age. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but it certainly was the scariest.
If real vampires could form a band, what kind of music do you think they would play?
HYDE: They would sound exactly like us. We are your living proof.
Vamps headline Japan Night at Hyper Japan on July 10 and 11 at London’s O2.