This is the extended Q&A from the London interview I went to a few weeks back.
The flowery, narrative huffpost version c’est ici! Merci bien!
ETJ= Emily Thorpe-Jones
CM: How would you describe your music to your best friend’s grandmother?
LB: Well, I know the lady in question is dead and we’re alive, so that’s a start. We are a fusion of Japanese pop music and heavy metal music with a particularly Japan-centric dance performance, featuring two small Japanese girls beside an Australian man with a beard and a dress.
CM: So Ladybeard, I used to Thai box and then I made the transition into bboy and breakdancing and found the transition between the two quite deceptively cardiovascularily draining. Have you found the same?
LB: Yup, yup! Dancing is a nightmare, particularly dancing and singing at the same time. And here’s what most people don’t realise: a lot of Western acts use lip-sync because it’s so frikin hard to do a proper dance performance and a proper vocal performance at the same time! So I tell people that want to lose weight, go learn Nippon Manju, do that three times twice a week and you’ll be fine. It’s so exhausting. It’s a cardiovascular SLAM!
To Rei and Rie, what were your first impressions meeting of Ladybeard?
Rei: I thought personally he was a crazy man but now I realise he is quite serious about his job and a perfectionist. Because we became famous so very quickly there might be a possibility that we might not keep this momentum he encourages us to keep practicing as he never stops practicing.
Rie: When I first met Beardchan he had a cute Hello Kitty business card holder and he was really loud and very energetic but really really cute.
CM: Staying on something you’ve mentioned, you have risen to fame very quickly, are you surprised by that?
Rei: Because we got famous very quickly this might mean we lose it very quickly too, so for us the focus for us now is to keep working hard so we don’t let that happen.
LB: One of the most interesting things about this is that it was never intended to be seen outside of Japan, ever. But I suspected we’d get attention from outside Japan but I thought it would be the Otaku community. One of the most beautiful things to happen with Nippon Manju is that a bunch of happy accidents occurred to make the video the freak show that it is; like my friend that translated, my manager didn’t say it was for a music video so he was like “no worries” [but] if you understand the Japanese the logic of it makes perfect sense, but if you don’t then it’s a freakshow, right “we’re going to outdo our singers” “come and try many Japanese products?!” it’s like what the hell am I watching! So without all those happy accidents coming together I don’t think it would have been as unique as it is and we would have not got the popularity to the same extent.
Rie: I do think it is a rare opportunity. But becoming so popular so quickly means we have to do lots of dance lessons and work hard so that we can keep the fame.
LB: The other interesting thing is that being idols as we are in Japan the idol system is something that I’m still trying to get used to because a lot of it revolves around taking girls who are very very young, you put them on stage and they’re not very good and that’s the point! And over time the fans take joy in watching them get better. So it’s like a paternal relationship but to a westerner it’s like “why am I paying $50 to see a show if it’s not ace?” So for me that’s been a very strange thing to get used to. And for the position we’re in now, where we’re on a global level, we have to balance that Western expectation of “I’m going to a show, I expect it to be perfect” and that whole thing of being idols and Ganbare [having to get better over time] which is going to be a difficult balancing act.
The other thing as well of course is that BABYMETAL have come before us and their show is watertight. So they’ve set the standard and now we have to – as well as doing something a little bit different – be at the same level as them or we’re going to be seen as the cheap BABYMETAL imitations.
CM: OK, I’m going out on a limb here Ladybeard. I’m from Scotland and as you know we invented cross dressing with our kilts and what people don’t realise is how comfortable wearing a dress is. Have you found that as well?
LB: [laughs] Hell yeah! This is one of the huge things that got me into it in the first place. One of the big advantages I find – being the wrestler and martial artist that I am – is it makes kicking much easier when you’re not restricted by PANTS! You’re not going to rip any pants; you’re not going to go for the head kick and get stuff stuck. None of that is going to happen. It’s incredibly comfortable isn’t it? And the freedom of movement is sensational. There’s also less sweat in the summer time; much more breeze in the wintertime, that’s the trade off.
ETJ: Your outfits are fantastic. What inspires your fashion.
Rie: The costumes come from Clearstone and the designer is called [inaudible] and we don’t design them ourselves but the concept is pop and kawaii and Harajuka and Akihabira [the colours].
For Nippon Manju, inside and outside Japan has become influenced by kawaii and pop culture and you can see this with artists like Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. For Ladybaby it is a about introducing Japanese culture to the world and celebrating it together.
CM: To the two girls, is there much conflict between touring and studying?
Rei: Mmmm, it’s not really difficult to do both because my thing is to chase your dreams, do what you like and actually I don’t like studying!
Rie: Being in LADYBABY is so fun and there’s lots to learn and has actually helped me feel less stressed. For me it is one of the most important thinfs in my life right now.
ETJ: What are the main differences in the crowds in different parts of the world that you have noticed?
LB: Ooooh, that’s a good question! The Japense audience is decidedly Japanese. They have their own way of being an audience, right. So one of the most amazing things about going to concerts in Japan is watching the audience. If you go to a big show – like I saw BABYMETAL in Chiba and it was 10,000 people all doing the dance moves at the same time. AMAZING, right? But from the balcony you look at that and as a Westerner you’re like “what the hell’s going on?”. So the Japanese fans have their own way of doing everything and they sing along and dance at the right moments and do all the call and response.
We’re finding in the West within the audience is the Otakus and then there are the non-Otakus who know who we are and are fans and then there are everyone else who are just seeing us for the first time and they are three distinct separate groups within the audience.
The response outside Japan has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been very surprised by how much support we’ve had from the live audiences. I expected them to be tougher on us; I expected them to be much more particular about us being….mind-blowing basically!
I knew the Otakus would be cool with it because they’re Otakus and they’re going to dig it because it’s from Japan but [the support] from everyone else has been the big surprise for me.
[Rei talks about Otake – I think – and Ladybeard explains]
LB: Oh my God, you go to a live show and there would be a mountain of them and they often have glow sticks and they do this dance BUT IT’S A WHOLE SYSTEM and during the song they’ll yell out, but they’ll do that in every song, so they’ve found a way of fitting it in everywhere [laughs]. So the blessed Japanese audiences have their own way of doing everything, I mean they have THEIR OWN WAY OF DOING EVERYTHING!!! EVERYTHING!!
Sorry. Let’s continue.
Rei: The Japanese audience have their own response and things they do and they enjoy the gig together as an audience. Also the way they take on the rhythm of the music is quite different for some reason; the way they go for the music. So even if it’s the same song, because you go to different locations, somehow the music sounds totally different because people there are different.
Rie: So the Japanese audience has a lot of response but if there are people that don’t look like they’re enjoying the show, those people are encouraged to join in. However when I visited New York they actually listen to the music and enjoy that first, so they look like they enjoy the music.
LB: Woah, this is getting deeper and deeper down this rabbit hole. I think one of the quintessential differences in Japanese culture is that Western culture is much more centered around the individual whereas Asian culture is centered around the group. So if you’re at a show in Japan you’re expected to operate with the group whereas the shows I’ve been to in Australia and what not, there would be a circle pit going and then there’s the one dude running backwards because he wants to be the one guy that’s different from everyone else! Whereas in Japan if you do that kind of thing you kind of get kicked out of the group! From that stems a huge difference in audience reaction.
Anything I got wrong? Somethings got lost in translation I think. Corrections in the comments plz.