exist†trace – Interview (2011) Pt. 2

Interview by David Cirone
July 22, 2011


exist†trace members Jyou, miko, Omi, Naoto, and Mally gave this interview on April 25, 2011, just 2 days after their debut American live show at Sakura-Con 2011.

There’s a sexy moment in the music video for “RESONANCE” where miko…

All: Ohhhh! We know what this question’s about!

…where miko gently licks Omi’s neck. It’s a very popular scene among your fans. There are a lot of comments about it on YouTube.

(Everybody laughs.)

miko: In Japan, when we first released the video, it was instantly a topic–

Mally: Everyone was saying, “What’s miko doing???”

Jyou: We didn’t even see it when they were shooting — we saw it later! They were just… in their own world.

Mally: We were really shocked.

Naoto: Because those shots came out so good, something else we planned for Jyou got cut.

Jyou: But I had some other cool scenes, so I got over it.

Is there competition for “cool shots” in your videos?

Jyou: We’re all pretty competitive. We all want to have something cooler than everybody else.

miko: Sometimes, when we see the other members’ scenes, we say “Aw, man…! I have to beat that!”

Jyou: In the video for “TRUE,” Naoto got a really cool scene.

(Naoto gives an intentionally evil laugh.)

Jyou: I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Mally: The drums were shot at an interesting angle, too. I think it’s going to look great.

Naoto: But… the miko and Omi parts… we haven’t seen those yet–!

What can you tell about the relationship between the bass and drums in exist†trace? How do you work together when you’re creating a new song?

Mally: We start out with just a basic beat. Then when we feel solid about that, I’ll add some fill-ins. Naoto comes in and she adds things on top of that. She’ll push harder on a certain moment, then I’ll pull it back, or the reverse. I usually record first, so I actually have a lot of freedom, and the rest I leave up to Naoto.

Naoto: Mally starts, and there are certain kicks that are decided. I’ll match them and decide what to do, but sometimes there are things that shock me. On the day of recording, all of sudden the drum parts have changed. I think, “What am I going to do?”

Mally: I’m passionate even during the recording, so sometimes things change.

Naoto: She surprises me a lot. But I like that. You have to go with the flow.

So you two have a strong trust.

Mally: Yes. Definitely.

Jyou: From our point of view, it looks like they’re really good rivals. That type of feeling comes out in their music, that’s how we get such strong rhythm.

Naoto: We’ve known each other for so long, we know each other’s habits.

Mally: I’ve never said this to her, but sometimes I put in a weird kick rhythm. I think “What’s she gonna do?” It’s a challenge. I don’t tell her where, or anything.

Naoto: No matter what she does, I work with it. I think, “Bring it on!” But nothing ever comes out that I don’t like. She does really cool things.

miko: This is rare!

Jyou: They’re complimenting each other — they’re both probably shocked!


exist†trace – Interview (2011) Pt. 1

Interview by David Cirone
June 12, 2011


exist†trace members Jyou, miko, Omi, Naoto, and Mally gave this interview on April 25, 2011, just 2 days after their debut American live show at Sakura-Con 2011.

Over 3000 fans attended your first one-man show here in America. How did it feel?

Jyou: I was so shocked. I’m still shocked.

Mally: I really can’t believe it.

Jyou: It’s not just that there were a lot of people, it’s that we were so afraid that no one knew us here.

During your Sakura-Con live show, you performed the title track from your upcoming EP “TRUE”. Fans are familiar with your other songs from music videos and your previous releases, but this was a song that no one in the audience had ever heard before. Was it a risky choice to include it?

Jyou: Our major-label debut CD “TRUE” is coming out soon, and we wanted to give our fans a glimpse of the future of exist†trace, not just the past. The other day we just finished shooting the PV for this song in Japan.

Speaking of PVs, your music videos have been very successful in building your international audience. How important are music videos to the band?

miko: With videos we’re able to express ourselves through a visual format. Our songs all start just as audible experiences, so the videos bring a new dimension. For our overseas fans who can’t see us regularly in Japan, it’s the best way for them to get to know us.

You’ve talked about wanting to do more shows in America. Why is America an important audience for you?

Jyou: From the beginning, it was always our dream to go to America. Miko especially really loves America!

Mally: Because we’d already been to Europe twice, one of our dreams had been realized. So it’s natural for us think about the next dream. And here we are.

Naoto: Simply stated, 10 songs wasn’t enough. As soon as the last song finished, we all knew we wanted to do more.

Why do you choose to become a visual kei band?

Jyou: When we started, there were no female visual kei groups. We didn’t think there was any reason there shouldn’t be one.

Naoto: Growing up, I was really affected by visual kei style. This style allows us to express ourselves. It didn’t seem wrong that there could be a group of all girls, so why shouldn’t we be the ones?

Does visual kei allow you to create a new persona? Does this give you more freedom?

Mally: I agree, I can express myself more freely. I have a lot of complex feelings inside, but I can express myself this way. I think my true personality can come through, and it makes me feel really strong.

Omi: I can become the person I want to be. Within this style of performing, I’m doing what I want to do, and it’s got nothing to do with being male or female. It’s really fun. I love doing it.


TAIA – Seeds of Rain (Review)

Seeds of Rain

Review by David Cirone


TAIA’s fearless use of keyboard synthesizers and trademark mid-song tempo changes set them apart from the current wave of female-fronted J-Rock bands. The 6th band member on keyboards isn’t just an afterthought — it’s an essential part of their dramatic rock style. Their album Seeds of Rain foregoes mosh-pit metal in favor of thoughtfully designed and soulfully executed musicianship.

Opening tracks “Praise,” “Magnolia,” and “Asagiri” prove they’ve got their rocking hearts in the right place, but the blending of hard-rock guitars, ethereal keyboards, and SEIKA’s vocals solidifies in the album’s mid-section.

“Tapestry” and “Whiteout” are a powerhouse combination of tracks that start a magical and turbulent dream-like section within the album, diving deep into subconcious desires. The instrumental “Light pierce a cloud…” seems oddly placed at first until it connects seemlessly with “Ametosumato’s” hypnotic rhythms.

“Another Aspect” and “Shine, at last” are strong guitar-rock tracks to finish the album.

Recommended tracks: Kazamai, Tapestry, Magnolia, Another Aspect

Seeds of Rain - Taia
Download TAIA – Seeds of Rain on iTunes

tokyo pinsalocks – LU-LA Hallelujah (PV)

tokyo pinsalocks – LU-LA Hallelujah (PV)

For anybody who didn’t already know about tokyo pinsalocks’ not-so-secret crush on Devo, the Japanese all-girl techno-synth trio just released their new video for “LU-LA Hallelujah” from their January 2012 album Hallelujah Girls. ハレルヤガールズ

Drummer Reiko seems to be the most transformed by the neon makeover — it’s a creepy-cool effect that warps into the tokyo pinsalocks’ swirly, psychedelic space-travel visuals.

SpecialThanks – SEVEN LOVERS (Review)


Review by David Cirone


Indie Japanese pop-punk group SpecialThanks’ first full-length CD SEVEN LOVERS builds on the success of their earlier EPs SEVEN COLORS and SEVEN SHOWERS. The 14-track album puts vocalist/guitarist Masaki squarely at the forefront, but benefits from solid instrumental and background vocal support from band-mates Lupin (bass, backing vocals), Sean (guitar, backing vocals) and Nochi (drums).

Opening track “1.2.3! 4.5.6.!” shows off Masaki’s ready-for-anything, spunky attitude (standard for girl-fronted J-punk), but the album confidently shifts to a surprising melody in the next track “You = Music I Love”. This sets the stage for a series of songs revealingSEVEN LOVERS’ overall theme of personal relationships.

The lead single “Hello Colorful” is solid pop, with a chorus that will stick in your head all day. Masaki’s vocals are especially confident here and in the following “Morning Coffee,” where she repeats “I will do better than her” over and over through the song’s climax.

In “He looks tired these days,” Masaki finds clarity in a relationship that may be taking its final turn. Nochi’s drums and Sean’s guitar work add dramatic urgency and finally take over the end of the song where words no longer help the situation.

Just in case you think things have gotten too serious, the short-and-sweet “Make You Happy” shows the band’s aggressive side and slaps you in the face for a minute-and-a-half before making a quick getaway. “My name is SUN” is a trippy detour that betrays a Beatles-leaning sensibility. “Anything” is SEVEN LOVERS’ longest track (over 6 minutes) with a traditional verse/chorus structure, and it’s a credit to the versatilty of the band that it doesn’t seem out of place in an album scattered with power-punk.

With SEVEN LOVERS, SpecialThanks has created a fun and fast-moving album that signals a step forward past their pop-punk roots.

Recommended tracks: Hello Colorful, He looks tired these days, Anything, You = Music I Love

Buy SpecialThanks – SEVEN LOVERS at CDJapan

Seven Lovers - SpecialThanks
Download SpecialThanks – SEVEN LOVERS on iTunes

Onmyouza – Kongo Kyuubi (Review)


Review by David Cirone


Onmyouza is a 10-year legend for metal fans in Japan, and they dive deep into their mythological roots for their latest full-length CD “Kongo Kyuubi.” The album takes its title (meaning “Dazzling Nine Tails”) from the Japanese folklore character Tamamo-no-mae, and the jacket art features lead vocalist Kuroneko portraying the evil, nine-tailed fox spirit.

Magical chimes and a haunting male voice (bassist Matatabi) set the tone with opening track “Baku” (a dream-devouring creature in Japanese folklore) before “Aoki Dokugan” pushes the album into top gear.

“Kuzaku Ninpocho” (“Peacock Ninja Stories”) is a dead-on re-creation of the band’s live-show style, and “Izayoi no Ame” is perhaps the most iconic Onmyouza track on this album, with a signature trade-off between Kuroneko’s vocals and the dual guitars.

After a series of fast-paced shredders, Matatabi borrows the vocal spotlight for a soulful performance on “Banka” (“Elegy”), followed by the mixed-vocals of “Soukoku,” (fittingly titled, “Rivalry”). “Doukoku” (“Lamentation”) brings back the magical feeling with a measured, beautiful vocal by Kuroneko.

This theme of shifting balance and the pattern of “3” is a warm-up for the majestic 20-minute “Nine Tails” Suite (collectively titled “Kumikyoku Kyuubi”). “Tamamonomae” starts out with Kuroneko assuming the title character’s unapologetic point-of-view, and it’s a slow-build setup for “Shoumakyou” (the mirror that shows the true figure of evil). “Shoumakyou” features a fantastic guitar bridge and dual-vocal harmony, shifting into Matatabi’s animal-like growls. (Listen with your headphones to catch some precise drum and bass support on this track.)

“Sesshouseki” (“Killing Stone”) ends the trilogy with escalating guitar solos and a final lament from Tamamonomae before her betrayal is punished. Onmyouza pulls off this dramatic narrative with a confidence that couldn’t be achieved by a younger band, and there are multiple layers to discover with repeated listens.

-“Soukoku” is the opening theme of Nintendo DS game “Inugamike No Ichizoku”
-“Doukoku” is the ending theme of Nintendo DS game “Inugamike No Ichizoku”
-“Aoki Dokugan” is the main theme song for the pachinko game “CR Sengoku Ranbu -Aoki Dokugan-“

Recommended tracks: Aoki Dokugan, Banka, Kumikyoku “Kyuubi” (3 parts)

Buy Onmyouza – Kongo Kyuubi at CDJapan

SpecialThanks – Interview (2011)

Interview by David Cirone
January 27, 2011


Female-vocal pop-punk band SpecialThanks came together in 2005 in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture. After some changes in their original lineup, the band is now comprised of Misaki (vocals, guitar), Sean (guitar, backing vocals), Hiromu (bass, backing vocals), and Nochi (drums).

Their single “You Say Good Bye” was the iTunes Japan Single of the Week with 60,000 downloads in its first 7 days of release, and the song’s PV was a Power Push on Japan’s Space Shower TV. Their debut mini-album SEVEN COLORS debuted at Number 1 on Japan’s IndiesMusic.com sales charts in August 2008.

Why is the number 7 so important in your CD titles? “SEVEN SHOWERS,” “SEVEN COLORS,” “SEVEN LOVERS”.

Misaki: I like the number 7 because it’s “Lucky Seven.” But more than that, it’s because we’ve been so lucky right from the beginning. We’re a lucky band that depends on luck. (*laugh)

SEVEN LOVERS has a mix of short and loud punk songs, and more traditional pop/rock songs. Do you write all the fast punk songs first, then concentrate on the other songs?

Misaki: I usually mix them all together in my head when I’m writing, but when I decide to write a punk song, I actually try really hard to write a punk song. For ballads and pop songs, I don’t really think too much, I just let it come naturally.

Why are English lyrics so important to SpecialThanks?

Misaki: Since I was a kid, all of my favorite Japanese bands (DONUT MAN, STOMPIN’ BIRD) were singing in English, so I thought “Being in a band = singing in English.” I thought that was normal.

Which band member speaks the best English?

Misaki: Probably Sean is the best. He was just saying the other day, “My English teacher said my pronounciation is great!”

Sean: …So-so (*laugh)

Nochi: On the other hand, the worst one is definitely me.

What’s the meaning of “SpecialThanks”? Why are the two words combined?

Misaki: Because I wanted it to be recognized as one word. I like how it looks, too.

Nochi: It makes our logo look really cool.

Misaki: I mean… you know how many bands say “Special Thanks!” at the end of their CDs, so I kinda wanted to be happy to see that — like “Hey, that’s our name!” (*laugh)


exist†trace – THE LAST DAYBREAK (Review)


Review by David Cirone


THE LAST DAYBREAK belongs to the guitars this time.

While bassist Naoto and drummer Mally do excellent work with the tricky turns of “Daybreak” and “be Naked”, they’re in supporting roles this time for an EP dominated by miko and Omi’s ferocious guitar work.

Jyou’s vocals are always the soul of exist†trace, and her audible deep breath at the beginning of “Daybreak – Jyusan gatsu no shikisai” (“The colors of the 13th month”) makes it personal. A plea to find human connection in the world’s final moments, she celebrates “my lovely gasmask” as she paints a vivid picture that twists our expectations — usually sunrise plays the symbolic role of hope and renewal, but the rich colors in “Daybreak’s” sky signify a certain doom.

Daybreak / The morning glow signifies the end
Daybreak / Let’s huddle close to view
Daybreak / The vivid conclusion
Daybreak / The 2 of us together

Similar to TRUE, the dueling guitar solos are the climax of “Daybreak”. miko and Omi dip in and out of synchronicity and opposing melodies so smoothly, it becomes a musical dance with the majesty and power of two dragons in flight.

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exist†trace – TRUE (Review)


Review by David Cirone


All-female visual kei band exist†trace’s major-label debut EP TRUE starts out strong, picking up the challenging tone of their previous indie release TWIN GATE.

“Shot to the limit… Shot to the limit…”

The title track “TRUE” (see video below) demonstrates a band hell-bent on moving past their own expectations. Every element of exist†trace is in top form, and Mally and Naoto almost steal the song for themselves with a murderous combination of drums and bass at the song’s mid-point, right before a double-guitar solo by Omi and miko lights the song on fire. Jyou’s passionate delivery of lyrics about moving past betrayal and fear show some of the best work of her career as exist†trace’s front-woman.

On “HONNOU” (“Instinct”), Jyou’s playful invitation “Shall we dance?” belongs even more to Omi’s lead guitar, and the blistering guitar solo following Jyou’s laughter at a male opponent should rightfully scare any man thinking about crossing women of this caliber. The hard-rock riffs in “HONNOU” are instantly catchy, and it’s a disappointment when the song fades out (an uncharacteristic move for exist†trace, who usually end their songs with a musical and vocal finality). Fans will wish this song had gone on longer.

While “TRUE” and “HONNOU” were written by miko, “Tokoyami no Yoake” is Omi’s song, and the shift in tone is immediately recognizeable as Jyou’s soft, alluring black-widow voice weaves along with Naoto’s creeping bass. Omi has a stand-out solo here, and exist†trace’s combination of strength and sensuality really shines through on this track.

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BO-PEEP – VIBE (Review)


Review by David Cirone


BO-PEEP’s garage-punk, bare-knuckle style returns in full force with VIBE, the all-girl trio’s follow-up to last year’s SICK ORANGE TELEVISION. The 7-song album clocks in at just over 25 minutes, and while it feels like it’s over way too fast, I’ll give credit to the band for not cluttering up the time with any filler.

Mika’s signature high-pitched vocals and rhythm-chord guitar dominate VIBE, especially on lead track “Power”. That’s not to say the album doesn’t have variety — Ryoko’s drums and Junko’s bass virtually kidnap the album on middle tracks “She” and “Level 3”, demonstrating the synchronicity that’s been the backbone of their live shows for nearly ten years.

Don’t let VIBE’s kiddie-pool cover image fool you — that’s not just some sweet girl taking a relaxing moment to daydream; three hard-rocking girls from Fukuoka very likely stuck her in there by force, just inches away from a last gasp.

BO-PEEP holds no soft spot for sweetness. If you’re lucky enough to experience BO-PEEP’s live show, you’ll see all the screaming and kicking (and drinking) for yourself. This is still the Japanese punk band most lilkely to win a bar fight.

Recommended tracks: Power, Level 3, Try, Try, Try

Buy BO-PEEP – VIBE at CDJapan

VIBE - Bo-Peep
Download BO-PEEP – VIBE on iTunes