Jun 28

[interview] ZAMZA

ZAMZA may take its name from the existentialist novella Metamorphosis, but don’t let that lull you into thinking this band has any similarities to your stuffy modern lit teacher. Taking members from the legendary pop-rock band JUDY AND MARY and the equally influential ECHOES, ZAMZA has played their distinctly high-octane shows across Europe and North America.

On the verge of the release of their latest album, Tsukizoku (Tribe of the Moon), guitarist Hiroki, drummer KOHTA, and keyboardist Toshimichi Isoe found some time to sit down with purple SKY.

pSKY: First, I’m not quite sure about your name. I’ve seen it written ZAMZA and ZAMZA N’ BANSHEE, so what is the difference between the two?

Hiroki: When we perform overseas, if we use the posthumous name ZAMZA N’ BANSHEE, no one will recognize it by just looking at it. It was too long for when we went overseas. That’s why we write it as ZAMZA.

pSKY: So you changed it for your overseas fans?

Hiroki: That’s right.
: It’s easier to understand.

pSKY: I think that’s a lot easier for us to remember if it’s shorter. I heard that the band name came from the Kafka novella, Metamorphosis. What does the role of this novella have in your music?

KOHTA: It represents some kind of suffering. When Zinc wants to write some lyrics, he’s thinking of all sorts of problems. It’s that kind of symbol, that image. That’s why we made it our band name, ZAMZA.

pSKY: Do you think ZAMZA could end up like the Samsa character in the novella?

Hiroki: In our lyrics, there’s a link to the message.
KOHTA: And maybe to the vocalist too.

pSKY: Before you did ZAMZA, you were in JUDY AND MARY and ECHOES. After those bands stopped activities, you started ZAMZA. How has that shaped your current music style?

Hiroki:  Since we’re all the same age, the music we always listened to was of course hard rock. It wasn’t so much our experiences on stage, but just coming from the same generation.

pSKY: What kind of influences did you have?

KOHTA: Life. A lot of different experiences. It all comes together.

pSKY: What kind of bands?

KOHTA: Loud rock, like Linkin Park.
: It’s not imitation though. It’s more that we like them. We do the drums, bass, guitar, and our keyboardist does all the producing. He puts it all together. He’s like our mom.

pSKY: Other than the obvious, the loud rock, you said you like many different kinds of music. What else do you like?

KOHTA: Folk music. Japanese folk music.

pSKY: I hear it a little bit in your music. You say you’re loud rock, but there’s something kind of quiet and folky about it. It’s not so intense that I can’t listen to it. There’s some calm in the storm.

KOHTA: I thought we were ALL loud rock.
: At first we wanted to be loud rock. But as we went along, things changed. We try to make it more about the ZAMZA style, not so much about what type of music you’re listening to. We want it to be original.

pSKY: The image of your new album, TSUKIZOKU, is a lot calmer, right?

Toshimichi Isoe: Yeah, we have a song called “Tsukizoku” (“Tribe of the Moon”) in there. Of course it’s hard, but it also has a romantic image. It’s a total project, but in the music writing process, we were inspired by the lyrics. It turned into a real romantic feel.

pSKY: Your previous album was called MANGA. What kind of image were you trying to convey there?

Hiroki: The lyrics were really special, so we thought that it really felt like a manga. And of course, manga and anime are really popular overseas. There’s an anime boom going on over there, so we thought it really fit.

pSKY: It’s something your overseas fans can relate to?

Hiroki: Right, it’s easy to understand. The cover of Tsukizoku also has an anime theme to it.

pSKY: It’s manga style, huh?

Hiroki: We didn’t want to distance ourselves from the rest of the world. If they saw a bunch of Japanese faces on the cover, people would think, “Oh yeah, Japanese rock music.” But if it’s anime on the cover, they’d be more aware of the sound.

pSKY: You mentioned that the lyrics had a manga feel, but perhaps your overseas fans don’t really understand the Japanese. I know some of the lyrics are in English, but the Japanese lyrics are difficult for us to understand. How did you convey that image or sound through music and not the lyrics to the overseas fans?

Hiroki: That’s hard to say.
: This time, our album has a lot of Japanese in it. The target is Japan. Last time was about manga feel, but we’re trying a different approach. Maybe when we go overseas, Zinc will do everything in English.

PS: Even in Europe?

KOHTA: In Germany especially, they love Japanese.
: Our German fans speak Japanese quite well. They study it.
: But when we go to Europe, maybe it should be in English.

PS: Did your German fans give you any sort of messages in Japanese?

Hiroki: It was actually in English. I didn’t understand it at all! But there were a lot of young kids there who just love hard rock.

pSKY: Are your overseas fans quite a bit younger than your Japanese fans?

Hiroki: They are young! We’ve been doing activities in Japan for quite a long time in our two past bands, so our fans are getting a bit old.

pSKY: Your fans from past bands are sticking around then?

Hiroki: We have quite a lot. We’ve been doing this for 10, 20 years.
: Japanese people are really concerned about age. Overseas fans don’t seem to care.

pSKY: I guess that’s kind of true. We have the Rolling Stones to prove it.

Hiroki: Japanese fans seem to be concerned mostly with outward appearances. Not really music.

pSKY: How have your Japanese fans received ZAMZA compared to your past projects?

Hiroki: Our previous bands ended up being J-pop. When we go overseas, they want hard rock. We have some bitter Japanese fans, but…
: The main reason might be the words. Japanese fans don’t understand the English lyrics.

pSKY: But writing lyrics in English seems to be popular in J-pop and rock.

KOHTA: Lately, yeah. But young people want to see young people. When I see performers on TV and such, I just see “youth”. That seems to be what entertainment is centered around. “Youth” has become important. I just think that it’s Japanese culture.

pSKY: I’d like to ask a little about song creation. What role do you each have in song creation?

Hiroki: The vocalist Zinc creates a melody line and everyone arranges it in the studio. Then Isoe mixes it.

pSKY: Is there a natural process from start to finish?

Hiroki: That’s about right. Zinc sings something to us and it ends with Isoe. Zinc lives in Paris, so we only get the sound. We have to create the shape from there.

pSKY: Are there ever any problems because your vocalist is so far away?

Hiroki: Nowadays, we have the internet. So we can share the music we want to do. We don’t have any rough patches because of that form of communication.

pSKY: Speaking of the internet making things easier, I’ve notice you have a Myspace page now. How do you feel the internet has changed communication with the fans in this generation?

Hiroki: Generally, it makes the world smaller and things more direct. However, there’s some kind of gap. I mean, people in countries like Germany and France can hear us and all. This is a much more direct way of hearing music. But on Myspace, since I don’t understand English, I don’t really get what they’re writing.

pSKY: Whatever it is, it’s probably good. When you first started out, what would you have thought if someone had told you about the internet?

Hiroki: I probably couldn’t have imagined it. Even with cell phones, I simply couldn’t have imagined it. I mean, when we were kids, we had to use a telephone box and look for coins in our pockets to make phone calls.
: I don’t really like the internet. It’s really scary.
: There’s a lot of weird information out there.
: There aren’t any secrets between people anymore. It’s all so open. You see things like, “I just got up.” “I just got home.” Why do you have to tell us these things? It’s scary. It’s good to connect with fans, but…
: It’s kind of killing off the CD.

pSKY: The internet is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Have you tried Twitter yet? That’s even more invasive.

Hiroki: I’ll start today. But the internet is more popular overseas than it is in Japan.

pSKY: Since you’ve performed overseas, do you feel that you might have changed your music at all?

Hiroki: I think it’s changed. The live house sound is really different. We were quite inspired. The US is the birthplace of rock, and it really has that atmosphere about it. When we got to behold it with our own eyes, our attitudes changed.

pSKY: What do you think about the rock scene overseas in the US and Europe? We already talked a little bit about Germany, but what about the others in Europe?

KOHTA: Amateur bands are really flourishing over there. More than in Japan. All the young bands in Japan sound the same. When you see them, you have to think, “Oh, of course they’re doing that kind of sound.” Originality is basically nonexistent.

pSKY: What do you think about those prefabricated bands in the US though? Like the ones Disney makes. Is it real? Supposedly they play their own instruments and write their own music, but they’re produced by Disney, so you can imagine how that goes.

Hiroki: If they’re playing rock, they have to put their souls into it. If they’re just going through the motions, it’s different.

KOHTA: Lately, Avril Lavigne is kind of like that. Rock is changing.

pSKY: Do you think you would ever be able to work with those kinds of bands? In another interview, you had said you wanted to work with Madonna.

Hiroki: Oh, that’s perfectly fine. We want to try something with Madonna because she’s always challenging others by using other artists in different genres. If we could, we would.

pSKY: Same with Kanye West. Would you work with him?

TI: I would!

pSKY: I noticed on your profiles on your website, you say you have special abilities. Can Zinc really read minds? KOHTA, can you make peace? How do you do it?

KOHTA: With all the drummers in the world.

pSKY: So peace through music?

KOHTA: Oh no, more like everyone drums at the same time.

pSKY: I don’t understand how that works.

KOHTA: Drummers are inherently good people, so we’ll create peace through drumming.
: Guitarists are kind of the opposite. We’re more about attacking.

pSKY: Maybe if it’s folk guitar, you could make peace. Do you have any messages for your overseas fans?

Hiroki: Of course, I don’t know if our CD will reach the whole world, but I want everyone to get a hold of it and listen. And I want to hear all your impressions on it too. Is it interesting? Is it boring? For instance. We’ve been in Japan for a few decades now, if we’re reaching the whole world, what does everyone have to say? I want to know.
: Come see us on stage. Listen to our music. Definitely.
: I’m doing what I love. I want to travel the whole world.

ZAMZA Official Website – http://www.zamza.us/