Osaka-based hard-rock band RAMPANT made their American debut at Tekkoshocon IX in Pittsburgh, PA. Playing for an audience of over 900 (the highest in the event’s history), the band delivered a 11-song set from their two latest releases, Choice of Life and BLOSSOM.
A regular performance partner of exist†trace and Dazzle Vision in Japan, RAMPANT’s vocalist Hiroko uses her equally-effective scream in just a handful of tracks, holding it back for just the right moment like a knock-out punch. Hiroko is both feminine and tough, a necessary combination to fit in with a band of male musicians who, though outwardly playful, are very serious about kicking everyone’s ass and making their own sound.
During performance, it’s Atsushi (lead guitar) and Tomoya (rhythm guitar) who make a point of regularly stepping over the stage monitors to connect with the audience. Kei (bass) is the most relaxed presence on stage, sticking close to drummer KA+U (a stylized version of “Katsu”), whose regular hobby of weight-training helps him punish the drum kit mercilessly during the hour-long show.
For this interview, we gathered in the Wyndham Grand Hotel early in the following morning. Though physically tired from the show and the solid hour of autograph signings, there’s still a glow on each member’s face. It’s a mixture of relief and amazement, and everyone’s ready to talk about music.
purple SKY: Looking at the titles of your three CD releases — Chain, Choice of Life, and BLOSSOM — it seems that the English words form a theme of forward progression: captivity transitioning into freedom. Is that correct?
Atsushi: (immediately) No connection.
Hiroko: (laughs) That was so fast!
KA+U: There’s a specific meaning for each title, a specific way it connects to the songs on the album. But we didn’t try to link them.
Tomoya: The first mini-album Chain — “chain” means like a bond, not like a prisoner.
purple SKY: So I got that totally wrong.
Atsushi: You could see it that way… it’s sort of creative, that viewpoint, but that’s not what we meant. Initially, we didn’t think these were going to be the final members of the band, We had planned to do auditions, but things just came together naturally without all that. So before we realized it, we had the mini-album.
Tomoya: “Chain” means all of us, together.
Atsushi: I came up with the Choice of Life title. I really believe life is choice. We decided to be here. At any moment, at any place, wherever we are is connected to our decisions.
Hiroko: But I like your interpretation. It’s fun. You can see it different that we intended and it’s still cool.
KA+U: Right now it’s “Naked,” but when we were still working on the album, “Still Growing Flower” was the song I liked best. It really became a part of me during performance.
Kei: “My Winding Road to Unknown” — we didn’t play it this time at Tekkoshocon, but the audience reaction in Japan has made it one of my favorites. I like the rhythm changes, and the chorus has a Japanese style. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that.
Atsuhi: I agree with Kei… we both like to find sounds that are specific to Japanese rock. “If I Ain’t Got You” is heavy, like American rock, but we tried to mix in some sounds that you wouldn’t normally find in an American rock song. And Choice of Life was so heavy, we wanted find some lighter elements this time.
Tomoya: My favorite from the beginning was “Naked.” I’m different from them, I don’t have the specific idea that I want to do something Japanese. When we were in the studio, the members were pushing toward Japanese sound, but I was rebelling — I didn’t want to throw away the work we did before. That’s how we came up with “Naked.” That’s the song that shows what RAMPANT is — that mix of styles.
purple SKY: Many fans at Tekkoshocon say they first found out about RAMPANT from the “Naked” music video. How did you decide on “Naked” for this album’s music video?
Hiroko: When our label asked us what song we should use for the PV, all the other members said “Naked,” but I wasn’t sure. I really had to think about it.
Tomoya: It was simple to me: The style relays courage, the melody was good, and the lyrics were positive and uplifting.
Hiroko: (laughs) Was it that easy?
Tomoya: For me, yeah. It’s a great song!
KA+U: And it’s a down economy, so we wanted a positive message. It’s a supportive song for us and for everyone else, too.
Hiroko: I definitely feel it’s a message about us, about each of us moving forward.
KA+U: A band’s image in a video is really important. The atmosphere of the song was what we wanted to put out to the world. People will get to know us from the feeling of that video.
purple SKY: Explain “Run until Die!”
Hiroko : It’s the chorus from “Naked” and it’s become our slogan: Do what you can while you can do it. If you’re looking at someone else who’s doing something fun or cool or passionate, and if you’re wishing you could do the same — you should do it, and do it with no regrets while you can. It’s been on my mind a lot, that feeling, so even though I’m shouting it in the chorus, I’m saying it to myself.
purple SKY: Last night’s show at Tekkoshocon had a record concert attendance of over 900, and it was your biggest live show audience to date. What did you think when you saw so many people in the audience?
KA+U: I had goose bumps when I first came out.
Hiroko : People were screaming “Hiroko-chan!” I felt so welcome, right away.
Kei: In my mind, it was just: “Really? It’s our first time in America, how come there’s so many people?”
Hiroko: (laughs) We must be amazing!
Kei: Then I was thinking, “It’s our first time, it’s way more people than we imagined… are we going to be okay?” The bar was raised so quickly. I wasn’t worried about making a mistake, but I was just so surprised. Once we got started, I just put all that energy into playing.
Tomoya: When I got on stage — I was the first one out — I thought (grins) “Yeah! It’s my time!” I really wanted to surprise everyone in that audience with our live show.
Atsushi: I was shocked; I really hadn’t thought about the size of the audience. We had been told there were a lot of people expected, but I couldn’t imagine it. I can’t think about numbers before a show.
Hiroko: We always say: whether it’s 1 or 1000, we want to give it all our power. But that many people at our first American live show… we couldn’t prepare for it.
KA+U: It gave us extra energy.
Hiroko: It raised the tension, for sure. And they were yelling things in Kansai dialect, too. “Hiroko-chan! Meccha daisuki!”
Atsushi: Someone said “Nande yannen?” (“What the hell?) in Kansai dialect. I was even more surprised. They were really ready for us.
purple SKY: Why are 2 guitars important to RAMPANT’s style?
Atsushi: Our guitar parts are very distinct.
Tomoya: I personally don’t want to do anything technical. I want to be atmospherically cool , not technically cool… That’s a complicated way of saying I hate practicing.
Atsushi: He wasn’t like that initially, but during studio work, I found I really liked adding little things later. It naturally went in that direction — I added more, and Tomoya did… less. (pretends to complain) It makes my job harder. I wish he did more!
Tomoya: But on BLOSSOM I have a lot more parts! Seriously, on top of my amp there are lot of knobs, but I don’t use them. They’re just decoration.
Atsushi: He’s really quick in rehearsal.
Tomoya: (grins) “One. Tone. Only.”
Atsushi: Without two guitars, RAMPANT’s voice wouldn’t be complete. We’re both doing different things — when he’s doing something heavy, I can do something light. It’s a totally different feeling without that contrast.
purple SKY: What’s the best thing about being a member of RAMPANT?
Atsushi: For me, simply, I like being with these members. There are things I can’t do without them. If all five of us weren’t together, my music wouldn’t be possible.
Tomoya: During production, of course we argue, we have collisions now and then. But when the CD is out and we’re doing live shows, we have a lot of confidence in each other.
Hiroko: This is my first band, so I don’t know any other band.
KA+U: There aren’t a lot of bands with female vocals doing metal like this in Japan, so we can be original — we don’t have to conform. That makes it fun, not having to compare against anyone else.
Hiroko: Yeah, I agree — there are some really beautiful girls who do vocals, and the band members are all behind her, supporting her. But in RAMPANT we’re all competing against each other. And it’s not a fair fight! They’re all thinking, “How do we beat the vocalist?”
KA+U: Right! After the live shows, all us guys get together and talk. “What can we do to be as popular as her?”
Kei: This band matches the style of music that I like to play. Like she said, there are a lot of female vocalists out there, but I really like the quality and sound of Hiroko’s voice. I think it’s our greatest weapon.
RAMPANT music on JapanFiles: http://www.japanfiles.com/RAMPANT