Masters of the Universe – An Interview with [MU:]

[MU:] – (left to right) Aika (vocals), Ushi (drums), Daishi (guitar), and Jet (bass).

I shot [MU:] back in September for JaMe magazine. It was an impressive gig for such a new band and I thoroughly enjoyed their show. Talking to the band after, the idea of an interview was brought up. I thought it might be a good idea to emulate the same approach I’ve been taking with the Tokyo Rock Scene series with a Visual Kei band, so I suggested rather than doing it post-live, we could do it at their rehearsal studio. The band were gracious enough to allow JaME and I to join them for a couple of hours one Sunday afternoon in October – providing us with a unique glimpse into the work that goes on behind the scenes, and a chance to sit down in a relaxed atmosphere and talk with this new band about touring, playing live, ancient civilisations and more.

日本語はここです!

This is the first interview we have with you, so could you please introduce each other with an interesting fact or a peculiar feature about the other member.

DAISHI: This is actually the first interview for [MU:]. In general, Ushi as I see him is “Mister Laugh” (in English). In different ways, he is serious about some things and “laugh” about others, he is very good at switching the mind “on” and “off”. If you’re always “on”, you get tired, particularly in music, and he is good at switching the moods. In drumming too, he has a groovy style, but he also has a framing edge in places where decisiveness is required. He`s a really nice drummer.

USHI: Jet as seen by me… He is tall! (laughs) It’s just the looks.

DAISHI: Is that it? (laughs) He is tall, and his hair is- (pointing to Ushi)

USHI & JET: Long!

DAISHI: His nose is-

USHI: Tall!

JET: Huge! Big nose (in English) (laugh).

USHI: It’s a good thing! He stands out, no matter where he goes he stands out. Even if he is just walking, he has got this aura – he is huge. He is tall, but he is bigger than just that. He takes up space (laugh).

JET: A hindrance! (laugh) But I get told that a lot, “If you stand, you’re getting in the way, so sit down”.

USHI: He’s got this width about him, he’s actually very skinny, but he looks big. But when you talk to him, as Daishi said there are “on” and “off” times, and sometimes we are all “on” and talking and having fun and suddenly Jet will just switch “off” and be “off” all by himself. He is good at changing rhythm. He’s a great brother.

Jet

JET: When I first saw Aika, to be honest I didn’t think he was that serious and scrupulous. How you understand it might depend on the way I say this, but I thought that he was more of a bandman-like bandman. More like, “If you touch me I’m gonna go ballistic!” – not really violent, but I had a supple impression of him, I thought he has this “If you touch me it’s gonna get dangerous” kind of aura. But when we came into contact more, he was more serious than I thought, more methodical and sensitive, and this comes out in his vocals as well. He is one of my most respected vocalists; in fact he is in my top five of vocalists I’ve met so far. I’m very proud to be working together with him.

DAISHI: Oh! What number in the top five? (laughs)

JET: Maybe that’s better not to say, might be dangerous! (laughs)

AIKA: Thank you. Looking from the outside, Daishi is handsome. He is a very straight person with a very strong will. In regards to his guitar playing too, he has brilliance. These are some things that I want everyone to see about him and maybe learn from him.

[MU:] is a band that formed rather recently. Could you tell us how this came about?

DAISHI: Aika, Jet and myself were rivals from previous bands, we played together in events together frequently and had this friendly competition – an “I won’t lose!” kind of rivalry. This was the period approximately 10 years ago. The starting point for this band was Aika.

AIKA: First it was me and Daishi- I contacted him first. At the time we both were out of our bands and doing solo projects. There were a couple of times when we passed by each other, we wanted to do bands but the type of thing we wanted to do was different, so at first it was like “It would be great if we could both find good members for our bands”. The days passed, I met more people, and then we met once again, and decided to try creating some music together and see how it went. We saw a good chemical reaction happening, so we started writing songs together and looking for members.

DAISHI: Originally we like pretty different music. However, I don’t know about Aika, but when I auditioned people and looked around, from the first time he contacted me I already thought – looking around, among people of the same generation, there isn’t anyone who sings better than this guy. The same goes for the aura he has on stage too. So it’s a connection that was supposed to be tied, and the timing when he contacted me was also good. So we made a demo. And at that time we were looking for a bassist and a drummer, before starting [MU:], Aika played at an event where Jet was also performing, and they played a session together. I also played a live with Jet for the band where I was doing support work, and saw him for the first time in a long time. And then me and Aika were like “Jet would be good!” (laugh). And after going into the studio just once, he straightaway said: “I’m joining”.

JET: This makes me sound like a really frivolous person! (laughs).

DAISHI: “I’ll do it!” – it was on the level of “Is it seriously ok to make a decision about your life so easily?” (laughs). Why did you decide to join?

JET: But music is like that, isn’t it? It’s about how you feel at that time. It’s like shopping, when you go into a shop and take a look, if your eyes don’t stop on anything, you won’t find anything even if you search longer. If you take one look and you notice something, you want it for sure. It’s this kind of feeling. It’s a matter of sensation.

AIKA: We were looking for a drummer, and there wasn’t anyone who we felt good about. And sometimes in my scene, I played together in events with Ushi. He contacted me, and also my friends told me that there was a good drummer – Ushi – so I watched his rehearsal and thought, this guy is great.

DAISHI: So we had a rehearsal together and it went well, and Ushi too was really easy (laughs). I went to meet him for two hours at a family restaurant, and explained what kind of band I wanted to do, and he responded straight away. Why did you think that you wanted to join straight away? (laughs)

USHI: You know, it’s like shopping… (laugh) I don’t really like to stick to things that already exist -I want to try doing new things. I have the spirit that makes me want to create things that haven’t been done yet. It’s a spirit of creativity, the “Japanese soul”. That’s what attracted me.

Ushi

Your origins are outside of visual kei, right?

USHI: That’s right, up to 2009 I was going to an American school, Berklee in Boston, and I was doing metal there. When I came back, I was playing with Kishida Kensaku, a talent who appeared on TV a lot at the time. Half way through, we started becoming more like visual kei and performing at visual kei events too, so I distanced myself a bit at the time and became the support member, and at that point I met Aika.

AIKA: So it’s not like he was completely distant from visual kei.

DAISHI: Our first show was on the 11th of May, but the final decision about the four members was made at the beginning of March. We didn’t yet have enough songs, but we said that we had to do this, and in those two months members did their best and our feelings united, so we felt that we could pull this off.

JET: It passed so fast that we ourselves didn’t know what was happening (laugh).

Could you tell us about the concept of [MU:]?

DAISHI: As you might know, there is a story that once there was the Mu continent, although it hasn’t been scientifically proven. But if the descendants of the habitants of this continent lived to the 21st century to become a mankind of the present, what kind of message would they be expressing? That’s our theme. According to the story, the Mu empire possessed an advanced civilisation, but through this advancement it eventually perished. But what if this civilisation overcame 2000, 3000 years to exist in contemporary society? What kind of message would they pass on? This is our theme.

Your song names include names such as “Esperanto”, and “[Rama:Yana]”, “Yggdrassil”, referring to Indian and Nordic mythology. Your website features Egyptian images. There are many different cultural and belief-related themes that you include in your work. Why did you decide to do this?

DAISHI: The story of Mu is of a civilisation that existed before the current civilisations, it’s more ancient. So it is a theme in our work how from Mu different civilisations, such as Mesopotamia or China, developed. It comes from the thought that the different cultures of mankind originated from Mu. We thought that it would be great to create an album with which, for example, if we met aliens, we could show them what kind of music the music of the Earth civilisation was.

AIKA: Maybe we are aliens.

DAISHI: Probably Aika is an alien. (laugh)

Aika

You played your first oneman a couple of weeks ago, how was it?

AIKA: We are still a young band so with some recklessness we four have been going around, seeing different places, and we came to be united and this live became the culmination of that. If we think from the time we started, at this gig you could feel that we had gradually come to settle, to connect our feelings, and that we could now be confronted with challenges, facing the myth, and new opportunities have opened to us at this point. It became a live that is leading to our future activities.

JET: Since the beginning of [MU:], and to that day, not so much time had passed, but we were able to have a live that had more density to it than the time that was invested would allow us to have normally. There was still room for improvement, but I think that that is important – if there is no more room for improvement, it means that there is nothing ahead. To us it was a very meaningful live in that we could see these points that could be improved. So from there, it was a beginning of another, new page for [MU:].

USHI: I always look forwards, and before playing this oneman, we had already decided on the next oneman, so for me I always look ahead while doing what I am doing now. I want to continue like this from now on too – like for the summer, I want to do like this now; for the next live, I want to perform this live in this way. I am always thinking of the ways in which we could make our fans enjoy the shows. It has been gradually starting to take shape in front of my eyes, and following this we too started to take shape. I have become able to see all of the hall, not only this side (the stage) and this side (the audience), but the whole of the venue as one, to be our creation, and this was huge for me. It had real worth to me to see this one whole creation that we had built up.

DAISHI: There are still lots of things that we want to do. For example things that we can only do if we play in a big venue. This time is the first time we introduced speeches before our songs (note: see the [MU:] oneman report for details), so we are thinking up original performances that other bands don’t do, alternative ways of showing ourselves, and I would like to realize this even more from now on. As we said before, we are including the music of different peoples, and the subtitle of our band name is “Esperanto is created by Master of Universe”. We also have a song called Esperanto, which is a language that is universally understood. I think that music is the language that is understood universally, so I hope to be able to tour the countries of everyone who is reading this article too, where we could understand each other through sound and have fun together.

The oneman you had this time was announced as your first oneman, but actually your first show, called MASTER OF UNIVERSE00, was a oneman as well. It’s been quite a short time, but what do you feel has [MU:] changed from MASTER OF UNIVERSE00 to MASTER OF UNIVERSE01?

DAISHI: MASTER OF UNIVERSE00 was our unveiling, and of course we did 100% of what we could do at that moment. From then on we started touring with events, and this was the prologue, the start of the story of us four, which lead to MASTER OF UNIVERSE01. But when we started the band, because we were new, and even if we tried to urge on the fans, they would not respond straight away – our ways of involving them weren’t enough at the moment. Especially AIka was trying so hard to stir up the crowd, and since the time we spent touring, they have started to liven up that much during our gigs.

JET: The awareness of this one band as something that the four of us had created together has grown in every one of us in this period.

In your oneman encore, you held an acoustic performance. That’s not something that you usually see in visual kei lives, why did you decide to do this?

DAISHI: Aika’s singing voice is beautiful; I like loud, noisy sound and it brings out emotions, but acoustic performances allow you to bring to the foreground the beauty of Aika’s voice. And all of us are good at our instruments so we have no problems giving acoustic performances (laughs). I said it myself (laughs).

AIKA: Well, there are people who may not be able to do this, so this is also a challenge for us.

For each member, what is most fun for you in live performances?

DAISHI: It’s great if I can perform a live that gives me the feeling like “It’s fine if I die tomorrow”.

USHI: I like it when power that usually isn’t displayed comes out.

JET: It’s a space where you harvest people’s attention. The moment you stand on stage, that pleasant feeling never fades. When I play a live, I want to play the next one straight away, I want to play straight away, it’s this repetition. Probably the most fun thing is to bathe in people’s looks.

DAISHI: Look! Look at Jet! (laughs)

JET: I’m here! (laughs)

AIKA: Above all, a live is a place where you leave your message. We do our best to prepare different things to be able to do this, and the live is a place where we can present this. When there are no lives, I don’t feel like I’m alive, I feel that I live through lives.

DAISHI: That’s true. For bandmen, lives are a rare occasion. Most of the work done is outside -writing songs, going into the studio, writing lyrics – there is more time spent in such duties. It is the one place where we can shine.

AIKA: They call it “underground activities” frequently, and lives are where we have an opportunity to rise above the ground.

As you mentioned, you toured together this summer, for the first time for the four of you. Have you made any interesting discoveries about each other?

DAISHI: During all the travels, we were so busy with reflections and discussions of the previous gig, “Let’s do this, let’s do that”, we didn’t really have the possibility for it.

JET: We talked a lot of silly stuff, we talked about the kind of stuff we can’t say here the whole time. (laugh)

DAISHI: Ushi kept on listening to music on his iPhone the whole time.

JET: Ushi, in fact, kept on playing music on his iPhone out loud – it was so loud! (laugh) I generally travel in quiet… But Ushi was probably playing the songs for the sake of us all, so I couldn’t say “Stop it!”, and had to endure. (laugh)

DAISHI: At first I too though “This is annoying!” but then it was like, “There’s these kind of songs, and these kind of songs, let’s make these kind of songs next!” – I felt that. (laugh)

USHI: Ok, so I’m loud while we’re travelling. (laugh)

JET: But the one who is always full of energy is Ushi. We all get tired – after the gig we are all “Ah, I’m tired!”, but Ushi is always in a good mood so our moods get higher as well. He is a mood-maker.

AIKA: Although we were travelling, we would be watching the video taken from the previous gig, and talking about, so I didn’t really have the feeling that we were moving.

DAISHI: It’s like in the middle of the discussion we notice that we arrived to Osaka. (laughs) We also practiced in the parking lot. We practiced the acoustic performance, after the gig in Nagoya we went to Osaka. We got onto the highway straight away and stopped at the service area and practiced in the parking lot.

AIKA: Live on the road.

DAISHI: With zero audience. Insects as our audience. (laugh) Ushi played djembe, we played unplugged, that was great.

AIKA: In the most random place. So we didn’t go out eating that place’s speciality food together, we were all so deeply into the music. We can do it from now on!

DAISHI: We don’t really have the room for it yet, right! Rather than going out to play somewhere, we want to do even 1% better a live with our whole might. Maybe after some time passes we will be able to have more fun, but at this moment we’re not at that point yet. (laughs)

Daishi

If you compare starting to play in a band with your activities in [MU:] now, what has changed?

DAISHI: The first time I stood on stage was when I was 19. I was playing support for a major artist, although I was bad at guitar at that time, and at that time the audience was approximately 3000 people. iIt was almost that I couldn’t hear my name anymore, so many people cheered. But I was a support guitarist in front of the 3000 people – I didn’t write any songs, I didn’t write lyrics, I was just playing good guitar to the best of my ability. But now for [MU:]’s MASTER OF UNIVERSE01 the audience is smaller, but when I bathe in cheers, their weight is different. Rather than the cheers of 3000 people, the cheers of a couple hundred people for my band, since it’s something that I carry on my shoulders, are bigger.

AIKA: The bands that I used to be in before, I felt that I was doing a lot by myself, whereas now the feeling that we are all doing it together is great. Previous activities have been feeding me and giving me strength, but this band is of a different sort, like an unveiling, it’s a feeling as if being reborn.

JET: For me, the bands I was in before, the staff surrounding us would do everything, so I’d only have to care about myself and do what I had to do, this was the environment I was in up until now. But having entered [MU:], I started experiencing doing something for the band myself, and it was very different from what I’d been doing before, and I am learning a lot. If I continue this way, I feel that I will be able to play another role on the next turn.

Ushi, as you said, you were studying in America before, and I assume you were in a band there as well. What are the differences between the scene overseas and in Japan?

USHI: The point I was most surprised by in this scene was that it smells good. (laugh) Because the girls do like this (pretends as if he was spraying his hair). The first time I performed at a visual kei gig – that was in a session – I went in and I thought “Oh, it smells good”. Up until now I only knew the smell of spilled beer, mould, the smell of older men or hamburgers, because I had been playing in such bar-like places. But it was very different.

JET: Like the smell of shampoo.

USHI: Of course before when I was at high school in Japan I used to play at punk gigs, where you’d have moshing and such, and that too had this male smell. But apart from that, it’s the response of the audience. It’s quiet between songs here. Sometimes the audience calls our names, but many times when you finish “bam!” and it goes silent, so you’re like (whispers) “Is everything alright?”. While overseas you’d go “Thank you” and the audience goes “Yeah!”. That’s very different, the reaction of the public.

Where would you want to go overseas if you could?

DAISHI: I’d like to shoot a music video in front of the pyramids! (laugh)

JET: I’d like to shoot one in the Grand Canyon! And with a helicopter as well.

AIKA: Angkor Wat.

JET: That’s like in the jungle, right?

AIKA: Somewhere in Asia where they have elephants; and Turkey, I’d like to go somewhere that would have new things that you can’t find in Japan and get a stimulus from it.

USHI: I really want to go to Sweden! I love Swedish music, and the desktop of my computer is a picture of Sweden. The cities are really beautiful there – towns connected by bridges, and the pretty buildings.

DAISHI: I want to play live shows in every country in the world.

JET: I want to go to Africa!

[MU:]: Why do you come up with Africa now? (laugh)

JET: I’m interested to see the reaction of the audience, whether they would be jumping along, and then gazelles would be jumping along with them. (laugh)

DAISHI: But I really want to see different reactions, so I want to go everywhere in the world. Please call us. (laughs)

What kind of music do each of you get influenced by?

USHI: Progressive rock, and originally Queen.

What about currently active artists?

USHI: This (points at the T-shirt he is wearing). Periphery.

DAISHI: If we talk bands, when I was in high school Metallica, Pantera, Megadeth were popular and we did covers of them. I also love trance and clubs, German techno and such, so I started doing a fusion of trance and metal. That was the origin for the music I started to make myself.

AIKA: For me it’s J-pop. And it’s probably different from Daishi, but I also like clubs. I like soul. So rather than heavy music, I had been listening to music that brings out the melody. That was the start of music for me.

JET: I too like 90s J-pop, especially Komuro Tetsuya, who I respect a lot. The music that he made has become my musical roots.

Could you leave a message for our readers please?

AIKA: Thank you for reading until the end. We are still starting up, but from now on too we will do our best to bring out music that we can share with you, so please look forward to [MU:]’s activities. I would be grateful if you could look over us with warmth. Thank you!

JET: We are creating something that not many people around us are doing. In fact we are doing something that only we can do, and we have confidence in doing it, so I would be happy if you listened to our CDs and came to see our lives.

USHI: Thank you for reading this. We are a young band, but we are doing our best not to show it! Plus, I think we are a good band, so you should check us out! (laugh)

DAISHI: I am going to write different sorts of songs, so I would like you to look forward to them. We also would love to do an overseas tour, and your voices could help us with it. You can listen to our songs on YouTube, and if you like them, if you get asked “What is your favourite band?” and you said [MU:], I would be happy. I am looking forward to seeing you in venues!

Aika and Daishi

[MU:] next play November 15th at Takadanobaba Area.

Check out [MU:]‘s website for more information.

Thanks to Polina Kogan for all her hard work translating, and to [MU:] for their generosity.

This article was a collaborative interview with JaMe and Rokkyuu. You can see the same interview, with colour photos, on each site!

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