Creators of Chaos – An Interview with Crossfaith
Electro-metalcore monsters Crossfaith have just announced that their new album Apocalyze will be released in the summer. After returning from their UK tour a few weeks ago, I caught up with them for a quick chat.
Kenta Koei looks out the window between the slats of a blind and grimaces slightly at the fat drops of rain smacking at the glass. Outside Shibuya AX fans are waiting to get into the venue, hunched against the warm May rain in nought but their t-shirts and sweat towels. Inside the dressing room, DJ Teru is chowing down on bento, drummer Tatsu is tapping away at his computer and guitarist Kazu is elsewhere. Bassist Hiro leaps up from his seat and introduces himself in a disarmingly friendly fashion and then he, Ken and I sit down for a chat before the venue doors open.
Crossfaith are in Tokyo for the final show in the Japan AP Tour, a three-date hop around the Kanto region with Japanese band New Breed, Canada’s Silverstein, and US punk rockers The Used. It’s a couple of hours before the band take to the stage to provide their Tokyo fans with a much-needed and long-awaited Crossfaith hit. After all, it’s been 5 months since they last played in town and the wait has been agonizing.
Crossfaith have been on something of a tear in the last year, with the band out of their homeland more than they have been in it. Having only returned less than a week earlier, I begin by asking Ken about Ozzfest – pretty much the first thing the band did did upon landing back on Japanese soil.
“It was amazing! I got to see Slipknot and Deftones – they’re two of my favourites,” says the singer. “This year’s Ozzfest was kinda weird because there were so many Japanese bands, but it was great.”
It’s interesting that he mentions the number of Japanese bands playing the show (Fade, Coldrain, Dir en Grey, Maximum the Hormone, and Ningen Isu, among others) – Japan, after all, is a country very much enamoured with the mainstream, and the ever-growing behemoth that is K-Pop. Unsurprisingly, metal bands struggle to make a dent in the music charts, despite Japan being one of the world’s largest music markets. However, Crossfaith number among the few Japanese bands that have broken out of their homeland, and indeed Asia, to a much wider audience.
With tours in the UK and Europe in 2012 followed by time in the US and Australia in 2013, Crossfaith have been lighting up venues and festivals with their own very special blend of electronic metalcore. Having just been on tour with Bring Me The Horizon and Empress, plus their own two headlining dates, I ask Ken and Hiro about their time in the UK.
“Every time we have a great time in the UK,” says Ken. “Last year our tour was with Of Mice and Men. We always have a great time because people love music, people love gigs. They’ve got their own culture – the UK and US are very different.”
“I think UK music and UK movies are …” Hiro begins.
“Kinda dark,” finishes Ken.
“Very realistic,” Hiro adds.
I ask them what they have learned from their increasing amount of time playing internationally.
“I should bring Japanese food,” says Ken. “We always miss Japanese food. Especially in the US, the food is bit much for us. So I should bring it with me.”
Sometimes, you just need miso soup, I comment. “Yes, exactly!”
“For me, it’s talking to everyone in the venue,” says Hiro. “Staff, crew, bands-everyone. Travelling is not only about the show, so we need to hang out and meet the people. I like that part on tour.”
So, you’ve been to a lot of different places. Which was most interesting?
“For me, Eastern Europe is very interesting,” says Hiro. Especially when we walked around town. It looked like time had stopped – like from 30 years ago.”
“Especially, Slovenia and Slovakia were crazy countries,” Ken adds. “People need to listen to music – they’re really hungry for it.”
Moving back onto the topic of Japan, I ask the guys about an event they played late last year in Shibuya, which featured Crossfaith playing on the bill alongside My First Story, and Visual Kei heavyweights lynch. and Merry. It was a great show, featuring bands that all seemed to complement each other, yet who were simultaneously continents apart in terms of style, scope and international attention.
“I never cared for the visual kei or the Japanese rock scene,” says Ken. “I never listen to Japanese music at all. Visual Kei, I don’t know about. I don’t dislike them. They have their own way and the same here – we have our own way.”
Though the same is true of bands in any country, all the Japanese bands I’ve spoken to profess a great desire to play overseas. The reality is that very few bands, including those with record labels and management, can find the opportunity to play outside of Japan. Touring is prohibitively expensive and anecdotally, the difficulty some bands experience seems to do with an attitude from management that pursuing overseas markets is “mendokusai” – a pain in the ass – and best left untouched.
What then, I inquire, is the reason Crossfaith have managed to get beyond all this?
“It’s Raw Power Management,” Hiro replies instantly. “It’s with the help of them we can travel around the world. Before that we couldn’t.”
“We have great staff,” adds Ken. “The label, staff, our parents. We’re so lucky really.”
Despite their luck, good management and the years of hard slog they put in on the music circuit in Japan, what makes Crossfaith such an interesting Japanese band, is that they don’t sound like one. There is something other than the language which defines the sound of Japanese rock music and it is curiously hard to pin down. Hiro acknowledges Blink 182 as an early influence in his pop-punk teens, whilst Ken mentions Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park among other nu-metal bands. As he has mentioned in previous interviews, Slipknot were a huge influence and he puts on an expression of pure metal epiphany as he describes his first hearing the band: “It blew my mind – fucking crazy!”
Watching Crossfaith later that night, it’s clear to see how much raw, unfettered passion these guys have, and perhaps that is the biggest difference between them and other Japanese bands. “Let’s go, Tokyo!” Ken roars at the crowd as he leaps up onto his podium, and for the next seven songs the whole place descends into chaos – even the normally reserved guest area is awash with headbanging and cheering. Teru clambers all over his rig with a bottle of Jagermeister in hand, Hiro whips around like a mad thing, and Kazu throws himself hard into his guitar playing. Meanwhile, Tatsu’s drumming grabs you by the vagus nerve and leaves you feeling somewhere between extreme excitement and a punch in the gut.
Where does all this passion and energy come from?
“From the bottom of my heart!” Ken offers, laughing. “Live shows are the most important thing for us.”
“Playing shows is my dream,” replies Hiro. “So before the set I always think about it and think about how happy I am to be here.”
Crossfaith were in America earlier this year recording their highly-anticipated new album. If the Zion EP is anything to go by, Apocalyze is going to be incendiary. I ask about the direction for the record.
“We put so many new things in the new album,” says Ken. “We tried different ways from the Zion EP. It’s completely different from the old stuff.”
“It’s not far from Zion,” counters Hiro.
“Not far, but kind of far. The heavy songs are heavier, you know.”
Finally, I ask the guys a kanji question. Each year in Japan is given a kanji to sum up the events and feelings of the past 12 months. If they could give the past year a kanji, what would it be?
“躍 [やくーjump],” Hiro answers, miming a kind of leap from place to place. “Last year was so busy with travelling around the world.”
Ken’s answer needs no explanation: “爆 [ばく] – explosion!”
Crossfaith will be setting the North American Vans Warped Tour on fire from mid-June and will be proving themselves a force to be reckoned with at the Reading and Leeds festivals in the UK in August. They’ll be back in Japan for a nation-wide tour in August and September. If you’ve not seen this band yet, coming out of their shows is akin to undergoing a conversion because you’ll be coming out a different person, and not just from the bruised ribcage. With Apocalyze just announced, the sense of anticipation around this band is huge. It’s pretty certain that Ken’s choice of kanji to sum up 2013 is going to need to get bigger…much bigger.
Apocalyze goes on sale in Japan on August 7th and in other countries soon after.
Check out more work by photographer Julen Esteban-Pretel here.
Thanks to Rew Kubayashi, Julen for the photos, and Kate Havas for help with translating (even though I did it all in English in the end). And finally, thanks to Ken and Hiro for their time and for being two of the most pleasant people I’ve interviewed.