Interview by David Cirone
September 12, 2015
Japanese trauma techno-pop band URBANGARDE made their American performance debut at A-Kon in Dallas, Texas, on June 3, 2015. While many fans at the concert knew the band’s penchant for outrageous visuals courtesy of their music videos (involving exorcisms, flying sperm, and lots of blood), it was the first chance for URBANGARDE to share their raw energy and improvisational antics (vocalist Temma brought a cosplaying bear on stage, and keyboardist key threw his expensive and large synthesizer in the air for a daredevil catch).
Meeting the band in their suite at the Hilton Anatole the day after their concert, there’s a sense of relaxation and fun among the group’s members. Whatever apprehensions they had about the success of the concert have been put to rest. They came, they played, they conquered. And it was weird.
What has surprised you the most about your first visit to America?
Yoko: Nothing much, if you want to just say “surprising.” But I’ve been enjoying everything.
Temma: No so much just Dallas, but maybe America as a whole… everything’s huge. The streets are big, the supermarkets are big, food’s big. Everything is just big.
Are you saying that because you went to Walmart?
Yoko: I could probably spend the whole day there, just looking around at all the products.
Temma: I was surprised because I picked up this big bottle that I thought was laundry detergent, and it turned out to be juice!
Zeze: Yeah, everything is big, like Temma said. But the cars, everyone’s driving on the opposite side of the road, it’s so backwards. It’s a weird feeling, since I don’t drive. We were just at Guitar Center, and it’s the same “huge” feeling, because in Japan there just isn’t so much space.
Kei: For me, A-Kon was the biggest surprise. In Japan, I’d seen a few things on TV that showed anime was popular overseas, but coming here and seeing this many people together, all right in front of me and everywhere I looked was pretty cool.
Did you see any particular cosplay that you liked?
Temma: Dragon Ball Z Nappa! The costume was really good, and he had Chaozu right there on his neck, too.
Do you see that kind of detail in Japan?
Temma: Yes, of course. In Japan, the detail is there, but Americans seem to be better at playing those sort of powerful or wild, sexy kind of characters. They have better bodies for it, just naturally.
The fans here at A-Kon gave you a great reaction during the live show last night. What was your reaction to that kind of enthusiasm from an American audience?
Yoko: At the very beginning, I wasn’t sure if the crowd was really into it, because maybe they didn’t know so much about URBANGARDE. But as the show progressed, I could feel everyone getting into it and lots of great energy.
Temma: No, I kind of think from the very beginning they were right with us. The call and response was so great.
Yoko: Actually, maybe you’re right. As the lead vocalist, sometimes I’m focusing on the performance and my voice and choreography so much that I’m focusing more inward than outward.
Temma: My role, I’m out in front of the stage. As I get more crazy, the audience gives that crazy right back to me, and then I reflect their energy back to them again, and so on.
You got a great reaction yelling “B-I-G! B-I-G!”
Temma: “B-I-G!” came from this sign we saw in downtown Dallas. There there was a space for the “I” where a person could stand in the middle to complete the word and take a picture. I really struck me that this was a concept that Dallas people accepted and understood.
It seemed like that concept of “BIG” affected your performance. It was really explosive.
Temma: A lot of Zeze’s guitar parts during the concert were a lot more wild, a lot more heavy rock, than what you would hear on our albums.
Zeze: There’s a reason for that. Here in America, the fans are really good at sending energy back to us on the stage, so my playing fills up with more power. We toss it back and forth to each other like that. In Japan, our fans are a little more shy. They’re receiving the energy, we can see that. But they’re a bit more quiet. At the live here in Dallas, the crowd really gave me permission to go crazy.
Temma: Probably a lot of people watched our music videos and thought, “This is a pop-sounding, techno band.” But really, during our lives especially, it’s really rock’n’roll. Especially once all the instruments are on stage together. The audience welcomed us more once they felt, “This is really a rock band!”
Everyone in the world knows URBANGARDE from your music videos, that’s how they define the band, especially if they’ve never seen you perform live. In the videos, your movements are very stylized, precise. But what we just saw on stage was more wild, more unpredictable. Can you get that side of you across through your music videos, too?
Temma: The whole concept about URBANGARDE is that we’re filling in the gaps between these different elements. On one hand, you have Yoko’s singing, which is more soft and relaxed. Her appearance is very sweet and carefully composed. And on my side, I’m crazy and loud and all over the place. It’s the dichotomy of those two contrasting energies that makes URBANGARDE, that’s where our identity comes from. And it’s never settled, it’s always going back and forth. We layer on top of that the pop sound and the techno, and concentrate on making all of these elements work together. So it makes sense that there’s a bit of a contrast of our “live” image and our “music video” image. We like that. We want our audience to experience us live, too, not just from videos, so it’s our mission to bring URBANGARDE out to the world.
You release new music pretty consistently. Are the songs enough by themselves to represent URBANGARDE?
Temma: Of course when you create a studio album, the final recording represents that one moment in time, the moment when it all came together in a specific way and that’s what you chose to be the final take. That’s what lives on, so you have to try to make that perfect. But in the live shows, you get to play around with the audience and find out what they’re feeling, what they’re reacting to, and change your energy based on that. It’s never going to be the same, it’s a living moment.
Yoko: I feel the opposite of all of that. I try to be the constant, to not change anything so I can balance the wildness around me. In the past, I thought maybe I should change things around, but then it didn’t feel like URBANGARDE to me.
URBANGARDE’s visual elements are so central to the band’s identity. Do you think you would connect as strongly to your audience if they were only able to experience you through sound, not videos?
Temma: For me, URBANGARDE itself is a piece of art. It’s all together for us. It’s one package. The music videos, the CDs, the live shows, it’s all built to go together, like a crazy, mixed up Disneyland.
An URBANGARDE Disneyland would be pretty scary. Definitely not for kids.
Temma: Kids 13 and over only!