Interview by Shannon McNaught
October 16, 2016
If you’ve ever heard of Ensoku, your first thought is probably, “This is a pen.” This band’s crazy stage antics and hilarious concepts have won them a place in visual kei fans’ hearts around the world. They just celebrated ten years in the industry, an impressive feat in this current scene full of formations and breakups.
In Ensoku’s first ever interview for overseas media, they talk about their tenth anniversary, their upcoming singles, and a few exclusive tidbits of information that even the Japanese fans haven’t heard.
-First, could you please introduce each member and their part in the band?
Buu: I’m the vocalist, Buu. Pleased to meet you.
Joe: I’m Joe on guitar.
Kuraoka: I’m Kuraoka, also on guitar.
Mido: I’m the bassist, Mido.
-Could you tell us what your band’s concept is?
Buu: Hm…that’s hard. I don’t think there are many bands that decide on a concept before they start. They don’t end up sticking to it if they decide beforehand.
Buu: Our concept is something like getting the audience to move in weird ways, releasing the dancer living inside your head, and taking you on a trip. Ensoku offers a place to do things like that.
-What about the meaning of your band’s name?
Mido: We came up with three options: Ensoku (Picnic), Doubutsu (Animal), and Norimono (Vehicle). The one with sort of the most room for freedom, or the one we could do the most with, was Ensoku. If we went with animals, we’d be confined to only doing things related to animals. Like, we’d be cats one time and another animal the next time and it’d always be the same thing. If we went with vehicles, we’d be…
Mido: …yeah, trains. We’d all be one car of a train, or something.
Buu: We wouldn’t have been able to go on for 10 years with concepts like that.
Mido: So that’s why “Ensoku” was our best choice. It gives us the most freedom.
Buu: Do foreigners know that the band name “Ensoku” is uncool?
-What do you mean?
Buu: From a Japanese perspective, it’s uncool. First of all, it’s written in hiragana.
(Translator’s note: writing a word in the basic alphabet, hiragana, when it could be written using kanji is generally considered unsophisticated.)
-We didn’t really think it was uncool.
Buu: Oh. That’s a shame. Well… Most visual kei bands have English names, don’t they? Ten years ago we thought that bands that tried to make really cool names were actually uncool. So we didn’t want a ‘cool’ band name. We went with an uncool band name.
Buu: On purpose.
Mido: All of our band name options were made to be like that.
-Among fans living overseas, there are probably many who haven’t seen Ensoku live. How would you describe a typical Ensoku live to them?
Buu: The great thing about this era is that people can still watch videos on the Internet, right? Not every visual kei live is the same, but for most of them, fans are really well-practiced [in terms of furitsuke hand movements]. I think that’s something special about visual kei shows. When people watch videos of that performance style, they must feel a little jealous about how much fun the audience is having, right?
-Right. We watched some of your live clips and they seemed pretty comical–or crazy. Where do you draw inspiration for your performance ideas?
Kuraoka: We’re not really influenced by any one particular thing.
-So, how do you come up with your ideas?
Buu: This isn’t a very nice way to say it, but we watch average people put on basic shows and try to use that to think of things that aren’t basic. We don’t want to put on lives that are boring — visual kei as a genre was inspired by the idea that “average is boring.” Even so, there’s an “average” for visual kei. That’s our starting point for ideas.
-In that regard, you make an effort in both your performances and your music.
Buu: Of course. It’s hard to say this to fans living overseas, but I think it’s difficult to get the full Ensoku experience just from listening to our CDs.
Kuraoka: Do fans overseas do the kinds of things [like furitsuke] that fans here do?
-Not really… everyone tends to do what they like.
Mido: So you don’t like being told “You should do this,” huh?
-It depends on the fan and the band, we suppose.
Mido: I see.
-You’re releasing a new single, “12 Monsters,” in November. Based on what we know about the song and the in-store events that follow, can we assume that the single’s concept is based on the 12 signs of the zodiac?
Buu: Not exactly. At first, I started off with the idea to make something based around the number 12 because I like it — there are a lot of things that revolve around the number 12, right? Hours on the clock, months in a year, one cycle of the Chinese zodiac… But among those, I thought it would be easiest to convey that significance through signs of the zodiac. So, it’s not as if I have a particular liking of the zodiac.
-So, why “12 Monsters”? What kind of monsters are there?
Buu: My favorite movie ever is “12 Monkeys.” You should watch it. It’s from several years ago, but when I saw it I immediately took a liking to it. The title just sort of popped into my mind. But the single isn’t necessarily based on the content of the movie. It just has a similar ring to it.
-So it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re into monsters, either.
Buu: Right, not at all; we just had this idea that the next theme would be monsters, or unusual creatures in general.
-We listened to the song a little bit, and to us it seems as if you’ve put together an interesting mix of frightening monsters and bright-sounding music.
Buu: Right. My idea of it is like your childhood bedroom — like the Boogieman coming out of the closet.
-The Boogieman is pretty scary, though…
Buu: Right, the Boogieman is scary, but he doesn’t seem that scary depending on what kind of image you’re looking at.
Mido: He wants to be the Boogieman.
Buu: No I don’t!
Buu: Anyway, the point is to break away from the norm. The Boogieman is scary. Our band isn’t actually scary, but we might look it.
Kuraoka: Is the Boogieman a well-known character overseas?
Buu: Actually, the Boogieman isn’t really well known in Japan.
Mido: I don’t know what it is. What is it? Like the sack full of bugs?
Buu: That’s the image from “The Nightmare before Christmas.” But the Boogieman doesn’t have one set form. The idea is that he’s a bedroom monster.
In Japan, homes are smaller. Parents usually sleep in the same room as their children. Since they’re together, the Boogieman wouldn’t really come out.
There aren’t many kids who sleep in a room alone. When kids sleep alone in a room, it’s like their nightmares come to life. I think that’s why [the Boogieman] isn’t a very well-known character in Japan. We haven’t explained the Boogieman concept in other Japanese interviews because of that.
I used to sleep in my own room that had a lock and my parents’ room wasn’t nearby, so I would always imagine things coming out from the shadows or appearing at my window. That’s also the Boogieman, in a sense.
-Going back to the theme of monsters — if each of you could be a monster, what would you be?
Mido: I definitely want to be a Ninja Turtle. Aren’t they cool? And they eat pizza. I love pizza.
Buu: That’s perfect! Then I want to be a turtle, too…
Joe: Maybe Sailor Moon.
-That’s not a monster…
Kuraoka: Sailor Moon might not be a monster, but if Joe were Sailor Moon, wouldn’t that be like a monster?
A lot of people say I look kind of skeletal, so I want to be a fat monster.
-Final answer, Buu?
Buu: I want to be a Ninja Turtle!
-Is that okay with you, Mido?
Mido: I guess so. He’s not green, though.
Kuraoka: I think he could make a good Shrek or The Hulk, though.
Buu: The Hulk sounds good. He’s strong. I always wanted to be big. Like, someone who’s over two meters tall.
-Next, we’d like to ask a little more about the songs included on “12 Monsters.” The first track is “Sweet Nightmare March.”
Buu: In this song, the monsters emerge from your nightmares and take to the streets. It’s their grand entrance.
-Is it scary?
Buu: It’s a little eerie, but it’s a pretty upbeat song.
-Who wrote the lyrics and music for “12 Monsters?”
Buu: I write all of the lyrics, and everyone writes the music recently.
-What kind of song is 「イルキメラ・キッド」 (“Ill Chimera Kid”)?
Buu: Hip hop and visual kei don’t usually go together, but “ill” is a word used in hip hop and rap to mean “insanely cool.” So, using that word, I decided on a rap theme. As for the “chimera” part – when making a song, you take bits and pieces of inspiration from a lot of places. You can’t make something completely from nothing. But the end result–something like you’ve never heard before–becomes a kind of “chimera” in and of itself. The “kid” part is the little brat in us that doesn’t want to abide by the rules.
-Does this song have any relation to one of your earlier releases, 「シリカゲルキッド」 (“Silica Gel Kid”)?
Buu: That’s a really good question. This single will be available for pre-sale at our show on October 30th. That’s the same day as Ensoku’s first show ever. The venue is also the same. The song we released at that very first show was “Silica Gel Kid.” We’ve been together for so long and done so many things, it feels like going back to the beginning. That’s the connection between the new song and “Silica Gel Kid.” It’s not directly related to it, but it sort of signifies our 10 years together.
-Why didn’t you make it the title track, then?
Buu: We originally didn’t plan on including a song with so much meaning, and there’s no way that anyone that went to our first show is still around. If we made an effort to promote something that no one actually knew the significance of, they’d think, “I didn’t know. I don’t really care.” So, we tried to make it as subtle as possible. We haven’t said this to Japanese media because of that.
It started off as, “I want to try rapping,” and ended up also including, “I want this song to have significance.” We did it for ourselves.
-So, what’s your favorite song on the single?
Buu: I’d say “12 Monsters.”
Kuraoka: I’d also go with “12 Monsters.”
Joe: They’re all good songs.
Mido: The first one. Or is it the second one? The “monsters” one.
-Let’s talk about the zodiac-themed in-store events that will accompany the release. Who came up with the idea?
Buu: I thought of it.
-Which one was the most difficult to come up with ideas for?
Buu: They were all pretty tough, but I think the Leo event was the most difficult. My original idea was for me to bite fans’ hands, but I figured some people might not be into that. So I had to figure out how to incorporate a lion another way.
-How did it end up?
Buu: A toy lion will bite fans’ hands. If you’re bitten, you lose. If you somehow don’t get bitten, you win a prize.
Mido: We also considered having Joe fight an actual lion.
Joe: Then fans would bet on who’d win.
Mido: Maybe we could do it if we sold a few more singles, but unfortunately, it won’t happen this time around.
Buu: Sailor Joe vs. The Lion King. Rock is always “Dead or Alive,” you know.
-So, which in-store are you looking forward to the most?
Buu: I’m going to go with the Cancer event. I’m curious about what kinds of problems and concerns fans will bring to us. We don’t actually know a lot about our fans’ personal lives, so I guess you could say I’m looking forward to knowing a bit more about them.
It’s not like everyone that comes to our shows is having a great time in life. Some of them have probably been lied to or deceived pretty horribly. It would make me realize, “Wow, someone who experienced this awful thing likes our music.”
Joe: I’m looking forward to the Libra event. It’s a kamizumo (“paper sumo”) event.
Buu: You each fold up a piece of paper and draw a face on it, and then tap your fingers on the table rapidly.
Joe: The two pieces of paper will get closer to each other, and eventually one should knock the other over.
All: (furious table tapping)
Joe: There’s also an arm-wrestling match. We tried it at an in-store before, but somehow I ended up losing to a bunch of the girls…
-Really? Sailor Joe!?
Buu: Yeah, Sailor Joe lost…it’s because he’s so mellow.
Joe: I don’t want to lose this time.
-Good luck, then.
Kuraoka: I’m with Joe. I want to have a champion match.
Buu: One of our fans took the gold last time.
Mido: She’s like a pro wrestler.
Kuraoka: I want to have a rematch with her, as the champion.
Buu: You can’t say you’re the champion if you lost!
Kuraoka: So this will be my revenge match.
Buu: I wonder what it would be like if we were a more worldwide band? We’d be up against all these tough foreigners…
Kuraoka: Right? I bet there are some really strong ones.
Buu: They’d be like [in English, deep voice] HEY.
Kuraoka: [in English, deep voice] HEY BOY.
Mido: As for me, I’m looking forward to all of them, but especially the Sagittarius event. I love darts. I go to bars and play darts often.
-Good luck to everyone!
All: (laugh) We’ll do our best!
-On October 30th, where “12 Monsters” will be available for pre-sale, you’ll have a special show. What kind of show will you put on?
Buu: It will be at a really small livehouse, so I want the audience to leave dripping with sweat. I want everyone to have fun together.
-Will it have some sort of Halloween theme, since it’s so close to the day of Halloween?
Buu: Nope. Halloween still hasn’t totally reached Japan [outside of Shibuya]. I’m actually anti-Halloween [in Japan].
Buu: I’m against it. Halloween is an event where you put on makeup and dress up in costume to feel special, or feel like you’re someone else, right? But that’s what we do all the time in visual kei. Fans of visual kei members have always supported us like that and imitated our fashion in places like Harajuku, even while being silently judged by their peers in school. Then, all of a sudden, those same people that were judging you are taking this custom from overseas without even understanding it, and suddenly it’s okay to do the same thing themselves in Shibuya.
It’s like, “Why is that okay now?” And they only do it in groups. They don’t even consider what we–as visual kei artists–might think of that. [Costumes and makeup] are what has always made this genre “visual.” I can’t really agree that it’s suddenly okay to go out to Shibuya in costumes to have a good time.
So that’s why we don’t really want to have a Halloween party show. We’re a year-round Halloween party.
-So, what kind of show do you want October 30th to be, then?
Mido: We’ll reveal new costumes. We’ll become “12 Monsters.” I’m hoping the fans will enjoy it.
Joe: It will be the first time we’ll be playing “12 Monsters” and “Ill Chimera Kid.” I’m a little worried that I’ll mess up. (laughs)
Buu: [in English] Joe is a fool.
-That means a lot of fans will be hearing it for the first time, right? So they won’t know if you make a mistake.
Joe: I guess that’s true.
Mido: We could play a completely different song and they wouldn’t even know.
Joe: Anyway, I’ll try my best to pull it off.
Kuraoka: [in English] He’s a chicken.
-You’ll also be screening a 12-minute short film at the show on October 30th. Can you tell us what it will be about?
Buu: We haven’t figured anything out yet. Malice Mizer made a short film, right? We were thinking of doing it in that style.
-Just as dramatic?
Buu: Yes, just as dramatic.
-That should be interesting.
Buu: You should add “Buu likes GACKT.” Malice Mizer was the first visual kei band I got interested in.
-Following that show, you’ll embark on a series of two-man shows. How did you decide on which bands to perform with?
Buu: We asked the bands directly.
-We’re particularly interested in seeing what your show with Sibile Bashir will be like, since your performance styles are both a bit crazy…
Buu. Right. That’s why we asked them.
Mido: We really, really like Sibile Bashir. Aren’t they cool? And crazy. Crazy is cool.
Buu: Izumi is an actual Boogieman.
-Which band are you looking forward to performing with the most?
Buu: For me, Mix Speaker’s, Inc. We’ve asked them to play together before, but they never accepted our offers until now. We look up to them a lot. I’m excited to play with them.
Joe: I’d say Jin Machine. We run into them and play with them a lot, so I already know how fun it will be.
Kuraoka: Zin, from Osaka. They have a very Japanese sound. I love that kind of band. Also, there’s a member in Zin that’s into a Japanese band called B’z. I already know we’ll get along. I’d really like to meet him.
-Is he like your soulmate?
Kuraoka: Yes, he’s my soulmate.
Buu: There aren’t many guys in visual kei that would say they like B’z.
Mido: I’m looking forward to playing with Sibile Bashir, of course, but I’m also looking forward to playing with heidi. They have great songs and great shows. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a while. We’ve always played under their level.
-The tour final will take place in January 2017. We know it’s early, but what kind of show do you want to put on?
Buu: It’s where the whole tour will come together. It will be a test to see how much our efforts have paid off. It will show us how much we’ve gained.
At small one-mans and two-mans, there are a lot of reasons that prevent some fans from showing up, but I think this show will give us an accurate picture of how large our fanbase is. I think we’ve gained a lot.
-We’d like to talk about overseas a bit. If you could visit anywhere in the world (as a band or personally), where would you like to go?
Buu: I don’t know. We don’t really get offers to play overseas.
-Do you want offers?
Mido: Yes. I want to know how much of our English we can use. I want to try “This is a pen” on a foreign audience. I want to know if they think it’s funny.
-They do, trust us. There are a lot of overseas fans that know you because of that song.
Buu: Anyway, I’d personally like to go to the UK. They’re an island nation like Japan, and there are a lot of British products and influences here.
Joe: I want to go to Australia. I went to Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide when I was very young, but there are a lot of places I want to check out again now that I’m an adult.
Buu: He also wants to eat koalas.
Joe: Eat… koalas?
Buu: Don’t they eat koalas?
Kuraoka: I’ve heard of kangaroo, but not koala. I guess a koala is like a kangaroo’s kouhai, though.
Anyway, I want to go to America. Specifically New York or Los Angeles. I’m really into American music, like Aerosmith.
Mido: I want to visit India. Once you visit, you’ll want to visit again. Europe was too cold for me. I’ve been to the UK, France, and Italy before.
Buu: I want to go to Italy, too! They have great food. I want to eat the real deal. You know how Japan has “Neapolitan pasta?” I want to test Japan’s version of it versus the real thing. I bet they’d think our version is gross.
-Finally, please give a message to your fans and all our readers at S-T.net.
Buu: I’m still not sure what kinds of visual kei that visual kei lovers overseas like, but we’ll try our best to do things like translate our lyrics so you can really understand them. I hope it will lead you to meet Japanese friends that are as interested in our lyrics and music as you are, and eventually bring you over to Japan. I’m sure that will help you enjoy our music even more. We’ll keep on working hard for you.
Joe: We’ve been a band that only works in Japan until now, but I hope that we can meet someday. We’ll work hard to make that happen…
Buu: (puts a straw in his own ear)
Joe: …so please give us your support.
Kuraoka: I want to know what fans overseas think good music is. I want them to listen to our music and understand our lyrics. Also, I want them to listen to our guitar.
Once, I found out someone did a cover of “This is a pen” on YouTube. I was floored. I hope our fans–and people who do covers like that–only increase. Thank you.
Mido: We’re always doing shows around Japan, so definitely come and see us if you get the chance. Come check us out when you come over here for the Olympics. Please support us!
Buu: That’s right! There will be a lot of tourists coming over. Someone should make a “visual kei sightseeing tour.”
Mido: Let’s do it.
Originally published by Shattered Tranquility. Reprinted with permission.