THE BLACK SWAN is a band that has intrigued fans of ex. NEGA‘s JIN ever since he started the band in 2014. They’ve been in a constant whirlwind of activities ever since, including lives, 3 maxi singles, and compilation album contributions. They’re fast approaching the release of their first album, “OUSIA,” in April; and their 2nd anniversary will be marked with a one-man show in June.
Some of you may know them because of NEGA, but there are undoubtedly some that were turned on by a couple of entertaining song titles (“I’M SHIT NOODLES, BUT…”). Maybe there are some of you who got into the band because of drummer Len‘s cat, Kotetsu. The unlikely pair of “scary” bandman plus adorable kitten had their 15 minutes of fame on national Japanese television recently.
In THE BLACK SWAN’s first interview for an international audience, the band talks about how the band came together, progress on their first album, overseas aspirations, and–of course–Len’s cat. Read until the end for your chance to win a prize!
-Since this is our first interview, let’s start with member introductions.
Len: I’m Len on drums.
Itsuki: I’m Itsuki on guitar.
Jin: I’m the vocalist, Jin.
Makoto: I’m Makoto on guitar.
Rena: I’m Rena, the bassist.
-Can you tell us how all of you met?
Jin: Originally, Rena was my kouhai at UNDER CODE PRODUCTION. Around the time that my previous band Nega was breaking up, we started talking about wanting to play together. At the time our office was in Osaka, but we wanted to have our next band in Tokyo. So, both of our bands broke up, then we went to Tokyo and started looking for other members.
I searched for members at a few live houses with a different guitarist I was going to start the band with. We found Len playing at one of those live houses, and by fate, his band at the time was just about to break up. It was good timing.
Makoto was introduced to me by an acquaintance, but it took a really long time for us to get into the studio after we first talked. He used to be in a pretty dark band, so his aura is also a bit dark. We’d never played together before our first show. It actually wasn’t decided whether or not he’d join until we did our first show.
Itsuki was introduced to me by an old friend. At first he turned me down because he had plans to be in another band. I decided to send him a message anyways and we were able to sit down and talk. Once we started talking…
Itsuki: Right, because he was in Nega.
Jin: We started playing together, and when we started to get along well, I pestered him to join.
-How did you decide on your band name? Do you have a concept?
Jin: Swans are supposed to represent beauty and purity, right? But I wanted to display the opposite feelings and concepts through music, like in Swan Lake.
Also, in my last band the things I sang about were pretty negative. I’d sung about things like not having wings but wanting to fly. So I wanted to make my next band have wings.
-Is there any relation to the Hollywood movie (“The Black Swan”)?
Jin: Yes, in a way. I was partly inspired by the movie, but there were other inspirations involved, too.
Itsuki: I personally like Natalie Portman. That movie makes you realize she’s really grown up since she was in Leon.
-What’s the inspiration behind your newest artist photos?
Jin: It’s the concept for our newest music video “RUVISH.” It’s about being raped and thrown away. What inspired that was the concept of “rape trees” in Mexico. Drug dealers find a lot of girls, rape them, and then leave their undergarments hanging on trees.
That’s part of what went into the story concept for the video. At first we considered having actresses play the part, because that’s what most bands would do, right? But then we thought, “What if we played the girls instead?” And that’s how the music video turned out.
-Do you wear those costumes on stage?
Jin: Oh, no, not on stage.
-You just joined Terakoya a few weeks ago. How did that come about?
Jin: Terakoya has a variety of bands for a typical management company, like Ensoku and Minus Jin-Say Orchestra. We wanted to find a management company with bands that were different from us. They liked what we had to offer, so we got to talking. We didn’t want our company to define us; we wanted to offer something new. They agreed. That’s how we joined them.
-How has it been so far? Well, it’s only been 3 weeks, but…
Rena: Nothing has changed. (laugh) There are a lot of good people working there, though.
Jin: Yeah, it’s fun. I’m looking forward to doing more with them.
-Your first big move under Terakoya will be the release of your first album, “OUSIA.” Could you tell us what the title means?
Jin: It’s a Greek word that means “essence.” It’s the root of power, humanity, and the world. I wanted to sing about those things.
-The album is probably still in the works, but is there anything you can tell us about it for now? What kinds of songs will you include?
Jin: At our one-man show on January 5th, we released an “incomplete” version of the album. We’ll include those songs and a few more, deeper songs.
Itsuki: We’ll also include a ballad.
-Speaking of that one-man show, it had an interesting concept. Tickets weren’t free; fans decided how much the show was worth and paid after the performance was over. What made you decide to do that?
Jin: I’m really interested in the concept of “value” itself and what kinds of values people hold. For example, a typical visual kei live will cost you 3,000-3,500 yen. But even if the band you want to see is only playing for 25 minutes at an event live, you still need to pay that 3,000-3500 yen. If you look at it in that light, it seems a bit pricey, doesn’t it? It’s not a lot if you already have a lot of money, but it is a lot if you only have about 5,000 yen a month for extra spending money. Even so, there are people in that category who will actually pay that 3,500 yen to see us.
When I realized that, it made me want to let them decide the value of one of our shows.
-Do you think it was a success?
Jin: Well, we handed out questionnaires when we collected the payment [at the end of the show], and it really helped us to gauge everyone’s individual thoughts and feelings about the show. I’m glad we did it.
Rena: I’m glad we did it, too.
Itsuki: I think it was a success just because of that.
Rena: Recently we’ve been getting fewer letters from fans, so we haven’t been able to hear their thoughts like that for a while. We’re even getting less fanmail in our e-mail. It was nice that people took the time to write out some of their feelings when the show was over. It gave us some motivation.
-What else are you looking forward to in 2016?
Jin: In preparation for our one-man on June 3rd at Shibuya O-WEST, I’ve come to see the good parts, the bad parts, and the parts we need to work on in our band. I want to see how much we can grow as a band until then. Also, the album will be released before then, and I want it to be a level of quality that would make you think it’s not a “first album.” I want to develop our band’s identity even more.
Itsuki: I’m also looking forward to seeing how much our band grows as we get closer to the one-man show.
Rena: I’m excited to see how “OUSIA” turns out, and of course for the one-man on June 3rd.
Makoto: I’m also looking forward to seeing how the band grows, but I’m also looking forward to growing as a person and meeting other people. I’m hoping to learn a lot from them.
Rena: What are you looking forward to, Len? Your cat’s growth? (laugh)
Len: Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing how much Kotetsu grows.
Rena: Me, too.
-Speaking of Kotetsu…
Rena: Here it comes…
-…he became a hot topic in Japan recently, right? Has this gotten the band more attention and fans?
Len: We did get a lot of attention for it, and we also noticed a small increase in fans due to it.
-More Kotetsu fans?
Rena: The newer people are probably more interested in Kotetsu than in the band. Cat fans. But because of their interest in him, they noticed us.
-Changing the subject a bit, TBS has a lot of fans both nationally and internationally, but how do you think your music reached those international fans? Through YouTube?
Jin: Actually, a lot of our overseas fans understand Japanese. Sometimes they’ll upload translated versions of our songs on YouTube. I don’t know how correct they are, though.
Rena: I’d say that of quite a few of them can use Japanese better than most Japanese people. There are also some fans who send us fanmail in Japanese I can’t understand, but I know they’re trying really hard. For the most part, though, a lot of them are pretty good at Japanese.
Jin: I think lyrics are a good tool to help them learn, but there are some times where you can’t understand the lyrics, right? Especially if there’s shouting. Those are usually the parts you can understand more by feeling. We experience that too when we listen to Western bands. I think it’s fine if you can understand it just by feeling. It’s when you want to know the meaning even deeper that you decide to translate it.
-Where do a lot of your overseas fans live? Europe?
Jin: They live everywhere, really.
Rena: A lot of them probably do live in Europe, but…
Itsuki: Cambodia. (pause) And the Middle East.
Rena: But really, they come from all over the world. There are also some in Brazil.
-Since most of the people reading this live overseas, they want to know: if you could play a show anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Jin: I’m not trying to say that I want to go here more than anywhere else in the world, but I was really shocked by the recent Paris terror attacks. I’ve been there before, but–this might be a little weird to say–it made me want to go there again.
-Aren’t you a little scared by the attacks?
Jin: A little, but besides that, I’m not really someone who enjoys traveling. I’d like to stay in Japan as much as possible. (laugh) Japanese food is so delicious…
But since I know there are people waiting to see us in Paris, I’d like to go there. As for being scared – I think there will be that sort of danger everywhere. Japan is probably the place that’s a little unusual [in terms of safety]. The fact that something that horrific happened in a place I’ve been to before really shocked me. That’s why I’d like to go again.
Rena: I want to drink beer in Germany.
Len: Maybe America.
-Where in America?
Len: Hm…New York.
-We thought you’d say that. (laugh)
Rena: What about LA?
Len: What is there in LA? (laugh)
Rena: I’ve heard the air is really dry there.
Itsuki: I’d like to go to a country with friendly people, or a country that likes Japan. Like maybe Taiwan. I’m also afraid of planes, so countries that are nearby would be ideal. (laugh)
Itsuki: Makoto is from Firenze, so…*
Makoto: I really like Italy, so I’d like to go there.
Itsuki: He wants to see the Mediterranean side of his family. I wonder if they’ll welcome him.
Makoto: I think they will.
*Itsuki is implying that Makoto’s distinctive nose makes him look like he’s not fully Japanese.
-Finally, what is the one thing you want the world to know about TBS?
Rena: We’re not “The Cat Band.”
Rena: We just have a cat.
Jin: I bet even people overseas are saying, “Oh right, they’re the ones with the cat.”
Itsuki: Our band is animal-related, though.
Jin: “THE BLACK SWAN CAT.”
-Is that all you want people to know? (laughs)
Rena: Pretty much.
Jin: We also would like people to come see us live.
Itsuki: I’d like people to listen to “OUSIA.” One of the songs has the same title as the album; I want people to listen to that. (talking directly to recording device) People of the world! Listen to it!
Makoto: I want people to come to our shows.
Itsuki: People all over the world? (laugh)
Makoto: If you can afford a plane ticket.
Rena: We did have some people who came to our last one-man from as far as Canada, though.
-And you, Len?
Len: Please continue to support Kotetsu.
In traditional S-T.net spirit, we’re giving away two autograph boards signed by all the members (and Kotetsu)! Enter using one or all of the entry methods on Rafflecopter for your chance to win. The deadline is February 10th.
Interview by Shannon and Ku.
Tags: THE BLACK SWAN