Artist Interviews

Q&A: Vamps

By | Published on Thursday 30 October 2014


Vamps (not to be confused with The Vamps) are a Japanese rock duo, formed in 2008 by L’Arc-En-Ciel frontman Hyde and Oblivion Dust guitarist KAZ.

While perhaps not household names in the UK, L’Arc-En-Ciel have sold over fifteen million albums in their 20+ year career, and headlined Madison Square Garden. It was on Hyde’s second solo album, ‘666’, in 2003 that he and KAZ began working together. Two more solo albums later, they decided to make the partnership more of an equal split with Vamps.

The pair walked into the room where we conducted our interview radiating rockstar auras, both dressed in black and hiding behind sunglasses, though Hyde did remove his while we spoke. It was a fairly unusual conversation, in that it was conducted through an interpreter, though after a slightly shaky start, both men showed themselves to be warm and funny.

The next night they took to the stage at the Japan Night showcase, which was staged as part of this year’s Tokyo International Music Market. Their show – “pure rock entertainment” as they described it – was exactly that. Hyde stalked around the stage, trailing a Jolly Roger from his mic stand, as KAZ thundered out riff after riff.

With their second album, ‘Bloodsuckers’, out this week, the day before that show CMU’s Andy Malt spoke to Hyde and KAZ about Vamps’ formation, their experiences of playing overseas and their hopes for building and maintaining and international audience.

AM: You guys worked together prior to starting Vamps, what prompted you to start this project?
H: I’ve always liked the music that KAZ writes, so I wanted to record an album that we both wrote together half and half. During that process, I thought it would be better to have a different name from my solo work.

AM: Did you have any specific influences in mind when you started working on those songs? It has a more aggressive sound than your other projects.
H: Vamps is more like the band I wanted to be in as a teenager.

AM: The music you make as Vamps does have quite a youthful feel to it, and it’s a bit more aggressive than your other projects. How do you maintain that energy after so long in the music industry?
H: Because I’m a vampire.
K: We keep young with lots of new blood.

AM: And when you’re not drinking blood, how does the split in the songwriting work?
H: We both write songs, and then arrange each other’s music, so it’s a dual effort. When you’re working on your own, it’s really hard to know how far to take something – what’s good for the song and what’s not really working. Having KAZ to help and make the music better than it was already makes everything easier. Basically, we both write 90% of a song individually and then talk about how we’re going to brush up the last 10%.

AM: With events like Japan Night and TIMM, there seems to be increasing support for Japanese artists who want to play abroad. What do you think about that, and what are the challenges of playing overseas as a Japanese artist?
H: Not many Japanese artists are famous abroad at the moment. A big part of that is that there’s no real predecessor to pave the way. No Japanese artists that have been really famous internationally yet, so it’s really hard to get the support and the budget to get out there. It is really difficult, but little by little things are changing. Hopefully, as more people gamble and take a chance on pushing Japanese music abroad, there will be further opportunities for more artists to secure the kind of sponsorship and budgets required to do it.

AM: You’ve actually played internationally quite a lot already, including Download festival this year. Was that your first UK festival experience?
H: Yes.

AM: And how does that compare to playing a Japanese festival?
H: There’s nobody smoking weed backstage in Japan!

AM: What was the response from the audience at Download?
K: After the band before us played everybody cleared out, so we were a bit scared. But right before we came on, lots of people turned up to see us, so we were really happy and relieved. At first the audience were kind of just looking on, trying to assess what kind of band we were, but as we performed the crowd got wilder and wilder, and it looked like they had a lot of fun, which we were really pleased about Afterwards, a lot of people came up to say that we were awesome.

AM: Do you think you’re at an advantage by writing your lyrics in English, and was that a consideration what you started writing songs for the band?
H: I like English songs more than Japanese, so for me it’s very natural for me to write in English. It might be difficult for other bands in Japan, but I think it’s important if you want to play in places like America or the UK.

AM: Growing up were you more inclined to listen to British and American bands?
H: In my teens, yes. Maybe 85% were foreign bands. I was particularly into British New Wave and gothic punk. Bands like Depeche Mode, The Mission and The Cure. I was also listening to American hard rock, heavy metal, and hardcore too. I liked GBH a lot.

AM: You’ve already had some success in the States with L’Arc-En-Ciel. Is it refreshing to go back to the beginning and build something up from scratch?
H: L’Arc-En-Ciel have a long history, so of course that’s different. The length of time we’ve been playing together means that there are a lot of people who’ll come and see us play now. But with Vamps we have a totally different fanbase, so for me Vamps is more equipped to find success abroad.

AM: You’re very active online, with social media and blogging. How has that changed your interacting with your fans, and do you think that’s a positive thing?
H: I feel it’s very important. Whether it’s the newest and hottest information about the band, or just my daily life, I like to upload and let the fans know what’s going on.
K: It closes the distance between you and the fans.

AM: Your music is available on services like iTunes, Spotify and YouTube internationally. How do you feel about that, and do you think that’s important as well?
K: It’s easier for a lot of people to have access to our music, but at the same time there’s too much information out there now, so it’s really hard to find or be found via the internet. Spreading the name and letting people know who we are is quite difficult as a result, so for us it’s more about going to places and playing concerts. Letting people know and hear how we do our music is really important for us.

AM: Subscription streaming services like Spotify are largely unavailable in Japan. Do you think it would be a positive thing for Japan to have those services as well?
K: Streaming is mainstream abroad. And I think those platforms could be a good tool to help us jump from Japan to other foreign countries, and to give people a chance to find out more about Japanese music in general. So I think they are important in that regard. And as this new era evolves, perhaps music should evolve with it.

AM: So when people see that you’re coming to their country, what should people expect from your live show?
H: We have a slightly tongue-in-cheek horror sense to our style. Each song is very unique and very individual, and for us to perform, for ourselves, it’s kind of wonderful to see that you can make people dance and have people move their bodies with such a range of music. That’s one of the things that you’ll experience with our concerts: Pure rock entertainment.

AM: And finally, what are your plans for getting your latest album to people around the world?
H: Since we took a long time to make this album, we’d love to go on a world tour to promote it. But before that we want to release the album in each country and promote it properly, before playing the concerts.

Watch the video for ‘Bloodsuckers’ lead single ‘Get Away’ here: