A Conversation With BAND-MAID

The best rock ‘n’ roll bands combine inventive songwriting, skillful playing and the understanding that, above all, rock ‘n’ roll should be fun! Based on that, Japanese quintet BAND-MAID ought to be your new favorite group. Taking their aesthetic cues from their country’s maid-cafe scene, these five women deliver ridiculously catchy hard rock. Just check out BAND-MAID’s brand-new fourth album, Unseen World. (In addition to its three previous LPs, the group also has three mini-albums.) BAND-MAID’s February 11 Budokan concert was cancelled due to COVID, but the fivesome will play an online show on that date (5 p.m. Tokyo time) that can be streamed live or watched as an archive until February 18. Tickets are available here.

MAGNET spoke with BAND-MAID about the new album, playing live and Russian spells.

The songs on Unseen World are even harder-edged and more aggressive than the ones on (2019s) Conqueror and (2018s) World Domination. The band has never been shy about its ambitions both musically and in trying to gain new audiences. I hear some of that self-confidence in the lyrics of “Manners” and also in the complexity of the songs. Please talk a little about the themes on this record and what youre trying to express. Some, like “Chemical Reaction,” seem to be relationship songs, but others seem to be about staying true to one’s self.
Miku (guitar/vocals): The music preceded the lyrics for this album, which is how we usually compose our songs. I rarely write the lyrics based mainly on my own experience or emotions. I listen to the song and decide the theme from the image of the music and then write the lyrics. Since the theme of “Manners” was “the current us: BAND-MAID” and Unseen World, I tried to convey a very progressive and straight perspective. Many of the songs on this album developed in a new way and showed a different aspect from before, so I tried to make the lyrics tell a story and composed “Giovanni” and “No God.” Also, I used a Russian spell for the chorus of “H-G-K” and wrote about black holes for the strongly chaotic “Black Hole.” This album contains stronger songs as a whole, but each song provides a different atmosphere and color, so I focused on the good characteristic differences of the songs and incorporated them in the lyrics.

A song like “No God” seems like the quintessential BAND-MAID tune, as it has a bit of everything: melodic-yet-complicated verses and catchy choruses, a bass solo from Misa and a slower interlude with heartfelt and very pretty singing. The band is often praised for the way you let every member take a turn in the spotlight. Is that a conscious decision?
Misa (bass): Thank you. I suggested the structure of this song to Kanami, and Kanami arranged the song accordingly. I composed this with OKYU-JI (live concerts) in mind, so I intentionally added the bass solo.

At this point, you’re recording veterans. It’s sometimes hard for those outside Japan to understand the role of the producer for Japanese artists. Are you basically producing your own recordings, or do you get input from your wider team?
Saiki (vocals): From the production perspective, BAND-MAID basically decides all principal items, but that does not mean that we don’t listen to anyone else’s opinion. We strive to create the best sound source possible at that time with the staff members, including the engineers. BAND-MAID really enjoys spending days and hours with the engineers to generate what we want, to create the music we want, so we can come up with something satisfying.

Kanami, your guitar playing is consistently inventive and continues to evolve both technically and in its expressive power. Since you write much of the group’s music, were you looking to showcase your playing in a different way on this album? If anything, it seems more “symphonic” to me.
Kanami (guitar): For the songs looking back to our roots, I had in mind riffs and phrases that would simply convey the sound of hard rock. For the songs where I wanted to evolve and make progress, I intentionally incorporated phrases that would be a little off or had a gimmick taste. As a whole, I was able to put more emphasis on the ensemble aspect of the band compared to before.

Miku, when the group started, you were a novice guitar player, but you’ve become quite an accomplished rhythm guitarist in addition to your roles as lyricist and co-vocalist. I believe I’ve read you tend to focus your playing on live performances. Did you play on some of the Unseen World recordings?
Miku: Thank you. We had limited time to record this album, so Kanami, who is my guitar teacher, played my part as well. Kanami used my Zemaitis guitar and effects to record my part. I am practicing very hard so I can play my part really well for the OKYU-JI.

Akane, your drumming on Unseen World is ferocious yet precise. I hear more consistent use of double-kick drums from track to track than on past efforts. The tempos are also punk-rock or thrash-metal fast. How much do you influence the tempo of songs, or is that a group decision?
Akane (drums): Thank you. I was really fired up and went for it! As for the tempo of the songs, all the members discuss what we want. For example, we request energetic and speedy songs, or we would like some middle-tempo songs. Ultimately, Kanami, who actually composes the songs, decides the tempo. When we make new songs, Kanami asks me questions like, “How fast can you do the two-bass-drum phrase?” But Kanami ends up composing the song with a faster tempo than what I had told her I could do. [Laughs] I can always exceed the tempo that I thought was my limit, and I definitely owe this to the spartan approach of my fellow members.

Unfortunately, the group’s Budokan concert had to be canceled. You held some virtual events this past summer. Are you planning more online concerts for the first half of 2021? Once it’s safe, it would also be great to see the band at some international music festivals like Glastonbury, Roskilde and Gov Ball in New York!
Miku: Yes. And we will keep on doing our best to achieve that goal of a live Budokan show someday!

—Bruce Fagerstrom