Tokyo’s garage-rock superstars, OKAMOTO’s rocked the stage at Anime Boston this year, putting on a full-length concert as well as some panels and autograph sessions for fans, giving everyone a full taste of what they’re all about.
If you’re unfamiliar with the group, they’ve been together since 2006, when they were still teenagers, and are still going strong today, having had a major label debut in 2010 and soon after, taking on responsibilities composing and recording theme songs for several major anime shows, including various Naruto series, Durarara!! and Gintama.
On top of their major debut in 2010, they also came to the US for the first time to play a show at the South by Southwest festival as well as embark on a multi-city tour of the US on the Japan Nite tour.
2017 marked their first return to the US since that 2010 tour, and they were all ready to play for US audiences again after being away so long and having so much more new music to play.
We got to ask a few questions to the band about their trip here and some other questions about their history and insight into their career.
We asked where the origins of the band started and exactly where the name came from, and they mentioned that the name of the band is a combination of a famous Japanese artist named Okamoto Taro and The Ramones, and that they started the band in high school when they were around 14 years old.
Next, we questioned how the endorsement from Fender Guitars came about for their bassist, Hama, who became the youngest Japanese male to be sponsored by Fender in the company’s history. Hama explained how Fender was the first bass he ever played back in middle school, and he kept playing Fender as OKAMOTO’s rose in popularity, so he calls himself a “Fender Geek.”
He ended up meeting someone from the company and explained how much he loved the brand and why, and continued to discuss his love for Fender over time, and eventually they offered the endorsement. He explained that later on, he was able to come visit a Fender office and factory in the US a few years ago, and also went to the NAMM music industry show in California, representing Fender.
We asked about how the experience or process might be different when writing a song for one of their own standalone releases versus being hired to write a song for a major anime like Naruto or Gintama.
Sho (vocals) explained there is a bit of difference between the two, since when it comes to anime, there’s a bit of pressure they put upon themselves, since he can even remember from when he was a child, anime songs usually should be very powerful and memorable to the series, and he wants their anime songs to be just as powerful as many of the ones he remembers from his childhood. Also, for anime, he said you usually have to write the lyrics with the story of the anime in mind, instead of just making up your own entirely at random or creating your own story with them.
We heard about a tour that OKAMOTO’s did last year where they visited each prefecture of Japan, so we asked how long it took and if it was harder than a normal tour. Sho said it took around five months, traveling by van only, and it wasn’t really more tiring or hard to finish than most other tours, besides being packed in a small van with so many people, but it wasn’t much longer than most of the other tours in the end.
We asked if they had any other activities planned while they were in the US this time, and they mentioned they were actually heading to New York City to record some songs. Sho commented that all the band members are all huge geeks of classic rock n’ roll, and New York City is a kind of “mecca” for rock recordings, so they feel it’s an honor to record there.
I asked about how they’ve been able to do many collaborations with other musicians and even idols, such as PUFFY, Endo Mai (ex-Idoling!!!,) Takahashi Minami (ex-AKB48,) and Negicco, and asked about how a lot of those collaborations came about, since the style of those artists is often far from their own OKAMOTO’s sound.
Sho said “Wow, it’s rare that anyone knows about those collaborations, but I’m glad people have heard them. For basically all of the collaborations we’ve had, someone we already work with closely on our staff has been friends with someone on the staff of the other artist, and we just ended up having the opportunity to compose and work with them when the chance came about. I guess you could say we have a lot of young friends in the music industry with connections. We really enjoy these experiences because we don’t want to only have this one band as the only thing we ever do or are known for; we are all involved in various projects and play different instruments and roles in different projects, so we like to diversify what we do. After we work on something that’s a little outside of our usual sound, it gives us more influences to bring something new into our OKAMOTO’s projects in the future and expand our musical abilities in different styles.”
When asked to talk about the early days of the band, they explained that most of the members were playing different instruments than they are now when they were first getting the band going. Sho (vocals) was playing drums in addition to the drummer they already had, and Hama (bass) was playing guitar. They switched positions of members a few times and were only playing instrumental music, but then they decided they needed a singer, since having two drummers didn’t make much sense and most people don’t listen to instrumental music, so Sho took the position of singing, though he thought he wasn’t very good, but mostly because the other members said he spoke English pretty well, so he could sing in a style that was similar to a lot of their favorite Western classic rock bands.
We asked Kouki (guitar) about what kind of guitar and gear he prefers to use for their recordings and live performances, and he replied very specifically that he uses a Gibson SG 1961 Issue guitar, and he uses .46 gauge D’Addario strings. He said he first got the idea to use this specific guitar because of Pete Townshend from The Who.
We asked who their biggest classic rock influences were, since they said they are such big geeks of classic rock music, and they replied with artists like The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, Cream, The Ramones, and The Stooges, among others.
On Saturday night, they held the concert in the main auditorium, where over 1,000 people came to see them perform. They started out with some of their anime opening theme classics like “Yokubo wo Sakebe!!!!” from Naruto and “Headhunt” from Durarara!!
As the set went on, they pulled out many of their more personal songs like “Neko,” “Brother,” and “Dance with You.”
All the members put on a great show, with dancing and tons of passionate musicianship throughout the show, and I think most people in the audience left the room being a fan of OKAMOTO’s, even if they weren’t one when they came in.
Thanks to Anime Boston and all OKAMOTO’s staff for making this experience possible and giving the band a chance to appear on US ground again.
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