This is a translation of Hiroki Tokuyama’s interview with Taka for the release of “Renegades,” published on April 19, 2021 on the ROCKIN’ ON website. The original article this translation is based on can be found here, and the full interview is published in the June issue of ROCKIN’ ON JAPAN magazine (April 30, 2021 release).
The scenery I saw this past year and a half doesn’t apply to anything but rock. That’s why now, I confront rock with confidence.
I want to immediately talk about your new song, and I heard you recorded it in England in February.
Around when did you start producing it?
This song was probably one of the first sessions we did when creating songs for the album.
How did you come up with the image for the song?
This was basically a collaborative work with Ed1, though coldrain’s vocalist Masato also participated. The three of us, and of course Toru was there, and various producers as well. A session with Ed was planned from the beginning, but we hadn’t talked about the movie2. In my mind, it’s a bit strange, but even before the pandemic, there was a strong anger-like feeling simmering inside. That feeling is really just like the lyrics. While touring, there was a feeling budding inside me. If you put the focus on that, you end up at the place where we are now, including our independence3. It’s like there was a moment where I really felt a sense of duty. There was also the theme of the movie, so we linked things like that together. By the way, for the next album, we’re making it with a theme in mind. Up until now, we’ve just kind of created songs and put an album title to it, but even though we haven’t yet decided on an album title, the album’s theme has been decided.
It’s a new way for creating.
It is. Also coincidentally, this is the technique our current producer Rob4 uses when recording and producing. In other words, we create not through the music, but rather on a mental level. What we’re thinking now, what we want to do, where we want to go, what kind of band we want to be, discovering what those things are and creating something from that. Rob interviewed us about those points. And then there’s the movie, so Masato explained the movie’s contents to Ed in English, and Ed also knew a little bit about Rurouni Kenshin. Then the ball was in our court and it was like, “OK then, let’s create a song for the movie.”
I believe you’ve appeared together with Ed Sheeran at concerts, but now that you’ve produced songs together, what are your thoughts about him as a musician?
Wow, he’s just totally amazing. He’s so fast at creating, so fast that’s hard for us to keep up. But more than that, he’s just such a great person.
I hear that from a lot of places.
He really is just an awesome guy. I admire him greatly.
What do you think is the most likeable part about him?
He knows about pain. He knows the pain people feel, so he’s not arrogant in the least. He’s always impartial and has so much love. For him to be so well known yet still live while maintaining that feeling, you can tell that he’s gone through things that exceed those bitter experiences.
Ed’s suggestions were rock from the beginning. We felt the same way. If we tried to make it even a little bit pop, Ed would say, “No, let’s go with rock.”
But working with someone with such a huge presence like Ed, does it mean that you have to butt heads with him in order to make it a ONE OK ROCK track?
Ah, let’s see… But Ed’s ideas, and this goes back to what I was saying earlier, he knows pain, so it’s not about him. It’s about what the band should do, and that touches on Rob’s idealism. Ed just genuinely likes rock bands, and he really likes us. He even came to our concert, and also took part in it spur of the moment. We played “Shape of You” with him singing, and he also sang “Wherever you are.” During that exchange, he’s also looking at the audience, and I’m sure he knows what kind of audience ONE OK ROCK has and what kinds of songs to make that would get them excited.
That’s why Ed’s suggestions were rock from the beginning. We felt the same way. Strangely, if we tried to make it even a little bit pop, Ed would say, “No, let’s go with rock.”
What a great story! By the way, you mentioned that through Rob’s interviews, you were able to draw out some things, but what specifically did you talk about?
He asked things like if we’re really aiming for America, what marketing we’re targeting, what bands we like, what kind of music artist we want to become, how many albums we want to sell, etc. He took down notes and the answers he got from them allowed us to pursue our goals even further. It’s interesting, yeah?
But conversely, if that much is drawn out then you’ll have no place to escape.
That’s right. But it was really precise. Rob told us, “Of all the productions I’ve done until now, you guys are the first where I could talk about my theme this clearly.” That’s why this was such a valuable experience for us. He was like, “I don’t need to interview you guys anymore. It’s okay. I got it.5” That lit a flame in Rob as well, and he was really into it.
He probably did the same thing with Green Day.
That’s what he said. I really loved hearing that. During recording, we asked him all about how and under what circumstances albums like MCR’s The Black Parade and Green Day’s American Idiot were born. From the outside you would never know about the secret stories behind productions. Rather, it was like there was nothing but hardships. There’s no happiness anywhere. He saw all that up close, so his interpretation is that anything born from such hardship has a lot of value. He keeps saying all the time, “I have no idea what will come out of this,” because everyone’s been so positive during this recording. “This is a first for me,” he said.
Regarding this song, sound-wise, the intro starts with some corresponding sounds, and then you gradually get a feel for the full sound, and from there it’s full on rock mode.
Yeah, that’s right.
Because the previous album Eye of the Storm had a theme of post-rock, we thought you would go this direction again next time, but you went back to rock.
Yes. With the previous album, by separating from rock, it was necessary for us to once again recognize things like what kind of motivation we have when playing music and how much we love rock. At the same time, the problem with my skills as a vocalist? Like when singing in English. Including the fluency and how my voice comes out, it was definitely something I absolutely had to experience. Plus, we had to understand why we were part of the American market yet we continue to progress without understanding that market. It was like, why are we pitching a tent here at the camp without bringing any tools? By obtaining the tools, making preparations, and trying to live there, we were able to understand more deeply, and now it’s time to go back. And now is that perfect timing. Now that the timing and order of things have fallen into place, it’s like, “Yeah, it’s all about rock.”
Did that just hit you all of a sudden?
Pretty much. From the time we were touring, it was like, “Ah, yeah, it’s gotta be rock.”
During that tour with the sounds of Eye of the Storm6 in hand?
Yes. It was like, “It’s gotta be rock!” We were confident about it. Like, I feel like rock will make a comeback. That’s just my feeling though.
A sixth sense.
Yes. I really feel that rock will come back. We succumbed to the ambiguous feelings we had to just do rock.
So it’s like your feelings of doing rock again was translated directly to sounds.
Right. I feel like right now, what this generation definitely needs is rock. Even if we genuinely analyze it, I think we still feel the same. But there’s not much use in analyzing so I’m not thinking that much about it. It’s the same with meeting Rob and being able to do sessions with Ed at this time. Also with how the pandemic has put the world on hold, and the racial issues. The scenery I saw this past year and a half doesn’t apply to anything but rock. It’s like I can’t break it down with anything other than rock. That’s why now, I confront rock with confidence. After all, rock has a rebellious spirit, doesn’t it? I think the present can be represented by the character “反7.” “Renegades” means “hangakusha“8, and now is the time that the minority is trying to overwhelmingly replace the majority. But even then, I think the people in the minority are surrendering themselves to their emotions. That’s why when the minority becomes the majority, I feel like it’ll be very important whether or not there’s a proper leader to take the helm. While confidently pulling the character “反” towards a positive direction, I hope a new generation can properly open up.
Doing this band for 16 years and being surrounded by such great fans, I’m so happy to be able to take on what will likely be the last big challenge of my life
Just as the title “Renegades” suggests, the lyrics have a nuance of “breaking something down and building it up again.” While this is also the atmosphere of the current times, I also feel it’s ONE OK ROCK’s stance as a band going forward. Is this correct?
Yeah, that’s exactly it. Basically, we also think that time periods always repeat themselves. There’s no better way to say it, but when we finally reached a goal, we were hit with the coronavirus. Something new will start again, and until something happens, time doesn’t stop and just keeps on progressing, and this is the next circle that we have to make. That’s why we strongly communicate our intentions that we absolutely can’t just keep maintaining the status quo. It’s taking note of our resolution for what’s to come.
There’s a phrase in the lyrics that goes, “We could be the renegades,” and it’s not saying, “We would be~.” I felt the band’s conviction is in this phrase.
Yes. It’s not a good thing to label someone as a renegade. But like I said before, if we put a positive spin on it, we could become a renegade, and therefore it is our choice to become one. In Japanese it has a really bad image, but rebelling doesn’t just mean retaliation, but also correcting or destroying, and there are people who proceed while wishing for a beautiful world. That’s why the word “renegade” also has an implication of “let’s begin.”
I also felt your singing level went up a notch or two.
It’s thanks to Eye of the Storm. I wouldn’t be able to do this now if it weren’t for that. It’s not that simple, after all. (laugh) The A melody that Ed made would be impossible under normal circumstances. But I was able to pull it off because I was able to prepare ahead of time. I thought to myself that these kinds of things are really important.
How would you grade your singing this time?
I’ve still got a ways to go. But I do feel that I’ve somewhat gotten a feel for it. Things deteriorate as you get older, but the skills themselves improve. That’s why no matter how well things are maintained, I have to think about whether it matches with my skill, and that’s the kind of challenges I’m now facing.
In your career up until now, I think conflicts and battles with yourself have been a big theme, but in some ways you’ve obtained things you wanted and achieved things you wanted to achieve. With regards to this production, how did you feel confronting yourself?
I wonder if this is where my overwhelming confidence will be exhausted. People are able to shine brightly by having confidence. I of course have confidence when creating songs, and if I’m told it’s wrong or that they don’t like it, I can’t just watch intently. It’s really important to have faith, and I feel like that’s become a keyword. I’ve said this until now, but the “faith” I have now is ten times, a hundred times stronger than what I’ve had in the past.9
By the way, I feel that among the great musicians, there are many who have a great business mind. In that sense, I think you are also a great rock musician with a great business mind. What are your thoughts on succeeding business-wise?
I don’t think there’s any need to keep business success in Japan as a theme inside my mind. In the end, all that’s left is revolution. You can’t buy revolution with money. You need facts, right? If I’m asked whether looking towards the American market can be considered business, then I guess maybe it could be. It’s another country. We can’t cultivate our own country. It’s like going to another field to have a meal, and we want to gain profits from it. But overseas, the results genuinely equal business. They’re directly related. It’s such a vast country, so if you succeed in one thing, it inevitably becomes business. We can use that success and bring it back to Japan. It’s killing two birds with one stone, but from the differences in cultures and languages, it’s difficult to make a name for ourselves in America. Because we’re currently doing two things at the same time10, the timing of when we make the shift is very important, and we’re probably being very cautious about it.
I may be preaching to the choir, but in America, rock bands have had a hard time on the charts. Even so, where does your confidence to say, “No, it’s gotta be rock,” come from?
It’s because there’s no one there.
Hahaha, I see!
American rock excited me 16 years ago (when we started the band). It’s been 10 years since MCR too. Since then, there hasn’t been a band that gets you really excited. But I think the rock babies are about to start being born soon. All that we need now is a band that embodies that. We’ve been around the world and there aren’t many bands like that. Then it’s up to us to go and do it ourselves. I feel like we’ve got our team assembled now, so all that’s left is for us to use our power to get moving. That’s all there is to it.
As a musician, does it mean that you’ve shifted to mobilizing an entire team and not just organizing a rock band?
Yes. Right now in America, I gave the same explanation to Rob and the other people who support us. “Let’s go back to rock. If you guys don’t do it, it won’t come back. We’re the band that personifies it, but we need you guys to do your jobs. Let’s bring back rock. It doesn’t matter if it’s Asians who bring it back. Rather, right now, if it’s not a band like us, it won’t be accepted. That’s why you should do your best to promote it.”
What a logical interview. (laugh) That just shows how fixed your focus is.
Now we just gotta do it. But because I’m Japanese, in the end, I want to go back to Japan and properly pass on my experiences to the next generation. That’s why, I don’t know how far we can go, but first we have to just do it foolheartedly. Right now as a musician, being able to create an album with such a strong theme like this, it gives me much joy and happiness.
Are you having fun right now?
That’s great, being able to genuinely say you’re having fun while touting such a huge theme.
It really is. It’s auspicious.
By the way, how about a real11 concert?
We want to do one. But because it’s difficult, I think we’ll read the atmosphere and do one when it’s possible. We definitely want to do something this year. We also want to do something in Japan.
Then, how about a message for your fans in Japan?
Man, it’s really like, “Sorry for keeping you waiting.” Recently we’ve been posting various information ourselves, right? I felt it during the online concert too, but I strongly feel that the fans who received it12 are all really good fans. Doing this band for 16 years and being surrounded by such great fans, I’m so happy to be able to take on what will likely be the last big challenge of my life. I don’t think there will be another time in my life where I’ll work towards a huge objective such as this. To be able to walk alongside these amazing fans13, man, it just makes me happy.
Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
It’s been a while since I’ve let everything out!
Note: The interviewer transcribed Taka’s responses pretty much word-for-word so they’re all written in colloquial Japanese. I’ve translated in a manner that tries to preserve Taka’s speech patterns, but that also means the grammar is a bit off in English, and some things can be a little ambiguous. Notes have been added to make certain points a little more clear.