MAN WITH A MISSION on Mystical Origins, Cherry Blossoms, and Changing the World [Interview]
The members of the Japanese rock group MAN WITH A MISSION want you to know that they totally are werewolves, and they are not playing around. Currently on tour in the U.S., the band is celebrating the release of their second EP, When My Devil Rises (SONY/RED). They also recently released a video for their single, “Distance” (above), from their March-released Don’t Feel the Distance EP. When My Devil Rises revels in its hard rock and metal roots, but isn’t afraid to mix and match heavy sounds with embellishments from EDM, punk, and hip-hop. The resulting songs combine the grungy fun of a rock concert with exuberant riffs that sound straight out of an action-packed Japanese anime (in fact, their songs were used in the film adaptation of the incredibly popular comedy manga, Hentai Kamen).
The EP, which is available on the MWAM website and via iTunes, opens with the infectious, hard-rocking “When My Devils Rise,” which makes you want to head-bang and dance like a crazy person. The songs, which alternate between Japanese and English, combine pop culture references (the title of the second track is “Hasta La Vista”) with an irreverent cheekiness and a sincere desire to make you dance. “Mash Up the DJ!” begins with a riff that sounds straight out of Wagon Christ, before becoming a rock anthem that feels dedicated to the summer party. The songs manage to deftly combine the dreamier sounds of Japanese pop with the earthy, ground-shaking bass tones of grunge rock and metal. Hard beats segue into lilting harmonies that organically shift the tone of each song in unexpected but very satisfying ways. Despite being werewolves, these guys are seriously good musicians.
I had the chance to talk with MWAM about their tour, their new EP, and their plan to take over the world. I was nervous about interviewing superhuman mythical creatures created by Jimi Hendrix, but in the end I overcame my fear to get the scoop.
Sensible Reason: How did you all meet and when did you start playing together? What was the experience like of trying to make it as a band in such a huge city (Tokyo)?
MWAM: First let me tell you, beware because it’s a tremendously long story. We are a pack of superior creatures created by a genius biologist. So in that sense, we are more like brothers who can read each other’s minds, having been together since that day. In the past, we had nothing to do with music – the world’s powerful leaders had us work in the shadows of history. The doctor couldn’t just watch so he tried to terminate us by freezing us into an eternal sleep under the glaciers in the South Pole. However, being ultimate creatures, we were of course alive in the ice, hearing music from around the world during those times. We were amazed by how the world was filled with wonderful cultures and fantastic things. We were dreaming of making our name resound in the world through our music. Time passed and it was now the year 2010. The ice seems to have melted a little because of global warming, and we were able to get back on land. It was then that we decided to form a band with those times in our minds. Tokyo is a really huge city and the center of Japan. We can’t tell if we ourselves are successful now, but we’re having a cracking time so far.
Sensible Reason: How does the new EP differ from or build on your previous releases? What was your vision for the EP?
I personally think this EP shows just how strong the influences of our musical roots are, moreso than in our previous works, but either way, it’s this release that will tell everyone in the US and the world what sort of a band MAN WITH A MISSION is.
Sensible Reason: How do you see your music as fitting into the music/cultural scene in Japan? How do you see it fitting into the broader global music scene?
Rock, obviously, is the base of our sound, but there are many different elements at work that we’ve put together. I guess it’s our eclectic musical style – in one tune, on the album, or across all of our works – that stimulates audiences from many angles in a good way. Our favorite artists were like that too. I believe it’s effective in the global music scene.
Sensible Reason: You sing in both Japanese and in English, often switching between languages within the same song. How do you decide what language to use for/in a song?
Often it’s based on the melody lines. Then we think about the message behind the lyrics, especially when we sing in Japanese… For example, if you sing about cherry blossoms in English, it’s less convincing, less persuasive. There are feelings distinct to Japan. In the same way, there are senses unique to each country outside of Japan. We’re just choosing a language that’s easy for us to express ourselves in, ‘cause we can use both. For overseas, we’re singing all in English, considering it from a global point of view, which makes the most sense, to express the message universally.
Sensible Reason: What influences have impacted your style the most and why? Have any artists, musicians, filmmakers, etc. played a particularly large or important role in your evolution as musicians? Your back story seems influenced by equal parts rock and roll culture and science fiction, for example.
We all have different artists as our favorites. But perhaps in the foundation of our songs there are elements of 90’s alt-guitar-rock like NIRVANA, the SMASHING PUMPKINS, the FOO FIGHTERS and the Pixies; and for mixture rock there are bands like RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, LIMP BIZKIT, INCUBUS, ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION, and so forth… In the punk scene we have BAD RELIGION, Green Day, the Offspring that we like…. Is that too many? (laughs) I love movies too. Tarantino’s works are great. He’s just nuts.
Sensible Reason: You have made a splash in TV and film. Your songs have been used in TV shows and in the film adaptation of Hentai Kamen. What was it like to be involved in these projects? [Writer’s note: I can’t understand a word of Japanese, but this film looks amazing — the trailer, which features the MWAM song, “Emotions,” is below.]
Japan’s manga culture is massive and it’s got something deep going on. I really like it too. Hentai Kamen is quite crazy but a super funny comedy manga. I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to get involved.
Sensible Reason: How do you see yourselves as musical innovators? What excites you the most musically and in terms of the creative process?
I think it’s the same for everything, but the funniest moment is when I selfishly believe my ideas could change the world. (laughs) Some guitar riffs, melodies, lyrics… when I come up with them, I wonder, “Wow, did I just come up with that?!” (laughs) Those ideas may actually transform into some magic that can change the world. That’s the most exciting time.
Sensible Reason: What are your goals for your U.S. tour? Where will you be headed on tour next?
We’ll go anywhere in the world. (laughs) I want various types of people to watch us, ‘cause I believe that’s where bands start […] The best joy for me is when many people watch and listen to us and like our music regardless of where we are.
Sensible Reason: Is there anything in particular you’d like for newcomers to your sound to know about you and what you’re up to?
We’re playing at FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL. It’s simply wonderful and one of the biggest festivals in Japan, so I’d recommend everyone around the world to come and join in. We also got to play in front of a 23,000-member audience at our one-man gig the other day. It felt amazing. I want to see the same scenery overseas in future so please come see us. (laughs)
Sensible Reason: What’s up next for Man With a Mission? Are you just concentrating on touring, making videos, releasing singles, etc? Are you already thinking about a new album?
Of course, we’re concentrating on touring too, but already we’re thinking about new tunes. It’s always fun to give birth to and create songs. Don’t know when they’ll be done, but yeah, we are thinking of them.
Sensible Reason: What music are you listening to right now?
I’m always listening to various kinds of stuff, old and new. Usually I’m re-listening to artists I used to like or still do though. One wonderful thing about music is, there’s always new discoveries to be made about what music moves me. But Disney’s Frozen theme tune is playing anywhere and everywhere lately, so I hear that all the time.
Sensible Reason: How did you get away from Ivan the Terrible?
Well, let me ask you how you think we managed to escape from the clutches of Ivan. It’s like this, as you know, while he was conquering the neighboring lands around him and consolidating his power, like all tyrants past and present, he had one weakness for the finer things, if you catch my drift. We presented one of our songs to him, which absolutely mesmerized him – and his court. With each succeeding song we presented, his grip over us gradually loosened, until that fateful day when he let us free. However, he did have one condition. He asked us never to present to the world the music we gave to him, partly because he was mentally ill, as you know, and also because like many tyrants before him, he understood that even the most maniacal of tyrants would inevitably succumb to the sheer and profound beauty of music and art. We kept that promise to him, until the very day he died.
Man With A Mission is on tour through July, so be sure to check out their tour dates (below) to find out when you can see the wolves in action. You can purchase tickets on their website. For more information about the band, take a look at Sensible Reason’s earlier article on MWAM.
June 29 – St. Louis, MO – Firebird
July 2 – Colorado Springs, CO – Black Sheep
July 3 – Denver, CO – Marquis Theater
July 6 – Sparks, NV – The Alley
July 8 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
July 10 – Los Angeles, CA – Whisky A Go Go