[English Interview] Coldrain : back to the roots!
Just after the release of Vena, Coldrain came to play in Strasbourg as opening for Bullet For My Valentine. Journal of Japan made the trip for an interview with Masato who tells us all the secrets of their fourth album.
Journal du Japon: Hi Masato and welcome back in France!
Masato: Thank you! it’s good to be back!
I will get straight to the point: why Vena?
When we first thought about writing songs for the record, we all got in a room, listened to old tracks that we used to love and bands that we used to listen to before we were even in coldrain. I think we geared a lot of that mindset toward the songs. We wanted to get in touch with bands that we used to love and wanted to be like. We kinda felt that we wanted to write albums bands would have continued writing, not like they actually have changed… we wanted to be like the bands we idealized growing up. So we were talking about roots and I thought “roots…we’re Japanese, we’re going out to the world…. Okay and roots and blood, it’s like veins…“, so I was like “Vein sounds cool“, and then I came across that picture that was from old hospital documents called “Anatomy”, and there was a picture that had a vein going to the heart called “Vena“. And then I was like “Vena… here we go!“. And it looks like roots so I found this cool (Laughs).
As you said, you wanted to go back to your roots, but why were you in such a state of mind?
I think with our first record, we didn’t really think about it, we just wrote whatever… and then with the second record we had a little bit more fans, so we were thinking about the fans, how we wanted to sound in the Japanese rock scene. For the last two records we were like “Okay we’re going to the world, what would be coldrain’s sound to the world?“. We were always thinking about all kinds of things and then, when we came to the new one, we didn’t need to really think about it, we realized “Everyone loved what we do, so let’s just make what we wanna make and whatever we love“. We just wanted to be influenced by the roots.
How was writing? Was it a difficult process to start up?
Yeah yeah… we just went on ITunes and then sort of listening songs, and everyone was like “oh I used to love this song!“, “Yeah that’s a cool song!“, everyone arguing about bands that they loved and all that, and then we were thinking about what we like about the songs, and we realized that a lot of the musics that we love had elements that weren’t always connected if you like melodies or riffs, it was things that didn’t have to be there. That was how the idea for Gone with the clapping started, it’s that kind of small things, it doesn’t always have to be about the whole song, it’s those little things that make you remember a song.
We thought about that, we just went in and started to putting things down on the computer. It was actually how we used to write in high-school when we didn’t have enough money to go into the studio. That was how we wrote music so… I think it was like basically how some of us write on their own, but just did it all together, the five of us, it was interesting, yeah…
Was it different from the other albums?
We used to do a lot of stuff, like Yoko, Sugi and me would go in and write half the song on our own and then play it together. I mean, until the last 3-4 years I think we wrote like that, I mean Yoko has written 80% of the music, and I think that’s why this album is more like “everyone in it from the beginning, doing it all“. And then when we took that to our producer Brandon Paddock, it was interesting because we got another person in there, moving in around. I think everyone has their opinions, that’s why I think this album turned out really cool.
How did it go with Brandon Paddock precisely? Compared to David Bendeth [who worked on Through Clarity and The Revelation, Editor’s note]
David is one of those guys that has a lot of experience, he know how to get a record out on the radio and that kind of stuff, and he’s done a lot of records so he has his own theories, he has one way to do it. It worked out for us, I think we wrote two really cool records and we just wanted fresh ears, a freshier look on our band, and Brandon came out of nowhere. We happened to hear a couple of records that he’s produced, but it was cool because he didn’t have any image of what coldrain should be, so he listened to each track and he had an opinion on each track and then gradually he understood what Coldrain is all about. He has a lot of pop elements inside of him and we’ve always loved pop stuff, we always listen to all kind of musics so he knew the right sound that we probably wanted. It was just a good collaboration since he has his own dreams right now, he wants to become a big producer too so for him it was a good chance to try to get a name up there. There was a lot of passion and it’s all cool to have someone really in it, with a new style.
I keep on talking about the album and especially the artwork: How did you make this choice? [Masato is the model of the artwork, Editor’s note]
I think… I wasn’t really think about it that much, but I was actually making it. I already figured out I wanted the title to be Vena, and one day I was just writing on the computer, the V, the E, the N, the A… and it just turned out to be that logo! I just made it and I was like “It looks pretty good!“. I wanted a symbol for the whole record that didn’t have to be a band logo, and it just fit. I happened to put it on a picture… I just had this weird sense of putting it on someone, so I put it on this girl’s neck, and it looked really cool. Then I thought “okay if we’re gonna do this we need to get a picture of someone with it and… why not just tattoo it ?“, ’cause this record means that much to me… I don’t really like the fact that I’m on the cover, it’s not like I wanted to be on the cover, but I said “If anyone has to do this, I’ll do it!“
You sacrified yourself somehow (laughs)
Yeah, I mean I was okay (laughs). It was actually harder because the girl on the picture that I used has a really nice neck, but I have a really long neck, so it was really hard to balance the picture after I realized it, ’cause when I put it on, the design wasn’t real, so it doesn’t stretch, so it was so hard to get the right balance… but I like it in the end.
What did the rest of the band think about that?
Everyone thought it was a cool idea from when I made the image ’cause I made so much! Like “Okay the poster is gonna look like this, we can make that kind of T-Shirt out of it, it’s gonna be like this…“, I had this whole plan, everyone looked at it and I was like promoting it so no one could really say no after this so (laughs)… I don’t know if they really like the fact that I’m on the cover…
Oh really? (General laughs)
I don’t know! (laughs) I think everyone got used to it.
To return to this idea of going back to the roots … this summer, you went to the US, your other home country, and spent some time there. Did you found something that changed your life, inspired you as an artist?
I think more than anything, more than just the U.S., doing these tours like coming to France, doing festivals in Germany and going to the U.K. and doing all of this have shown how much…(thinking)… because in Japan a lot of people are like… not afraid, but shy that they’re Japanese, and everyone is kind of… I don’t know how to say it but… they think that Western fans are better and Western music is better, like Japan is only a copy. But we realized that after touring, meeting people and playing in front of so many people that it doesn’t matter, it’s all in everyone’s head. We just felt that we needed to write whatever we felt was right and we realized how proud we are of being Japanese, and for me for being Japanese and American. It was just really cool to meet so many people and get that feeling as a band, ’cause we never would have had that mindset if we were just in Japan, so I think that’s the reason why we just wanted to go back to our roots and write like it was our first album and write as a Japanese band actually. We were really proud that we are one of the first Japanese bands on Hopeless Records, and we are one of the first Japanese band I think releasing an album like we are doing right now.
Is touring inspiring? Actually do you write while you’re on tour?
I do write sometimes but usually I’m too focused on the shows and trying to stay healthy, trying to be ready for each shows. I write when we’re on the bus, or while we’re flying but usually I like to write while we’re making the music because I get inspired by the song itself. I don’t do a lot of writing I guess on the road. We write actually a lot in the studio and… we’re terrible when we go home because we just want to chill out. We love being at home at the same time but I think the studio puts us in that more focused mode. Vena was made in a short time and it makes it a good record. If you make it widespread too much it kinda sounds like we’ve made it in two years, taking forever to be made (laughs).
What was the song you struggle the most to write on Vena?
Oh ! (thinking) … There is a song called The Story and it’s actually a really simple song when you hear it now, but we had so many ideas for it, like vocals that we wanted everyone to sing live, and we had this idea of how big the song is gonna be… it was actually when we wrote 8 or 9 songs that we were at the point that we just wanted one more song that sounded huge, we had this idea of something that sounded huge but we didn’t have a song at all, so it was like having a big trailer but no movie, we didn’t know what to do, and every idea that we started doing didn’t sound right at all… it was really hard to pick up those pieces but when it came together everyone was like “God that’s a single !!!“. We’re not sure it will be a single, but it’s just the opposite of songs like Gone ’cause Gone had the clap at the beginning, the atmosphere from the beginning, the melody also. Some songs are written in like 30 minutes, the main idea comes and just so easy to write! And then you have songs that take forever.
Except from that, I had a hard time writing some lyrics because… hum…
They are more personal?
Yes! I mean, I was struggling a lot because I had a lot I wanted to say but it just wasn’t coming out right, I wasn’t happy with what I was writing. There are a lot of lyrics that I just threw out and I just hated writing about that in the first two songs and… there is a lot that I tried to hide, and I just ended up writing about it. That’s how songs like Gone or Whole came out. It happened on the last record too, and it’s always the producer that is like “Forget about it, just write! ‘Cause we’re wasting time!” (General laughs) So I just wrote it, like “Don’t even think about it, just go and write what you think, what comes to your mind“, and that’s what happened. In the end, I think those are the kind of songs that people relates to. It sucks when you have to write about something you’re not happy about, but in the long run, it helps you and it helps someone else, so I’m totally cool with that!
When I listened to the album, yes indeed I found it much more introspective and I thought “wow what happened there?” [General laughs]. It is always difficult to overcome the feelings we try to hide, but you cannot hide with music.
Yeah, not forever. I realized that when I was writing, and I think on the last two records, so much changed for our band, ’cause we gain more fans in Japan and there is this world tour thing and so much is going on now that I realized that I had to take it back to a personal level, ’cause the last record was more about the band, what we’re trying to do. So it is a personal album, and I’m the cover so [General laughs]
So actually it’s “Masato’s band” (Laughs)
Yeah it might be a lot about me! (Laughs)
It’s a bit strange because precisely on Whole, you say “Even if I make this score, the pain won’t go away” …
The song has two meanings for me. It’s basically about being away from someone and having two choices. It’s talking about a simple phonecall, if you’re so far away you can call someone. But the other meaning is even if you decide to end something because of the distance and the relationship won’t work, so that call to end something still won’t take the pain away. That’s what I mean. But singing about that takes the pain away, it’s the whole meaning of music. The lyrics itself might say that, but it’s just a metaphore. That was another thing I didn’t want to write about but it ended up being there.
So what’s your favorite song on the album?
It’s a hard question! Of course I like them all, but… I think Gone will always be a song that I’ll remember, a song that will be really important to me, because it was the end of something really bad but… I’m not sure. I mean, The Story is a good one. It’s gonna be hard to pick up a favorite, but Runaway is definitely one that I care about because Jacoby [Shaddix, singer of Papa Roach, Editor’s note] is on it.
Of course! (Laughs) How did this happen?
It’s just weird! I got a message from him after we toured, and he was like “what are you guys doing?“. I think he saw our post and he knew we were recording, so I told him “We’re doing a record in L.A.” and he answered “If you need guest vocals, hip me up!” and I was like “hahaha!“. He was just kidding, but I think he was kind of serious too because we were talking about it on tour, he knew that I wanted to do something with him. When we were writing this record and writing that song we were like “I just need him on this part!“, and just when we were talking about that, he sent me this message! So I just sent the song, sent the lyrics and said “This is all yours“. And he just sang for us.
Did he come to the studio?
He was supposed to come, but he was on tour for a long time, and he has a family so timing just didn’t work out, so I said “Just do your thing“. I wanted him to be comfortable, I didn’t want him to be rushed or anything, I just told him to take his time, to do whatever he wanted to do. He ended up singing more than we asked for, he just took it like he wanted to try to murder me on the track! (General laughs) But it was awesome! I mean it’s awesome when you find someone like this. I got closer to him as a person and as a singer I think, ’cause we’re kind of rivals at the time, but he is always gonna be like a big brother figure to me. I really respect him as a singer and it’s just a dream come true to have him on the track. I can’t wait someday to be able to play that live together.
If you could go back in time and tell this to the 15 year old you, what do you think he would say?
I would be “NO WAY“!! I think I was like 14 when their first album Infest came out, and in one of the music videos he wears Adidas Sneakers. It came out in the music video really close, and I was like “ I want those sneakers!” (Laughs). So I bought them and wore them all the time.
There are so many stuff that we imitated back in the days, even when we wrote music. I mean it’s not like we copied anything, but only ideas. We’ve always had ideas like “I want a song like that“, and Papa Roach was one of those bands that always comes out. We bought every records they released, so it doesn’t matter when, but I always look into their stuff, and for us to tour with them was always a dream come true, and then to have him on the record is just crazy!
I feel the same kind of homage with Pretty Little Liar, it sounds quite a lot like The Used [Masato is a big fan of The Used, Editor’s note]…
Oh well, you know… (General Laughs) Brandon, our producer, used to work with The Used [on the album Vulnerable, Editor’s note], and he had so many ideas that he actually took out because he was getting to much into The Used. When we were working on Pretty Little Liar, on the vocals, we just put in the laughs, so much stuff and in the end it sounded really cool so I was like “oh forget it!“.
It is quite different from your previous work…
I think in our old stuff we have a lot of weird stuff, and we just wanted to get a bit of it in our new record too. We didn’t pick out anything because it sounded stupid, like the beginning of the song, it was just a laugh! When we were first writing the song, Yoko pulled in a title called “Pirate of the Carabbean“. That was the demo title, so I was like “Okay let’s put in a pirate vibe!“, and it sounded crazy.
We talked earlier about going back in time, and it seems to me that in Heart of the Young, you talk about you when you were young. So what would you say to this boy if you had the opportunity to discuss with him?
Wow! The meaning of the song was actually what would the young me tell me, because I used to be all about imagination. But the more you grow old, the more realistic you get, and it’s weird because for example when I go skiing, I ski slower than when I was a little kid because I wasn’t afraid, I just went straight down the hill, and now I’m just afraid. You get afraid of so many things, like starting a conversation with someone. So while I was writing this song, I was actually trying to get that feeling of being young again and trying not to forget that so… I’d probably tried to say thank you to the young me because I try to bring him again in my life. Kids have the ability to become so many things, I’m trying to not forget that.
Thanks for answering my questions Masato!
Coldrain’s return in France was in a 30 minute flash, as usual with opening acts. But what a flash! Riping up the sky of La Laiterie, the band came on stage combative, bursting into The Revelation. Highly motivated, the audience answered immediatly to Coldrain’s call and headbanged over and over. Even if the allocated time left little room for novelty, the crowd got the chance to hear the latest singles of the band, Words of the Youth and Gone. The two are very effective and were on the rise on stage. More determined than ever, Coldrain hit hard Strasbourg, definitely leaving an indelible mark in minds. Now, let’s just hope for a headline tour, maybe next year?
Words of the Youth
The War is On
Shout out to coldrain, Greg Duncan, Mitchell Thomas and Ryan Richards of Raw Power Management for their help and kindness.
Pictures by Lolu Photography