Japanese Rock from the West Coast (Coast in the Clouds Interview)

coast in the clouds band interview.jpgSounds of the Rising Sun has gotten another awesome opportunity to spend some time getting to know another kickass band. This time around though, the site is actually branching off into California and not the land of the rising sun. This might seem a little strange since we focus on Japanese related content but, this interview is pretty unique in the fact that Coast in the Clouds are a J-Rock band who live and work in the States. Coast in the Clouds are an indie rock band from the San Fransisco/ San Jose area in California. Coast in the Clouds are influenced by a range of genres from both the East and the West to create a beautiful blend of English and Japanese for listening pleasure.

Can you guys first of all tell me a bit about yourselves? I’d love to get to know you guys a bit better and get a general idea of each of your personalities!

Dean: Hello, my name’s Dean and I play drums for Coast in the Clouds. I enjoy Japanese and Korean music, video games, keyboards, and anime. I’m pretty open to a lot of different genres of music and I like to explore a lot of different niches! I’m usually someone who just likes to chill and not do too much craziness, so being in the background with drums is kind of perfect for me.

Alli: Hello! My name’s Alli and I’m the vocalist for Coast in the Clouds. I love playing games and watching anime! I like to explore with my interests. I like dancing, drawing, learning languages, and right now my interest is going into archery! I’m pretty dorky and crazy when you get to know me but I’m very optimistic.

Andrew: Hi, I’m Andrew and I’m the guitarist for Coast in the Clouds. I am also the main songwriter for Coast. I enjoy a variety of music from different scenes, from American post-hardcore to Japanese indie rock and pop. My interests include playing a lot of video games, watching anime, and writing music (You can probably see a common trend among some of us). As the main songwriter, it’s really fun for me to explore and create different kinds of music. I’m always try to draw inspiration from everything around me, whether it’s the people I’m with, my bandmates, the mood I’m feeling, from the outside world, anywhere. Sometimes I’ll feel like writing some heavy, other days maybe something that the crowd can dance and jump to. Either way, I’ve always fallen back to music when there was nothing else. Some other fun facts: I love golfing and snowboarding!

Erikson: Greetings, I’m Erikson,  but you can call me Erik if you want. I am the bassist for Coast in the Clouds. I love cats as much as I love milk tea (which I really love). Sometimes when I’m bored, I like to look up different kinds of poisonous plants I can buy to give to coworkers I don’t like without telling them they’re poisonous so they’ll end up getting an irritating rash.

What made you want to blend both English and Japanese into your music? 

Andrew: Before we were Coast in the Clouds, Dean, Erikson, and Andrei were in a band together where they had already started to incorporate the blending of English and Japanese. Andrei was hugely influenced by both the American and Japanese rock scene, so we carried that idea over into Coast in the Clouds with a fresh slate. Because all of us listen to a broad range of American and Japanese music, we wanted to try something ambitious. Our goal is to bridge the two scenes together and help prove that music is indeed a universal language, and that people don’t necessarily need to understand the language to feel and be moved by music. 

Do you think having this blend of two languages in your music helps you stand out from other bands in the States?

Dean: It might help us stand out. I’ve personally met a few bands in the past and present who have a similar approach to us. It’s a small, yet niche community. I’ve also had experiences with bands that do dual Japanese and English lyrics, but they instead opt for a Visual Kei/Metal sound instead. The community ended up being a lot more diverse than I thought, and that might make it harder for us to stand out when there’s more like us. But, overall it is a very uncommon thing to see in the US, so it can also be an advantage for us. Considering that songs in completely different languages can make huge strides in America, such as Despacito or songs from the super popular K-Pop group, BTS, then I think we have a chance! There’s also a more recent band, Kero Kero Bonito, whose singer sometimes likes to sing in both Japanese and English. They’ve been making a lot of strides with a lot of different kinds of audiences because their music is pretty catchy. So, I believe that it’s more about if we make songs that sound good, and less about if we have understandable lyrics. I’m not saying that lyrics aren’t important, but I always think it’s the composition of the song that initially captures people’s attention.

Do you think that having the blend of the two languages will also attract a Japanese audience as well as a western one?

Dean: It might help attract an internationally Japanese audience. I’ve noticed a lot of famous bands and artists in Japan have been integrating a lot of English into their lyrics, which seems to be really popular over there. So, we do have an advantage in that area. But also, Japanese lyrics might detract a western audience because some people are of the opinion that, “if I don’t understand it, why would I listen to it?” But, I’d like to believe that people who say that are a vocal minority. Like I said, I personally believe that it’s the sound that gets people listening first and foremost, then lyrics second. 

Andrew: To add to what Dean said, an example of a famous Japanese band expanding out into the western audience would be One Ok Rock. They have manage to lay down a solid fanbase in not only America, but globally as well. This just goes to show that good music can resonate with others regardless of where people are from. Recently, we were able to play a show in Shibuya, located in the heart of Tokyo. The name of the show was called “No Borders”, a representation of the appreciation of music no matter what genre it is or who plays it. Being the only American band there it was nerve-wracking at first, but as we connected with the audience and bands at the show, we realized how open people were to our style. It was inspiring, and we hope to one day bring in the western audience with our music.

As a band who speak two languages did you think that language barriers of lyrics can sometimes put people off listening? For example some people like to sing along to lyrics and don’t like not being able to understand what is being said. Whilst others (like myself) don’t really care and enjoy hearing different languages in music. What’s your take on this? 

Dean: I personally think it’s a bit closed-minded for someone to not consider another culture’s music just because they doesn’t understand the language. Music is a universal language that spreads across the entire world, and to not even bother listening to music just because someone doesn’t understand the lyrics doesn’t make sense to me. I personally will listen to music in any language as long as I like the song. I’m sure I’ve listened to a whole lot of English songs without knowing what any of the lyrics were in my lifetime! At the end of the day though, I do think that people who don’t listen to music that isn’t in their native language are a minority, because international artists are always breaking through in our country and in other countries as well. 

Do you as musicians think the lyrical content on music should be the main focus or should it be about the music as a whole?

Dean: It depends on what you’re going for. Some people make music because they’re inspired to tell a story or to show their emotions. But also, just because someone makes music to tell a story or express a feeling doesn’t mean it needs lyrics. There are a lot of songs that say a lot alone just by its composition. Take for example the famous song, “River Flows In You” by Yiruma. That song speaks extremely emotionally to millions of people all around the world without ever saying a single word. It really all depends on how you want your music to be presented, and there’s no such thing as a wrong or right way to create music. I’ve listened to songs in foreign languages that impacted me personally, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics. Music works in wondrous ways.

What inspires your lyrical content? 

Alli: Hmmmm…currently, I’m kind of in charge of writing lyrics now. I like to write how I feel. More like, I listen to the songs that Andrew makes and try to listen to the emotion I get from when I hear it. I don’t know the correct terms but songs are trying to tell a story, right?

Andrew: My tendency is to write the instrumental stuff first before diving into lyrics. I’ve always been better at expressing my feelings and thoughts that way, and then try to decipher the music into words. It may not be the most efficient method, but that is what works best for me. As Alli said, we often work together in the lyrical process, and help put the feelings into words.

Would you say that a lot of Japanese bands have mainstream success? Or could it be considered a more niche market in music?

Dean: Japanese bands seem to be kind of niche to me, at least when it comes to the United States. Whenever I go to see a Japanese act in the US that’s huge in Japan, the turnout is probably much smaller than what they’re used to in Japan. Some extremely popular Japanese artists can make a huge breakthrough in their home country, such as someone like Utada Hikaru. But even she could not really escape a slow fall in popularity in the US. At the same time, I don’t think that Japanese music in the US is so niche that it’s impossible to meet anyone with similar musical tastes. There’s quite a lot more people in the US who love Japanese music than one would think!

On your press kit it says you are inspired by both American and Japanese bands. Who are some of the bands you are influenced by?

Alli: ONE OK ROCK! VIVID UNDRESS! ASIAN KUNG FU GENERATION! This list can go on~

Erikson: From middle school to high school, I mainly listened to My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and Fall Out Boy (yes, I was that kid). Later on did I start developing a taste for bands such as Daphne Loves Derby, PVRIS, Weezer, and ONE OK ROCK.

Andrew: I grew up listening to a lot of pop and alternative rock, and I learned how to play guitar by learning these songs. Bands like Blink 182, Green Day, Incubus, Story of the Year, Breaking Benjamin, Yellowcard, were all pretty influential to my foundation. Later on in high school, I started to expand my taste and listen to bands like August Burns Red, We Came as Romans, Silverstein, Circa Survive, basically a bunch of post-hardcore or emo bands sprinkled with the occasional pop rock band like Mayday Parade or Taking Back Sunday. It was around this time that I discovered my currently favorite band, Dance Gavin Dance, who I draw a lot of inspiration from even now. Back then they were a pretty unique bunch with how they incorporated a sort of jazzy, math element, while still foundationally being post-hardcore. It wasn’t until college that I started to get into Japanese music after meeting Andrei. One Ok Rock is definitely a big influence to me, along with performers and bands such as Kinoko Teikoku, My First Story, the peggies, Utada Hikaru, Aimer, Lisa. I could list more, but we’ll just leave it at that.

If you had to pick two bands, one American, one Japanese, that have influenced you most who would you pick and why?

Andrew: This is a tough question. I’d say for a Japanese band, One Ok Rock has definitely been an inspiration. Not only their style, but their journey to spread their music worldwide. For an American band, we often like to listen to and watch Paramore. Because we have a female vocalist as well, it’s easy to learn and relate to their simple yet powerful melodies and style.

What is all of your musical backgrounds? I know the band took a hiatus to gain more knowledge of music. Is it something you guys perused in school or are you self taught? 

Andrew: From a young age, I was part of the local church choir. This lead my parents to hiring a vocal instructor for me, which eventually lead to piano lessons all the way until the end of middle school. Somewhere along that time, maybe around 5th or 6th grade, I picked up a guitar because of the bands I had started listening to. I had purchased some guitar lesson books, and combined with tabs from online sites, continued to practice and play the songs I liked. I eventually even bought tab books for some bands like Metallica and Blink 182. I never had formal lessons in guitar, but continually aim to get better as both a guitarist and musician. Composition has especially become something that I’ve invested my time into. In my opinion, you can be the most technical guitar player in the world, but creating a solid, structured song is still super important. I also picked up the drums in high school, but I’m not that great at it. As for the hiatus, it was definitely a journey of expanding our tastes and listening to music we’d never listen to before. As I said before, I started to study the composition of songs and understand what made them work or not work. With some of us already experienced in playing as a band and creating songs, I had to work extra hard since it was my first time being in a band.

Dean: I am personally self taught at drums. I actually got my start playing drums by playing Rock Band 2 on the Playstation 3. If you play drums on that game on “Expert” difficulty, it actually charts out the drum part for the songs exactly as it’s played! So, it’s a great starting point, but it’s also easy to pick up a lot of bad habits as a result. I had also learned piano with a private instructor for a few years when I was younger, but all of that knowledge has flown out the door already, so I basically had to start from scratch. I’ve started studying more music theory and such because I’d like to be more than a drummer; I’d like to be more of a musician!

Alli: I usually just did home karaoke at family parties and took an interest in singing seriously. Did choir when I was in elementary school but quit because I don’t really like singing in groups.

Erikson: As an asian child, my parents encouraged me to take piano lessons from when I was four years old all the way until I was fourteen. When I was finally able to convince my parents that I didn’t need piano lessons anymore, I started learning how to play the guitar on my own– nothing fancy, just a few chords from my dad’s guitar book and learning how to read tabs on Ultimate Guitar and 911 Tabs (don’t go on this site unless you want to infect your computer with malware).

What are you guys inspired by outside of music? Do you guys take any influence from American or Japanese pop culture? For example on your EP Re:start the artwork looks very anime and Japanese inspired. 

Dean: Gotta come out and say it, but we all love anime. We’re super inspired by “anisong” artists such as LiSa and Aoi Eir, and we love making music of that nature! 

Andrew: Honestly, video game and anime music has been super impactful for all of us. I would like to say that 80% of what makes a game fun is listening to the soundtrack as you beat down the baddies. As an iconic example, the Super Mario theme is prevalent throughout the world, wouldn’t you say? I would be lying if I said that video games haven’t in some way or another inspired us musically, whether it’s a huge, fantasy-esque orchestrated piece for an RPG or a fighting game track that makes you want to dance (or punch things). One particular game series that comes to mind is the Persona series, which implements very jazzy and uplifting vocals for a majority of their songs, something that may be seen as unusual in most cases. Anisongs are definitely on another level as well. The composition for some artists just baffle me. They combine so many different musical styles but just make it work somehow. There are definitely a lot of great anisong artists out there, and what makes it great is that you’d never really hear a song like that in America. It opens up a whole new world musically. 

Have you guys visited Japan either as a band or as individuals? If so what were your experiences like there?

Alli: I’ve been there 2 times! Each time, I love exploring different parts of the city and just finding small local shops to eat at! I tend to stray away from the tourist attractions since I don’t like crowds.

Erikson: In January of 2019, we, as a band, embarked a two week-long trip to Tokyo, Japan. It wasn’t my first time, but it definitely felt like it was after not being there for over two years. Staying strictly in Tokyo this time around was such a wonderful experience as it offered a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture and dining to its visitors. The city’s history can be appreciated in districts such as Asakusa and in many excellent museums, historic temples and gardens. Contrary to common perception, Tokyo also offers a number of attractive green spaces in the city center and within relatively short train rides at its outskirts.

Dean: Yes! I just went recently with everyone in the band, and it was pretty amazing. I already had a set of expectations going into Japan, but once I was there, it exceeded my expectations! It’s so beautiful, and I enjoy their culture very much. I think it fits my personality better than the culture here in the US. Of course, not everything is perfect in Japan, but that’s to be expected with any place in the world. It just felt much easier to find things that match my interests there. All the food, hobbies, and interests I have were so easy to come across. As opposed to here in the US where I have to really dig deep to find any of those. Ever since my visit there, I’ve been inspired to get better at speaking Japanese, and I’ve been doing my best to study consistently ever since.

Where are some of the places you would like to tour outside of the California area? Are there any specific cities or festivals you’d love to play?

Erikson: We’re trying our best to play in festivals such as Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas or Tokyo. It’s our dream goal, however, to play in Tomorrowland in Belgium and open up for other J-rock bands such as Steve Aoki, Hardwell, and Martin Garrix.

Where do you hope to see yourselves in five years time?

Dean: I hope somehow we’re still able to do Coast in five years from now! Things get busy, so it can be hard to keep up, but we’re all determined to keep the ball rolling. If we’re super popular, that’d be cool – but if not, that’s also fine! Just getting to play music is super fun.

What is your next step as a band?

Dean: Composing new songs and getting more polished! Nothing sounds better than a band who plays super tight!

Erikson: Synchronized choreo!

Thanks so much to Coast in the Clouds for taking the time to do this interview.  Make sure to keep up to date with them on Spotify, BandCampTwitterInstagramFacebookYoutubeGoogle Play Music as well as their own website!

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