A bassist of Kami Band – BABYMETAL’s back band – Bassist BOH talked about his early days, principle of life and music and love for masters of bass and BABYMETAL! This is a translation from Hedoban magazine vol.4, first apperared on Reddit r/BABYMETAL.
Q : In this interview, I’d like to hear from you how a player with super technique acquired it and built a reputation, also like to know your music roots and current activities.
BOH : It was around the end of my fifteen… Just before my graduation from a junior high. I went to one of my friends’ house and there were a guitar and a bass. I tried both but only four strings it had so… (laugh)
Q : The common “It must be easy to master!” thing (laugh).
B : Right (laugh). So it was from my high school days when I begin my band life. It takes amount of time even to be a bass player of some extent, doesn’t it? I kept practicing in my room everyday right after school, joined Keion-Bu (a light music club) in my high school, formed a copy band and practiced. We didn’t do our original stuff back then. We boys in my days were like… such as “Wanna play Glay!” “Luna Sea!” And girls “Wanna sing Judy & Mary!” We’re like that… I sometimes joined to copy bands that mimicked major ones in top 10 charts. I felt like wandering for sessions since then. I wanted more chances to play my favorite songs from various bands. I didn’t have a feeling of belonging to any specific band. And at school festivals it was difficult to make my application as one man bassist, so I had kept good relationships with bad boys in advance to keep them practicing seriously (laugh), to make my band improved in a good mood. I liked to do all these things.
Q : Was there any reputation of you back then as “I know a cool bassist!” among these boys?
B : I concentrated on my play and didn’t think I was cool, but people around me said so. Same in my music school days. I was a kind of man to devote myself to improve my technical skill.
Q : There are those, as an example, who began a metal band and become a person to say “Who do you think I am?” when he’s just asked some J-pop bass guitar. You weren’t that kind of player, were you?
B : No, I wasn’t. Grooves are so different between genres. I rather liked to find new styles of play through various experiences. Cool bass sound isn’t a major contributor to make a song better. So I learned even from playing uninteresting songs to me, or I didn’t like assigned notes, or I didn’t feel “these phrases came to me.” And my play turned out to be a piece of ensemble and songs became cool in the end when I played as I told.
Q : And you are famous for the six-string bass guitar. When did you begin to use it?
B : 18 years old. I used a four-string one from 15 to in a middle of 18 years old. I have been in love with Billy Sheehan for a long time, so I loved shredding and chordal play. But I had misunderstood completely… that these were normal play of the bass because of my devotion of mimicking Billy Sheehan (laugh).
Q : Did you always like Metal?
B : I only liked Billy Sheehan so much (laugh). We copied almost Mr. Big only. I went from Billy Sheehan to Talas and David Lee Roth and more. Then he began Niacin, I just followed him into Fusion world.
Q : Do others with the six-string naturally catch your eyes?
B : There is little communication happened because bassists with it is rare to be met. A six-string is relatively new. The one invented that is Anthony Jackson, a jazz bassist. So the six-string seemed not for Rock or other genres originally. And if someone uses it for Metal, we must be interested, right? And John Myung of Dream Theater. The band doesn’t rely on momentum. So easily they play songs strictly constructed, so difficult for other players. With astonishingly tight rhythm. I got surprised so much. I began to put my eyes on polymeters. On how to count that. On making phrases with scales normally too difficult to remember. On playing these things smartly. So Dream Theater left great influence on me.
Q : I don’t know much about instruments, but your double-handed tapping gives me awe. Is it an influence from Billy Sheehan?
B : Billy Sheehan is one of them. Another is a jazz bassist Victor Wooten. He’s the man, even he did one song with tapping only. As for tapping we see a right hand first, but a left hand does pulling and hammering, doesn’t it? I misunderstood these were also one of tapping techniques, so I only do them by my right hand… it might sound odd to say “only”. For me, doing tapping is the same as playing the piano. My fingers tapping in double-handed play are hammers in the piano. So I just imagined playing the piano in the middle of my solo play for Babymetal at Budokan, as an example. I made my sound with multiple fingers on multiple strings, contrary to the guitar. It is very much different from conventional tapping.
Q : Who do you think are great bassists other than Billy Sheehan?
B : John Myung is astonishing as I mentioned. And it might be controversial… I like Robert Trujillo as a most successive bassist in Metallica. His stability is surprising. I saw them playing at Summer Sonic, he looked cohering other member playing free. And his play has so much power as his appearance (laugh). But it is not brutal but sensitive. He had played so funky with a lot of slapping as shown in his former career (in Infectious Grooves), but now in Metallica he plays so much differently which fascinates me. He plays in different styles even he doesn’t like.
Q : Studio musicians don’t seem to stick with live performance, but BOH-San loves it, don’t you?
B : I do! I think nothing happens without taking a chance. And requirements for studio musicians have been changed, we have to do better on stage now. Standing still behind main performers isn’t enough anymore. Computers are everywhere, so demand of us… our customers has been decreasing. Our customer is an artist. In this difficult circumstance, I have to have something different from others to get more offers. Needless to say seniors with career are outstanding skillful musician, I have to catch up with these people. When I asked myself what they couldn’t do, I play the six-string as my main instrument. Someone gave me an advice as “The six-string is prospective. There is a few people with this,” once I began to learn it. But when I began to use it they said “That monster of the bass guitar gives you few offers. It’s just acrobatics.” I had no ear to listen, even I misunderstood that they didn’t give me an advise but express their frustration of unable to play it (laugh).
Q : BOH-San seems to have quite a strong mentality, don’t you?
B : I’m positive in nature. One thing I always avoid is to fool or speak bad for opinions and plays of others. That’s what I keep trying. There are many moments to want to say something bad like “This man’s breakdown is bad as hell!” There are also moments of “You should play more seriously.” But I don’t say any of these. It will be more productive just to imagine the way that they can play better. When being forced to do something too much, everyone can say “It’s impossible! I quit!” But a feeling is nothing to compare if you finally made it with impossible level of effort you could.
Q : From what you said I think such attitude is a wisdom of BOH-San who survives only with a bass guitar. And what was your biggest work after your graduation from music school?
B : My first one was about a song Hitoiro of Mika Nakajima. It’s about the time of a movie NANA 2. I played at lives and on TVs… in the back band. It’s my first time to attend to Kouhaku Uta-gassen.
Q : How old were you at the time?
B : I was 24 back then.
Q : So young for it!
B : I don’t know well about it. I also played at Music Station and Utaban in the same period, I was 24, too when I experienced prime time music programs as a member of back bands and jobs at large venues like Makuhari Messe at the first time.
Q : Experiences of big stages as a back band of Mika Nakashima and others… Do you think these experiences give you much feedback?
B : I had played only live-house like smaller places. Kawasaki Club Citta was largest in my career back then. But it was suddenly upgraded to hall-class places far larger… It’s like I was in a dream, isn’t it? Like I played in a TV program that I watched just before.
Q : It’s even great that you went straight to Kouhaku, wasn’t it?
B : At the end of the day, a session musician like me is a job that owes most to others. We only play behind the famous. We can’t be there if they are not there. And tons of pro musicians are there around me, including my elders. But these famous ones just choose me. I remember it impressed me lot. It also added more responsibility on me. To be honest, I was picked up from those who were better than me. I couldn’t sleep every these days because of the responsibility or… nervousness from the responsibility. Not to say there are air plays for TV jobs, but there’s times when I couldn’t stop my hands trembling even at air plays.
Q : You play bold as a god of base at BABYMETAL lives, I can’t tell whether it’s because of these experiences or not…
B : By contraries now I can express myself better at larger stage like that. I might get nervous at small live houses of 100 or 200 audiences though I haven’t played at such venues lately.
Q : Is it because of closer eyes of audience?
B : Rather because of severe tolerance for sounds I make? We can hear all the nuances in a small place. But I say I play at larger places with a wish that all of my notes hit audiences right. At Budokan audience can get a clearer view of backwards of the stage than expected even from far behind. Artists look so small from the audience, but audiences are closer than expected from the stage… Like “So close as it is!” More, as to BABYMETAL other members give me a lot of sense of ease. And a will of the trio for performance is tremendous, so I can’t afford to take a single breath. All of Kami Band members must share a tension that the trio defeats us if we do it lasy. We are leaning a lot more from playing with them than with long-career artists. But it’s not because such little girls do their best, but because we just have fun from playing together with three artists. Babymetal is the most enjoyable in my activities.
Q : Was there any request from Kobametal at the moment when you became a god of bass?
B : The first one from Kobametal was, “No need to hold back by a reason why they are a girl or an idol. Just do it as heavy and loud as you can.” All the member of Kami Band loves Metal, but can’t do like that in another jobs, can we? So nothing makes us happier so much because we do our job and can enjoy it!
Q : So the feeling I got that Kami Band must have enjoyed at lives from footages and pictures is true, isn’t it!
B : I bet. But at the same time Babymetal is one of the hardest jobs ever. Its play is severe. And gods of drum and gods of guitar are incredibly good and severe. Once a member play wrong a little bit… even get out of the rhythm a little bit, all others throw a look at the one. (laugh) and more to say, it has a concept that we deliver only a good play as possible that we developed as possible. Our first objective is to re-create original sound. First we try to play it live just the same as programmed version, then we make some arrangements for live when we feel odd though we played just the same. Anyway it’s only for minor things.
Q : Ijime, Dame, Zettai sounds like band sound. On the contrary songs like IINE! doesn’t so much. So are songs like IINE! more difficult for you?
B : IINE! is difficult! (laugh) Difficult from its first note! Its killer part is something that normal human don’t do… (laugh) I play that part just the same as the original source. The first concept of Kami Band was “Be technical.” But having smooth movement of fingers, good rhythm, tight sound and such are just minimum requirements, top on that need good collaboration to develop songs.
Q : Which is the most memorable Babymetal song for BOH-San?
B : It’s Akatsuki and Ijime, Dame, Zettai. It’s not because of technical things but because of their structure which are so complicated and long. Paces are faster than those I play in my head (laugh), so once I play late I’m over. As for bass technique the most difficult is… Akumu no Rondo is difficult, but… Babymetal Death would be the one. All the bass riffs are unison with the guitar’s and my fingering is same as the guitar’s… A neck of the bass is wider than the guitar, so I have to keep my fingers wide to play it through.
Q : Is it impossible without a six-string one?
B : You can do with a five-string one. But the song requires positions that normally are not to be used, so it is the most difficult in physical and technical aspects. And its tempo is fast.
Q : Which song is do you think suitable for players as a first song to copy Babymetal bass?
B : I think it’s basic to master Catch Me If You Can. Or simpler ones like Doki Doki Morning. It’s simply impossible to begin from Megitsune or Ijime, Dame, Zettai. (laugh)
Q : Which Babymetal live left you an impression most?
B : It’s Budokan, yeah. The girls got a record of the youngest performer there by that live. On top of that, the stage was not a half configuration but 360-degree one with audiences packed as possible for their music genre… I felt they were going to go worldwide while I played on the stage! There was a power in the hall at the live. And my conviction at the live came from not only the power but also the moment when I felt future big wave yet to come. I never thought of that hype for my solo bass play. They didn’t come to see a back band but the trio at first, did they? I couldn’t help but getting hyped by that applause from audiences that came to see the trio singing and dancing.
Q : You did shredding and tapping in rehearsals at Summer Sonic, Loud Park and other performances.
B : I did, I did. (laugh)
Q : Audiences cried, “Woooooow!” with hype. (laugh)
B : It’s also beyond my expectation. (laugh) For me I just made sure in advance whether those super-fast shredding phrases sounded right or not. It’s okay if it sounds right, because any play in a showtime is assured. I play that just for confirmation. I don’t play that for my exposure. (laugh) It’s just a confirmation purpose.
Q : Really? I thought there was some intension in you. (laugh)
B : It’s my routine for confirming my sound that I do some rough shredding and it’s okay if it sounds right, especially when we don’t have enough time to adjust our sound at a rehearsal. Any simple play sounds right when such fast play can sound right, doesn’t it?
Q : I see. So these audience reactions were out of the blue for you?
B : Totally. (laugh) but I am rather a type of person who says “Because I always want to play as much as I can!” when fans ask me why. (laugh) And I have no other choice to say that. (laugh)
Q : What is the most interesting aspect of Babymetal do you think to BOH-San? Though your answer might be overlapping to what you said now.
B : It would be that it is a fusion of completely different things together, and no one including Babymetal themselves knows what’s next. At the beginning of the assignment last year, I never thought that it could sell out Budokan and go abroad in that early. It’s beyond my expectations that reactions would be so good like that? and it hit the Billboard chart? More of it, Babymetal is that viral but I am only mentioned and recognized as a god of bass… I feel so good about that.
Q : Wait… You feel so good about that. (laugh)
B : It is so much interesting to me. (laugh)
Q : In my image as an amateur, all of you are an independent player. So I think you would want to sell your names as possible.
B : There’s such urge in my heart indeed. But while I play with hiding my name, only die-hard Babymetal fans do their studies to find my name. Those who know my name really love Babymetal. Only these people know my name… It makes me feel good. I have some fun from tweeting not “I’m going to play for Babymetal tomorrow!” by myself but “I’m on a rehearsal now,” with vague description, then retweets go spreading slowly. Now is the time that strong appeals like “I’m going to do it!” don’t appeal a lot but rather things hidden from people make the way to the world… Its power is surprising, I think.
Q : I have now an impression from you that you love Babymetal so much.
B : Yes, I do! No Kami Band member hates Babymetal at all! We can do what we like. Yes, we must overcome difficult riffs to play strictly and unfamiliar phrases to master perfectly. But. There’s less freedom to improvise, but shredding loud at large venues makes us happy as a musician and there’s not so much opportunities to do that in other stages. There are not so much opportunities to use all of my skills. In other words, Babymetal isn’t easy at all as “Let’s play to make a singer to sing easy.” We were asked to put a pedal to the metal. (laugh)
Q : Have you never been asked such a request before?
B : No. (laugh) Most of them were “Please make the volume lower because we couldn’t hear the voice.” On the contrary in Babymetal we band member rather said, “It’s crazy, isn’t it !? It’s beyond loud, isn’t it!?” (laugh)
Q : For the end of this interview, what’s your advice to those who are in a music school with a dream of becoming a pro soloist, and those who want to make a living as a soloist?
B : I think cooperative mind is priority.
Q : Cooperative mind?
B : Yes. Not to mention that we go forward with a will to do what we want to, but a point is whether we have flexibility for others or not. When you are asked to play any specific bass, you better not say that you won’t because it is against your belief, instead say that you’re happy to do it but you want to try your style if they allow. Only those who can say like that survive. And those who simply love to learn music do. It is whether or not you have open mind… or creative feeling who aren’t the brain-trust, learn it and forget it and keep accepting new things… even things out of music theory. And more, whether you can follow advices from others or not.
Whether you can keep your mouth shut or not – you better not say much, but hold it in your mind even if you have a ton of words to their advices. It’s different from being obsequious. It feels so good when we do it without objection and surpass those who tell us what to do, doesn’t it? One thing everyone misunderstands is that they try hard to be unique. I believe uniqueness is something only others can see. All we can do is to do as our hearts go and others evaluate whether you are unique or not. Others say, “BOH is a rare thing with a six-string,” or “He plays the bass as if it weren’t it.” Their evaluation includes my outfits. So I never think of insisting that playing as a member of Kami Band with that face painting is my uniqueness. What I do now completely owes those around me. I’m so happy that I began to be recognized by these and those things spreading out, but I don’t do all of them intentionally. Otherwise what I do intentionally is to deliver a good play. It’s the best way, isn’t it?