KOBAMETAL: interview with the man behind BABYMETAL
Here is a translation from a Japanese interview with Kobametal, the BABYMETAL producer, from the site Nikkel Trendy, please understand we have done our best to translate the text from japanese to english and some mistake may occure. Thank to Thomas Malone and BABYMETAL WORLDWIDE (BMWW)
Trend Focus Why is popular unique metal idol BABYMETAL? Why is this unique Metal Idol band, “Babymetal” so popular? We explore this with its instigator.
Babymetal was formed in 2010 around the concept of “fusing together Idol and Metal”. This unit of 3 main members from the the Idol group, “Sakura Gakuin” have been
carrying out activities under the name of “Juonbu” taking the fight to the warring age taking place in the idol market with their incredible unique presence.
They are acquiring a fan base that lies outside of the typical idol fan by crossing stereotypical expectations with the gap they have created between a heavy metal sound
contrasted with idol-like performances and with their firm grip on points that “Metal fans appreciate” with their music and performance style. Through the introduction
of their music on Youtube they have come to garner support from fans that reside not only in Japan but throughout the world.
We talked with Amuse’s KOBAMETAL, a music consultant for “Juonbu records” and the chief instigator of Babymetal about the background and formation of Babymetal and the
role idols are to play in the music scene.
Q: Babymetal has brought a unique flair to the vast assortment of idol groups such as AKB48 and Momoiro Kuroba. What spurred you to come up with the idea of fusing
together Metal with Idol?
Kobametal: I guess the simple answer is that I like both Metal and Idol.
For example, we are all well aware of the success of Perfume combining Techno with Idol. I felt that if I were to make a new genre there could be nothing better than to
fuse Idol with Metal, and it was at this time that I met Babymetal’s main vocalist, Su-metal (Nakamoto Suzuka of Sakura Gakuin). At this time I was able to listen to her
very unaffected and natural singing voice, and I had the feeling that it would be interesting to have her express her talent based on an image of, “a girl’s chorus group
singing a song in a metalistic fashion”. While I like Idol music I am originally a big fan of Metal, it was the creation of Babymetal that brought about a new type of Idol unit that incorporates a love and passion for Metal. To achieve this I thought of having a “Metal unit that would take on the guise of an Idol group” and that would then go on to grow into a dark heroine type of existence within the Idol world.
With Babymetal I want to emphasize the gap between the cuteness of the 3 members with the excitement and power of Metal. The concept of naming the band Babymetal came
from a divine message it also makes use of the cuteness of “Baby” with the easy to understand roughness of “Metal” while also signifying the “birth of a type of Metal”.
Q: Attempting to fuse together Metal with Idol, what do you take into consideration when actually creating music and songs?
Kobametal: When composing songs and when producing live concerts I would like to pay homage and respect to the predecessors of the past Metal scene and arrange things so
that the members of Babymetal can perform so as not to destroy what has come before. While there have been some Idol songs that have had a Metalistic feel to them before
now, Babymetal is build on the idea of Idol songs that are really based on a full-fledged Metal sound.
Metal is a very diversified genre and it is thus very difficult to sum it up with a simple definition. In common parlance it has an image of long haired musicians
wrapped up in leather attire shouting out “Gyaaa!” with piercing guitar riffs. However, here in Japan there exist a wide variety of Metal types including traditional
metal bands that fall in line with Iron Maiden, bands that mix core metal with originality like Maxim the Hormone, bands the combine punk with hard core Metal such as
Emo Screamo bands and visual bands work to incorporate the visual aspects of Metal.
Since these different approaches all differ in their world view of these various types of metal genres it is not so easy to change the type of music performed once the
band has been formed. In this regard, since Babymetal is going from the concept of approaching Metal from an Idol perspective it is fairly easy to develop a rich basket
of variations. I feel that this also makes it possible to draw out the best aspects of each of the members when creating and performing songs.
Q: Before we go too far, just how were the members selected for Babymetal?
Kobametal: Babymetal is positioned in the Juonbu section of Sakura Gakuin and the planning starting Babymetal itself came about around 2009 when “Karen Girls” of which
the main vocalist, Su-metal (Nakamoto Suzuka), disbanded.
I started looking around for the other two members with Su-metal as the center role of the band. Since Su-metal possesses such a unique presence I thought it would be a
good idea to add a totally new character onto her. I then thought it would be wonderful to have 2 girls who resembled angels to be dancing around her and asked to have
Yuimetal (Mizuno Yui) and Moametal (Kikuchi Moa) join the band.
People talk a lot about Babymetal incorporating death voices and screamo as well as breakdown parts into Idol songs and it is good to know that this is only possible
because of the potential that was there in the girls. There is no way that these kinds of outrageous songs and performances could be carried out smoothly unless the
girls had the vocal ability and stamina needed along with a perfect balance existing between the 3 members.
Q: The song “Headbanga!” which was released in July was composed by Narasaki-san who is of course well known in the Metal world for “Coaltar of the Deepers”. How do you go about creating songs?
Kobametal: With all of our songs I start out first with the concept for the music first and then approach the songwriter in question. When I approach the songwriter and
request a song to be written I have already prepared the song’s concept, the atmosphere for the lyrics, the melody, the choreography, the form of the live performance
and the reaction I expect from the audience. For “Headbanga!” I made a request based on the theme of “Headbanging”.
As for my personal image for this song I felt that I wanted to provide simultaneously a passion for the visual Metal scene together with a sense of strangeness, a kind
of, “What the heck is this?!”. To those ends I deliberately used lingo such as “Saku (bloom)”, “Dosen (center of stage)”, “Gyakudai” and other similar terms used by female fans known as “Bangers” and even paid homage to “the GazettE” by incorporating the “Dogeza Hedoban (kneeling down and bowing to the floor) performed by their fans.
Certainly not limited to “Headbanga!” I am careful to carry out song creating by speaking in detail with with those involved in writing lyrics, creating music, mixing
the music and crafting choreography. With Narasaki-san as well we went through repeated back and forths countless times, I consulted with him about very minute details
such as “I would like to place the cymbals here-what do you think?” and other similar detailed issues.
For the bridge melody I like to lay out a rhythm similar to “PPPF handclapping” (impossible to translate-sorry) that is so familiar to Idol fans. I also consulted with
Narasaki-san about this when we were arranging the music and he advised using a double bass drum to get a more Metalistic feel.
Q: Do you explain in detail the intent lying behind the creation of the songs to the 3 members?
Kobametal: I feel that I want to make the most of the characters of each of the members and so choose to not lay out step by step the process and thinking that lies on
the production side.
For example, in “Headbanga!” I wanted to strongly emphasize that Su-metal would be turning 15 that year and used the motif of “Banger”. Showing this concisely is the
lyrics of “15 (Ichigo) no yoru”, which is overlaid with the overall tone of the lyrics reflecting the sense possessed and shared by people of this age that “just want to
plow ahead into the future without thinking about the consequences” with the figure of Bangers who are totally into and devoted to the band they are following. However,
I did not explain all of this to the girls.
I am often talking about placing great importance on the individuality and freedom of thought of each of the members with Mikiko-san who is in charge of choreography.
There are times when the girls are moving their bodies as they listen to and practice the movements for a new song that Mikiko will say to herself, “this movement is
really interesting” and incorporate it into the song’s choreography. The movement in the chorus of “Headbanga!” where Yuimetal and Moametal raise up their ponytails with
both (twin tails) was incorporated when she saw them doing this movement spontaneously when practicing.
Q: Do you play Heavy Metal music to the girls, or teach them about Heavy Metal?
Kobametal: Basically speaking, I do not. Previously for media events the girls were often asked “What is your favorite Metal band?” so I taught them the names of a
number of bands but it appears they did their own research on this anyway.
“Death Voice” is mixed with an idol song.
The Kitsune sign that is so associated with Babymetal came about when I was teaching the Devil’s sign to the members and they started playing around making shadow
figures on the wall in form of foxes. I thought it was really funny and interesting and decided to keep it. When all is said, the girls take whatever songs we provide
them with and they take them and think about what new aspect they can draw out even as they ponder, “what is the world is Metal anyway?”.
Q: There are many “Homages that are appreciated by Metal fans” such as the Kitsune sign. What are some examples of similar items?
Kobametal: In “Ijime, Dame, Zettai” to be released in January of next year, there is the “Dame Jump” where the girls jump with their arms crossed over and there is the
“Wall of Death” where Yuimetal and Moametal run past each other right to left in the intro section of this song.
The provision of a corsette with the first limited edition of “Headbanga!” and the performance of the release event for that song being held at the Mecca of Japanese
Metal, a live house in known as Meguro Rockmaykan were homages to the Japanese Metal scene.
Q: Not only do you pay attention to small performance details, I also get the feeling that you place a great deal of importance on producing a world view at the live
Kobametal: In contrast with the current trend in the Idol world of Idols being just kind of an extension of one’s daily life, with Babymetal we really want to provide a
“sense of the uncommon”. For that reason I aim to create a world that is as removed from one’s daily space and time as is possible at the live performances. An example
of this is that we attempt to spin a story that runs from the opening to the closing by not including MC talk and by effectively combining together movies, songs and
However, I think the thing that really provides a sense of the uncommon is the incredible energy that the girls blast out in the live shows. This energy transfers to the
audience and brings life to the Mosshushu and call and response actions so familiar at Babymetal performances.
Babymetal has the concept ingrained in it that “Kami flows into and transforms into the shape of Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal” and in actuality the girls say that
they have almost no memory of the events of the live performances. It is true that the girls carry out very active performances and probably get something like a
runner’s high inducing something like a trance state. I think perhaps the audience takes in a lot of that passion and heat and brings about a real sense of unity,
bordering on a type of possession between the girls and the audience.
Q: What kind of numbers do you get for live performances? Also, what is the core composition of Babymetal’s fan base?
Kobametal: At the October 6, Shibuya O-East show we had an total audience of 2,600 spread over 2 shows. Our next live show is at Akasaka Blitz which has a capacity of
1,500. Generally speaking, Babymetal has a policy of putting on “all standing” concerts. It will be a joy to see how far the popularity of Babymetal spreads here on out
into the future.
The core makeup of the fans who actually come to live performances is composed mainly of male Idol fans in their 20s to 40s. However, the atmosphere of the concerts
differs slightly from those of Sakura Gakuin in that with Babymetal there seems to be more people who are looking for a more unifying and exciting experience more in
line with a major band’s live performance.
Additionally, some of the fans are people who appreciate sub-culture and/or Metal. Recently, we have seen the emergence of more and more female fans, and there are now
numerous “Odottemita” (I danced it myself) videos featuring girls and women dressed up in Babymetal cosplay appearing on the internet made by fans of Visual bands from
both within and outside of Japan.
Q: Preceding “Headbanga!”, “Doki Doki Morning” was released in 2011 and “iine!” was released in March of 2012. “Doki Doki Morning” seemed to have the most pronounced
Idol feel to it.
Kobametal: If you take just the chorus section of “Doki Doki Morning” you could definitely listen to it as an Idol song and it is surely Babymetal’s most pop sounding
song. This debut song was first performed at a Sakura Gakuin live show and this was probably behind why we chose such a catchy, pop sounding song. I’m sure Metal fans
would say to themselves that it is too popish and that “it is not really Metal at all”, but I am perfectly fine with that.
From the git-go many Babymetal songs are created using a sort of mash-up like technique. This means we take the different melody lines from various songs, extract
certain parts and then mix them all together. Because of this there are several composers taking part in creating “Doki Doki Morning”.
Q: Isn’t it rather unusual to put so much time into creating an Idol song?
Kobametal: Myself personally I have never heard of anyone making an Idol song in a similar fashion. When involved in creating the sound source it is not like we have
just one composer sit down and work on it alone, rather it is much more like we get everyone in the studio where everyone is allowed to express their opinion and so
there is a bit of a different mental energy involved than the usual approach. That said, since it takes so much time to create a single song that results in us have a
more limited number of songs.
For “iine!” we worked with a Metal sound that belongs to the genre known as “Screamo Pikorimo”. And since we used a mash-up approach with it as well it features a Death
Metal feel mixed in with a Hip Hop taste in the middle.
Q: “iine!” was released as a split CD with “Kiba of Akiba”. Could you fill us in on the background surrounding this?
Kobametal: To begin with, since Babymetal belongs to the indies record label of “Juonbu records” we felt that it would be appropriate to implement the indies culture and
tradition of new bands or bands that work well together releasing a split CD.
Once we decided this approach and we were looking around for a new band we came upon Kiba of Akiba. Babymetal felt a sense of kinship with them in their similar stance
of approaching the Otaku culture from the Metal scene side of things and felt certain that a joint work would result in something interesting.
Q: I understand that you are working to implement a wide variety of Metal aspects in Babymetal, but I would like to hear more about the favorable responses you have
gotten from Metal fans.
Kobametal: I get either extreme-either a big “Yes”, or a big “No”. Having been a major Metal fan in the past I know that people who really love Metal may see them as a
very annoying presence. From the outset we can not say that Babymetal was ever an authentic Metal band and have rather suddenly introduced a totally new style of Metal
and so there is nothing I can say about that and so feel that it will take a great deal of time to really reach deeply into their sphere of interest.
However, I do not think that it is bad to have controversy about the merits and demerits of Babymetal’s presence. In the Metal scene everytime a new style appears it
gets criticized but inevitably leads to the formation of new genres. Even when the infamous band of Metalicalla appeared on the scene it was showered with criticism at
first. This was the same with Slipknot in the 90s. So I feel that the more a band is hammered down the more it actually proves to have a great potential for change and
greatness and thus the “Strangeness factor” that can not fit within the Metal nor the Idol sphere is actually something that I constantly treat as a great treasure.
Q: Since “Doki Doki Morning” was released on YouTube in October of 2011 to the present time it has had over 1 million views. It appears that there are an inordinate amount of comments from overseas viewers. Did you have the overseas market in your scopes from the outset?
Kobametal: I had a hunch that it might stir up some interest but I honestly had no inkling that it would become the object of so much attention.
Because we made the video on a very low budget we had to have our staff play all the performance roles. Considering that I am quite surprised with the result. That said,
the comments reflect both favorable as well as not so favorable impressions.
Q: What region of the world seems to be responding most strongly. Are you planning any overseas events for Babymetal in the future?
Kobametal: We are definitely seeing more and more interest coming from the countries of Northern Europe and America that possess a heavy core Metal culture influence but
are also seeing this happening in South Asia and the rest of Europe as well. We received an offer from a Metal Festival in America this year but were unable to attend
due to scheduling conflicts. But we certainly want to pursue overseas activities herein out.
The girls are deeply moved when they see that fans overseas are vigorously watching their videos and offering supportive comments and are looking forward to performing
live in front of their fans outside of Japan.
There are quite a lot of people overseas uploading videos featuring dance cover performances. On Facebook about 80 to 90% of the “likes” we get come from people outside
of Japan, and these come from a wide variety of nationalities. I seems that Babymetal is most probably being seen as a “uniquely Japanese style of entertainment” much in
the manner of Visual bands, Idols, Hatsune Miku and Anime.
Q: Bringing the talk back to the domestic scene, at Summer Sonic in August where Babymetal appeared as the youngest band the twitter and other similar SNS mediums were buzzing with news and reactions from listeners other than the usual Idol fan base. What led up to their out of the blue appearance there?
Kobametal: The sponsors of the event evaluated Babymetal as being an epoch making band and approached me about a booking at quite an early stage.
It was quite difficult to juggle the scheduling because it conflicted with a Sakura Gakuin event but the person in charge had also come to see the July 21st Meguro Rockmaykan performance and I guess he was impressed because he repeatedly
pressured me asking, “there must be some slot of timing that would make a booking possible”, and in the end we ended up with kind of a rush job with a kind of, “it’s alright you can just show up once the Sakura Gakuin event is over and do the show without going through rehearsals”.
There are a lot of people in the music world who are very interested in Babymetal. The other day a member of some Visual band twitted the word “Headbanga!” on Twitter which led one of there fans to do a google search which ended up
leading her to Babymetal.
Q: It has become common scene these days to see anything new on the Idol scene being propagated over a variety of SNS such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the like and it seems quite unusual to people who lie outside of the standard Idol fan base. Are there any other things that come to mind when you take a look at the listeners of Babymetal?
Kobametal: At this point in time amongst those people who would be considered to be Idol fans there seems to be an increase in the number of people who originally enjoyed going to concerts but who have now come to like Idols and Idol
concerts as well. We are even seeing people show up to Babymetal concerts wearing Metallica or Las Vegas band T-shirts.
In this current era called in Japan the “Idol Sengoku Jidai” (Era of the warring Idol bands), many Idols and Idol bands are playing with any and all kinds of ideas in the quest for a stroke of originality and uniqueness. What we once saw
in the Rock band scene where a vast variety of bands were popping up and fighting for popularity we are now seeing with a bubbling sense of excitement taking place in the current Idol world.
In the recent Rock band world there seems to be a lack in the heat or power necessary to take something uncommon and change it into something that can be appreciated by a large number of people. In one way of looking at it, I would say that the Rock scene is now largely populated by “honor students” (kind of boring, but proficient). With people in the music business world I often get into conversations where we are all convinced that the current Idol scene is just starting to heat up with a power that we “can’t put a finger on, but feel things are getting exciting” much like the Indies boom in the Rock band world of the 80s and 90s. I really feel this at Babymetal live performances as well, and many people who were involved in the Rock band boom of that era, myself included, are now working in the Idol scene.
Q: It could be that Idols and Idol bands are a presence that is revolutionizing the music scene. Amidst this backdrop, how to you plan to develop Babymetal from here on out into the future?
Kobametal: The only way to go is to pierce ahead in just the way we have so far without going off track. We may have done some rather “pointy” things early on and most likely as Babymetal gathers more and more attention to itself there may be a realistic tendency to mellow out a bit, but I feel that the 3 girls will continue to sing and dance to a full fledged Metal sound and that we will continue on full speed ahead without losing our way.
Throughout the height of the R&B dance music scene in Japan with such artists as Amuro Namie and Speed I am quite struck by Perfume carving out a corner in this scene where they continued to hold fast to their style of Techno Pop Idol music. Now this may be just my personal opinion but I feel that-and there may have been some twists and turns on the way until they reached their current position in the music world- due precisely to the fact that they did not just go with the flow of the times that they were able to lead the way to a totally new era in music.
Now, while I can not honestly say just how big Babymetal may become, I do feel that if we just pursue the existing form of Idol marketing then Babymetal will develop into nothing much more than a rehashed, lukewarm band. If that is the case, I feel it is much more interesting to go for broke and continue to embark on a totally untraveled path. I’m referring to the potential of the girls, the passion and love the staff has for Metal, the idea of positively making the most of this sense of “strangeness”…..From these factors a new style will be created and I feel we will be able to become an “Only One” existence as a band that no one else can create.
Q: Su-metal will be graduating from Sakura Gakuin in March of 2013. What will become of Babymetal post graduation?
Kobametal: I can’t comment on that at this time, but I can say that how Babymetal may develop will all start to become clear with the “I, D, Z Legend” series of live performances that started in October. No matter how things go I strongly hope that the activities of Babymetal will prove to be a very good experience for the girls.
With Babymetal we approach each and every live show with a great deal of care and I think we will be able to change this small movement into a big one. This will then prove to be a great stimulus to the music industry and I will be happy if it spurs even a few people to “pull their old Metal T-shirt out of the closet”, or cause them to say, “Babymetal was the trigger that got me into listening to Metal”.