After their major debut in October 2012, we interview band leader Kazuki three years after his last appearance in this magazine. There have been clashes of opinions and members have left the band, circumstances that have left him irritated. Since his previous appearance he has had plenty of ups and downs. He has said he was right to keep going in hope. So what gives him power to keep going? Kazuki self analyses as we ask him about the difficulties of being a band leader.
Screw announced their going major last August, with their major debut single "Xanadu" released on the 17th of October. What is your impression of going major so far?
It's only lately that I've started to have real feelings about it. When we heard the decision to go major from our manager, we were in an airport in Russia during our European tour. It was like stating a business fact; it took a while to sink in (laughs). When we came back from our Europe tour there was a lot of new work to do such as recording and producing and the like. Our usual environment began to change. It slowly all started to sink in after we got to work. But having said that, then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that not a whole lot has changed. But it was still enough to get really excited about. Our first major debut live show was the point at which I started to feel that excitement. From then on, it has felt like a battle.
I get where you're coming from. So how do the other members feel about the change to becoming major?
We're not really caught up in the hype or swept away by it. That's a good thing, I think. Whatever we do, we still remember how we started out together. This is something I really want to keep. It's a common misunderstanding that in public band guys have to seem so cool all the time and look perfect onstage and I don't want us to fall for that. But because we were on an indie label for six and a half years, I don't think we'll fall into that trap.
That doesn't seem like the case for Screw.
Yeah. Even now our debut doesn't seem to have sunk in for us (laughs). But at the same time, it seems like that will change. It's very important we realise we're a major label band now so we have to take responsibility and be aware of that.
Of course. So what are you doing to make sure going major doesn't change what kind of band Screw is?
I don't think going major will change us because we have such a strong tie to our songs. But we're really not that strict. In order to keep what is essentially Screw, we have to take on and consider the advice others give to us. With our new songs on our album Xanadu and our following single Teardrop, we let what we want to do in recording take precedence. We didn't do that for the first year or so when we first started out. But we were an Indies band for six and a half years, so isn't that pointless? You have to recognise that to move on to major labels, so once again I'm thankful.
So you're starting to experience what it's like to be a major band more and more. As the band's leader you must be able to look back at Screw's activity since such a great opportunity. Screw attracted a lot of attention at the beginning, didn't you?
Yeah, we started playing oneman live shows all of a sudden. But we didn't have enough songs so we used to play the same ones twice (laughs). At that time both Jin and I really had no fans… (laughs). Byou and Yuuto (Screw's original bassist) had both been in bands before and it seemed as if they had brought all their fans with them. But every time I played well I got more cheering and support that really increased from when we first started to our one man live show in Shibuya O-WEST a few months later. After that when we signed to our record label we brought Manabu to join the band we wondered what the immediate reaction would be. We played lives and the attendance didn't go down but it didn't increase either. It felt like we were stuck. It felt like that for a while.
Because you're the band leader, it seems you feel a lot of responsibility. Were you the leader from the very beginning?
No, there wasn't a leader when we were with our first record label and then when we moved labels we all agreed Yuuto was to be leader. But the circumstances changed and Byou became leader. At the time I was just a band member but I supported the leader and was more of a sub leader for a while. But because Byou wanted to devote more time to song writing gave it up and let me do everything.
I get it, kind of. I don't mean to sound bad, but Byou doesn't seem like the leader type.
Is that so? Byou is a vocalist at heart, a real expressionist. But he wanted to be leader so he asked if he could. He tried really hard and prepared himself for the worst but he made mistakes in the beginning that I don’t know if I would have made. There were a lot... To be honest, it was really annoying. He had the title of leader but he wasn't acting like one really... That's how I felt, deep down. He had a lot to say about the band, but he was just so overcritical. He'd explain things really difficultly too. He was like a hypercritical mother-in-law (laughs). He's not like that now. But we needed someone to act as a manager between the record label and band members and I thought of myself in that position. Why not have me as leader? But I told myself it would be too much responsibility so I made myself stop thinking about it. See, at the time me and Yuuto used to disagree with each other a lot (laughs). But don't get me wrong, I didn't hate him. We were in a band together and sometime we'd clash but really we got on well with each other. I used to go to his live shows before Screw.
You were so alike that there was friction between the both of you. Even though circumstances weren't great within the band, Screw has a wide range musically. You were ambitious in defying the visual scene and introducing new sounds.
It took a lot of trial and error to improve our circumstances. For example, when filming comments, you have to change how you watch as well as how you film. That's a lot of fun messing around and filming. Recently we've had to stop filming because we mess around so much (laughs). Concerning how we are as musicians right now, I don't really have a huge impression of it. But there are a lot of songs I'd like to try out. But I've been stopped from doing that. We talk amongst ourselves about how not to repeat ourselves but without changing too much. So we looked at what our songs were about and everything they made us feel. So then it wasn't about being there just to record them, but being present to their meaning, what they had to say. We improved in theory as well as in practice with our songs. That's how we changed and improved the direction of Screw. Because of that, I didn't want to go anywhere without the other band members. It was very difficult.
You seem undaunted by anything. Everything you tried seemed to be the right thing to do.
I think so too. Even now I use my own strength. At the time I was getting tired of our own songs. We had about a hundred songs stocked up but we weren't doing the things I wanted to do. Within the band, we wanted to do things like this or that but we never seemed to change a whole lot. Everything was so jumbled up. I don't want to talk badly about back then but looking back on it now I can't say with confidence that we made something amazing. That was part of the reason why Yuuto left.
So looking back, you are a band who tried a lot of thing out and made a lot of progress on what succeeded with a lot of practice. Were you surprised when it came to Yuuto leaving?
It seemed that way, didn't it? A lot happened just before he left. It was around the time of our third year anniversary live show in Ebisu Liquidroom, which was sold out. I thought that because it was so successful that he might change his mind. But in the end he didn't. Yuuto leaving was a big thing for me. Even though I'd never fought with anyone more, I'd never worked with anyone better. At his last live show in Shibuya O-WEST, I thought to myself "this is the last time I'm going to be standing onstage with this guy", and I cried. Yuuto really was a big part of my life.
I've heard it was a very critical time for the band after Yuuto left.
It was. We left our label around that time and thought about leaving too. Once Yuuto left my motivation went way down. But if I left Screw, what would I do? If I left then I felt that I'd leave a bad impression on the band. Screw was important to me, but not so important that I wouldn't leave. So I went to the other members and said that all I could do was struggle.
It’s not "I’ll do my best" or "I won't give up". "I'm struggling" are serious words.
It was a really tough time. But I learned from the positivity of the other members and the guilt left me. So then we started looking for a new bassist. I'd met Rui once before a while ago and we heard him audition. I wanted him to join us no matter how many other people I heard play after him. When I met with the other members I was determined (laughs). Rui seemed like such an open person, of course he had to join Screw.
So Rui quickly became a part of the band. So after all that does Screw still feel such frustrations and setbacks?
Of course these things happen regularly (laughs).
So what are the driving forces that keep Screw moving?
There are a lot. First are the members. We look out for each other at the same time, bond together to overcome so much together. Of course we have our fans to support us too during those painful times. It's like when I couldn't return to my hometown. I left Osaka at sixteen to start making it on my own but there weren't even office jobs (laughs). Then I asked myself things like if I left my band, what other job would I do? What kind of life do I want? So I would have regretted leaving Screw. But looking back on it it's a miracle I didn't leave the band. Giving up on that kind of thinking and following my dreams was the best.
So it's the same feeling as when you were a kid. So with Screw continuing, did you feel any changes in yourself?
Well, your personality changes as you become an adult. When Screw started I was lively and boyish. When we started to tour it felt like going to buy sweets (laughs). There's a big difference from that now and although it's difficult, it really is enjoyable. If we felt like going on tour, I'd look at the fun and not the methods to get there. Basically, we were kids. There wasn't anything I didn't know then. It was so much fun. When I meet guys I haven't seen in years they always ask "Where's the cute Kazu-chan from before?" (laughs).
You still seem like someone who indulges in the fun of the moment but now you set your sights higher...
Yeah. But I don't think that I want to keep things the way they are just because they're fun. From when we first formed to two years into playing together I thought of our future. But at the same time I was becoming someone who got lost in the intensity of their feelings. It was great when I felt positive feelings, but when I got lost in anger I couldn't take control of emotions. I was becoming someone with extreme mood swings (laughs). At that time I had no confidence and hated people who did. I think I left a different impression towards people as to who I really am. But then I got more stable and I'm not like that now (laughs).
I understand what it's like becoming an adult. How have you changed since you became the leader?
I felt very strong feelings of responsibility. But how I came to be leader was when Byou told other people could pick up on the cold air I had and that I had to change it (laughs). I though, was Byou going around asking these things (laughs). But we talked about in what was I standoffish and I changed gradually. Byou made me more approachable little by little. It wasn't just him but Jin and Manabu and everyone else who made me grow up. That's why when he talks his expression gets serious. Isn't that not trustworthy? Before all our motivation was scattered but now we're much more focused. To be a proper band you have to settle down and start thinking as one.
You're not managing like a dictator, but you push the other members gently and work together as one. How is it writing music as well as playing guitar?
It used to be very hard writing music and recording but now it's all about exceeding the work we've already done in what we're making now. It's about compromise, not just giving in. Once you have the lyrics you need the guitar, and especially for the guitar to harmonise with everything else it has to be of a worthy standard for it to be good. This was important to me before we went major. Isn't my music the only thing left in my life? Honestly... that was true in the past. There were times when work got too much I'd think "Why am I doing it like this?" I'd reflect on things and regret would build up. When DEEP SIX was in production, I thought everything I heard was terrible for a year. I decided to make music I'd be satisfied with. Because we had no producer at the time, I couldn't get any specific advice. And I had to deal with my stoic attitude as well. My viewpoint changed around that time. With that result I could look at my guitar playing as it is now. After we went major I bought monitor speakers to see what a lot of different bands sound like. I never did anything like that before. I wanted to make songs that weren't embarrassing and I thought such an obsession was weak. But doing it kept Screw from being limited and helped us continue.
So you matured not just as a person, but as an artist and a guitarist. Looking at Screw objectively, what is the band's strongest appeal?
Byou's songs and Byou's being. Can this be exhausted? Especially the songs. When I watch Byou recording his whole stance changes. I've felt that since we were Indies and up until we were recording BIRAN. When you're a vocalist you can say so much no matter what. Byou has felt the most frustration and suffering more than any of us. Once you can overcome that you level up as a vocalist. Maybe getting this far has been a big turning point for him. Maybe Screw will change through Byou's transformation. I predict it'll be a good direction for the band and I have great hopes for Byou. But, I didn't say that (laughs). Looking at him, you can see that fans have a strong image of him and see him as a genius. Even when I look at him during live shows lately his aura and live performance is captivating. It makes me want to stay together in the band. Even though they're completely different now, I still think his lyrics are great. I can say that with confidence. But honestly, a lot of people have said his lyrics are scathing. Everyone tells me that. It's bad that it's happening a lot. Every time I meet someone who tells me that I still think "it's not me, why are they telling me this?" If his lyrics talk about how bad this and that is, people would stop coming up to tell us this.
So you think it would be better to change the lyrics?
Definitely not. If we changed them we'd stop being Screw. It's what gives Byou strength.
So there's a strong bond between members. Is that where you get your confidence, in your case?
I don't have any confidence (laughs).
Yes. Speaking of that, I’m nowhere near confident. If I did have that kind of confidence I'd be calling myself a "star" *. Sorry, I was copying Aoi (the GazettE) (laughs). When we used to film live videos back when we first started out I used to think that I was so sexy. But I don't think that now. I don't want to lose my way so I have to be careful not to stray too far in finding a new sound.
So, do you think this is proof of you improving as a musician?
I don't know. I know I'm not the best guitarist out there right now and I'm not striving to be the very best either. But I think it's a stepping stone towards our current tour (Screw Oneman Tour 2012 Xanadu – Seventh Heaven...-), which is a good thing. Every time we do a tour people ask us stuff like if it's a milestone for us. But with the band, I haven't really changed... at least I don't think so. I'm thinking about that with this tour. I don't have confidence so does that mean the band has absolutely no confidence too? I don't think that's a good thing. But if I don't see it that way, maybe there is something inside me that if I wake up will change all that. So I have to aim to improve that.
There's hope. There are a lot of demands for bigger numbers of fans in the major field. Have you grasped that success?
There's a huge contrast between what we dreamed of when we first formed and the reality of our work. Our dream was to do what we wanted when we wanted and progress that way. But that's just a dream and reality teaches you that. By looking at the reality you can grasp the circumstances and keep working. The more serious you are the more capable you are to make judgements without resistance. So then when serious situations happen you have the motivation to handle them. When you especially have to use all your strength you'll get good results.
Don't you feel the pressure?
I'm a little anxious but the amount of bands going major is increasing and I think it'll continue that way. Because of that you get a lot of stories from different people. It's both good and bad. If you make it you should always keep a level head. But you shouldn't become stone. For example, you could listen to anyone and they could all say the same things. In going major your look and way of thinking should be individualistic and you shouldn't change that. First of all, you should talk with your band and want to make music. By doing that you should create a regular bond of secret communication between each other.
That's what musicians should want to do. Listening to you today you seem to enjoy what Screw has become.
Going major has meant we cannot be bought. As I said before, that was the main result.
I don't mean to offend you with this question but have you ever suggested anything to increase the number of fans that surprises those on the staff site?
I do, even now (laughs). Ever since we were an Indies band I wanted to be a fun band whose stuff I'd want to buy. I've always said that. The record label takes these proposals because they want good ideas from bands. I only said these things in passing but then I began to support them more seriously. It's only recently I listened to myself sand realised my persuasive power. So now I have to wait and see how it goes. But on the other hand, what do I want to do? We went major and we worked hard living as Indies. Now we have reason again to work at increasing the amount of people who will come to see us play. There are things we like and things we don't but we needed to aim for going major. There is a lot expected of us now that we went pro. There are demands for ideas. We're aiming to be a band that satisfies members and staff.
You seem to be an independent person, Kazuki. What are your goals for now?
As an artist, I want to delve into what I'm doing now as well as battle with something new. As a person, I think that as leader, I should rely on the other band members more. At the same time, I don't want to become a complete adult. If I did, I wouldn't make as good a leader. So, for me, that's what I want to do.
* slang used by Aoi on twitter. タースー meaning star