Sakuracon 2022: ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D Interview

Sakuracon 2022: ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D Interview

By Sean Cruz, Jun Hong Pua, Lisa Su, & Matthew Fu

Transcribed by Jun Hong Pua

Edited by Sean Cruz

*note: This is a repost from April 2022 as the original article seems to have disappeared


From left to Right: ICCHAN & SHINNOSUKE.
From left to Right: ICCHAN & SHINNOSUKE.

Japan-A-Radio was granted an exclusive interview with ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D during Sakura-Con 2022. Band leader SHiNNOSUKE represented the band alongside his support drummer, ICCHAN. The interview took place Friday afternoon before the band’s concert on Saturday.

ROOKiEZ's SHiNNOSUKE (RS): Hi, I'm SHiNNOSUKE. Nice to meet you. And this is my supporter drummer, ICCHAN. Please ask whatever you like. I'll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Q: You were here 3 years ago. Why did you decide to come back to Seattle, and to Sakura-Con?

RS: Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of our shows outside of Japan were canceled. Thus, when Sakura-Con approached us and gave us an offer and said "we would love you to come back and perform", we got very excited, because we really wanted to come back and perform live shows overseas again. So, we said yes immediately.

Q: Besides not being able to do live performances, how else did COVID affect the band?

RS: The way we made music also changed a little bit. To avoid meeting people face-to-face, we had to transfer music data back and forth. For example, I would first make a music demo and send it to a friend, who then makes an arrangement of that demo before giving it back, and then I would make adjustments on that arrangement and repeat the process. Honestly, music creation has become very mechanical. On the bright side, our schedules don't have to line up. However, I still missed being able to meet up and jam, to directly collaborate and have fun. We lost that sense of collaboration

Q: Was it always your plan to take a break from ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D to pursue other projects like SINOBROWN and S.T.U.W, or did you come up with these ideas during the pandemic?

RS: They were ideas I came up with during the pandemic (laughs). During COVID, the ability to meet people was severely limited. So, instead of meeting with people outside our regular circles for food and drinks, we stayed within our smaller and closer-knit circles. In that environment, it naturally came to us that we should work on something together or solo, and even then I would still get their input.

Q: How would you describe the differences between ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D, S.T.U.W, and your solo project SINOBROWN? Why did you choose to work on these projects separately?

RS: ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D is a rock band, so we need to get together, which is the first and greatest challenge. It’s the most powerful, but it also takes the most time and energy to prepare and execute.

S.T.U.W is a gathering of very creative musicians, so the speed of creating songs is extremely fast. And because S.T.U.W is new and wasn't founded with a style in mind, there's a lot of creative freedom.

For my solo project SINOBROWN, it's a little different from ROOKiEZ. It's a little more chill, and I have more freedom to do what I want.

We may change the genres of these projects in the future, but right now ROOKiEZ is rock, S.T.U.W is hip-hop, and SINOBROWN is acoustic, like country.

Q: Having done a number of anime theme songs, would you do any more, if asked?

RS: Of course, I would love to do more anime theme songs. I'm not sure if I can say this in an interview, but it's actually really complicated to create an anime theme song. For example, if we want to sing a theme song for a Japanese anime, we may need to be attached to a music label. Right now, ROOKiEZ is independent, and it's difficult for an independent band that is not attached to a label to be chosen to make a theme song. However, I have some ideas I'd like to do to become part of creating anime theme songs. For example, I could create or write a song for a voice actor or actress in the anime, and we could do a self-cover for that song.

RS: I've already written songs for other artists in anime. I've created theme songs for the male-centric ARGONAVIS from BanG Dream!. And, for Link Click (Chinese donghua web series), I've translated the Chinese theme song into Japanese rap.

Q: Were you working with a Chinese company for Link Click?

RS: The composer was Chinese, but the offer came from Aniplex. Hope that's okay (laughs).

Q: As an independent creator, what do you think of streaming services, like Spotify? How do you interact with them? Do such services improve your reach, or do they make it harder to gain new audiences?

RS: I think they're great! CDs were very important in the past, but streaming is much more convenient. I myself listen to all kinds of music on Spotify all the time. They make it easier for groups like us to release music, so I'm wondering if there's still a need to be attached to music labels.

Q: So creatively, and economically, streaming services are better for you?

RS: Yes, streaming is better for both. However, one bad impact is that the focus on streaming services is on individual songs. I think it's harder for people to know more about the artist when focusing on only that one song. Still, there's recommendations based on music that you like, and that makes it easier to discover new artists. Overall, I think it's a positive thing. It's amazing how things have changed. I never imagined I would be asked questions like this (laughs). It's a sign of the times, isn't it.

Q: Have you discovered any new artists on Spotify?

RS: Yes! But I can't remember any of them (laughs)! And that's what I was talking about. I follow and listen to them (on Spotify), but there isn't a lot of information on them there. In the past, in a CD shop, they'd put little comment cards next to the CDs that said "if you like this artist, you'll definitely like this other artist too". You'd look really carefully at the album jacket before deciding "alright, let's buy it". And then you'd bring it home and listen, only to think "I hate this". But since you'd already bought it, you'd listen to it again and again. Over time, you'd discover things that you like about the album. This gradual transformation from dislike to like cannot be done on streaming. If you don't like the first impression of the artist, you won't try to listen to anything else from that artist. That's something I'm a little worried about.

In the current generation, I think, people don't try to find out more about an artist. And, on social media like Twitter, fans will judge an artist based on a single tweet or comment. I would like fans to get to know the artists, their background and where they came from.

Q: Are you planning on releasing more behind-the-scenes and other media for fans to get to know you better?

RS: Yes, I plan to. I'm actually working on a solo song right now. And, at the Q&A panel earlier today, someone proposed to create a Sakura-Con theme song, and so now I have to make it (laughs). It's important to ask for things like that. If you ask for it, it'll come true.


Q: When can we expect the Sakura-Con theme song to be ready?

RS: (Laughs) Next week (laughs louder). I feel like I really have to make it now (laughs some more).

Q: Will it be rap?

RS: I wonder what will be best for Sakura-Con… Maybe a hybrid style. I feel like I need to get a better feel of Seattle.

Q: Seattle is famous for Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, among others.

RS: Jimi Hendrix is from Seattle? I really love him! I'm going to check out the statue of Jimi Hendrix (in Seattle). And, I'd like to sample some of the tracks he'd created.

Q: Do you plan to tour more of America? If so, would that be through anime conventions like Sakura-Con or setting up your own tour?

RS: Back in 2018, I began a world tour with SPYAIR. I made lots of good memories, and I got to connect with so many fans around the world. It was an amazing experience, and I'm really glad to have done it. That's why I'd like to take on the challenge of world tour like that again.

However, I'm aware that a big reason ROOKiEZ's songs have spread around the world is because of the anime theme songs we made. We get to connect with new people and make new friends at cons, something that's not so easy to do outside of cons. And, there's still many cons we've not been to yet. I'd love to go to more cons, and if possible, come to Sakura-Con every year (laughs).

RI: Seems like we're making many decisions today (laughs).

RS: If you say it, it'll come true.

Q: If you come back to Sakura-Con next year, you'll have to bring S.T.U.W!

RS: (Laughs) Yeah, it'd be a three-year rotation. To be honest, S.T.U.W. members really wanted to come. But ICCHAN was the chosen one.

RI: That's because drums are really important!

Q: If you can collaborate with any artist in the world, who would you want to collaborate with? What's your dream collaboration?

RS: There's so many I can think of, but recently, just the other day, I saw Dr Dre on the Super Bowl Halftime Show. He's a great artist, and the fact that also produced or collaborated with so many other great artists blew me away…… if you say it, it will come true! (laughs).

Q: And who would you like to collaborate with, ICCHAN?

RI: I'm a drummer, so naturally I'm thinking of singers I like to work with. This might make me sound like an old man, but I'd like to join the band TOTO.

RS: You want to join them?! (Laughs)

RI: I really like TOTO. But, I think that SHiN is a singer that really connects to, and has his finger on the pulse of America. I look forward to working with SHiN and connecting to more people in America. But first, we have to establish our base in Seattle (laughs).

One thing about SHiN is that he really respects local culture, and during our time in Shibuya, our band was really the number one, most Shibuya-loving band in the world. That's why I'm looking forward to SHiN's Sakura-Con theme song.

RS: What, you're going to bring that up again?! (Laughs)

Q: What would be the equivalent in Japan of performing in the Super Bowl Halftime Show?

RS: That's such a unique fusion of sports and music cultures, it's something we don't really have in Japan.

Before our debut, we had the opportunity to do a live performance at a snowboarding tournament. I feel like extreme sports have a closer relation with music. And there's also fashion brands that have relationships with musicians. I'd really like to explore those kinds of partnerships, where we can connect different cultures, like fashion and music, or sports and music. I made a friend with a Japanese pro baseball player, and I made his batter's box walkup song. I'm not sure if that compares with the Superbowl though.

Q: And who's this baseball player that you made the walkup song for?

RS: He's Hirata Ryousuke, from the Chunichi Dragons. He also appeared in the WBC (World Baseball Classic). I was watching it on TV, and my own song started playing (laughs). I was so happy.

Q: What's the biggest venue to play in Japan?

RS: The most famous one is Tokyo Dome, for sports and for music.

RI: Nissan stadium is technically larger, and can fit over 70,000 people. I think only about 10 bands have ever performed in Nissan Stadium (Yokohama), and I think when people think of huge band performances in Japan, they think of Tokyo Dome.

RS: Personally, I'm not a fan of the Yomiuri Giants, who call Tokyo Dome home, that's why I prefer an opportunity to perform in my hometown of Chiba, and cheer on the Marines. My true favorite is the Chunichi Dragons (laughs).

Q: And where would you most like to play, anywhere in the world?
RS: It's not necessarily a venue, but on the plane ride here, I thought that it would be great playing in a place like the Grand Canyon. If we can meld our music with the natural environment, I'm sure it'll be an unforgettable feast for the eyes and ears.

RI: I think so too. Looking at anime and YouTube music videos, you get amazing video and music that are melded together so naturally.

RS: There's a video on YouTube, where Alicia Keys was playing in Times Square, when all of a sudden Jay-Z comes in and joins her on stage, and I was blown away.

Q: How much of Seattle did you get to see this time around?

RS: If we have enough time, we'd like to see everything. One thing I really want to see is Mount Rainier. I do like exploring the city and downtown, but I really prefer to explore natural scenery. Maybe we're getting old (laughs).

RS: We also went shopping. We drove quite a ways south to the outlet malls, and the scenery along the way was beautiful. And, we enjoyed not just going to the tourist spots, but also just seeing the city and being supported by the locals, maybe getting recommendations for places to eat, just like in the panel just now, where people were recommending places to get good food, say the best hamburger in Seattle.

Q: I recommend Katsu Burger.

RS: Another vote for Katsu Burger. I guess we have to go there.

Q: For tomorrow's concert, will we be getting songs from all three projects, or just ROOKiEZ is PUNK'D?

RS: For tomorrow's concert, I plan to combine songs from all three projects. This is my first time taking on this challenge, so I'm really looking forward to it, but I'm also a little bit uneasy, since this is the first time, so we'll see how it goes.

RS: The last time we performed in Seattle, I really felt the love and passion of the people here. I had such an amazing time, so we're going to try and make it as good as that, so we can once again feel the passion of the people of Seattle.

Q: Any final thoughts?

RS: It's been a long time since we've had these opportunities to sit down and talk about music and our feelings during the pandemic. Your questions have made me realize anew the feelings and thoughts I've been having, so I'm really grateful for this opportunity to answer your questions. Thank you very much.

Concert Review

The ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D concert started out with theme songs for Yowamushi Pedal, Blue Exorcist, and BanG Dream, before SHiNNOSUKE shifted into songs from his solo project SINOBROWN, which was more chill. SHiNNOSUKE seemed to be enjoying the vibe of performing those songs live in front of an American audience for the first time. The band surprised the audience by performing SPYAIR’s “Imagination” from the Haikyu!! Anime series, stating that Yuji from SPYAIR was a friend of is and really wanted to come.

After performing songs from Durarara!! & Bleach, SHiNNOSUKE played a video from TEEDA from BACK-ON, who also really wanted to come to Sakura-Con as well. After the video SHiNNOSUKE performed a song from BACK-ON called “Bring it On”, before performing songs from S.T.U.W. and ROOKiEZ’s last full album “The Sun Also Rises.” The concert ended with more theme songs, “Reclimb” from Yowamushi Pedal followed by their last song, “Complication” from the Durarara!! Anime series. SHiNNOSUKE & ICCHAN would come back out a few minutes later for an encore, finishing off with “Realize” from Yowamushi Pedal.