"It got my motivation up..." – Exclaimed Jesse of RIZE, one of Japan’s biggest rap-rock pioneers, while discussing their first show in Canada at Tranzac two nights previous on Wednesday March 21st. RIZE has climbed up and down their own personal hills over the last decade, fighting to identify themselves at a personal and professional level. Throughout a number of changes in the bands format since their formation in 1997, RIZE currently consists of Jesse (vox/guitar), Ken Ken (vox/bass) and N.K(drums). Since the debut single of Kaminari in 2000, their charismatic presence in the Japanese major and indie music industry cannot be neglected. They've toured in Japan from small live venues to big arenas, sharing the stage with international artists such as Oasis, Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails and Linkin Park, just to name a few. Their diehard fans are even called 'RIZERs' and they have been loyally following the band for many years. Jesse and Ken Ken put their hearts on their sleeves and spoke of their insights into music as an artist and as human beings:
Kanae: How do you guys like Toronto?
Jesse: It's been great. This is our first time in Toronto and we expected it to be a bit colder. There is a place in Japan called Hokkaido, located in the north of Japan. We've learned that colder areas tend to have hot energetic crowds, so that's what we were expecting and at Tranzac, there were only about twenty people in the crowd, but still yet each person in the crowd really heated it up and we had a great time like Hokkaido. So far everything is good.
Nick: How do you find smaller crowds compared to playing a big show?
Jesse: When the music is good and big crowds come to see us, it is even better. But it’s just about good music for me. So many people are artists right now. If you have a Mac, you can record a song on the Internet and everyone can stream their song and they think that they are a real artists, but real artists are live artists. I would love to make money with music, but before that we cannot throw away the hype of life and our performances.
Kanae: Does it really throw when you are playing such a smaller venue?
Jesse: Not at all.
Kanae: You like it better?
Jesse: Yeah we are a road band and started off from live houses (Live venues). It's like 'going back to zero.' Before, I used to be like " Fuck, there aren't many people." and I used to bitch out, but you know having this experience now at this age doesn't piss me off at all. It kinda got my motivation up even if there is a crowd there or not. If I can pull it off then it's really up to me or us and we are pulling it off. This kinda nervousness is good for us.
Kanae: Is that sort of like your theme in the last couple of years with the last album, Experience? There is a song called Zero and you guys have been together at least for the last 10 years.
Jesse: Yeah it is. We formed in1997 so it's been 15 years since we formed and our debut was 2000, so it's been 12 years.
Kanae: What has been changed the most?
Jesse: The members. (Laugh). Forming a band for a long time is harder than having a wife for me. We have arguments all the time, but breaking up is not an option. A divorce isn't in the script. We always talk about it and if we don't get along, we'd be like "Let's chill out for a bit" and even it is 5 or 10 years, I'll wait. cuz I love them. Him (bassist Ken Ken) and the drummer N.K are brothers and I've known this kid (Pointing at Ken Ken) before even he was born. I used to touch his mom's stomach. His mom used to be like, "He is gonna be your new brother!" and I used to be like "He is gonna be my brother?" Haha That's how close we are. The drummer and I grew up together and we hated to think about becoming rock n roll musicians because of our dads. My dad is such a hippie. Whatever you can imagine about that, he was that person. He is so hippie. (Writers Note: Jesses father is Char, one of the most legendary guitarists in Japan)
Nick: Is that something that pushed you into being a certain type of musician?
Jesse: Actually that pushed me away from been a musician for a while. I didn't want to be like that cuz my mom was crying all the time and my dad was never home. He was a chilled rocker and now I can understand that he put me in a school just by playing rock n roll. In Japan tuition is hell expensive especially in American/English schools. It is like off the radar, but man after a while I guess it's in my blood and it just kept growing. Eventually me and my drummer formed a band in 97’ then, Ken Ken was like 8 years old when RIZE first formed. No if I meet a chick at a show, and she’s like, " Oh I am 24 years old", I'm like "oh you are younger than Ken Ken? Oh no, I don't think I can hook up with you." He's still young. But now he is a super bassist and I respect him as a player. He also brings his own crowds, which is great because a band sometimes becomes a front man’s band. But our band is a trio and our drummer bring his own crowd to a show and I try to bring my own too.
Kanae: What finally brought you guys to Toronto after over 10 years of been a band?
Jesse: I backpacked here in 2001. It was just a mission for weed back then.
Nick: How did the mission go?
Jesse: Oh I should have gone to Vancouver man. Back then I didn't know anything. I went to Jamaica and New York and I just backpacked and strictly hunted for weed. 11 years ago I wasn't even thinking of playing a show overseas. After the earthquake, I just wanted to get hell out of Japan and not just because of the radiation or anything. I wanted to hype Japan up. Everyone is so down right now. I had to get out of Japan and get people hyped, by meeting with you guys, fans and talking with local bands about Japan.
Nick: Do you feel like a spokesman then?
Jesse: Yeah for sure. I mean if I have a chance to speak then yes. If anyone can give me a chance for 10 seconds or a minute, then yeah I would try to spread the word. You know in Japan they are too inward thinking. Actually lots of people in the States, Canada or other Asian counties, they wanna support Japan but without pity. That's what I wanna bring back by talking with people like you guys. I am a writer and we are all writers, so whatever we see outside of Japan becomes a creation point for lyrics. Before my lyrics were based on the things in Japan. But it's time to get influenced outside of Japan and then take it back to Japan too.
Nick: You take from were you come from and if you can pass it on it makes you grow as an artists. Is that something that you are doing over here, trying to find influences?
Jesse: Yeah I am an influential guy. I never go watch people's show just because I get influenced too much. If I see something that buzzes me, I would be like I am there dude. I am doing that. That's why I stay home otherwise all of us get over influenced like "snap." That's why we tend to be alone, like my drummer N.K just went back to our hotel because he wants to be in his own zone. But we do like like to meet new people and get buzz out too.
Kanae: Are you guys planning to release anything soon? It's been more than two years since the last release.
Jesse: We care for more than just releasing new material, cuz we jam and it's not a problem to make new songs. Making songs is like giving a birth to a baby. I mean in Japan when you release an album, it becomes hot for like a week and then they put it away and they would be like, " When is the new album coming out?" I just fucking released a full album, which we worked our ass off and poured our hearts in to, you know. Songs do grow after releasing an album after you take it to a show and on tour. People listen to it and you see people's different reactions. A song changes over time. It forms into something different every time you play so that keeps songs fresh for me.
Kanae: You associate your memories with the songs and you have deep feelings for them but people want new song after new song?
Jesse: Yeah, I guess it's a cultural thing, but they tend to want new products all the time. People are saying "eco" eco" all the time, but making new shits is not "eco" at all.
If I’m gonna live in Japanese society for the rest of my life, then I might have to switch my mind about things like that. I am an American citizen; I am not a Japanese citizen at all. But I was born in Japan and grew up in Japan, but my mom is Scott/Irish and she was born in Michigan... and I am just this big mess.
Nick: How do you identify yourself then?
Jesse: Well it really makes me feel like I am an alien. Wherever I go, I don't have a home. Wherever I go, I make friends and some people become my family.
Nick: But in North America most people are like that, all from different backgrounds.
Jesse: We toured in the States and we did a bus tour from California to New York in 2003. I had this impression that in the States they only let the locals in and if it's outside that, they kinda pushed you away. But I got the impression that, well I don't know if it's only Toronto or maybe in Canada but people are just more welcoming to other races. It’s more openhearted.
Nick: I hope you fit a bit more here in Toronto.
Jess: Yeah if I didn't, then I would be like "Fuck you all” and I’m going home.
Manager: (Don't do that ha ha ha)
Kanae: What's next for RIZE?
Jesse: Releasing an album or making songs is not gonna be anytime soon, But we would like to tour more. We are planning to come back here in September. I don’t know what will happen but if I lay down a certain month, we are willing to play anywhere. There are lots of festivals that I wanna come back here for. Just rent out a van and tour across Canada to Montreal and 4/5 other cities maybe hooking up with local bands. We are a live band and care more about the show than just making songs. I just wanna spread the heat and I wanna see people in person and I wanna see their eyes so we will definitely come back this year.
Kanae: Do you guys have any words for Toronto music fans?
Ken Ken: I will be back soon!
Jesse: I wanna get to know Canada more and if there's a problem that Canada is having. All countries have problems to talk about. You fight it. There is always some kind of problem. Music lets you forget about it in a way and lets you think about it from a different point and then to express yourselves about it. Music helped me. I had this racial problem back when I was younger. I have brown eyes now, I used to have blue eyes and somehow they changed. When I was a kid I always got bullshit from Japanese kids because I looked different. That's what made me create music with the guitar. It was how I retaliated back, with music and lyrics. So if there are any troubles for anyone, I want to try help out Canada with music, I am willing to do anything.