BAND-MAID Summarize Their United States Tour Attended By Over 20,000 Fans:


BAND-MAID's tour of the USA, comprising 14 dates in all including a music festival appearance, spanned October 9th to November 1st of the past year. Playing to one sold-out crowd after another, their shows brought over 20,000 fans out to see them, making it clear that this rock band unusual even by Japanese standards has reached a new level in its evolution. The reasons why were easy to see at their latest performance, when they were invited to appear immediately after their return to Japan as special guests opening for Guns N' Roses' November 6th concert at Saitama Super Arena.

Though they played for only a tight 30 minutes, their set packed in all the fury, beauty, and richness of ideas that define a BAND-MAID performance, charming audiences who hadn't heard of them yet with a preconception-shattering fervor that earned remarks of "I wish I'd gotten into their music sooner!" from the GN'R audience, and raising expectations for their upcoming Tokyo Garden Theater concert, on January 9th of 2023, through the roof. Though unable to hold OKYUJI (concerts) due to the coronavirus pandemic, there's no doubt that to the ladies of BAND-MAID are unstoppable, and the time they spent from October and November was deeply meaningful to them. To get the inside story of that tour, we sat the five bandmembers down one day in November for this interview.

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■A tour that let me confirm all over again that this is what I really love

──Your USA tour began on October 9th with your performance at the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento and concluded with your November 1st concert in Chicago. Looking back on it now, what did you think of the tour?

AKANE: Though, as I'm sure you know, this was our first overseas OKYUJI in several years, it was unbelievably intense! To me, it was a month that really made me feel "now, this is what OKYUJI should be!" over and over while we were touring and having a great time. I feel we gain a lot from our concerts, and it made it very clear to me how we've grown as a band.

KANAMI: It had been so long since last time, I felt almost like I did before our first overseas tour, wondering, "are our masters and princesses (the band's nicknames for their fans) really waiting for us in the US?" all over again. So to go there, and then see them and say "they really are here! Thank goodness!" was such a great relief [laughs], and in general the tour was a real source of inspiration. As we went from place to place we were already getting ideas, like "oh, we should write this kind of song next," and overall it was so much fun.

MISA: The last OKYUJI we had where nobody had to refrain from projecting vocally [for COVID-19 safety reasons] was quite a while ago, right? So just being able to hear the audience's voices was so moving... I spent half of the first OKYUJI on the verge of tears [laughs]. Standing between the sound coming from the amps behind me and the voices of the audience in front of me, I felt incredibly happy. I really hope we don't have to return to holding back vocally at shows ever again.

──That feeling of happiness sounds like it would pair nicely with a good drink.

MISA: You said it. There's so much delicious alcohol in the US. Even the beer comes in all my favorite kinds [laughs].

──How about you, SAIKI?

SAIKI: We were determined not to let the pandemic halt the band's progress and tried to keep continually moving forward, but we did sometimes wonder whether we were succeeding or not since we had no way of confirming it live, and I really reaffirmed that for myself on this tour. Each day made me aware of both my personal growth and our growth as a band, and showed me that the work I've done wasn't in vain. Also, it made me conscious of how wonderful music is, and how great it is to get to return to the way things had been before. I felt that very strongly. It was a tour that let me confirm all over again that this is what I really love, and the tour itself showed me the answers to the questions I was harboring, so really, it gave me nothing but good feelings.

MIKU: I know everyone else already said the same thing, po [laughs], but I was really nervous before the tour, po. It had been three years since we'd last played overseas, and even though we had a pre-OKYUJI tour in Japan before we went, that had to be limited in scale, so the prospect of going on a traditional tour again after so long made me worry a little, like, "will everything be OK?" and "will our masters and princesses come to see us?" and things like that, po. That's why once we were there, every day brought back the sense of "ahh, now this is what a tour should be, po." I felt all over again that being able to be close to our masters and princesses is an incredibly special thing, po.

──Tickets for most of the 13 solo shows on this tour sold out right away. Even after hearing that, did you still feel nervous about whether your audience would really come?

SAIKI: Yes; I never quite believe they will until I see them with my own eyes.

MIKU: Yeah. Just seeing the numbers doesn't bring me peace of mind, po.

──In Japan you gained a good amount of new fans who first heard of BAND-MAID during the pandemic, so maybe the same thing happened in the US.

MIKU: It seemed like it did, po. Onstage, I'll ask "anyone seeing us for the first time?", and when I did that on this tour, a lot of hands went up, so I think more people have discovered us through our digital releases and online OKYUJI, po. I think we also had some in the audience who had heard of us, but only saw us perform for the first time at one of our online OKYUJI, and that made them want to come to an OKYUJI in person, po.

──In a sense, your hard work during the pandemic is paying off. Still, I think it's incredible that you kicked off the tour by playing at a huge music festival. I've heard you only had 30 minutes for your Aftershock Festival performance; what was that like?

SAIKI: The idea of starting the tour at a festival made us fairly nervous. But once we actually did it, the general feeling was "now I'm glad we played the festival first." We got a 30-minute window to see what playing for US audiences would be like now, and that made for a good crash course.

MISA: Yes, very true.

SAIKI: The sense that "this is what the US feels like right now" came to us really clearly. In a way, it was a nice warm-up for the main dates of the tour, and we all said to each other several times what a good thing it was to experience that before our solo touring got underway.

──Unlike in Japan, there were no restrictions on raised voices, so you could shout, cheer, and project, which must have made you feel like you had your freedom back. And what's more, you were performing again.

MISA: It really seems like ages since we last played an open-air stage. There's definitely an atmosphere you only get from an outdoor stage, and also, it was really hot outside.

MIKU: Yeah! It was really hot out, po. It was so hot I couldn't believe it was October, po.

SAIKI: We thought that the climate would make it nice and warm out, but seriously, we underestimated it [laughs].

MIKU: We utterly underestimated it, po [laughs]. Honestly, we could barely believe the heat, po.

MISA: Plus it was a huge stage, and an enormous audience, too. It made me confident that if we got through that, we could take on anything. And, in fact, all it took was that one performance for all my confidence to return.

MIKU: The special atmosphere of a festival is so much fun, po. We got together with the members of The Warning, a Mexican all-female band, and we took pictures with Taylor Momsen from The Pretty Reckless. I caught sight of Taylor, so I ran up to her and said "Please let us take a picture with you!", po.

SAIKI: That's right, we called out and stopped her. In the Warning's case, they were the ones who came up to us. They knew who we were!

MIKU: That's right, po. We ended up talking about how we'd love to play together someday, po.

SAIKI: The Warning are from Mexico, where we'd love to perform again, so we began thinking about how much fun it might be to go on tour with them.

──It would be wonderful if you could go to each other's home countries.

SAIKI: Yeah, wouldn't it? We did talk about how nice that would be, and that it would be cool to collaborate on a song together. We'd never had a conversation like that with another band before, so that on its own was a novel experience. It was really nice to come together and be able to interact and have that happen.

──Then, three days after the festival, you were off to Seattle for the start of the solo tour. Out of the 13 shows you played, was there a particular OKYUJI or place you went that left a strong impression?

MIKU: We had OKYUJI on both MISA's birthday and mine, and both of those were really great, po.

──MISA, your birthday was October 15th, the day of the Los Angeles concert. I hear you drank some tequila on stage.

MISA: I forgot about that [laughs]. Yes, I sure did.

MIKU: We had an OKYUJI in San Francisco the night before, too, so we threw sort of a pre-birthday party then and really had a great time, po. MISA was also drinking alcohol on stage that night, and getting the audience really fired up, so at rehearsal the next day she said "Maybe I'll drink a shot."

MISA: Only under my breath [laughs].

MIKU: But when we asked her "really?" she said "yeah", so we let the tour staff know in advance. But I don't think anyone really thought she was going to do it, po. So apparently, when I said onstage "let's have a shot for MISA, please!", it caused a real panic backstage, po [laughs].

SAIKI: MISA being MISA, she kept asking "is my shot here yet?" to tease MIKU [laughs]. It really did feel like a party, huh?

MIKU: Yeah. You know how she does the "unsealing ritual" [a ceremony in which MISA opens a can of beer in silence so the audience can hear it] in Japan, right? She did the same thing each night in the USA too, po. It whips the audience into a frenzy every time, so the effect was particularly incredible on her birthday, po.

──The "pssht" of the beer can opening gets the crowd going? That's really something.

MIKU: I don't think there are any other bands that do that during concerts, po.

MISA: Heh heh. Whenever I drink a beer, I practice opening the can so the sound comes out well. You get a better sound when you open it rapidly rather than slowly.

SAIKI: She's very particular about sound, even in this case [laughs].

MISA: I had a great birthday. But I have to say, the venue for that night, the Belasco, was gorgeous, like an art museum.

MIKU: It's a building with a distinguished history, po.

──Europe and North America have a lot of concert venues that were converted from old theaters or churches, right?

MIKU: That's right, po. It's truly thrilling to look out over the venue from the stage of a place like that, po. It's a part of overseas tours that I always look forward to, po.

AKANE: American Dream in New Jersey was an interesting venue. The stage is inside a theme park, which makes it unusual, very different from a music club or concert hall, but surprisingly, of all the venues, I had the easiest time performing there. The sound came out great, too, and it reminded me that you often don't know how things will go until you try.

SAIKI: I think part of the reason it turned out to be so easy to play there was that none of us, including the tour staff, had any idea what to expect going into it. There were so many unknown factors, we couldn't guess how we were going to sound in that space, so we were mega careful in getting everything ready. We have a rough idea of what we sound like in the type of venue we usually play, so we don't bother to do much research beforehand. However, this time, we were playing with limited equipment in a space where we didn't know what would happen, on top of which we were pretty much the first band to hold a concert in that space. So the venue had prepared everything for us really nicely, and I think that's why Akane felt it was so easy to work with.

MIKU: Although they told us they couldn't secure any rehearsal time for us on the day of, po.

──I see; it wasn't possible since there were people visiting the park during the day.

MIKU: Exactly, po. We had to wait until everyone left, and then we only had a little time left to get ready, so we couldn't rehearse at all, po.

SAIKI: I really appreciated what the staff did at that venue. I was more anxious about it than anywhere else we played, but I went from thinking "I wonder what's going to happen" to "actually, I think we've got this!" once I saw it. It certainly feels like we gained some experience points.

──The venue in Phoenix also had an unusual structure, with the audience on both sides of the stage.

MIKU: That's right, po. The stage isn't that low, but it's very wide, and the venue has a low ceiling, so it doesn't feel as big, po.

SAIKI: Because of that, the people in the balcony seats were right up close to the stage. It gave it a really authentic music club feel. The audience was right next to us and all around us in a 180-degree radius of the stage; it's really unusual construction for a venue. It felt like it an even-longer Yokohama Bay Hall.

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