Japanese Rockers ALEXANDROS Talk New Album, Stadium Concert & the Live Experience: Interview

Courtesy of Billboard Japan
ALEXANDROS

On Nov. 21, Japanese rockers ALEXANDROS (stylized as [ALEXANDROS]) are dropping their seventh studio album, Sleepless in Brooklyn, which they spent six months recording in New York. Their debut album, Where's My Potato?, was released in 2010, and the band's catchy yet distinctly edgy style of rock 'n' roll instantly grabbed the attention of listeners and critics.

Their sound infused with various musical influences, combined with lyrics by frontman Yohei Kawakami -- who grew up in Syria -- featuring a fine balance of defiance and humor expressed in both English and Japanese, quickly expanded the band's reach to mainstream audiences. They have opened for such major acts as Kasabian, Muse and Primal Scream in Japan.

On Billboard Japan's Hot Albums chart, ALEXANDROS's fifth set, ALXD, peaked at No. 2 while their latest album, EXIST!, reached No. 1. In Japan, the rockers are billed as headliners of major music festivals and pack big venues. They slayed a crowd of 35,000 this summer with their kinetic, engaging live performance at a headlining stadium show.

The band has been steadily spreading its fanbase outside of the country, performing at festivals including South by Southwest and headlining solo concerts in Asia, most recently a show in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in September.

They spoke with Billboard Japan about the process of recording their new album, some of their recent shows and the importance of the live experience:

Your show on Aug. 16 at the ZOZO Marine Stadium in Chiba, Japan, was your biggest solo headlining concert yet. How do you feel looking back on it? You guys obviously put a lot of thought into the overall flow, building a set list that traced your career from the beginning while also including new numbers and songs with the most fan votes.

Yohei Kawakami: It's been eight years since our debut, so we figured we could use the opportunity to look back on a lot of things. I think a huge venue like that is the perfect place to bring together on equal ground our old fans and the people who recently discovered us from one of our newer songs. There might even be those who don't know we went by a different name (the band debuted as [Champagne] and changed its name in 2014), so we made a video introducing the band's history because we wanted everyone there to know who we are as a band from our early days up to now.

Some might want to separate our past work as the "Champagne Era" and the "ALEXANDROS Era," but our perception is that we've been tracing a single line and our name just happened to change one day. People are welcome to say, "ALEXANDROS has changed," and we do try different things with each record, but we wanted to tell people that we're still the same act. We wanted to show how we've changed while also showing aspects which have remained the same.

The stage production wasn't too elaborate and instead highlighted the actual performance taking place onstage, which really brought out the unadorned appeal of the band.

Kawakami: We're not the kind of band that incorporates state-of-the-art technology into our shows to give people experiences they've never seen before, so we thought it would be best to pursue something only we can provide. What's important, then, isn't showing off technique, but to give audiences that exhilarating sensation when the four of us layer sounds at the exact right timing. So we tend to have lots of arrangements that are analogous to gymnastic formations, where it's like, "You guys are playing in unison there?" It's really satisfying to create moments like when the Power Rangers combine their strengths.

Tell us about the title of your upcoming new album, Sleepless in Brooklyn.

Kawakami: We recorded most of the album in Brooklyn, without sleeping. We were really "sleepless." And we were also inspired by the movie Sleepless in Seattle.

What's the concept of the album?

Kawakami: This might sound weird, but we put thought into putting "good songs" on it. Of course, it's something we've always been aware of, but we tried to be more faithful to that concept. For example, even if the song didn't sound "like us," or if there wasn't a good balance between ballads and up-tempo numbers, we'd still put it on the album if it was good. That was the first goal we set when we began working on this project. And to make that happen, we decided to finish every song that got started. To set aside thoughts like, "It doesn't fit into this album," or "It doesn't match the band's style." But a creative approach like that takes time, so in an odd way, these past two years have been sort of a recharging period for ALEXANDROS because our strength lies in our live performances.

Hiroyuki Isobe (Bass): We were really active under the radar, but outwardly it was exactly as Yohei said. We didn't play any solo headliners since last December, and while we were in New York, we were at the studio but also had periods of free time to do whatever we wanted so as not to overwork ourselves. The city of New York was also inspiring. We lived there for a total of about six months, so by the end we got fully recharged and really wanted to get back to doing live shows, which led to our stadium concert this summer.

So, you enjoyed the different environment from Japan?

Satoyasu Shomura (Drums): I went to see so many shows. Imagine Dragons, Royal Blood, The Weeknd, U2. I also went to Governors Ball Music Festival. I learned so much. I'd go to the studio from around noon, work until I hit a wall, go off to see a live show, and draw from that experience to record again the next day.

Masaki Shirai (Guitar): Our song "Arpeggio" that's being used as the theme song for the new video game Project Judge was made on the rooftop of the Brooklyn studio. Yohei took a liking to an arpeggio that I happened to be playing on my guitar, so we took a break during our recording session and wrote that song on acoustic guitars up on the roof.

You've played outside of Japan many times before, but do you think the experience of living in New York to record the new album will affect your future shows abroad in any way?

Kawakami: I think we'll be the same as usual. I tend to be pretty aware of those things but intend to rein myself in a bit. Try to stay open-minded without worrying too much about which songs to do, English or Japanese-heavy. Anyone can watch our performances on YouTube nowadays, so if we become too self-conscious and change things up, people who come to our shows with some prior knowledge of our set lists in Japan might end up being disappointed, thinking, "This isn't the same! You're not doing 'Wataridori'?" [Laughs]

Isobe: We want to play in many other countries, too. We know it's not going to be easy. It was the same when we got started in Japan; we won't just suddenly draw a big crowd. People don't know us. So it doesn't matter if we play in front of a small audience at first. But it won't be OK if it's still that way when we return. That's why we'll tour and continue to give great live performances. It was the same at first in Fukuoka and Hokkaido, and the same in Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

So, you feel that in an age when people can listen to music whenever and wherever they want thanks to streaming, the live experience is becoming more important?

Kawakami: We happen to be particularly good at performing live. [Laughs] That's how we expanded our fanbase, so that's what we'll keep doing around the world.