Japanese band Fate Gear dropped a new single called “Battle Against Justice” on Wednesday (July 14). The all-female “steampunk metal” band has performed around 30 shows outside of Japan since it formed in 2015, including a 12-concert European tour spanning five countries in March 2019.
“Battle Against Justice” is the band’s first single written specifically for audiences outside Japan. Fate Gear leader and guitarist Captain Mina spoke with writer Daishi “DA” Ato on behalf of Billboard Japan to share the single’s creative process and her thoughts on going global.
Why did you decide to take up your current all-female steampunk metal style?
Captain Mina: I’ve played in all-female bands since before Fate Gear, for a long time from 2007. I was in a band (Destrose) that’s often said to have kicked off the current popularity of all-female metal bands in Japan, and it’s actually defined in Wikipedia as being “considered pioneers of the Girls Metal Band Boom.” Even after I left that band, I felt strongly about doing metal with only women and wanted to do it again. But instead of just doing it normally this time around, I formed Fate Gear, a band featuring a steampunk aesthetic because I’ve always loved the fashion, that also has a video game-like narrative associated with it.
So you like video games too?
I’ve played them since I was little. I started out with titles like Pokémon and Legend of Zelda, and still play the Nintendo Switch. Fate Gear depicts stories in its songs, so in that sense we merge game-like narratives with our music.
Fate Gear went through repeated member changes since its formation, and now takes the form of a fluid group with many shifting members. Why were you able to make such a bold decision?
Actually, there are many bands in Japan’s indie metal scene, the kind of bands that sell music at fan conventions, that don’t have fixed members. The vocalist is different each time, for example, or a voice actor provides vocals and such. The most famous group that takes this form is probably Revo’s Linked Horizon [creator of Attack on Titan theme “Guren no Yumiya”], but many others in Japan’s metal scene make music that way, so I wanted to try it, too.
Does this current format make it easier for you to work?
It does. I enjoy collaborating with various people. If I want to add violin, I invite someone to play it. Or I invite a vocalist who’s great at hitting high notes, for example. It adds breadth to our range of activities because we can change freely according to the track we’re doing.
With different musicians and vocalists constantly coming and going, how do you maintain the defining elements of your band?
Fate Gear’s fans say that the songs I write sound like game music, and our steampunk-inspired visuals also help maintain the band’s signature style, I think.
How would you explain Fate Gear’s sound to someone who doesn’t know about you?
Game music-inspired melodious metal. People say we sound like anime music, too.
Where do you usually get inspiration for individual songs and accompanying visuals?
Our second album OZ -Rebellion- was written based on a story by a theater company, and it was relatively easy to write because the subject for the songs already existed. And I realized that maybe it was easier for me to write songs if I have stories to base them on instead of starting out with nothing, so with our latest album, The Sky Prison, I wrote out a script first and based the songs on it. It actually was easier to come up with the songs, and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I love games and anime.
Like writing a soundtrack for a story?
Oh, yes, something like that.
You could probably soundtrack an anime, then.
I probably could. [Laughs]
You’re set to drop a new single called “Battle Against Justice,” off the album you mentioned earlier, The Sky Prison. Why did you select this track?
Fate Gear has toured internationally before, so we got feedback on The Sky Prison from outside Japan as well. Metal fans abroad seem to prefer the more blistering tracks and this song was received particularly well. We received a lot of requests for the song’s music video. Since our fans probably gather information mainly through YouTube, we wanted to put out a new video for them there. So I guess you could say that it was cut as our new single because we wanted to make the video. [Laughs]
The band puts a lot of effort into its visuals too, doesn’t it?
I’ve been getting the sense that YouTube is becoming increasingly influential these days, so expressing our music along with the visuals and not just on its own is now a must. So yes, we’ll keep putting effort into our visuals from now on, too.
Your eye-catching steampunk aesthetic is probably suited to the times as well.
The reason why we started dressing like that is because I like the fashion, but now a lot of our fans outside of Japan tell us that the aesthetic is what they like about us. Girls who listen to visual-kei music come to our shows, and women dressed in steampunk fashion come, too.
Were you always interested in working outside of Japan?
I went to the U.S. once in my previous band, so I did vaguely toy with the idea of going there again with Fate Gear, but I didn’t expect to be able to tour Europe before going to the U.S.
Your first European tour was in 2019. How did it come about?
A music festival of international metal bands called Evoken Fest took place in Tokyo and Osaka in 2018, and we performed as the opening act in the latter. I’m not sure if that was the direct reason, but we were asked after that festival if we’d be interested in touring overseas.
That tour was a tough trek, with 12 concerts packed into a 16-day itinerary. I imagine it must have been a pretty grueling and rough experience, but I hear you enjoyed it.
It was grueling. In Japan, all the equipment is already neatly set up in the nightclubs [called “livehouse” in Japanese] that you play in. But in the clubs overseas, you have to set up everything from the amps to the drums by yourselves. So physically it was tough, but performing in front of the people there and interacting with them was really fun mentally.
And your second European tour last year ended right before the onset of the pandemic.
It really did. After the tour, we got back to Japan from France around March 3. If we’d returned two weeks later, we would have had to quarantine at the airport.
How did that tour go?
Tours are scheduled so tightly over there, it’s like you always have barely enough time to do anything. So our first tour was so challenging that it felt like we didn’t even have time to eat. But with the second tour, we got better at time management and already knew the flow of how things are set up, plus we had more people in the audience. I think we were able to grow overall.
The experience must have made you tougher mentally. Did it have a positive effect on your live performance?
It did. The crew members who helped us were the same people as our first tour, and they told us that we did a better job than before. I guess it showed in our performance and the way we carried ourselves.
You played at Underworld in London, right?
Underworld is an iconic club for metal and punk music, with photos of famous bands near the entrance and band stickers plastered all over the dressing room. I kicked myself for not bringing any of ours. [Laughs] It was our second time playing in London, and some people who came to our first show came to see us again. The concert was an emotional experience.
I heard you wrote the track “The Sky Pirates” included in The Sky Prison because a listener from outside Japan left a comment that criticized the way Japanese metal couldn’t break out of the typical norm.
Yes, it was a comment on one of our music videos that said something along the lines of, “Japanese metal is typically fast and generally features shredding and double bass drumming.” I tried to ignore it, but then I ended up thinking, “That’s true.” [Laughs]
X JAPAN was popular here and a lot of groups followed suit. I didn’t think people would be interested in listening to yet another band similar in style — fast, with high-pitched vocals — so I took that comment to heart and wrote a mid-tempo track with no shredding and featuring a singable melody on purpose. It was a chance I took.
So it wasn’t a positive comment, but you tended to agree with it.
You could say that the comment was made because listeners abroad are becoming more familiar with Japanese metal.
How was the song received?
Some said it was unexpected, and some said they simply liked it. Half of the song is in English, and someone based overseas said they were thrilled that they could understand the lyrics.
Which does Fate Gear focus more on, audiences in Japan or overseas?
Both, really. That’s why I wrote the lyrics half in Japanese and half in English on The Sky Prison. But with this single in particular, the release was in response to requests from overseas.
What are your plans for the near future?
It’s hard to plan things nowadays, but we’d love to tour Europe again when the pandemic passes. We’re signed to a booking agent overseas and they suggest we go to Australia and the U.S., so we’re interested in taking the plunge there, too.
I get the feeling that Japanese metal is becoming better known thanks to the internet, due to the effect of the pandemic. Many people tell us that they discovered Fate Gear after digging through lots of music online while they were cooped up at home. So it’d be great if bands from Japan can do lots of tours after the pandemic.
Do you check out other female metal bands from overseas?
I do, but there aren’t too many of them to begin with, so I haven’t been able to find any new ones lately.
So the situation in Japan is the anomaly.
The “livehouse” environment in Japan is well equipped, so I think that makes it easier for bands like ours to thrive.
What do you think is needed to encourage the female metal scene to grow?
“Girls Metal” is becoming a uniquely Japanese genre now and people abroad are beginning to take notice, so I’m hoping that girls and women from other countries see bands like ours and think, “Hey, maybe we could do that, too.” So for now, I think what’s needed is for bands in Japan to keep doing their best.
How do you stay motivated during the pandemic?
Making music videos is a motivator, and I do my own editing now, with those so-called “Me Playing” cover videos. I plan on making one of “Super Sonic Samurai,” the song coupled with the new single. We’ll use an iPad to shoot and I’ll edit and release it. I try to stay motivated by doing things like that that I can do at home.
I’ve always liked making things on my own. I like drawing and actually work as a designer on the side. So my foray into video was pretty casual, like, “Maybe I’ll just do it myself.”
At this rate, you may end up being able to do almost everything on your own.
You’re right, maybe I’m just that type. [Laughs]