I am in London to interview Key Kobayashi, elusive producer of heavy metal upstarts, Babymetal. It is lashing with rain and everyone is lost inside the Brixton Academy venue or stuffing their faces with chicken at Nandos. I am sat in a backroom deep within the concert venue and the band's PR and translator muse at how hectic everything has been today; It is around 7:30PM and Key is still AWOL.
When he finally does materialise, he is not what you expect (I expected quite an eccentric character if I'm honest). He is slightly younger than you imagine, very down to Earth, natural and welcoming. He is, by and large, a jolly nice chap. And as the interview progresses, one realises how much he adores heavy metal and how slightly wrong footed he has become by the rapid ascent of this very strange band.
(All questions answered by Key Kobayashi unless otherwise stated)
What do you think the appeal of the band is?
Umm... how do you say this. The people on the receiving end, the people who listen to the songs... You have some who say they like the songs. You have some that say they like the three of them dancing. You have some say they like the live performances, including the [backing] band. It appeals to people in many ways. There isn't a right answer, but I think that is the charm. There are many ways to reach and appeal to fans.
Were you surprised by how fast the world embraced the band?
Yes, yes!! [I was surprised] I thought it was going to take a little longer... but the internet, web and Youtube, I think those influences were big. But for it to spread so fast... we hadn't even done a show yet [in Europe, before the band's debut concert in Paris] and people knew us.
What do you think accounted for the Gimme Choco video in particular?
There are nuances that make it sound English. And the song rhythm is very catchy. There is hardly any meaning to the Japanese lyrics; It's [engineered] for one to enjoy the melody, so those parts were received well. Also the dance and song combination may look fun for people.
Did you start the band because you were frustrated at the state of heavy metal at the time you formed the band (in 2010)?
I have listened to a lot of metal for 20 to 30 years now. How do I say this...this applies to all genres, but I felt it was difficult for a new style to come out. I like and respect Iron Maiden, Metallica and other big artists, but I started to think of what kind of Metal they can't do. So right now, the thing I can do, in Japan is BABYMETAL, and that is how it started.
The song Megistune took around 30 takes to get 'right'. Do you know what you want from the outset or only know it's right when you hear it?
The "retake[s]" is not about vocals, but more about arrangements. We made different arrangements many times. Actually it is the same for all the songs. We keep on reworking the arrangements. Why? It is because BABYMETAL is different from other songs made in Japan. Like for idol [pop] songs, there is one track maker, who already has the track ready and gives it to the singer. The singer sings once, they record that and that is it.
In BABYMETAL's case, songs are recorded with band sessions. The band members are not there in the studio, but as the sessions go along; we say let's change a drum phrase to this, or lets change the guitar to this, and we go back and forth. So that is why. They come into the studio and record over and over.
Are you surprised at some of the negative press launched towards the girls?
The fact that we catch people's attention means that we made an impression on them. I think the biggest problem is if we do not make a impression, when people ignore us. We are successful because we made an impression on people!
(An extended version of this interview is available on my blog)
Babymetal's debut album is available to buy on iTunes.
All photographs copyright Dana (Distortion) Yavin.