Their musical roots are melo-core, blues, Mashima Masatoshi
--Sudo, I’d like to hear about your musical roots. What kind of music did you listen to when you were a student?
Sudo: I like rock, and about the time I entered high school, shred guitar was getting really popular. So anybody who could play guitar super fast was really cool. We would pass around shred guitar CDs between friends saying, “Check this guy out! He’s so fast!” (laughs). But I could never play fast like that, so I was made to play bass. That’s when the melo-core boom hit, and I started listening to bands like Green Day and NoFX.
--This was about the mid-90s, right?
S: Right. There were a lot of music lovers in my class, and it was kind of split between the melo-core clique and the hip-hop clique. I was playing in a band, and playing mixture rock got me listening to stuff like Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. That led me to appreciating blues more and I wanted to be able to play Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” note for note (laughs). It was when I was about a junior in high school that we started playing live on street corners.
--Was that a singer and guitar arrangement?
S: Yes. I admired Mashima Masatoshi, and we did a cover of The Blue Hearts’ “Chain Gang.”
It doesn’t look cool when athletes try to play music.
--From what I hear, during your school days you were very deep into rock and roots music, how did that lead to World Order?
S: When I was a high school student I had two dreams, to be an musician and to be a martial artist. As a martial artist I wanted to go pro. Then after I retired I would become a musician. But the spotlight can be harsh on martial artists who then go on to play music, right? Image is very important for a musician, and I think it doesn’t look cool when athletes try to play music. I understand that objectively, and I think when someone hears about an athlete putting out an album they can’t help but see it as a negative, thinking, “Right. He really plays music...” I knew that if I tried to do that the same thing would happen to me, so I decided to approach it as an atypical fighter wearing a suit and glasses with my hair slicked down doing a robot dance. I figured it would take time to be accepted in Japan so I tried to get started overseas.
--So it wasn’t about the sound first?
S: I knew it wasn’t only going to be about the music. No matter how cool the music was, once the name Sudo Genki was attached to it, it would be over.
--Is that because you already had an established public image?
S: Exactly. No matter what, the music would be heard through the filter saying, “Isn’t he a fighter?” On the other hand, without attaching the name Sudo Genki, we would have to start all the way at square one. When we were thinking about getting started overseas we used YouTube to put up a video of a World Order performance. I thought this would be a good way to allow people overseas to enjoy it, too. I figured if people in other countries got into it, then Japan would follow suit.
When I presented it people said, “At best this is a prefab project, right?”
--How were the other members assembled?
S: At first when I tried to sell the idea of World Order to different places, but no one would get behind it. I heard, “It sounds interesting,” a lot, but not “Let’s do it,” and a way to move forward.
They would say things like “At best this is a prefab project, right? You retired from martial arts and are sensing your own expiration date, right?” I felt like, at any rate, I needed to do something, and did a surprise concert in Tokyo. That became a just under two minute clip. For that performance I was able to assemble about 20 dancers, and of those I invited about three guys to join.
--Noguchi, were you one of those invited by Sudo?
Noguchi: Yes, I was. I approached him, too, but I had been dancing for ten something years, and had a good reputation in the dance world, and worked with some international dancers. The dance world is tough. The lifespan of a dancer is short and it is hard to make a living doing it. So when I was asked to join World Order I decided I wanted to do everything I could to make it a success.
--How did you put together your very unique animation dance?
N: Actually it started as a dance I used to do with a dance group I was in before, and World Order wanted to do it. That’s where it developed from.
S: When I saw Noguchi’s group’s video on YouTube I thought “This is amazing! If we could use this concept for World Order and dance around in the city it would be really cool,” and that’s when I approached Noguchi. His group was made up of what you could call dance artistes and they were incredible, but didn’t see the concept. With that concept in hand I really thought we could spread out. For example, using it with a lyrical dance song gets us covered by Natalie [the website on which this interview appears]. Put the song on a CD and we could get sales and make an income. I am not all that entrenched in the dance world, but like Noguchi says, I think it’s hard to make a living with dance. Even among the top level dancers, only a handful are able to put food on the table and make a living from doing choreography and things like that. That’s why I thought if we could work together it would be good for everyone.
By hammering out the Japanese elements, we could take a chance overseas.
--From the looks of the videos shot for the latest album “2012” it feels like you are dancers dressed in the foreign image of Japanese.
S: That’s right. By hammering out the the Japanese elements, I think we can take a chance overseas. For example, think about a guy in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots taking a swig from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s... now that guy probably doesn’t actually exist, but a Japanese would immediately say “He’s American!” Using that stereotype to our advantage is our sort of secret trick to trying to make it in other countries.
--The image of Japanese seen in Hollywood movies and World Order’s visual image are pretty close.
S: Right. Non-Japanese have this image of Japanese as moving quickly and efficiently. I thought Noguchi’s robot dance is an absolutely essential factor in presenting it in this way. This “2012” project is a step up from the previous album and I feel really good about it. All the members are experienced dancers so we made no compromises in the choreography. Every free second I have I am thinking about the dancing.
--Yes, I think that’s so.
S: What I think is amazing is we all would go out to eat together and Noguchi would pour the cream in his coffee and say, “Like this formation...” talking about new dance ideas and everyone else will passionately pipe in and say, “Yeah, we could try it this way...” We’re all dance geeks, you know. But we’re really geeks and maniacs in our presentation. We get together to figure out even the finest details. But only about one out of a hundred of my ideas gets used (laughs).
N: Just sometimes (laughs).
I never get tired of seeing people’s natural reactions.
--You dedicated a lot of time to editing the video from “2012.” Each individual story is interesting and it is fascinating how you blend mundane scenes with the amazing dances.
S: The budget for the video was about two digits shorter than it would have been for a typical overseas act. The overseas market is bigger so we can’t win that way. There is not a moment of CG in the World Order videos, but people who have seen them often say “The way you move looks like CG.” It is made using very analog techniques but when I hear it looks digital I consider that the highest form of praise.
--It is funny watching you dance as regular people are walking by or stopping and watching you.
S: Normally on a large scale location shoot you would block off an area so that passersby wouldn’t appear in the shot, but I thought we could actually use them to our advantage. I never get tired of seeing people’s natural reactions. The takes I liked the most are those where you can see people reacting after seeing us. When Noguchi and I were editing we chose clips with normal people giving the best reactions. But in reality Noguchi’s choreography is the most important part of the video, so we chose clips where the dancing looks the best as well.
--You have also put together a “making of” video with English subtitles. Is this a conscious effort to get non-Japanese to watch the video?
S: Yes, it is. Our target is the whole world, so it is a necessity. The DVD with my final match as a fighter also has English subtitles. This is so overseas fans of World Order can watch and say “This guy used to be a fighter before World Order,” and see the whole picture.
--So do you have a contract to release “2012” in other countries?
S: I am not really sure. I guess that’s up to the record company (laughs). I certainly want to.
In this world there is more than one original
--Let’s not talk just about the videos, but about the music, too. You’re involved with the songwriting as well, Sudo, but how do you go about the production?
S: I find parts of songs I like and discuss them with my collaborator, and from there we make the song (laughs).
--So you find music you like and tweak it with a World Order motif?
S: Yes. There are chord progressions I like, like C-G-F progression and other musical patterns, but mainly we are pulling from music that I like. From there I solidify the musical concept and write the lyrics.
--Are there difficulties in writing lyrics?
S: Not really. They actually come to me surprising quickly, and I can usually get them done in a few hours. Once the concept is solid it’s just a matter of putting it into words, so it really isn’t so hard. After that I get Noguchi to listen to it and we discuss what details should be included and how the dance should go.
--Is there an example of something you are trying to say to your audience through the lyrics?
The concept this time is “toward an era of imminent awakening” so that theme comes through in the songs. Noguchi says, “That’s not catchy at all,” and in actuality it isn’t catchy (laughs). On the other hand, I can’t imagine World Order singing, “I miss you so much...” or “I am coming to find you... but I can’t find you...” (laughs).
--Ha ha ha ha (laughs).
S: We might be able to make some sales with a love and emotion theme, but that’s not what we’re about. I don’t think there are many groups singing about how things are going to change but we take these songs and put them to seven guys in suits dancing like robots and that’s what makes us original. I think it is difficult to mimic our approach and if someone did they would be seen as nothing more than an imitation. In the end I believe in this world there is more than one original.