Billboard Japan spoke with SCANDAL for the latest installment of its Women in Music interview series featuring female players in the Japanese entertainment industry. The WIM initiative in Japan began last year to celebrate artists, producers and executives who have made significant contributions to music and inspired other women through their work.
The four-woman band is gearing up to perform at Billboard Japan’s Women In Music Vol. 1 event, set for Nov. 3 at the Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall in Tokyo. This year marks SCANDAL’s 17th anniversary and the band has been certified the “longest-running rock band with the same musicians (female)” by the Guinness World Records. This latest interview highlights the inner-strength of the four members as they elaborate on the importance of self-reflection through their views on being labeled a “girl band,” the difficulties women face when trying to balance a music career and motherhood, and more.
You’ll be performing at the Women In Music Vol.1 show in November. How did you feel when you were asked to do it?
HARUNA: We’re all delighted to have been invited to this wonderful event this year, which is also important to us because it’s our 17th year as a band together and we’re trying for a Guinness World Record as a result. Being a woman is something we’ve always valued in our career as a band, so we think this is the perfect event for us.
RINA: Although we haven’t laid down the details of our performance yet, we hope to show where we are as a band right now including a new song we’ll be dropping next month. Also, as HARUNA said, the concept of the event links to our own sentiments, so we want to make a statement through our music while also having fun.
Can’t wait to see you perform. You mentioned that you’ve valued being a woman in your career. Could you be more specific about how this has influenced SCANDAL’s activities?
RINA: In our case, especially during a certain period about a decade ago, we were often told how we’d “gone beyond the scope of a girl band” or that we “were no longer a girl band, but a rock band.” I’m sure it was meant as a compliment, but it felt really off at the time. When we thought about why it felt that way, we realized we’d never felt girl bands were somehow better or worse than any other kind of music, and that we just really liked them as a genre. Being a girl band had only positive connotations for us, so when we were told we’d “gone beyond” it or whatever, we couldn’t take that as a compliment.
TOMOMI: I began to think around that time that it’d be nice if people could enjoy music created by women in a band in a more unbiased way.
Until I met you all, I thought that prefacing “band” with “girls” was unnecessary and that you might be resistant to being called that. So when you said you like it as a genre on its own and take pride in it, I realized my lack of awareness. What do you like about it?
TOMOMI: We’ve had opportunities to perform outside of Japan since our indie days, and used to wear matching school uniform outfits onstage back then. Because of that style, I think local audiences saw girl bands as a part of Japanese pop culture like anime and manga. When we were interviewed in the U.S., we were asked why we didn’t start a dance group as four women in music. I think part of the reason why they asked was because EDM was huge back then, so all-female rock bands must have been rare over there. Being categorized like that felt new so we took it in a positive way.
RINA: It seems rock bands have gone in and out of fashion in various countries over the years. We’ve been doing this for 17 years as the fads have come and gone, and I think we’ve been able to open doors for girls who want to play an instrument or play in a band. That’s also one of our reasons for always taking pride in our identity as a girl band.
MAMI: For us, playing in a girl band is more about living our lives in our own way, rather than liking the girl band genre and doing it for its own sake. Being in a band has been the best way for us to send messages through our songs about the things we feel in our daily lives.
You all met at a music school where you took vocal and dance lessons, and the instructors arranged for you to start playing instruments, which is how you got started as a band. There weren’t as many all-women bands back then compared to today. How did you feel at first?
RINA: It was a challenge learning how to play an instrument I’d never played before and it was hard technique-wise. But there was also joy in doing something nobody around us had ever done, and it was fun gradually becoming better at something I couldn’t do before. We were the first girl band at our music school, so that also felt special.
HARUNA: I enrolled in that school because I always loved music and wanted to get on stage to sing and dance. But I couldn’t get my big break. I was in my last year of high school at the time (of the band’s formation), so I was wondering whether I should go to college without realizing my dream or start looking for a job and didn’t want to miss that opportunity. I might have given up if I’d been on my own, but I was able to enjoy each day anew and keep at it thanks to the other three members.
Why do you think fewer women form bands compared to men in the first place?
RINA: Well, you can’t form a band alone and when you form one with only women, there will come a time when each member comes across life changes like maybe having kids at some point. Our bodies change throughout our twenties and thirties regardless, so even if you have the drive, you may run into problems regarding physical strength and time constraints. In that sense, the bar might be higher for women than for men.
TOMOMI: Yeah. If each of us had kids at different times, we’d have to suspend our activities for a number of years. So I really respect artists who continue their music career while raising children. It must be so hard.
HARUNA: When you consider that, we might have been lucky to have formed the band early. We can hit that life stage where things change after we’ve established ourselves to some extent because we started early.
RINA: There was a time when I worried about those similar problems as other women who are, say, office workers and not in music about how to balance my career and private life. I thought a lot about what it meant to have a happy and enjoyable life and that changed the way I make music.
HARUNA: Yeah. We went through a phase of writing lots of upbeat, flamboyant songs that hype up the crowd in festivals and concerts, but started wondering if that was really enough.
MAMI: After we took a good look at our own lives and future as women, that had an impact on our songwriting, which I think was a really good thing.
Do the four of you ever talk about such changes in how you feel with each other?
MAMI: It’s not like we regularly get together to discuss such things, but we do have opportunities, like now, to confirm each other’s opinions in interviews and think, “Yeah, she’s right.” We also talk about it naturally when we’re writing songs. We’ve always shared a common awareness, which is to keep playing music in this band while enjoying ourselves, staying healthy both in body and spirit, staying true, and for as long as we can.
TOMOMI: And building on this common awareness, we want to keep updating ourselves and be the latest version of who we can be, and that feeling is something we also share in our daily conversations I think.
I’m beginning to see how hard it must have been to keep going for 17 years. Why do you think SCANDAL has been able to continue for so long? What’s your secret?
MAMI: I do a lot of our songwriting, and whenever I’m stumped about something I consult with the other members and they often give me hints that fill in the lacking elements. It’s like each one of us makes up for what the others lack.
TOMOMI: Maybe the teachers who first approached the four of us had an eye for what would work. I’ve wondered, “How did they know how well we’d along?” We fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
HARUNA: And we never gave up playing our respective instruments. We’re all competitive and determined. [Laughs] Maybe that’s what the teachers saw in us.
RINA: You’re right. [Laughs] Even after 17 years, we’re still in alignment, pointing in the same direction. We went through a really long period of not being sure about where we should be headed as a band. We tried so many different things in terms of our music and performance and even what we wear onstage. Through it all, strangely enough, our feelings have been aligned as to what gets us excited or not.
TOMOMI: We did have trouble finding direction for a long time, but we eventually got past that by trying different things. I was probably struggling to become someone. I wanted to fit into some kind of mold, but once I stopped trying, things got easier.
RINA: Also, our mantra is “communicate until it gets across.” It doesn’t matter if it’s not elegant or cool, just communicate everything we have from the stage. After we got into that mindset, we were able to get over our difficulties.
HARUNA: We also realized there are things that can only be communicated by keeping at it. I think that’s why the music we express keeps changing more and more. The things we can only do at this moment in time is precious, but in order to keep doing this for a long time, we want to do music that we can continue into our fifties without it feeling awkward.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by music you can keep doing for a long time?
RINA: BPM, tone, and lyrics. There’s a line where we can tell if it’s OK with where we are now.
HARUNA: We’d like to keep on incorporating words stemming from our own lives in the lyrics and not just about the spirit of the band. Not only what’s visible on the surface, but also the words that come out of our daily lives and inner selves. Having those things as the band’s personality will give it depth.
RINA: We’ve been running for so long that the importance of stopping for once hit home when the pandemic hit. Around that time, I realized that any way of life can be made into music. Maybe because we’ve been active since we were young, it’s hard for people to see us as mature women. Everyone still remembers their impression from when they first saw us. That’s why we’re trying to express who we are now in our words and music, and feel that we’ll be able to enjoy being in this band even more in the future by staying true to ourselves.
—This interview by Rio Hirai (SOW SWEET PUBLISHING) first appeared on Billboard Japan
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