Rock bands are fairly common. There are lots of them and they often sound much the same as the next. Then there are bands like Area 11. Music inspired by anime, references to Dota 2 Beta keys, music videos including Minecraft footage and a brilliantly prepared mix of heavy guitars and speedy keytar fingering are all par for the course for the UK’s first Gaijin rock band. I was recently lucky enough to be able to speak with Sparkles (Tom Clarke), lead singer and Keytarist for Area 11, about the band’s influences, future plans, playing at conventions, what it’s like having your music used in a popular YouTube series and more.
Laura: For those who are unaware, could you introduce yourself? Who or what is Area 11?
Sparkles: Area 11 are a 5-piece rock band with a twist, the twist being that our music is influenced by Japanese art, specifically anime and manga. Most, if not all, of our songs are directly inspired by anime; examples include Euphemia (Code Geass), Heaven-Piercing Giga Drill (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) and Shi no Barado (Death Note). We all met in Nottingham at the end of 2010 at a fairly disastrous jam session. It got to the point where we were going to give up, when thankfully we became aware of our shared love of anime, and took a 30 minute break to watch an episode of Code Geass. The episode in question was Episode 22: “Blood Stained Euphy”. During the show, someone said, “why don’t we write about this?” We went back to the studio, wrote and recorded “Euphemia” in about five hours and named the band. Area 11 was born.
Laura: How would you describe Gaijin Rock?
Sparkles: Gaijin Rock means “Foreigner Rock” in Japanese. It all started as a bit of a joke, but has slowly become something a little more tangible! Gaijin Rock is pop music disguised as rock music. It’s complex vocal and guitar harmonies. It’s influenced by the East, but it’s fundamentally Western. It’s not being afraid to switch from a drop-tuning metal riff to a techno dance chorus in two bars. It’s painfully loud and disturbingly quiet. It’s a mess of different styles and ideas. All at the same time.
Laura: Who are your musical inspirations?
Sparkles: This list could go on forever, so I’ll keep it specific! Japan-wise, we love bands like The GazettE, ONE OK ROCK, FACT, Maximum The Hormone, Asian Kung Fu Generation, Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets, The Pillows, and The Brilliant Green. From America and the UK, there’s far too many but I think we can all agree on Muse, Biffy Clyro, Paul Gilbert & Mr Big, Enter Shikari, Lostprophets, At The Drive-In, Iron Maiden etc etc!
Laura: And if you could open for any band, who would it be?
Sparkles: AKB48. In Tokyo. Definitely!
Laura: Many peoples first time hearing your music will have been as the outro track to Yogscast Let’s Play videos on YouTube, how did that come about? How did you feel being asked if they could use your music?
Sparkles: It was crazy. We released our debut EP “Blackline” in September 2011, and by late September a copy had found its way to Lewis Brindley. He and Simon liked our stuff, and one night I found myself in a Facebook group chat with Lewis, Simon and Hannah. I was a bit confused and overwhelmed to be honest! It all started with Lewis wanting to use our tracks in their videos, and went from there. Right now I work fulltime as the Yogscast‘s audio producer, the band is signed to their label, and they’re some of my closest friends. It’s strange how fast things change!
Laura: What sort of reaction do you tend to get from fans at conventions? Also, have you ever had any weird experiences when meeting fans?
Sparkles: Conventions are amazing, they’re our favourite gigs! When we play “normal” shows, a good part of the crowd have no idea what’s going on, but at conventions they “get it”. Convention-goers are, I’ve found, typically quite shy, but if you try to engage with them they’ll always go along with it! We usually start the show and everyone is politely sat down and by the end of it we’ve got people on the stage and all sorts. Conventions are the best, they’re probably the best places to see us if I’m honest!
The strangest fan-related incident happened to me at MCM London earlier this year. I was taking part in a Dig Dug tournament and was doing pretty well. Suddenly I start hearing a really lo-fi version of “Giga Drill” in my right ear. I don’t want to take my eyes from the screen (because at this point I’m really into getting the high score!), but have a quick look over my right shoulder and see a girl holding her mobile phone up to my ear. Playing me my own music. I was so confused I completely messed up my Dig Dug game! The girl came up to me after and told me she was a huge fan, she was nice, but it was all a bit strange!
Laura: What can you tell us about your future plans?
Sparkles: Right now we’re recording our debut album, which will be called “All the Lights in the Sky“. It’s going fairly well, and we’re putting out fairly frequent video updates on our YouTube channel so you can see how we’re doing! We’re also playing some shows in September in Leicester and Derby. We can’t wait, it’s been so long since we’ve been out of the studio!
Laura: Lastly, do you have any final words?