January 2015, after feeling some regrets about leaving his previous band 10 years earlier to concentrate on his work, drummer Hajime decided to start a new band. A chance meeting with Tomozo in a shopping mall gave him the opportunity to ask him to be the guitarist. Tomozo then invited a bassist to join the band. There were a few vocalists interested in joining the band, but Hajime eventually invited Ruk to join the band and BLACK MARIA was born.
Now, 6 years later, after a difficult 2020 that saw a few changes to the line-up and cancellations of concerts due to the coronavirus pandemic, BLACK MARIA turn their attention to the future and begin to make plans. We were able to talk to them about their plans for the future as well as the difficulties that they faced during the last year.
AVO: Thank you for accepting the interview request. Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
BLACK MARIA: We’re BLACK MARIA, a female vocal rock band active in the Kanto region of Japan.
Ruk: I’m Ruk, the vocalist. I will deliver a rock singing voice and a smile.
Tomozo: I’m Tomozo, the guitarist. I have returned to BLACK MARIA for the first time in 4 years. Thank you.
vivi: I’m the bassist, vivi.
Hajime: Nice to meet you. My name is Hajime, I am the drummer and leader of BLACK MARIA. I look forward to working with you.
AVO: 2020 was a difficult year with several live shows cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. How difficult was it for you to make those decisions? What were you feeling at that time?
Ruk: We wanted to do the show for the sake of the people who were looking forward to it. However, the final decision was based on the fact that we didn’t want to cause any problems for the people we care about. It was a hard decision to make, because it was an event at a live music venue that we wanted to be a part of for many years to come.
vivi: This time last year, I couldn’t have predicted that the coronavirus would become such a global pandemic. In the music video of the song Zero, the date “May 3rd” is mentioned, and I had planned my first concert after joining BLACK MARIA for May 3rd, 2020. But we couldn’t make it happen. I think it was the right decision because at that time there was a state of emergency in Japan.
AVO: It seems that a lot of live houses are struggling, and several have been forced to close. From your perspective as musicians, do you think the live music scene will recover quickly after the pandemic? Do you think there will be a big change from how it was before?
Ruk: Until the situation is completely settled, it will not be quite the same as before. But once it’s over, I expect the recovery to be quick. Because everyone loves live music. The pandemic has also led to a new “distribution”, which is a big change. It could be a tool that will be used again in the future.
Tomozo: It’s very sad that live music venues are closing down because of corona. We all love music, both the live music clubs and the customers. I’m sure that won’t change, and I’d like to aim to revive the live music scene while seeking to create an environment that is as good despite corona.
AVO: Unfortunately, during the pandemic, you were also required to find a new guitarist. What challenges did you face in finding a suitable person during the pandemic?
Ruk: We needed to find members who share the same desire to keep the band going and to let as many people as possible know about BLACK MARIA in this situation. We also had to find members who wanted to perform live, even if it was via streaming, as live streaming has become the mainstream due to the pandemic.
Hajime: Between you and me, there is a secret story about the revived guitarist Tomozo. Tomozo and I have known each other since we were in junior high school. It’s a shame to say this, but we were in a band together from the start of BLACK MARIA, and at that time we were both very sharp, and we fought over the most trivial things, and we broke up.
After that we completely drifted apart. But as time went on, I kept thinking “how’s Tomozo? I want to hear his guitar again”. But I’m a stubborn person, so I couldn’t contact him. It was Ruk who pushed me to contact him. He said, “Are you sure you want to stay with Tomozo?”. I think that was the first time I ever apologised to someone. (laughs)
It’s been a long time coming, but here goes! I love Tomozo’s guitar and his seriousness as an asshole (laughs).
AVO: Any changes in the members of a band can cause other changes in the band’s career. Do you think the different arrangement will change the ambitions of the band? What effect do you think it has had on each of you?
BLACK MARIA: As each of us specialises in a different genre, our arrangements and tastes change a lot when the band members change. For example, the guitar solo is the most obvious point for the listener. In terms of the band’s style, you’ll get the impression that we’re going from hard rock to rock and back again.
AVO: During the pandemic, there has been a lot of surprises in the way bands and fans have supported each other. What was the most unexpected thing that you encountered during the last year? What is the best way for the fans to support you?
BLACK MARIA: Even in this situation, we still say “I want to go to the show”. We are very grateful and surprised that so many people have said to us “I want to go to the show, please do it”. We want to continue to perform even though we are fighting against corona and we hope that you will continue to support us!
AVO: There is a lot of work involved with being part of a band. How do you maintain your motivation on difficult days? What bands or musicians inspire you?
Ruk: There is always a lot of work piling up that is not visible on the surface. Sometimes, even the days, weeks and months of hard work are not visible behind the scenes. Still, it’s nothing to be ashamed of when you think about it for the sake of these members. They are such a wonderful group of people. Sometimes I get stuck and look at the artists I admire. The rock band SID is my starting point.
Tomozo: An essential routine to keep me motivated is to look at the sky while smoking a cigarette. When I feel cosmic, I feel smaller, and I can do more! I think. For me, LUNA SEA is the band that has influenced me the most. I’ve also been influenced by many other genres of music, both Japanese and Western.
vivi: I believe that motivation can be maintained by always being in a relaxed environment. Your band, your job and your personal life are all your life. If there is a wall at the end of this road, you can overcome it. I think it’s by overcoming challenges that we grow.
Hajime: In order to keep motivated, I always aim high. I value my intuition and always remember to be immediate and never get stuck. My inspiration is Kiyoharu, who I have admired since I was a little kid.
AVO: How do you approach writing your songs? Is it a group effort or does one person usually write the music and lyrics?
BLACK MARIA: Basically, Hajime created the melody, and Tomozo arranged the song and brought the DEMO. Since 2020, Hajime and Ruk have been writing songs together, or Ruk has been bringing demos and having the members arrange them. The lyrics are also mainly written by either Hajime or Ruk.
AVO: You recently completed a photoshoot to get new individual and group photos of the band. What was that experience like? What was your favourite moment during the photoshoot?
Ruk: Absolutely take cool pictures! There was enthusiasm. Shooting was very focused. During the shooting, I got even more excited when I thought, “This shooting will be an important work.” It was a fun moment when there was no silence, music was playing, and the members were playing quietly nearby (laughs).
Tomozo: It was the first time I wore make-up for a personal photoshoot, and it was a valuable experience that reminded me of who I am as a musician. My favourite moment of the shoot was when we were taking the group photo, it was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of BLACK MARIA!
AVO: Now that the line-up is complete again, do you have any releases or projects planned in the future?
BLACK MARIA: We’re hoping to perform with the instrumental band Izo Solo Band at a distribution live soon. We’re also hoping to hold an outdoor event in the summer if possible, record our next album Never Ending Story and shoot a music video!
AVO: Hopefully as 2021 progresses, it will become easier for the live music scene. What are your goals for this year? What is the one thing that you want to achieve?
Ruk: This year’s goal is to make a lot of noise despite this situation. Regardless of national borders, I would like many people to know about BLACK MARIA and give it power. That’s what I always want to achieve.
Tomozo: BLACK MARIA has become a new organization, so this year I would like to make music and perform live, so that more people can listen to BLACK MARIA’s music.
Hajime: We want to complete the recording and the music video shoot, and we want to make the BLACK MARIA festival happen. We hope to give courage to as many people as possible.
AVO: Thank you for participating in the interview. Do you have any final message for the readers?
Ruk: Thank you for reading to the end! BLACK MARIA will continue to work without stopping. We would be very happy if you could support us.
Tomozo: BLACK MARIA will be a band that will go down in history. Thank you for your support.
vivi: May 2021 be a happy year for you. For those of you who have always supported us, and for those of you who got to know BLACK MARIA for the first time through this interview, thank you for reading to the end.
Hajime: Maybe it is a miracle and inevitable that we have met these members. In 2020, we have faced many obstacles due to the departure of members and corona, but we would like to thank everyone who supported us and the current members. We will continue to overcome any obstacles, so please continue to support us!