J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Band-Maid (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

October 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Back in 2013, an all-female rock band known as Band-Maid made their debut. What started with vocalist/guitarist Miku recruiting fellow guitarist Kanami, drummer Akane and bass player, Misa to the band, the band would eventually recruit lead vocalist Saiki and perform at the P Festival at Shibuya-AX.

Modeling their image similar to Maid cafe hostesses, the concept came up when guitarist Miku was working at Noodol Cafe in Akihabara. And the concept involves serving their masters (their male fans) and their princesses (female fans).

While Band-Maid has released one studio album, three mini-albums and three CD singles.

They made their first overseas appearance at Sakura-Con in Seattle and have since performed in Asia, Mexico, Hong Kong and throughout Europe. And for their second U.S. appearance, the band would perform in front of thousands of fans at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco for J-Pop Summit.

J!-ENT had the opportunity to interview Band-Maid days before their live performance in San Francisco.

Click here to download J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith’s interview with Band-Maid

Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

August 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda (by Michelle Tymon, Dennis A. Amith and Photos by Rhiannan Smith)

When it comes to world renown artists and animators, one man who received international attention before anime would become part of international pop culture was Kenichi Sonoda.

Working for the anime studio Artmic back in the ’80s, Sonoda worked on an anime series called “Bubblegum Crisis” and his character designs for the anime series was a hit among sci-fi animation fans.

Sonoda would go on to work on the anime series “Gall Force”, the OVA’s “Bubblegum Crash”, “Otaku no Video”, “Riding Bean”, “Solty Rei” to name a few.  But he would go on to create his next hit, the manga series “Gunsmith Cats”.

While Sonoda may not have a long string of series listed in his oeuvre, because of “Bubblegum Crisis” and “Gunsmith Cats” and those two being one of the most popular early anime series to come to the United States, Sonoda has earned the respect of anime fans and is continually invited to the United States frequently to appear at anime conventions.

Kenichi Sonoda recently was a special guest at Sakura Con 2017 in Seattle, Washington and J!-ENT recently took part in a Q&A.

The following is a transcript of the Q&A featuring our questions and other questions from press with Kenichi Sonoda’s answers.

Interviewer: Is this your first time here?

Sonoda: Sakura-con is my first. This is my second time in Seattle. Last time, I was here for Emerald City Comic Con a few years back.

J!-ENT: Did you get to do any sightseeing yet, if not, where would you like to go?

Sonoda: Yes, I did. I got to go to Nintendo. I also got to go to Crab Pot for some seafood. The food there was very interesting. They basically dumped a bunch of steamed crabs, clams and other seafood in front of you and give you a hammer and a couple other tools. It was very entertaining.

Interviewer: It’s very messy. They give you handwipes and a bib and it’s kind of embarrassing.

Sonoda: I was prepared because I put the paper bib on and I had a roll of paper towels.

Interviewer: How do you feel about how anime and manga is received in the US? Is there anything noticeable about the American market.

Sonoda: About America accepting manga… I’ve always had this admiration toward the US, and I grew up watching American movies and dramas. So that’s why I had Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean set in the US. I even set the stories in Chicago because I was influenced by The Blues Brothers. So I am very grateful that the American fans have been so accepting of my work.

As for the answer to the second question, Japanese fans are very quiet overall. American fans are very lively and will approach you to talk and enjoy cosplaying. I think they’re very positive and they’re much more energetic than the Japanese fans, and I think that’s great.

J!-ENT: This is a similar question, but you were one of the very first guests invited to an event in the US. What is the biggest difference between the American fandom then and now?

Sonoda: Fundamentally there aren’t many differences but they’ve gotten smarter with promoting the events, and with how they’re run, and I think that’s great.

Interviewer: Are there any manga and anime series that you’re reading or watching right now?

Sonoda: I like to enjoy reading manga and watching anime quite regularly. But let’s see… Out of the recent anime series that have aired, I really enjoyed “Kemono Friends”. I have a lot of friends who are in doujin circles and at least 75% of them are obsessed with “Kemono Friends”, and we’re talking about men in their 40s and 50s.

Interviewer: It’s a very cute series, and everyone likes cute stuff.

Sonoda: The hype peaked in last two episodes, episodes 11 and 12. I was surprised at what happened myself.

J!-ENT: How did you get into this industry?

Sonoda: Right around the time I was sixteen or so, I started doujin work. And doujin work back then isn’t like the doujin circles who do derivative fan works that we have now.

It was more like a manga school, where everyone was determined to become manga artists. And I was the chairman for this group and got other people to join. After I graduated high school, I continued working on manga in hopes of becoming a manga artist while I went to design school.

One day, I was contacted by someone who worked at Artmic in Tokyo, who had seen one of my doujins. I was told they had a project called Gall Force and asked me if I had any interest in being the character designer.

Gall Force at the time was a 3D photo novel that appeared in a magazine called Model Graphix. They took models of girls that I designed and models of mechas that Kakinuma had designed, took photos of them, and made a story out of it.

At that point, there was no talk about making it into an anime. But not even six months later, I was told that they were going to be making a theatrical anime version, so I realized I was going to have a lot more work to do. Also, at the same time, a company called GAINAX also asked me to help out with some character design work.

So, I thought that since I now have at least two projects in Tokyo, I could move out to Tokyo and make a living over there without having to worry too much. So that was when I moved to Tokyo from Osaka, and I believe I was about 21 at the time.

My first job with GAINAX lasted about a year, and I worked at Artmic as an actual employee and did design work. At Artmic, I was working on the Gall Force series and the Bubblegum Crisis series.

Later on, I was told that if I had come up with a proposal, that it would probably go through. So I came up with a proposal without a script or original story and I went right to just storyboarding and animating it. That project was actually the anime, Riding Bean.

Work wise, things were going pretty well at Artmic, but because I was just an office worker there, my earnings didn’t really grow.

Even if something I created was a hit, I didn’t own the copyright. That was when I figured I should probably go back to my original goal of becoming a manga artist. I went to Kodansha to talk to them about a project and managed to land a deal on a serialized series.

That’s when I became a true manga artist and I quit my job at Artmic. I think I was about 26 or 27 when I started my serial with Kodansha, and my first serialized series, Gunsmith Cats became a hit. Because of that, I was able to become a successful manga artist.

Interviewer: When I was younger, I would watch Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis on television and they were my favorites. I loved both series, because I hadn’t seen anything like them before. It was actually hard to find anime and manga in the early 90s when I first started watching. But now, anime is so popular and I wonder if you had any thoughts on how anime has transitioned to mainstream.

Sonoda: I’m very happy about Japanese manga and anime being so popular in the US and the world, but I do believe that this is mostly because of the stories being good so if we don’t keep up working hard, the interest in the genre could die down. So I think I need to keep working hard.

J!-Ent: How do you feel about your works like Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force being loved so much after so many years?

Sonoda: I’m very happy about it. But since Artmic sort of went downhill, so that was regrettable. This doesn’t just apply to Artmic, but with the anime industry, if a series does well, you aren’t guaranteed to be provided with a high budget for the next series. Actually, the opposite would happen. They would say that we were able to make a hit, so we should actually be able to make another one with an even lower budget. That wasn’t the case with all the Artmic series, but I feel like if they spent more on the works, I think they would have done much better and been more popular longer.

Interviewer: Lately, there’s been a movement to make revival series, meaning companies are taking something from my generation or even older and bringing it back. Would you be interested in doing a new series for Gall Force or Bubblegum Crisis?

Sonoda: Yes, I would be interested. But there have been talks about doing digital remasters of older series for Blu-ray releases lately. There will soon be a digital remaster version of Riding Bean for the US and I did audio commentary for that. I also designed new cover art for that release.

Interviewer: Do you know the release date for that?

Sonoda: I personally haven’t seen the release schedule, so please check out the AnimEigo website for release information. Also, recently there have been talks about doing another anime of Gunsmith Cats, but I’m not sure what will happen with that yet.

 J!-Ent: Do you have any advice on how to get into the anime industry?

Sonoda: Not really. The only thing that I can say for anyone interested in joining this industry is to draw a lot.

Interviewer: Speaking of drawing, I wanted to know if you have more fun drawing mecha or if you have more fun drawing pretty girls.

Sonoda: Actually, I like drawing the atmosphere of the world of the story more than either of those choices. I’ll draw anything that is needed for that. I’m very good at drawing both pretty girls and mechas so if that enhances the series and makes it popular, that’s great. Recently, there are a lot of series that use pretty girls and mechas… and serious-looking mechas at that, and do it quite normally. I’m getting a bit nervous that my personal weapons that I thought won’t be effective anymore. Thirty years ago, there weren’t very many series that were filled with pretty girls and mechas. So I was able to use my weapons of being able to draw pretty girls and mechas.

J!-ENT: What was the first anime or manga that you latched onto?

Sonoda: The first manga works that I got into are the works of Fujio Akatsuka, Osamu Tezuka and Fujiko Fujio. There weren’t as many anime back then, so I was basically watching everything that was available. I can’t remember if I was in kindergarten or elementary school, but I cried so hard watching the final episode of Tatsunoko Pro’s Hakushon Daimaoh. I’ve also always liked American cartoons. Wacky Races, Tom and Jerry, and there was some cartoon where a Frankenstein-looking character appeared, but I liked that, too. There was also the cartoon for King Kong, too. But what I was most obsessed with wasn’t actually manga or anime, but a couple sci-fi dramas. They were the British dramas Thunderbirds Are Go and UFO created by ITV. I think the reason I started drawing so much mecha was because of Thunderbirds Are Go.

Interviewer: Would you have any interested in drawing a Thunderbirds Are Go manga?

Sonoda: No, because they are treasured memories and I want to keep them as such.

Interviewer: Are there any current American properties that you’re interested in?

Sonoda: There aren’t many American dramas that are on basic cable in Japan right now. They’re all on BS and CS, so I haven’t seen very many, but I think 24 from a little while back was really good. Also, I was quite disappointed with the newer Knight Rider series.

J!-ENT: You had mentioned that you liked America, but are there any places in America that you haven’t visited yet that you would like to?

Sonoda: So far, I’ve been only been to Chicago, Seattle, and San Jose. So there are plenty of places that I haven’t been to that I’d like to visit. I’d actually also like to go to NASA once.

Interviewer: You mentioned that a lot of your work is influenced by America and also takes place in America, but is there a reason that America influences you so much?

Sonoda: I like gun action and car action, so I watched a lot of movies and dramas with that and was influenced by them. Also, if when I draw manga, if America isn’t the setting for the story, I don’t think I could draw very many scenes where people are shooting guns. Guns are accessible in America. If the stories were set in Japan, I can’t easily logically justify the use of guns.

Interviewer: Unfortunately, it’s more believable for there to be gun fights and car chases in America.

Sonoda: In any case, I really love Dirty Harry.

Interviewer: Yeah, Clint Eastwood is really great.

J!-ENT: What are your hobbies outside of drawing and work?

Sonoda: Watching movies, making plastic models, and going out to drink with my friends. There are times that my friends invite me out to the movies, even though I don’t usually go to the movie theater. However, when my friends actually invite me out to the movies, I’ll go see any kind of movie. The movies that I went to see last year include Shin Godzilla, Girls und Panzer, and Don’t Breathe. They’re all completely different genres.

Interviewer: What were your thoughts on the new Godzilla movie?

Sonoda: I actually enjoyed the dull, first half of the movie more. During the climax scene in the later half of the movie, I thought the presentation wasn’t that great. It’s the scene where the train runs into Godzilla and explodes… But if Godzilla was standing in the way where a train as headed, you’d think that the tracks and cables would have already been trampled on, and the train shouldn’t have been running. I think it would’ve worked better if they did something like Operation Yashima in Neon Genesis Evangelion, because there’s a locomotive pulling the train, rather than the train running electrically.

Interpreter: I’m sorry, I have a slightly personal question in regards to movies, but have you seen the movie, John Wick, where Keanu Reeves plays a retired assassin?

Sonoda: Sorry, I haven’t seen it yet.

Interpreter: Honestly, considering your interests, I think it’d be a perfect movie for you, so I wanted to know your thoughts on it.

Sonoda: I see. I’ll try to rent it in the near future then. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, I think I heard a rumor a while back that they were to make a live-action Cowboy Bebop movie with Keanu Reeves, but that just never came to be, right?

Interviewer: We’ve actually had a couple live action adaptation movies of anime that haven’t gone very well. The Netflix live action Death Note movie is coming out and it’s already pretty unpopular, Ghost in the Shell didn’t do well, and Akira actually just got greenlit to be remade. American audiences haven’t been responding to them very well, it seems. I don’t know if I’d want a live action Cowboy Bebop because I love the anime so much.

Sonoda: There was also the live-action Dragon Ball. Also, speaking of Akira, that’s set in Tokyo… So are they going to change the setting to New York?

Interviewer: I heard that they were thinking about setting it in New York.

Sonoda: Also speaking of Akira, did the fact that one of the signs from the movie ended up correctly predicting the future become a popular story? In Akira, they mention that the 2020 Olympics are going to take place in Tokyo. The beginning of the story is the fact that the Olympics are going to happen the next year. Akira takes place in the year 2019.

J!-ENT: Since we’re talking about live action adaptations… In Japan, I think there’s a desire to see anime being made into live action adaptations. Whereas in the US, I don’t think there’s as much of a desire to see them. For example, there was already a lot of criticism over them casting a Caucasian actress to play Motoko in the Ghost in the Shell movie before the movie even came out. So I think that the way these adaptations are viewed are quite different in Japan and the US. In the US, as we had mentioned earlier, series like Cowboy Bebop is very sacred in the hearts of a lot of viewers here and they don’t want to see it as a live action adaptation.

Sonoda: For me, I actually have no problem with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko in the live action Ghost in the Shell. However, I felt that it was rather awkward that Aramaki was being playing by Takeshi Kitano. He looks nothing like him and he doesn’t talk in the same sharp manner… I thought that was a much bigger problem that I was hoping they’d do something about. Chief Aramaki in Masamune Shirow’s original Ghost in the Shell was actually modeled after a character from the British police drama, The Professionals. Are you able to search on the internet right now? If you search for CI5, The Professionals… I forgot the name of the actor, but he’s the chief in that show. His hair is rather thin, but his face has a very sharp look to it. He’s a very cool looking character. If you can find any pictures from the series, you should be able to find a picture of two younger male agents and a slightly older gentleman who played their boss. I’m pretty sure that Masamune Shirow has mentioned this in other interviews before, but he really likes British police and military dramas and movies. He apparently really liked The Professionals and was highly influenced by it. Also, the same actor who plays the chief in The Professionals plays the lead in a movie called The Final Option. If I remember correctly, Masamune Shirow really liked that movie, as well.

Interviewer: One final question. The genre of anime seems to have changed greatly from the early 90s and 80s. Back then, you had Ghost in the Shell, Mobile Police Patlabor, and Akira, which are all rather serious works. Nowadays, the anime series that seem to be popular are about high schools, and the moe culture. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about these changes and if you noticed and trends and changes yourself.

Sonoda: I think there are still some rather serious and good series out there even now. It’s just that there are indeed a lot more moe genre series now as well. So I personally don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Even with the moe genre series or series that use pretty girls to try to catch the audience, a lot of them have a very solid story at their core and are made quite well. So basically they’re just sugarcoated with the pretty girls or moe, but beneath that surface, there is a great foundation. So if you look for them carefully, you should be able to find those more serious anime series that you were speaking of. For example, Kyoto Animation is known for using a lot of beautiful girls in their series, but they make very serious and excellent series.

Adding onto the last question, with the change of genre, the art style from the 80s and 90s and the art style now has changed. Do you think the art style will ever go back to the way it was in the 80s and 90s?

Sonoda: There are a lot more series that use a lot of CG now as well as computer-aided drawings. This aspect also makes it a lot easier to additional details into scenes. But what’s most important is the direction and the story. So I’m not sure if the key animation is indeed the most important aspect or not. Of course, there are works like the works by Makoto Shinkai where what you’re looking at is also very important. But then there are also series like Kemono Friends which I mentioned earlier. The visuals on that show are extremely cheap looking, but the actual story is extremely well made. It actually became rather popular on the internet. As long as the creators know exactly what they should be presenting, even if their budget is not very high, I don’t think they need to worry too much about what’s visually being presented.

Follow Kenichi Sonoda on Twitter

J!-ENT INTERVIEWS PUFFY AMIYUMI (2017) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When I first discovered Puffy AmiYumi (known as “Puffy” in Japan), they took Japan by their storm with their simple style of t-shirts, blue jeans and sneakers.  Bucking the fashion trend and dance choreography of other Japanese female music artists during the 1990’s, Puffy AmiYumi impressed audiences with their style of music and presentation.

The duo consisting of Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki burst into the Japanese music scene back in 1996 dominating the charts.  And while Puffy AmiYumi would release their debut album in America and perform in the U.S., it wasn’t until their music was featured in the Cartoon Network animated series “Teen Titans” that the duo would receive recognition internationally.

In 2004, the duo would have their own animated TV series titled “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi”, would be featured on a GAP fashion ad and performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

And as I have interviewed Puffy AmiYumi for the next few years, our last interview with the ladies, was back in 2010 to celebrate the duo’s 15th Anniversary (view our 15th Anniversary Puffy AmiYumi special).

And here we are in 2017, celebrating the duo’s 21-year anniversary and knowing that there are not many female Japanese music artists that have had the same level of success of Puffy AmiYumi and continue to perform for audiences worldwide.

Starting on March 31st, the group will be performing at Anime Boston 2017 and on April 4th, the group will be performing at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles, followed by a performance on April 6th at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco and on April 9th at Trees in Dallas, Texas as part of their Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “#NotLazyTour”.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Puffy AmiYumi about their upcoming U.S. performance:

I interviewed both of you when you made your debut in the United States and I have listened to your music when you first made your single debut “Asia no Junshin” in Japan. What is the biggest difference in your approach to music today versus when you first started out.

Ami: When we debuted, we really didn’t know anything. We were always surprised by how our producer, Tamio Okuda, and other musicians made music and the various things they concentrated on. But now, we really understand how that feels.

Very few Japanese acts were able to penetrate the American music scene, yet Puffy AmiYumi was able to create an audience thanks to the theme song for “Teen Titans” and you eventually had your own animated show in the United States. You had a GAP ad and performed on the Macy’s Parade on national TV. Looking back at your success and knowing that you accomplished something that many Japanese have not done, was there a lot of pressure on for the both of you to continue that success?

Yumi: There wasn’t really any pressure. We always make sure to have fun with anything we do as a part of Puffy’s style, so when we did all of those things, I believe we did while having fun. And those were all experiences that most Japanese people aren’t able to experience much, so we are very honored.

Last year, Puffy AmiYumi celebrated their 20th Anniversary and the music scene has changed a lot in the past two decades. One difference is the popularity of social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Do you feel that social media has changed the way for the both of you to communicate with your fans?

Ami: I believe that the spread of social media over the last 20 year is definitely huge. I personally have my own Instagram, and because of that, I’m able to directly receive messages of support from fans. And since we can see how our fans our reacting with so little time lag, it’s very helpful to us.

You are about to embark on another tour which includes performances in the United States (for Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “NOT LAZY”). It’s been awhile since you performed in the U.S., how does it feel to be coming back?

Yumi: Even though we hadn’t traveled to America for a while, we had been constantly doing concerts in Japan, so I think we’ve powered up even more since our last visit. So right now, we’re very excited!

As you celebrate your 21st year, after all these years…Ami, what are your top three songs that you love performing in front of a live audience?

Ami: “Asia no Junshin,” “Akai Buranko,” and “Circuit no Musume.”

I’m curious to see how your musical tastes have changed.   In our very first interview, Yumi you said you were listening to Nirvana, Eels, Hole and U2 and Ami said Red Hot Chili Peppers. But what about now?


Yumi: Of course, I still love all of those groups. When I listen to the albums that I love, I remember things from when I first heard the albums, or feel very nostalgic.

Back in 2002, for our second interview, I asked each of you to describe each other in one word. Yumi, you said of Ami, “Serious” and Ami, you said of Yumi “Young”. In 2010, Yumi said of Ami “Relax” and Ami said of Yumi, “Older Sister”. Ami, if you had to describe Yumi, what would you say today?

Ami: For Yumi…“Hanashi ga Tomoranai” (She doesn’t stop talking)

Yumi, you told me you were playing the video game “Ryu ga Gotoku” (known as “Yakuza” in the U.S.) a lot back then.  Ami you were playing “Dragon Quest Monsters Joker II”. Any certain games that you are playing now?

Yumi: I still love “Dragon Quest” even now and continue to play. Right now, I’m trying to figure out if I want to buy a Nintendo Switch or not.

Both of you told me you love tea! But I didn’t get to ask what kind of tea that both of you enjoy? So, I have to ask…what is your favorite tea? And if there is an area in Tokyo that serves the best tea, which area would you recommend?

Ami: We like tea… Did we actually say that? Either way, I do like tea. I like chai. I think I’d recommend the café next to Saigoyama Park.

It’s funny because in our 2010 interview, both of you said that you wished Taco Bell would open a store in Japan and now you can find a Taco Bell in Japan. And now there are more Mexican restaurants in Tokyo. But with you returning back to America, is there a certain food that you have wanted to try but never yet had the chance?

Yumi: While we weren’t in America, I can now eat some foods that I couldn’t before. For example, cilantro and lamb. Because of that, I’d like to try out some places that I never got to try before.

What final words do you have for your fans worldwide?

Ami: This year, Puffy is now in our 21st year. The reason that we’ve been able to continue for so long is the countless support we’ve received from people from various countries!! We’ll continue to work even harder so we can someday hold concerts in countries we haven’t been to yet!

Yumi: Last year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary, and we are grateful to all of our fans! The upcoming concerts should be a lot of fun. Please come out and see us!

For more information, please visit their official website or their Facebook Page.

Photos courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Japan

Read our complete J!-ENT Puffy AmiYumi interviews and articles from 1996-2010 (Click on image)

J!-ENT Interviews Wednesday Campanella (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

December 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Back in 2012, Dir.F, a label manager at Tsubasa Records wanted to create a new music project featuring provisional female members. While the music and lyrics for the group would be created by music producer, Hidefumi Kenmochi.

The name of this group project would be “Suiyoubi no Campanella”, which translates to Wednesday Campanella.

That same year, Dir.F was at a house party for a friend and he would meet KOM_I and he invited her to join Wednesday Campanella as one of the provisional female vocalists and the group would upload two tracks on YouTube that year, “Oz” and Kukai”.

Wanting to push their album later that year, the group’s first CD titled “Suiyoubi no Campanella Demo 1” was sold at Design Festa Tokyo Autumn.

The following year, KOM_I would perform live performances with just her on stage and the group released their first mini album titled “Crawl to Saka Agari” and it was released at Village Vanguard Shimokitazawa.

But it wasn’t until 2014, when the group’s track “Momotaro” appeared on J-WAVE and would become popular.
In 2016, Wednesday Campanella would make their American debut at SXSW in Texas and would perform in July in San Francisco at J-POP Summit Festival.

While the first five mini albums were released by Tsubasa Records, the group would be signed by Warner Records and would release their first major label album “UMA” in 2016.

And since then, Wednesday Campanella’s popularity has skyrocketed. From a promotion and music video with Toyota for the Prius, multiple television performances, magazine interviews and live performances throughout Japan, KOM_I also appeared on the popular variety show “SMAP x SMAP” with SMAP (who also sung along with her).

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith had the opportunity to interview KOM_I the day after Wednesday Campanella’s performance at J-POP SUMMIT.

Please click her for the full interview

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Silent Siren

October 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 


The Japanese all-female rock band Silent Siren made their US debut in San Francisco back in July 2016.  But with a world tour in Jakarta, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the band performed in Los Angeles in September and on October 2nd, at Slims in San Francisco.

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith recently had the opportunity to interview Silent Siren.

More Silent Siren will be featured in our upcoming J!-ENT Annual issue coming in December 2016.

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Andy Quach (Web Version) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

October 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


He has come a long way since his musical debut, but Andy Quach has matured and has become one of the biggest VPOP stars that is based in the United States.

From his exciting, beat-driven dance tracks “Hua – Promise” and “Em Da Quen – Forgotten” or belting out romantic ballads such as “Nho – Missing You” and “De Em Ra Di – Letting You Go”, the pop star has shown how much he has evolved as a music artist but also a businessman with AQ Entertainment.

And for his upcoming duet album, the singer teams up with AQ Entertainment’s newest star, Ngo Nhu Thuy for “Forever Love”.

J!-ENT recently had the opportunity to interview Andy Quach regarding his musical career and also his upcoming album.

Download the Interactive PDF version of the interview


Before we get into discussions about your music, let’s get to know more about you.  Reading your bio, you were born in Saigon, Vietnam.   You are now living in the US but having visited Vietnam, what do you miss the most each time you come back to the US?       
ANDY:  Well to be honest, I left Vietnam at a very young age. I’ve been back to visit only three times, so I don’t really know much about Vietnam. But, if I have to pick what I miss most, I’d say the food.

What kind of person were you back in high school?  The party guy?  The Musician? Artist?  Athlete?       
ANDY:  Athlete. Because I loved to play soccer & basketball.  I was one of the high school all-stars for soccer.

Who did you listen to a lot when growing up?      
ANDY:  At a young age, I listened to the Four Kings of Hong Kong (Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Leon Lai and Aaron Kwok). Once I got older, I focused more on K-Pop artists like Bi-Rain and Seven.

If I was to look into your MP3/CD player right now, which artist or song would you be listening to at this moment?     
ANDY:  Ne-yo.  Because I love his voice and songs.  Most importantly, his song writing skills are really inspiring.

While growing up, at what age did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?    
ANDY:  At age 20.  That was when I joined a local band and started to believe that I could make it professionally.  But then again, even with talent and hard work, we still need a lot of blessing, so I thank God for granting me my 21st Birthday’s wish of becoming a professional singer.

Let’s talk about your music.  Back in 2007, you released your debut album “K.O.”.   Every first album is a learning experience.  When you look back on your first album, what memories come to mind?    
ANDY:  Well,  the “K.O.” album was a special and really good learning experience for me. It was my first solo album.  After splitting with Vpop (a boy band that Andy was a member of), I decided to go a different route, which was Hip-hop & R&B.  At that time, Hip-hop and R&B were still very rare in our Vietnamese music. But, I followed my heart and took a chance. It paid off.  After my “K.O.” album, I was established as one of the first Vietnamese Hip-hop & R&B artists.

You had a solid collaboration with Cat Tien on that album, you also worked with Linda Chou.  Musically, what was it like to work with these two talented individuals?   
ANDY:  It was really wonderful working with them. We had great chemistry musically due to our close friendships.  In addition, Cat Tien and I used to be together, so our hit songs were about our break up, and you know fans always love painful break up songs.  A broken heart is something that almost all of us could relate to. As artists, we have to be willing to be transparent with the matter of the heart sometimes.  As for Linda Chou, she’s like my little sister.  I introduced her to Vietnamese Music industry.  She knew very little Vietnamese in the beginning, because it wasn’t her first language. But, she’s always been very talented, hardworking and a fast learner.  Therefore, she picked up the language quite quickly. I really enjoyed working with her.  Seeing her establishing herself as a well known artist makes me very proud.

In 2008, you released your second album “Showtime”.  It featured a good number of Asian pop songs rewritten in Vietnamese. But it was also an album that people criticized because they wanted to see more originality from you as a musical artist.  Was this part of the reason why you made a switch to a new label to achieve creative freedom?
ANDY:  Yes, that was a big reason to why I made that switch.  The first two albums, “K.O.” & “Showtime” , were produced by Van Son Entertainment, one of the big labels that I signed with at the time.  I was still very new to the industry, still learning and especially still being controlled by the label.  And even though those two albums helped establish my name, it also made me realized that I needed to make a transition from being just a performer to being an artist. At this time, I really started to understand the difference between a performer and an artist.  So I stepped up my game by writing my own songs and getting ready to produce original material to build up the artist side of me.  When my contract was fulfilled, it was an easy call for me to make that move—for the sake of complete creative freedom. That was how AQ Entertainment was born.


In 2010, your album “AQ3” was released.  Let’s first discuss the move to AQ Entertainment and you starting your own label.  How difficult was that for you?
ANDY:  It was an easy call for me to go independent and have my own label.  I wanted full creative freedom, and followed my vision, which is raising VPOP to the next level.  But, as to any new and meaningful ventures, it’s extremely hard to be on my own with new label. Nothing is easy especially when we want to make a difference in this business.  I can tell a lot of people don’t believe in my goals and vision, which is okay. It takes time and perseverance to instill belief, of which I am willing to invest. Thankfully, my family, friends and especially my entire AQ Entertainment team always push me, keep me on track, and keep things moving forward. When the glass feels half empty, it’s good to be reminded that it’s actually half full.  “Teamwork makes dream work” .

Your music for “AQ3” focused on originality, what was the experience of working on this album?
ANDY:  It was a huge challenge. We had to prepare for an entire year, which is quite rare for a Vietnamese album. From writing, instrumental productions, hours and hours of studio time, making music videos, working out seven days a week to get the magnificent physique. (Laughing) The entire team worked really hard on it, because we all believed that when “AQ3” dropped, AQ Entertainment would be represented as a label for new music and  Andy Quach would be re-introduced as an artist, not just a performer. So, it was the making-a-statement album, and thank God our hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

The production quality for the album was very good and the collaboration with Huynh Nhat Tan and rapper Thai Foon was also great.  What was it like working with these two?   
ANDY:  Mr. Huynh Nhat Tan is considered a big brother to me. He took me in and guided me through this arduous musical path ever since I got into the business.  In my heart, I believe he’s the best producer; therefore, all my albums were executive produced by him.  There would be no AQ  (Andy Quach) today if it wasn’t for him.  As for Thai Foon, hands down, he’s a talented rapper. I love the fact that whenever I gave him different tracks to write to, he’d always come back with multiple artistic flavors to compliment them.  Besides Mr. Huynh Nhat Tan and Thai Foon, I have to give credit to my other teammates as well.  My god-brother & co-founder of AQ Entertainment, Vinny Vo.  If it wasn’t for his influence, his vision and his advice, AQ Entertainment wouldn’t even exist.  Mic Vo & Timothy Wynn from FCI (First Class International), Long & Bill from Possessed Beats and Liby V for making me crazy beats. In addition, thanks to two
other rappers who go by the names of Higher and Vanity for their beautiful flows.  Kevin Dinh for his amazing artwork.  Last but not least, my little god-sister, Thao Nguyen, for being there for me from day one and for always lending me her ears whenever I needed to vent.

After “AQ3”, you released the compilation album “Chinese Melodies” and a remix album “Play Me”.   First, let’s discuss “Chinese Melodies”, how did you become interested in Chinese music and what was your concept for this album?  
ANDY:  That’s a great question. I’m both Vietnamese/Chinese, so Chinese music was also a major part of my growing up.  I knew that a lot of our older Vietnamese audience are familiar with and love those classic Chinese love songs.  So, I thought I should show my appreciation and do something for these particular fans, while showing my Chinese side through the half Viet & half Chinese songs in the  “Chinese Melodies” album.  And the other meaningful incentive is that the album covers most of my and my parents’ favorite Chinese love songs.  It was also dedicated to my parents. It still is their most favorite album by me (smile).  So as you can see, I had great and wonderful reasons to do this project, as a performer.

And for “Play Me”, what was it like to make your first remix album and what talent was involved for the remixes?  
ANDY:  As for “Play Me”, that was simple because it’s a remix album of all my top hit songs.  I just wanted to reintroduce them in a new and dancing light. I purposely chose the title “Play Me” to keep it fun.  It’s just a playful project dedicated to the fans who prefer to dance and go crazy a bit before the stress get them crazy, opposite of the “Chinese Melodies” album so to speak.  In terms of talent, I had young producers from Vietnam Trung Hieu, Europe Jay Wang and our own AQ Entertainment producers FCI, Possessed Beats & Liby V to add their own flavor, creativitity and perspective. Also, a great chance for us all to connect internationally through music.

In 2012, you released “Crossroads”.  Two years in the making… What was the biggest difference in the making of this album versus “AQ3”?   
ANDY:  For every album, we always aim to raise the bar or take it to the next level. And because music always evolves with time, we want every album to be better than the last.  The difference between the two albums was the combination of everything from the beats, the songs, the production, and especially the direction.  For the beats, we had more producers for “CrossRoads.”  I believe my song writing skill had improved by then, therefore the material sounded more mainstream. So the challenge was and is always about giving the fans what’s now—the sound of now. Cannot come out with new albums and only have old material on them all the time—sometimes is okay due to the nature of our industry, but not all the time.  As mentioned, at some point, after much soul searching, I have to make a decision to transition from being a performer to being an artist by promoting originality. It’s not an easy decision, matter of fact it’s extremely hard in our industry and I understand it’s not for everyone. Therefore, I feel completely blessed to be able to transition into that artist side of me—becoming that true me.

I have to say that “Hua – Promise” was an exciting, upbeat track and your live performance and music video definitely showcased a good amount of choreography. But I’m curious about the song, how long did it take you to create and also for you and the dancers to get the choreography down?   
ANDY:  Yes I agree, this song was pretty interesting. I heard this song in my sleep, then popped up and finished writing the song within an hour. I knew it would be a hit, so I went ahead and released it before the album was even out.  We also shot a music video for it and it was quite a big production that we put in.  The challenge was the dancing. It’s a cool hip-hop song, so I had to dance.  And as you all know, I’m not a dancer. But thanks to Christopher Cuenza for his awesome choreography and extra sessions, I was able to get all the moves down.  So the whole process took about 2-3 weeks.  I consider this track as one of my top five hit songs. I even got to perform it in Vietnam on a very special big live show. Loving it so much, I even released a remix version of it.  You can find it on my youtube channel

I noticed a big difference in the production quality of your music videos from “Hua – Promise”, “Em Da Quen – Forgotten” and “De Em Ra Di – Letting You Go”.  With many artists, they leave it up to the director to come up with the video but with your music videos, do you have creative input?   
ANDY:  Since it’s important for me to have control over my own artistic image, I got involved from beginning to the end of every project.  For all the songs that I wrote, I always pictured myself in the storylines, so most of the ideas and concepts for the videos always started with me, then the director added on his input and vision.

In the making of “Crossroads”, what was the most challenging song to make in the album and why? 
ANDY:  I have to say “Hua – Promise” because of the big production that we put in.  It was financially and time consuming. But the effort was worth it because we all knew it would be a hit.

Your upcoming album to be released this year is “Forever Love.”  Can you tell us more about this album and what can fans expect?
ANDY:  The “Forever Love” album is a very special album for me and Ngo Nhu Thuy, our newly signed artist with AQ Entertainment.  It will be my very first duet album and it’s the first debut for her as well.  With this album, fans get to hear and see a softer side of me due to a good number of ballads.  It’s a different approach compared to all my solo albums; this will be more fitting and suitable for fans of all ages.

With the creative freedom you have as a music artist, what is your approach to how you deal with music now.  Are you a perfectionist when it comes to the lyrics or sound of your music?
ANDY:  Yes, I’m a perfectionist, and that’s why all of my albums take longer to be released.  I have to pick the right lyrics, the right sound and especially the right flavor for me and the fans.  Sometimes I frustrate people in my team just because of the details in every little thing. Not because I am being difficult, but more along the line of my love and respect for the art.  But thanks to their patience, hard work, and especially their understanding that my goal is to produce the best material for our fans. The fans deserve the best from me, individually, and from our team, collectively.

For the music video “Forever Love”, you introduce Ngo Nhu Thuy.  A stylish music video and a song with cool beats and a pretty solid duet.  I noticed that there are a few songs on the upcoming album in which you are working with Ngo Nhu Thuy.   How was the music collaboration between the two of you?   
ANDY:  As I mentioned, Ngo Nhu Thuy is our new artist, so I took her under my wings and tried to guide her with the best of my ability.  I know if she’s presented in the right light, then she will make the AQ Entertainment family look good and vice versa. Her musical direction is a new challenge for me as well, because in addition to being an artist myself, I have to take on the role of a producer.  So far, everything has gone well and I’m really happy with her progress.


As 2014 is around the corner, with the new album coming out, seeing how
your career has progressed since your first album, what is the biggest difference between Andy Quach now versus the Andy Quach when you released your first album?  And what has been the biggest learning experience you have learned overtime of being a pop star?
ANDY:  The biggest difference between the AQ back then and the AQ now is wisdom and maturity.  Time has taught me to be patient, work hard, keep pushing the bar, never give up, gotta have love and respect, and above all, stay humble.

Let’s get to know more about you outside of the music industry, what are your interests or hobbies?
ANDY:  Outside of the music industry, I’m just like any other regular guy.  I love sports, video games, movies and enjoy having dinner with my friends.

If you have one word to describe yourself, what word would that be and why?
ANDY:  “Fighter” because I don’t quit.

In my interviews we do a fun fill in the blank rapid question, I’m going to give you five sentences and you fill in the blank:

a.  Each time I go to Vietnam, the food that I always have to eat is ________.
ANDY:  Pho

b.  I love to see the audience’s reaction when I perform _________.
ANDY:  My new songs

c.  The last movie I watched in the theater was __________.
ANDY:  “World War Z”

d.  The music video that I really enjoyed filming was ___________.
ANDY:  “Hua – Promise”

e.  If I have to share a guilty pleasure that my fans do not know about, it would be___________.
ANDY:  Playing a video game late at night. That is my relaxing time.

I know you have a few projects lined up to promote your upcoming album.  What projects or events would you like to plug?
ANDY:  Since my new duet album “Forever Love” has just released, we have plans to go on tour to promote the album.  Our first stop will be in Sacramento on Oct. 18th and more will follow.  So I hope that all my fans will come out, support, and get to hear me & Ngo Nhu Thuy perform live all the new songs from the album.

What would you like to say to your fans?
ANDY:  For this, I would like to address my fans directly. I like to thank every one of you from all over the world for your love, support and acceptance through all the past years and the years to come. Out of appreciation, I promise I’ll keep on fighting and improving to give you my absolute best.  AQ & AQ Entertainment will not disappoint you if great and original music is what you’re expecting.

Lastly, I would like to thank J!-ENT for giving me a chance to connect with all my fans, Vietnamese and non Vietnamese alike.  From my heart, I appreciate you!


Photography by Kevin Dinh

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Kalafina (2013) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

July 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Since we last interviewed Kalafina back in 2009, so much has happened with the group.  From chart-topping singles to now performing with a live band, Kalafina has become a hot group with a growing fanbase worldwide.  With a recent concert at Anime Central in Illinois,  J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith recently had the opportunity to interview Keiko, Wakana and Hikaru of Kalafina.

Click here to read the interview (PDF)

Perfume Fans in Los Angeles Turn to Live Viewing for “Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd” by Nergene Arquelada and Dennis A. Amith (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

July 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


On July 7th, fans of the Japanese techno-pop girl group Perfume in Los Angeles had the opportunity to watch the trio’s a concert in the UK courtesy of a live viewing held at Regal Cinema.

For Perfume fans, these last seven years since being signed to a major label, have seen great things happening for Perfume, which consists of members Ayano Omoto, Yuka Kashino and Ayaka Nishiwaki.  All three are  from Hiroshima, Japan and debuted back in 2001 and are produced by Capsule and Meg producer Yasutaka Nakata.

From chart topping hit singles, three successful albums and their music being featured in Disney’s “Cars 2″ animated film, in early 2012, the trio announced they were leaving their label Tokuma Japan Communications and moving to Universal Music Japan in order to focus on performing internationally.

In July 2013, the group prepared for their first European tour with “Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd” with concerts in Germany, UK and France.

Their July 5th UK show at Shepherds Bush Empire was broadcast in Los Angeles on July 7th in front of an enthusiastic crowd of nearly a hundred people who came out to sing and dance to the songs of Perfume.  The live viewing was shown at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 7th with a box office price of $25 a ticket.  The screening was not live but is a 2-day delay broadcast.

The set list for the concert were the following tracks and MC portions:

  1. SE~
  2. Spending all my time (Extended Mix)/Welcome to Perfume World~
  3. Magic of Love
  4. Laser Beam
  5. Polyrythm
  6. -MC-
  7. Spring of Life
  9. Spice
  10. Handy Man (instrumental)
  11. Daijyobanai
  12. Electro World (Intro Short)
  13. P.T.A. no Corner
  14. FAKE IT
  15. Dream Fighter
  16. Chocolate Disco (ASIA Ver.)
  17. S.MC
  18. MY COLOR
  19. ENCORE: GLITTER (Europe Ver.)

During my viewing of the concert, one thing you will notice is the fans treated it like a real concert.  Screaming to the performances of Perfume, singing a long with their songs and even the people sitting right next to me, dancing to each song and really getting into it.  But most impressive was to see people knowing Perfume’s dance moves.

The live viewing was my first opportunity to see Perfume perform live.  While there are examples on YouTube, it was exciting to not only see a J-Pop live viewing in Los Angeles, but to also see the crowd really into the concert.  And makes me wonder why Perfume has not performed in the United States yet?

The group performed a lot of their hit songs including my favorites such as “Chocolate Disco”, “Spending all my time”, “Polyrhythm”, “Spice” and “Laser Beam” but also to hear the encore of “GLITTER” (European version) was very awesome!

But it was also great to see a performance of their latest single “Magic of Love” for the live viewing.

The concert kicked off with one of my favorite songs from Perfume titled “Spending all my time”, a fantastic synth track and possibly next to “Glitter”, a track that I have listened to countless times.

With that being said, I admit this is their most accessible song probably for a western audience.  For one, it’s almost all in English and it’s one of their most repetitive songs (and I usually dislike repetitive lyrics).   Everything about the musical arrangement and vocals works perfectly with this track.  A little techno style with Nakata’s arrangement this time around.  The lyrics are pretty simple:

Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you forever
Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you forever

Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you forever
Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you I wanna do

The version performed was the extended mix which transitioned to “Welcome to Perfume World~”.  But what is interesting thing about “Spending all my time” is that it may have never come to be. Written by Yasutaka Nakata, the lyrics were all in English and uncomfortable because of it, they each begged Nakata to rewrite the lyrics and incorporate Japanese lyrics and if it was not accepted, to not make the song an A-side.  Personally, I’m glad that Nakata reconsidered because I don’t want to hear J-Pop performers forced to sing a whole song in English, if they can’t or feel uncomfortable of doing so.

The second song performed in the concert was their latest single “Magic of Love” and a fun and delightful pop track and was thrilled that their new song was featured in the concert.  But I did notice that their single prior to “Magic of Love”, “Mirai no Museum” was not performed but the coupling song “Daijobani” was.

The third song performed was “Laser Beam”.  A song with with cool synth and beats, catchy with that digital style, “Laser beam” is a song about a person who is excited of seeing a person you like gaze at you.  The gaze is like a “laser beam” that pierces through the person’s heart and it’s a love beam that is the color of a rainbow.

The group then performed several of their popular hits such as “Polyrhythm”, “Spring of Life”, “SEVENTH HEAVEN”.

The seventh song “Spice” featured a catchy, upbeat single that continues to feature the synth pop arrangements that Yasutaka Nakata is known for.  The single is about being excited about something unexpected and that the spice of curiosity that is within you.  The song is about being in the same room with a person you like but the excitement makes the person tremble.  But I loved how the fans reacted to the song.

While “Mirai no Museum” was not performed, it was cool to hear their quick upbeat coupling track “Daijyobani” performed.  But throughout the concert, Perfume really went all out with their hits such as “Electro World”, “FAKE IT”, “DREAM FIGHTER” and “Chocolate Disco”.

The final song (before the encore) was “MY COLOR”, a song with a permeating synth groove and a track about a person who has been waiting for a mail from the person she likes.  She wants to see the person badly and hopes that her color, which is the color of excitement, reaches the person that she likes.  Great audience participation for this track!

The encore  track was “GLITTER” (European Version) and is a catchy song featured in English that starts of at mid-tempo until it reaches the chorus.  Am upbeat dance track that may seem happy, but the lyrics are somewhat sad as the song is about how a person has a sparkling dream, both people made a promise.  But until that day comes, she won’t cry at all and will pray for the person and laugh with them.  But instead of waiting, she feels she may need to take the chance and just do it or things won’t change, but she needs “Glitter”.  It’s a bit hard to explain the lyrics but it is a song about hope and just taking the initiative.

As for the MC portions, because Perfume are not native English speakers, they kept the MC to a minimum and focused on the music.

Overall, having attended Japanese rock live viewings, it was great to see a J-Pop live viewing and I hope by the number of people that attended and their reaction to the concert, will lead Live Viewing Japan to bring more J-Pop concerts to the big screen to the U.S.A.

While I’m not sure if the East Coast will be able to see these concerts or they were exclusive to Los Angeles (it’s important to note that part of the success of the live viewings was partly because of Anime Expo 2013 which was held on the same weekend but also a few blocks away from Regal Cinema).

But the experience of attending Perfume’s “Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd” was an amazing experience and I hope to see them perform live in the United States in the near future.

For more information on Perfume, please visit their official website here (In Japanese) or their Global Site (in English)

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