Interview with Nicki Matsumoto, who created the Rock of Asia project.
I was able to listen to a preview of Nikki Matsumoto’s 2021 album Rock of Asia “Asian Anthology” back in August last year and was impressed by Matsumoto’s incredibly original view of the metaphysical rock genre. (review) His wonderful combination of authentic Asian instruments and vocals, with a deeply American rock ethos, with a wild folk flavor, and all the spices of Asian tones and charming endless chord structures – is an amazing way to expand your music world.
As the world begins to reopen and international travel becomes easier, let’s hope Rock of Asia prepares to tour and perform. Live performance is a place where mind-blowing music really lives, although the album is also great!
Matsumoto has also created some very exciting music videos so you can get the music in some live form even if you can’t experience it to the fullest!
Please tell us how Rock of Asia (ROA) creates songs, sources where you draw ideas or inspire lyrics and stories, and how you choose the tools to create songs?
First, ROA is not a band. This is my solo project. I started it all in 2009. I write all the songs, music and lyrics, sing, play and arrange the rhythm and everything else. I even write violin parts. And I also fund it. Unofficially this is Nicki Matsumoto’s ROA. That was the name of the first album. But it’s too long, so I cut it down to ROA. Easy to remember.
I try not to write songs like any other songs that exist in this world. I had my first band when I was 14 and I copied those bands that I liked. But after moving to Los Angeles at the age of 18 and speaking and recording there for over ten years, I realized I needed to create my own style.
So I even try not to use the chords that are in the books. I create my own chords. You can hear it in a song like “Lal Dhaga”. Creativity is very important to me. I’m not worried about the fame and fortune that pretty much killed rock and roll. But my music is so valuable because no one can create the music I create.
What motivates you to make music?
I was a music fanatic. I left everything around me, said goodbye to Japan and moved to the United States when I was 18. I was going to discover all the music available in the world. I knew there was nothing for me in Japan. Here in Japan, everything is still so shitty.
And I also have something to say. I have my own political position. I traveled to Palestine every year (which stopped 2 years ago because of this pandemic) to support people under occupation. So some of my songs are very political.
For example, a song called “Belief”, the lyrics sound like it’s about some kind of love affair, maybe words from a man to a woman, but it’s about what the US is telling Japan what to do. I just made a music video for this song last year and uploaded it to YouTube. A couple of days later Colin Powell died. I really used his photo in the video. I know it’s too political for ordinary music fans. But the music is nice. If you don’t watch the video, you might think it’s a love song. But behind this song is a unique message. So writing a song and making it public is a statement. Some songs about global warming and environmental issues. I believe that such statements should be disseminated.
So many Rock of Asia songs are related to real-world events, how does that speak to the participants personally?
The song called “Son” was inspired by the book “Son of Hamas”, written by Mosab Hassan Youssef. He was the son of a Hamas leader. But he betrayed Palestine by converting from Muslim to Jewish. So it has to do with the real world. Such songs reflect my personality.
Again, no other participants ever contributed to the writing of the songs. So this is all my personality. I am like a mad scientist. I don’t care what anyone says. I create my own untouchable music.
Music “Rock of Asia” is a mixture of modern rock and ancient instruments, do you see the future of the project in terms of music?
Some call the ROA a fusion band. And I think that’s a fair call. There are elements of jazz, classical and folk music. But I’m not sitting in my room wondering in which musical direction I’m going to take. Whatever comes out of my feelings, I’ll go for it. I would actually like to bring Kota back for the next album. In fact, I would like to bring tools from Korea, China and Indonesia. I have shown Erhu before. If I can find a player who can contribute. But that was the original idea. Instruments of other Asian cultures. If the ROA is successful, I will expand the group to 10 more players from other Asian countries.
What advice or inspiration can you give to novice musicians and songwriters?
Never give up. You never take advice from anyone.
Please tell, why did the participants of Rock of Asia choose “musical life?”
Again, I don’t know what my participants are doing or thinking. They are all trained professional musicians. And they love parties. We have so much fun together, everyone loves a drink. We are not talking about life. We’re just kidding.
Can you share Rock of Asia’s plans for 2022?
We just recorded a video for a future online broadcast for WE ARE MUSIC from Singapore. It will take place on February 11thth. Then we will go to Okinawa to shoot a video for the song “Guardian Of The Sea”. A song about a goddess on Okinawa and I play Sanshin, a traditional banjo, as on an Okinawan instrument. The video is due out in late February or early March. And unfortunately so far I have no plans. I’m pretty sure I’ll be making a few more music videos in 2022. But there are no touring plans.
I’ve been writing new material and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have enough songs to record another album. I will probably not go to the Middle East again. I went too deep into it. No matter how much I wanted to save the world, now I understand that nothing can be done. I’m done with this part of the world.
Thanks Nikki! We wish you success in your further musical adventures! If you want to learn more about Rock Of Asia, you will find much more using the links below.
“Rock of Asia” (March 2011)
“Virtual Colony” (November 2013)
“Ancient” (November 2019)
“Asian Anthology” (April 2021)
Rock of Asia is the NoHo arts district
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