Anime heavy metal band ANIMETAL USA shredded their way through the Los Angeles Convention Center during Anime Expo 2012, and we had a chance to sit down with them this year. Our resident staffers, Salvador Mateos, Jason Young and Theodore Mak talked to the group about their history and their inspiration for creating heavy metal covers of various anime songs including “Pegasus” and “Rock Lee.”
T-ONO: Can you introduce yourself and give us your favorite anime song that you perform?
METAL RIDER: [I’m] METAL RIDER, Mike Vescera, and the favorite one I would have to go with is “Rock Lee” that’s from the new series offshoot of Naruto that we actually did the theme song for. I’ve got to say that’s my favorite ‘cause we were a part of it since we recorded it and created it.
STORM BRINGER: Rudy Sarzo, also known as STORM BRINGER. I am going to beat you to it: “Pegasus.” *laughs* Definitely Saint Seiya, yeah it’s very alive, very heavy the way that we perform it. To me that is like a hit radio rock song.
TANK: I am Jon Dette, known as TANK, and my favorite song that we just played… I'm going to go with “Touch.” Just from a drawn out point, it’s just fun to perform live.
SPEED KING: Hi I'm Chris Impellitteri originally known as SPEED KING. Well of course Rudy grabbed our love for Saint Seiya, you know “Pegasus” is a great crowd pleaser and I'll agree with TANK. I love the new opening song for the new record, it’s called “Touch.” It’s a great song, I love that song, and of course it’s one of the biggest ones that goes over great and I think it’s ‘cause we are all technically challenged and are having fun with our “Mazinger” melody. That is always fun and wild, especially live.
METAL RIDER: They are all great in some way. We love playing all of them but we have our little favorites.
T-ONO: In a recent interview, Rudy, you introduced yourself as STORM BREAKER but on your site you go by STORM BRINGER so which is it?
SPEED KING: He brings the storm.
STORM BRINGER: Well, controls the weather.
SPEED KING: Actually, that’s right it is very beautiful in Southern California because of Rudy because he is a STORM BRINGER. He cleared the skies.
STORM BRINGER: Well one of my super powers is flight. I can fly, I got flying squirrels in my outfit and they just come alive.
SPEED KING: Tell them their names.
STORM BRINGER: Luka and Coco the flying squirrels.
T-ONO: Can you tell us a little about your outfits?
SPEED KING: Snake. Well, sure, obviously mine is designed for speed, and obviously the snake, its strike is very fast...totally made that up.
METAL RIDER: Yes, you did very good, and mine is, you know, METAL RIDER. I’m just supposed to be a badass metal machine, you know.
SPEED KING: And what is remarkable about this is he got like the triceratops horns. What’s interesting is if you notice now, we did this first but look at the new KISS outfit: someone copied us. Not saying anything but just saying it’s obvious.
STORM BRINGER: You just said it in the interview. *laugh*
SPEED KING: Gene Simmons now has these horns quite sometime after we did it first, *laugh*
STORM BRINGER: I don’t think you want to get Gene started on anything. *laughs*
METAL RIDER: Strike *laughs* that, Buzz.
SPEED KING: I like Gene, he’s my friend.
METAL RIDER: Edit, *Buzz* delete that. *laughs*
TANK: If we were on an airplane we would invite Chris into the bathroom to play with the blue water.
SPEED KING: Is that the stuff that is on your eye? *laughs*
T-ONO: So we heard that Marty Freedman brought you guys together. Can you tell us how that happened?
METAL RIDER: Umm, well, Marty actually brought us in for an arrange cause he does a lot of this stuff in Japan. I mean he does it all the time so he only came in for some of the stuff for arranging, not all, and that is really his involvement. He didn’t bring us together, that was our own doing, but when this came about, and him just having such a great understanding of this already, we brought him in to arrange and the art of it. We still work with him here and there. But that’s really what happened, so.
T-ONO: So what made you decide to perform covers for anime?
METAL RIDER: Well, I sang for a band called Loudness from Japan for years. I lived there so I was very aware of the anime and the manga and all that. Rudy is into animation, he does insane animation. So just us together, you know we knew of the original ANIMETAL and we just thought it would be a great idea for us to be able to do this and you know, I’ve got kids that watch this stuff and you know then Sony brought us all together really, but that’s really what happened.
T-ONO: Talking about the original ANIMETAL what would you say are the similarities between both groups and are the differences?
METAL RIDER: I think they come from the same places we do. Heavy metal bands like Anthem and other heavy metal bands. I think what differs is our American twist on it and our versions of the songs. I don’t know, I mean there are definitely differences.
STORM BRINGER: We talk about this, you know, so we are aware there are some similarities and some differences. I think there is an understanding from all of us that [ANIMETAL] is more culture specific to Japan, while we are more the of the global appeal. Maybe it is because we also sing in English which, you know, opens up many other doors as for bringing the music, but with English lyrics and English versions. The fact that we have all been in globally successful bands creates a whole different awareness about who is in the band so people will be interested to find out, “oh, what are they doing? oh let me check this out.” So you know it’s less Japanese-centric and more of a global mass appeal.
METAL RIDER: That’s a great answer. Not to interject, but truthfully what Rudy said is true. When we put this together, ANIMETAL, the Japanese version of the early 90’s, I really think it was a great idea that we capitalized on and tried to expand. I will be honest, I never heard ANIMETAL and the reason I did that was when we were arranging music I didn’t want to take from them. I wanted to see what we could do on our own musically, how we can arrange the music, and create original music and embed that. But I think what Rudy said, it encapsulates it. Basically, to simplify because again, we are international musicians and we are doing this in English and we had acceptance in many different countries. We’re able to really reach a mass audience where it’s not just specific only in Japan. We can take this to Spain, we can take it to America, we can take it to Germany, we can do anything we want with it because of who we are and what we have been doing for the last twenty-five years of our career.
STORM BRINGER: Thirty. *laughs*
T-ONO: The 2011 Loud Park Festival was the group's world debut and you performed with Momoiro Clover Z. How was that?
METAL RIDER: Yes, that was awesome. We also performed with Aniki (Ichirou Mizuki).
Everyone: Oh yea, Mr. Mizuki, that was cool.
T-ONO: What other artists would ANIMETAL USA love to share the stage with in the future?
STORM BRINGER: Did you mention JAM Project, the last tour that we did?
METAL RIDER: Yea, we just did four shows with the JAM Project. You know they are all anime singers and that was great. God, there are just so many. We just did a show with some of the people who do the voices for some of the anime. We can’t say anyone specific, but just as many people as we can from these shows. If they embrace us we are willing to do them with anyone.
T-ONO: So duets with seiyuu in the future?
METAL RIDER: Oh absolutely, as much as we can.
STORM BRINGER: But it’s just scary for them to get on the stage with us in the first place because we are very loud.
T-ONO: Well Clover Z had their faces painted right?
METAL RIDER: Yea, we were surprised how much they have taken us in as one of them. They embrace everything we are doing and they love it and we are so happy for that.
STORM BRINGER: It’s truly an honor.
METAL RIDER: Really is.
SPEED KING: As a matter of fact these people, they’re legends.
STORM BRINGER: We did an interview with BABY METAL before we left Japan, and you know we are thinking about doing a collaboration there with them.
METAL RIDER: They’re amazing, yea.
SPEED KING: They are a little older than us so it will be a little while. *laughs*
METAL RIDER: They’re really young, but they are really cute girls and they cross J-pop and Metal and are really, really cool.
SPEED KING: And Beiber too, don’t forget we are going to do one.. *laughs* We are going to allow Justin Beiber to come in and do a little something. We are going to punish him with some metal.
T-ONO: What are the challenges that you have encountered in singing anime cover songs?
METAL RIDER: The only challenge really is when we are doing a translation for a song. I’ll get the translation of the Japanese lyrics and just make sure its true to the original lyrics. I don’t want to get away from the original meaning, so that is the biggest challenge. So that’ll go back and forth a little bit on that. Other than that singing is great, you know. There hasn’t been a problem at all. It’s just actually making sure we keep the integrity of the original meaning so that would be it.
T-ONO: Would you be open to singing some songs in Japanese? Or is that too challenging?
METAL RIDER: I’ve already been open to that in Japan. I’ve actually had to do that, yes not entire songs, but I’ve gone in and sang verses in Japanese.
T-ONO: How challenging is singing in Japanese?
METAL RIDER: Um, very challenging especially when I find out that morning. *laughs*
METAL RIDER: But yea even on our records I am singing some stuff in Japanese. I am open to doing it.
T-ONO: Mike, you said you lived in Japan for a while. Do you speak any Japanese?
METAL RIDER: 少し (sukoshi). A little, just a little bit. I can understand more then I can speak but then I get shy when I am there.
STORM BRINGER: How long did you live in Japan? You where there for a while, right?
METAL RIDER: Like three and a half years on and off. I lived in Tokyo. So I can speak some. It’s not so difficult, I mean it’s difficult for me, but I kind of understand the accent and the phonetic stuff so it helps a lot.
T-ONO: SPEED KING (Chris) I heard that you and Marty arranged some of the music and riffs. Can you walk us through the process of going from the anime song to the rock version?
What I try to do or where I get involved is looking at the original song. The melodic structure, musically speaking, comes first and then I try to think of how we can make this heavy, but not destroy the original song. We want to compliment the song, so okay that is the first thing.
Then I have to look at the key and see how we can make it faster. You know, put it in a heavy metal format. To be honest, when I was doing these records I really look at the [original] band. When we first started, Jon wasn’t here. We still had Scott Travis from Judas Priest. But to be honest, most of the music, especially like “Mazinger Medley,” I was looking at the history of each guy and when I would play the riffs. I would kind of visualize them playing it. I would try to take us on a journey.
Rudy is a great example. I would listen, I mean I love Rudy with Randy on the first two Ozzy Osbourne records. I’ve seen them live so when we were doing “Mazinger Medley,” I immediately thought of “Mother Revelation Earth” which is an Ozzy Osbourne song that I love. Well if you really listen to the intro of “Mazinger Medley” you’re hearing a lot of that, you know, and I would try to encapsulate what each guy had done whether it was Judas Priest, or whatever, even with Mike with Loudeness or his band Obsession.
Then I would try to think how would this work and so once I got into that frame of mind, I would just constantly let that absorb me as I am listening to the original anime version. Somehow as you’re playing and demoing it, it just starts to flow naturally and comes out. Of course you know, I do the Impellitteri solo and we get the hibiki, you know crazy classical stuff, and to be honest that’s the process.
METAL RIDER: How much of this *scratches head* is there?
SPEED KING: *laughs* There is a lot of this *scratches head* and a lot of me listening back and going *nods in disbelief* “OH!” *laughs*
METAL RIDER: And some of the songs are so like the “Girls Medley.” Some of it is actually almost like “Little Child” from the 50s lullabies. You know we made metal versions out of it.
SPEED KING: Well thank god Marty did the “Girl Medley” cause I…that wasn’t mine.
METAL RIDER: Oh that’s right. That’s right there was stuff even the other stuff there was a lot of that you know.
SPEED KING: But for me you know “Touch” is a great example as it opens both records in Japan and America. If you hear that, you obviously hear the very intro we’re talking about. The popular theme right of the song “Touch” that is the opening theme, but we are making it heavier. Kind of like what Van Halen did with “You Really Got Me.” So we do the same thing and then of course about a minute fifteen into it we really start getting almost like a Black Sabbath kind of vibe which reminds me what he did with “Speak of the Devil” with Ozzy. The guitar solo all of a sudden goes, into the total you know, classical craziness. But it is that kind of process of thinking how would I envision Rudy, Jon, Mike, and Chris playing this music based on what they’ve done historically.
T-ONO: Finally a message to all your fans?
Interview conducted by Salvador Mateos and Jason Young.