Hanabie. – Rising Superstars

Thursday, 12th October 2023

It’s a cool and rainy fall day in New York City. Outside the Gramercy Theater, fans like up hours ahead of doors, weathering the storm in hopes of securing a prime spot inside the venue to see a Japanese band that has been turning heads internationally. The band in question is that of Hanabie, who greet me in the Gramercy’s lower level with friendly smiles and a relaxed, confident energy. A distinct contrast from the band’s frenetic approach to metalcore, but one that is warranted with the band’s more recent surge in popularity overseas.

While Hanabie might be buzzing now, it’s been a long road, full of hard work. Forming back in 2015 when band members Matsuri, Yukina, and Hettsu were still in high school, Hanabie has always had some grand ambitions. “When we first started [the band], we had no idea that we would ever travel overseas,” states guitarist/vocalist Matsuri. “But we did think that we would be somewhat successful in Japan.” In a country where there’s a much more formidable and burgeoning scene of all female musical groups, vocalist Yukina adds, “Being girls, there was always the mission that we wanted to be number one in the heavy music scene in Japan. We never imagined though, that we would be here in the United States like we are today. We are over the moon about that!”

“We want to be more internationally recognized. We want to be able to meet more people and let them know about Hanabie,” Yukina urges. That ambition is palpable given the band’s current stint of international touring dates. After playing shows in their homeland, the band also wrapped a sold out 10-date European tour before touching down in the United States for a 20-date coast to coast run. This opportunity has also allowed them to see different types of fan reactions across the globe.

“In Japan, it’s the same language, so the response has been immediate, fast, and proper. The Japanese crowd is used to more traditional Japanese sounds, which we incorporate in our music. It’s easier for them to get [into] it, since they are more used to it. The reaction to our music has been very good there,” exudes Matsuri. “In Europe, it was different. The reaction was very wild. When you ask them to bounce, they would really, really bounce. That was the first time we had seen something like that, and it was a good experience for us.” When it comes to the United States so far, the response has also been different. “People tend to listen to the music a little bit more. There’s a little more freedom and individuality in terms of how people react to our music [live].” She continues, “Each person reacts differently, whereas in other countries, the response is more in-sync with the group. It was another fresh perspective for us. Every country has been different, just in general.”

With a demanding touring route and scheduling, it hasn’t left much time for the band to do much when it comes to sightseeing here in the States. However, Matsuri, clad in a Buc-ee’s longsleeve, says the band has enjoyed what they have seen so far. Laughter emanates from the group when I mention that there has been a lot of Buc-ee’s on their individual Instagram stories as of late. Matsuri adds that on a recent trip into a Five Below the band “was surprised to see all of the anime characters and Sanrio merchandise.” Bassist Hettsu chimes in, “We loved going to Walmart too!”

Hettsu, who started the tour from the seated position when playing live in the United States, due to an injury to her leg, states she’s on the mend. “I can walk a lot better now. I’m almost back to normal.” Sitting at the end of the table is drummer Chika, the band’s most recent addition, who joined earlier this year. It’s been a whirlwind of an introduction for her, from the release of the band’s sophomore effort (and major label debut) Raisei wa Ijin! [Reborn Superstar!], to international touring all in a span of a few months. “Half a year ago, I hadn’t thought about touring much at all, let alone just touring throughout Japan,” she continues, “Being here in the US, touring with the band, it just doesn’t seem real! I still don’t even speak [much] English!”

Nonetheless, this first US tour has provided Hanabie with excellent opportunities. Initially paired with Star Wars-themed act Galactic Empire, the band developed a bond with them as their string of dates continued on. “The European tour was totally different. Every night we played with different bands. Here we developed a friendship with [Galactic Empire] that grew day by day. Every day, as the friendship was building, the energy kept getting better and better,” Matsuri adds, “Now we are touring with different bands [Fox Lake and Dropout Kings], and the chemistry is different once again. But we are looking forward to it.”

Yukina points to one of the festivals the band played in between the two stints of their US run as having one special moment in particular. “We recently played Louder than Life in Louisville, Kentucky and there was another Japanese band called SiM playing there. They were performing on the stage next to us. We will actually be touring with them in Japan for a couple of shows. We covered SiM back when we were in high school, so we have a lot of respect for them. So when we finally met, we were like, ‘we are two Japanese bands and we are both going to America so let’s go kick some ass!’ It was a really cool moment.”

Hanabie looks forward to more interactions with other Japanese bands on the road, even if the opportunities haven’t quite lined up just yet. “We haven’t toured too much with other bands [in Japan], but we are friendly with them,” states Matsuri. “We have played a few shows and festivals that feature both heavy and idol bands, and everyone is very friendly – but it’s a one-time show. We hang-out together, or go for a drink.”

The bonds that Hanabie made amongst themselves started off back in school, coming together over a band called Maximum the Hormone, an equally eclectic Japanese act that mixes genres from metal and punk alongside others such as hip-hop, funk, and even ska. “We listened to [Maximum the Hormone] and I would try to copy what they did. I practiced, practiced, and practiced, and by about 10th grade, I had made the vocal style into something more of my own.” One look at Yukina and you might not think her capable of producing the immense growls that she emits not only on disc, but performs even more masterfully in the live setting. But her persistence has more than paid off, never having to resort to any vocal coach, something more common in the West. “I just practiced morning, day, and night, and it finally started coming out in my own voice,” she declares.

Yukina, along with Matsuri’s clean vocals, are only one part of Hanabie’s unique sound, which has since been dubbed, “Harajuku-core.” The term, ‘Harajuku-core’ was something that was lovingly bestowed upon the band by their listeners. “It was a natural evolution that the name came about,” says Matsuri, “After people listened to the music, even overseas [fans], started calling it ‘Harajuku-core.’” She doesn’t let those notions overshadow their vision for the band though. “I don’t even think about writing for Harajuku-core or having the music sound a certain way. It’s all natural in doing what we like best, and what works for Hanabie.”

So what is the band all about then? “Hanabie itself is about fashion, music videos, trendy words that younger people are using, abbreviations, and things of that sort.” Inevitably, the band’s stylish music videos have brought them a wider audience, both at home and abroad. Yukina stresses the integral nature of the songs and their potential videos to come. “When we come up with a song, we come up with a basic theme. When we make that theme, we also envision what would happen if we made the song into a music video. One song might have lots of girls, for example [“Be the Gal”]. There’s always an underlying thought as to how the music video could come out.”

The band’s latest video, “Be the Gal” epitomizes that sense of style and fashion, as well as Hanabie’s fun attitude. Dance-offs, make-overs, and sprawling bright colors might not scream metal from a traditional sense, but it’s also a reason why it’s drawn in so many fans, both in and outside the genre. The song is also amusingly titled ‘early summer edition.’ When I bring that to the group’s attention, there’s some immediate laughter. Might there be more Gal-time in the future for Hanabie? “Maybe, maybe,” Hettsu smiles. “It’s also a fun element – like saying something is ‘part I,’ so that people wonder if there will be a part II,” adds Matsuri, “The idea of maybe we will, maybe we won’t. It keeps things mysterious.”

While they have some videos that are vibrant and breezy, like a summer day at the pool, Hanabie isn’t afraid to toss in a little bit of darker, satirical elements into their final product either. Videos for tracks like “Pardon Me, I Have to Go Now” and 2021’s “REIWA Dating Apps Generation” offer the band’s frenetic slurry of metal, and a little something more biting, below the surface. “The dark, or satirical element, is something I feel that only our generation can talk about with our generation. I don’t know if others will understand it. But with these more serious topics, we try to keep it from seeming too heavy or too serious,” suggests Matsuri. “We try to keep it a little lighter, while still having a complete understanding of the situation we are discussing.”

With all of these elements working in combination to the band’s success, it seems the sky’s the limit for this Japanese act. To that end, the band tossed out some declarations about their favorite musical acts, in case those dream touring opportunities come forward as Hanabie continues their inevitable climb upwards. Matsuri quickly responds with the Canadian act Counterparts as her first pick. Hettu’s choices gravitate towards their homeland with Secrets and Pisces, while both Yukina and Chika offer a mix of both domestic and international acts. Chika responds with One Ok Rock from Japan, and has her eyes on KoRn overseas. Yukina gives another mention to the personally inspirational Maximum the Hormone, as well as Electric Callboy, for her choices. Clearly, they’ve concocted a list that’s as eclectic and diverse as Hanabie’s sound itself, in giving some insight to their own tastes at the same time.

With the US tour coming to a close by the time this piece publishes, what’s next for Hanabie? “We are playing a big festival in Mexico, then we are going to Australia and New Zealand with Limp Bizkit,” Matsuri explains. “We are also playing a few shows in Asia with While She Sleeps, as well as a few Japanese shows, with some local bands.” “We plan on traveling and touring internationally for the next twelve months,” concludes Yukina. “There’s going to be a lot of traveling and playing shows with different people, all over the place.”

While it’s only been a few months removed from their sophomore effort Raisei wa Ijin!’s release, with such grand touring ambitions, the band is already gathering ideas for new material. “On our days off from tour, we do some songwriting. Hopefully one of those songs will see the light of day.” Yukina continues, “Today at soundcheck, I was saying to Matsuri, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had a song like this?’ So even if we aren’t physically writing music, we are always talking or thinking about the creative side of things. That’s something that always happens, it’s just a matter of when.”

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