I grew up LOVING taiko drums. I remember trips with my family to festivals in LA’s Little Tokyo in the summers to watch taiko groups performing. My dad had taiko albums playing on our stereos at home all the time, and when he wasn’t playing them, I would borrow them so that I could listen to them on my own. So when my friends the band Random Ninjas started up as a rock band integrating taiko drums as a core part of their sound, I was ECSTATIC. Like our Bad 8Asian Mike, I love rock as much as I love taikos, and to have both in one sound is just a music lover’s dream come true. Add on top of that strong female vocals, and this is my favorite band in the universe, hands down.
They’ve got a free show at the Los Angeles Hard Rock Cafe at Hollywood and Highland right next to the Academy Award’s Dolby Theater this Friday June 7th @ 9pm. As expected for an American rock band with taiko drums, Random Ninjas has regularly performed at San Francisco’s Asian Heritage Street Celebration, LA’s Asian American Expo, Little Tokyo’s Nisei Week, LA’s Chinatown Summer Nights, and the Zenshuji Soto Mission’s Annual Obon Festival. The video above is of their performance at the LA’s Chinatown Summer Nights. Their awesome first full length album RANDOM HERO just got remixed and remastered. Here’s 8Questions with one of Random Ninja‘s taiko rock drummers (first ever?), The Yusuke:
How did you get started playing taiko drums?
I started playing taiko with a local taiko group called Zendeko when I was around 6 or 7.
Tell us about some memorable performances you have had as a taiko drummer.
Not sure why but the one performance that I keep coming back to is the Closing Ceremony we did for World Cup 94 when it was at the Rose Bowl. Probably things like being able to meet the legendary jazz drummer Peter Erskine, or recording in studio for the first time and being able to watch Whitney Houston and Kenny G in person made it stand out.
Why and how did you decide to become a rock taiko-ist?
I wouldn’t call myself a rock taiko-ist. Haha almost makes it seem like I’m an expert of taikoism. It really wasn’t something that I said one day, “I’m going to play taiko in a rock band.” It kind of started with a person I met in college that needed taiko drums in a cover band they were starting up and from there it kind of transitioned to us playing our own material. But even back when I was playing with Zendeko, I thought it would be kind of cool to play in front of people in venues like the Whisky and the House of Blues.
What’s different between performing with a taiko group versus playing with a rock band?
Playing in a taiko group you’re playing with 6 – 10 people together all at once. Each drum has a specific role to the music. There’re a lot more things going on visually with form and uniformity. Every group is different, but for our group, we were trained to look straight and focus beyond the audience. Playing in a rock band is completely different than playing in a taiko group. It’s more about going wild, releasing energy, engaging the audience by looking at them and pointing at them, jumping around, and dancing. Not to say we didn’t do that in taiko, but it was more structured with our taiko group. Musically taiko was more rhythm based. Playing with Random Ninjas, I started to notice more of the chord progressions in music and the bass lines and trying to fit my sound with what the bass is playing or what the guitar is playing. I think physically, taiko group performing is more strenuous in the movements, the position you are playing in, and the focus it demands.
What’s your favorite taiko song to perform and why?
I don’t really have a favorite song to perform. I like playing them all. Each song we played with Zendeko was unique and different from each other. Differences like form, rhythm, position, and tempo make every song we play unique and fun.
What’s your favorite rock taiko song to perform and why?
What do you see as the future of rock taiko?
I think the popularity with taiko is definitely catching the eye of some mainstream acts. I know Zendeko was able to play with Korn, and I was able to play with Kanye at the VMAs a few years ago. Recently I saw Taiko Project, which is another taiko group here, played with 30 Seconds to Mars. Using taiko drums with western instruments isn’t a new thing. Hiroshima was probably one of original bands that incorporated traditional Japanese instruments like koto and taiko to western instruments to make jazz music. But it would be nice to see more rock bands that have taiko drums players as permanent members in the group like us.
What is your favorite Asian comfort food?