Rise Of The Northstar bear one of the most striking images in modern hardcore. Draped in Japanese gakuran uniforms onstage, ROTNS translate an unabashed love of anime and comic books through the ferocity of their music. Recently signing to Nuclear Blast and dropping their debut full-length Welcame last month, we sat down with vocalist Vithia to talk manga, posers, New York hardcore, and why you shouldn’t call them “cosplayers”.
MB: Suffice to say, combining hardcore with a shonen-style aesthetic is a bizarre idea that somehow worked super well. Where did this idea come from?
Vithia: From my teenage years. I’ve been boozed with manga and heavy music since my childhood, even before the age of reason. I had a difficult schooling and recognized myself in lots of these characters who “take too much space”, in manga like Slam Dunk, Rookies or GTO. For me, mixing my two passions when I created the band was an all natural process. Since the beginning ROTNS has been linked to Japan, and our best testimony is the title of our first EP.
MB: When deciding that you were going to adopt Japanese culture as an influence, did you do so in hopes of intercepting a specific audience?
V: No. We firstly play for ourselves, and this band is the band we dreamed of seing on stage when we were 15. There is no trickery behind this, and personally it’s something that comes from the deepest within me. Going on stage wearing gakuran is not an easy thing, there’s of lot of guys in the scene who absolutely do not know anything about our references and who smile a little bit too much before seeing us going on stage… then, when the show starts, they usually shut up [laughs]
MB: There’s a huge amount of sonic variety on Welcame. The two-step hardcore and hip-hop elements are my personal favourites. Were there any artists or inspirations that were important to you guys during the writing process for the record?
V: Once again, it’s mostly what we grew up with that influenced us, 90’s classics like Suicidal Tendencies, Body Count, Rage Against The Machine, Onyx or Machine Head. For a band, the first album is often the result of more than one or two years worth of writing… it’s all your youth that you put in it, that’s why those are generally the “rawest” records all genres combined. Anyway, that’s the case for us, this album crystallizes 15 years of a tortuous adolescence.
MB: Seems natural to follow up that question with: who are your favourite Japanese musicians?
V: This will sound weird to you but I just listen to a very few Japanese bands. I discovered their HxC scene through our tours over there and their bands are really good, but not as much as ours. But there’s a guy whose soundtracs listen to a lot, and it’s Seiji Yokoyama. The music he wrote for Saint Seiya is awesome and follows me on every road around the world.
MB: Signing to Nuclear Blast has been a huge leap for you guys. What have been the benefits of signing to metal’s biggest independent label, and what kind of support have you received?
V: Promotion time is not over yet so it’s quite early to answer you, but let’s say that now the record is very well distributed, it’s stronger than a simple HxC network where kids complain about not finding our EPs in stores. It also opens doors to festivals that did not take the time to listen to us in the early days, and finally, I’ve never had to answer to so many interviews, ever [laughs]
MB: Since your association with anime and manga is something you guys seem pretty proud of, what’s your opinion on ‘nerdiness’ in music right now, particularly metal and hardcore?
V: Mmm… We’re mostly proud of being an authentic band. I see many guys call us posers and that makes me laugh. We go on stage dressed all in black, we don’t promote anyone and we just represent ourselves, when a lot of bands are just christmas trees sponsored by the whole planet.. I don’t give a damn about nerds and all of this, I use the manga metaphor to spread a message, it helps me to embody my words, to make it understandable. Don’t even dare to call us cosplayers. During high school we all were Furyos, dirty unstable dunces. This band is just the reflect of what we were as teenagers.
MB: Is a DIY ethic still important for bands in 2014?
V: For the other bands I don’t know, but it is for us. Since the beginning I’ve had doubts about the overrated abilities of most actors in the music industry. Many things we should delegate are better done by ourselves. On top of this, the band is a real artistic outlet for me and I don’t only handle the writing of the lyrics. I create our merch myself, I conceive all our imagery, draw our artwork, I direct our music videos but most of all, I establish a rational conquest strategy. Nowadays it feels like a lot of the record companies apply the same framework when developing new acts… which leads to bands that are more similar with each other. Anyway yeah it’s important for us, one of the reasons why I created my label Repression Records and signed the band, is to have an almost total hold.
MB: Any advice for indie artists hoping to emulate you guys’ success?
V: We’ll talk about success when we’ll play in 6000 capacity venues! [laughs] Anyway, be unique, set goals and never let it go. If you believe in your project, if you have a vision and faith, then just go for it. May nobody, from your close relations to your enemies, ever prevent you from moving forward.
MB: And finally, who would win in a fight, Goku or Kenshiro?