By Andrew Bansal
Japanese experimental rock band Man With A Mission formed in 2010 but due to their unique presentation, eclectic musical style and extremely entertaining live shows, they’ve gained widespread popularity in their home country and have broken out to the United States and other territories as well. They did a short US tour a few months ago and played a sold-out show at the Roxy in West Hollywood, with a special appearance from guest collaborator Sid Wilson of Slipknot. Before the show, I sat down with Sid and MWAM guitarist/vocalist Jean-Ken Johnny to talk about the band and their collaboration with Sid. Sid has done a remix on the song ‘Distance’ which features on the band’s latest EP ‘Don’t Feel The Distance’, released on March 4th and available on iTunes here. Check out the conversation below.
First of all, for people who’re not familiar with the band, you’re Man With A Mission. What is that mission?
JK: What our mission is? Actually, we can’t tell the whole secret of what we do, but as long as you listen to our music and come to our shows, you’re going to find a hint about that. So just come to our show and you’ll come to know what our mission is.
Sid: Life is kind of a mission, I think. There’s definitely a mission that a lot of people are on. I guess you could say that.
JK: He knows a lot more than me! (laughs)
To express your mission, how did you come up with this kind of music?
JK: Well, we’ve listened to a lot of kinds of music but probably the heaviest influence for us was the music in the 90s in America and in Japan as well. A lot of rock music was so mixed up, it was kind of alternative but a kind of mixture movement was going on in those days.
What were some of the artists that influenced you in the 90s?
JK: Specially in Japan, we had a really big hit from the band High Standard. They came to America sometimes, and they’re like a melodic punk rock band. In those days they made a huge festival in Japan called Air Jam, which was big movement. They were very independent with a do-it-yourself style, and that was great.
I think there’s a lot of different elements in your music. Is it a freely expressive kind of thing for you where you allow yourself to do pretty much anything?
JK: Yeah, to tell you the truth, we don’t actually care about which genre we’re in. If it sounds cool, we just gather it all, mix it up and do what we want to do.
So, we have Sid here and I’d like to ask you, how did you get involved with these guys?
Sid: I did a remix with these guys, a touch of jungle. It’s hard for people to know the difference between jungle and drum-and-bass, but jungle’s a little more aggressive. As he was just saying now, I think any kind of genre can be brought into any other genre. I’ve done a lot of work and I’ve always stayed on top of working with other artists in Japan. It’s stuff I’ve been doing for several years, so this was like the obvious next matchup, and for Japan right now, they’re it. So we got together and we did the track. There’s a punk rock background in what they’re doing, so I was able to touch on that more and get aggressive. I always dig working with bands like that and I’ve always noticed that in the Japan scene they’ve got a big punk rock background and punk mashed with pop music at some point to get to where we are now. I’m always fond of anything that’s got punk roots in it, somehow. It’s fun and an honor to work with this band, definitely. And look at him! He’s a wolf! (laughs) I’ve been some gas mask creep thing, a skeleton guy, a robot and all different kinds of things through the years. These guys are wolves and now I’m in a wolf clan, man. It’s good! I’ve got family around right now.
JK: The first time we met, it was in a bar in Japan. He was drinking there and my friend told us that Sid was coming. We love Slipknot and we love him, so we just went to see this guy. He was already having fun that time and we just started talking to him as fans and asked him if there was any chance for him to may be one day do a remix on our song or something like that. I thought that was going to be impossible but he just said, “Cool, I’ll do it!” I couldn’t believe what he was saying, but that’s how it happened.
Sid: Whenever I go to Japan, I just go and hang out at night or in my free time when I’m not working. I don’t just stay shacked up in a hotel or something, I go out and experience the people, what they are doing at night, and not necessarily like going to experience a different culture, but more like experiencing my kind of culture, in Japan (laughs). Because our musical culture is a worldwide thing. You can find people, family and friends to be with inside of that culture everywhere. So I think it’s more about finding those people all around the world and they’re able to really show you what their homes and different places around the world are all about. That creates a strong bond between people, you know. We need more of that in the world today.
You guys are half-wolves and Sid said he finds that cool about you. In your opinion, what makes wolves the ultimate creature?
JK: The wolves in Japan are like the guardians of all the Gods, and even in Europe, there’s a wolf god. We’re not really sure what’s going on about that in this part of the world, but we were just made like this. I don’t really know why we have the wolf’s head.
Sid: It freaked me out, which only happens to me once every ten years on a full moon!
With the kind of thing you do, Sid, you’re open to working on pretty much any kind of music, right? Or is there anything you would not do?
Sid: Yeah I’m pretty limitless with my genres of music that I work with. It can be absolutely anything, but I’ve got to be somewhat of a fan of it, or hear something inside of it that I enjoy, that I may be able to pull out of it. I grew up on all different kinds of music. My family is from the UK. I used to go to Oxford which is where my family was, and there’s a lot of students coming there from all around the world. So I was around a mixture of different cultures and people from different places as a kid growing up, and I got exposed to a lot of different music too as a kid because on the radio there they would play a whole crazy mixture of music. Then I would come back to the States and I would get all the American stuff. So I was getting everything from both mainstream pop worlds, you know. So I’ve always been open to all styles of music, and to me music is the strongest form of communication in the world. Everyone understands music, somehow. Even fucked up people enjoy music! So there’s a way to get through to people, even people that have problems. Being able to make that connection with all these styles of music everywhere, be successful with it and put your voice in such a high place to where so many people can hear whatever you’re screaming out across the world. So the wider the spread of genres of music you have, the further your voice will you reach in what you’re trying to communicate. If you have something good to say and something positive that has to do with growth or evolution of humanity, that’s a really good platform to do it on.
Sid, you mentioned earlier that you enjoy anything that has punk roots. Are there any punk artists in particular that have influenced you?
Sid: Just a lot of it. The obvious ones are Sex Pistols because my family being from England. I think that was the big thing, Whenever I was visiting England for the summer, for Christmas and for New Years’, I’d see all these punk rockers walking around over there, you know. I thought that was really cool because they were all so colorful and wild looking. It was like a Mad Max movie or something. I felt like that would make me more comfortable, so I latched onto that somehow. But then I liked hip-hop too because they were also a colorful people. So those two worlds opened me up to every style. It was like, if I like punk rock and hip hop, I can enjoy everything. I grew up listening to a lot of my parents’ music too, a lot of old rock stuff.
I have a question for you, Jean-Ken. As these creatures with the head of a wolf and the body of a human, did it take time for you to get used to playing on stage?
JK: Oh yeah, the first time we played in Japan, everyone was like, who are these freaky creatures? But three years ago we actually played here at the Roxy and the Whisky, and at that time a lot of the Americans didn’t even care about what we looked like. They just thought of us as some kind of freaky band from Japan. But after we played the songs, they were going crazy. And I also believe what Sid just said, that music easily just connects people and it doesn’t matter where you come from and what you are. I actually experience that in America, so it’s really good to come back here once again.
In America, what has your fan-following been like? Has it developed in the last three years?
JK: Right now, we’re just working on it. We haven’t even released any albums here yet. We’re going to try doing that may be next year.
Sid: And also, they do songs in English as well as Japanese, as in two versions of the same song. That’s a skill in itself. Being able to change your lyrics from one language to another and stuff have the same melody and flow, that’s some scientific shit right there, for real (laughs). May be you’ve got to be part-wolf or something to be able to do that!