sound views magazine
On the eve of their first show on campus - Friday night at Peonies, 8pm - we rounded up the rag-tag group of five from local indie rock band Arashi to ask them who they are, what they're about, and how they came to be. What we thought was going to be an easy interview turned out a little differently than we'd expected. Here's the results.
Sound Views: Let me see if I've got this right: Ohno, lead singer; Sho, drummer; Aiba, keyboardist; Nino, guitarist; Jun, bassist?
Sakurai Sho: Correct. Though, we should mention that Nino also writes basically all the music and lyrics as well.
Ninomiya Kazunari: No we don't, people can just read it in the liner notes.
SV: So, why the name 'Arashi'?
Aiba Masaki: Well, it's 'storm', right? We thought that it was appropriate for us, since we're going through that stage of life where everything feels like it's this big whirlwind, and you get battered around.
Matsumoto Jun: But also there's a calm side to it, that calmness you find in the center of the storm.
SV: You all seem like such energetic and individual guys; who's the calming presence in the group?
All but Ohno Satoshi: Leader.
OS: I don't know why they call me 'Leader'. I'm just the singer.
NK: 'Just the singer', he says. He's our voice. Without him, we've got nothing.
AM: Plus, he's just such a calm guy in general, you can't be upset when Ohno's around.
SV: So, you're fairly young guys, how long have you been together?
MJ: Probably about seven years? We all came together when I was... twenty or so? So about seven years now.
SV: Wow, that's a while. How did it happen? How did 'Arashi' come to be?
SS: We blame Nino for that.
AM: One day he invited us to his place and - bam! - we're a band.
MJ: We'd all met him separately, and he invited us over without mentioning any company, and just... expected us to play along.
OS: It was very Nino-like.
SV: Sounds sneaky. What do you have to say for yourself, Nino?
NK: Well, they're not complaining now, are they? Besides, they don't really remember how they met me in the first place; it's not like it matters.
AM: We do too!
MJ: I wish I didn't.
SS: He's always saying we don't remember, but when we ask for the truth he gives us different stories every time. We're obviously right and he's just messing with us.
OS: I like hearing what he comes up with, though.
SV: It doesn't seem like that big of a deal, Nino. What's the story?
NK: Let's hear their versions first.
SV: Okay then. How did you each meet Nino?
AM: I know I met him first; we both went to the same university for a while. He came over and sat next to me in the cafeteria one day. We started talking and hit it off... I think I missed my classes for the rest of the day because of it.
SS: We're not sure who came next, because he won't tell us, but I met him after a gig one night. I was in a band at the time and he just walked up to me as I was packing up my kit and asked if I was enjoying myself. It was a bit presumptuous, and I thought he was a bit of a dick, but he seemed to know I wasn't happy where I was. He's always been too perceptive for his own good.
MJ: Leader, I think you were before me.
OS: Oh. My story is simple. I was doing an open-mic night at a cafe. He said he liked the song I chose, bought me a drink, and we started talking. I don't know what about - it wasn't music, I don't think - but there was something about him I wasn't going to forget, so I made him give me his number.
MJ: My story isn't nearly as romantic as these three. I was handing out fliers for a friend's gig and he just started chatting me up. Asked about the gig, whether I played an instrument. "I bet you're musical," he said, all flirt and no shame. I knew I was falling for something more than a pick-up line when I was talking to him, but he's just so damned charming. Not that you could tell by looking at him.
NK: Charm, Matsumoto, has nothing to do with external beauty.
SV: How poetic. So, maestro, what is the real story?
NK: Okay, so this guy walks into a bar...
Nino remembers meeting Aiba clearly. He met Aiba first out of all of them, at his university's orientation day. He was looking around for something to do after partaking in the free barbecue, when someone caught his eye from across the field. Aiba (though Nino didn't know his name yet) shone out from behind a club stall, grinning at someone across the counter, talking animatedly and gesticulating so wildly he nearly hit a fellow club member in the face. There was something bright about him, something easy and natural and simple, and Nino knew from the moment he saw him that he would be friends with this person. Not in a psychic sort of way, just that he knew life would be more interesting with this person's presence.
He wasn't really surprised when he got to the stand and found that it was the Musicians Club.
"Good afternoon and welcome to the Musicians Club on campus! Can I interest you in a pamphlet, membership form, or free piece of No Brand candy?" Aiba didn't rattle off the greeting in the same bored way that most people at the orientation day clubs and societies stalls did, and it was refreshing.
"I see you know your way to the heart of a poor university student," Nino remarked, taking a piece of red-flavored candy from the proffered bowl. Aiba grinned and laughed a little, so infectious that Nino couldn't help but return a smile.
"No Brand is the way to go," he whispered conspiratorially, though the grin got in the way of his deadpan. Nino nodded, unwrapping the candy and putting it in his mouth so he could just stare for a moment. Even though Nino considered himself a cynical person on his best days, he could feel a rush of warmth and affection for this person whose name he didn't even know yet. "So, what instrument do you play?"
The question jarred Nino out of his reverie and he momentarily forgot the answer to the question. "All of them," he replied mindlessly, and Aiba giggled before Nino could correct himself. "Well, lots of them anyway. Guitar, piano, a bit of drums. The usual."
"Ah, rock band fare, I see." There was judgement in Aiba's voice, but there was something about his smile that made it sound like he was storing away a fact instead of a point for ridicule. "Well, there's plenty of room for everyone! As long as you don't mind hanging out with the orchestra nerds. They're really okay once you get to know them."
"Not an orchestra nerd, yourself, then?" Nino didn't respond to the obvious pitch, because he wasn't really interested in joining a club.
"Not anymore. I was in high school; I played the saxophone. I tried out for it here, but then in my first year my lung collapsed. While I was playing ultimate frisbee, of all things! So I play the keyboard now. My grandmother always used to tell me I have pianist's fingers." Aiba held up his hands and wriggled his long fingers, and Nino supposed he had to agree.
As much as Nino liked to be cynical, the rush of warmth he felt every time Aiba smiled was undeniable, and he wasn't about to ignore something that felt so natural. Still, there was a time and a place for falling for someone, and orientation day wasn't it. Nino knew he would see Aiba again - either by chance or choice - so he took a membership form and another piece of candy, saying he would think about it, and left it there.
Most people say that if you love something you have to let it go; Nino lets go of everything to test his love for it.
So Nino let go of Aiba that day, but when he saw Aiba across the dining hall during the second week of classes, he couldn't ignore the sign. Aiba was sitting alone, which seemed improbable but fortuitous, and Nino went to sit across from him. Nino wasn't upset when Aiba didn't recognize him, and used the hiccup in memory for a fresh start.
What Aiba remembers now is a presumptuous first year sitting across from him at lunch, but what Nino will always remember is seeing a smile through the crowds of new students at orientation day.
Nino didn't really meet Ohno the first time he saw him. Ohno was busking lazily with a friend in the park on a sunny autumn afternoon, and Nino noticed Ohno's voice from across the grass. Nino had been getting some Medieval European History reading out of the way, testing whether chaging his surroundings made any impact on his level of hatred for the class, but he was easily distracted by the distant mellow voice. At first, he just sat and listened, letting the sound wash over him, when the song stopped abruptly, replaced with chuffy laughter. The sound was comfortable and somehow familiar, as warm as the singing voice it had interrupted and Nino knew immediately that he wasn't going to get any more reading done that afternoon.
Nino packed up his things and waited for the singing to start again before he stood and followed the sound. The source wasn't difficult to find - two young men sitting on the grass near the walkway, one with an acoustic guitar and the soft case opened haphazardly in front of them were a likely pair, even though they looked more like they were just shooting the breeze than deliberately busking. Nino didn't want to disturb the singing, though, so he sat at a nearby bench and pretended to continue his reading.
Ohno's voice was beautiful, and Nino came to appreciate it more and more as he listened. It wasn't perfect, and he made plenty of mistakes, a couple of which made Nino wince, but Nino didn't like a perfect voice anyway. He could appreciate the technical ability of some vocalists, but he was a sucker for an interesting voice, someone whose soul crept in along the rough aspirates and imperfect pitch, giving a song meaning beyond the words and melody.
He lost track of time happily listening to the singing and talking alike, stealing glances at the pair every now and then. The sky darkened before he realized he still hadn't turned a page in his feigned reading. When the lights along the pathway lit up, Nino heard the mumbling of friends preparing to pack up for the day and he looked up to watch as they left.
Nino doesn't remember, now, what the friend with the acoustic guitar looked like, and he's never met him again, but he remembers watching Ohno move around and wondering how such a young man could have the movements of an old soul. Ohno's movements were the same then as they are now - slow and deliberate and carefully considered - and coupled with the voice, Nino remembers the tugging on his heartstrings as he watched Ohno leave. It felt a lot like his heart was trying to escape through his throat, but he swallowed it back just as Ohno and his friend passed him on their way out.
Nino doesn't know why (probably because he had been staring), but Ohno looked at him and smiled. Warmth spread through him, and Nino collected himself enough to smile back just before Ohno turned back to his friend and continued on his way.
Nino went back to the park a few times after that with his history reading, to the same place as well as others, but without luck. When the school year was up, Nino dropped out of university, so without any readings and with more pressure on him otherwise, Nino abandoned the fairytale dream of meeting the man with the beautiful voice again.
Later, after Nino had met Jun for the first time but not the second, Nino found himself at a cafe on an unexpected open mic night. He had been there since the afternoon reading some pretentious American novel he wasn't sure he enjoyed but wanted to see through to the end like a trainwreck, and was distracted twenty pages from the end by the event. Nino was about to leave when he saw the young man from the park sitting alone in the corner of the room. His heart stopped and he sat back down, resolved to wait until Ohno either sang or left to go over to him.
Ohno sang that night, a song he said was written for him by a friend who had moved away, and Nino knew he had fallen for him. Their whole story was already romantic, from beginning to end, and though he didn't exactly believe in happily ever after, it had never stopped him from starting once upon a time. When Ohno finished his song, Nino was sitting at his table with a smile and another of the drink he had been nursing before the performance (he was drinking a mint julep at the end of summer, which made Nino fall just a little more).
Ohno now remembers the surprise of a stranger sitting at his table with his favorite drink, the easy conversation they shared about everything and nothing, the affectionate smiles and a strange tug in his gut at the end of the night that made him pull out his phone and ask for Nino's number. But Nino will always remember the ethereal voice that haunted him for months, pulling him to the park in all kinds of weather, and the way his heart skipped a beat when he saw him for the second time.
Jun was the most unlikely find in Nino's life.
Nino was shopping for a new rice cooker, because the one his mother had given him when he moved out (which he suspected they had owned for at least a decade) had finally died. He was in the department store by chance, since it was right next to the train station near his part-time job, even though as a general rule he hated department stores. They smelled like stale perfume and new car, and so did the sales assistants. Just when he was about to give up and settle for walking to the pawn shop on the other side of the station, a sales clerk who definitely did not smell like stale perfume and new car approached him.
"Can I help you?" a soft, pleasant voice asked, and Nino was about to grumble and walk away when he looked up at the clerk. His voice caught in his throat, so he shook his head dumbly instead, using the extended moment to take in the unusual beauty before him.
Jun was pressed and trim and seemed perfect on first glance, doing the white shirt and black trousers uniform not only justice but a true service. But on second glace, Nino noticed the imperfections - the discolored bags beneath his eyes, the haphazard growth of his eyebrows, the layers of hair that hadn't been styled into submission, the bitten fingernails and the way he massaged his left hand absently as though easing strain. As with a flawed voice, Nino appreciated the flawed beauty and the overall effect made his knees buckle a little before he finally found his voice.
"No," he said, voice cracking a little, so he cleared it and tried again. "No, thanks, I'm just looking."
Jun smiled pleasantly, bowing his head slightly. "Of course. If you need anything, please let me know."
Nino watched him walk away and join his female counterpart by the humidifiers and decided he should really rather take a look at the foot bath machines nearby.
He didn't care if he was transparent, but by the time he approached the two clerks, it was apparent that he wasn't going to be noticed anyway. The pair were embroiled in a bitch session, and when Nino finally got around to the aisle behind them, the girl was flipping her hair to punctuate her story.
"Yeah, well," Jun said, absently waving a feather duster over a sleek metallic humidifier, "I had Yuu bitching at me all weekend because I dared pick up my bass to practice. Never mind that I haven't taken the thing out all damn semester, and she could have just left my damn apartment, no, she had to stay and whine about the noise."
"I don't know why you're still with Yuu, anyway, Jun. You're better than her. She just hangs onto you because she likes when you take her to live houses and pay for her to get her drunk. You know she cheats on you, right?" Nino wondered if the girl, who looked old with her haircut but her skin and figure gave away her youth, would rather it was her with Jun. Then he remembered what Jun looked like and realized the answer was fairly obvious.
"I know," he said, which was an interesting reaction. He didn't even sound sad. "But my parents will stop paying my rent if I don't have a girlfriend, so I'm kind of stuck with her until I can make some money. Which just is not going to happen while I'm stuck at this shithole."
Nino knew he shouldn't listen, but it was the most interesting plot line he had been privy to, even with his recent obsession with Korean period soap operas. He stayed, lurking in the aisles around them for a while until he had gleaned as much information as he could. The specifics weren't interesting, but what Nino could tell from the exchange was that Jun was doing a degree at Tokyo College of Music having made the aforementioned bargain with his parents, and while he didn't say what was keeping the cheating, complaining Yuu in his life, Nino was pretty sure it was a touch of the gay (and not just because he was a little hopeful).
Nino left the department store when the girl (whose name he has long since forgotten) finished her shift, leaving without a rice cooker but some of the best lyric fodder in a long time.
Unlike with Ohno, Nino didn't try to find Jun again. It wasn't that he was disinterested, or that he forgot about him, but it wasn't quite like his experience with Aiba, either. He was merely content to leave the encounter as it was, in the past, untouched.
Of course, when he literally ran into Jun handing out fliers on the street after a dinner at an izakaya that had been more about drinking than eating, he couldn't exactly pass up the opportunity. As Jun remembers it, Nino was charming in his alcohol-fueled boldness, staying on the inoffensive side of innuendo and euphemism as he hit on him. They didn't go home together that night, but Nino left Jun with a barely legible scribble of digits on the inside of his arm and a promise to see his friend's band some time. It did the trick.
Nino's favorite meeting, however, was the night he met Sho.
At that point, he had been thinking for a while about forming a band. He had tried it out a few times, but none of the groups he joined fit. He was a lyricist as much as anything else, and most bands missing a instrument already had someone to write their songs. Nino didn't want to hide his songs, he wanted to showcase them, so he knew the only way to be satisfied was to start his own band.
He met Sho after a particularly spectacular blow-out with the group of guys he had been playing with at the time (which wasn't their fault, but Nino blamed them for anyway). He wasn't upset, just frustrated, and he'd only just sat down at a ramen cart with a large glass of shochu for a late meal when an extremely drunk young man sat down on the seat beside him so heavily he had to lean into Nino to correct his balance.
Most other nights, Nino would have been annoyed, but when he looked over at the young man, he just felt like laughing.
"Woah, oh, hey, sorry," the young man said, sounding as drunk as his balance suggested. Nino just grinned and shook his head. "I didn't see you there. You're pretty tiny, hey?" It was a testament to the level of affection Nino immediately felt for this person that he didn't punch him in the face right then.
"Yeah, I am pretty tiny. People try to sit on me on the bus all the time. Just don't notice me and sit right down." Playing with drunk people was fun, and Nino couldn't help but feel his mood lighten as the young man laughed himself silly.
"Man, you are one funny guy. Hey, hi, my name is Sho Sakurai, nice to meet you," Sho said, clapping one hand on Nino's shoulder and holding the other one out for him to shake. Nino smirked a little and shook Sho's hand.
"Masahiko Mori," Nino said, because it was more fun to introduce himself as the manager of the worst baseball team in the league than himself, and most people didn't recognize the name.
Neither did Sho. "Well, Mori-kun, drinks on me!" he said, and ordered the rest of the bottle of shochu from the man behind the ramen cart.
"You seem as though you're in good spirits," Nino remarked as his noodles arrived in front of him. He snapped open a pair of chopsticks and watched Sho's expression deflate slightly.
"I'm not, actually," Sho mumbled, taking a sip of his shochu so large it made Nino's eyes water. "I just had a big fight."
"Girlfriend?" Nino asked. Big fights that led to drinking usually were.
Sho shook his head sadly. "Worse. My band." Nino smiled at the coincidence but hid it by starting on his noodles. "They're just... they're just dicks, you know? I don't have ideas all the time, but I'd like it if they listened just sometimes. They think that just because I'm a drummer and I'm hidden behind the drum kit that nobody needs to care. But I'm their freaking backbone! You don't have a rock band without a drummer. It's just messy. Haven't been with them long but honestly, not sure if I want to stick with them."
Nino nodded as he continued to eat, washing his noodles down with a swig of shochu. "Then why don't you leave?" It seemed simple to Nino, but Sho just shook his head sadly.
"I love being in a band, you know? I wasn't able to have one in high school because my mother wanted me studying, and now I'm in my last year of university and I just want to have fun with it. It's just, these guys... it's not working."
Nino nodded and reached over to pat Sho on the shoulder. "Hey man, these things happen sometimes. Stick it out; maybe when you're done with your studies you'll find a better band." Of course, he was already planning how to find out what band Sho was in and save him from it, but that was for another night. As long as the seed was planted now - Nino was pretty sure Sho wasn't going to remember him, but the conversation would stick - it would work out.
It did. That night ended with Nino giving Sho a false phone number and Sho trying to give him a manly, friendly kiss that was far too sloppy to be called either of those things, and Nino didn't see him again for a while. But as Nino left his own band and counted the days until finals weeks throughout the city finished, he managed to find Sho through friends of friends of friends, and then the night that Sho remembers finally came.
Nino planned everything but what he would say, but he still made enough of an impression that Sho remembers to this day the feeling of being caught so strongly by the force of Nino's words that he called Nino the next day, not waiting to tell his band he was leaving.
What happened next, each of them remembers but Nino.
At that point, somewhere in the middle of being twenty-one, Nino lived in a shoebox apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo. Really, if anyone called him on it, he lived in Chiba, but he left that part out when he gave out his address to everyone for that day. They each, according to their respective levels of friendship with him, were variously curious as to why he had invited them to his apartment in the middle of the afternoon for no given reason, but none of them tried to prise more information out of him. They each knew him well enough to know that it would get them nowhere.
What Nino remembers is three confused-looking young men (and Aiba, who had the opposite confusion triggers to most of the population) standing on his doorstep, but this is what they remember:
Aiba arrived at the apartment uncharacteristically on time. When he arrived at the front door, there was someone else pressing the buzzer to Nino's apartment. "Hi," he said, and the young man turned around and nearly knocked Aiba over with his looks. He assumed it was the guy Nino mentioned casually sleeping with, and held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Aiba. Are you looking for Nino?"
Jun, who had never been to Nino's apartment before (mostly because of its distance from anything remotely worth bothering with, but also because kicking Yuu out of the apartment was a favorite pastime of his), was surprised to find someone else who knew Nino's name. It wasn't that he thought Nino didn't have any friends, just that Nino didn't really give off the impression of having friends, especially not one with such a dazzling smile and buoyant personality.
Jun shook Aiba's hand and nodded. "Yes, but he doesn't seem to be answering the intercom."
Just then, another young man arrived at the front door. "Excuse me," he said with a perfunctory smile, edging around Jun to take a look at the list of names. He glanced at a piece of paper and then reached to press Nino's number, which did not go unnoticed by Aiba and Jun.
"Sorry," Aiba said, and Jun wasn't quite sure how someone as introverted as Nino ever got along with such an outgoing character. "Hi, I'm Aiba. Are you looking for Nino?"
The young man looked at Aiba, looking equal parts affronted, confused, and surprised. "Ah, Sakurai Sho. And, well, yes. I..."
"Um," a quiet voice came from behind them all. Ohno smiled warmly at all of them when they turned. "Did I hear you say Nino? He just sent me a text, something about his buzzer not working. He said to buzz 201." Sho checked his phone; sure enough, he had received the same message. Jun didn't need to check his or Aiba's phones to know that they had all gotten the message.
"Oh, great!" Aiba said, grinning and clapping Ohno on the shoulder. He reached over in front of Sho and pressed the buzzer. A tinny mumble sounded over the intercom and Aiba grinned. "Matsu-nii-san, it's Aiba, let us in please," he sang at the receiver. With a grunt, the person in 201 buzzed them in and Aiba burst through the door, holding it open for them. Ohno shuffled past a still-stunned Sho, Jun waited a moment for Sho to move before excusing himself past the man, which was when Sho finally decided to follow.
"I'm sorry," Sho said as Aiba let the door close behind him, "but does anyone know each other? Or know what's going on?"
Ohno shook his head and seemed to finally realize that it was a little confusing. Jun shook his head as well, and while he already knew he was confused there seemed little point in getting worked up about it. "Nope," Aiba said merrily, shrugging. "But you know Nino, we're probably all here for a reason."
Sho blinked, and it was clear even to Jun that he was the newest of Nino's friends. If the prospect of Nino laying secret plans was a new discovery, he couldn't have known Nino that long. Aiba smiled and reached forward, slipping his arm around Sho's elbow. "Come on, Sho-kun, Nino's waiting."