Meet Rock Of Asia, the brainchild of Nikki Matsumoto, whose latest release is entitled TAMI, which, according to Matsumoto, means ‘people’ or ‘folks’ in Japanese.
After playing rock music professionally for 15 years in America, Matsumoto founded the group project Rock Of Asia. Rock Of Asia blends Western instruments like the guitar and violin with Eastern instruments like the koto, shamisen, sho, and erhu.
On March 11, 2011, Rock of Asia released their self-titled debut album, which was to be followed by a tour. Matsumoto postponed the tour because of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on the same day. Instead of touring, Matsumoto spent the next six months helping disaster victims.
Rock of Asia paid homage to the Arab Spring movement in 2012 by touring the Middle East and releasing their second album, Virtual Colony. The band performed eight concerts in the Middle East, including appearances at the Cairo Opera House, the Embassy of Japan in Cairo, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Holy Square of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.
For the next four years, Matsumoto worked on his solo project, Palestine On My Mind. 2019 saw the release of Rock Of Asia’s third album, The Ancient, followed by marking the tenth anniversary of their debut album with a best-of collection, Asian Anthology. The song “Lal Dhaga” won the hearts of music lovers all around the world and rose to No. 25 on Spotify’s Indie Stream Chart.
The first half of 2023 was used to create the fresh, enlightening studio album, TAMI, followed by a brief tour of Asia.
Tattoo.com spoke with Rock Of Asia to find out more about the inspiration for TAMI and the evolution of the band’s sound,
What inspired your new album, TAMI?
‘TAMI’ means ‘people’ or ‘folks’ in Japanese. And it is the first track on the album. If you look at the front design on the CD jacket, you see the earth with musical instruments bent out of shape as the continents. I’m concerned about us as mankind right now. Environmental issues and wars…Only we, the TAMI, can turn it around. So the songs are about unification, the joy of birth or even animal rights and so on.
Who is in ROCK OF ASIA and which instruments do they play?
Rock Of Asia is me, Nikki Matsumoto. It is my solo project. And I do everything. I write 100% of the material, music, and lyrics. I play guitar, sanshin, biwa, and bass and arrange everything as well. And I sing all of the songs, lead and harmony, everything. I even create music videos on my own. Yuki Sasaki plays violin and Kizen Ohyama plays shakuhachi. But basically, they are hired musicians.
Is there a primary songwriter, or do all the members participate in the creative process?
Again, I am the only songwriter in this project. I even arranged the violin and Shakuhachi parts. I write scores and give them to my musicians. And they play as I guide them.
What do you want listeners to take away from TAMI?
Today’s music is all about money. It sounds so artificial. Rock Of Asia is sincere raw music. To me, music is melody, harmony, instrumentation, and ensemble. With meaningful lyrics. You can hear that on TAMI.
Did ROCK OF ASIA’s sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
We have gone through changes. When I formed the band in 2009, we had a drummer and a bass player. But they just couldn’t get it. They played too loud, and we could not hear acoustic instruments. So I got rid of them. On the 2nd album, it was more acoustic and tribal. Now we are more beat-oriented and kind of jazzy. I decide everything, so this direction is what I want at this time.
How did you get started in music?
I formed my first band when I was 14 years old. I used to play the organ which was sitting at my house. Then I started playing the guitar at 16. Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were my idols.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, TV, or other media?
I left Japan and landed in Los Angeles when I was 18. I wanted to find out everything about music. I listened to rock, jazz, classical, and even traditional music. My inspiration comes from all of that. It’s a mixed bag and most importantly, there is an Asian taste in it. Lyrically I follow wise men such as Jeffrey Sachs. I only have a book or two from him, but I listen to him on his YouTube channel every other day. Great inspiration.
In your opinion, which music artists are killing it right now?
I don’t listen to what’s out there anymore except for unknown traditional stuff. Because anything else is not interesting. I listen to a lot of ‘70s music, never get tired of it.
What is your definition of success?
Personally, if you gave everything and die with satisfaction, that is success. Musically, I want music fans to discover my music. It is the purest and most unique. It means a lot to me.
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Live gigs? New music? Music videos?
No plan for touring. Maybe a festival type of concert if we are invited. I have produced three music videos of the album so far. You can see them on the Rock Of Asia YouTube channel. And I will make at least two more within 6 months. It is the best way to reach out to music fans.