An interview with Nikki Matsumoto who created the Rock of Asia project.
I was able to listen to a preview of Nikki Matsumoto of Rock of Asia’s 2021 album, “Asian Anthology” back in August of last year and was blown away by Matsumoto’s incredibly original take on the metaphysical rock genre. (review) His gorgeous blend of authentic Asian instruments and vocals, with a deeply American rock ethos, with a wild folk flavour, and all the spice of Asian tones and magical endless chord structures, is an amazing way to expand your musical world.
As the world begins to re-open and international travel becomes easier, let’s hope Rock of Asia is preparing to tour and perform. Live performance is where this kind of mind-expanding music really lives, although the album is wonderful too!
Matsumoto has created some very entertaining music videos as well, so you can get the music is some kind of live form, even if you cant experience it fully live!
Please tell us how Rock of Asia (ROA) goes about creating songs, sources where you draw ideas or inspiration for lyrics and stories, and how are the instruments used to create songs chosen?
First of all, ROA is not a band. It is my solo project. I started the whole thing in 2009. I write all the songs, music and lyrics, sing, play and arrange the rhythm and everything else. I even write violin parts. And I finance it as well. Unofficially it is Nikki Matsumoto’s ROA. That was the name of the first album. But it is too long, so I shortened it to ROA. Easy to remember.
I try not to write songs like any other songs that exist in this world. I had my first band when I was 14 and I was copying the bands that I liked. But after moving to Los Angeles at the age of 18 and performing and recording there for more than a decade, I realized I needed to establish my own style.
So, I even try not to use chords that are in the books. I create my own chords. You can hear it in a song like “Lal Dhaga.” Creativity is very important for me. I do not care about fame and fortune, that pretty much killed rock ’n’ roll. But my music is so precious because nobody can create the music I create.
What motivates you to make music?
I was a music fanatic. I left everything around me and said goodbye to Japan and moved to the United States when I was 18. I was going to discover all the music available in the world. I knew there was nothing for me in Japan. Everything is still so fucking fake here in Japan.
And I have so much to say as well. I have my own political stance. I traveled to Palestine every year (that stopped 2 years ago because of this pandemic) to support the people under occupation. So, some of my songs are very political.
For instance, a song called “Belief,” the lyrics sound like it is about some love relationship, maybe words from a man to a woman, but it is about the U.S. telling Japan what to do. I just made the music video of this song last year and uploaded it to YouTube. Then a couple of days later, Collin Powell passed away. I actually used his picture in the video. I know it is way too political for regular music fans. But the music is nice. If you don’t watch the video, you may think it’s a love song. But there is unique message behind that song. So, writing a song and making it public is a statement. Some of the songs are about global warming and environmental issues. I do believe that this kind of statement needs to be spread.
So many of Rock of Asia songs are connected to real world events, how does this speak to the members personally?
With the song called “The Son,” I was inspired by the book, “Son of Hamas” written by Mosab Hasan Yousef. He was the son of the leader of Hamas. But he betrayed Palestine, converted from Muslim to Jewish religion. So, that is connected to the real world. Songs like that reflects my personality.
Again, no other members contribute to song writing ever. So, it is all my personality. I’m like a mad scientist. I don’t care what anybody says. I create my own music that is untouchable.
Rock of Asia’s music is a blend of modern rock and ancient instruments, is that how you see project’s future musically?
Some call ROA a fusion band. And I think it is a fair call. There are elements of jazz, classical and folk music. But I don’t sit in my room wondering about what musical direction I will take. Whatever comes out of my feeling, I will go for it. I actually would like to bring Koto again for the next album. Actually, I would like to bring instruments from Korea, China and Indonesia. I have featured Erhu before. If I can find a player who can contribute. But that was the original idea. Instruments from other Asian cultures. If ROA becomes successful, I will expand the group with 10 more players from other Asian countries.
What inspiration or advice can you give aspiring musicians and songwriters?
Never give up. You never take any advice from anybody.
Please tell us why Rock of Asia members chose a “musical life?”
Again, I do not know about what my members do or think. They are all trained professional musicians. And they like to party. We have so much fun together, everyone likes booze. We don’t talk about life. We just joke around.
Can you share Rock of Asia’s plans for 2022?
We’ve just did the video recording for upcoming online streaming event for WE ARE MUSIC from Singapore. That will happen on February 11th. Then we will travel to Okinawa to shoot a music video for a song called “Guardian Of The Sea.” The song is about Goddess in Okinawa and I play Sanshin, the traditional banjo like Okinawan instrument. The video should come out at the end of February or in early March. And unfortunately, I do not have any plan as of now. I’m pretty sure that I will make few more music videos in 2022. But no plan for touring.
I have been writing the new material and I hope I will have enough songs to do another album by the end of the year. I probably won’t go to the Middle East anymore. I got myself too deep into it. As much as I would like to save the world, I now realize nothing can’t be done. I’m through with that part of the world.
Thank’s Nikki! We wish you luck with your continuing musical adventure! If you would like to find out more about Rock Of Asia, you will find much more to explore using the links below.
“Rock of Asia” (March 2011)
“Virtual Colony” (November 2013)
“The Ancient” (November 2019)
“Asian Anthology” (April 2021)