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In February, JROCK NEWS was on the scene covering THE LAST ROCKSTARS’ debut in New York City. While in Manhattan for the weekend, we reached out to independent musician, Jrock Afficianado and local Brooklynite Saki Rose for a tête-à-tête.
Rose is a classically-trained musician who gained a following by sharing Jrock covers on YouTube. Their official, independently-produced YouTube channel boasts 15.5 thousand subscribers, with cover videos breaking over 100 thousand views.
On a bracingly cold Sunday morning, Rose arrived at our meeting point, emerging from a sleek black sedan. The corridor of New York City traffic seemed to halt for their procession, a concrete blonde in a fluttering cream blouse, form-fitting black leather pants, and platform boots. Perhaps it’s the steam billowing from New York’s grated sidewalks, perhaps it’s smoke in my eyes from my cigarette, but Rose materializes before us like a vampire in Yoshitaka Amano painting or a character in a BUCK-TICK ballad. It’s this Manhattan romanticism, equal parts fairy tale and rough around the edges, that characterize Rose as an artist.
In an era of technology-mediated online personas, Rose is refreshingly themselves. With biting wit and a personality that doesn’t hold back, they’re a breath of fresh air in a social media vacuum. We hope you enjoy this interview with Jack-of-all-trades, nonbinary icon, and up-and-comer Saki Rose.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us today. To get started, why don’t you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Saki Rose, and I am a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. I’m most known for singing and producing visual kei covers on YouTube.
What are your favorite Jrock groups?
Obviously, I adore DIR EN GREY. I love L’arc-en-ciel too. Those two are my favorites and inspiration but I do like a bunch of other bands such as the GazettE and LUNA SEA. So, many bands in that same generation, and older generations. I’ve always been more of an old-school visual kei fan.
Please tell us about your musical background or training.
I was forced into classical piano when I was six years old, by my parents. But looking back, that was the best decision they could have ever done for me because that really set my foundation in music. Because the piano is such a core instrument, right? It taught me literally everything from technique to interpretation, to even the basics like notes, scales, and musical theory.
Then, I played classical flute in high school, and also classical piccolo. And I also played jazz piano and mallet percussion in the jazz band.
I actually picked up vocals very late in the game, in high school. I didn’t have the natural-born talent to sing, but it was the one thing I had always wanted more than anything—being a singer was the most glamorous thing in the world to me—so I had to put in the hard work to turn fate around. That’s when I started taking vocal lessons.
But even that went in a weird direction because I started out classically trained, singing opera. If you’re a singer, then you know that it’s not the best way to start if you want to sing pop and rock, the technique is just so conflicting.
So, I went a lot of convoluted ways to settle into where I am now. Then after starting vocals, I picked up the guitar, because it was complementary to songwriting and production. That’s my entire musical journey.
With all of those different skills and instruments, you could almost do a Trent Reznor band where you play each part [laughs].
[Laughs] The funny thing is, on my next song I play the piano, flute, and vocals. So I’m doing everything I’m able to do.
Can you give us any hints about that next song?
My next big project is au revoir by Malice Mizer. I think it’s a very grueling task to take on that song, but I’ve been passionate about that song for so long and it was one of my first exposures to visual kei. I’ll play the piano, and flute, and do vocals, and then I think I’m gonna have my sister play support violin.
You said you started with operatic vocal training. I think that translates well into visual kei. It has such a melodic quality and there’s a lot of vibrato and similar techniques.
Right. There are a lot of vocal techniques, ornamentations, and vibrato that are so distinctive of visual kei. I always joke that you can always tell if a vocalist likes visual kei or not by their vibrato [laughs].
For folks visiting your channel for the first time, what would you recommend they start with?
I would say Season’s Call, by HYDE, featuring my friend Felix from the band Skiver. It was my idea to cover the song, but he helped me produce everything. I think it’s a good introduction to my channel because it’s not too hard, and not too soft. I guess it’s one of my proudest works vocally.
It was a very difficult song to sing. Obviously because of HYDE, right? He has a very unique style of singing that, if you imitate him, you sound weird, or like you’re just trying to copy him. So, you have to respect all of the interpretation, little nuances, and vocal ornamentations that he gives while still singing the song.
And still making it your own.
Speaking of Skiver, I remember they opened for ACME in New York City. Is Felix the vocalist, who did the cover of Driver’s High by L’arc-en-ciel at that concert?
Yeah! That was him, we’re buddies. He’s a big HYDE fan too, so we were really excited to do a HYDE song together.
Of the songs you’ve covered, which is your favorite?
“Favorite” is a difficult word—I would rather say “one that I can’t beat now”. Every other song, if I re-recorded it today I would be able to make a better version, except for “Ware, Yami Tote…” (我、闇とて･･･) by DIR EN GREY. I did the acoustic, or “unplugged” version. It’s incredibly simple and stripped down—just a piano and a single track of vocals.
When I recorded it, it was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and I was doing vocal training right before everything got shut down. I felt very inspired and connected while recording the song, around two in the morning or something [laughs]. It took two, or at max three takes to record the entire song.
Wow, that’s amazing. It’s a pretty long and complicated song, too.
Yeah, most of the final track is one take, actually. I really squeezed out all my singing juices for that one song. I was actually surprised by how well it did on YouTube because it’s such a deep cut.
It’s a very passionate song too, and you said that you started recording it during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you think that affected you too, feeling all those emotions, and being able to shoot such a complex song in one take?
Oh yeah. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I was not mentally in a great place, and I had just gotten into doing Jrock covers on YouTube as an escape or a fun thing to keep me busy. It felt like my singing dreams and my entire life screeched to a halt because of the pandemic. Ware, Yami Tote… was maybe the third DIR EN GREY song I’d covered. I thought, “I don’t think this song will do well online, but I really like it, so I want to sing it”.
Every time I choose a song, it’s because I’m really inspired by it, whether it be the performance or the song itself. In Ware Yami Tote…, I was so mesmerized by the live performance. A thousand views on that live performance video on YouTube were probably from me alone. It’s one of the only DIR EN GREY songs I know that covers three or four octaves. As a vocalist, it excited me.
Yeah! It’s a really complicated composition!
Yeah, it starts very low, then ends very high, so I was intrigued by the challenge. I thought, “If I nail this, then I can prove to myself that I am a vocalist”.
So, tell me about your thought process for choosing which songs to cover.
I think it really comes down to inspiration. If I like a song passionately, I’ll choose to cover it because I think I can make something out of it. If I’m passionate enough about a song then I will find a way to make it work. I don’t care if the song will get views or whatnot.
I didn’t start covering Jrock because I wanted clout. I did it because I love Jrock and I wanted to, for the shits and giggles [laughs]. For example, when I covered Rinkaku by DIR EN GREY, it was for myself.
I really stick to that mentality of doing it because I want to. I stick to that mantra of not choosing a song for the clout or views, not picking the most popular song in a discography, but choosing songs that I resonate with. I think that also adds a layer of authenticity.
Rinkaku was also an ambitious song. Speaking of, we’ve noticed you’re quite the fan of DIR EN GREY, and we absolutely love all the work you’ve done with their repertoire. What draws you to DIR EN GREY’s music? What is your favorite song, or album?
I think I had a different entryway to DIR EN GREY than most people. Many people are longtime fans, but it took me a while to get into them. As you know, their style is so varied. Every single album sounds a little bit different and comparing two different albums from two different time periods, you’d think that they’re totally different bands. So I think I started out listening in an era that wasn’t to my taste.
Then in 2018, Ningen wo Kaburu (人間を被る) dropped, and that was my shit. That was my gateway to getting back into their music. But I think the album that resonated with me the most was ARCHE.
ARCHE resonated with me the most because again, I started as a classical musician. I’m drawn to more melodic things that have interesting compositions, something dramatic that moves me. I look at the storyline and composition behind those songs and think, wow, that’s beautiful.
Besides YouTube, do you have other planned activities as a performing artist?
Now that the pandemic has subsided, I’m trying to branch out of YouTube. I’m trying to do some live gigs and find a stage for myself. I’m also trying to put together a visual kei night in New York. I had an idea, that I can get local visual kei-inspired bands to perform covers and original songs, and then have a bunch of them perform on the same night.
And then I also thought about singing for conventions. I was gonna do Anime Expo, but it was too daunting for me to apply at the time because I didn’t have the connections to musicians or resources on the west coast.
It’s so difficult to be an independent soloist musician. You pay for everything, and you have to manage yourself from A to Z, right? Because of that, I am mostly a studio artist right now because that’s what I can handle. I’m very familiar with recording, and I can expense that myself easily.
But also if you do lives too, you need to hire real backing musicians, sound, and everything else. Logistically, there’s a whole other layer to performing live that you really don’t have to worry about when you’re a studio musician.
I guess it’s kind of the struggle of being an independent musician, especially as a vocalist because you need help from everybody else. You really can’t get yourself off the ground unless you have the right connections, or you know people that can help and support you, or if you have musician friends that are willing to show up and show out for you, you know?
I understand. My friends in different bands say that all the time.
And you have to make sure that you can find a drummer, period. The joke is that in the New York tri-state area, there is one drummer and then he gets passed around like a bottom at a party [laughs].
[Laughs] I can say that’s pretty universal, even where I’m from. I remember we were talking about that possible live visual kei event before. Has there been any progress in planning for that?
We’re about halfway between dreaming and planning [laughs]. I’ve looked up some venues and talked about it with a few local bandmen, actually. I took a brief poll on Twitter and people seem interested in attending a night like that. There’s no event like that in the Northeast or even in the States. I feel like it’s incredibly rare to have a visual kei event but there’s definitely the interest, more than ever.
It’s something that I really wanna get off the ground! But also because I really want to find a stage for myself too, you know? It’s always about creating a platform and opportunities for yourself and your peers.
Do you have any advice for fellow Jrock fans who want to get started covering Jrock on YouTube?
I think you just gotta get into it. The biggest hurdle for me was the fear of doing it and what reaction it might get. But I think it’s worth it to just put yourself out there. You never know what might stick.
It’s a very positive and uplifting thing to record yourself playing songs you love. Also, at least record yourself so you know what you sound like. I think there’s a lot of musician delusion where you think you’re better than you are, but then you record yourself and then you’re like, “Oh, this actually sounds like ass” [laughs]. It’s a great way to take a snapshot of your skills as a musician, first of all. But second of all, it’s for fun, you know, you do what you like and then people with similar interests might resonate with it.
Do you have any dream collaborations with fellow YouTubers or even active artists in the Jrock industry?
The thing is like, I like to be realistic with my expectations so I’m not going to name any names. But yeah, it’d be cool if anyone wanted me as a “video vixen” though [laughs].
This is a more personal question, from one non-binary person to another. I noticed you’re very open about your non-binary identity and pronouns. What challenges do you face as a non-binary person in the public music space?
As a non-binary person in music, or any space, it’s very easy to be misconstrued for who you are, and what you are. It’s very easy to pigeonhole people into binary genders, especially when you’re trying to present yourself as an artist, when you’re a more done-up, “drag” version of yourself.
Regardless, no one owes anybody androgyny for being non-binary. But that’s a very big misconception that if you’re non-binary, you have to look like you’re in the middle. That’s just obviously not true. A lot of people are also generally apprehensive about non-binary or agender people because they think that you’re doing it just to be different.
In the music space, I think people are paradoxically more narrow-minded because voices are even easier to pigeonhole—people pretty much instinctively categorize peoples’ gender while listening to a voice as either “male” or “female”. So, rather than referring to someone as a “male vocalist” or “female vocalist”, I personally like to say, they’re a soprano vocalist, or they’re an alto vocalist, etc. It takes a bit of work to stick up for your own identity.
Rose, thanks so much for being so open and taking the time to speak with us today. Do you have any final words for the JROCK NEWS readers, and where can they go to find your music?
Thank you to everyone who’s reading this. I am on YouTube, Spotify, and basically every other music streaming platform. I mostly release things on YouTube though. You can also find me on Instagram, and TikTok.
As for my final message, I’d say “Do what you want to do, and be who you want to be”. Be genuine and true to your reality, and fuck the haters. It may seem corny, but that’s really what I want to express to whoever reads this interview.
We look forward to Rose’s upcoming covers and future endeavors. You may find yourself watching them on stage in New York or at a convention near you!
JROCK NEWS thanks Saki Rose for taking the time for this interview. To follow them, check out their social media below.