Fresh off the heels of their month-long U.S. tour and release of their latest EP, "When My Devil Rises," the Tokyo-based Man With a Mission (MWAM) are working hard to make their name known among American audiences.
But what’s with the wolf masks, which they are never seen without, sparking rumors that not all of the bandmembers are Japanese? It’s a well-worn question, one the band has an equally well-worn answer for. “The professor that made us chose a wolf and we are not sure why we look like this,” said MWAM guitarist and vocalist, Jean-Ken Johnny, when GEEK caught up with the band during its performance at Tokyo’s Japan Night in May.
The professor in question is named Jimi Hendrix, though Johnny adds, “He is not the same Hendrix that you guys know.” According to the band’s folklore, Man With a Mission was frozen in the arctic centuries ago for committing unknown evil deeds before being defrostred and resurrected by the mad Professor Hendrix.
As frozen beings, they were “the ultimate life forms” who could hear every type of music playing around the globe. “We thought,” Johnny says, “if we had the chance to come back to real life, maybe we could do something with music,” adding that they chose rock ‘n’ roll because it “was the most beautiful music that we ever listened to — the most moving, the most aggressive; it gave inspiration for living everyday life.”
They’ve been creating this inspiring music for the past four years, releasing several albums and EPs along the way, while playing to growing crowds in small clubs in big cities. Influenced by early-’90s acts like Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters, the five-member band — whose stage names include Tokyo Tanaka, Spear Rib, DJ Santa Monica and Kamikaze Boy, in addition to Johnny – take their craft and careers seriously, despite the gimmicky wolf masks.
Though little is known about their actual identities, what is known is that the band got its start in Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya neighborhood, where they grew a cult following quickly, showcasing their guitar-heavy sound in sold-out shows and several local festivals.
At this point of their careers, they are – indeed – big in Japan. Their Japan Night performance, in front of nearly 50,000 people, saw many wolf masks and hairy paws on frenzied fans, who sang along to each song. (That show’s ticket also included Perfume, another of Japan’s current mega bands, who are primed to embark on their own U.S. tour.)
At Man With a Mission’s performance at Los Angeles’ legendary Whisky a Go Go last month, the crowd was substantially smaller, yet still frenzied, with a few hairy paws in the crowd and frequent cries of “Gau! Gau” – a Japanese growl – accompanying every guitar solo by Johnny. The set was hard-rocking and energetic, with songs mostly sung in English. And yes, they have many, as Johnny is fluent (the rest of the band not so much).
As far as MWAM’s ability to translate its Japanese punk style into appealing fare for mainstream audiences – clearly their ultimate mission – Johnny is optimistic, noting that he listens to American and English bands without a second thought about their origin: ”[Music is] already international so we don’t want to have any nationality. I hope and I believe that the music that we play has the chance to go over that border. It’s a big challenge but we have a little confidence.”
Given the band’s steady ascent and unique sound, that confidence is well placed.
Lead Image: Warren Calvo Leon