Scandal have come a long way in 16 years, from playing sidewalk shows in an Osaka park, with guitar amps perched on beer crates, to headlining Tokyo’s legendary Budokan. In the process, the Japanese quartet have released 10 full-length albums, of which Mirror is their latest.
With their instantly hummable tunes, they have built up a sizeable audience in their home country and garnered a worldwide fanbase.
After a two-year Covid-19 pause, the group are venturing outside of Japan to play a string of summer and fall concerts in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and lead vocalist/guitarist Haruna Ono is quick to voice her appreciation for their fans, “Thank you so much for your continued support! We are delighted to be able to perform live overseas after waiting so long.”
As with every artist, Scandal had to find a way to adapt to making music during the pandemic.
“We always face ourselves as we really are at that time when we write lyrics,” says Haruna. “For Mirror, life during the coronavirus pandemic was key, so rather than basing the compositions on live performances like before, we affirmed each of our personal emotions, like feeling down since the pandemic was keeping us from music activities, which I think led to a strong reflection of our inner selves.”
The band split guitar duties between Haruna and lead player Mami Sasazaki, with Tomomi Ogawa on bass guitar and Rina Suzuki on drums. Their unabashed love of putting on a show is infectious.
Scandal cover many genres, from punkish short, sharp, shock tunes like Masterpiece, from 2020’s Kiss from the Darkness, to lush, vocal-heavy ballads.
Mami’s approach to guitar playing is not overly technical but it’s always inventive and tasteful, and she’ll often thicken up a song’s main riff with a series of fast octave runs.
“Octaves were my strongest weapons when I started the guitar and it was difficult for me to play single notes [laughs]. Because octaves can be used for guitar solos… I still use them quite often in various songs. The way my fingers are placed also adds stability when I move around and play, which is also helpful. I tend to mix it up on both the higher and lower strings even in the same song.”
She’ll judiciously add a well thought-out solo if a song calls for it, like the emotive octave and single note call-and-response on It Was Never Love for Me or the dissonant funk workout on She Is a Wave. “This is the first time I’ve received a compliment about the construction of my solos, which makes me happy!” she says.
For amps, Mami favors a Bogner Ecstasy and matching 4 x 12” cab, while Haruna uses both a custom Shinos Luck 6V made by the boutique Japanese amp maker and an EVH 5150 III with a 2 x 12” cabinet.
“I mainly use my Shinos for clean and crunchy tones and use the EVH for boosted tones,” she says. “I have never tried out a stock Shinos, but I like mine because of the rich and strong sound. The EVH is more powerful so I use it for intense songs which stand out in live performances.” She adds, “I don’t play the lead theme that often, and usually play backing chords. Especially for our recent songs, I improve the effervescence of the sound by avoiding it becoming over-distorted.”
The band are poised to have their second set of signature guitars issued by Fender Japan this August. Mami’s Omochi Stratocaster features two custom humbucking pickups and a beautiful vintage white body with matching headstock.
“The new signature model was to realize the texture of a Les Paul and to enable a good fit with both new and old songs as well,” she says. “I wanted a single guitar for this and asked Fender for their collaboration again. For overseas tours, I cannot bring along a lot of guitars, so this one was made to play powerfully and yet emit delicate and glamorous tones with just one guitar.”
Haruna’s Arctic White Telecaster with pearl binding also features humbuckers. “This new guitar is a good match with the Scandal songs from our debut to the middle term of our catalog,” she says. “For our more recent songs, the last guitar I had made for me fits best, but I wanted a more aggressive guitar for playing earlier songs in live performances and chose the humbucking pickups.”
Scandal are veterans of the Japanese festival circuit and their catchy, singalong anthems and engaging stage presence would undoubtedly go down well at Gov Ball, Roskilde or Reading. When asked if that’s an opportunity the band would embrace, Haruna laughs, “We are looking forward to the invitation!”