Is it still the great American Rock 'n' Roll dream if the person living it wants to move back to Japan? Ask Masaki Murashita, the 24-year-old lead singer and guitarist of Phoenix thrashers Hemoptysis. Murashita has spent the past nine years in North America — attending high school in Canada and then college in the U.S. — but he's refreshingly candid about his desire to eventually return home to Japan, where his parents still reside.
"I would move back. That's my honest opinion," he says. "I don't know if I'm supposed to say that, but when it's time for me to retire and I'm 70 and there's no health insurance, how am I supposed to make it? I'm not gonna die."
Before he leaves, however, Murashita has some business left to take care of. Namely, signing a record deal and touring other continents. Murashita occasionally says things that would elicit eye rolls if he didn't say them with such sincerity.
Hemoptysis is scheduled to perform at SxSW on Friday, March 19, at SoHo Lounge in Austin and on Saturday, April 17, at the Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe.
"I just want to tour and see the world," he says. "That's the whole point of me getting out of Japan. I wanted to see the world. Not only sitting in a classroom and studying a textbook — something that you're not gonna use forever once you graduate from school. I wanted to see different things through my eyes, learn things, and experience it. That's what I was looking for."
So far, the stars seem to be aligning for Murashita and Hemoptysis. The band is hitting its stride just as the so-called new wave of American thrash is reaching its pinnacle. Hemoptysis' 2008 EP, Who Needs a Shepherd?, garnered loads of glowing reviews, and the band was recently one of 20 finalists in the Scion No Label Needed contest. Hemoptysis also landed a coveted gig on March 19 at South by Southwest in Austin. None of it would be possible without Murashita, says drummer Travis Thune.
"There's just a lot of hard work, and I have to say, most of that is Masaki," Thune says. "When he's not at work, he's on the computer doing stuff. [The rest of us] do legwork, but when it comes to sending in all these press kits and blah, blah, blah, this is your guy right here: Masaki."
Murashita's perseverance has also led to endorsements by manufacturers Jackson, Krank, and Peavey. Endorsements can be especially vital to up-and-coming metal bands, providing free cords and guitar strings and deep discounts on guitars and amps. Murashita says the key to landing such endorsements is persistence.
"Just hit them up," he says. "'No' means 'no' today, so just constantly hit them up. 'Hey, we accomplish this and this and this. Look at us.' They never offer us [endorsements] unless they see us working hard. They have to have a benefit from us. There has to be a reason why they're endorsing us, so we have to keep them constantly updated."
For Murashita, earning a living by playing music would be the culmination of a dream that began shortly after he left home at age 15. After finishing junior high in Japan and learning rudimentary English, Murashita moved to Nanaimo, British Columbia, where he lived with a host family and attended high school. It was in Nanaimo, a community of roughly 70,000 on Vancouver Island, that Murashita first discovered heavy metal and took up the guitar.
"It was a small town," Murashita says. "It's nothing — no place to hang out or anything. If you don't have any hobbies, you're pretty much dead. You're just sitting at home watching TV or playing video games. That's pretty much it. But luckily, I had a guitar and found good friends to jam with. It wasn't as serious as we are right now, but I had a great time with them."
After high school, Murashita moved to Auburn, Washington, to attend Green River Community College and study broadcasting. By then, Murashita had graduated from playing Metallica and Van Halen covers to writing original material, but he was unable to find any kindred metal spirits in Auburn. During Murashita's stint as a college radio DJ, a radio director suggested he continue his studies at Arizona State University.
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Murashita moved to the Valley in late 2006 and soon found the musical collaborator he'd been looking for. A mutual friend introduced Murashita to Thune, and the two quickly hit it off. They recruited bassist Sunao Arai and a second guitarist and began writing material. Thune's wife, a pharmacist, suggested the name Hemoptysis (the medical term for coughing up blood), and the band members all agreed that it was sufficiently badass.
The band recently recruited Lunatics Vision guitarist Ryan Miller, and a video for the Ryan Greene-produced single "Shadow of Death" is forthcoming. Hemoptysis plans to start recording its debut full-length in May and support it with the requisite U.S. tour.
Murashita faces another obstacle in a few months when his student visa is set to expire, but he has already applied for an artist visa and is confident that it will be approved. In the meantime, he works a full-time job and spends most of his free time as a one-man PR machine for Hemoptysis, keeping the band's online press kit up to date and reaching out to metal bloggers and news outlets.
"In this industry, it's hard, but it's even harder for me 'cause there's a language barrier, obviously, plus cultural differences," he says. "I hate to say it, but there's still discrimination and bias. Like, 'Oh, that band has an Asian guy' kind of thing . . . It's hard for foreigners that don't have the same background that Americans have. It's even harder to make it happen. It's definitely hard for me, but I'll never stop. I'm not gonna give up. I believe in myself and I believe in my band."