ALI (Alien Liberty International) was born out of the trendsetting epicenter of Tokyo: Shibuya. A multi-ethnic collective of musicians with roots from Japan, Europe, the United States, Asia, South America, and Africa — their unique fusion of multi-culturally inspired music has not only resonated in Japan but built a dedicated following around the world. From creating popular theme songs such as ”LOST IN PARADISE feat. AKLO” for the anime series ”Jujutsu Kaisen” to streaming live virtual performances during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are finding creative ways to reach an international audience while also keeping reverence for the past with their vast musical influences.

We have had an interview with the front man Leo to talk further in details about him and the recent single release of the band.

Front man Leo shares his thoughts on growing up in Shibuya, the philosophy behind their music, and what we can expect in the new year.

── You were born and raised in Shibuya right? I read an article that you use to go to the TSUTAYA [store] in Aoyama a lot. I assumed that you grew up in that part of Shibuya.

Leo: I grew up around the Omotesando / Jingumae area. However, since I was 24 years old, I worked in the Maruyamacho district for 6 years, so I know the Shinsen area as well.

── We sometimes tend to forget how the area of that Shibuya is bigger than we think our assumption. I guess for you, it doesnt feel like youre in the middle of the city but more like a local neighborhood, is that correct?

Leo: Thats right. When I was a kid, there werent a lot of tall buildings like how it is today. Many of them were actually vacant and there was a lot more housing back then. When I was in elementary school there were only 8 kids in my grade and we used to play baseball in the streets. I grew up during the time of the transformation of Shibuya.

── Even if that is the case, if you grew up in Shibuya then you naturally were able to learn the latest trends in of music, fashion, and culture.

Leo: I knew one schoolmate a few years older than me in the soccer club, whose family has run ran a fruit and vegetable shop like the one in a movie. At first, I went to his place to play videogames, but then later on when I started playing music we had a lot of sessions together. I also learned a lot of bad things from him and Id rather not go into details (laughs). I felt that such senior-junior relationships were rooted throughout in the entire city like a village.

── The phrase "Tokyo prison" appears in the lyrics of "LOST IN PARADISE". Over the last few years, redevelopment has changed the city of Shibuya. With that in mind, I was wondering what kind of statement this stood for.

Leo: When I was thinking about the theme of "LOST IN PARADISE", it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, and more about how I felt the oppression of the world. Even if youre shopping on your smartphone, you will be advised and directed to enjoy it in a certain way. In Shibuya, the number of party event venues has increased, but the sound is often insanely bad or too quiet. The environment which I grew up in had respect for the quality of the sound which was the driving force to bring people together, but then organizing events became systematic and this important aspect changed for the worse.

── So you were frustrated how these venues had less care of the content of the music and only functioned systematically.

Leo: It was really boring that the music was like background music. I had resentment towards this whole phenomenon because that was not what I longed for in the city. In that sense, I had the feeling that I could ignite Tokyo, breaking out from of this prison.

── I would like for you to tell us a little more about what you mean by ”prison”...

Leo: I was anxious when the city was literally in lockdown due to COVID-19. However, I think that kind of feeling has been reset once, and everyone feels the necessity to be relieved and I think music plays a major role.

During the lockdown I wasnt able to fully commit to my work, not knowing how things are going to turn out but this feeling is now reset as well.

I feel that every industry can only survive by being able to have a soul. There were a lot of music venues trying to maintain their business, but the ones that were too systematic without any real connection with the people, in other words, soulless operations, tended to all shutdown. From now on, I think its an era where you cant make it unless the SOUL is there.

── With that mindset in place, you set up your own label called "Alien Liberty International".

Leo: Personally, this is my third major debut in 10 years of my music career. In the old days, I didnt like the kind of environment where I needed to be liked by a certain person in the music industry in order to get have any shot of success.

Of course, I couldnt help it because I simply didnt have the ability, but in 2019 I happened to meet Shintaro (our currently A&R) in Shibuya.I was able to believe that I could trust and work together with this person. Im already 33 years old now, so I should [be able to] do pretty much everything by myself, and since Ive been working very hard so far, there were many people helping me along the way, which made my sense of responsibility increase even higher.

During the first year there were various incidents between the members and weve gone through a lot of troubles, and now Ive finally reached this major debut. It was tough but fun (laughs).

──That means you have a strong desire to sign with a major label. Since the band is also registered as a private label company, I believe youll be able to do what ALI desires to pursue.

Leo: Thats why I have to take responsibility for my major debut. You have to deliver the message to a lot of people. The majors will prepare the environment for you to take pride in your work, so we just have to always keep three things in mind: to meet those expectations, to believe in yourself ourselves, and to appreciate the environment that you we are in.

── Whats your personal feedback regarding ALI since youve joined?

Leo: When I first started, I deliberately decided not to create any social media, but except our website. The only way to find out [about us] was to go to our live performance or personally know the members personal Instagram or Twitter accounts. And for some magical reason, various people found us out.

I still feel like Im being guided by that magic. While We couldnt perform live due to the pandemic, there were more reactions than I expected when we performed at, "THE FIRST TAKE FES".

Tens of thousands of people came to watch our online live show. Its still far from what Im aiming for, but I am happy to know that the vision I have is vaguely somewhat starting to come true.

──You chose Bob Marley as one of your favorite musicians. What part of him do you feel empathetic towards?

Leo: Bob Marley made a lot of mistakes in his career. He made his own label in Jamaica and put out songs before he was known worldwide, but his label was bankrupted a few times. Then he released the songs from that time in on a major album. Anyway, he never gave up. Also, the texture of Bob Marleys work is particularly raw when I listen to it on vinyl, and its awesome. When I listened to it, I was blown away.

Besides, the more I play myself, the harder it is to create a message and sound like him. I admire him ultimately for the fact that he never gave up even after he was over 30. And he is a of mixed race. That kind of thing also made me feel empathetic towards him.

──What attracted you to Nina Simon?

Leo: Theres a song called "Sinnerman" by Nina Simone, which is covered by Bob Marley & The Wailers, and its a song that makes me want to be this sound! Its perfect. Its so raw and the sound is super cool.

Upon further research, I learned that she was a fighting person who was at the forefront of the black civil rights movement and was energetic as a human being.

Among all of her activities, she had sincerity for the music. Like Bob Marley, Nina Simone, and Kurt Cobain, they all have sincerity for the music, which I admire, and thats how I believe musicians should be. It doesnt matter if the rest of life is happy or not, they are still impressive.

──When I read about the roots of the other members in ALI, theyre all different, but I feel that they like music with texture and physicality. On the other hand, ALIs music is quite sophisticated, its texture has a high-fidelity feel.

Leo: The texture is very important. In the 70s and the 80s, there were many party venues such as The Loft and Paradise Garage. In the 90s there were a lot of reggae clubs, and there was Shibaura GOLD in Japan as well. I long for such places.

However, we are also very conscious of bare and physical emotions.

──While incorporating the essence of various music genres, it also has an ALI feel.

Leo: I want to focus on the roll part of rock and roll. When it comes to that aspect each person gives off a unique energy, like Keith Richards and Bob Dylan.

──I think that the background of this band reflects on the different musicality and timelines that all of the members have experienced. In that respect, there is a considerable age difference between ALIs members.

Leo: The youngest member is 10 years younger than me but he likes vinyl records so much that he works at a record shop. I think that all of ALIs members passionate about the sound of records and Im glad that we have that in common.

We have another member who likes Latin culture and music and he is our percussionist. Our drummer is a hardcore Michael Jackson fan, and JIN on piano and YU on saxophone who like jazz, and our bassist started as a rock player but now play funk. Everyones favorite things are branched, but they are connected to one another.

── All four songs from the EP, "LOST IN PARADISE" are songs featuring other artists. What was the intention of behind this?

Leo: We thankfully have a lot of people supporting us from overseas, but at the same time, we also want to make Tokyo the center of the world for music. So, this time, I called out to Japanese artists because I wanted to create something that is genre-less, borderless, and I believe that this combination is original, making it something that will remain after many years which will always sound fresh. In that sense, we have a great selection of artists.

──I got the impression that all the artists had a strong sense of their own identity.

Leo: Thats right for everyone. I see them as a symbol for pioneers regardless of any circumstance they are in.

── ALIs profile has been described as a multinational music group. Its interesting that genres, nationalities, and cultures are mixed in a good way.

Leo: I feel like were pirates on a ship, where were finally suitable for departure. "LOST IN PARADISE" is also used as the ending theme song of the anime, "Jujutsu Kaisen", so Im making it include our various themes, so when you listen to our 4 songs people would be able to know what were about.

──The music video or "LOST IN PARADISE" clearly shows the scenes that everyone is playing, and are very colorful, which is a bit different from the bands previous music videos.

Leo: We made it with a great team with our favorite music video director, Kento Yamada. Dutch (* Yamadas common nickname) is like a blue flame burning quietly. He appears to be mellow on the outside but you can tell his sense of passion from within. I feel that all of Dutchs works value the concept of death very much. Thats why I think that his work is perfect for this piece, and created something that only he can do.

──Most of the music videos up until now were monochrome, but is it likely that the images will change in the future?

Leo: No, I always use monochrome. Im thinking about the concept of the next EP but I want to make it while having fun along the way. I like monochrome because it unites everyone regardless of skin color or gender.

──The anime "Jujutsu Kaisen" is getting more popular. That is very exciting. In the comments on YouTube, many people said that the ending theme should not be changed even if the animation season changes, so you can tell that it has already become a song which is loved by many.

Leo: Right. Im grateful for this type of feedback because I made it putting my life at stake. I was particular about mixing and mastering so that the audience could be excited even if they listened to it all the time. Im really happy to hear these types of comments from the audience.

──In the previous work, Ive heard that you went to Los Angeles to record your singing part, but what was your intention?

Leo: We wanted to measure the distance between abroad and ourselves. I recorded and mixed the rap section and the song. The engineers were really great, but recently Ive realized that great things arrive both domestically and internationally.

Our band is creating something new, an essence of both domestic and international sound in one. Im looking forward to getting positive results as much as possible because one of my goals is to feature with my favorite artists from overseas.

──Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

Leo: Yes, for me its Snoop Dogg. Right now, I dont think theres much difference between foreign countries and Japan, and also not much difference in genres. Therefore, it really ends up all or nothing. For this reason, I think you can sing in any language and do whatever you want. I believe that if you do it with passion, it will strike peoples hearts.

──To follow up on what youre saying, I feel the same way in the movie rankings inside Japan, where more domestic films are ranked higher than the big hit western films from abroad. Theres a tendency of stronger domestic focus in the art scene now.

Leo: Japan grew from post-war culture. My grandma was 6 or 7 years old at the time of the war, but after the war, jazz came to the country and she told me, "Jazz finally awakened me to live when I heard it for the first time”.

Jazz made my grandmas eyes shine, and made her realize that there was no point in clinging on to the emotion of winning or losing the war. It went beyond the emotional border we sometimes create and touched the heart of the people. I also want to believe in this and convey the pure wonderfulness of music.

──There are some uncertainties about what will happen to this pandemic, but what kind of vision does ALI have in 2021?

Leo: Im thinking of releasing a mini-album with everything Ive packed in 2020 at the end of January next year. Its an album with the theme of ”funk = unity”, and I think it will symbolize well with our current time.

In February, I intend to have a first release party at Shibuya Quattro, go to Billboard, and also perform in Osaka. Im thinking of a single in the summer, and at the end of the year releasing my first 1st album as a 2-disc set (laughs).

I want to record again featuring rappers for the songs that weve made last year and create something that has a remix vibe to it. Right now, Im about to die from overwork just because of that (laughs).

──As a listener, Im looking forward to following your ongoing journey. I think everyone is tired of enduring the current situation of waiting till for things to get back to how it was they were.

Leo: Yeah, I think everyone is frustrated with the situation. Im really lucky that even though we are a new band in the major music scene, we still were able to be the top on the subscription charts and a huge number of people listened to us. All that is left for us to do is to deliver great songs to many people as much as possible.

── 2021 seems to be a leap year.

Leo: Thats right. At the same time, Im fighting my own pressure to collaborate with Snoop. I have ambitions to work with Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams eventually, so I just need to continue to work until I fulfill that.

──It feels great to hear such big dreams from you. Nowadays, one person can make music on a PC or smartphone, but I think its very nice to play music with a large number of people, mixing genres, nationalities, and cultures like ALI.

Leo: ALI is a miracle gathering because different types of people gathered together to play music. Right now, its still difficult for people to come to live performances due to the pandemic but when the day comes when this is no longer an issue, things are going to get wild.

Im really looking forward to it. Anyway, I want everyone to live safely and get out of this struggle together. I hope I can meet a lot of people next year.