Final Weapon is not what you would call the “average” band. Based out of Birmingham, AL, and consisting of four friends who blur the line between geeks and rockers (and a computer-generated female vocalist who blurs the line between man and machine), the band primarily sees itself as synth-driven rock, with strong roots in the world of video games, anime, J-rock and film music. The trademark sound from their self-titled EP involves a very classic video game feeling, thanks to keyboardist Matt Gates. Coupled with intense drumming by Josh McDonald, a steady and powerful backdrop by bassist Steven Wilson and an overlay of electrically charged chords and solos by guitarist Jacob Cooke, the resulting music is often fast-paced synthetic rock with a prominent flair for the dramatic. On occasion, they’ll also include their vocalist, a female “Vocaloid” (a Japanese program made to simulate authentic-sounding speech and vocals), to sing or speak over their songs in Japanese, giving their music a mysterious and foreign air.
They’ve opened for such well-known bands as Motley Crüe, as well as The Protomen, and have started to become more prominent figures in their own rights. So why does the band keep a low profile in their hometown? And how did a band like Final Weapon come into being in humble Birmingham? I sat down with Jacob and Josh to find out more about this enigmatic group of “otaku” and what makes them tick.
Nathan Zarzaur: Thanks for coming, gentlemen.
Jacob Cooke: Great to be here!
Josh McDonald: Thanks for having us.
NZ: So tell me fellas, how did Final Weapon get started?
JM: Well, the keyboardist Matt and I, we go way back. We knew each other since we were, like, four. (laughs)
JC: Josh and I, we’re probably the ones who get credit for starting the band, since we were the first two members. I was fresh outta high school, just started college, and my girlfriend at the time, she introduced me to Josh. It was funny, because for about a year I kept hearing about this amazing keyboardist named Matt Gates who lived here in Birmingham, but I couldn’t find the guy.
JM: So [Jacob] asks me, “Hey man, I’ve been hearing about this guy, do you know anything about him?” He had no idea Matt has actually been my best friend for years.
(JC & JM laugh)
JC: So we kinda formed from there, around December ’07, and picked up Steven as our bass player along the way about a year later.
NZ: What brought you all together?
JM: What really brought us together was our shared interest in game music. People we know, they’ll just listen to the radio to enjoy music, or a CD for the favorite band; we got that same type of enjoyment out of listening to video game music. We all liked symphonic stuff, like in Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, games like those.
JC: What’s interesting about us is that we don’t try to use the video game or anime music as an angle or a gimmick. We don’t do it to appeal specifically to people who enjoy those things, we do it because it’s what we grew up loving. To us, it’s a part of our lives, our culture. So it’s important to us to show that in our sound. We would love to have broader appeal outside of the nerd niche, but we won’t compromise what we want to sound like to do it. People like our music for what it is, not because it panders to them.
JM: We don’t want to be limited to just this kind of music, which gimmick bands usually do. We want to have free reign to make whatever types of songs we’d like.
NZ: I hear your lead singer isn’t exactly human, per se….
JC: Yeah, we use a Japanese-speaking Vocaloid as our singer in some of our tracks. We call her Freya.
NZ: What made you decide to use a Vocaloid instead of a human singer?
JC: It’s probably because we haven’t found one yet. (laughs) Even though we’re still on the hunt for a true vocalist, we enjoy using the Vocaloid in our songs because it goes well with the synthetic rock sound the rest of our music has. It’s just a nice bonus that a lot of our fans are anime fans that love Vocaloids already, so they’re very receptive [to] hearing us use one in our songs.
NZ: Your shows tend to be mostly at out-of-state anime and video game conventions, instead of here on your home turf. Why is that?
JC: The Birmingham scene is a tougher sell for a band like ours. We’d love to play more local shows, but there are so many genres of music here that are more popular that we don’t quite fit into, so it makes for some stiff competition.
JM: People at conventions, they get our music, because they like most of the stuff that influences our songs to begin with.
JC: We hope to get the chance to play another show in town soon, but so far we have nothing on the books. Fingers crossed.
NZ: Earlier, you mentioned several video games as influences. Do you have any bands that you like to draw inspiration from?
JC: We all consider bands like Dragonforce, Dream Theater and Rush to be pretty inspirational to our sound.
NZ: Alright, last question guys, and most important of all…Can I be in the band?
JC & JM: …Naaaah.
You can catch Final Weapon at Pokécon 2013, in Louisville, KY on July 19th through the 21st. Their EP will be released this summer on iTunes, and their first album is slated for a release next summer. Be on the lookout in upcoming months for their first music video for the song “Colours.” For more information on Final Weapon, visit http://www.finalweaponband.com.