On their new track, “Renegades,” their first single in two years, beloved Japanese rock band ONE OK ROCK are ready to take the world by storm and start necessary conversations around important social issues such as climate change, AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) hate and solidarity with those who seek freedom. 

Co-written with English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and serving as the theme song for the live-action anime Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, the track encapsulates a rebellious spirit. Collaborating with Sheeran for the single is the culmination of a friendship that began in 2019 when he invited the group to open on his Divide world tour. Sheeran returned the favor when he supported the band on the Yokohama stop of their Eye Of The Storm tour and performed a live collaboration of his hit single “Shape Of You” as well as their song “Wherever You Are.”

Read more: Evann McIntosh captures their immediate feelings with each song

Produced during lockdown and delayed due to pandemic constraints, “Renegades” sees Takahiro Moriuchi and his bandmates—Toru Yamashita (guitarist), Ryota Kohama (bassist) and Tomoya Kanki (drummer)—aspiring to give fans an outlet for their pandemic-fueled frustration, as well as offering light and hope for those who are feeling defeated.

“Renegades” pushes the band’s sonic boundaries and allows them to make music that they love in addition to promoting the benefits of a multicultural society and being a positive force for Asian-Americans.

Here, Moriuchi talks to Alternative Press about the importance of addressing social issues in rock music, working on the track with Sheeran and the band’s hopes of achieving a global reach.

How did the partnership between ONE OK ROCK and Rurouni Kenshin: The Final first form?

Thinking back on it now, it was actually really amazing how everything came together, and we ended up doing the songs for all the Kenshin movies. We used to be under a management company called Amuse, and there was an actor there who was the same age as me named Takeru Satoh. He was actually a fan of our music before we even met, and he ended up being the only person the same age as me who I could really relate to. We ended up becoming really close friends. The Kenshin series ended up being a really, if not the most, important movie for Takeru’s career as an actor. After he got cast and Takeru had a say in the theme song for the movie, his only choice was ONE OK ROCK. He’s a great friend and someone who I have countless conversations with and ask his advice about a lot of things. I am glad to call him my friend and also glad to have the chance to write the music for all five of the movies in this series.  

The group co-wrote the track with Ed Sheeran, whom you’ve shared the stage with before and also worked with before. How has your relationship developed since you met? What was the writing process like with him for “Renegades”?

With Ed, our relationship really just started out as pure friendship and not a musical relationship. A lot of people around us kept saying we should collaborate, but I always felt that if we were ever going to make something together, we first had to get to know each other and have a common respect for one another. So actually, I’ve never brought something to Ed saying, “Let’s do this together.” It has all been really organic. However, as we got closer, we shared a common love for music, and that’s really just what brought up working together. I am beyond thankful for everything that Ed has done for me, and I have received so many things from him. More than that, he is just an amazing person with a great personality. To me, he is a representation of what an artist should strive to be.

What thematic relationship does “Renegades” share with the title character of Rurouni Kenshin

All of the traits he possesses: weaknesses, strengths, loneliness, resentment. I feel that all of these very human emotions were bottled up, brewing inside of him, ready to burst and dawn a new era for him. To sacrifice ourselves for the sake of pushing forward to something new is definitely a feeling that I think we share with Kenshin. 

“Renegades” touches on AAPI hate, climate change and anti-Blackness, among other issues that aren’t typically addressed in rock songs. How can rock music better advocate for these issues? 

Rock, to me, is anger in a sense but also the ability to express that anger in a sometimes very aggressive way directly into people’s hearts. In the world, there’s so much going on, and a lot of issues that we as Asians and as Japanese people [face] have to be addressed and brought to light through sound and song.

I know that your band are aiming to be globally recognized in the U.S. and want to make a wide effect. What has that journey been like? 

I know there still aren’t a lot of people who recognize us or our music in America, but I believe there will come a day when everyone knows ONE OK ROCK and [knows] that we are a Japanese rock band.

Your band have been producing hit after hit since the release of the first live-action movie in 2012, and the trailer for this one is so exciting. It’s a blueprint for how every anime should be adapted. What’s it like to work on a song for this?

I don’t feel like we’ve made a hit song, but with the great support of many people and the enormous support from our fans, we were able to come this far. It’s the end of a successful, serious movie that’s spanned over 10 years, so honestly, there was a little pressure involved in making this song. But with the involvement of Ed Sheeran and the support of our friends and fans, we were able to make it and came out with this song.

This interview appeared in issue 394 featuring cover stars Waterparks, available here.