An undeniable power of music is its ability to bring fans together to celebrate a likeminded song, band, or genre. For this editor, it was punk rock as a teen, and by that point, the Internet had already made it easy to connect with likeminded weirdos. For Matthew Myers, frontman of the LeetStreet Boys, it was “otaku”.
Translating to “geek”, the otaku community has evolved since the 1980s, but is most often associated with video game, Japanese culture, animation and ‘manga’ obsessives across the globe.
Myers founded LeetStreet Boys – one part webcomic (with band members as characters), one part pop group – and uploaded the video for his single “Yuri The Only One” in 2008. From there, the group grew in popularity among the otaku crowd online, amassing over 1 million streams.
“So, fantasy, comic characters with a real band behind them?” If you’re less familiar with otaku culture, LeetStreet Boys can be a lot to get your head around! Matt Myers was happy to answer some questions for us about the group, otaku culture, and how they engage with fans:
When did you become involved or invested in the otaku/anime culture personally?
Matthew Myers: In 2006 , a close friend introduced me to my first anime convention. It was like a huge crazy party with 10,000 people doing a lot of my favorite things. Video game tournaments. Dressing up in exotic costumes (cosplay). Improv skits. Rave dances.
Most people think about gamers as antisocial geeks. But here was this huge group of “otaku,” being incredibly social, and I saw it as an opportunity to reach out to an audience that most people had no idea even existed.
Were you always writing and making music before your involvement with the LeetStreet Boys?
Yes, I had already been in a few bands and started composing music professionally. But Leetstreet Boys was the first thing I had ever done that gained any kind of mass following. It was at a point that I knew I needed to come up with something really memorable if I wanted to stay in the field. And that motivated me to take more risks I had before.
For a music fan who has never heard your tunes, explain a bit about the legacy of genre and its fan base in both the U.S. and abroad.
LeetStreet Boys music is an uncanny mix of romance, epic and humor that has always engaged the “otaku” community on more than just a musical level. In English, word “otaku” translates to “geek” or “nerd,” and like those two, has changed from negative to positive in today’s cultural zeitgeist.
Over the years, otaku music has become an increasingly integral part of the anime, video game and cosplay worlds, and now represents a massive creative force on the Internet and in live fan events around the globe. Because there, in those environments, you can be anything you can want to be, and that’s the heart and soul of the otaku experience. It’s what gives life to my own formative experiences, and makes what I do possible now.
Which came first, exactly – the webcomic known as LeetStreet Boys or the songs ultimately written by you and the actual band?
The song “Yuri The Only One” came first. There was no live “band” at that point, just myself and one other person. The song was the thing. It just sounded awesome from the get-go, and with the help of an anime-inspired animated music video, it broke very quickly.
Suddenly, LeetStreet Boys were getting a lot of attention, not just because of the song itself, but because we created LeetStreet characters in the videos and transposed them to the webcomic.
Your songs have an upbeat, pop-punk meets chiptune vibe. What were you and the rest of the band listening to growing up?
We had diverse musical backgrounds. My partner was in a ton of bands, and I’d been playing piano, writing songs and composing with MIDI for years.
Pop-punk has a high-energy simplicity that allowed me to focus on melody, chords and lyrics. But I also liked the uplifting feel of epic video game music like Final Fantasy. The chiptunes ideas grew on me later as I started writing songs about saving princesses in castles and other classic game topics.
Break down how fans in otaku culture engage with the LeetStreet Boys both online and in real life.
The internet brings out the most polarizing reactions. LeetStreet Boys has gotten all kinds of inflammatory comments. But it’s really gratifying that there are also so many heartfelt testimonials about our music and helping teens get through some difficult times. We’ve gotten so much fan art and songs and videos over the years, as well as some silly and ridiculous hate mail I thoroughly enjoy laughing at.
And it hasn’t stopped there. A few real life fans have proposed marriage at our concerts and gotten married to our songs. I’ve seen some amazing cosplays with someone dressed up as “me” from the music videos. At one convention a vendor sold “Yuri” BDSM paddles and people bought them for me write “The Only One” on them.
How have platforms like YouTube and your licensed music in video games allowed the band and the webcomic to build a fan base?
YouTube has been enormous for LeetStreet Boys. Not everybody has the label connections to get their music played on commercial radio rotation, so having a popular YouTube video is the next best thing. I put months of planning into our animated music videos and take it very seriously.
The video games have been a cool outlet for us since there aren’t a whole lot of artists doing that.
When did the opportunity to play live strike and how common is it for bands in this genre to garner a following in the West?
With LeetStreet Boys, it’s been about going national from day one. Six months after our debut single on YouTube, we got our first opportunity to headline a festival.
After that, we continued getting invitations to perform as a musical guest at anime conventions and events all over North America. But it was all based on songs that appealed to a dedicated audience, and you have to have that to make it in any arena.
How has using TuneCore to distribute releases allowed you to monitor the response of fans around the world?
TuneCore’s trend reports have been great, especially when it comes to choosing the right single to promote. Being able to see what fans are buying organically provides considerable insight into what tune can be most effectively promoted with an accompanying video.
What are some upcoming plans for the group that you’re excited about in 2016?
LeetStreet Boys is looking to announce an anime convention appearance this year, and eyeing opportunity to make another epic music video from our third album.