Dir En Grey delve into their origins

Kaoru - Dir En GreyTo us Westerners, Japanese culture is both fascinating and puzzling. First because we’re less used to it than we are to other, more dominating cultures in the global artistic world. With regards to metal, we’re obviously more accustomed to the American, English, German, or Scandinavian scenes. But what makes things all the more mysterious, if not utterly incomprehensible to us, is that Japanese art mirrors a society, culture and way of life vastly different from our own.

We recently talked to Japanese band Dir En Grey, who offer a crazy musical and emotional roller-coaster. We asked guitarist Kaoru to help us understand what makes Japanese music and art so special. It was also a good opportunity to talk about the band’s new album, Arche, which revolves around pain – a subject more unifying than any other, according to him.

Dir En Grey

« We feel that people can relate more to pain than to something positive. »

Radio Metal: Last year, the band celebrated the 15th anniversary of its debut album, Gauze. You embarked on a tour to celebrate that. How did you feel about this anniversary and what was the response of the audience?

Kaoru (guitar): I actually don’t feel any different from when we first started, even though it’s like 15 years that we’ve been together. Even after going on that tour playing that first album we released, the only thing I realize is: “Oh, we can still play our old songs!” That’s as much as different as I felt after celebrating the 15th anniversary!

What do you think of this album, fifteen years later?

Obviously this is the first album that we’ve ever created together as a band. At the time, we just had our dreams, all these ideas in our heads about the ideal album we wanted to do, based on who we looked up to in the scene. It was a very difficult process of trying to create something that is realistic enough for us to put out, but it’s definitely an album that we look back to, that reminds us of what it was like back then.

The new album is called Arche, which is Greek for “origin”. Is this somehow linked to the anniversary of the origins of the band or is it just a coincidence?

This has nothing to do with these 15 years together, it’s more about… Yeah, “arche” means the origin, and it’s more about us kind of looking into ourselves to get where our core and our base are, our origins, of each five of us in the band. It’s not like a starting point again after 15 years like hitting the reset button to start all over again, not in that sense, it is about looking into what is the basis of who we are, and what we are as a band.

Dum Spiro Spero was a Latin title and Uroboros was referring to the Greek mythology. It seems like you’ve been very much attracted to ancient languages and cultures lately, why?

Actually it has nothing to do with ancient languages or ancient civilizations or anything like that. It’s mostly the vocalist [Kyo] who thinks about the titles and kind of gives the ideas to the band and he is perhaps attracted to the words but it’s not like that, not about how old or ancient it is, but more about how it sounds and the meaning behind it that fits the album’s image at the time.

Your previous album Dum Spiro Spero felt like an artistic achievement on its own. So how would you define the evolution that led from this album to your new album Arche?

For this album it’s been particular. We tried to produce something that’s not as complicated as the previous one, something more simple, that people can really relate to, that when they listen to it they can immediately understand what we want to portray and where the music is going, and that is what’s behind how we went into production on this new album Arche.

The album deals with the theme of pain. This has been very much a reoccurring theme in your career; can you tell us more about what does it represents to you and how it inspires you?

You know, even when somebody always focuses on what makes them happy and positive, it doesn’t mean it helps him to achieve that, so we chose that theme that is very close to everybody. Anger, anguish, sorrow, grief are things that everybody has experienced, and we feel that people can relate more to pain than to something positive. So that’s why we chose to use this as a theme to kind of portray or express our music with.

Do you think that pain should be accepted as part of our life and that without pain, there can’t be happiness?


Your albums are very diverse and experimental. We can hear, especially on this new album, some very angry extreme metal moments coexisting with very nice melodies and clean vocals, and so much more. Can you tell us more on how you actually write music and how you end up with such stylistic mix?

Yeah, this is a very long process because it takes a lot of time, we put a lot of time into each song. Basically, we would be working on a couple of different ideas, working on one song and then leaving it to work on another, and then get to a point where we would think: “Oh, it’s not gonna work” so we would throw it to the trash. Then when we have a foundation we would bring it to the band and we sit down together and talk ideas again and kind of figure out which direction we want to push the album or each song. And then, once we kinda discussed all that and the songs take a little bit more form, we go to the studio and start recording, start jamming, but the process of creating the song has not ended because even in the studio, you’re still tossing ideas around again. It’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of sharing of ideas between the band members to come up with an album. Once we’re done recording, then we send the tracks overseas for mixing and then there’s a bit more back and forth perfecting the songs and then, it’s done!

Dir En Grey - Arche

« The Japanese people are very meticulous people, we get very nervous about the smallest things, they have to be perfect on every level. »

Many Japanese rock and metal bands have what can be perceived as a sort of crazy kind of vibe in their music. That does apply to Dir En Grey but also to bands like Boris, Maximum The Hormone or Sigh that go all over the place with their music. Where does that apparent Japanese madness come from?

There’s probably a lot of different things that influence the fact that Japan has its specific sound whatever the genre you listen to. It must have something to do with the upbringing in Japan and the influences that you get growing up in Japan listening to the things that are popular in Japan. Another thing is that the Japanese people are very meticulous people, we get very nervous about the smallest things, they have to be perfect on every level, so maybe this extra attention to detail even in the songwriting and song making is what people hear that distinguishes Japanese music from the rest.

A couple of months ago we talked with Addi from the Icelandic band Sólstafir and he told us how the isolation from being an island created a very unique sounding music scene over there. And the Japanese music scene is very unique too, so do you think this has also somehow to do with the fact that Japan is an island, physically separated from the rest of the world?

Yes, probably this is also something that influences the music. The music history in Japan doesn’t go back very far. Yes, you have Japanese folk songs, but if you look at the rock or metal scene, you can trace it back to about twenty years ago or maybe almost thirty, so it’s a very young scene right now.

Dir En Grey is a Japanese band that actually tried to get its music outside of Japan. But most of your lyrics are in Japanese, which makes it harder for people to get into that part of your music. Have you ever been tempted to write more songs in English to allow a bigger connection with your international audience?

Actually in the past, when we first went abroad, the American label told us: “You guys need to create more songs in English”. At the time we did because the label told us it was the right thing to do even though we felt like it was a forced kind of thing: obviously our vocalist doesn’t even speak English so it’s very unnatural for him to write English songs, and then it comes out sounding very false. At that time, because our albums were released over there, we thought: “OK why not, let’s release the song in English”, but, in the end, it didn’t really change anything for us, it didn’t make us a 100,000 records selling band, so it felt like it was just better for us to stick to what we do the best and what we want to do. So there’s no reason at this point to make English songs from our point of view.

Has a band like Rammstein who earned an incredible international success reassured you on the fact that you could make a good international career with a non-English music?

Growing up, I was also listening to a lot of American or English bands without understanding their lyrics, so it feels like yes, people will be able to make it without having to adapt to the American market, like Rammstein doesn’t need an English album to be listened to. The same goes for Dir En Grey: we don’t need to release an English album for people who want to come to our concerts. So yeah, perhaps it is possible to make it, but who knows!

What does the Japanese language offer artistically that the English language might not offer?

I don’t know of course because I don’t speak any other language, but I feel that Japanese is very intricate, you can really use it to kind of express a lot of things. So yes, there are certain things that perhaps you can only express in Japanese.

One Japanese metal band that is currently gaining great success and creating big debates around it amongst metal fans is Baby Metal. What do you think about this band and its international success? How is it perceived in Japan?

I feel that it’s the same in Japan, they are receiving the same kind of feedback or response. Some people love it, some people hate it… I personally never have anything against people who try to do new things. It’s something new and there’s no reason to hate it.

Interview conducted by phone 23th, april 2015 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription: Chloé Perrin.

Dir En Grey official website: direngrey.co.jp.

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