【face-to-face / interview】DIR EN GREY
Members of DIR EN GREY have been on the road ever since the release of their ninth studio-album, Arche (December 2014). They toured Europe on May and will hit North America with their tour “NEVER FREE FROM THE AWAKENING” in a couple of days. Last month, DIR EN GREY played two consecutive days at Tokyo’s Studio Coast where we met guitarist Kaoru.
Arche has been released almost a year ago. Does the album still represent the band as it is today or do you feel that you have already moved forward and slowly getting into new a creative stage ?
Kaoru : Every album embodies musically and visually the band as it is at the moment of their respective releases. Our latest work, ‘Arche’, was released on December of last year (2014). It will soon celebrate its first anniversary. Hum… A year represents a short and long time period at the same time. It’s short enough for us to still feel in line with it, with its universe, yet it’s also long enough for us to feel getting into a new creative phase. We’re constantly evolving, nothing is ever carved into stone. DIR EN GREY is a band in a non-stop motion. We have new ideas, musically and visually — already (smiles).
I see. Let’s continue with motion. After playing the album repeatedly, songs have changed a bit. Do these changes come naturally, depending of the mood of the night or do you work them meticulously beforehand ? Do you tend to feel disatisfied with the outcome of your recorded work afterwards ?
Kaoru : Indeed, we are used to modifying few chosen songs for the stage-performances. We never change them all, they are always well-selected. The changes are never massive nor ever made on the whole time length of a song. In general, ideas come when playing the tracks. It’s the experience — the habit of playing them on stage — that nurtures new ideas. By dint of performing the album, I mean the way it was written and recorded, we get to realize that some tracks would be better enhanced on stage with slight changes. Ideas arise naturally, we never force each other to rework the arrangements, we never change our music for the sake of it. These changes remain however elaborated, discussed and decided in advance. It’s definitely not a question of disatisfaction with our recorded work, we simply feel that certain songs need slight alterations to enjoy a greater stage quality. These modifications are only made to improve the performance, only the live-performance.
How do you rework these songs, with Die more specifically ?
Kaoru : In studio, we are clear on who does what… Well, I mean that generally everyone develops his own ideas for his playing parts. During live-rehearsals, however, it often happens to us to advice and suggest ideas to one another. I can easily say to Die : “Well, it might be better if you play this part like this or if we both play this other part like that”. We talk to each other, we play together, we suggest ideas to one another, we try them out and see. We never feel like making compromises, we are creatively in sync.
In studio, how does your way of creating music differ exactly ?
Kaoru : In studio, roles are more defined although there’s no rule. DIR EN GREY is a band truly open and entirely free. With Die, we work together and seperatly. We do both. As for the music creation process goes, there’s no standard formula. We either compose music on our own then put the outcomes together, assemble the pieces together in sequence to complete the track, or compose the music side by side and figure out together what sounds best. This is exactly how ‘Arche’ was created. We wrote some melodies together, in complete collaboration, we wrote others seperatly, we then put them together. And it works very well that way because each of us, one in turn, can have blank moments of inspiration and moments of creative frustration. But someone’s idea triggers another to someone else. Someone’s idea can become a source of inspiration to someone else. We are complementary, each of us freely gives advices to the others, it’s a genuine exchange experience. I can suggest ideas to Kyo as easily as to Toshiya. There’s no quarrel… Almost none (laughs).
In studio, you are precisely free to do whatever you want to. For example, there are lots of riff and melody layers contained in one song. How difficult is it to trying to play them properly on stage ? How do you manage to sound the closest as you can to the recorded tracks ? Well, if recreating live the disc is indeed what you look forward to when performing…
Kaoru : Hum (holds lengthily the note)… Well, it depends on the tracks and more presicely on the musical phrases of the tracks. In general, we gauge the atmosphere and energy coming off of the songs during the rehearsals. It follows two different patterns : on one hand, there are tracks we try to sound the closest as we can to the album, these songs are the ones that don’t need any change because they work well on stage, on the other hand, there are songs that don’t work so well live. For these precise tracks, we must detach ourselves from the album because we consider that they would sound and work better on stage with slight modifications. But, it’s indeed quite difficult to bring out all the flavour of any track live, whatsoever. All the guitar riffs are played entirely by Die and I. I don’t really want to use recorded tapes to help us, although it does happen that we discuss it. We sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better to use computers to support us. We never use recorded tapes for the guitar parts, we sometimes use recorded ambient sounds to create a deeper atmosphere though. We use them only for that purpose.
How would you describe your style compared to Die’s ?
Kaoru : I don’t know what differences might be between his playing and mine (he pauses for a moment). Hum… Actually, there are differences and these differences are what I love most about the way his plays the music. Our pickings are different, Die’s skilled at strumming the strings with control and greatness. He can play beautiful arpeggios, he can compose wonderful melodies, which is what makes us different. As for my style, I can’t define it. It’s not a question of being unable to put it into words, it’s just that I don’t know what my style might be. Coming back to Die, I think his picking is very precise, his playing is forthright and confident. He’s very skilled at what he does. Strings have no secret to him.
You do underestimate you. What are the pros and the cons of being the guitarist of a 2-guitar-band ? Is it more interesting as it permits you to broaden sound fields or inconvenient as you always have to deal with someone else ?
Kaoru : I’ve only played in 2-guitar-bands so it would be very weird to me to be in a band with four members, with only one guitar player I mean. It seems pretty much impossible. It would be a highly inconvenient situation (laughs). Being in a two-guitar band is an advantage, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a standard configuration. It’s not a disadvantage position at all, quite the contrary. All the more so since we’re creatively compatible.
You will host a show « The Freedom of Expression » on a regular basis starting on October the 3rd. What are you most looking forward to ? Is there any topic you would like to express yourself on ?
Kaoru : It’s a radio show of free expression. We’ll discuss everything that affects Japan. Certain subjects are planned, other ones aren’t yet. The chosen themes will be evolving during the show. All I can say is that it won’t be about music only. It was my idea in the first place, though I drew my inspiration from someone I know who did it before me. I approached the boss of a radio station, where a previous schoolmate of mine used to work. This is how it all started. Initially, I thought we would broach music-related subjects only : bands, artists, musicians and so on. But in the end, I don’t want to be limited to this subject. I will host it openly and freely, topics will evolve on their own and get mixed together, pretty much like a normal conversation around a table. An idea usually triggers another thought which takes the conversation to another direction.
You will release your very first book on October 21st (sold exclusively at Tower Records). Can you tell us more about it ? Is it an autobiography ?
Kaoru : I started working on it three years ago. It’s a collaborative effort, I didn’t write it alone. The book is a semi-autobiography to the extent that my life is, in there, told chronologically : it begins with my birth and ends with the man I am today. It’s all about my life, but it’s told partially under a light angle, exit the serious dramas and accidents. It’s a book half-way to an autobiography. We, the person I wrote it with and I, gatherded and compiled informations already published in magazines like the “Ongaku To Hito”「音楽と人」. I’ve been writing a regular column in it for years. The book includes an interview where I reflect on my childhood. There are exclusive pictures. The whole book is fraught with my current self. You should definitely check it out to grasp at the idea behind it.
Why lies behind the name « Doku Gen » ?
Kaoru : The book is co-authored by a musician, myself. Look, the first kanji (he points the kanji of the cover of the book) : 読 (doku) means « read », the second kanji (he points the second kanji of the book) : 弦 (gen) means « strings ». The title denotes the following idea : « reading my life, reading the life of a musician, reading the life of a guitarist », it is as simple as that (smiles).
It’s interesting because « Doku Gen », without the kanjis that I didn’t see before this interview, I thought it meant « talking to one’s self » (独言). Will there be an english edition any time soon ?
Kaoru : No, there won’t be an english version any time soon (winces).
In 2008 during the Uroboros album, I asked you if you’ll ever consider do something else than DIR EN GREY. You told me that you will think about it when time gets appropriate. What made you all started working on side-projects ? What’s appropriate now ?
Kaoru : Actually, we’ve been thinking about it for a while. In 2008, we didn’t feel like throwing ourselves into the adventure, something was holding us back, but it has always been there in our heads. It was a question of time. Kyo had the courage to open the way, the others followed naturally, without any doubt.
You will soon embark on a US tour to finally play at the Nippon Budokan on February. It seems Nippon Budokan always mark the final point of an album era. What does this place represent to you ?
Kaoru : One of the main reasons lies in its ideal surface erea. Plus, we like playing there. The other concert halls don’t really intil us that feeling although they would have fit the job. But the Budokan has the perfect size to produce a big show, bigger than what we are used to doing. The final point of an album era isn’t necessarily marked with it. We just like this venue I guess.
Yesterday, your hand was covered with band-aid and so was it in Paris, I think. Are you alright ?
Kaoru : Hum… (watches his hand with a sad look on his face). My hand has been hurting for some time now, and the pain is getting worse. I don’t think it’ll get better. It seems to be strained for sure. I’m currently trying my best to recover, I give special attention to it, I often go to the hospital to check it out (moves his fingers). But I’m alright, I guess. It’s the result of playing repeatedly, the cadence of my playing, rhythms have changed a lot through years… Little-by-little, I realized that my pain was getting strange. I think it’s going to get worse — gradually…
Oh ! I didn’t know. I’m lost for words…. I wish you full recovery, take care of yourself. Try not to push yourself too hard tonight.
Kaoru : Thank you, it won’t be easy.