A Velvet Dream
Zy. No. 16
Photo by Hiranuma Hisana
Interview by Murayama Miyuki
ISSAY has gathered many followers in the visual scene ever since he was active as the vocalist of the band DER ZIBET in the 80s before the term “Visual Kei” was coined. Even now, he remains actual with HAMLET MACHINE and ISSAY meets DOLLY among other endeavours.
The summer before last, his neo-cabaret music unit, ISSAY meets DOLLY was formed and now, they are currently in the midst of their 4-part solo concert series “CABARET NOIR ～Yottsu no Yoru～” (CABARET NOIR ～4 Nights～) at Minami Aoyama MANDALA with their first show already performed earlier this year in March. Now, let us take a step into this decadent and alluring world.
―― What brought this unit together?
ISSAY (I): At first, I thought of doing something distanced from rock. It’s just that since what I have in me is rock, I wanted to try it out and see what will happen if I involve someone who also dabbles in rock but has different elements than I do. For example, classical elements or cabaret chanson¹ elements, and in terms of songs, I do cover those by Kurt Weill² and such, but I’d like to incorporate those sorts of elements because I’m thinking that maybe I’d be able to do something more interesting if I brought in [elements] that are completely different (from rock). I’ve always had a penchant for that sort of thing, so I thought to try something with the most disparate part of this range that I have. At the time, I happened to have a chance to drink with pianist Fukuhara Mari. She’s got a completely different background than I do, so we started to try and see if that would cause us to be entirely unable to do anything, or if we’d end up creating something exceptionally interesting.
―― With the two of you as the official members of the unit, you’ve performed in two different versions for live shows; as Acoustic DOLLY with a violin added in, and as Electric DOLLY with a bass guitar and drums added in.
I: I really wanted to do this in the form of a rock band in the beginning and we even had bass and guitar at our very first live, but we couldn’t see eye to eye on the music direction and it didn’t take long before we split up (wry smile). Following that, we tried doing a small project with Fukuhara Mari’s old friend, Mio Hirono in the form of violin/piano/vocals. And I found myself liking it so much that now, we’re doing it both ways; with this as the primary arrangement and in the form of a rock band too.
―― And what is this “neo cabaret music” in this document?
I: I want it to be a new form of cabaret music following the advent of rock. It’s not exactly nostalgia in play, but I, who have had a taste of rock, wanted to once again do things the way it used to be when cabaret first came to life. However, this doesn’t mean that I want to do something old, but rather, I want to try and do them as if they were new. But if it gets too far removed from rock, I think the readers would have difficulty with that, though. Because, after all this is a rock magazine, isn’t it? (Wry smile). It’s not as if I’m anti-rock anyway, so it’s only natural that there will be rock elements in it.
―― So what are the differences and characteristics which sets this apart from rock?
I: There are elements which have always been there, but I get the feeling that another level of a more theatrical way of thinking has stepped forward.
―― You used the expression, “visible music.” Does this mean that you’re placing importance on the element of showing?
I: That’s right. But it’s not MALICE MIZER’s style of exaggeration. Because even though I call it theatrical, it’s not that sort of over-the-top, and neither am I using stage sets or scenery. What I’m using is my own body.
―― I’m getting an image of decadence based on the band’s vibe, but do you have any specific examples of what that image is based off?
I: Hmm, this is difficult. For the image, I think it’s similar to a more orderly version of the weird salon-like place in the movie Velvet Goldmine³ where the protagonist performed a show prior to becoming famous. That said, I’m not sure [this reference] is helpful (wry smile). I suppose it’s something similar to what those who used to do chanson did, like Miwa-san⁴ of the Ginpari⁵ era. I’ve always loved the aesthetic sense from about 100 years ago to begin with, so that will be brought out in full force along with classical elements which are very much there. Simply put, it’s neoclassical⁶ romanticism⁷. ⁸
―― And that comes out through the visual aspect and other such areas, right?
I: In a gentlemanly way, yes (smiles). Because [I’ll] look just like the people you see in photos.
―― Although, the mention of decadence gives the impression of a dark worldview.
I: While it’s most certainly not bright, it won’t be eerie. This isn’t in the style of evil spirits⁹ anyway (smiles). I’m doing something beautiful here.
―― In the form of creating a fictional world and then performing in it, right?
I: To be exact, I’m including the audience as I create it. In other words, the guests who come to our show will be participating as well. That’s why I think that even if there are people who end up dead drunk or stand up and start a commotion, they are all playing a part in building that world. Rock concerts are also participatory by nature anyway, so I don’t think it’s all that different. I might invite misunderstanding by putting it like this, but there are theme parks, right? There, everyone in the area participates, right? That’s the idea of it. I think it also applies to the way things are created. You can bang on the piano, or wear a mask or something. Rather than making the stage an enigmatic space, I want to turn the venue itself into an intriguing, sort of mature space. I’d also like children to come and crane their necks and watch it too. In the sense of, let’s enjoy a drink and listen to some great music, let’s watch a lovely show.
―― The songs, too, each have turned out to possess a lot of worldliness and drama, haven’t they?
I: Each song is a scene. In fragments. Rather than one main story, it’s more like a collection of fragmented images.
―― However, those are certainly not wild tales. They’re emotions and happenings which occur in reality, and that ISSAY-san feels, right?
I: I think that’s very true. To me, this is contrarily more realistic that real rock music. Because I’ve decided to create a fantasy, a life-sized version of me comes out. Although I’m singing about someone else, that person is someone who is very much a reflection of myself, or, even if I’ve written a story about a fictional man and woman, it’d be about something that regularly happens, and things like that.
―― The lyrics are written by ISSAY-san, but what about the music?
I: More than 90% of the music is written by Fukuhara Mari, while I offer my opinion on occasion.
―― In terms of musicality, is there something like a genre direction you’d tend towards?
I: There is a particular quality [that we’re aiming for], but in terms of direction, there isn’t one. Because if we pay too much attention to conventions, we’d just end up narrowing things down. Besides, I believe that even if we were playing plain, simple rock and roll, with this line-up, things will definitely not end up being normal. If we compose a chanson-type melody, it would come to sound like the tune of a popular ballad from the past, but we will never say no to that. Because once I sing it, a popular ballad would end up sounding like something else instead. My singing style is one that cuts corners¹⁰ anyway (smiles). I’m excessively strong-willed too.
―― During your solo show last August, you titled it CABARET NOIR.
I: CABARET NOIR is not the name of the show, but rather, the name of a place. When we perform, we’re not in Minami Aoyama MANDARA. We’re in CABARET NOIR. And there, it’d be as if we’re holding a party with a specific theme. For example, if we titled it “Blue Night” (Ao no Yoru / 青の夜), we’d perform songs that are associated with the colour blue, and we’d have blue tablecloths, and things like that, you know? I guess the closest way to describe it is to say that I want to have fun with themes. It’s not that I want to have a fixed concept or that I want to express a particular thing, I’m just thinking of picking a theme and then having fun with it with everyone, though.
―― So, the audience can participate and play along too.
I: I’d be more than happy if they would play along with me anyway, and I think that it’d be great if they came dressed up too. It’d be the absolute best if people who are coming to watch for the first time realise that there’s this other way to enjoy music too.
―― Following March’s “Blue Night”, you have “Red” in May, “Purple” in June, and “White” in July; making these The Four Nights (Yottsu no Yoru / 四つの夜).
I: It’s still pretty vague to me what it’ll look like when all 4 have been put together. What I imagined, in the beginning, was something with a seasonal sense, like [symbolising] the end of winter to the beginning of spring with “Blue Night”, the end of spring to the start of summer with “Red Night” (Aka no Yoru / 赤の夜), autumn with “Purple Night” (Murasaki no Yoru / 紫の夜), and winter with “White Night” (Shiro no Yoru / 白の夜). I thought of applying Kishotenketsu¹¹ to that, but when I wrote the song Ao no Yoru (青の夜) which I performed at “Blue Night”, it ended up being completely different from what I had in mind (wry smile). That’s why I’m still not sure about how this is going to go.
―― Well then, we’ll just have to find out for ourselves at your show. Before we end, a message for our readers, please.
I: We’re always together, but I believe that you won’t know unless you come and see it for yourself. Because I think we’re doing something that you would’ve never seen or heard before, and we won’t necessarily release a soundtrack for it too. In any case, I’d love for you to come and watch, listen, and feel it, so please do come to our show at least once.
¹ A chanson is, in general, any lyric-driven French song, usually polyphonic and secular. A singer specializing in chansons is known as a “chanteur” or, if a woman, a “chanteuse”; a collection of chansons, especially from the Middle Ages or Renaissance, is a chansonnier.
² Kurt Julian Weill was a German composer, active from the 1920s in his native country, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht.
³ Set in 1984 Britain during the glam rock days of the early 1970s, Velvet Goldmine is a 1998 musical drama film written and directed by Todd Haynes from a story by Haynes and James Lyons. The story revolves around a British journalist Arthur Stuart who is writing an article about the withdrawal from public life of 1970s glam rock star Brian Slade following a death hoax ten years earlier and is interviewing those who had a part in the entertainer’s career. Part of the story involves Stuart’s family’s reaction to his homosexuality, and how the gay and bisexual glam rock stars and music scene gave him the strength to come out. Rock shows, fashion, and rock journalism all play a role in showing the youth culture of 1970s Britain, as well as the gay culture of the time.
⁴ Miwa Akihiro is the stage name of Murayama Akihiro. He is a Japanese singer, actor, director, composer, author and drag queen. He started his career at 17 as a professional cabaret singer in the Ginza district in Chūō, Tokyo when moving to Tokyo in 1952. He started working in various nightclubs singing his favourites from the French chansons such as those of Édith Piaf, Yvette Guilbert and Marie Dubas. His claim to fame came rather early in 1957, with a smash-hit called “Me Que Me Que”, which included a string of profanities not used in media at the time. He was also renowned for his effeminate beauty, making him a hit with the media.
⁵ Ginpari (銀巴里 / lit. Silver Paris) is a cabaret that opened in Ginza 7-chome in 1951. It closed in 1990 but until now continues to persist as a pantheon of chanson.
⁶ Referring to in the style of neoclassicism, a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of “classicism,” namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint. Neoclassicism can be seen as a reaction against the prevailing trend of nineteenth-century Romanticism to sacrifice internal balance and order in favour of more overtly emotional writing.
⁷ Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement that ran from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century. It stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience, placing emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror, and the awe experienced in confronting the sublimity of nature.
⁸ Putting these two words together is actually rather contradictory with neoclassicism’s focus on emotional restraint and romanticism’s emphasis on imagination and strong emotion.
⁹ The word he used was 魑魅魍魎系 (chimimouryou kei). 系 (kei) as in “visual kei”, and 魑魅魍魎 (chimimouryou) is a word/phrase that can be used to refer to Yokai. It specifically speaks of monsters of the mountains and monsters of the rivers. The term originated in China roughly 2,500 years ago in ancient chronicles such as the Zuo Zhuan. It refers to various kinds of obake and things changed into yōkai.
¹⁰ The actual phrase is, “四角い部屋を丸く掃く” (shikakui heya wo maruku haku). It literally means: to sweep a square room in circles. It is meant to imply that you’ll miss the corners doing that.
¹¹ Kishotenketsu (起承転結) describes the structure and development of classic Chinese, Korean and Japanese narratives. The structure originated in China and was called and called qǐ chéng zhuǎn hé and used in Chinese poetry as a four-line composition, such as Qijue. It consists of four parts: Introduction (ki), development (sho), twist (ten) and the conclusion (ketsu). Stories following the Kishotenketsu format will usually have a well defined rising action, climax and a fall.
Scans: morgianasama on LJ