ISSAY + HIKARU
Après-guerre Reissue Vol.5
Since their reunion, Der Zibet continued activities with their unique stance and has now released 20 Seiki (20世紀 / 20th Century), a best-of album comprising of songs they released in the 20th century, as selected by the members of the band. There is no question that even those who have recently become fans will be able to enjoy their live performances even more after listening to this album. And to those who aren’t very familiar with them yet, I invite you to have a taste of their remarkable legacy.
Debuting in 1986, ISSAY’s presence and their one-of-a-kind band image and music won them an ardent following. Kirigirisu (キリギリス) was the last album they released before they ceased activity. 10 years passed before they reunited. Since then, they have kept active at their own pace with live performances and music releases.
――What gave you this idea to release a best-of album?
HIKARU (H): Around the end of our 30th debut anniversary year, talk about going through some record company to release it started up but since these are old releases, things are complicated with the rights so even though we originally intended to release it last year, it ended up being this year. In the beginning, things were moving along pretty smoothly but setbacks came in at the very end (wry smile). Feels like we finally released it.
――How did you feel when you got confirmation that it was going to be released?
H: Happy, right?
ISSAY (I): Because we never thought it could be. It was the sort of situation where we were questioning whether something like this was even possible.
H: Also because this is the first time we had the freedom to choose all the songs in a best-of album.
――How did you pick the songs?
H: Ultimately, we focused on songs that we perform live. We’ve done live performances of all the songs here.
I: Even if we did include songs that we don’t perform, that’s no fun, is it? There’s an increase in those who aren’t fans from way back, and they voiced out that it’s difficult to get their hands on original releases from those days too. Which also means there are a lot of songs we perform live that they don’t know, aren’t there? So, you see, it was quickly decided that this would be based on the songs we perform in our shows. Then HIKARU came in with, “What do you think about something like this?” and shared a draft with us. From there, [discussions] were like, don’t you think including this is better than that, and all that.
H: Cutting [the number of songs] down was more difficult, wasn’t it? Because we chose a little too many. Everyone was suggesting this and that.
I: While drinking, yes (lol).
H: In the mastering stage, we couldn’t fit [all the tracks] into the first CD (wry smile). We had to revise a bunch of things. Besides, if we were back in the vinyl record days, it’d be a 4-piece release, this collection.
――It’s quite a hefty one, isn’t it? Among the songs, the only newly recorded one is Neo Flower Moon. Why did you choose to record a studio version of it at this point in time? It’s from 1986, isn’t it?
I: We intended to put in in the previous album, Bessekai (別世界 / Another World). We had that in mind but the number of songs we made for Bessekai grew too large so then we again decided to put it back in storage. And now it finally gets to see the sun here.
H: The topic of recording it never came up in the past, and even though we’re only doing it now, it doesn’t feel out of place at all. Although it’s a song from 1986, it doesn’t feel weird to place it within Bessekai, and it’s fine that we do it only now, too. That’s some sort of interesting.
I: It’s something we’ve been dragging out until now so I guess it’s just good that we’re finally doing it now.
H: It’s like a homecoming.
I: And we basically kept the arrangement the same too.
――Even the lyrics?
I: I made adjustments in some parts but it’s basically unchanged, yes.
Often described as unorthodox¹
――Are the two discs meant to feel like they are split chronologically?
H: The songs we released through BMG are indeed in the second CD but that’s a good thing, isn’t it? On the contrary.
I: Because there are a lot of BMG era songs that we started to play after our reunion, aren’t there?
H: The last album we released was Kirigirisu (キリギリス / Grasshopper) and then our activities came to a halt so we didn’t manage to do a tour for it. It was pretty interesting playing the songs from that album after we came back together. We ended up recording a lot [of songs] for disc 2 so I think it’s good that we had them divided like that. Included are also really unorthodox songs that would make people wonder why they’re in a best-of compilation, but they’re a perfect fit for the present, right?
――Do you feel that there’s some reason why you don’t feel uncomfortable playing these songs again now, 30 years later, after so much time has passed?
I: We both fell silent (lol). This time, since we have such a quantity, we were able to include unorthodox songs, especially those from our BMG era. There are unorthodox songs in the first CD too, but whatever people used to call unorthodox back then doesn’t feel as unorthodox as it used to now in present times. After 30 years, we’re finally not unorthodox (wry smile).
――Is that because societal values or something like that have changed with the times?
I: I think that’s one reason, and also that we are now able to easily execute the little things we do in our music. We’re now capable of doing them without needing to strain for it. That’s definitely a thing, isn’t it? Otherwise we definitely wouldn’t include songs like Club Idiot, normally (lol). But when we play them now, it feels good. It feels much better now than it was back then.
H: There are songs that we would never play in this day and age (wry smile). Something just wouldn’t feel right. The music and the melody or the arrangement or something else just wouldn’t be right. Like songs from our third album or something, there are some that we get asked to play but there’s no question that we definitely don’t want to (wry smile).
I: Probably, those songs, I think the fact that they’re over-produced contributes to it too.
H: There might have also been an element of trying to do more in an effort to sell well.
I: Besides, there are also [songs] that we did because we were told to try and do something less unorthodox. Not to say that we did that unwillingly, but because we did that, it also means that we’re straying off our centre line, doesn’t it? Back then, we didn’t know what our centre line was, but now, I would think we know where it lies.
――Maybe it doesn’t feel weird even after 30 years because that centre line sticks out.
I: It’d be cool if I said that it stuck out, but we can’t do anything else. I think basically, when we four or five come together to play, this is the only brand of music we’re capable of making. And that’s something I find particularly intriguing these days. I don’t get the sense that anything’s come through, you know?
H: Back then, fun times were complicated by unpleasant times. Now, digging up the stuff that we did in the past to play is enjoyable. In those days, we weren’t exactly a fun band having fun.
I: Now you said it (lol).
H: It wasn’t a band where four people made music happily (wry smile). Neither were we a group who got along well with each other. In comparison, we’re actually on much better terms now. It’s way more fun now than it used to be.
――Why’s that? What’s different?
H: Because ISSAY got good at singing.
I: Oy! (Lol)
H: Now I can say that we can peacefully have drinks together and chit chat. We’re not clinging to the past because we want to create new things. Steadily evolving like this is fun. This is a different feeling than what it used to be. Because back then, since we were signed to a major record label, there were other things to contend with like how the next album had to be delivered after a certain amount of time. Now we can spontaneously release new songs or albums.
――Basically, you do whatever you want.
I: During the 10-year break, I think we came to understand our mutual characteristics. When we started things up again, we really understood our respective attributes.
H: Because playing with the same band members means that we would know their habits from those days.
To feel the passage of time
――That’s also a change caused by the length of time, isn’t it? You mentioned that you don’t feel any discomfort with the songs themselves, but do you perhaps feel the youth in it or something like that?
I: In regard to these songs, there are indeed those that I don’t think I would presently write. There are a lot that I think I could only do because of the folly of my youth, or I could only write because I didn’t understand all that much. I think I probably possessed a strength I didn’t know I had.
――When you say that there are lyrics that you wouldn’t write in the present day… it isn’t about ISSAY-san, is it?
H: Because ISSAY doesn’t stray from his path. I’ve finally come to understand that. I used to think that it would be better if he would write lyrics that were easier to understand, but after the band came back together, we spoke about a lot of things. And when we were working on Primitive, topics like what eternity means to ISSAY came up. He often talks about eternity [in his lyrics] but I wanted to understand the heart of it. After that, I started to think that the lyrics he wrote back then were actually pretty good too (lol). That’s why I say that ISSAY doesn’t stray from his ways.
I: I certainly don’t. Looking at them now, there are lyrics that I think could’ve had a little more ingenuity in them, you know?
H: Because we’re comfortable now. Like the lyrics of Bessekai songs ended up reading like they’re showing you some sort of visual media. Although if you knew what it meant, you’ll probably be able to get a deeper understanding of the unhesitating lyrics from those days which looked like you wouldn’t be able to get it unless you listened to it.
――But don’t you think that things like lyrics have a greater tendency to change?
I: It’s not about writing because I want to write, but instead, I write because something took shape in my mind. Like a landscape or an event; whatever comes to mind, wins.
――Are there instances where you listen to an old song and feel that you probably wouldn’t be able to do the same thing in the present?
I: I think I was attuned to whatever was specific to each era, so I probably chose whatever fit best. But given the way my lyrics are, they won’t really give the impression that they’re dated, so I think they’re relatable even now. I don’t think it’s weird even if we take them out to play in this manner, right?
H: With titles like, Matsu Uta (待つ歌 / Waiting), Shizumitai (沈みたい / I Wish To Sink). Amazing. huh?
I: Matsu Uta just happened to turn out like that, though. It’s a waiting song, so it’s an alias, like, “Let’s do a song about waiting”. When I said that, Chikada Haruo-san said, Matsu Uta as a title is good. So, then, I decided we’ll name it Matsu Uta.
H: And because that’s our debut single, right? It only gets even more messed up from there. Shizumitai was a peculiar one too, wasn’t it? People would ask what’s Shizumitai supposed to mean? But now it’s intriguing. Back then, the only thought I had was, “Are there no cooler-sounding song names?”
I: Because all of us were rebellious, weren’t we? Sticking to what defined rock to us and all that. That’s why things were difficult, back then. We’d butt heads over that, you know? But I also think if we didn’t have those conflicts, then we wouldn’t be here now, anyway. I think it was very important that we fought right there and then while in the midst of production.
H: Production is fun now, isn’t it?
I: We still have conflicts on occasion but those are good conflicts, you know? This album is the product of conflicts but these days, we are capable of taking it normally so it’s good, isn’t it?
H: We’re all really thankful that we can release this at this time.
I: We’re thankful, and we’re just glad. In this album, we arranged the songs as if we were putting together a setlist for a live performance. Like, it’ll sound so good if this song came after this one. And I think that’s the most impressive thing about this album.
H: Arranging them, it felt like we could put on about three whole shows just like that.
――And who came up with the album name?
I: When we were having drinks, I suggested, “What about 20 Seiki?”
H: He likes T-REX and all, so he initially proposed titles like 20th Century Boy. Saying, “20 Seiki Shounen (20世紀少年 / 20th Century Boy) is a great name, isn’t it?” “Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have 20 Seiki come after Bessekai?”
――It sounds really odd when I hear it like this. We’ve already been in the 21st century for quite some time now, haven’t we? And yet it doesn’t feel dated.
I: Exactly. It’s like saying what you’re currently hearing is what we did in the 20th Century (20 Seiki). And it’d be great if that’s the impression it gives people. Because I think that’s the way we meant for it to be.
――It’s a wonder why it doesn’t feel old though, isn’t it?
I: Because we don’t pander to trends (wry smile). We couldn’t keep up to whatever was trendy. And that turned out to be our fortune (lol).
H: These songs were angled for the band, so simply put, we weren’t sellable (wry smile), but now, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? If any one [of our works] turned out to rake in the cash, then I think everything would start revolving around it, or we’d never remove ourselves from it. After all this time, I think that’s good for us.
――I believe there are a lot of people who would be happy to hear it.
I: Because the album itself is interesting, isn’t it?
――Have you been called unorthodox¹ since your reunion?
H: These days, the world is filled with unorthodox things, so. What we do is legitimate, isn’t it?
I: Basically saying, in the end, we were right (lol).
――I’m sure you’d like for everyone to listen to this best-of collection and enjoy your live performances even more than ever.
H: And we’ve got a pretty tight schedule for the rest of this year, don’t we?
I: We’ll start producing our next album soon.
――Very ambitious! We’ll look forward to it.
¹ マニアック (maniakku), literally read as “maniac” has been translated as “unorthodox” in this interview. Despite how it reads, its definition is more closely related to being obsessed with very specific or niche topics. In other words, something that isn’t generally accepted in mainstream society. Thus the translation choice here.