Fool’s mate #139
Interview text by Reiko Arakawa
Photography by Yohsuke Komatsu
Ruins and pleasures that you can’t help but think of
TRASH LAND; the album where loud beats intertwine with the documentary of happenings of a fictional city.
They who broke the mould have returned with this long-awaited new release.
This is the solo interview with their frontman, ISSAY.
If there’s something I want to do, nothing can stop me
―― To start, please give us a brief rundown of what led to your contracting with BMG Victor.
ISSAY (I): Two years ago, in the latter half of that particular year, our contract with Seven Gods Records (a label under Columbia) expired on its own and since then we were in a sort of limbo where our managing office had been decided but we hadn’t decided on a record company yet. So, while in that state we simply continued performing our lives throughout. Then, around September of last year, I think, talks with BMG Victor got serious, and that led to the current contract, basically.
―― During that period of limbo, did you emotionally feel something akin to impatience as one would expect in such a situation?
I: Mm～m, I didn’t. At all. Though, I don’t really know (smiles). Because I felt that we’d definitely make a decision in the end. I wonder how the other members felt, though? I guess there more or less would be some members who felt pressed about it, but I don’t think anyone felt it to the extent of becoming exceptionally anxious, you know? Because, after all, the only thing we could do was to focus on doing what we can and what we needed to do at that point in time.
―― You mean, to continue on at your own pace.
I: Mhm, because I’ve always thought that we’d likely make a decision before long. Although, it did take longer than I expected (smiles). Ah, well, but we also did talk about how it would be fine even if we released music through an indie [label]. Like, we’d probably be able to continue as Der Zibet anyway. Though, we did talk about how it would be a shame if the band broke up or if it stopped existing, among us members. We did feel that even if it ever comes to a situation where our band can’t release music, the state of Japan’s music industry probably won’t decay, so we were quite at ease, but when we started to sense the shadow of a doubt, a decision was more or less suddenly made (smiles).
―― You performed at Extasy Summit* two years ago, didn’t you? I thought that this all started from there, and I’ve also heard rumours that you were going to sign with Extasy.
I: You know, even I was surprised when I heard that rumour from a reporter. Because such a thing had never been sounded out in the slightest bit, and other record company names have been raised before, so, why did that rumour even come about? All that despite the fact that we, ourselves, have yet to make a decision too (smiles), y’know?
―― I think the origin of those rumours came about because there were occasions when ISSAY-san participated in their** personal events, but that you appeared quite a bit, didn’t you?
I: Is that so? That could be it.
―― Did you decide to actively participate or anything like that?
I: There was no such conscious intention at all. It’s simply that I got invited, and if I liked the content that was going to be performed, then I’ll go, that’s all.
―― How do you perceive between yours and the bands’ activities?
I: No relation at all. Because I think it’s fine as long as I enjoy it.
―― Then, what about the unit, Hamlet Machine?
I: That’s a hobby, you see. Because I’m just doing it out of interest. I’m the type who would feel suffocated if I’m not performing at lives, so, even if it’s an event, if its direction interests me, I’ll go. And if there’s nothing like that either, then I’d form a band on my own, or I’d keep jumping into other people’s bands (smiles). Because I can’t do without singing on stage, you know?
―― By the way, I saw you performing the day before yesterday (20 Feb) at Power Station*** and I’m curious about ISSAY-san’s hairstyle changes.
I: Hair, you know, it just grows longer when you leave it alone, doesn’t it? It just gets me wondering, what is it that keeps it in a certain shape, you know? So, there really isn’t much of a profound meaning behind this. It’s just that I got tired of it, you know. Now I’m just letting it be (smiles).
―― I think you change [your image] quite a lot and one of those aspects is your stage outfits, but what are your thoughts regarding that?
I: Since it’s an extension of my everyday wear, what I wore on stage the day before yesterday is exactly what I’d normally wear.
―― That’s not something exclusive to the stage?
I: Yep, that’s been the way it is for the past few years.
―― Huh? Then, you go up on stage just like that?
I: Well, I don’t want to stay sweaty and catch a cold so I’ll bring a change of clothes, though (smiles). In general, if you see me on stage and get the idea that I look flashy, then during that period, I’d look flashy on regular days too. Previously, when I had extensions attached, it wasn’t possible to remove them, so I had no choice but to stick with that image, right? And during that time, I wore a purple coat on stage so I’d normally wear a purple coat too. Because you see, if I don’t do that, then nothing would match, right (smiles)? It just wouldn’t feel right, you know. But the person is the one who chooses the clothes, so I think that it should bring out all of the wearer. I can’t pull the brakes when I think, “Ah, I want to do it like this.” I think that’s one of my answers. I like rock because bringing that out is an acceptable form of expression, you know? I think I like it because it’s something where the person’s appearance is just as important as the person’s music.
―― Is there not much difference between the version of you on stage and the usual you?
I: Isn’t it the same? It’s just that when I’m on stage, I’m in a “shrine maiden state”, you see. There’s nothing for me to do except to wait for the song to descend on me, so it feels like my body is possessed? That much is different, I guess. Though, I suppose that’s quite a big difference (smiles).
There’s a strong sense that we wanted this album to be something that aims outwards
―― Now, I’d like to ask you about your new album, “TRASH LAND”. How long ago did you start preparing for it?
I: Since around July, we had been putting together the demo tape which was to be used for the album. There were 10 plus songs, but once we arrived at the recording stage, we felt that those wouldn’t be interesting direction-wise, so in late November, we started composing again and then started recording in December.
―― Why were all of the credits for the songs written as Der Zibet instead of individual names?
I: There are also a lot of songs which each individual brought, but our band progressively composes through sessions, so there are times when it happens that this part may come from this person, but this other part comes from that person. The melody would change during our composition sessions, and in the end, it gets troublesome [to accurately credit the individuals] so we just leave it as Der Zibet.
―― Around how many songs did you end up with?
I: There were sooo many. How many were there? It’s always like this, but I think there were 40～60 songs? When we produce one album. Because there are also songs that are made up of only one phrase. Then we’d put together the phrases of two songs and so on, you know. We have quite a lot that was brought to the table as raw materials. Then there are also those songs that we compose as a band when we go into the studio of sessions, right? So, including that, it adds up to quite a considerable amount, doesn’t it?
―― So, what criteria do you go by to choose which song to go with?
I: Feeling^. It’s the band’s bigger sense of wanting to go in a particular direction at that point in time, you know.
―― Are the lyrics only written after you listen to the music?
I: Rather than writing them after listening, it’s more like I always have a stock of lyrics, you know. And even then, rather than a stock [of lyrics] which have taken shape, it’s more like a stock of fragments. Because I’m the type who would write things down on paper whenever I come up with something. Then, I would collate this stock in a notebook, and as I refer to it, I’d keep thinking and often, I’d go with putting bits from it together [to form song lyrics]. When there isn’t enough, I’d just come up with more there and then, anyway.
―― You always write down whatever comes to mind?
I: That’s right. When I feel like it. Though rather than song lyrics, it’s more like a stock of lyric phrases, you know?
―― You’ve always written song lyrics like this?
I: That’s right.
―― So, does that mean that when you’re writing song lyrics, you’ve never gotten stuck or come up with them last minute?
I: Nope, it’s happened. Numerous times. Because when the content of my word stock doesn’t fit the content of the song lyrics that I want to write at that moment, I have no choice but to redo it, right? But this time, it was easy. I had a vague, general image of it since the period of “Shishunki” Ⅰ and Ⅱ^^. So, there were a lot of words which I let lie for about a year or a year and a half.
―― To leave them for this album?
I: I spoke to the band members this time around, but rather than talking about the content of the lyrics, the conclusion which I arrived at when I spoke with HIKARU was that we wanted to do something straightforward. First and foremost, we felt that we wanted to produce a minimalist, rock and roll sort of album. That, and also, we had been doing live performances throughout that time, right? We had this rhythm which we got through that period of time, so we also spoke about how we wanted to create something which had the potential for us to be aggressive during live performances. But rather than spending time griping about it, I brought (the lyrics) as materials because it would be faster to just suggest, “This is good, right?”
―― It’s quite a heavy sound, isn’t it? It felt that way to me at your lives too, though.
I: I guess you can also say it’s an album that is the result of the trend of the type of songs that we chose to perform at our lives this past one year.
―― In the sense that the rhythm which you have grasped through your lives comes through in this album?
I: That’s right. And, to us, it’s also because our previous release, “Shishunki”, had a part of it which was overly introverted after all. I guess this [album] is also a response to that. At that point in time, we had no choice but to do that… We couldn’t progress to the next step, but I think we drew the line at that, you know? That’s why I think that we created something which burst with unnecessary things. In contrast, do we want to do something which aims outwards this time? I guess there’s a strong sense that we hope people will listen to it anyway because we’re such a great band.
―― What do you mean by “aim outwards”?
I: I think that wanting it to aim outwards simply means that we want this album to sell. This might be interpreted as something very tasteless [to say], but basically, we want it to sell. That was a very strong intention that we had. But it’s not that we are hoping that doing this will commercialise us or something. It’s just that we wanted to release something that is the result of us putting our artist power on full blast. For some reason, the number of people who came to our lives had been steadily increasing during this past one year while we were left dangling in the air. That’s why we had confidence that the way we’re doing our lives is definitely the right way.
The decadence of this era
―― This phrase, “TRASH LAND”, also appears as the album title, but what is it?
I: An unfinished city? It’s a city at the turn of the millennium that I have in my head, but “TRASH LAND”, this imaginary city wasn’t something that I had in mind right from the start. Rather, it was the result of my initial concept of cities. While composing a few songs and writing a few lyrics, I had a moment of, “Oh, I see,” and came to a realisation on my own. [It’s the realisation] that I’m writing songs about disjointed scenes happening in the city. And that I wanted something like a concept which puts it all together into one whole. There, you see, is where the name “TRASH LAND” came from.
―― Considering that TRASH creates the image of garbage or junk, it brings to mind something similar to ruins, though.
I: Because when it comes to cities, what I imagine is futuristic ruins. That is the kind of image that has been going around in my head ever since I started writing the lyrics.
―― When you say ruins of the future, capturing that alone isn’t a very positive perspective, is it?
I: You see, I think of cities themselves as things that have yet to be completed. Even now, I feel that way. Since they’re incomplete, I can’t imagine what they’re like in their completed forms either, but I think that humans have always created all sorts of things in the direction of desire or pleasure. But if we went beyond that by a certain amount, we’d go crazy, right? I think that’s why cities always turn to ruin. It’s easy to look at that and lament, but I wanted to acknowledge it this time. Like, I guess that’s just the way humans are.
―― You mean, [to acknowledge] the parts that are imperfect or warped?
I: I want to include those all together and acknowledge them too. Among all of that, I also really want to acknowledge my floundering self.
―― Is that perspective something that you’ve always had consistently?
I: Nope, I think it’s stronger recently.
―― Why so?
I: I wonder (smiles). I don’t know the answer to that. About why I became like this. I believe that humans are creatures that cannot stop chasing after pleasure. We move in accordance with that principle, so getting told that we’re not allowed to do so would make us lose our humanity; that’s what I think, without a doubt. Because we don’t need restricted freedom. I guess that’s why, in these past two years, I’ve been getting the sense of, “If that’s the case, what if just once, I went all the way to the limit?”. “THE END OF PLEASURE” and the like are songs which sort of touch on that, but I think it’s a declaration of resolve. Because I just want to see my destination. For example, war will never disappear, but although it’s easy to lament, “Why do humans go to war?”, what’s even simpler, to me, is the truth that humans just enjoy killing other people, don’t they? But if you don’t recognise that, you definitely won’t be able to control yourself, right? Because only those who say, “I don’t do that,” are the ones who kill. I thought that was something that I wanted to recognise myself.
―― Is that something you also want your listeners to acknowledge too?
I: I don’t want to do such pushy things. Saying, “So this is my stance!”. I think that it will be put through a filter by my creation of this fictitious city called “TRASH LAND”.
―― I feel like the public image of the band Der Zibet, the decadent atmosphere was again intensified by “Shishunki”, but was it your intention to wipe that away with this album?
I: Nope. I guess since “decadence” was something that has been said of us since our debut, no matter what we say now, it wouldn’t make a difference… So, because the trend thus far can be rounded up with the word “decadence”, I think that I’d probably be dabbling (in “decadence”) forever. Though, it’s not that I wanted to be defined as such. That’s why this album, too, could possibly turn out to be the decadence of this era.
―― I got the feeling that [this album] had a stronger sense of objectivity than “Shishunki”, though.
I: I believe there’s a lot of that. “Shishunki” is a work where I was floundering and kept going further and further inwards into myself, but for “TRASH LAND”, I feel that it’s about things that happen while normally walking through the city. About the people I saw, or what I felt. Because that’s what I feel we presented in this album. I think it really exudes the idea of the person who sang in “Shishunki” thinking, “What’ll happen if I go outside?”. In addition to that, I think that a variety of personalities emerge with each part of this fictitious “TRASH LAND” that gets created. I could feel myself opening up, like a part within myself that I wasn’t aware of or something that I wouldn’t normally write on my own.
―― Did the way you put out song lyrics in itself change too?
I: This started changing since Ⅱ of “Shishunki”, but I didn’t want to think too deeply about it. I felt quite liberated. This might’ve been my most relaxed experience so far. Since the premise was a fictitious city, no matter what comes of it, it wouldn’t be strange, would it? As I’m a person who doesn’t really go outside, to begin with, and I’m the type of person who likes staying still in my room, I’d daydream about all sorts of things on my own and entertain myself. So, I’d write lyrics, right, and between writing about realistic things and words which can only be fantasy, both are of the same level to me, you see. I think that is probably what people have been telling me is difficult to understand. There was a period when I thought of doing something about it. There was also a period when I pursued reality and tried different methods of writing, but this time, since we’re saying that it’s a fictitious city, anything is possible, so it was really easy. Because I could put out both the tangible things and what my imagination came up with together on the same level.
―― Lastly, please say something to readers who are being exposed to Der Zibet for the first time through this interview.
I: I think, thus far, Der Zibet has always produced new works on a timely basis. And I think this one is really timely as well, and to me, it’s a work that is being presented for this era. I hope that you will listen to it. Also, you don’t really have to bother yourself with the difficult things, so just let yourself get immersed in the flood of this sound. I think you’ll definitely find something that catches hold of you in it. When you do find it, I hope that you will cherish it. Also, we’ll be going on our tour based off this album starting late April, so please do come. If you come once and it doesn’t interest you, you can come and watch us a second time too (smiles).
* Extasy Summit was an event hosted by YOSHIKI’s Extasy Records which was meant to promote visual-kei and the bands that performed there. ISSAY took part in the 1991 edition, performing Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love with YOSHIKI on piano.
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9Ns1ax9AAU
** Subject was not specified here.
*** Likely referring to Nissin Power Station in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
^ It was written as “カン” rather than “感”.
^^ Shishunki Ⅰ and Ⅱ (思春期 Ⅰ – Upper Side – / 思春期 Ⅱ – Downer Side -) are Der Zibet’s 7th and 8th studio albums which were respectively released in July and October of 1991.
Scans: morgianasama on LJ