X cross talking
Interviewed by Hiroshi Ishida
Photographer Akihito Takagi
Once the music is released, it’s not a personal possession any more
In March, the more than a decade long career of DER ZIBET was packed into a best-of album Ari which they released alongside their 12th full album Kirigirisu. They were supposed to go on their promotional tour for these two albums, Ari to Kirigirisu¹ but the tour was unfortunately put on hold when a band member suddenly took ill. You can imagine the shock of the fans who have been looking forward to their first tour in almost a year, but the band probably feels the same way too. How does ISSAY, for whom live performances are like an anxiolytic, feel about this? Let’s hear it from the man himself in his own words.
Be it pantomime or music
You can’t do either without the soul of a poet
―― How’s the general reaction to Ari and Kirigirisu?
ISSAY (I): … I don’t know.
―― Don’t the music reviews in magazines interest you?
I: It’s not as if I don’t care for them at all though. I do think it’s good to just read and see what that person feels about it. In the end I just feel distant from that kind of thing.
―― Because these reviews are subjective.
I: Besides, if they weren’t, the writer’s existence is moot. Even if it makes me think, “That’s not quite right though,” once the music is released, it’s not my personal possession any more. That’s why I just take [these reviews] as a matter of “Ah, so this person feels this way.” But if it sounds like “This guy isn’t listening,” it makes me want to beat them to death (lol). Like, “How dare you write something like this when you weren’t even listening enough,” or something (lol).
―― When I was listening to your latest album Kirigirisu and your best-of album Ari, I was really intrigued by ISSAY-san as an expressionist though. Like, with your lyrics, it feels as if a particular part of you is being brought out.
I: I suppose, first and foremost, it’s the sense of loneliness that’s always there, right? The sense of loneliness, alienation; those are the kinds of things that I want to bring out in a positive light. Because we humans are alone when we’re born and we’d be on our own ever since. I always want to put that positively. That, and the “swaying”, I guess. There are periods when our emotions get swayed, right? There are loads of these instances like In our adolescence, or when we fall in love, and I think it’d be great if I can bring that across.
―― Guitarist HIKARU-san said that, ‘ISSAY is picky with words but he’s pretty flexible when it comes to lyrics.’ But what does ISSAY-san think about this?
I: Right, I suppose that might especially be so in recent years. Because it’s a problem if you end up with the wrong impression of a particular word when writing lyrics. Even if someone suggests to me that it’s better to change a certain word, I’d say something like, “I don’t think it can be replaced.” To me, if I see the word “孤独 (kodoku / solitude)”, it’s neither negative nor positive. Because I see it as nothing more than a state of being. But if you change that to the word “寂しい (sabishii / lonely)”, it turns into something else entirely, so I’m very particular when it comes to things like that. But not when it comes to the order in which the words come. I’m not too bothered by the minor details as long as the song makes proper sense in the big picture.
―― As Der Zibet’s vocalist? Do you see it like this precisely because you’re one of four members of a band who each have strong personalities?
I: I don’t think that I’m just one quarter of the band. Besides, I think the one singing is the greatest of them all (lol). And once I start writing lyrics, it’s already out of my hands. How I’m going to sing it on stage next time is up to the future me who will be performing it so it’s about expressing how I feel about that particular piece of work, y’know?
―― Even though it’s something that originally came from inside of you?
I: But you see, it’s turned into something that is no longer the same thing as what was initially conceived, so if I were to keep holding on to the energy that I had in the beginning, [the song] would become too subjective and that’s not good. In the end, I’d be taking on a different stance when I perform. That’s something that I’ve been doing in recent years, especially since I released my solo album.
―― So, what’s Hamlet Machine, this other unit that you’re doing away from Der Zibet with Mizunaga-san?
I: Mm… Spite, I suppose (lol). I guess it’s unfettered spite and aggression. I’d say it’s something that is even more aggressive and abrasive than Der Zibet. An abrasive solitude, spitefulness; that’s the kind of thing we’re doing.
―― Der Zibet is a flesh and blood band but Hamlet Machine uses programming which gets me thinking that your method of expression would also change, so when you say that it gets aggressive, is that because of the background music being programming after all?
I: If we’re using programming, the background music will still be perfect even if we’re doing something crazy. That’s why I can always let loose with a piece of mind (lol). Because in the case of Hamlet Machine, at the music composition stage, we’re already assuming that the music will be played by a machine, you know?
―― Since ISSAY-san also does pantomime, do you think that you’re performing with a different side of yourself when you’re doing that as compared to music?
I: No, I think of it as the same. In the end, you can’t do pantomime if you don’t sing, you know? Because I think of it as a song without sound or a voice, so, be it pantomime or music, you can’t do either without the soul of a poet, y’know? That’s why, although the parts of me used in performance are different, in the end, I’m doing the same thing. But the pantomimes that I do are only those where I perform with my master, so since they’re not created by me, it’s probably more enjoyable (lol).
―― Come to think of it, what made you start pantomime?
I: I just happened to bump into my present master (Mochizuki Akira / 望月章) (lol). He suddenly asked me, “Won’t you perform in my next show?”, and I said, “I’ve never done it before so, I won’t,” but he said, “I’ll only let you do things within your ability,” so I said, “If that’s the case, then I guess I’ll give it a go.” More than 10 years have passed since…
―― You got hooked (lol). Is it because you were influenced by your master’s performances after all?
I: No, I was already performing before I saw his work. It’s because I liked that person.
―― Were you drawn by his character?
I: Saying it’s his character is weird but, yeah, I suppose it’s his character in a way.
―― I’d assume your master is one of them too, but aren’t there quite a number of artists who influenced you, ISSAY-san?
I: There are lots. I think that [the music] I’ve listened to all this while has definitely all influenced me. Besides, there are quite a number of musicians who inspired me to start listening to rock music. Like there’s David Bowie and Lou Reed and The Doors who [influenced me] in that sense of it, but I only decided to make music after I listened to T. Rex. I ended up with a huge misconception when I heard T. Rex… I thought, “If [this is rock], then even I can do it, right?” (lol). I think that was a serious misconception, but that’s what made me start music, you know (lol).
―― (Lol) But you’re here today because you thought that way.
I: Exactly, yes. Cocky, isn’t it? (Lol). I got this far in life by being cocky. Through misconceptions and cockiness.
Because making music, writing lyrics,
these are things I have no choice but to do
―― What made you decide to start writing lyrics?
I: It’s because I originally liked reading. I used to read Mishima Yukio and all that. So, one day, I found Tanikawa Shuntaro-san’s poetry collection in a second-hand bookstore, and that got me thinking maybe I should write lyrics..
―― Again, why?
I: I wonder… It made me want to try.
―― Not because you thought, “Even I can do it.” (Lol)
I: I think the idea that “Even I can do it” probably did cross my mind (lol). Since my life is just one of hubris (lol). Lyrics written with such simple vocabulary were fresh, weren’t they?
―― Even now, do you still remember the lyrics you wrote when you just started out?
I: (Lol) Because I have them. At home.
―― You still have some left?
I: I keep them. You know, I made small changes to the lyrics I wrote when I was in high school and turned it into our debut song Matsu Uta (lol).
―― Such lyrics you’ve written back in your high school days probably seem fresh when you read them today.
I: They do. They’re amateurish but I didn’t write them particularly because I absolutely had to come up with something, so it was really interesting because my emotions were in dire straits.
―― You didn’t have deadlines either back then, right?
I: Nope, none at all. And I never even had the mind to sing or anything like that back then, so it really was just me and my need to write, you know? Now, it’s me and my need to stand on stage, but at the time, I had to write lyrics no matter what. So much so that I found myself at the precipice of my… How do I say this, [these lyrics are] unpolished because they were written based on the unstable parts of my psyche, but they’re about things that we all understand very well, right?
―― I’m sure you felt a sense of release after you vented that out.
I: Probably, right? Then again, that much is still the same even now though (lol).
―― I heard that ISSAY-san had your own solo activities prior to the formation of Der Zibet, so what did it sound like?
I: I guess it was something that feels like a mix of punk and glam and electric pop.
―― So how did you go from that to deciding to form Der Zibet?
I: I was a one-man act so the members (of my backing band) weren’t fixed. It’d be a different lineup every month too. So I got sick of such an uncertain set up and was thinking about forming a band and giving that a go when I got acquainted with my present band members, and I thought, “Ah, this is it.” The moment I met this group, I decided that I’d formally form a band with them and make music with them.
―― And just like that, you’ve been together for 10 years. It’s amazing.
I: Yeah, in the end… I suppose it just goes to show how appealing this band is, right?
―― Come to think of it, ISSAY-san once acted in a movie too, right?
I: (Lol) I did.
―― So, why didn’t you continue down that path but chose to pursue music instead?
I: Rather, it’s because I had no choice but to do it. For me, making music, writing lyrics, these are things I have no choice but to do, you know? This isn’t a case of, “I’ll make it if I’m capable of it.” Even if I’m not, “I have no choice but to do it”, that’s how I felt, so… It’s still the same even now. Like, when I act in a movie, I’m not doing it because “I have no choice but to do it”. Back then, I only did it because of the people I met and because I thought it seemed like it would be fun. It was indeed fun in reality though.
―― From the perspective of such an expressionist like yourself, are there any recent artists of note to ISSAY-san?
I: There a~ren’t, are there, at all (lol). Even Western music hasn’t been interesting these recent few years. There’s good music, but I guess I just can’t get into it. … But I really like allnude’s present album² a lot though.
―― (Lol) I feel like I understand that.
I: Until I listened to that album, there were no artists that I liked recently at all, and there weren’t any artists who could get me emotionally invested like in the past, so I started to wonder whether it’s me who changed. If that were true, it’d be sad, but you know, when I heard allnude’s present album, I thought, “So I’m not wrong after all.” (Lol) I realised it’s just that there wasn’t anything like this until now.
―― When I listened to that album of allnude’s, I thought, “Ah, it’s Der Zibet.”
I: (Lol) We sound completely different, but we have things in common, don’t we?
――Somehow, there are similarities between Mizunaga-san’s lyrical universe and ISSAY-san’s.
I: That’s because we’re twins, me and that guy (lol).
―― (Lol) Then what about your little brother Sakurai Atsushi-san?
I: (Lol) I think he’s definitely putting out great work with his band BUCK-TICK. Because I also really like that last album³ that I participated in.
―― BUCK-TICK’s another band with a strong personality, aren’t they?
I: It’s nice to see them do things the way they want like that, isn’t it? When I went on a radio show recently, they played BUCK-TICK’s upcoming single and that was interesting too. It was a very good song. No, it really was good. Noisy (lol). The melody was pop, though, right?
Without concerts to hold
it feels like I’m going to lose it
―― It couldn’t be helped that your bassist HAL-san suddenly took ill, but it truly was unfortunate that your tour had to be put on hold considering that your show at Osaka was going to be the first in about a year…
I: I believe the band feels that more than anyone else. Including HAL. Because, you see, we’re useless human beings, right? (Lol) We have to get on a stage or we’re useless. That’s why [situations like] these are very frustrating. The number of shows Der Zibet had in these few years are too few so we want to play more but (lol).
―― (Lol) How is HAL-san?
I: He’s slowly getting better.
―― So I guess your tour will be confirmed as soon as he recovers.
I: That’s right. We feel that he shouldn’t force himself and that we should wait until he’s in good shape though. But looking at how he’s doing now, I think [the tour] probably isn’t going to be something that far off in the future. So we’re getting ready to charge when it happens (lol). And when it does, we’ll be having a ton of concerts. Without shows to play, it feels like I’m going to lose it. I really can’t take it (lol).
―― So once your next show is confirmed, the energy will be…
I: Through the roof (lol).
―― Considering how much you love being on stage, do you still remember the first time you went up there?
I: I was a real mess, y’know. I was so nervous. Because I did it despite being a person who’s always been bad at putting myself out there in front of a crowd (lol). I downed a pocket bottle of whiskey before going on stage. I was plastered drunk on stage, y’know. The first few years I had to drink because I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t go out (lol).
―― So why do you go on stage despite that?
I: Because I had no choice but to go on stage. If I don’t [do this], I’d get thrown off balance on the inside. If a person’s balance is thrown off, their mania⁴ would go out of hand and all that. So in the end, I have no choice but to do it, right? Even now, right before I go up on stage, I have the desire to go home (lol).
―― (Lol) No one would ever get that idea when they see you perform though.
I: It changes the moment I step out, y’know. Until then, I can’t do it. As long as I can get out there, I’ll be fine though…
―― The expression on ISSAY-san’s face when you’re singing live looks really happy.
I: I am happy, that’s for sure. Up on stage is where I’m most comfortable. I guess [on stage,] I can be anyone; I can feel very free.
―― That’s the kind of place a live show is, right? Not only the ones on stage, but even the audience can escape reality…
I: Rather than calling it an escape, I think it’s more that [this particular space] is made up of only the innermost part of you. For example, there are lots of times when you can’t directly express that, “This is it!” even though that’s what you really think, right? And [live shows are] spaces where those barriers don’t exist at all. Since whatever you find in that space is really your innermost core self and that’s really what constitutes a live show, I think it’s truly a place of freedom
―― We touched on this earlier too, but HIKARU-san and HAL-san both have active solo careers. So, on that, does ISSAY-san have any plans for a 2nd solo album or anything like that?
I: I’m not particularly interested in making another solo album. Even with my last solo project, I didn’t release an album because I just wanted to release one, you know? It just happened because I wanted to do a cover album, I did it, and it turned into a solo project. And that’s nothing I couldn’t have done in Der Zibet, right? It’s more or less just me doing what I want to do. Maybe [I might start another solo project] if I find something that I can’t do with Der Zibet like how that cover album turned out, but unless that happens, I don’t have even the slightest intention of going solo.
―― Since that’s the case, what do you think about HIKARU-san’s PUGS⁵ and all the other solo activities of your bandmates?
I: That’s not really HIKARU’s solo band work, right, just him joining in. “He’s doing interesting stuff,” is what I think but… (lol). I think he understands that too, but I suppose he might be doing it with the idea that it’s his solo work though.
―― With all your bandmates all dabbling in their own activities outside of Der Zibet, does that reflect in your album and your music?
I: I think it does, y’know. Because with this present album, HAL, for some reason, said, “I want to bring out the good elements of ISSAY’s solo album [in this album].” I suppose when each of us head out, or leave home, you know, we see the goodness of home (lol). Because you’d get an outsider’s perspective and you’ll be able to see things with fresh eyes. Furthermore, we get stimulated differently when we work with other people, so that can also be brought back into the band, right?
―― It appears that the reason why the lyric work came first for Kirigirisu is also a result of HIKARU being influenced by his participation in Sasano Michiru⁶ recording work.
I: Because he is always picking up and bringing back those kinds of new things and techniques. I think I do that too, of course. Also, I think that’s the source of Der Zibet’s power to keep changing though.
―― Maybe [he] does things with the mind that, “This might be interesting to do with Der Zibet.”
I: Maybe the thought that, “This method might suit ISSAY,” passes his mind, right?
―― For an album packed with all those things, it requires quite some time between the end of your recording sessions to the release date, right? During that period, do you start thinking things like, “It might be good if we did that for this particular part.”?
I: No, no. The sample CD will be done some weeks before we release it, right? Until then, I can’t look at it objectively. Because I’d become objective for the first time only after that sample is done and I listen to it.
―― Until then, you’ll be immersed in the accomplishment of completing an album.
I: Because I’m still in the midst of that album, y’know? But when the disk is done and I listen to it objectively, I’d think, “Well, isn’t this cool,” (lol) and when the album tour is over, that’s when I can truly be objective. I guess it’s because I can’t flesh it out unless I perform it on stage after all.
―― The tour’s been halted, but are there any songs from this album that you’re dying to perform?
I: I want to do them all (lol). Although we did do Garasu-goshi no Sekai (ガラス越しの世界 / The World Through A Glass) in that gig we did last year end. I think songs like Gokuraku Ressha (極楽列車 / Paradise Train) and Dr. Real Love will probably be lots of fun.
―― For, I’m hoping to hear Kirigirisu wo Koroshita no wa Dare? (キリギリスを殺したのは誰？ / Who Killed The Grasshopper?) live though.
I: I actually think it’ll turn out to be something amazing (lol).
―― Especially that part in the chorus, when the noisy guitar whines and groans right after ISSAY-sings.
I: Y’know, when it gets too noisy, I can’t sing, right (lol). It was difficult when we were recording too. I’m like, “Scary. This guitar feedback, tone it down~~. I can’t sing~~.” (Lol)
―― Will it be okay live (lol).
I: We’ll make it work somehow. Because we’re professionals (lol).
―― You’re getting more and more excited for the tour.
I: It’s not that far off, so do look forward to it.
¹ In reference to Aesop’s fable
² Taking the date of this interview into account, the album in question is allnude’s Children Of The Evolution. Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAimKiv6WCQ
³ That will be Six/Nine. ISSAY provides vocals for 愛しのロック・スター (Itoshi no Rock Star).
⁴ The word I translated as “mania” is 躁鬱 (sou-utsu), which is a word specifically used to refer to bipolar disorder or manic depression.
⁵ PUGS was formed in 1994 with HONEY★K, Hoppy Kamiyama, Okano Hajime, Steve Eto. Other musicians would join in to play with them typically as a band of six. There’s a short English article about the time they played as a second stage act on the Lollapalooza 1997 festival tour. https://wc.arizona.edu/papers/90/166/11_2_m.html
⁶ Michiru Sasano, is a Japanese pop singer and songwriter who debuted in 1988 with Japanese pop band Tokyo Shōnen where she was the band’s songwriter and vocalist. After the band broke up in 1993, she became a solo artist
Scans: Morgianasama on LiveJournal