Voice Magazine Vol. 02
Coming into contact with T-REX and SEX PISTOLS led ISSAY to pick up a microphone himself. What are the “memories of songs” of this man who has, ever since, been performing on stage; the one and only place where he belongs?
Because of his appearance of being drawn to the virtuous¹, there is no doubt that this is what makes him beautifully dignified¹.
Poise¹ drawn to the poised¹
■ Are there songs that you’ve always listened to right from the very beginning? Something that you’ve never had a period of not listening to?
ISSAY (I): There aren’t any that I’ve come to dislike, but there are those that I don’t listen to for a time, for sure. Like, say, the Doors². I love them but there was a period when I didn’t listen to them for years, too.
■ It just suddenly hits you that you haven’t been listening to them?
I: Yeah, exactly. Also, in my case, there was a period when we transitioned from vinyl records to CDs, right? There were also occasions where I didn’t listen because I had the vinyl record but didn’t have the CD version. Excuse³ the old talk (wry smile). That’s probably what happened with the Doors. For me, when I get stressed, I’d end up going to the bookstore or the CD shop and buy tens of thousands⁴ of books or CDs. Doing that somehow helps me to destress. That’s when I’d buy [music], though.
■ Among all of that, are there any songs that mean something special to you?
I: I think there are. Those that I’ve got an emotional attachment to, you know? If they’re people I liked in the past, I can’t help but buy [their releases] even if I think they’re not that great these days. So, although I know that I only like this person[‘s work] from this period to this period, I’d buy their releases again even when they’ve changed completely. For Lou Reed⁵, it’s definitely [the songs he released] around the time of TRANSFORMER⁵ and BERLIN⁵ that I love the most. Although I’d still listen to him if he releases [something new] now and I’d still go and see him if he comes [to Japan]. I’d say the same goes for Iggy Pop⁶.
■ And that’s because it’s the people themselves after all?
I: The fundamental parts of them won’t change that drastically, right? Besides, even if the music they make gets a bit boring, I still like their voices anyway and things like that.
■ On the other hand, is there anything that you were crazily into at one point but now you wonder why you ever liked it?
I: Probably, yes. Nothing comes to mind now, but I think there’s definitely something like that. What, though? It’s very possible that there’s something. I’m most certainly sure there is. Probably something from the new wave period. If it’s those guys from that period, I think it’s very likely that there are quite a few (smiles). I can’t think of anything, but I’m pretty sure there’s something.
■ What songs did you listen to when you were an even younger child?
I: The usual popular ballads. But I was just listening to them because they were popular. I did think that Sawada Kenji-san⁷ was cool, though. Because, you see, he had a backing band in the formation of a rock band, didn’t he? I don’t know if I’m right, but among solo artists who perform popular ballads, that man was the very first person to have a rock band-styled backing band, wasn’t he? At least, that’s what I think. Prior to him, all of them used orchestras, didn’t they?
■ What about [music] aside from rock bands?
I: Among chanson⁸ singers are Jacques Brel⁹ and Léo Ferré¹⁰, though. I like the two of them. I think it was already about 10 years ago, but I happened to turn on NHK’s educational program in the middle of the night. And on it, they were doing some sort of French language course or something when they put on an interview with Léo Ferré and I thought, “What a strange old man.” Right at the end, he was playing the piano and singing a song, probably Künstlerleben¹¹ or something, and I was blown away by that. And less than half a year later a 2-disc best-of compilation was released. Among the few different genres in it, Jacques Brel was in there too and that [release] was when I grew to love him. Jacques Brel’s songs have surprisingly been covered by rock musicians too. I guess in the end, if you like him, you like him.
The result of a huge misunderstanding?
■ Who inspired you to sing?
I: If not for the SEX PISTOLS¹² and T-REX¹³, I don’t think I would’ve done it. Up until [I came into contact with them,] I’ve only been listening to music because I liked it, but I’ve never thought of making it myself. I’ve said this a lot, but when I heard T-REX and the SEX PISTOLS, I got this huge misunderstanding that if this [is music], even I can do it.
■ That you’re capable of it?
I: I thought [I’m capable of] that simplicity.
■ The feeling that it’s possible for you to actually do it?
I: Yeah, I was convinced [of it]. Doing something like that is actually the most difficult, though. I was probably in high school, or graduating from high school when I heard it and I was like, “What the hell, if this is all there is, even I can do it.”
■ You were on vocals from the very start?
I: Formed a band. And of course, I was going to sing.
■ Did you start off doing covers of their songs?
I: When I was about to start my very first rehearsal with the band, I thought that we should cover T-REX’s songs. But I had already written a song by the time I actually stepped into the studio for the first time. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t all that much of a song but it was made.
■ How did you compose it?
I: Humming. By humming, I went to the bassist or the guitarist’s home and told him that’s the kind of song it is. Then he suggested to start a band. But I didn’t listen to Japanese music at all and had zero clue about the rock scene in Japan, you know? I didn’t intend to start a band, but I’ve never even thought about how I was going to go about it. So, when my band members said, “Let’s get a studio,” I thought, “Ah, I see. So we need to have a studio.” (Smiles). But all I had was confidence even though I didn’t know anything. I just had the confidence that I could do it. And you know what? I absolutely hate singing in front of people.
■ Even now?
I: Even now, I don’t like it. But it was far worse back then. I couldn’t sing unless I drank and got absolutely drunk.
■ Were you okay with going into the studio?
I: I’d also drink when I go to the studio.
■ You can’t [sing] as long as there’s someone else around?
I: That’s my impediment (wry smile). It’s contradictory but this is a weird thing [about me]. Although I hate it, all I can do is sing in front of others, right? That’s why I drink and get it done. Performing by using that momentum, I thought I was definitely a genius [for coming up with that], but now that I think about it, I have no clue where those ideas came from.
■ When you look back on those days, do you attribute it all to your youth?
I: I guess you could say it was because I was young, but I suppose I just didn’t know anything. Because I was brainless (smiles).
Because I have a complex far stronger than other people
■ Have the music you listen to changed since you’ve started singing yourself?
I: Not particularly. Not until much later. After debuting as a professional, I took the suggestion that I should listen and find out what kind of music is being made these days rather than only listen to music I like, but it bored me (smiles).
■ Have you ever listened to a particular artist for the sake of singing your own songs [in a particular way]? Like, as a study.
I: I’ve never done that. That said, I used to think covers were just imitations. The singing is what comes out of this body of mine, so I didn’t think that it was up to me to perform songs however I liked if I were to sing by imitating someone who has different vocal chords and a different bone structure. Looking back, I think it would’ve been good had I done covers.
I: In terms of singing techniques.
■ Do you have any influences from your favourite vocalists?
I: Like techniques or habits, I have those, right? I think I’ve been influenced in those areas, very much. Even if I didn’t have the intention to copy them, I’d absorb it all into my own body because I’m listening to them all the time, so I think it’ll more or less show.
■ What about things you’ve consciously referenced?
I: With regards to singing, none at all. In the area of staging, outfits or whatever, I’d always look at all sorts of things and incorporate what I think can be incorporated. Aside from singing, there’s a lot of that. Be it fashion, or anything else, I’d browse fashion magazines and when I find something that looks cool, I’d want to try wearing it. Similarly, if I think a particular artist is cool, I’d want to try dressing like them or something.
■ You still react that way to the same things?
I: Uh-huh, I do. Because in the end, rock isn’t just about the music. Well, you see, for me, I consider myself as a part of the adult entertainment industry¹³, in a way. Because I feel that this is a genre of music where a lot of importance is placed on what that person is wearing or what kind of person the performer portrays. And that’s why even now I’m still mindful about those things.
■ Does that mean the things you care about haven’t changed?
I: They do change, but I guess the fundamental part of it remains the same. Because the things that I’m drawn to are basically things that attract something inside of me, so long as [whatever’s within me] doesn’t change[, it will remain the same]. Besides, I’d never think of standing on stage wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. Because, you see, there’s a ton of other guys out there who suit that style better than me.
■ So, it’s like picking what’s more suitable for yourself?
I: That’s of course, isn’t it? [It’s about] how effectively I can make people go “Eh?”, or “Whoa!”, and so on. Because, what’s the point if you can’t leave some sort of impression on people? At least, that’s what I think.
■ Have you ever come across something that you think is really cool, but think you can’t wear because it doesn’t suit you?
I: I have. I’ve had that experience. Like, it’s because this is the body I have, you know? There are plenty of instances where I’d think that I’d be able to pull off this particular look if I were more muscular, but that’s not possible. Other people might look at me as a narcissist, but since I have a complex far stronger than other people, it’s of course (wry smile).
■ Ah, I see. Do you think you will be drawn to something different again in future?
I: You see, I think it’s something that changes with the times. So it is changing. I mean, among those who are a little older than me, there are people who love Ivy¹⁴ and they’d spend their whole lives wearing Ivy. That’s not what I want to do. Because doing that will make time stand still. Instead, what should we do in the next era with this same spirit that loved Ivy in the previous? For example, I love glam rock a lot, right? That’s a movement which started up around 1972 or ‘73 in England, and if you ask me what is the form it evolved into some years later, I’d say it’s punk. To me, I think that London punk and glam rock are very similar. Because I believe it’s just the approach that adapts with the times and those sorts of changes.
■ But the spirit of it, so to say, or the roots are the same?
I: Depending on the era, if you think about it in the sense that we’re holding on to the same roots, I’d decide that, well, if these are the kind of times we’re in, let’s change and do it this way.
■ What does ISSAY-san think your roots are formed by?
I: I believe it includes the way I was brought up and later on, finding pantomime. When the way to portray something isn’t suitable for a musician, I’d become a representative of pantomime; it’s this very dramatic way of thinking about things that I have within me. But, you see, I’m a person who’s very interested in stage performance to begin with. Say, for example, Jim Morrison is cool because he performs on stage in a particular way. And I feel that’s good enough for me to classify him as a theatrical person, in terms of that era. Besides, he’s a very flashy person too. Even glam rock, which came afterwards is very much like that too, don’t you think? The SEX PISTOLS were like that too. Because, you see, people don’t sing like that, do they? Normally. I believe that is, without a doubt, influenced by theatre or film.
You know, I love refined¹ [rock music]
■ Are there songs that you think you’ll continue listening to in future?
I: What are there? I think there are definitely some but none come to mind. Recently I haven’t really been listening, not that much. I’ve got a cycle, like, there’d be times when [I think that] rock is noisy so I don’t like it. Those periods when I don’t listen to rock at all.
■ How long do these periods last?
I: The longest so far went on for about a year. The rock that I’d listen to is pretty much just Lou Reed, and there are even periods of time when I really listened to nothing except chanson and classical music too. Though, I do wonder if it’s just my own mental issues. Well, now, as to what I’m leaning towards, rather than rock, I’m in this state where I’m looking for something, but I think I want to listen to dark latin music or something. It’s just that I’ve got no knowledge in that area so I don’t know what kind of musicians I should listen to, but I want to listen to stuff that sounds like old cabaret songs and the like. That’s what I’m feeling strongly now, I guess. Like Kurt Weill¹⁵, early 20th century German songs. I have [a desire] to listen to this kind [of music]. I listened to BERLIN⁵ yesterday after a long time, Lou Reed’s. It’s got a dark vibe, doesn’t it? I can’t listen to that, you know, unless I’m full of energy and vigour. Like, “Ugh, it’s so dark～” (smiles). But that album is so well done, you know? I think it’s a masterpiece among masterpieces. I listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain¹⁶ too, yesterday. I just happened to borrow it from a friend to listen to it, though. Well, you know, speaking of rock music, I love refined¹ ones, mhmm. It appears rather than the chaotic, messy types, I prefer those who say, “Alright, that’s enough.” That’s what British rock musicians are like, right? American rock musicians are different, though. Aren’t there a lot of party-stunt types among British rock musicians? Like, I may be bad at playing the guitar, but if you make me do this, I’ll be the best in the world at it. I like those types, it seems, somehow.
■ Do you want to be like that too?
I: You know, that depends on the song, though. HAMLET MACHINE’s arrangements, well, TATSUYA’s quite the conscientious person, so he’d do it up real elaborately before sending it over, but there are also times when I think that it’s kind of chaotic, you know? And I’d tell him, “It’s good like this. Because if you make the chorus like this with this sound, this side would win.” But then, you know, TATSUYA would say, “Where the hell are you getting that sense of winning and losing from?” (wry smile). But that’s how I think, you know? In the end, doing rock music is about going all out and doing it in the most impactful manner to leave something with the audience. Even just a single word is good, but as long as you’ve left some sort of impression on them, you’ve won. It’s about how much of an impact you can make on people. This is a way of thinking which belongs very much to the impetus of the early days of rock, and that’s not all there is to it, but such a way of thinking will always be there, you know?
Vocalist of HAMLET MACHINE. Born on 6 July in Shizuoka. Cancer, blood type AB. Major debuted in 1985 with DER ZIBET and their release of Violetter Ball. Thereafter, they released 12 original albums before going on an indefinite hiatus which began in October 1996. He then formed Φ¹⁷ (Phi) in 1998 together with Hirose Satoshi. They disbanded in 2000. His activities with HAMLET MACHINE started in 1995 and it went on on an irregular basis until August 2000 when they restarted activities with new vigour and are still going strong. His presence, charisma, and of course, his singing have gained him much support from fellow current artists.
His hobby is night walks.
His favourite vocalists include Lou Reed, Jacques Brel, Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen¹⁸, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and many more.
Recently, he has also formed a band called ISSAY meets DOLLY and is writing songs for them aside from HAMLET MACHINE.
■ HAMLET MACHINE
Formed in 1995 together with ex.ALL NUDE’s TATSUYA. Particiapted in the omnibus album DANCE 2 NOISE. After that, activities went on on an irregular basis while each member continued activities with their own bands until August 2000 when they restarted activities with new vigour. They have since released Evil Flower (October 2001) and TRANCE-MISSION (April 2002). On 7 July of this year, they successfully held a solo live performance at Shibuya ON AIR WEST.
¹ These words all refer to the same Japanese vocabulary: 潔い (isagiyoi). It can be translated as “elegant”, “dignified”, “virtuous”, “graceful”, “manly”; a whole range of words. In general, it is meant to refer to a person who is decisive, resolute, a good sport, an all round gentleman.
² The Doors were an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1965, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore.
³ He said スイマセン (suimasen) rather than the proper “sumimasen”.
⁴ I would think he meant tens of thousands of yen in value rather than item quantity but he didn’t specify it that way, so… it might very well be tens of thousands of things.
⁵ Lou Reed was an American musician, singer, songwriter and poet. He was the guitarist, singer and principal songwriter for the rock band the Velvet Underground and had a solo career that spanned five decades. Transformer is his second solo album and Berlin the third.
⁶ Iggy Pop is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer. Designated the “Godfather of Punk”, he was the vocalist and lyricist of influential proto-punk band the Stooges, who were formed in 1967 and have disbanded and reunited multiple times since.
⁷ Sawada Kenji, who was nicknamed Julie for his love of Julie Andrews, is a Japanese singer, composer, lyricist and actor, best known for being the vocalist for the Japanese rock band The Tigers. Donning long hair and using makeup to accentuate his image, Kenji was one of the first (if not the first) pop idol to introduce Japan music culture to the ideas of dandyism and androgyny.
⁸ A chanson is, in general, any lyric-driven French song, usually polyphonic and secular.
⁹ Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer, songwriter, actor and director who composed and performed literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that generated a large, devoted following—initially in Belgium and France, later throughout the world. He is considered a master of the modern chanson.
¹⁰ Léo Ferré was a Monégasque poet and composer, and a dynamic and controversial live performer, whose career in France dominated the years after the Second World War until his death. He released some forty albums over this period, composing the music and the majority of the lyrics.
¹¹ Entitled 芸術家の生活 (Artist’s Life / Geijutsuka no Seikatsu) in Japanese, this piece is a waltz written by Johann Strauss II in 1867, following closely on the success of the popular “The Blue Danube”.
¹² The Sex Pistols were an English punk rock band that formed in London in 1975. Although their initial career lasted just two and a half years, they are regarded as one of the most groundbreaking acts in the history of popular music.
¹³ T. Rex were an English rock band, formed in 1967 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Bolan. The band was initially called Tyrannosaurus Rex, and released four psychedelic folk albums under this name.
¹³ He used the phrase 風俗産業 (fuuzoku sangyou) which directly translates into “sex industry”. The sort of businesses it covers ranges from brothels, to soapland, to what the Japanese call “fashion-health” stores which are basically stores which sell vibrators marketed at women.
¹⁴ Referring to something called Ivy League style, also known as American Traditional. It’s a style which draws its primary influence from the Ivy League preppy style of the early 1960s, and the blue-collar American workwear of the first half of the 20th century. Read more here.
¹⁵ 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.
¹⁶ The Jesus and Mary Chain are a Scottish alternative rock band formed in East Kilbride in 1983. The band revolves around the songwriting partnership of brothers Jim and William Reid.
¹⁷ One of ISSAY’s other projects with ISSAY on vocals, Hirose Satoshi on guitars, HAL on bass, and Sato Minoru on drums. During their short period of activity, they released 2 albums, Φ(Phi) and Naked, and a single Knife of Romance (ending theme song for Angel Sanctuary’s OVA).
¹⁸ Leonard Cohen was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death and romantic relationships. Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. In 2011, Cohen received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize.
Scans: devalmy on LJ