PHY Vol. 5
Interview text by Ishii Eriko
It feels like this is my life work to me
The one thing that I’d continue with for the rest of my life is probably this band
DER ZIBET is currently on their solo 30th anniversary tour with a show on 14th November in Tokyo, and on 22nd November in Osaka. Their 19th album “別世界 (Bessekai / Another World)” will be releasing on the 25th, and they will continue their vigorous activities as usual… but this is probably not something that can be written lightly. This is a band that has continued in their non-conformist ways since they first debuted because of their overwhelming sense of aesthetic and glamour. Even after going through label changes and a hiatus, their sound continues to ring on even now, aloof, without breaking down the high-strung fantasy world of theirs.
There are many songs in their new work, Bessekai, that gives us another good look at the nucleus of DER ZIBET. In other words, it is a masterpiece that is glamorous yet romantic, that is grand and decadent, that cannot be brushed aside as just another fantasy, that leaves behind a vividly sensual afterglow that seems to have no end. This is because of the charm of, as ISSAY puts it, [fiction]. Your own realism can be precisely constructed because it is [fiction].
In this extended interview, as he speaks of his thoughts and his frame of mind, a strong conviction can be felt behind his gentlemanly and calm manner of speech. Without a hint of [falsehood] or [factitiousness], they have continued on for 30 years. Seeing the strength of his smile as he equates DER ZIBET to his life work, once again, induces shivers.
When DER ZIBET debuted 30 years ago, there was as good as no scene in existence. Back then, what were you referred to as? How were you categorised?
ISSAY (I): Well, you know, we were all put together under one single category known as ＜European Decadance＞ (wry smile). There was that recognition that it was kind of easily picked up with just that alone though.
How did ISSAY, yourself, describe it in words? With regards to what DER ZIBET wanted to do, what you’re going to do, and such.
I: Back then, all I had was the image in my head that, in any case, I just wanted to bring out our aesthetic. You see, in this band called DER ZIBET, everyone’s musical preferences are all over the place. When the band came together, the one unanimous opinion that every one of us had was that ＜film music is interesting＞, that’s all. We’re not a band that came together because we liked a certain type of rock and wanted to play it, we came together because we thought that we’d be able to create something interesting if we played with these band members. Because of this, we’re always swaying around, here and there. So, sometimes we use a very rock-like approach, but other times, we stray far away from that, using tango or even chanson in our approach.
How conscious are you of the fact that you are a band that plays rock, to begin with?
I: Hmm…… Instead of saying that we play rock music, it’s more like rock is the only genre that we can play, for us. But I think that rock music itself is something that has an exceptionally large scope. “This is rock” is not something you can declare over any one form. So, I think that the gesture of saying that “Something like this ain’t rock” isn’t very rock-like anymore, is it? And, you see, that’s why I think that it’s a question of how you can prune that and bring it out. You know, 3 years ago, we released our two-part work ROMANOID, and at that time, we ended up coming in with the image that ＜we’re frauds＞ too. Like, as if…… we’re only pretending to be a rock band.
I, thought that was a joke.
I: No. Because it was an album that made us think that our own contrivance would be brought to the front, that we’re just fakes and frauds. You see, that was subjective. Till now, that stance hasn’t changed either.
Frauds. What does this “fraudulence” relate to?
I: When DER ZIBET came together, we understood that we were somewhat different from the rock bands that took the royal road. Back in the day, for example, there was Chuck Berry and Elvis, then there was Led Zepplin, but I’m a human being who, no matter what, has never been partial towards such popular figures. Compared to that, the awareness of using this rock methodology to perform was stronger. That’s the reason why we’re a sham though. But that trickery is also being treated as one of the appeals of rock. The successive musicians that I liked were those who possessed this, you see.
Taking the backroads instead of the royal road. Not only that, you chose to go underground instead of aboveground. ISSAY-san’s expressions always tends towards that side, doesn’t it?
I: Yes…… Yes, that’s true. I do pantomiming as well, but when I stand on a theatrical stage, I’d first have it pitch dark, then I’d shine a light on it and create a world, you see. I like these kinds of man-made things. Then I’d spend a rather enjoyable night with my friends until morning comes, you know. But when dawn comes back around, I’d see trash rolling around in areas that got lit up, I’d end up seeing things that I don’t need to. I don’t like those sorts of things, you see. Perhaps you could say that bathing in the sun doesn’t suit me.
It’s extremely important to break free
Those who say ＜Ah, I’ll stop at this point＞without breaking even once
right from the start won’t be able to express anything
Though it is said that bathing yourself in sunlight is good for your health. So you’re saying that you don’t want to be in such a place.
I: …… It’s turned out like that as a result, but, it’s just that, I’ve never aimed to be unhealthy, not even once. Though this time, we have a song like ＜Blue Sky (青空 / Ao Sora)＞, and based on the summers from my memories, the seasonal sense that summer gives me, I definitely do not hate summer. I think I do have a longing for the vitality of summer. However…… I somehow end up feeling desolate, you know, when I see something with far too much vitality. Perhaps you could say that the more lively, the more energetic something is, the more heartrending it is. Also, having me…… sing something like ＜The summer beach is the beest!＞, you don’t want that, do you?
Hahahahaha! On the contrary, I’d want to hear it.
I: Hahahaha. No matter how hard I try, I can’t do that, you know. I’d find myself feeling like I’m lying to myself.
Ah. So, even if you like contrived bands, you can’t lie to yourself.
I: Yeah. The contrivance that I’m into, in other words, is fiction, you see. Don’t you think that fiction projects the most truthful things? That’s what I think. Because fiction has no realistic ties at all, so it’s easy to bring out and convey this truth. Be it on a theatrical stage, or in a pantomime, or on a rock stage, it’s all the same, you see. Fundamentally, I am a human being who inhabits this space after all.
As someone who lives in fiction, what is reality^ to you?
I: …… If you feel that something is real in that moment when you hear or see it, then that is reality to me. No matter what kind of lie it is. For example, let’s just say that I tell you an outrageous lie while were having a conversation like this, right? But if you truly believe it and think ＜Ah, that’s very nice＞, then that has already become a truth. Only in that moment. Isn’t it the same when you dream while you sleep? You seriously feel that it’s reality. Right now, I think you’re probably speaking of reality as something that has the same meaning as＜actuality＞, but even if it’s not actuality, I think that having a ＜sense of reality＞ is enough.
I see. So what is required to bring fiction into reality?
I: …… Performing, and having yourself firmly believe in that world. I suppose that’s it. There’s a song called ＜Paper Moon＞, and above the stage, there’d be a moon made out of paper. But if the audience feels that that is the moon, then it is the moon. How should I put this…… I suppose, everyone goes out to see beautiful lies, you know. Whether it’s a movie, or a play.
Ah. Indeed that is true.
I: Isn’t it true that it’s hard to get to see something that only pierces into your core to make it sting to such an extent in reality? I think that people go out to look for that beautiful lie that properly strikes their hearts, you know. And I think that rock is the same in that sense. If I can have people truly appreciate the important things while living in a beautiful lie, I think that this would constitute a great success for me.
I fully understand now. In other words, neither fiction nor lies have any negative connotations.
I: Ah, I’m putting it in an extremely positive light. It’s positive, and I suppose you could also say that it’s very direct. To me, I feel that these are things that are straightforward.
Is such an awareness something that DER ZIBET possessed right from the start?
I: Ah…… I guess it might’ve been subjective? But, it’s true that when DER ZIBET came together, we had that conversation about paper moons, and I suppose that awareness came from somewhere. But, you know, like what I said earlier, to me, this is very natural. But while I was with the band, I spoke to a number of people, and it was about 12 years ago when I started to realise that normal people aren’t like this at all (lol). That’s why, I think I only came to realise that I’m expressing myself to people different than myself around the time of the 3rd album’s release though. Ever since then, it’s always been a battle between actuality and the truth of fiction, you know. In terms of which one I should make more concessions for.
So, it’s how you inflate the things that exist in reality, the ordinary things with your imagination to make it look beautiful. I’d go further to say that you express things as a decadentic fiction. I’ve once again felt that grimness in this time’s lyrics too.
I: Hm, well…… Though I dooon’t do that intentionally, you know (lol).
Is that so? Though, I was first blown away by the lyrics in Metro. Like, to think that there’s a person who can describe the subway as a＜steel coffin (鋼鉄の棺桶 / koutetsu no kanoke)＞that ＜writhes from darkness to darkness (闇から闇へとのたうつ / yami kara yami e to notautsu)＞!
I: But I’m just writing exactly what I see and what I feel (smiles). To me, this is something that is real, you see.
What do you think is the reason for your words, that describe exactly what you see and feel, tending towards flavours of darkness and eroticism.
I: I wonder why……… I’ve never thought about it. It’s natural to me, you know. Of course, people do often say it to me. “Why does it turn out like that?”, they’d ask. Though I’d always answer, “I wonder why?”. Probably…… It’s as I said earlier when we spoke of summer, I end up seeing the duality of things. Isn’t it the case that, where there is a front, there will be a back? I feel death when it comes to extremely vivacious things, and when death isn’t near to something, I can’t feel the vitality in it. I think that all things have two-sides that tend to conflict each other, but that isn’t the part that you can see on the surface. Instead, it’s the back part that exists to show that surface. I guess I have this habit of looking at that.
That said, this line from the 3rd song, Mr. Bad Trip, ＜I want to be as I am until my last breath (最期まで俺は俺のままでいたい / saigo made ore wa ore no mama de itai)＞, is rather interesting. This doesn’t have a front or a back, and it feels like the words of ISSAY-san’s physical being.
I: Isn’t it? For me, the scariest thing is becoming someone who isn’t me. No longer understanding myself is what I fear the most. Take, for example, Daniel Keye’s Flowers for Algernon*, I can’t bear that person’s work, you know. Isn’t it a story that is entirely about a person who loses himself?
It’s the same with Billy Milligan**, isn’t it.
I: Exactly. I want to trust only my own perception, and that’s the only thing that I can trust, you see. I’m afraid of losing it. I suppose you can say that this is why I wrote what I consider to be the most horrific thing to me.
Um…… She has already passed away, but my grandmother had dementia. In her final days, she only had memories of her childhood, and she kept talking about Manchuria*** during the war. And yet, she seemed to be having fun in some sense of it.
So one might say that she lives in fiction too. Broaching such a topic all of a sudden may be difficult, but how does ISSAY-san feel about this?
I: About your grandmother? Hm…… There are 2 ways you can look at it after all. One is that you are in the world where this person is living in, so I think that that’s a very blessed thing. Although when I’m the one in such a state and I look at myself from a third-person’s perspective, I’d be scared. So…… This isn’t something I can say much about, but to an extent, if you were to ask whether I’d be happy or not, I might be. But if I were to look down at myself, it’s scary, you know. I can’t really…… put it properly in words though.
No, no, it’s the same for me. It’s just that, from our earlier conversation about ISSAY-san living in fiction and going all out to sink into that world, isn’t this what you’d consider to be fiction as well, with the way you usually look at yourself?
I: That’s true.…… Now that you’ve mentioned it (lol). But I think I’d want to be like that, you know.
Though among musicians, there are many who say that their one true desire is to go blank on stage.
I: Ah, I have that too, you know (lol). I think that it’s a truly wonderful thing too. However, in that moment, I’d be there, watching over myself while knowing that I’m expressing myself, and I think that if I could still control myself, that’d be even more wonderful. Finally…… I’m finally able to think of things like these. That’s what I’d think of myself. Though in the past, I used to think that just blanking out anyway and going into a state of not knowing anything would be best. Now, I think that it’d be wonderful if I could live in a state of looking down at myself from a third-person’s perspective while controlling my own body, you know. Because as an expressionist, that is more correct.
I: Because, if it’s not in control, beauty will be compromised. This is with regards to pantomiming, but when a form is taken, there are specific positions for your hands to bring your form to its most beautiful state, but there are times when you put too much thought into it, thus breaking form, you see. In terms of beauty, this is a mistake.
Ah. I see.
I: Of course, for lives (concerts), it’s better to let out your feelings of confusion, so this is the biggest difference between the works though. That’s why it’s alright for me to have some of the forms collapsing, you see. But even so, there’s a limit to everything (lol). Like the lives from our early days, when I watch them now, I often think that I overdid it too.
What you speak of now isn’t narcissism, but about something like moderation and grace, right?
I: Yeah. And, you know, it’s extremely important to break free, so if you’re not someone who has done that once, you can’t stop. And that’s the reason why those who say “Ah, I’ll stop at this point” right from the start won’t be able to express anything. Really. You’ll understand the necessity for it when you look at yourself from an observer’s point of view as you break free and arrive at a state where your form breaks a little. Because you’ll only have the thought of wanting control after you see yourself overdoing things and pushing too far.
Ah…… This, somehow, makes me feel strongly that these are words that only someone who has done this for 30 years can say.
I: Fufufu. Nah, I’d say that it just so happens that I’ve continued on like this for 30 years. Well, I think that I’m lucky. Very much so. Because there are many who can’t keep at it after all. That isn’t just my own feelings, because there are also reasons pertaining to the physical condition, reasons pertaining to band members. And we’ve got a 10-year long hiatus, but I think, the fact that we can play together as DER ZIBET even now is a very happy, very lucky thing, you know.
Does the difficulty of enduring refer to the chance that this band may never happen again?
I: Hm…… That’s already becoming less and less of an issue after our revival though. Well, but things really were awful during the few years before our hiatus. Things were uptight, and I was at loggerheads with HIKARU too (lol). Both of our mindsets were in conflict with the other’s, and the result of that was us being in agreement that we can’t go on anymore.
And 10 years after that, you became active again. The thing that sparked this off was one of your members being in an accident, right?
I: Yeah. Our bassist HAL got into an accident…… That was a really terrible accident, you know. It was so bad that when I first heard about his condition, I thought, “Ah…… he’s going to die”. But even though they said that he’d be bedridden for the rest of his life, he regained consciousness and mobility, didn’t he? Apparently, it was at that point in time when he decided that he wanted to play in a band. So he decided to phone all the people who he wanted to play with to bring them together, and those who gathered ended up being the members of DER ZIBET (lol).
Hahahaha. What a reunion!
I: I suppose he thought that, to him, the members of DER ZIBET were the best, you know. Though in the beginning we didn’t have any intention to get together again, at all. HAL-kun said that he wanted to do it, so he pulled every trick in the book, you know. But as expected…… when we first jammed together, with HIKARU playing the guitar and me singing, I thought, “Ah, it’s DER ZIBET”. Because I clearly understood creating sounds together with these people was all we needed to do to turn into DER ZIBET. The sense that it would be interesting to be in a band with these people now, at this point in time, has returned, you see.
ISSAY-san didn’t stop your own expressions, and you were active with your own solo work too, but is DER ZIBET something different to you after all?
I: Ah…… Well, I wonder. Right now, it feels like this is my life work to me, you see. The one thing that I’d continue with for the rest of my life is probably this band. After all, when I debuted, it was with this band too, and the thing that I’ve kept at for the longest time is this band as well. There’s definitely love in it after all, in our work. I get the feeling that ultimately, this is something that can’t be done by anyone except for DER ZIBET, you know.
It’s been 30 years now. What do you feel with regards to the length of this time?
I: Well…… Like it didn’t happen^ I suppose. Fufufu. If I were to meet myself from 30 years ago, I’d probably tell him “You’ll still be in DER ZIBET 30 years later”, you know. And to that, I think he’d say, “You’re lying”. Hahahaha!
“Like it didn’t happen”. No matter how you look at it, these words are so typically DER ZIBET.
I: Fuhahahaha. Right?
* Daniel Keye’s Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction short story that won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. The story is told through the perspective of Charlie Gordon, the first human test subject that underwent surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. Algernon is the laboratory mouse that had successfully undergone the surgery before Charlie.
** Billy Milligan was an American citizen who was the subject of a highly publicized court case in Ohio in the late 1970s. He was arrested for various crimes, and was then subsequently the first person diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. He was also the first to be acquitted of a major crime for this reason, instead spending a decade in mental hospitals.
*** Manchuria was a puppet state of the Empire of Japan in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia from 1932 until 1945. In 1931, the region was seized by Japan following the Mukden Incident and a pro-Japanese government was installed one year later with Puyi, the last Qing emperor, as the nominal regent and later emperor. The ruling government was then dissolved in 1945 after the surrender of Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.
^The actual statement by him was 嘘みたい, literally, “like a lie”. It doesn’t sound quite natural in its literal form, neither did it have the right nuances, so I went with “like it didn’t happen” instead.