Novarock 2009 is a dizzying haze of recollected thoughts and sensations, of mud and rain and cold, huge bands, small bands, dreams fulfilled.
On June 20 Dir en grey were to take the Red Stage, the same stage where, one night before, Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More both gave epic performances, one band on their last tour before an indefinite hiatus, the other reuniting after 12 years.
Under a grey sky pouring down continuously, feet deep in mud and shriveled in wet shoes, gathering slowly from the myriad of tents or waiting for hours already in front of the rail, unfolding banners or silently speaking to our own disbelieving minds we stood waiting, coming from nearby or far, far away, stealing small glances and knowing smiles at a t-shirt, or a clumsy cosplay, a banner, a young face or an old face, boy or girl, stuck together in friendship or making way to new, curious faces.
And then they entered, almost unexpected, in the dying processional chanting of Sa Bir, to massive roar and fists in the air. Shinya, Die, Toshiya, Kaoru and Kyo, in broad daylight, filtered through the slashing rain. It was familiar and new and utmost perfection.
They played most of the songs off their latest album Uroboros, from Vinushka to Dozing Green, with old favorites like Obscure, Grief, even Merciless Cult and The Final framing a throughout great and on-key performance, Kyo and the band being on top of their game despite perhaps the obvious difficulty of playing a festival at such an early hour and in heavy rain.
From the hypnotizing tribal movements of Toshiya to the focused determinacy of Kaoru, reaching the intensity of Die and Shinya and breaking into the howling unearthly sounds of Kyo, the band managed to please those fans singing along, as well as make those skeptic at first perhaps go beyond the simple, exotic associations and appreciate, delivering all that had been expected.
At the end, the stage empty and goodbyes said, with a buzzing excitement and a slight feeling of loss, we hugged in silence or happiness for being a part of this. Over the wet stage the rain had stopped, the sun slowly breaking through the clouds, waiting for another band to take the stage once more.
The following interview was supposed to take place at Novarock, but got cancelled on the part of the band not having enough time. We caught up with guitarist and main composer Kaoru by email after the band returned to Japan, in a brief pause before going on tour again.
First of all, recently, you successfully completed your first European Tour in two years, participating in festivals such as Download, Metaltown and Novarock. How was touring Europe after so long? Did you have any expectations for the tour, and did things go as planned? Was there anything you regretted?
We were much honored to participate in the festivals, although I don’t think things really went the way we’d originally planned. But I was so excited and so many people came to see us play.
You got to play with some big names like Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More. How did it feel for you to play along some of the bands you look up to? Can you share any insight on the impact of these bands on you, personally, and as musicians?
Of course we were very happy to stand on the same stage and be able to see them play close up, but that’s about it I think. I really don’t think about anything but my own performance, so I didn’t really feel anything special. I think they’ve influenced me far more than I could ever know, as far as their atmosphere etc is concerned.
Speaking of Nine Inch Nails, lately Trent Reznor has come into focus for his thoughts on downloading music and his relationship with his fans online. What do you think about it all? When thinking of the current state of the music industry, is it possible that a band like Dir en grey might take a similar approach? Have you thought of incorporating some of these experiments into Dir en grey’s own evolution as a band?
I think it’s fine if you make a work (a song), not a product (something for sale) available. Personally, I think it might be cool if I could make an hour-long song that you couldn’t split up. And that would be an album in itself. If the time and circumstances feel right, we may put something up someday.
On the same subject, do you think opening the official fanclub “aKnot” to worldwide access might also be an option in the future?
We’d like to, but it may not be for a while. We’ll do our best!
Have you ever thought about collaborating with other artists? International or Japanese? May some of us fans ever dare to think about a Nine Inch Nails/Dir en grey connection?
I think we could do something really interesting!
Before Europe this summer, you completed a long tour in Japan. Before that you were on tour with Mindless Self Indulgence and even before you toured America. How did those experiences go? Is there any difference between playing a show in Japan and one outside of Japan? Are things easier in Japan?
There’s no difference.
In the light of Kyo’s hospitalization earlier this year, is the exhaustion of touring for such long periods of time getting to you?
He’s fine! We’re all doing well.
In Japan you tried out two men- only shows. What made you want to do that?
It’s very hard to get tickets to our shows in Japan. We wanted to give fans that just got into the band recently, as well as male fans who have to watch our shows very calmly in consideration to our many female fans, a chance to see our show. We wanted to see just how passionate our male fans could be.
You’ve toured with a lot of interesting bands. Can you tell us any interesting episodes? How was playing with the Deftones? How would you compare your tour with Mindless Self Indulgence?
First off, the Deftones are really good people, really generous. Chino and I played each other our favorite songs. He said he wanted to hear some Japanese music, so I played him only Japanese songs. MSI are our label mates in the US, and we’ve got the same management, but we didn’t know them very well. We became really close on the tour.
Your show in England was canceled due to a power failure. What kind of effect does that kind of incident have?
It was so mortifying. There were so many fans there, and I know it wasn’t my fault, but I just felt so bad. We’ll definitely come back to play!
Going back to you as a band of five. On stage you seem like a perfectly oiled machine, working in unison. How is it to play together for so long? Did the dynamic change over time?
We’re not that in sync. Our relationship has been pretty much the same since the beginning.
Have you ever wanted to quit the band? If so, why did you continue? Has there ever been a period when you felt like the band was on a roll?
I always want to quit. I’m always thinking, ‘I have no talent, and no skills! I can’t do this anymore!’, but the other band members give me the courage to keep going.
To a lot of fans, Uroboros is your best and perhaps most complex work so far and you have often said it represents who and where you are as a band right now. What comes after Uroboros?
How about an hour-long song? I don’t think about the future much, so I just want to put out whatever we’re feeling at the time. I can’t give details yet, but we’re actually recording now.
If you were to go back in time to your own teenage self, what advice would you give yourself? Would you do anything different?
I’d tell myself I was doing fine. But I might tell myself to study English.
In Romania, the general public still has a prejudice against genres like Rock and Metal with Pop being more popular. Nevertheless Romanian artists like Negura Bunget are garnering acclaim outside of the country. How is it for Japanese musicians? Do you think you’ve influenced Japanese metal bands in any way? Do you want to broaden awareness of Japanese bands through your international tours?
Pop is the most popular in Japan too. If the music is used in Anime it sells immediately. Yet even in this situation there are some very cool artists. I am proud to be Japanese, but I don’t think about bringing Japanese music to the world.
In the end, could you please speak some words for your Romanian fans?
Thank you for all your support! We’ll see you on tour some day!
The author would like to thank Kaoru and Dir en grey, Okami Records, Florian Reiser, Adrienne Weber, Petru Munteanu and Hefe for making this interview possible.