By Kirsty Evans
Late on a cold November afternoon I had the opportunity to sit down with Dir en grey drummer Shinya (pictured) for a quick interview a few hours before their show at The Regency Center. Since I had been told to expect the guitar duo rather than the usually reclusive drummer the following interview isn't quite as targeted as I would have liked, but Shinya turned out to be more talkative than previously advertised and we managed to cover a fair amount of ground. An odd man, perhaps, but surprisingly nice - I still can't figure out how anyone so thin and frail-looking can pound on the drums the way he does.
Amusing asides - Guitarist Kaoru barged into the room midway through the interview with snack and beverage in hand - maybe he was looking for someplace to have his lunch? No one seemed to have told him there was an interview in progress. Shinya seems to speak more English than he admits, since he was able to answer me without waiting for a translation a couple of times. Also, see if you can spot the section where he's not being completely honest (hint - old songs). It's always funny to watch people try to dodge questions.
So this time the new album actually placed in the Billboard charts. Are you excited?
With the fact that the new album made it to number one on the Heatseekers chart it marked a new beginning for the band. We feel like things are going to get rolling from there.
Why did you sever your relationship with Warcon and sign with The End instead?
What happened was that we found a new manager in America -- James. It was through his recommendation that we decided to release the new album through The End, and as the results show it has been really great.
With Warcon it didn't seem like they were doing much promotion.
It seems like this album is doing better in the Japanese charts than the last couple of albums. Do you have any theory as to why that is and why this album might be more popular?
I feel that in Japan it hasn't really made much of a difference.
Glass Skin was an unexpected first single to lead with. Are you trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience?
I feel like Glass Skin is something we've never done before, and the fact that we were releasing something that we've never actually worked on before is a pushing point.
From your point of view it might be something that would appeal to a mainstream audience but for us it's a change and it's something that we've never done before, so that was an interesting thing for us to try.
The video for this single was rather unusual. Was there a theme you were trying to convey? How did you end up with a dinosaur in the video?
The theme of Glass Skin is the destruction of the environment. Throughout the whole video we wanted to portray different types of destruction, and as you know the dinosaurs were wiped out so that was probably the message that they wanted to put across.
(Note - the translation here is unclear, I'm not certain whether the he meant the message the band was going for or the message the director of the video was going for.)
The artwork on your album covers and other merchandise is quite distinctive. Do you have specific artists you've been working with for a while? Is the band involved in creating the visual aspect?
We have a main designer that we work with but sometimes for singles we may have new designers or artists involved, but regardless of who we work with the main thing is that the band have direct communication with the artist and figure out which direction they want to go, so yes the band is definitely involved.
So you mean sometimes even though there's a normal artist you'll think, for this particular concept we need somebody different, and go find them?
We're definitely always looking for new people to work with as long as they're able to convey what we want to put across in our artwork.
What made you decide to experiment with classical instruments like mandolin and flute on this album? Did it turn out the way you expected?
We don't know if we're going to use the same instruments or the same methods again in the future but in terms of the results on the current album we're very satisfied and we think that it's one of the best we've done so far.
There were a few times in the past where you used classical instruments too. Are any of the members classically trained?
No, none of us were classically trained.
I noticed that you used to list the composers for each song and now you no longer do. Why is that?
Because we figured that, regardless of whoever creates the original melody or demo, in the end all five of us will sit down and arrange the song and it will come out as something totally different, so in the end it only feels right to name Dir en grey as the composer.
Now this question was going to be for the guitar players but obviously they aren't here... It seems like the way they split up the guitar work isn't really the way most bands do it with a clear lead guitar and rhythm guitar player. They seem to switch off more than most bands. How do they decide who's going to play what parts on each songs? Does it depend on who wrote the song?
It's the same thing as when we go into the studio to arrange a song, whoever comes up with a certain phrase is ultimately the one who plays it. What they do is one person will come up with a phrase and then the other person will come up with a phrase and they overlap and in the end it comes down to the final piece.
It seems like you've managed to establish yourselves fairly well in America in terms of your core market, but the mainstream metal audience mostly hasn't heard of you, whereas in Europe that's going much better in terms of appealing to the general metal market. Is that frustrating for you? Do you have a plan in the works to address that?
In the end of course we want to try to unify the market abroad outside of Japan, but at this point we want to concentrate our efforts right here in America and then kind of expand it outside of this region.
Leading in from that, it seems that in a lot of people's minds Dir en grey are still being lumped in with the whole trend of Visual Kei bands crossing over to the West that appeals to a certain demographic of mostly young women in America. Does that bother you? Especially since you haven't really been visual for quite a while?
What is Visual Kei anyway? We don't care much about that.
It seems like back in the earlier stage of the band's career you used to have a lot more playfulness to your image, particularly in your videos, and that over the past few years you've become gradually more and more serious. Was that a deliberate decision or something that just happened naturally as everyone got older?
Both of those factors influenced our changes. It's not that we wanted to change or planned to become what we are today, it's just the natural flow of things that has brought us to where we are now.
You've been touring with a lot of American bands recently. Have any of them run across pictures or videos of what you used to look like at the beginning of your career? Have any of them been giving you a hard time about the way you used to look?
So far no one has come across any pictures or videos of the way we used to look or said anything to us about it.
I heard that on the last Japanese tour you were playing some older songs, but on this American tour that doesn't seem to be the case. Is there a reason you don't play the older songs here?
No, I don't recall that we played any old songs lately. We don't really play old songs even in Japan, because the older songs just don't fit with what we think of the world now. Because they are old songs, they don't match with our current way of looking at the world.
But when I was doing some research I ran across people who went to shows that were part of the last Japanese tour who were claiming that they had been playing some older songs.
I wonder if we played some old songs. I don't recall that we played old songs.
On this American tour have you been playing a lot of songs from the new album?
We've only been playing the singles and two more songs from the album.
So this really isn't specifically a promotional tour for the new album.
No, the tour that will be launched for the album is the one that will begin in Japan in December. So this American tour isn't really for that, it just so happens that the album was released at the same time.
Speaking of tours, I heard that you just signed up for the Kerrang tour in the UK. How did you get involved with that?
We've actually been offered the Kerrang tour a couple of times and have declined because of schedule conflicts, but then the offer came again and we were like hey, you know, we can't turn this down. So we had to reorganize everything for the next year so we could attend the Kerrang tour.
Are there any plans for the rest of Europe after that?
Nothing confirmed yet but we're definitely planning on going over to Europe next year.
I've heard before from Japanese musicians that the way tours here are scheduled, playing shows almost every day, is quite hard to handle, since in Japan tours usually aren't scheduled that way. How are you adapting to the intense schedule? By the end of the tour are you starting to get really tired?
We've been here a lot of times so we're definitely used to the schedule.
Now for you specifically, since you've been touring over here a lot and meeting a lot of different bands, are there any other drummers you've encountered so far who you really admire or who you'd like to work with?
So far after being on tour with so many bands I think that the drummer from Stone Sour, Roy Mayorga, is one of the people that left an impression on me.
Is there anyone else who you haven't had the chance to meet yet who you'd like to?
A couple of years ago we were at the Korn studio when they were recording and they had a fill in drummer, Terry Bozzio, and that's someone who I'd like to meet. I saw him but didn't have a chance to really talk to him.
What about in general, not just other drummers specifically. Are there any other bands that you'd like to tour with?
There's no one in particular that I have in mind.
As far as the band's direction over the next few years, is there any sense of what you're intend to do or are you just figuring it out as they go along?
We have a rough idea of where the band is heading but nothing specific.
Do you feel like the last few years, touring more and more abroad, has had an impact on you in terms of your music or your outlook or the overall direction of the band?
There's nothing that I can pinpoint, like a certain thing that has influenced us or affected us in any way, but yes, I feel that being outside Japan touring in Europe and America has affected us in some ways.
Out of all the overseas tours so far, which has been the most fun for you?
Definitely the Family Values Tour.
Why that tour specifically?
It was the first time that we were here in America for an extended period of time on tour, almost two months, and all the bands on that tour were great bands and they all got along so well. Even after the show everyone would hang out and have some drinks so it was a very fun experience for everyone.
To wrap things up, is there anything that you would like to say to your American fans?
I think we will come back to the US next year so please come see us again. We're not sure whether it will be solo or opening for another band.