Advertise on Metal Storm
Sigh interview (01/2019)


With: Mirai Kawashima
Conducted by: ScreamingSteelUS (e-mail)
Published: 13.01.2019

Band profile:

Sigh


I think that Sigh is one of the coolest bands on the planet, and their latest album, Heir To Despair, has only made that assessment more correct. Eager to let mastermind Mirai Kawashima talk about what makes Sigh so exceptional, I sent him some questions over the ol' internet. Here's what came of it.

ScreamingSteelUS: Heir To Despair has the most Japanese personality of any Sigh album, with mostly Japanese lyrics and some traditional aspects to the music (although it's still all over the place, of course). The last release I remember having such a distinctly Japanese feeling was the Ghastly Funeral Theatre EP back in 1997. Could you tell us about your reasons for taking the album in this direction?

Mirai Kawashima: Ghastly Funeral Theatre was supposed to be a split album with Abigail at first so we wanted it to have some Japanese feelings by having Japanese occultic themes etc. But still most of the lyrics are in English and I wouldn't say it was musical very Japanese. On the other hand, Heir To Despair is quite Japanese both lyrically and musically. The reason behind this is probably I'm getting old now. When I was younger, I was not a big fan of Japanese traditional culture. I preferred Western cultures, which looked cool to me, and that's why I got into heavy metal. But now I started realizing how great the Japanese cultures surrounding us when I was a kid was. When I was a little kid, some of the TOP 40 songs were very very Japanese. Even the little kids were familiar with those traditionally Japanese songs even if they didn't like them. I was one of the kids who did not appreciate those Japanese songs. Well, I didn't know any kids that appreciate it though. Anyway at least some Japanese culture remained in our daily lives back then. But now they are all gone and now I miss those days. Those songs I hated then sound really good to me now. Heir To Despair is a nostalgia to those lost days.

SSUS: You've said before that when you were growing up you didn't care for Japanese music, but have come to appreciate it more as an adult. I'm curious to know if such feelings are common; despite Japan's rich musical history, it's rare to see Japanese metal bands incorporating traditional styles and instrumentation.


Heir To Despair


MK: Although I used the word "traditional", it's not easy to explain what "traditional" Japanese music is. What I've been referring to here is not high-brow art but something connected to our daily lives, like the street music. And what makes things more complicated is that the Japanese songs in TOP 40 I mentioned above were written in the Western way. I mean they were written according to the functional harmony system, so it is not Japanese at all to be precise. But the singing technique the singer used was very Japanese and the Japanese traditional instruments were often used in their arrangement. I did the same thing. I used some Japanese / Asian singing technique and traditional Japanese / Asian instruments but the music itself is heavy metal, which is Western. Taking in the Japanese elements is kind of a double-edged sword. If you fail, it's just a cheesy gimmick. And of course there are many rock / metal bands that fused those elements really well. Satori by Flower Travellin' Band should be the best example.

SSUS: Do you see yourself using folk elements with Sigh again in the future?

MK: Right now I am not sure if Sigh will make another album in the future. Whenever an album is out, I feel completely empty as I use everything I have in me for that. I have been working on the Japanese way of singing technique even today, so if we do another album, probably those Japanese element will stay, but nothing is certain about the future.

SSUS: In one of the last major announcements detailing Heir To Despair, you stated that the album was influenced by bands like Brainticket, Embryo, Gentle Giant, etc. How conscious are you of the influences for a particular album as you're writing? Do you go into the albums thinking, "This one is going to sound this way," or do you look back and think, "I guess I was in this kind of mood"?

MK: To be honest this list is not very true. I just wrote down those bands just to sound cool as a music maniac. Black Widow is a big exception though. The use of flute obviously came from them. I don't go into the albums, it's more vague like this album is going to be very psychedelic etc. Hangman's Hymn should be the best example. First I decided to use only German symphonies and '80s crazy super-fast thrash metal. For Heir To Despair, I wanted to make it a proggy album so I mainly arranged the songs with vintage keyboards. I tried to exclude the symphonic elements as much as possible.

SSUS: I recall that at one point during the recording process for Heir To Despair (December 2016, as my unnecessary research shows) you posted on Facebook something to the effect of, "Sorry, guys, the album's going to take a bit longer because I have to learn how to play the flute first" (and indeed the flute is pretty prominent). Does it happen often that you have to acquire a brand new skill purely for the purpose of using it on the next Sigh album?


Kawashima at Hellfest 2010


MK: In the past I learned Sitar and Tabla because I wanted to use them for Sigh. Actually I tried violin, too. I think it was around Infidel Art era, but I had to give it up. Violin was too difficult to learn. Learning a new instrument or getting new gear can be a new inspiration for music. The outcome of composing on piano can be very different from that on guitar.

SSUS: Now that you've done your first album in Japanese, will you go back to English for the next one, or will you start learning French?

MK: As I said, I am not sure about the future. It was very comfortable for me to sing in Japanese, and the Japanese singing technique is obviously connected to its language, so probably I will keep the Japanese lyrics in the future. Actually I already learned French and started forgetting it. One time I was totally into French music and I wanted to read a book written by Vincent d'Indy so I learned French.

SSUS: Old-school black metal has a persistent reputation for elitism and purism - yet as early as Scorn Defeat, and even more so on Infidel Art, Sigh was breaking away from the typical black metal formula. Did you face any backlash from your contemporaries in Europe during the early days as a result of pursuing your own unique sound?

MK: Regardless from elitism or purism, it happens every time we release a new album. When Infidel Art came out, many people insisted that Scorn Defeat was better. When Ghastly Funeral Theatre was out, many people claimed Infidel Art was way better.

SSUS: You first met Phil Anselmo many years ago during your time in Necrophagia. What made you want to have him work with Sigh at this particular time?

MK: Actually there is no particular reason. All of a sudden I just came up with the idea to ask him for participation. I'm sure he added a great atmosphere to the songs with his deep voice.

SSUS: I'm a big fan of You Oshima's guitar work on Sigh's last two albums. When it became necessary to replace Shinichi Ishikawa a few years ago, why did you consider Oshima?

MK: I knew Kadenzza and I thought its direction was not that far from what we were doing. But I didn't know him, and also Kadenzza looked completely inactive for many years, so I was not sure if he was still playing music at all. I sent an e-mail to him from the old Kadenzza website which hadn't been updated for a long time without expecting to hear back from him. Fortunately he got back to me quite quick with a positive answer. I didn't come up with anybody that You Oshima else, so if he hadn't been available, I was not sure what I had to do.

SSUS: Was it difficult for Oshima to come from Kadenzza, a project that is entirely his own, to Sigh, which is a full band that has other creative forces?

MK: I have the impression that at first he had some difficulty in playing live. Probably he didn't have much experience being on stage so in the beginning he seemed to be very nervous. Well, his first stage with Sigh was opening for Emperor, and he had to learn our old songs in a few weeks, so I am sure it was not easy for him though. Now he is completely used to it.

SSUS: There's still some confusion among fans regarding the dismissal of Ishikawa. Would you be willing to elaborate on the circumstances behind that decision?

MK: His guitar playing is getting worse and worse from around 2013. He started using a USD 100 used crappy guitar and making crappy noise live. At first I was not sure what was going on with him. I thought he was a financial problem or something, but soon we found out that he was chasing around a 10-year-old underground idol group. He was spending all his money and time on them. He would go to every concert by them and buy tons of their merchandise, and what's worse, he was always wearing a Sigh shirt to see them and pretending he was a rock star travelling around the world, which is the creepiest thing I have ever encountered! He had haircut, shove his moustache, changed his glasses etc. so that those 10-year-old kids might like him, and he is over 40. If a 40-year-old man was chasing around my daughter, I would call the police. The last straw was the guitar parts he sent to me during the Graveward recording session, which were completely out of tune. He claimed he used a tuner properly, so I made it visible with software and showed him how horrible it was and told him to fuck off. Even today he seems to go to those preadolescent girls concerts almost every day.


Kawashima, still at Hellfest 2010


SSUS: What is your opinion of Babymetal and the artists that have followed them or latched onto their popularity? Specifically, how would you say their success impacted the preexisting Japanese metal scene?

MK: As you may tell from what I said above, I really hate those "idol" things. They are the worst spawn of consumer capitalism. Capitalism of today needs people to spend money even on something totally worthless, or else it won't work. For this, "phantasmagoria" is required as Walter Benjamin said. People like to dance to the advertisement by corporate business, namely phantasmagoria. They are forced to feel they want it without knowing it. And to my eyes, idol things are the worst case about this. Obviously you do not need dancing cute girls whom you would never ever be able to fuck in your life, but still so many people spend precious money on it. It is scary. Don't get me wrong. I am not a communist and I don't think communism is better than capitalism, and of course I am not coming up with a better system than capitalism, but that does not mean I have to stand this ugly side of capitalism. If I say this, some people say metal is the same. Obviously metal is not something you need in your life so it's another phantasmagoria. But at least, I believe that I chose metal with my own will. I don't think I was brainwashed by mass media to like metal. Of course I cannot prove it but at least I believe so. In that sense, Babymetal is not metal, and if any Japanese "metal" scene was impacted by them, they weren't metal from the very beginning.

SSUS: You've spoken before about the influence of film score on Sigh's music, particularly horror films and the works of Fabio Frizzi. If you had the chance to write your own new score for any movie, which would you choose?

MK: I have no will to re-write the existing film scores. The great movies already have great scores and I don't care about the movies that are not great.

SSUS: Do you have a personal favorite among Sigh's albums, and how has your view of your past work changed over time?

MK: I am not a type of musician who listens to my past works. Of course sometimes I have to listen to some old works to check the lyrics, for re-issue etc., but basically I don't listen to any of Sigh's albums. On the other hand, I listen to my songs a lot during the album production. First I make a personal demo and keep listening to it until I am 100% sure about the songs. Even after the recording is done, I keep listening to it to see if there's any part to be re-worked. Thus, I am completely done with the album when it is out. I cannot listen to Heir To Despair now as I am totally done with it. I can say that I don't like Graveward at all and Heir To Despair was born out of the backlash against Graveward. But I haven't heard Graveward since it was released, so I could change my mind if I give it another listen. Anyway I don't care about my past works at all. I'll listen to some other new music rather than playing my own old works.

Do you have any final words for our readers?

MK: Thank you very much for your continuous support. We truly appreciate it. Our latest information is available on our Facebook page. We hope to see you somewhere in 2019.

Thanks to Mirai Kawashima for the interview and Ivor for providing the photos.


 



Posted on 13.01.2019 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.


Comments

Comments: 11   Visited by: 173 users
13.01.2019 - 18:48
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
What's the meaning of this. You had time to do interviews during MSA preparation time?
----
Take off those stupid glasses and kiss me
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 18:48
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Ah, it's an email one
----
Take off those stupid glasses and kiss me
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 18:54
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Some of the coding is fucked on the influences question
----
Take off those stupid glasses and kiss me
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 18:56
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by RaduP on 13.01.2019 at 18:48

Ah, it's an email one

It is, alas... But while e-mail interviews don't offer the satisfaction of speaking to the other party, they also offer far fewer opportunities for me to screw up and say something stupid to one of my favorite musicians and then figure out how to avoid having to publish it as part of the interview, so in some ways it's for the best.

I think this was pretty interesting, too. At last we have closure about Ishikawa. And... gee whiz.
----
Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 18:57
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by RaduP on 13.01.2019 at 18:54

Some of the coding is fucked on the influences question

I was just noticing that while responding to your previous comment, you little scamp.
----
Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 19:01
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
How disheartened were you by his Babymetal comments?
----
Take off those stupid glasses and kiss me
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 19:29
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by RaduP on 13.01.2019 at 19:01

How disheartened were you by his Babymetal comments?

Actually, I kind of agree; I really was curious, not just looking for a good joke question. I like Babymetal a lot from a musical perspective, but idol culture is at best a heartless commercial scam and at worst horrifying and damaging to everyone involved. Having one foot in the metal world doesn't really insulate Babymetal from the corporate aspects of the type of thing that they are, even if the band is also a cool playground for talented backing musicians, a possible gateway to "proper" heavy metal, and fun pop music that I can throw on at any time. It's a business, not a band. I'll whistle the tunes, but I just laugh nervously whenever I see something that smacks of the cult-of-personality-style marketing that you see apparently overtaking people like Shinichi Ishikawa.

I suppose that Kawashima is speaking more about Babymetal and their ilk as another example of packaged celebrity distraction/illusory money pit rather than about the broader negative effects of idol culture specifically, but I make that jump pretty easily in my mind (I mean, I've seen Perfect Blue*, like any patrician). Taken in the context of what he's said about Ishikawa and the existence of sasaeng fans and what recently happened with NGT48, for example, I'm almost surprised he wasn't more derisive.

*and, you know, real stuff
----
Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
Loading...
13.01.2019 - 19:40
Mr. Doctor
Skandino
Damn, Ishikawa's story is messed up... Like "Perfect Blue" messed up. This was a simple yet extremely fun read SSUS. Thanks a bunch!
Mr. Kawashima seems like a very honest and spontaneous artist. Gotta love that.
----
Written by BloodTears on 19.08.2011 at 18:29
Like you could kiss my ass
Written by Milena on 20.06.2012 at 10:49
Rod, let me love you.
Loading...
15.01.2019 - 05:32
Lord Slothrop
I love reading interviews with Kawashima; he's an interesting, self-effacing, down-to-earth person. Thanks for doing this, it was a great read.
Loading...
15.01.2019 - 18:51
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Kawashima's account on Ishikawa is just mindblowing. Although I like to keep a dose of doubt, as Ishikawa has the right to provide his side of the story, if this is true, that is a real fuck up. Seriously, that kind of behavior, is the behavior of a pedophile. The mere existence of those idol groups is for young demographics. If you get guys into their 40s to change their look so that kids can like them, to spend money on their shit, to stalk them at their concerts, that's a sickness of the mind. This kind of guys are particularly dangerous, because when they are confronted with reality, they either end up with a trauma, or they vent out their frustrations upon others.

I do like some parts of Japanese culture and society, but this side of it is just terrible. This idol thing is like a medium for pedophiles to be open about their fetishes. Calling the police? How about beating the shit out of him and call the police only afterwards to pick up his sorry ass? My god... reading that part was just atrocious.

Then again it's not like out globalist-progressive marxist infested Western countries are better. There is a trend now among LGBTQFORPSKMA+ to dress kids as drag queens and parade them in gay clubs for the delight of homosexual pedophiles. Some of these spectacles are very similar with how US veterans described Afghan police officers taking part in their 'traditional' boy-plays. What's worse, the authorities do not consider this child abuse or maltreatment. But parents that educate kids in a religious environment are considered dangerous. We live in an upside-down world where degeneracy is acceptable while normality is forbidden and considered dangerous.
Loading...
26.01.2019 - 11:01
Paw!!
Poor Ishikawa...
Loading...

Hits total: 2681 | This month: 624