“I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THEY WERE SAYING”: THE DIR EN GREY INTERVIEW
Japan’s Dir En Grey is one metal’s most fearless, unpredictable acts, but they don’t make it easy for would-be fans to know that. Listeners must grapple with cryptic Japanese language lyrics, routeless song structures, and hairpin turns in tone from beauty to brutal audio gore. Their visual grotesquerie in concert and in videos hardly make them more digestible, but don’t mistake Dir En Grey art for soulless shock rock.
Sure, scary visuals and violent music are the quintet’s stock in trade, but their mission — as explained to MetalSucks by guitarists Die (above right) and Kaoru (second from left) from their Los Angeles hotel last week — is self-expression, not engagement, and their mega-talented singer Kyo is an agent of dread not via pithy, cartoonish slogans about mankind’s similarities to excrement, but with his mind-boggling range and serenely psychopathic imagery. The personal, not the communal, if you will. As you’ll read, it seems to have not occurred to them to make it easy on fans. And so fans win.
After the jump, Die and Kaoru talk (via an overtaxed interpreter to whom I owe a dinner) about their awesome guitar work on their forthcoming eighth record Dum Spiro Spero, the benefits of a language barrier, and the fear of challenging listeners too much.
Anso DF: Congratulations on your new album. It’s an odyssey! I like how there’s something new musically on every Dir En Grey album; Dum Spiro Spero is informed in places by post-rock and deathcore. What was the evolution of this album’s sound?
Kaoru: Thanks for the congratulations! We weren’t particularly concentrating on evolution or changes from the previous album. What we did was really presented and conveyed what was in our hearts, what we wanted to say. So we weren’t actually concerned by the idea of [progression], but because we were trying to convey what was in our hearts, I think the album took longer to make than before.
Instead of focusing on the diversity of styles that were portrayed, we focussed on one element, the whole idea of the foundation of the music. The sound quality. From there we branched out and tried to expand our horizons and the imagery that we create with the music. It might feel that the songs this time are a little stronger than before.
ADF: Something that excites me about the new album is the amount of guitar playing. There are busier riffs, harmony parts, and winding solos. Would you guys describe Dum Spiro Spero as a guitar-oriented album?
Die: When we were creating the songs, we started individually, then came together to arrange them. We were letting the music take its course. As we looked at the guitar riffs, and their [relationship] to the bass, we added what was necessary to add color and vibrance to the guitar parts. So, I think the answer is yes, it is more guitar-based this time [laughs].
ADF: The album’s second single, “Lotus,” was a mostly straight-forward single like “The Final” [from 2005’s Withering To Death]. But the third and newest single, “Different Sense,” is much more complex. Do you find that audiences are now open to explore increasingly complicated songs? Are you concerned about overdosing listeners with tough stuff?
Kaoru: Thank you very much for identifying the album that way. It is complicated. It might actually be difficult to get into the album at first. If you’re just listening to the album for the first time, it might be challenging. But if you listen a second and third time continuously, I feel that it will become something easy to listen to. In comparison to previous albums, we do have songs that are more melodious. Listeners may be able to identify more closely with the songs and their changes.
Also, there should be different identifications and impressions every time it is listened to. For the listeners, if they listen to it once and that’s it, they may have a hard time [taking it in]. Some people might. But we’re not making songs just [for] our fan base; we create songs also to challenge ourselves and to move forward as well. As professionals, we continuously aim at a higher level. We’re looking for quality music.
ADF: I have a question about the vocals. Are all of the vocals done by Kyo?
Kaoru: All of them.
ADF: I’m a guitar guy, but the many varied vocalizations on Dir En Grey records are incredible. Kyo is amazing! Do you feel like, ‘Wow we have an awesome singer’?
Die: I feel that we individually bring our qualities, characteristics, and features to the band. We have respect and we do compete against each other too.
Die: The idea is to grow together, develop together, and continue to inspire each other with what we each bring to the group. The way Kyo treats the melody — or even the way he sings the song — is unfathomable to me. It’s something that I’ll never be able to do. It’s something I maybe never imagined. So when I think of it that way, he’s like a guitar or an effect. Kyo is an instrument. That inspires me. That allows me to grow as a guitarist as well.
ADF: Dir En Grey is a band based in Japan that works to connect with non-Japanese audiences around the world. These fans have little first-hand contact with Japanese culture or language, so theirs may not be an immediate connection to Dir En Grey songs. Is there a temptation to do more music in English or even relocate to L.A. for a few years?
Kaoru: We are asked quite often to create our songs in English. But we’re not exactly creating songs just for our fans. We consider our music [to be] a piece of art. That said, there is some expression able to be shown only in English. Kyo prefers to use the sensitivities that Japanese language offers. There are expressions and nuances that can only be conveyed in Japanese; he values that. In the long run, if there is an idea that [is best expressed] in English, then there will be more English Dir En Grey songs. The language is part of that artwork.
And we’re not intending to move to the U.S. It’s not that weren’t not interested — it is an idea — but we’re not planning to deliberately change our direction to succeed in the United States. If there’s an opportunity, we might. But when I was growing up, I listened to American bands. They were all singing in English and I had no idea what they were saying.
Kaoru: But I still remember the excitement that I experienced. I know as a listener that our fans can connect to our music in the same way — even with the language barrier.
ADF: I guess my thing is this: It’s awesome that Dir En Grey can do headline tours in the US and in the UK, and the days are gone when fans couldn’t get Dir En Grey records in America. That’s awesome. But, to me, the band is still grossly underrated. With a band name like Dir En Grey, and an Latin title to the album, are you making it hard on yourselves to reach more people?
Die: Hmm. I don’t really worry about how the music is perceived or how it’s identified. That’s really up to the listeners. As creators, we don’t really know how it’s received or how people think about it. If we were to start writing songs [reacting] to concern over who it will reach, then I think what we create might end up being something very fragile. It will digress from what we intended to do, and from what we had passion for since the beginning. That said, we continue to stand firm on what we consider a challenge or an inspiration. Instead of worrying.
ADF: Speaking of tours, are any dates set for the US yet? [Full North American tour itinerary has since been released. See here. — Ed.]
Kaoru: Starting the end of November until the end of the year, we start in South America and make our way to the U.S. We’ll be here.
Click here to pre-order Dir En Grey’s new album Dum Spiro Spero (out Tuesday on The End records). Fall tour dates here.