We must acknowledge the risk at some point and move on
The coronavirus has changed various situation surrounding music, has there been any change as a creator?
“No. People ask me this question a lot, so I’ve really tried to look for something that has changed, but it’s like, nope, there’s nothing (LOL).”
No change at all? (LOL)
“I am producing an album now, so if the people who listen to the finished work feel that I have changed, then maybe I have. But what I produce is a sound, unless I say, ‘I made this feeling this way’, no one will know. If we are talking about the band, you may see the influence from the lyrics.”
Very true. I heard that DIR EN GREY was on a tour in Europe when people started to talk about the coronavirus, right?
“The opening performance was in Moscow on 25th January, and the final concert was in Paris on 8th February, it was around the time when coronavirus gradually started to appear in the news. During international tours, all our members and staff live together on the bus, so to prevent cold or flu, we wore masks, but almost none of the locals were wearing masks back then. We were stared at for wearing masks.”
At which timing did you become aware of the coronavirus?
“Around the end of February? We were supposed to start the tour –‘TOUR20 Sogai (alienation)’– from 27th March, but the first four performances were postponed in mid-March, and we canceled the entire tour in April.”
I heard that you waited until the last moment to cancel the live convert at Pia Arena MM in Yokohama planned for 24th July.
“It was impossible from April to May, but we thought it may be possible in July by limiting the audience. The band does not hold many live concerts at Arena-sized venue, so we wanted to make sure we deliver a solid performance, hence decided to cancel.”
You mentioned in your YouTube channel ‘The Freedom of Expression’ that you cannot use smoke due to ventilation issues.
“Including all that, we may not be able to do the stage we envision. This was one of many reasons. And people were not able to travel from afar even if they wanted to. Maybe it was possible if we had stuck to the idea of holding the event. But when we put our audience first, we realized it was not necessary to force it.”
What did your band do during the coronavirus crisis?
“The live events were cancelled, but we kept being active on many things, like distributing live concert without audience or played music on YouTube. We haven’t announced anything after releasing a single in August, but that was because we already had a plan to start producing an album. So, it was not like things really stopped for us, but now we are finally thinking about ‘what next?’ Maybe we are about to figure out how our past activities will lead to the next.”
So, your activities did not change?
“No change, it was more like we didn’t want to say, ‘this is happening because of corona.’ Whatever happens, we will absolutely do what we decided to do.”
What do you think of the situation where you cannot hold live concerts?
“It can’t be helped. But I feel we are in a different mode from May to June. There is also this feeling that we can start moving soon. Everyone vaguely feels this, but I think they are reluctant to do as before. It’s about time we acknowledge the risk and move on. Isn’t it time to make that decision?”
What specifically do you mean by risks in this case?
“Of course, catching the virus is one thing, as well as thinking about how it will be perceived by the public. We don’t care what people say about us, but we don’t want our audience to be blamed and we care about that. Having said that, we won’t go back to normal unless we start moving. We need to hold events, and if both the performers and the audience feel secure, that’s when things start to recover fully. So, we’ve got to keep moving. There is no point standing still. After all, we have no choice but to live with the coronavirus. I believe people who want to see the concerts will gradually increase, and it’s a matter of people’s feelings whether they come or not, although contracting the disease isn’t acceptable. It’s time for people to make their own decisions of yes or no, and we are trying to figure out the right timing to move forward to the next phase. Though I don’t know when that would be.”
Moving forward with or without the coronavirus
Many artists sent out a message to “stay home” during the self-restraint period, but you did not make such remarks, did you?
“I never said things like, ‘let’s restrain ourselves.’”
Did you have any thoughts when the national and local governments specifically requested to refrain from holding large-scale events or going to live-music clubs?
“I thought the vague, ‘you may want to stop this,’ should have been made clearer. You don’t get the message if it is too vague, so, we were like, ‘does that mean it is okay to do this?’ In our case, this was not so relevant, because our decision to cancel the events were not based on the request from the government.
Even now, we keep hearing the number of people infected every day, but I wonder if that is enough. It feels like they are throwing information without specific explanation so people will be scared and forced to think, ‘I cannot move around,’ or ‘I cannot go out’. There is no positive information to overcome this, such as how the people who contracted the disease have recovered, so, it feels like we are just being suppressed.”
The coronavirus crisis has revealed the weak sides of this country, hasn’t it?
“I wonder many times if this country is all right. But if you specify, ‘related to corona,’ I couldn’t care less. The band is moving on with or without the coronavirus, so I can just say, ‘we are moving forward without worrying about it.’ Of course, there are various issues, and I have a lot of personal feelings that I want to talk about, but there are still issues without the coronavirus.”
The coronavirus crisis induced excessive slandering on SNS. Did you have any thoughts around such news?
“Umm… You might be able to regulate SNS if you want to, but we cannot eliminate them, can we? After all, it has become an outlet for venting. So, if there is anything, it would be best to depend on people around you, instead of isolating yourself. Some say don’t look, stop using it, if hurtful, but people are not so strong. Even if there are 100 positive comments, one negative comment can be a blow for some people. I think we should find an escape route ourselves.”
What do you think of the people who slander others?
“Including myself, we all have negative opinions about others. It’s just a matter of expressing them or not. Personally, I don’t’ want to lose my footing with such things, nor use my energy. If somebody slanders me and if I attack them back, I would be the same. Also, it would be strange if such negative opinions are actually eliminated.”
So it’s unavoidable that there are various opinions?
“There is no way every opinion will be aligned with what I want. It is natural that there are both positive and negative opinions. I tend to think I may be wrong, if I only hear positive remarks. If everyone compliments the song, I tend to think there was something wrong about it (LOL). Basically, I don’t trust people very much.”
Then what do you trust the most? Yourself?
“I cannot trust myself (LOL). I trust people around me. If I can see how I look to them, I can learn about myself, right? In that sense, people around me are important, and I trust them.”
On the flip side, did you have positive findings during this coronavirus crisis?
“I cannot find the right way to put this, but I thought that there are considerable difference depending on each person’s situation. For example, people who live with their family are limited in their action, and they need to be mindful of public opinion, so their options are limited. On the other hand, people living alone with less relationships with others are surprisingly strong. I thought this difference became apparent.
For instance, YouTubers and people who can move freely are ‘taking this opportunity’ and being very active. On the other hand, it’s business as usual for those who seclude themselves to create artworks, such as potters or painters. However, it is not easy to attract attention to their artworks under the current situation. So, how the power of those who release energy outward and those who accumulate will turn out in 6 or 12 months from now, I am curious about that. Maybe they are waiting for the timing to explode. If time comes for the accumulated energy to explode, we might see incredible artwork in the time to come. Most artists will be producing, so there will be a flood of new works coming out at once. I think it is interesting to know what kind of world it will become when those works are released.”
There can be a masterpiece.
“It’s exciting to find out what kind of works will come out.”
Is music really necessary?
What was a scene, news or a word that especially caught your attention during the coronavirus crisis?
“I guess it’s the view of the live performance we did without audience on 28th March. The scenery without audience was unimaginable in the past. I don’t think I will ever forget that view.”
Do you mean you never want that to happen again?
“There is that, but it was a live performance where we were extremely conscious of sending out our energy. We didn’t perform for the people in front of us, but for the people watching us from somewhere else. It was a new experience, and I think it was good that we did it. I could feel the meaning of the songs.”
How was it in terms of performing?
“There were no problems, and we actually did it, but we didn’t feel a strong sense of accomplishment (LOL). We are so used to having the audience in front of us and their cheers soaked into our bodies. Maybe we need to separate that, if we are to get to a new place, but I want to believe that we are not doing that anymore.”
Do you think the roles of music and rock music will change?
“I don’t think it will change. Perhaps, it will be stronger? It’s suppressed now, so I think it will recoil and explode. Some people are that starved. When the live performances are restarted fully, I think it will be extraordinary. Then it may be interesting to do things in a different way. For instance, when everybody else is starting live performances, ‘we won’t do it,’ (LOL).”
Choosing online broadcasting only (LOL). But I really want to see an amazing live performance as your reaction. I’ve been to many and can say live performances of DIR EN GREY are truly special. Honestly, there are many images you want to look away from, my heart feels gouged and it’s painful, but there is a relief in the end. I have never seen live performances like it. How do you feel as a performer?
“At live performances, you get to see your good self and the bad. It’s not always, but sometimes I feel, ‘I don’t like how I am now.’ I used to feel the pleasure of being on stage years ago, but it is diminishing every year. These days I feel the wave, that is my life. It’s best if I can enjoy them, but now I believe exhaustion may be necessary for the live concerts of this band. Not physical, but mental exhaustion. In fact, we end up having better live performances when we feel exhaustion. I know it’s a strange feeling.”
By the way, what sort of place is a live concert for DIR EN GREY?
“It’s a place to connect and validate with the audience. They listen to the music we made, and we feel their reactions. The audience feels what we present to them and they throw back their feeling to us. So, it’s like a place to communicate with our bodies. In short, it’s a place for people-to-people connections. So, live performances are all about people. Who is singing, who is playing the instruments, and who is standing there – this is everything.”
I see. Finally, I want to ask for your ‘question’ to the readers.
“I guess my question is: Is music really necessary?”
What do you think?
“I actually think it’s not that necessary. Because it’s difficult to value it in the daily lives. To live, you must eliminate something and choose, I don’t think music will be chosen. And it’s not limited to music. It is sad, but maybe music is just one of many amusements, though I hate to conclude it with this word.”
Music does not address hunger nor directly saves people’s lives…
“In extreme terms, that’s true. But there are people who need music for sure, so I want to keep making music for them. It’s not like you need music 24/7 to live, but there are moments you need it. So, I am doing this for such moments.”
You are doing this for such moments?
“But you cannot intentionally create such moments. We don’t know if these moments take place during live concerts either. But maybe we are looking for the blank moments. Sometimes you realize, ‘What? The live is over already?’ When this happens, I believe we have delivered great performances. Later, we see video recordings and realize that they were only mediocre (LOL). I tend to do better when I feel the stress on myself. You can actually focus more when you are feeling unwell.”
In that sense, the coronavirus is giving stress to the society and the people. Maybe this will affect the band.
“That doesn’t change, what we are doing is the same. The other day, five of us got together for a talk event for the first time in a while, but we were as usual. Nothing had changed.”
Kaoru, DIR EN GREY
Born in Hyogo Prefecture. Guitarist and composer of DIR EN GREY. Started the band in 1997, made a major debut in 1999. Proactively holding international tours since their successful solo Europe tour in 2005. Held the first painting exhibition ‘Noutei-karano (from the base of the brain)’ in 2019.
Interviewed by Joe Yokomizo on 21st August, 2020