Heavy Culture is a monthly column from journalist Liz Ramanand, focusing on artists of different cultural backgrounds in heavy music as they offer their perspectives on race, society, and more as it intersects with and affects their music. The latest installment of this column features an interview with Dir En Grey vocalist Kyo.
Known for their experimental and avant-garde style, Japanese metal act Dir En Grey have been around for more than two decades. In 2019, the band had a successful round of touring in the United States, in support of its latest full-length release, The Insulated World.
Last year, Dir En Grey dropped a new song called “The World of Mercy” while also marking the 20th anniversary of their debut album Gauze. The band is kicking off 2020 with dates in Europe and Asia.
We recently caught up with Dir En Grey vocalist Kyo, who spoke about the early days of the band, as well as differences he notices touring in the United States versus Asia. He also talked about his first concert experience, and his thoughts on younger Japanese bands such as BABYMETAL, as well as the impact of veteran acts such as X Japan.
Read our interview with Kyo of Dir En Grey below:
On what he thinks people will take away from seeing a Dir En Grey show
The way I see it, some people come to our show and probably go home feeling like they’ve just wasted their time watching us live while others would go home feeling like they’re just seen the best show of their lives. There are so many types of people who show up at our concerts that there is no way to really say what someone should feel or take away from our show. To each their own experience.
On cultural differences between touring in Asia versus touring the US
Probably the fan reaction during our concerts. The Japanese fans are always in unison, they have their way of reacting to our songs. They would be extremely quiet during our slower melodic numbers, whereas abroad, the fans would scream and go wild regardless of what tempo of song you would play. That’s probably the biggest difference I see.
On whether he’s faced obstacles as an Asian musician trying to bring his music to an international audience
I always feel the language as an obstacle, but we aim to perform as always.
On growing up in Japan and its rock and metal music scene
In Japan, rock and metal are two very separate scenes. I remember while growing up that rock was rather mainstream while metal was almost taboo.
On his first concert he attended growing up in Japan
My first time attending a show was from the Japanese band Strawberry Fields held in a venue called Kyoto MUSE. Everything felt so fresh and new, I really thought “this is great!”
On newer Japanese bands such as BABYMETAL
In regards to BABYMETAL, you just can’t say anything bad about them, can you? The band’s very talented musicians and the girls are powerful performers. The singers are very young hard working ladies who could be your own daughters, how could you not think they are doing a great job? That’s almost like a trick question, I feel.
On whether his family supported his love of heavy music and his career as a musician
When I started out in the band I was about 17 and had to seek help from my parents a lot. I borrowed a lot of money from them too but as soon as things picked up for us I paid them back every penny. Back in our indie days, we were playing so many shows that I couldn’t even take up an odd job on the side to make ends meet. My mother is still a great supporter of me to this day but I’m not sure if my dad feels like I’m doing the right thing, even today.
On how Japanese culture has impacted his music and lyrics
I think it has a lot of impact. I often have a sort of “Japan” image in my head when composing lyrics.
On his connection with his songs and lyrics
Of course all my lyrics are personal to me, I relate to them all. But the newer ones are the most personal to me right now, naturally.
On the 20th anniversary of Dir En Grey’s first album Gauze
We got a major record deal with Gauze. Back then, moving up from the indie scene to the major scene was a big deal. It meant it was finally time your band and music would be featured on mainstream TV and in magazines. I remember it being a time when we were at the same time very anxious but full of expectations.
On his relationship with X Japan legend Yoshiki, who produced a handful of songs on Gauze
I wanted to be in a band because of bands like X Japan and Buck Tick, so Yoshiki was a big inspiration to us back then. He is someone we all respect a lot.
On what’s in store for the future for Dir En Grey
We’ll tour Europe at the start of 2020 and then back to Japan in March. We also announced a two-day arena concert at the Pia Arena MM in Kanagawa for July 23rd and 24th. That venue holds 10,000 capacity, so we’re excited for that.