JRR: First of all, please start by introducing yourself.
MIYAVI: Ok. I’m MIYAVI, I’m a Japanese Kabuki rock and visual kei artist. I try to blend the elements of hip-hop, funk, blues, etc with the visual style. I’m making my own original style.
JRR: Last night at your live (December 25th at C.C. Lemon Hall), you talked a lot about visual kei and bringing Japanese visual style abroad; could you talk more about that?
MIYAVI: Just like I’ve said before, I am very proud of what I am doing. To me, kabuki and visual-kei are two very unique facets of the Japanese culture, that only the Japanese can achieve. That’s why, I think, we grab the interest of music listeners overseas. I don’t want to just sound visual kei-ish. I don’t like the visual kei rock bands that only limit themselves to just visual kei style, or are satisfied with just visual-kei fans, and vice versa. Of course I treasure my visual-kei fans, but I would like to expand my music and our culture outside the visual-kei world as well. I want to bring together artists of different music genres, and present my music and our culture to people who do not know about visual kei rock, people who have no interest in visual kei rock, or people who look down upon visual kei rock. When we go overseas, people label us as “Jrock,” J standing for Japanese. Even though other bands in the visual-kei industry as well as myself are definitely influenced by foreign artists, we must show them what we can do as Japanese, otherwise there’s no point [in going there]. That’s why I’m brushing up my skills, and making music that is unique to me.
JRR: You play music in so many different styles, and that lets you reach out to people who are not visual kei rock fans; are there any more styles that you want to try?
MIYAVI: It’s not really about trying; I don’t know exactly what will happen in the future. For example, you saw the beat boxer; it’s not funk, it’s not anything, it’s just for entertainment. I’m just trying to make my show like a musical circus such as Cirque du Soleil. Everyone in my crew has their own skill, such as the BMX rider, the tap dancer, etc, and they get to show off their skills during intervals at my show. I also express exactly how I feel and how I think at my show, and do things that only us as Japanese can do. We tend to put more emphasis on the music, utilizing lyrics, and so forth. If someone was to ask us about the genre, well, up till now I’ve incorporated funk, blues, jazz, rock, tap dance, BMX, etc. When I went to Los Angeles last month, I jammed with a local friend who is a violinist. We went to a jazz bar there and joined a jazz band. By doing things like that, I expand my skills and gain more experience music-wise. Of course there are a lot of things I want to do, including in the underground scene; I have a lot of friends in the underground scene, and I would like to be able to introduce more of them into the major music industry. I want to present different types of presentations during my performances. In order to challenge those different types, my music style has to be solid to start with. That’s why I’m brushing up my skills.
JRR: The painter on the stage was really awesome; I’ve never seen anything like that.
MIYAVI: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s very different, right? The painter can’t make sounds on the stage, so it’s a very sensitive part of the show.
JRR: Several people who had never been exposed to Japanese rock music were present at the JRR Festival 1, and they were really impressed with your show and thought yours was the most interesting out of all.
MIYAVI: Thank you. We’ve improved even more since then.
JRR: How would you describe your guitar playing style, such as playing the guitar over your back?
MIYAVI: I can’t really describe my own style, since I mix different styles from blues, funk, etc. I like Stevie Ray Vaughan, a famous blues guitarist, one of the guitarists that I like. I also like Marcus Miller, and a lot of other bassists, that’s why I incorporate slapping into my guitar plays. I also like Keziah Jones, Raul Midon, etc, they’re all really great guitarists. I imagine my guitar as the shamisen, the traditional Japanese guitar. I want to play like a Samurai.
JRR: You played a shamisen at the S.K.I.N. concert.
MIYAVI: Yeah, yeah that’s right.
JRR: You had only picked it up a few days before the actual concert, right?
MIYAVI: Yeah, yeah, I picked it up a few days before. Because, you know, GACKT and YOSHIKI can play the piano, SUGIZO can play the violin, so I kept on thinking, what can I do? GACKT had his own shamisen, so I borrowed it from him. Then I practiced all day long. It’s slightly similar to a guitar, so it wasn’t that hard.
JRR: When we did a special online event around your birthday, we had everybody send in messages, and we got around 170-some messages. And the number one thing that people said was that they’re moved by how individualistic you are and you make them feel like even if they are insecure or afraid, they can try to be themselves and express themselves. So deriving from that, what do you think of the Japanese proverb “Deru kugi wa utareru” (the nail that sticks out gets hammered)? And how can you be individualistic in a country where it is very important to keep the “wa” (Japanese harmony) and basically blend in?
MIYAVI: I don’t see it as a problem [that I’m so different from the others], because it’s my way. I think that, if given the chance, other artists should go overseas too, because there’s a lot to learn and feel. Visual-kei obviously puts a lot of focus on image; so I feel the need to distinguish my own style, and I do feel very different from the others. I wouldn’t describe it being as the “nail that sticks out,” but rather the nail that stands out and shines amongst the others. I think that it’d be good for everyone to be like that in a way.
Although I call myself visual-kei, if I played the mainstream visual-kei type of music, I probably wouldn’t call myself visual-kei. For me, visual-kei is a combination of the looks, the stage performance and a style of living. I feel strongly that, the other members of S.K.I.N. are exactly what I feel what visual-kei is meant to be, they live and breathe like artists, whether on stage or off stage. Unfortunately, I can’t feel that from the other visual-kei artists now.
There are friends that I respect, of course, but I actually have more friends who are in other genres, but I’d like to exist as a visual-kei artist amongst totally different artists. I’m like.. “I do visual-kei, you’re reggae, and you’re punk. That’s cool right ?” I think that’s more important. Those friends are more aware of how the Japanese culture should stand in the world than other visual-kei artists. So I’m trying to break down the wall which is between the genres.
JRR: Are there any artists that you think are doing a great job of making visual-kei a lifestyle?
MIYAVI: GACKT, SUGIZO, and YOSHIKI. I really respect them.
JRR: How did you decide to collaborate with SUGIZO for your single “Hi no Hikari sae Todokanai Kono Basho de,” and what was the experience like?
MIYAVI: There’s no particular reason; it just turned out naturally. We played together in S.K.I.N., and we also hang out some times. He also performed in my act during JRR Festival 1, and at that time he was really respectful to my crew and my crew really respected him too, so we maintained a really good relationship since then. So when I invited him to play in my new song, he was on board right away.
JRR: During your live at C.C. Lemon Hall, you announced your upcoming world tour. Please tell us where you’re going.
MIYAVI: I intend to go to L.A., N.Y., Europe, etc. We are still in the planning stages (as of December 2007). I’d also like to go to Asia, Korea, Taiwan, and China.
JRR: During your spare time, what would you like to do?
MIYAVI: I’d like to go somewhere I’ve never been before.
JRR: Where would you like to go for fun?
MIYAVI: I’m not sure really… I’m leaving for L.A. tomorrow, in fact, and I’ll be visiting California, and maybe around Arizona, San Francisco, Las Vegas and San Diego. I like the west coast because the weather is nice.
JRR: What is the most recent tattoo you got?
MIYAVI: The Buddhist sutra on my back (Hannyashingyo).
JRR: Do you plan to get more of it in the future?
MIYAVI: Yeah, if I have time and an idea, I’ll do it.
JRR: Could you tell us about each of the members in KAVKI BOIZ?
MIYAVI: Yeah. The drummer RYO was from an alternative rock band; his band opened for LINKIN PARK. He’s also very well trained in jazz music, and can play a variety of drum styles. He’s a very hard worker. Although he looks old for his age, he’s in his late twenties and I think he has good skills for his age. KAVKI BOIZ has several rhythm aspects, like the tap and beat boxer, so having RYO as the drummer really keeps the rhythm together.
The bassist SHIGE-chan is a strange guy. (Laughs) He lived in San Francisco for three or four years, and has played with all kinds of different people. So his groove is very laid back. His character changes a lot too, he’s very funny and sometimes he’s the mood-maker amongst the band. He’s influenced by funk bands, so his bass playing style is funky too. With myself as the guitarist, him on bass, and RYO on drums, I feel that we make a great groove, and we have a lot of fun playing together
The tap dancer SARO is a different tap dancer than the one that performed at GEIJUTSU GEKIJOU last year. I went to a tap dance show to watch a friend perform, and I realized that I was looking at SARO most of the time. That’s how disgusting he was (laughs). He was very skillful and played his character so naturally, that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him, even when he wasn’t dancing. He started tap at a young age, and he’s actually younger than me. He has a great sense of rhythm and also does percussion well. He is a very talented artist.
DJ 1-2 joined us after DJ Hanger who played with us before, and he was the champion for the DMC competition, a turntable competition. He’s also young and ambitious; he’s a cool guy to work with.
The painter YORKE is the only person who doesn’t play a musical instrument onstage. His role in the band is to present the visual aspect of the band that cannot be done with any instruments but a man’s hand. He also does crew member’s make up.
The beat boxer TYKO grew up with American people in Aomori, near the navy base. When I went to Aomori with him to meet his family and friends, he played to an all American audience and he was able to excite them with his beat boxing skills. I was very impressed.
JRR: The show last night was really cool. Do you have a favorite moment?
MIYAVI: I don’t remember (laughs). I’ll check [the tape] tonight or when I’m staying in L.A.. Of course I liked the opening of the show.
JRR: You came in from the side and you walked through the audience with an umbrella with flower petals thrown into the air. The fans were really happy. Do you always enter through the audience?
MIYAVI: Yeah. I like doing that.
JRR: In “Sakihokoru Hana no You ni,” you start off by talking about X JAPAN, LUNA SEA and KUROYUME; why did you decide to talk about them in your lyrics?
MIYAVI: The reason is just… it’s my message, my thought; my lyrics are for myself, my comments. I got the idea to do so from the hip-hop culture, I was very impressed by that. I mean, rhyming is not that important; it’s more important to make it sound like I’m talking.
JRR: You also pronounce words when you sing in Japanese as if you were talking.
MIYAVI: Yeah. It’s my style, it’s not only like rap or anything else, I’m just expressing my feelings in my own way. I”d like to break new ground as a vocalist too.
JRR: A lot of artists only dress up on stage, but right now you look just like what you looked like onstage, with your hat, jacket, your whole look.
MIYAVI: Yeah (laughs).
JRR: Your mixture of colors is really cool too.
MIYAVI: Thank you; I like flashy fashion.
JRR: What is your favorite color now?
MIYAVI: Pink. I think pink is pink; For example light blue is derived from blue, but I think pink is an individual color. That’s why I like it.
JRR: What do you see in pink?
JRR: Are you friends with the other PS Company bands?
MIYAVI: Of course they’re all my friends, but I rarely go out with them. I try to bring people in from different scenes and to do music together. I think everyone’s likable. Such as MAYA (LM.C) and YUCHI (KANNIVALISM) who used to be in my band; I chose them before they made their own band because they were cool. I’m also close with all members of S.K.I.N..
JRR: Are the members of S.K.I.N. different when they are onstage and off stage?
MIYAVI: They’re pretty much the same. Of course even though they have make up on and hairdos when they’re on stage (laughs) but they’re still the same people. They might look different, but their aura and feel remain the same. They’re like my big brothers.
JRR: Is S.K.I.N. planning on doing something in 2008?
MIYAVI: Yeah, I think so. You should ask him [YOSHIKI] (laughs). I talked to YOSHIKI a little bit about S.K.I.N., but you know he’s now back with X JAPAN. Besides, each member of S.K.I.N. is running their own projects including me, so it’s kind of difficult to arrange things.
JRR: What is rock to you?
MIYAVI: Umm.. It’s just a noun to me. It refers to a music genre, a passion, a style, but in the end it’s just a noun. Some people call their music rock even though it really isn’t, so I don’t think much about the word. Although I use the word, I don’t think much about the meaning; it’s not quite the era to categorize music anymore.
JRR: You have supported a few charity events. What is the one charity that you are putting more focus on now, or one that you want to support the most?
MIYAVI: First, we are very visual-based when we present ourselves and our music, so I want to support the charities for people who are visually-impaired. This might be off from what you were asking but, for example, right now one might have no problems so he doesn’t understand the difficulties; one can only understand what he’s lost once he’s lost it, but you usually gain something in return. No pain no gain, right? For example, if you suddenly cannot hear anymore, you might see better and if you suddenly lost your vision your hearing might become better.
I’ve also lost a lot of things during my career as an artist, but at the same time I feel that I have also gained a lot. I want to support all the charities I can.
JRR: Lastly, would you please give a message to all the fans out there who would like to be themselves but can’t for some reason?
MIYAVI: I think everybody goes through periods like that. I’ve also had times like that, and even thought about dying. But in the end, we go on living without knowing the reason for living. So I think it’s important for one to find something to live for. To say that you can’t be yourself is just saying that you have no confidence in yourself. In order to gain more confidence, you should do things that will bring you to a higher level, learn things, and gain confidence little by little everyday. It’s the same for me when I do concerts – if I did a concert that failed, but I put in 100% effort, it still wouldn’t be a complete loss; but if I didn’t try at all, it’d be a great failure. Even if it went well I’d still consider it a failure [if I didn’t try].
At my show last night there were sudden things that had to be taken care of, and things that we should have done but didn’t, but since we work so hard everyday, even if something doesn’t go as expected, we are still able to show our efforts. So I wouldn’t regret making a mistake, at least I get to show my skills and my style which I get through the effort I put in everyday. So for the kids who lack confidence, I’d like you to think a little everyday about what you want to do, what you’d like to do, and above all – face yourself. Although you might get opinions from other people from time to time, it’s most important for you to stay true to yourself and know what you want to achieve. If you like music, find a job related to music, if you like sleeping, become a researcher on sleeping disorders, etc. I don’t know exactly, but there’s got to be something for you to do. As long as you are aware of being alive, I think naturally you will find a way.
Interview by Misha and Christina
Translated and Transcribed by Christina
Special thanks to PS Company and Universal Japan