Before new album Core came out on January 9th, we had the opportunity to spend time with all of Kagrra,,
They’re known for their Neo Japanesque style that mixes familiar Western rock and Jrock sounds with musical elements evocative of traditional Japanese music.
And of course, they also stand out powerfully in Jrock Revolution Festival 1 attendees’ memories for their dramatic return to gorgeous traditional Japanese dress.
Commenting in a long interview on the theme of Core, their thoughts on traditional and pop-modern cultural phenomena in both Japan and the U.S., and more, ISSHI, AKIYA, SIN, NAO, and IZUMI were at once contemplative and spirited as they approached J-Rock Invasion in Germany and the release of Core.
And of course, we asked the number one question submitted by JRR readers: why did they come to us in kimonos?
Listen to Kagrra,’s message for all of you on our front page music player! Then read on for Part One of a two-part interview.
JRR: We would like to start by talking about KAGRRA,’s style. You perform in the style which you call “Neo Japanesque,” and we would like to hear you explain “Neo Japanesque” to your overseas fans.
ISSHI: This is a bit difficult, but basically it is the “wa” (the word to describe the Japanese traditional custom.) concept that originates from old traditions and evolved to the modern day. Contemporary Japanese people are not as conscious of Japanese culture, so we wanted to define the “wa” concept in our own way.
JRR: How would you actually describe the concept of “wa?”
ISSHI: Well, to me… in a broad sense, it is being Japanese. I take pride in being Japanese.
AKIYA: Being born Japanese, we were taught Japanese history and culture from a young age, and also Japanese folk songs, children’s songs. Being so deeply influenced by those, we are able to bring out the “wa” in ourselves naturally. Also nationalism, the Japanese spirit and love towards the nation. There are many aspects and styles to “wa.” What non-Japanese people think of as “wa” might be different from what we think as “wa.” The gap is actually quite interesting, and we can actually make good use of that gap. “Wa” can be viewed from different angles, and I think that is interesting.
SIN: The “wa” we put into music and the normal “wa” are slightly different. The usual concept of "wa," well, being born and raised as Japanese, we had music classes that taught traditional Japanese music, just like most countries probably would teach their kids the folk songs of that country, so since we learned and memorized that music, when we make our own music, we look back and study some more and realize different ways to add elements of traditional Japanese music.
NAO: What was the question? Oh, “wa.” There are many ways to portray “wa,” but as Kagrra,, we portray it in our own ways by using traditional music elements, wearing kimonos, which probably is the most easily understood style. For people overseas, from their point of view, it’s probably easiest to convey by wearing kimonos.
JRR: Is that why you chose to wear kimonos when you performed at the Jrock Revolution Festival?
NAO: Yes, exactly. We felt that to express our presence as Kagrra,, it was best to dress in kimonos, and the easiest to understand.
IZUMI: To me, “wa” is a feeling. There are things that are easily understood… well, it’d be weird to say it’s hard to understand, but it is something that you cannot see, yet can feel from within.
JRR: When you went abroad and experienced a different culture, what were the changes you felt in your “wa?” Did you feel the absence of “wa?”
IZUMI: Of course we get influenced by the surroundings; last time when we went to Los Angeles, we definitely felt the impact in different aspects.
JRR: Was it your first time abroad?
IZUMI: We’ve done one live in Asia, and I’ve visited Hawaii before, but our trip to L.A. was probably the most memorable overseas experience. Instead of losing the sense of “wa,” I actually felt that it got stronger. In regards to culture, for example, instead of physically attesting to the difference, we were able to feel the differences.
JRR: Going back to Jrock Revolution, we asked the fans for questions for you, some of which we would like to ask you later. But particularly the fans wanted to know why you chose to perform in kimonos. We know you have just explained the reason why you chose to perform in kimonos, but did the idea come to you right away, or did it come to you as you were thinking about the festival?
ISSHI: We made the decision right away when we decided to perform in the U.S. We thought it would be the easiest for people to understand our image and concept. We thought it was the best idea.
JRR: Your current visual style is very relaxed, usually just regular clothes. Why did you make the transition from a more visual style to more everyday-styled clothing?
ISSHI: Basically, even though we are probably still viewed as “visual-kei” by the general public, the reason for the visual-kei bands to dress up is to best present the types of music that they play, although recently that has changed. For us, since we have started making many songs that cater to a wider audience, instead of putting our hair up or wearing kimono, we felt that we needed an image that would accompany those songs.
JRR: Do you think visual-kei today is more about having a look than about expressing something from the music?
ISSHI: Well, I’m not too sure, since we don’t really get to talk too much to the other bands so we can’t speak for them. But it’s true that, for example, when I look at a picture of a band, it’s now harder to find a band and know what type of music they play based on their looks.
AKIYA: Compared to the past, the quality of “visual-ness” has definitely gone up. Well how should I say it… since now it’s so much easier to obtain information, everyone has access to the same information and they end up looking similar… Like before, most bands would have their own distinctive looks, but now, if something with a strong impact comes out, everyone follows and thus end up looking the same. This is how I feel, but I do admit that the visual look quality has improved significantly.
JRR: How will your new album CORE differ from your past releases, and how will it continue to be in your style?
SIN: To say that it differs wouldn’t be entirely true; we like to see it more as an evolution from our last album “雫～shizuku～”. It is almost like a continuation of “雫～shizuku～”. When we made “雫～shizuku～”, we decided that instead of limiting ourselves to a certain type of music, we wanted to expand our horizons as a band. Since we started out making music around the concept of “wa,” sometimes we feel almost cornered as we have to make music that was “wa,” or people have come to see us under only that light. As we continued on, we felt that we were becoming limited or restricted, but we want to make more good music, interesting music, so we decided to expand into different areas, still adding “wa” into some songs, and not others. In “雫～shizuku～”, we experimented with the different aspects of “wa” and utilized the concept, whereas in CORE, for example, IRODORI NO SANKA is quite easily understood as “wa”-themed, while some other songs that we felt would sound better not having the sound of “wa,” we made them that way.
JRR: You’ve selected the English word “core” to be the title of your new album. What does the word “core” mean to each of you?
ISSHI: It is the “SIN” (core) within me. We decided to use the English word for it because the kanji character for the word (=“kaku”) would have implied other things.
JRR: Does everyone else agree?
SIN: *laugh* Yeah, for the most part. This time around, I was really conscious about the reason why I became a guitarist, of what it is that I love about doing music and playing guitar, how I started. So instead of feeling that the album represents the core of myself now, it is more the core of myself in those twenty-some years. In a way it’s like a best album to me.
NAO: It’s the core/heart. Since I feel that it’s an extension of the album “雫～shizuku～”, in a good way I feel in CORE we were able to expand into different varieties of music that we wanted to do.
IZUMI: Right now, to capture our core, what we’ve done up to now, and what we will do from now on, also at lives, I want it to be unwavering and to be able to present how we want to do things a certain way. So from the surface on down, everything should be Kagrra,. No matter what music we make we want it to be Kagrra,.
JRR: We look forward to listening to your new album [released January 9th, 2008]. Is there a reason why you chose this particular date for its release?
IZUMI: Not really, originally, but now when we look at it, it is a brand new year, and although we are not introducing a whole new Kagrra,, it is almost like a change of gear for us, so it turns out that it is meaningful after all.
(AUDIO MESSAGE from ISSHI)
To our fans in America, we will definitely come back and do more lives, so until then, please wait for us! Thank you!
END of Part One. Look forward to Part Two as we get more up close and personal with the members of Kagrra,.
What are they up to besides making music in the Neo Japanesque style? Who is "Charisma-sensei"? And what does the comma symbolize?
Part Two coming up here at JRR.
Interview by Misha
With additional contributions by Reiko and Kuri
Interpreting by Christina
Photo Courtesy of PS COMPANY
SIN is pronounced "SHIN."
Kagrra, appears courtesy of PS COMPANY.