The indescribable Japanese metal band Dir En Grey has been going strong for 15 years, and has explored almost as many styles. From their roots in visual kei, to their dalliances in nu-metal, power metal, post-metal, and even some death metal, Dir En Grey is a band that refuses to be tied down and categorized. Guitarists Kaoru and Die were kind enough to spare a few minutes via Skype to talk with us about the band’s career, the new album, and plans for the future.
Special thanks to Sebastien Goode and Kanako Omae for helping with the translations.
Can you tell me how the band first came together?
Kaoru: Everyone was in Kansai [south of Tokyo] in different bands, and we were all playing local shows together on the same bill, and competing in battles of the bands against each other. After meeting each other so many times, we then decided to form a band together.
What do you think the appeal of your music is in non-Japanese speaking countries?
Die: I think that non-Japanese speakers like the sound of the Japanese language. When we play shows overseas, we find that the audience always sings along in Japanese, regardless of their native tongue.
So, if the music is good, the language doesn’t matter?
K: Yes, that’s right.
Your 15-year anniversary is coming up. Do you have any special plans?
D: We don’t have any special plans. We try to take things one day at a time, and deal with things in the present, and don’t really see the anniversary as a particular milestone. It’s simply another year when we have to focus on what we’re doing at this moment.
Based on the singles, “Lotus” and “Different Sense”, it sounds like the band is exploring a “progressive metal” sound on this album. Was this a conscious decision, or did it happen naturally?
K: We didn’t consciously move toward a “progressive metal” sound. When everyone is brainstorming new songs, we always want to experiment with sounds and styles, and try to capture what we are feeling at that moment. We don’t feel that “Lotus” and “Different Sense” are necessarily more difficult; they were just the songs that happened to come out. I think we’ve just become desensitized to more complex music after so many years of working together.
Dir En Grey is a band that travels across multiple genres. Is there any type of music you would like to try in the future that is difficult to approach, or that you think may not be an appropriate outlet for the band?
D: We try to approach each album differently. Right now, we are using very low tunings, but in the future, it’s possible that we might go back to standard tunings, and explore different sounds. We don’t actively decide what style we want to play in, we just find a cool sound and run with it.
Nothing is off limits, then.
D: Right. Also, when we perform live, the reaction that we get can influence our direction.
Like how the fans reacted, or how you yourself felt during the performance?
D: Not so much how the fans react, the outside reaction, but more how we feel in that moment.
Dir En Grey’s music videos are some of the most intense I’ve ever seen. From where do you draw the inspiration for your videos?
K: For every video, we have a brainstorming session with the director. We tell the director about the colors we want, or the images, or even rough ideas, and the director combines that with his own vision. We’ve been working with the same director for a long time, and his ideas are a big influence in the direction of our videos.
I’ve noticed some similarities between that band’s videos, and the videos of Tool. Does the band draw some influence from their videos?
K: We never expressly decided to make a video in the style of Tool, but I do feel that we have similar interests. We do, however, envy the fact that the members of Tool have a greater hand in making their videos than we have in making ours. It seems like it would be tough, but it’s something we would like to try one day.
You’ll be touring North America in December with The Birthday Massacre in support of the new album. What other countries do you plan to visit, and what other bands do you plan to tour with?
K: In August, we’ll be doing a headlining tour of Europe. Before North America, we’re also touring South America with 10 Years, a band that we’ve performed with previously in Japan. We’re looking forward to playing with them again. It’s been a long time.
Aside from Japan, where do you find the most passionate Dir en Grey fans?
K: All of our fans are very passionate, and it’s hard to pick one that’s the most intense. But, if I had to pick one, I was very surprised by the fans in Chile. It was our first time there, and the fans were very excited, even well before we started playing!
Do you have a favorite international venue?
D: In Japan, a lot of the venues are very similar, so there isn’t one there that particularly stands out. When we go to Europe and North America, all of the venues are different, so it’s not easy for me to choose one that is my favorite. However, a lot of the European venues are in old buildings, and while they look very cool, sometimes the air conditioning doesn’t work! It makes the summer shows very hard! (laughs) As far as North America, I like the House of Blues venues.
Kyo recently lent his vocal talents to Apocalyptica’s song “Bring Them To Light” on your co-headlining tour. Does the band or any of its members plan to collaborate with any other artists in the future?
K: We have a few ideas, but no concrete plans. If there is a mutual project that our bands are interested in, we’d be open to collaborating.
Do either of you have a dream artist that you would like to collaborate with?
K: We’d like to have a famous movie director do one of our videos, such as Takeshi Kitano. He has made a lot of yakuza movies like Brother and Outrage, and has won some Academy Awards.
Dir En Grey appears on many soundtracks, like Saw 3D. Will any of your other songs be featured in upcoming soundtracks?
K: Nothing in the immediate future, but we did contribute our song “-Zan-” [from 1999’s Gauze] to the online game Wizardry, and made a companion video using visuals and footage from the game.
Has the band ever considered starting its own record label?
K: The Japanese label we are currently on [Firewall Div.] is practically half ours, so it would be possible for us to run our own label, since we already know how a lot of the business works. Overseas, however, we don’t have the experience, so we wouldn’t be comfortable having our own label there at the moment. But it’s something that we might do in the future.
If you did start your own label, are there any particular artists you would like to sign?
D: No, we haven’t thought that deeply about this particular circumstance.
What content will appear on the DVD you offer with the Japanese special edition of the album?
K: There’s a documentary of the recording process of the new album, some footage from our fan-club-only show in May of this year, and interviews with the band members.
Before we go, do you have any messages for your fans?
K: It took a long time to finish this album, but we feel it was worth the wait. We hope you enjoy the new album, and if you’re nearby, come see our shows! We’re not sure how long we can continue touring overseas, due to the currently uncertain situation in Japan. There’s a chance that we may not be able to leave Japan in ten years, so come out to see us while you can!