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Monday, May 26, 2008

Bonus Interview: Miyavi at Slim's

Posted By on Mon, May 26, 2008 at 6:31 AM

By Kirsty Evans

During his recent stop in San Francisco, where he played two successful shows at Slim’s, I had the opportunity to sit down with Miyavi and ask him a few questions. In person, the young Japanese guitar god proved to be charming, funny and remarkably unassuming. The following interview was conducted out by the pool of his hotel (can't tell ya which), while everyone involved shivered in the usual San Francisco Tenderloin winds.

I’m curious why the first show booked was San Francisco, and I’d noticed that you had been in SF for New Year's Eve. How did you find your way here?

You mean last time? I was just driving.

You were just driving around California?

Yeah, so that’s why I came here by myself, I drove here. I’d never been here, so that’s why I wanted to come, for the experience.

How’s the tour been going so far? Would this be the third show, or did you play shows in Japan before you came here?

Only for fan club members.

Why a world tour now?

Actually it’s not all of a sudden. I’ve wanted to go on a world tour since I debuted as a solo artist. We were planning to go on a world tour 2 years ago, but we couldn’t make it happen. That’s why it happened this year.

The show that you did in Vegas a while back, did you plan that in advance or were you just in LA and decided to go do a show in Vegas?

It kind of happened suddenly, you know? I had been staying in LA, and I just tried to tap into western culture, I mean, hip hop and blues and jazz. I collaborated with Rock City Crew; they’re a breakdance group. You know Flashdance, the movie? Anyway, I had a connection there. That’s why I could make it happen.

Did you figure anything out from that about how you wanted to approach playing here? Do you do anything different here from what you’d do at home?

I used to play on Venice Beach, or I’d join an American band, borrow a guitar and do a jam session, but this tour is about me as a solo artist, so it’s totally different. Does that answer the question?

(Amusing moment of mutual linguistic confusion with much back-and-forthing)

Oh! The same, it’s not any different. I’m just mixing up my music and different cultures, like hip hop and jazz. That’s why there are so many talented artists in my crew - tap dancer, beat boxer. . .

And you brought all of them this time, right?

Yeah, kind of. Not all of them, but most.

Also, it seems like more and more Japanese bands are starting to pick up momentum here in the US. It’s happening faster in Europe, but it’s starting to happen here too.

(Nods) Yeah.

How do you see yourself fitting into that? Are you comfortable just being in that niche of people who are really interested in Japanese music in the US, or do you have plans to try to break out into the mainstream?

Of course. I’m comfortable and having fun, and I’m just honored to be here as a Japanese artist. And I think it will be the first time to go to Chile and Brazil as a Japanese artist, so really I’m honored and I appreciate it, but at the same time we to take care and focus on our own original style. Not only appearance, not only on putting on make up and dressing up, but on the music and style and what Japanese people can do.

Have you actually tried to put together any sort of a marketing plan to try to reach the mainstream media, MTV?

Actually now that would be him! (Laughs and points at PR manager).

What I can do is just try my best, and also mixing up cultures to reach out to the mainstream. I think you know, obviously I want to take care of my fans, within the Visual Kei industry. You have to make them the first priority.

Actually that sort of leads into something I wanted to ask you about. How long did you spend in LA before?

3 months.

The new album seems sort of different in a way. It almost seems like there’s more of an emphasis on your identity as a Japanese artist.

(Nods enthusiastically) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

What happened there? Was it being in a different country, did it give you a different perspective?

Of course. Actually, I was really influenced by the culture in the US, I realized that I had to concentrate and focus more on my race. Of course it doesn’t matter, race and language, but you know, as an artist, as a musician, the originality and uniqueness is so important, that’s why I was just trying to figure out and mixing up my own style, which is influenced by western culture and Japanese traditional style. That’s the way I can break new ground. At the same time I just this is what I want to say, I want to smash the stereotype of VK, to reach out to the mainstream. There are so many biased images.

It seems like some of the bands who’ve come over here so far have been actively trying to distance themselves from that. That’s why I was curious, because it doesn’t seem like you’re doing that at all. It seems like you’re going in a different direction.

Of course I respect the other bands in the Japanese industry, but I don’t want to do what somebody has done before. I want to make a new style, that’s why I’m trying to go my own way, against the biased images.

How does it feel in terms of the reaction you’ve had so far this tour to the first couple of shows? Did it seem to be mostly hardcore fans?

Mm-hmm, yeah.

Did you see any people who seemed like they just turned up because they were curious? Was it all people who seemed to already know about you or was there anyone who seemed to have just seen it in the paper or…

I’m not sure.

You can’t really tell?

I really don’t care about the kind of crowd – the crowd is a crowd, the fans are fans. But I was so impressed that all the fans were waiting for me were on the Walk of Fame. I saw on YouTube someone uploaded the line they made in front of the venue on the Walk of Fame. Cool! They’re waiting for me on the Walk of Fame. But really, I don’t care about the type of fans.

So, is it true that you actually Google yourself a lot, look yourself up on the Internet and see what people are saying about you?

Actually, no, because I’m not good at English, so it’s kind of hard for me to read, but on YouTube or something. I saw some of my fans playing like me, like copying the guitar, and it was so cute, I love them! That was why, a few days ago, I wrote a post on my blog, and I linked there to the url, where they were playing in my style.

There’s actually tons of your stuff on YouTube.

Yeah. Of course it’s not legal, my management and my office at my local level it’s kind of prohibited to upload something, right? But, personal footage, I like that. The personal footage where they’re playing like me, I love that. You know, I like cosplay, and when they’re copying, they’re really cute!

A lot of the people who get into Japanese music here are doing it through songs that are uploaded on the Internet. How do you feel about that? Because technically it’s illegal.

Yeah.

Are you seeing it as sort of, we’re going to ignore if because it’s a marketing thing or…

Actually, yeah, it’s illegal, but I think it’s not quite the era to mention it. It’s the era. How can I say?

(American Manager) You shouldn’t say it’s OK.

Hmm?

(American Manager) You should not say it’s OK.

Yeah, but, you know, it happens. I mean, it’s not quite the era to say no.

Yeah, it’s sort of the way things are right now.

Yeah. I’m cool.

As well as focusing more on the Japanese part of your identity, your musical direction is changing what with bringing in the hip hop influences and things like that. Do you have a long range plan? Do you think, “in ten years I want to be doing this”, or is it just whatever you see that you find interesting at the time?

Actually I’m trying to make my own style. Of course I’m looking forward long term, but now I’m just doing whatever I want. I’m just trying all sort of music styles. Not only hip hop, but electronic, and I like blues too, punk, and also art – I just visualize something.

Also the acoustic album that you did, a lot of people really liked that.

Mmm-hmm. (nods)

I saw something on YouTube where you were with a classical guitarist and you seemed to be vaguely hinting about maybe doing some sort of collaboration in the future.

You mean am I going to do the same thing?

Well, two questions. One is are you going to do more acoustic stuff in the future?

Yeah, yeah. (Nods)

And two is, is there some sort of collaboration going to be happening with that guy?

I’m not sure about future plans. I like electric beats, and electric guitar, but it’s also my style, playing acoustic is. Collaborating is fun, I can make new stuff. I’m just, how can I say, there are so many things I like. So, I’d really like to collaborate with somebody in the future again.

Is there anyone specific that you’re interested in collaborating with in the future?

Well, actually, not now. Because I mean there are so many talented, interesting artists underground in Japan, so I’m just thinking about it. I’m just starting to make some plans.

So what are the more mainstream popular genres right now in Japan? I think that people here who’re into the music sometimes don’t necessarily have a realistic view of what’s popular over there because it’s all coming through the Internet.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

When it comes to Visual Kei bands, is that really doing well in terms of the mainstream or even in Japan is it in its own little niche?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not mainstream, right. Actually, the music industry in Japan is kind of like, how can I say…everybody wants to try to be like western culture. In style, to make it close to western music like hip hop and R&B. They don’t care about their own style and Japanese stuff, it’s like of like…geek. You know? Sort of like cheesy.

It’s not considered cool.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Focusing on Japanese culture. But Visual Kei style is very unique to us. Sometimes what I’m doing is like Kabuki - it’s too much for Japanese people. Everybody knows about Japanese culture, even though they don’t know it so well, the traditional culture. But sometimes I’m like too much and…I think, you know, it’s kind of hard to explain in English. The time is like, same level, feeling, which Japanese people feel that Japanese culture is cool, and people overseas feel Japanese culture but not on the same level, it’s kind of complicated. It’s a totally different feeling towards the Japanese culture, Japanese people and people overseas, foreigners. So that’s why I’m just mixing up…I can’t say that, I’m sorry, it’s kind of…

It’s kind of hard to explain?

Yeah. So anyway, so your question is, is Visual Kei mainstream or…

What I’m saying is that some people over here have a sense of it as being more mainstream and common than it is, like they’re thinking of the big bands as being like U2 or something. So I’m curious to see, is it very much a niche market in terms of the people who’re into Visual Kei, that’s just what they’re into?

Yeah. Actually, as I told you, there are so many embarrassing images in Japan, so many prejudices about putting make-up on, it’s so different from the other music styles, so that’s why it’s hard to get into the industry now. Though you know there are so many bands who were popular before. In the 90s Visual Kei artists were really popular. But now it’s more other styles that became popular.

To manager – How did I answer?

(Manager) You did fine.

Hey! (teasing)

(Manager) It’s a complicated question, so it’s OK.

No, it’s OK, it made sense.

I just want to make sure I answered you completely.

So, since we’re not really getting to full picture of what’s going on over there musically, is there anything that you particularly like that you would recommend, like any underground bands that you see coming up that you would say are worth checking out?

You mean in Japan?

(Looks confused) Only bands?

Or solo artists, or artists or anything that has struck you recently as interesting that you’d recommend that people check out.

Only Japan?

Or anywhere, really. You’ve been moving around a lot recently, anything that you’ve run across that you thought was really cool that you thought was worth sharing?

You know Arthur? The One Man Band?

Manager – One man band? (sounds confused)

Yeah, he’s playing on Venice Beach, he’s 45 years old. He used to appear on a TV show over here, not famous, but he’s very cool. (Laughs)

Going back to the Visual Kei for a moment, another idea that some of the fans over here tend to have is that make-up and tattoos on men is sort of mainstream. Is there still a lot of prejudice against people having tattoos?

In Japan? No, no prejudice any more about tattoos. It’s OK now. Except in public baths, you know, the onsen? Japanese public baths?

(Note – Onsen are actually hot springs, not public baths.)

Yeah. So you’re not allowed to go in if you have tattoos?

Well, I can go there. I always go there with my fanclub members, on a tour.

But you can go because they know who you are!

(Laughs) Yeah.

Did you really quit smoking? It seemed like there were multiple times when you said you quit smoking and then you started again. Because everyone has been commenting that you look healthier recently.

Yeah, I quit smoking, probably 4 or 5 years ago when I started to sing. Yeah. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol very much, I go to the gym, I wake up in the morning.

You actually wake up in the morning, not the afternoon?

Yeah! (Chuckles) I’m a healthy rock and roll artist.

Unusual!

Yeah! (Laughs again)

The other thing that I wanted to ask you about was the way that you address your fans. It seems like on your blog, you talk to people a lot. What do you envision as being the relationship that you should have with them? Do you see yourself being an influence? Sometimes you almost sound like a parent talking to a child when you talk to your fans.

Oh, yeah! (Laughs) Of course they’re like my, not daughters, but sisters, like family, right? Also, I think I have a duty to talk to them like that. The relationship is so important.

It’s very different from the relationship that bands have to their fans over here, so that’s why I’m curious.

Oh, yeah. How can I say it? I’m doing music for my life, to live. Not only to make a living, for my life. So, I want them to live, through my music I want them to gain something. I’m singing what I’m gained from my entire life, how I’ve been living so far. I’m singing like that, everything out of myself. So that’s why I want to give them my message, to live. My songs are all positive, even though they have different styles. I just want to sing about life, no negative. Art sometimes expresses negative feelings, it makes the music really good, but…

Do you think it’s because, are you just a very positive person in general (Miyavi starts nodding) or have you made a decision that that’s what you want to present?

So far, honestly? I was kind of like, how can I say, making myself, I’m just pretending to be a strong person. I don’t hesitiate, I don’t yield to anybody. I can do everything. No, not everything, obviously, but I can try anything. I can make it happen, right? Naturally I’m just a positive person. The way I live…I feel like it’s worse to think negatively, I don’t like negative thinking.

So, one final question. Is there anything specific you want to say to the fans over here?

Over here means San Francisco?

Not just San Francisco, in the US. Because everything we publish goes on the internet and…

Oh, cool, cool, cool. First of all, I’m just really honored to be here as a Japanese artist. There are so many things I have to figure out, like English and the culture. But, I really appreciate that all my fans here have been waiting for me, and coming to my shows and screaming enthusiastically. So I’m really so honored. And then, it’s not the goal, I’m on the way to making what I want happen. There’s no goal, I just want to improve myself. Evolve. That’s why I don’t hesitate to change, it’s not only about changing, it’s evolving.

In a way you were so young when you started that it’s almost like they’re watching you grow up.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s why I’m giving my fans my message. Cause I want them to grow up too, together. I’m living in the same age, same era, same time, under the same sky. That’s why I think it doesn’t matter - different cultures, all the barriers, language barriers and gender and age. We’re just people, just the same human beings, right?

Of course. Also, actually, there’s one final thing that I wanted to ask. There’s definitely been a sense that some of the bands who’ve come over here…the audience here, and I’m sure you’ve seen this from the shows, is mostly girls, and I know in Japan for Visual Kei it’s the same. It seems like some of the bands are kind of not happy about that, there’s been a sort of sense that you’re not a real legitimate rock band if you don’t have lots of men coming to your shows.

Mmm-hmm. (Nods)

There were a few people who wanted me to say to you that they appreciated the fact that you weren’t giving off that impression that you were upset or disappointed that is was mostly girls who were coming to the shows. And I’m kind of curious about that. Is it that way in Japan too? Where the audience is very segregated. With heavier bands is it mostly men who go to the shows?

Yeah, that’s what I hate. I don’t care. That’s why I want to blow them away, I just don’t care about genres. That’s why in Japan, there are different types of fans. Of course there are mostly girls, but there are so many foreigners, men, old people, couples, families. Because my message is just, to live.

OK, well, thank you very much!

Thank you!

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Janine Kahn

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