Interview – Ryoji (Gyze): “The future of heavy metal is in Asia”


By competing in the Wacken Metal Battle, related to the famed Wacken Open Air, Gyze has been one of the few Japanese metal bands that has made something of a career for themselves in Europe. Not that that should be too surprising, as the folky melodic death metal of the trio has quite some common ground with the Finnish metal scene. And yet, through the use of Oriental folk elements, they have their own identity. Recently, their new single ‘The Rising Dragon’ was released internationally. Within this context, we talked with singer, guitarist and keyboard player Ryoji Shinomoto.

We believe that heavy metal has no borders“, Ryoji emphasizes. “We love playing in Japan as well as in Europe. But even within Japan, every city is different. The audience reaction varies from place to place.  I do love playing festivals. The energy at a festival is so different from solo shows. But we always play our best no matter where we are. The only funny difference is that announcements in English are easier to do for me than in Japanese. I always feel nervous speaking in front of an audience in Japanese, haha!
The announcements aren’t the only aspect in which the band has to switch between English and Japanese. Gyze also offers lyrics in both languages. “English is easier for me, because Japanese has a different rhyming technique“, the frontman admits. “Also, English sentences are sometimes much shorter. However, when we decide to use Japanese for the lyrics, I always choose to use difficult characters, archaic words and four character proverb.” Smiling, he adds: “So usually, even Japanese people can’t read our lyrics.
‘Day Of The Funeral’ from our first album, ‘Nanohana’ from our second album or our new single ‘Ryugin’ are like a story from a book, which is easy to write and read. ‘Brown Trout’, ‘Trash My Enemy’, ‘Frozen Dictator’ and ‘Horkew’ are more interesting and difficult lyrically. When people listen to ‘Horkew’, they might here English words there, but actually, the lyrics are totally in Japanese. It happens because I chose words that would sound similar to English to make it more interesting. For instance, “(mita)sarenai” sounds like “silent night”.
Also, we have some themes on our albums. The first album is filled with energy, with songs about revenge, regrets and anger. The second: regrets, sadness, love and war. The third album is about the Ainu people, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. Apart from that, there are human emotions, Japanese gods and, well… Fish! Our new single contains two new songs: ‘Japanese Elegy’ is about war and ‘Ryugin’ is a positive song about Gyze and the future.

Find an audience

Of course, the Ainu are not a random theme; Gyze is also from Hokkaido. Traditionally, this is a difficult area to conquer the music market from even within Japan. “Actually, I never thought about that“, Ryoji admits. “As far as I know, no band from Hokkaido has ever succeded at conquering the international metal market. Moreover, Gyze happened to be the first Japanese bands – not just from Hokkaido – to perform at many world famous festivals. But I love Hokkaido and I am proud that I am from there.
There are not many Japanese bands who dare to tour internationally. “The first reason is that Japanese people can’t or don’t want to use English“, says Ryoji. “Furthermore, Japan is an island country. There is a big cultural difference. But please, listen to as many Japanese bands as you can, then it might become easier for them to find an audience overseas. As long as you listen to Gyze first, of course, haha!
Offering Asian bands a platform has been important to Ryoji for quite some time now. In 2015, Gyze was involved with organizing Vanishing Heaven Fest, which besides Japanese bands also featured bands from Taiwan and South Korea. “Recently, my favorite metal bands are from Asia and Eastern Europe“, Ryoji explains. “The European metal scene consists of the classics. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the line-ups of festivals and the bands featured in the media are getting a bit predictable. The Asian metal market, however, is just starting to grow. There are a lot of unique and varied bands here. That’s why I believe that the future of heavy metal is in Asia.

Ideal sound

Gyze only has three members. Bassist Aruta Watanabe and Ryoji’s younger brother Shuji complete the line-up. Still, the music has a lot of different elements. Besides the guitars, bass, drums and vocals, keyboards and several traditional instruments can be heard. “On stage, I only play lead guitar“, Ryoji explains. “But on the cd’s, I always want to create the ideal sound. If when composing I feel like using a certain instrument, I will. That’s why we have songs with shamisen, violin, keyboards, harmonic guitars and so on. That ideal sound is not just me of course, because Shuji and Aruta’s sounds are equally important.
I always use the piano for composing and I really care about notes and music theory. First, I check all the notes and tuning by piano. And if I find some odd sounds, I always fix them. Even for the bass. When I just started composing heavy metal, I just relied on my sense. If I felt like the sound was messy, I just deleted the part. Recently, we started checking the bass lines through midi. Aruta and I check the tuning, the scales and the notes of his parts. The same appeals to the drums with Shuji. All these checks and precautions help to avoid turning things into a mess. Especially if we start playing the songs at full speed.
Of course the parts are important, but to really make heavy sounds, speed and melodies sound as one, mixing and mastering is just as important. That is why we are considering remixing our second album to make it sound even better.
For te mix and even the album covers, Gyze has exclusively worked with European engineers and artists thus far. “The funny thing is that we have never worked with Japanese engineers and designers“, Ryoji smiles. “Our first engineer was Ettore Rigotti from Disharmonia Mundi. I was a big fan of his band. Then from the third album on, we started working with Ahti Kortelainen. I love his sound and of course, he has experience with a lot of great heavy metal bands like Sonata Arctica and Kalmah.
All our album covers thus far have been designed by Machine Room (Rhett Podersoo). We were introduced to him by Ettore and his style touched my heart. His works are elegant, gorgeous, unique, modern and powerful. We hope to be able to use his artworks until the end.

Essence

Traditionally, visual kei and the “regular” metal scene are two separate worlds in Japan. And though Gyze is closer to the latter, the band has a number of pronounced visual elements and Ryoji recently shared the stage with Jupiter. “Visual kei is not a music genre, just a style“, he emphasizes. “There is a heavy metal sound in visual kei, but there is a punk sound as well. Gyze doesn’t need to be categorized. If someone wants to label us as visual kei, that’s fine with us. When people listen to our music, everyone can understand within one second that it is heavy metal.
Ryoji’s initial influences were not Japanese bands: “When I was about seven or eight years old, I got a guitar from my father and played classical guitar until junior high school. The first rock band that inspired me was Kiss. I listened to a lot of hard rock and punk until I was about sixteen years old. Later, I started listening to heavy metal. I really enjoyed the essence of heavy metal: the fast tempos, the minor scales, the melodies and the epic feel of such bands as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth and later on various death metal bands. Around the same time, I also started listening to traditional Japanese pop, world folk and classical music.
Recently, I have mainly been inspired by classical composers like Beethoven, Vivaldi and Chopin. I have even made heavy metal covers of their compositions. I tried to read the original scores and analyze the compositions. I had a really good time working on that. Also, I have been listening to a lot of enka and Eastern European folk lately. Joe Hisashi, Studio Ghibli’s composer, and Ryuichi Sakamoto are very interesting as well, because their music delivers and eastern atmosphere with western musical instruments. I have not really been influenced by much metal lately, but I like a lot of Chinese metal!

A large portion of Gyze’s discography, including the new single ‘The Rising Dragon’, can be streamed through Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal and other popular streaming platforms.

Gyze is currently on tour through Europe:

August 11th: Leyendas del Rock, Villena, Spain
August 12th: Underworld, London, England
August 13th: Colosseum, Genk, Belgium
August 14th: Backstage, Munich, Germany
August 15th: Summer Breeze, Dinkelsbühl, Germany
August 17th: Turock, Essen, Germany

The original Dutch version of this article can be read at The Sushi Times. Thanks to Mona Miluski at All Noir for setting up the interview.

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