Interview with Mirai Kawashima of Sigh

interview - 12.06.2010 22:00

While waiting for his performance in Finland in April, Mirai Kawashima of Sigh told us about his band’s newest album, Japanese metal scene and his side projects.

On Saturday April 10th, a rare guest was seen on Kulttuuriareena Gloria’s stage. Even though the band is not among the most popular of its genre, it has a cult reputation in the underground black metal scene. Sigh started its career twenty years ago with traditional black metal, but has moved towards a more unique and experimental sound during their long career. We had an interview with the band leader Mirai Kawashima, who thinks that there is still a lot more to discover in metal music.

Mirai Kawashima: We've been always thinking how we could make music sound more scary. We've been searching for a suitable technique. Then I found out that classical music from the 20th century often gave a great atmosphere to horror movies such as "The Exorcist" and "Shining." We learned a lot from horror movies such as juxtaposition technique, and so on. I believe there are many more unknown fields to be explored in metal. There's no limitations in art!

Japan is traditionally more known for its pop and J-rock music. What kind of success do you have in your home country? How many people attend your shows in Japan, etc.?

Mirai Kawashima: In Japan, the extreme metal scene is very, very small. We are well-known among metal fans, but that's it. Only 100 to 200 people show up at our shows. Somehow Japan is thought to be a metal heaven in foreign countries, but obviously it is not! For example, only 400 people showed up when Cradle of Filth came here.

Mikannibal has a leading role in your new music video and has earned a lot of attention in the media, since she is a woman. Does that disturb you? Are you afraid that she will steal most of the attention and that Sigh’s music will be left behind her image?

Mirai Kawashima: Not at all. If more and more people discover our music thanks to her, that's great. Sigh is not only music. Of course music is the most important part, but you know, the world Sigh creates consists of everything from music, cover artwork, member photos, lyrics and so on, and her image is a part of it for sure.

You are one of the most well known Japanese bands in the Western world, and also you have made a lot of shows internationally together with Western bands all around. What does being Japanese mean to you? Do you think you are just another band, or does being Japanese mean something special?

Mirai Kawashima: We have never tried to sound Japanese intentionally, however, we speak a totally different language, we live in a different culture and we eat different food. So I'm sure that people will detect something different in our music even if it is unintentional. We have a different sense towards melodies and rhythm. What surprises me is that there are many Japanese metal bands that sound exactly like the Western leading bands. They must have made a huge effort to sound so unoriginal. I admire.

Your new album, Scenes From Hell, was released earlier this year. How have your fans taken this new album and what kind of media reviews have you received so far?

Mirai Kawashima: The reaction is always the same, some love it while others hate it! Some claim it our best album while others say Hangman's Hymn was better or they miss Imaginary Sonicscape. That always happens whenever we release the new album.

There are a lot of lyrical themes like occultism/horror and suffering/death on Sigh's albums. How does the inspiration for these subjects come? What kind of books did you read as a child/teenager?

Mirai Kawashima: I must say I was born like that. Even when I was a little kid, I was fascinated with dark things like occultism, ghost stories, UFO, supernatural things and so on. I read lots of scary manga when I was younger, and when I became a teenager, I was fascinated with the dark image of metal.

There are a lot of orchestral elements on Scenes From Hell. What are your sources of inspiration in classical music?

Mirai Kawashima: I took classical piano lessons for more than 20 years, so I can say that classical music is my biggest musical background along with heavy metal. As for Scenes from Hell, Russian / Soviet composers such as Khrennikov, Kalinnikov, and Tchaikovsky are the biggest inspirations. Those composers tend to have a very powerful brass section, and also the Russian / Soviet orchestras often emphasize the brass a lot.

The painting on the Scenes From Hell album’s cover is very impressive. Who painted it and can you tell a little back ground story for this painting and your concept behind it?

Mirai Kawashima: It was done by Eliran Kantor, who did the artwork for Testament, Anacrusis, Mekong Delta and so on. Yes, I love the artwork very much too. This is the perfect artwork for Scenes from Hell. The album has three main themes, namely war, hell and death. So I gave Eliran the demo of the album with this concept and named some artists such as Brueghel and Boecklin. He 100% understood what we wanted and did a wonderful job. The artwork perfectly shows the world which we wanted to describe through our music.

Are there any coming releases for Sigh?

Mirai Kawashima: Scorn Defeat quarople LP, Hail Horror triple LP and Eastern Force of Evil LP will be released some time later this year. A few more releases are being planned and I believe we can annouce them very soon.

What merchandise will you have for sale in Finland?

Mirai Kawashima: There'll be a special 7 EP for the festival which includes 4 tracks never released before. Also there'll be some exclusive T-shirts!

How do you prepare yourselves mentally for your concerts?

Mirai Kawashima: Well, nothing particular. I've been playing with Sigh for 20 years now, so I can get myself prepared for the concert anywhere anytime. Actually it's tougher to keep the perfect physical conditions for the concerts. I always try to keep my throat in good condition by eating well, sleeping well, and not too much fucking before gigs.

I’ve always wondered, is there a connection between Death SS’s single Zombie/Terror released in 1980 and Sigh’s song Zombie Terror (from the Infidel Art album)? As a big fan of Italian Horror metal masters, I need to know this!

Mirai Kawashima: No, there's no connection between those two songs. However, I must confess that I'm a huge fan of Italian dark stuff such as Death SS, Paul Chain, Run After To, Black Hole, Requiem, etc. I have lots of extremely rare vinyls, such as the original first LP by Black Hole and so on!

What movies and what kind of movie soundtracks have influenced your works? What movies have you been watching lately?

Mirai Kawashima: I mainly love Italian / Spanish zombie films such as "The Gates of Hell", "Beyond", "The House by The Cemetery", "Blind Dead series", "Burial Ground" and so on. My favorite composers are Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter, and Jerry Goldsmith. Unfortunately I've been too busy these days to watch movies, so I rather watch the shorter ones such as "Night Gallery" TV series, "Twilight Zone" etc.

You have released a tribute CD to Venom. How did that idea come about? Also you released a similar Ep in 1995. Are you also planning to re-release it as it was originally a bootleg? Is there any other band you would like to pay tribute to like this?

Mirai Kawashima: The biggest reason is that we're a huge fan of Venom! Even at our very first gig in 1990, we covered Schizo. When Dr. Mikannibal joined Sigh, we wanted to introduce her to our fans, but recording a new album required a lot of time, so we thought it'd be a good idea to do the tribute. The original Venom tribute released in 1995 was actually just a live tape. And yes, I believe that is going to be included in one of the LP re-releases planned for later this year. Other than Venom, probably Celtic Frost would be the band we'd do the tribute for.

Please tell us something about your past/current activities as recording artist or guest artist. Is there something coming up with Cut-Throat? What about Necrophagia, Gorelord and so on? What has been your most recent and facinating band /project?

Mirai Kawashima: The latest one is the project with Danny Lilker. We're trying to make something really scary. Actually these days I'm not doing so many things at the same time because I want to concentrate more on Sigh. I left Necrophagia because it took too much time. CutThroat has been inactive for years too. Yasuyuki is very busy with Abigail and so am I, so it's quite difficult to keep it alive unfortunately.

Do you have an opinion of the new Burzum album and Varg’s comeback? Have you had the chance to listen to Belus yet? Also please tell us something about 1990-1993 when you were in touch with him. What kind of contact did you have with him back then?

Mirai Kawashima: Unfortunately I haven't heard Belus yet. We were exchanging letters every once in a while. He was openly saying that he burned down churches and told me to burn ones in Japan. At first there was nothing wrong between us. Euronymous was rating Burzum very high, but after he had to close down his record shop because of the hectic stuff brought about by the mass media on Varg's arson, things seemed to have started going off rails. Anyway it was quite an experience for me too.

You at least used to sing a lot about old ancient wars. What do you think about war? What was your mission, when you sang about the great final battle and call forth these evil lords: Kongoyasha, Fudo, Gundali Daiituko and Gouzanze. May 5th, what does this date mean to you?

Mirai Kawashima: Basically war is business. Some people make a lot of money out of it. It's not just a simple opposition of religion or politics, so there'll never ever be a world peace. Ready for Final War is more an occultic song. It was believed that something sinister would happen if we had a lunar eclipse on May 5th.

What are your expectations of Finland and please tell us what do you know about Finland? Do you think there is something similar in Finnish and Japanese culture?

Mirai Kawashima: The three most famous things from Finland in Japan are Sauna, Santa Clause and Moomin. Everybody knows those three things. For me, Sibelius comes first in my mind. I'm not sure if there's a similarity between Finnish culture and ours, but I once heard that the Finnish language is really difficult to learn, so could that be similar to Japanese?

The last words for this interview are yours!

Mirai Kawashima: Thank you very much for the interview! We're truly looking forward to playing in Finland in April! See you there!
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