Interview with HeavensDust

interview - 17.08.2013 10:01

JaME spoke with HeavensDust about their unique sounds, mixing metal and traditional Japanese instruments, their newest release and plans for the future.

HeavensDust talked to us about the use of wagakki, traditional Japanese instruments, the mixture of cultures and emotions in their music, their newest release as well as plans for the future, including overseas activities.

Please introduce yourselves.

Shin: I am the vocalist of HeavensDust, Shin.
KAI_SHiNE: I’m KAI_SHiNE on wadaiko (Japanese taiko drums).
5hiNo': I’m the guitarist 5hiNo'.
KoREDS: I’m KoREDS on drums.

Could you tell us about the origin of your band name?

Shin: Originally, I was thinking of making the bands Heaven’s Cry and Angel Dust, and combining them, it became HeavensDust. It carries the meaning of something beautiful existing within something that is not so good looking.

What is the band’s concept?

Shin: I was born and raised overseas, but of course I had Japanese blood in me. I make Western music, but I thought that I wanted to make it a style that also reveals the Japanese identity.

How did you come to mixing metal with traditional Japanese instruments?

Shin: I was playing in bands in America and I wondered what was different about me compared to other American bands; I wanted to do something different. Then I thought I wanted to use traditional Japanese instruments in my music, and that’s how it started.

KAI_SHiNE, wadaiko is not something you’d generally think of playing in high school for example. How did you come to play this instrument?
KAI_SHiNE: I first got acquainted with wadaiko in middle school when I was involved in a performance. I don’t know why, but I wanted to play them (laughs).

And how did you come to metal from there?

KAI_SHiNE: Originally, aside from wadaiko I liked foreign music, bands and dance music. The instruments from my country, like wadaiko, are generally played alone; so are shakuhachi or shamisen. In other countries, percussion is originally used for prayer, and so is wadaiko. For example, Obon, a festival to worship ancestors, is happening soon in August, and music is played and everyone dances to worship their ancestors. In other countries such as Africa or South America, there's also a similar culture with percussion. But in other countries, percussion is also used in collaboration with other music and instruments, and in Japan too, there is a set format with bass, guitar and drums, and I wasn’t happy that my country’s instruments were not included. I thought I could do something about it. Originally, I used to do trance or hip hop, and I also played in bands, so it happened naturally when we thought, hey, lets play together.

It’s an interesting mixture, but it must be difficult at lives.

HeavensDust: It’s difficult starting from the rehearsal. They don’t have wadaiko in studios and you can’t rent them. It’s not like you go to a studio or a live house and they have them there. If they’re broken, you have a problem. (laugh)

How is it playing drums with wadaiko?

KoREDS: I’ve never played wadaiko and I don’t have experience playing together with them before this band, so it was really interesting. But when you play them in a studio, the sound stays. It’s a louder sound that I had imagined, so from my part I have to put a lot of energy into it, and have to be serious even during rehearsals. (laughs)
KAI_SHiNE: It’s really natural though. There’s no hardware in wadaiko, no cymbals. When people listen to music, they usually feel the beat with the cymbals, I think. And since there is no such thing in wadaiko, when you play with a drum set that has hardware, it becomes more of a beat. Of course, even if I play alone, there is a beat, but from the perspective of the audience, it's when these two are combined that one beat is born.
KoREDS: On the other hand, when we make a slip in the studio for example, it’s heard straight away. It’s really difficult.
Shin: Compared to other bands, there are more individual sounds, so if it’s not perfect, if sounds slips off, it becomes even more disjointed than in regular bands.

5hiNo', as a guitarist, what influence do you feel from the Japanese instruments?

5hiNo': For example, in places where there usually would be a guitar solo in an interlude, there is a shakuhachi solo and such, and our sound ranges are quite similar, so we have to take care to balance the instruments. Rhythm becomes tied up to the wadaiko and the places you generally accentuate change. It becomes a bit difficult to show yourself.
KoREDS: It’s a bit strange to say it myself, but after all, wadaiko or shakuhachi sounds are not a colour of sound that you usually get to hear, especially in loud music. It's fresh even for us to play, so I think it must be a fresh experience if you can listen to it or see us live.
Shin: Rather than on a CD, it’s an interesting sight live with the wadaiko on stage for example. And there are things you can hear in gigs that you can’t hear on a recording.
KAI_SHiNE: Wadaiko are hollowed out of wood and shakuhachi out of bamboo, and such natural sounds have a swelling up effect in lives. It becomes an interesting balance to hear when the piercing sharpness of the guitar or bass played through an amp goes through the swelling of raw sounds of the other instruments.

As it is probably quite different from ordinary bands, how does the song writing process happen?

Shin: I just throw all the arrangement to the members—I tell them “make something cool." I am kind of studying the rhythms of wadaiko, but I don’t know how to express things with these instruments, so I rely on each member. But using traditional instruments is not what makes it this way; it just so happens that we wanted to use Japanese instruments for expression. If we wanted to use cello, we would be doing the same thing with cello. It doesn’t differ much from, for example, a guitar arrangement.

In relation to instruments, you convey the Japanese culture. However your lyrics are in English, why did you make this choice?

Shin: I can’t write in Japanese. If I could write good lyrics and transmit my thoughts in Japanese, I'd like to do it. It’s not that I don’t want to sing in Japanese, but having grown up with English, writing lyrics in Japanese doesn’t transmit everything. Although this does not come to the surface, KAI_SHiNE sings in Japanese, so it’s not like Japanese is not welcome in the band.
KAI_SHiNE: Our vocalist doesn’t like Japanese (laughs).
Shin: I get picked on for that a lot, but I like neither Japanese nor English (laughs). Some things I can’t say in English I say in Japanese, while other things I can’t say in Japanese I say in English. It’s this mixing that’s the best.

You used to have a female vocalist a while back. Did you find it difficult going back to singing alone?

Shin: It’s a challenge to do both melody and shouting, but it’s not a big worry. Originally the reason we went separate ways is musical differences, so you can hear that we have become more aggressive since then, and in this way it's easy expressing ourselves in our songs.

Would you consider having a female vocalist again?

Shin: In collaborations it would be interesting. I think we could absolutely do some songs with guest vocalists.

Speaking of collaborations, you had a song with Dan Chandler of Evans Blue after the Tohoku Earthquake, how did this come along?

Shin: After the Tohoku Earthquake I felt like I wanted to create music related to it and I tweeted about it. He said that he would like to cooperate if he could and I thought it was a great thing that an artist from overseas had such thoughts about Japan and we decided to do a collaboration straight away. It went very smoothly.

Could you tell us a bit about your newest album The Ashes Still Warm?

Shin: It’s heavy. It’s the most aggressive album from our works so far. At the time when I created the songs, there was a lot of anger, stress and frustration, so this is how it came out. It’s not like I decided to make it this way, but it came out with many metal songs and I was satisfied with the outcome. After all, people’s emotions change, depending on the environment. If I am down I write songs with that mood. If I got married and had a child I’d be writing happy songs. The emotions have a lot of influence and it so happened that there was a lot of anger when I was writing. However it is not so negative; it became positive energy.

How do you manage to express negativity in a positive way?

Shin: For example, our song Annihilation, which is also a PV, is very aggressive. It’s easy to express anger through metal, but even if you say negative things like “Fuck you! I’ll kill you!”, you can be killing negative things with it. It’s not like “Fuck you, I’ll kill you all”; it’s more like killing the negative on your inside. So it’s an album that turns negativity into positivity.

Your current album has actually been released a year earlier in America. Can we expect a new release from you?

Shin: Absolutely. We are thinking about many things; we would like to make a record, to make a new album next year. We already have some songs, so we would like to go on with the rest. They’re even cooler than what we have now, so you can expect something even cooler.

You have played some shows in America. How is it different from Japan?

Shin I can’t say one is better than the other, but there are differences. For example, people would sometimes start moshing to a shakuhachi solo in America, while the Japanese audience has a sense of manners and listens more quietly—both are fun. In America, if people think someone isn’t good, they say it straight away, and it’s easily understood and it’s interesting. Moshing to a shakuhachi solo was really interesting (laughs).

In an interview earlier you said that you were planning to go overseas to Korea and America. Could you tell us more about it?

Shin: We are hoping to do it soon. The dates are not fixed, but we are working towards it right now.

What about Europe?

Shin: We also want to go to Europe a lot! There are many metal and rock bands and the scene there is hot, so we would like to go there too.

If you could go somewhere overseas, where would it be?

KAI_SHiNE: I want to go to England. It felt really comfortable there and was fun, so I want to go there again. I also want to go to places like Dusseldorf in Germany where there is a big Japanese community and play in front of them, and I want to go to places I haven’t been to before. I’d like to play in Brazil! I don’t know why, as a wadaiko player, but I think it would be fun (laughs).
5hiNo': It would be fun if we could go all over the world. For example, South East Asia would be interesting too, and of course Europe as well.
KoREDS: I joined the band this year, and until then I’ve always just been active in Japan. I like overseas bands, but I’ve never thought of going overseas. It felt enough if I could play in Japan, but ever since I joined HeavensDust I also started feeling that I would like to try playing overseas and test my own performance there as well. No matter what country, I would like to play in a place other than Japan.
Shin: I was born in Panama and then went to the USA. I have also visited London and Spain, and I felt that I wanted to meet many people of many ethnicities through music. I would like to have sessions with people of different ethnicities, and it’s like there is no language and there are no boundaries. Everyone says it, but I really think it’s this way. For example, even if you hate each other and you went to play a gig where people see you’re Japanese and they are like “Fuck that!” initially, you start playing and people go “Yeah!” instead. They may not understand the words but they cheer and you both are happy. This kind of feeling is really fun and I want to get in touch with many instruments, cultures and ethnicities.

Finally, please give a message to our readers.

Shin: We want to go to many places all over the world, so please support us. We will do our best to play in every part of the world. Our current album is good, and the next one is going to be even better, and from now on it’s just going to get better and better, so please listen to our music.
KAI_SHiNE: I think in other countries as well there are people like us, who are trying to play new kinds of music using their own country’s instruments. No matter where we go, we would like people to become interested in music of other countries. It is this kind of era now, but I would like everyone to continue wanting to live with music, wanting to buy CDs, wanting to go and enjoy gigs. We ourselves want to get in touch with music from different parts of the world, and it would be great if listeners will too. If they have seen enough of things around them, try coming in contact with things from other countries. Please, from now on too, yoroshiku onegaishimasu. Please write the "yoroshiku onegaishimasu" in alphabet. (laughs)
5hiNo': We are seen as a band that uses traditional Japanese instruments, but we are also influenced by music from overseas and the West. I like music from America and Europe, so we make a mix of these different influences in HeavensDust and send it back overseas, which I think is interesting. Regardless of countries and genres, we would like many people who like music to listen to our songs. I hope for your support.
KoREDS: I don’t want to use labels, but in heavy music, both in Japan and overseas, I believe that there isn’t another band like us. Including wadaiko and shakuhachi, it would be great to make it a genre like no other. Establishing a genre that doesn’t exist is my dream. Please continue supporting us.

JaME would like to thank HeavensDust for their time.
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