Interview with MIYAVI in Los Angeles

interview - 06.06.2018 20:01

MIYAVI reveals his current exploration of new guitar sounds, exclusive projects and collaborations, finding inspiration from his ambassador work and the paramount importance of finding confidence and life purpose.

After a wildly successful performance at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, MIYAVI carved out time from his jam-packed schedule for a phone interview with JaME. Through this interview, MIYAVI reveals his current exploration of new guitar sounds, exclusive projects and collaborations, finding inspiration from his ambassador work and the paramount importance of finding confidence and life purpose.

So first off, congratulations! The El Rey show was amazing. Please share with us how you would describe the energy and theme of the "DAY 2" World Tour?

MIYAVI: (laughs) It's beyond me. We've been having great fun on the road, and it’s thanks to the audience. As I've been saying, we cannot make the show great without the audience; we make the show together. So, it’s a bigger production. We added two singers on stage so that MIYAVI can focus on playing the guitar, performance and communication with the audience. So, I feel way closer to the audience. Also more entertaining, you know? Especially after I became independent, I've been trying to be distinct and original, you know, trying to make something different from others. But these days I’ve been feeling ... we tried to make it cool enough; we are cool enough (laughs). So, now I feel we're strong enough to entertain people in any way. So, we’ve been playing all tracks and as I said, I feel way closer to the audience because it's all about the communication and how we create the moment together. So, I feel it’s day two, the next phase for us.

You're backed up on tour by long-time drummer BOBO as well as new bandmates DJ Jonny and two vocalists. Please tell us how you got to know your new bandmates and what skills they bring to the table.

MIYAVI: I believe I met BOBO at the end of 2009. We’ve been working together. There was a producer who produced the What’s My Name? album. He brought BOBO to the studio. He said, “There is a drummer, and I think there's only one drummer who can fit you, MIYAVI’s style, and can create the chemistry.” I had no idea who he was, and BOBO came in and we had a session for over three or four hours straight and then we just got together.

Especially in that era, MIYAVI became independent. You know, I’m from the visual kei industry; I’m still visual kei. I perform and entertain people in my own way, but at the same time, I didn’t like people judging my music by how I looked or other things besides the music itself. So, it was also crucial to create something authentic. As an artist, I feel responsible to be able to make something that my fans, and even the people around my fans, love, so that my fans can be proud of themselves as MIYAVI’s fans. In their classroom or at their work, whatever, you know, even their parents.

So, thanks to BOBO, MIYAVI was able to focus on the guitar and then who MIYAVI is and what MIYAVI creates, what are his strengths, what’s his weapon. So since then, we’ve been working together.

And then DJ Jonny, we had been working on a track. There's Lenny — he's my buddy — a producer we’ve been creating music with, and DJ Jonny is the one who's putting in cool beats. As a guitarist, I feel a responsibility to bring back the excitement of guitar music. So, we are trying to make new guitar music, but it cannot be a typical format like “drum-keys-bass”. So, it’s challenging to mix it up with cutting edge EDM sounds, kind of modern, trap, whatever, like how we did yesterday, to kind of mash-up tracks. We want to show everyone the possibility of guitar music. So, DJ Jonny's the one who's bringing the cool beats to our creation.

And Seann Bowe, one of the singers on stage who did an amazing job yesterday. He's also a part of the LA crew; he’s a top line singer and artist. We’ve been working together since Firebird as well. You might have heard his voice a lot in my album as well. It’s also important to have a singer like him so that they can agitate the audience and then MIYAVI can perform and physically get closer to the audience. When MIYAVI sings he needs to be in front of the microphone stand, but thanks to the singers he can be free. MIYAVI gets freedom.

And then Heather O., a female singer, joined us from the Europe tour. She’s been doing an amazing job, especially with the vocal falsetto and beautiful voice. A female is also important — we do rock, dance and blues, but having a female artist in the band changes everything. It makes a good balance; it's not just gender equality, but also a great image, and it gives more color. Also, we’ve been collaborating with singers, even female singers, so she can perform those tracks on stage as well. We’re just enjoying music. Actually, I haven’t been doing many cover tracks so far, but thanks to them we covered Havana from 88Rising and even those mash-up tracks … it’s fun. I can play on any track with the guitar but singing, especially in English, is a different thing. It takes time and it’s not easy playing the guitar, so ... we’ve been doing great. I feel a very strong connection with the audience on this tour.

Are there any songs that have become the highlights of the shows on this tour due to crowd response, vibe or energy? It can be specific to yesterday’s Los Angeles show.

Miyavi: Yesterday ... LA. To be honest, the LA audience, I mean the US crowd, is pretty tough. They actually don’t jump; they don’t go crazy. I mean they go crazy, but they don’t jump. It's a different way to appreciate the music and that’s totally fine. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter. We just rock the audience and the audience appreciates it in a different way.

There were two spots yesterday. Actually, both are new sections we added after the Europe tour. The US market is actually different from other markets. We don’t play music for the market itself, but that said, it’s also a great example to show us the possibility of guitar music like with the mash-up tracks we did, such as Ain’t no Sunshine, Humble, Icon, Lemon … Actually, I'm taking off to New York tonight. We’ve been shooting Instagram cover tracks today as well and then we are going to release those videos again. The thing is, we’ve been posting those videos like Icon, Rockstar, Lemon… Actually, I’m not familiar with those tracks that much, but I like them. Also, it’s really, really, fun to create something new by just playing guitar on the tracks, but also kind of revitalizing those creations. And then even Icon's Jaden Smith and Rockstar's Post Malone reacted. So, those are kind of resonating with the great creators as well. So, that’s a fun project and we wanted to bring that to the stage yesterday and then I simply enjoyed the moment and reactions of the audience.

And then we performed the new track, Youth of the Nation, for the encore. We’ve been releasing EP tracks like Long Nights, In Crowd and So On It. We just dropped the video for In Crowd . I performed with Lia Kim, who is a great Korean dancer. We’ve been releasing a digital single every month. This month, we're going to release one track that's MIYAVI’s first collaboration with his wife Melody, who is driving me to the airport right now … So, yeah, that’s the one for this month. Then I think we're going to release Youth of the Nation next month. So, as I said on stage, so many things are happening in this country and I’ve been kind of learning what’s happening. The lack of leadership, also the gun violence and the racial discrimination — those things are happening, and I’ve been witnessing them.

There are many young girls like Yusra Mardini, the first refugee Olympian who's from Syria. She survived the way from Syria to Greece, and then arrived in Berlin, and became the first Olympian in the refugee team. And Sonita from Afghanistan, whom I collaborated with and featured in Long Nights. She's a great, strong rapper; she made her own path by herself. And then there’s Emma Gonzales, who's a survivor from a mass gun shooting. Those girls are fighting for the rights and for the future. As a dad of two girls, I feel really responsible to make something. Even if they're tiny steps, we need to keep moving forward and giving support to those girls, and then to spread the message.

We decided to cover Youth of the Nation to dedicate the music to the young generation. I think we did a great job actually. I think the creation team — Lenny, Jonny, Seann, everyone — revitalized and put the life into the track again in this generation. I believe music like that is needed.

The lyrics and music video for Long Nights (World Mix) hold a powerful message. Please tell us what inspired this collaboration and how you and Sonita Alizadeh worked together to create such a poignant remix.

MIYAVI: Yeah, Long Nights was the first song I wrote after I came back from the refugee camp. We already released it already with MIYAVI, a Japanese release. It’s a meaningful track. Then I saw Sonita’s movie, the memory of her life and how she became stronger and was almost sold for child marriage by her own mom for $9,000. It’s kind of part of tradition for these countries. I don’t know ... I have no right to say anything for those customs or traditions, but I’m 100% sure those girls need to have rights to choose their own life.

And then she stood up, she made her own path, she made a music video, then she was featured in the documentary of her life. I was simply inspired — I have two daughters — and that one girl could fight like that, struggle and then pave the path. That’s what I actually did when I was a kid. I was in Osaka, and then came to Tokyo ... that's a different story ... I thought, especially on Long Nights, her voice can resonate with more people because the story is strong and inspiring. So, we contacted her through UNHCR. UNHCR Japan showed me the movie of Sonita. They had been showing me lots of movies related to the refugee crisis and then I saw her movie. They connected me to Sonita and we asked them to fly to LA. So, we met in LA, recorded her vocals, and then we rocked.

I chose Sonita because her voice can resonate with more people. The message itself, with the picture of people who are called refugees on a boat, in a dark night, without knowing when they are going to arrive or where they are heading to. But I really felt the strength from them because they believe in their future and they believe tomorrow will come. That is why they were able to survive the long night. Even we sometimes lose our destination in our lives, so that belief that tomorrow will come, and that we can get over the long night, really resonated with me as well. So, that's the main theme of the track.

You mentioned on Facebook that you "found another path for the new wave of guitar music" with your April release So On It. What's this new path you've found? What do you wish to express with this song?

MIYAVI: As a guitarist, I’ve been slapping the strings ... and that’s good, but now I’ve been trying to find another path. You know, I can slap anytime, but another signature tone of the guitarist … and then another riff of sound like a fun, kind of crazy sound is one thing … and then also collaborating with other singers so that MIYAVI can sing with the guitar. I know many of my fans want me to sing, and I’m not saying I quit singing; I love singing as well, but the main thing is, like the freedom MIYAVI got on stage, I can do more without singing as well.

Even with Youth of the Nation you heard a different approach of the guitarist. That’s the kind of challenging part, breaking the image that you yourself created. That’s the toughest. That’s the hardest part. It’s easy to keep building an image, but it’s really hard to break it and then rebuild it. So, So On It is one of the ways. Even if there is a kind of Trap or EDM, Skrillex type of sound, I can play on it with a guitar. Even closer than those samples. That’s the thing — we use amplifiers, we use microphones, and even that layer of air, it sometimes gets in the way. What I wanted to create was, even with these strong modern sounds, a place where the guitar can exist, survive and then walk towards. So that is one of the ways, and one of the inventions we found there.

Not only are you a ground-breaking musician, but you also use your voice and influence to bring awareness to the refugee crisis with the UNHCR. How has your experience visiting the refugees affected your outlook on life and the power of music?

MIYAVI: You know, we are so lucky to be able to appreciate music. That’s everything. As long as we can do music, then let’s do something good for everyone. It gives me more motivation to pursue the way. Now it’s my life’s work. The music, acting, fashion — those are entertainment and business. But now I’ve got the reason to be more famous and influential, which is because I need to spread more messages. There are many things that are screwed and messed up, especially in the business. There are so many things that aren’t right, especially based on business.

So when I do business, it’s corporate. The justice or moral is twisted. That’s why there are many things, tragedies ... that are happening. So I really feel it’s the right path even if it takes time. I was inspired by Angelina Jolie. My big sister. She’s doing it. And I’ve been seeing it, and I’ve been witnessing it. And I’m sure this is the right way. And she needs more people, so I wanted to join do whatever I can because I’ve learned many things from her as well.

The "BLEACH" manga series is incredibly famous. How did you end up participating in the live-action movie project? Also, are there any character traits that you share with Byakuya Kuchiki that helped to shape your performance for the role? Is there any trait within him that you admire and would want to adopt for yourself?

MIYAVI: I wasn't sure if I was going to do this. As I said, the reason why I was away from the visual kei industry was because, even just doing this live action film might ruin the image as a guitarist. Usually it’s toward people who don’t care about these things. But as I said earlier, I feel more confident and I feel I’m ready to rock. Even if I do cosplay, I can rock anybody, even the people who don’t care about the cosplay or anime thing. It doesn’t matter — once I slap the strings, I can rock them. So, I am confident.

That’s the main reason I decided to do this. Also, I knew that many of my fans like this anime. So that’s the kind of strength I mentioned earlier. I can do this now because I'm strong enough to protect my people and entertain my audience and my fans in any way. Through fashion, acting and music, of course. Even if I don’t slap, I can entertain my audience. So, that’s the kind of strength I was able to achieve. So, I got this role.

For the second question, it was an interesting process. The way Byakuya loves his sister is not just loving or being sweet; he is really strict. This is what I have towards my sister as well, even to my daughters. I don’t help them. Of course, to my daughters, I love them, I show them my affection and everything, even my respect to them, but I don’t help them. I let them make a mistake. I believe this is the way we learn, so that they can be strong enough to be independent. So, that’s the kind of relationship that Byakuya and Rukia have. I was fascinated and then I was able to get into it because of that’s what I have in me, with my sister and my daughters as well.

Lastly, could you please leave the JaME audience with a final message?

MIYAVI: As always, I really appreciate your support. Some of you guys know that MIYAVI has a long path and is kind of tweaking, challenging and experimenting with many things. But the thing is, I cannot promise to make what my audience wants. But one thing I can promise, is to make something new and entertaining. And it gives you surprise and excitement. And I believe that when you feel that excitement, it’s the moment you feel hope, and then you get energy. So that’s my role, with my music. So, I hope to see you soon!

We’ll be out on tour in America and South America. Especially South America, it’s been a while since I've rocked that continent, so if there are readers out there, please come and see my show and let’s have fun!

JaME would like to thank MIYAVI, J-glam Inc. and Universal Music Japan for this interview opportunity.
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