Interview with Onmyo-za

interview - 05.10.2006 13:00

JaME's exclusive pre-tour interview with the Yokai Heavy Metal Band Onmyo-za.

JaME was invited by King Records to participate in a mail interview with Onmyo-za. The band will soon be arriving in Europe to perform in Paris and Berlin so I took the opportunity to ask a number of questions about various aspects of touring as well as finding out more about their upcoming European release of their “Best Of” Album Inyo Shugyoku

The questions were answered on behalf of the band by Onmyo-za’s chief songwriter, and lead vocalist/bassist Matatabi

Your second European tour is due to start next month, what are your thoughts concerning your second set of performances outside of Japan?

Matatabi: We performed our first overseas gig last year, and at that time we honestly didn’t think we’d be called back again this soon. So we’re surprised, thrilled and very happy about it.

You have already been on tour for a large part of the year already! And when you return to Japan you will still have a number of concerts to perform. Do you enjoy the tour experience?

Matatabi: We really believe that a live stage performance is where we can showcase our ability best, so being on tour and having more fans come to see us on stage is really important to us, and it goes without saying that we really enjoy doing it.

What are your favourite/least favourite aspects of touring?

Matatabi: We love the stage. We love every aspect of dishing out an excellent live performance, and we also enjoy going places, trying local cuisines, and lots of tasty alcohol beverages of all varieties! There is nothing we dislike about being on tour, except for the part that it has to end. We have to deal with a sense of loneliness after every tour.

What are you particularly looking forward to experiencing on this upcoming European tour?

Matatabi: The only thing that is on our agenda is to share our flaming live performance with our fans who will be waiting for us in Europe. Oh, and also to enjoy European cuisine, and lots of tasty alcohol beverages of all varieties!

Your last tour was rather hectic, and was described as a "forced march" are you hoping to have more time for sightseeing and trying the local cuisine on this tour?

Matatabi: We hear that the schedule is a little better this time, so we might have a chance to do some sightseeing and such. It’ll be great if we can do that.

Do you plan or would like to plan performances in other countries?

Matatabi: We don’t have anything planned out yet, but we find all countries in Europe very attractive, so we’re keen to visit any of those countries if possible.

The last time JaME interviewed you, we asked if you would consider opening Shikigami Kurabu (Onmyo-za's fan club) to non-Japanese fans. Have you given this any further thought?

Matatabi: Our fan club staff are always discussing about this, however, it will take a little more time to actually get things going. But, we promise you, that as long as you guys keep on raising your voices, it will happen. No matter how long it takes.

Even though Onmyo-za's lyrics are complicated even for native Japanese speakers to understand, does it make you feel happy that non-Japanese speakers still appreciate and enjoy your music even that they may not understand the lyrics fully?

Matatabi: We are thrilled. Here in Japan, we can totally relate to listeners enjoying music without fully understanding the lyrics… most of us enjoy many forms of foreign music just as a “song” and through the vibe of it. So we really understand how that works in a human mind, and we’re really happy that that’s happening in Europe.

Your best of album Inyo Shugyoku is due to be released in Europe soon. What are your thoughts about the release?

Matatabi: We are so happy that finally our European fans can get their hands on our album and the album doesn’t have to be “imported”! We really hope that the release of this album will be a breakthrough, and will be the first of a long string of Onmyo-za albums to be released in Europe.

Do you see the release of your music in Europe as a chance to build on the devoted fan base you already have, or do you wish to introduce your music to a new audience?

Matatabi: Both. If you live in Europe, you just don’t find a copy of the Japan-released Inyo Shugyoku in your local CD shop. And for those who don’t know the music of Onmyo-za yet, it is absolutely necessary to provide them with a good introduction to our music. The European release will take care of both.

The Japanese release of the double album Inyo Shugyoku itself contains 30 songs! Even with several albums/singles to select material from for a best of album, did you have difficulty choosing a track listing?

Matatabi: Believe me, it was a nightmare! For every album, we make sure that only the best of the best music goes in there. So, the process of selecting the best from a long list of songs which are the best to begin with…. Oh boy, that was hard. It was like being asked to choose one favourite child of yours, when of course you love them all! There’s no way we can “choose”, to be honest. So, we decided to focus on the fact that we wanted to make it a great introductory package to our unknown fans. Selection after selection, and finally we came up with the list which is now called the Inyo Shugyoku.

The album contains a good variety of Onmyo-za's music. Did you choose the track listing to show the full range of your music i.e. heavy songs, slow ballads, "Matsuri" style songs? Or did you just choose the songs which you considered your best/most successful?

Matatabi: Onmyo-za is a multi-dimensional group, and when we were putting together this album, balance was very very important to us. We really didn’t think much about putting in the “popular” songs, because we think that the definition of a “popular song” differs for each fan, and band member.

Will there be any differences between the Japanese and European releases?

Matatabi: I don’t think so. It will be the same with the standard edition that was released in Japan.

Do you plan to release your previous back catalogue or future releases in Europe too?

Matatabi: We’re trying to release our back catalogues little by little. I can’t go into any details at this moment, but we’re talking about it on a very realistic level.

When introducing yourselves at the beginning of a concert you describe yourselves as the "Yokai Heavy Metal Band - Onmyo-za" Could you describe what this means? And how this description is important to the concept of Onmyo-za?

Matatabi: “Yokai” is a spiritual creature which shows the inner self of human beings like a mirror. Thus when you sing about “Yokai”, you sing about every single aspect of human emotions. Joy, fury, sorrow, happiness – everything. And when we say “heavy metal”, we are not just referring to a particular genre of music. We are talking about the innovation, the creed, which has been represented by heavy metal and has evolved ever since it’s birth. These are the feelings we put into those words when we introduce ourselves using those words. So, the direct translation for "Yokai Heavy Metal Band" would be “A band with an innovative creed who sings of the whole being of human kind”. This is a very important concept for Onmyo-za. This is our everything.

At the beginning of your career, your first CD release was a full album, as opposed to a series of singles, (which is very unusual move for a new independent band to make). What were your reasons for choosing to release a full album as a debut?

Matatabi: Comparing the first release of albums, singles and EP’s has the impression of it being something like a “calling card” – just something to say “hello”. Onmyo-za had a very clear musical statement to make, and we knew exactly what had to be done from day one. That is why we didn’t need a single before the album to test the water, and we were able to come up with an album, which is our piece of art, from the very beginning.

What songs do you especially enjoy performing live?

Matatabi: We think of our stage performance as a whole, so we can’t really think of it song by song. So, we can’t choose any one song.

Onmyo-za have a strong traditional Japanese musical influence, have you ever thought about adding authentic Japanese instruments into your music?

Matatabi: No plans as of now, but we will do so when it is the right time and when we feel the need.

What past-time activities do you enjoy beside music?

Matatabi: All of us enjoy a number of hobbies. Books, movies, video games, watching sports – probably the same as all of you.

Your onstage costumes are inspired by traditional Japanese clothing from the Heian period over a thousand years ago. Is there any reason why you chose this period as your inspiration?

Matatabi: Because it looks great on stage, and it represents the whole image of our music in it’s design.

Are there any musicians that have especially inspired you, or that you particularly admire?

Matatabi: Every member has a long list of favorite artists, so it’s too hard to list them all here. But, since it’s me Matatabi who is answering, I can tell you that my idol is JUDAS PRIEST. I will worship them till the day I die.

Onmyo-za produced the song Koga Ninpocho which was used as the theme tune for the anime "Basilisk". Were you pleased to write and perform the song and do you like the anime?

Matatabi: We don’t have any particular feelings, negative or positive towards doing themes for animes, but "Basilisk〜Koga Ninpocho " was a very special one for me, because the anime was based on the book “Koga Ninpocho " by my most favorite author Futaro Yamada whom I respect very much . So it was a dream come true for me. I’m also a huge fan of the comic/anime versions of “Basilisk〜Koga Ninpocho ".

The Kumikyoku Yoshitsune suite is over 20 minutes long, because of its length, is it especially difficult to perform live?

Matatabi: We all agree that performing this on stage is a most ecstatic experience.

Onmyo-za seem to be deeply involved in every aspect of their production including CD cover design and merchandise artwork design. Do you think that this involvement in areas of production is an important aspect of what the band represents?

Matatabi: I don’t know if every band needs to do this, but at least for Onmyo-za, we want to be in charge of every aspect of what bears our name. We must be in control of our music, and everything that surrounds it equally. We believe that this is important to our fans as well.

Are there any bands that you would like to play on tour with?

Matatabi: We are willing and ready to play with any artist if we can sympathize with them from the bottom of our souls.

Thank you very much for participating in this interview! The best of luck for your upcoming European tour and CD release.
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