Interview by Shannon McNaught
September 24, 2016
DISREIGN is one of the few overseas visual kei bands. Fronted by YOHIO (ex. Seremedy) and label mates with Kerbera, they have held a unique place in the industry since their formation.
They also made a big change recently: all members moved to Japan, the origin of the visual kei scene itself. In this S-T exclusive interview with the band, you’ll learn about the reasoning behind the big move, details on their upcoming release (including the reason for the delayed release), what it’s like to be a foreign visual kei band, and much more.
-Could you start by telling us your name, your part in the band, and your favorite food in Japan so far?
JENZiiH: I’m JENZiiH. I play bass. I eat everything except squid, octopus, eel, and weird fishes.
YOHIO: I’m YOHIO. I sing, produce, manage, and other stuff.
-Do you still play guitar?
YOHIO: I still play when I’m writing songs, but I don’t play it in the band.
tias: I’m tias, and I play drums. I like yakiniku, Matsuya, ramen, girls, and League of Legends.
YOHIO: (laughs) That’s all you need to know about him.
-You came to Japan at the end of June, and you’ve played one show so far, right?
YOHIO: Actually, we were all sick. Also, at the rehearsal, our backtrack system stopped working, so all the synths and strings and backing vocals stopped working. We paid for a three-hour rehearsal, but in those three hours, the only thing we did was try to restart the program. We finally made it work, but then we had to pay for more time. It was not optimal.
During the show, my voice held for about one song and then it gave out. It was fun, of course, but not the best gig.
JENZiiH: It was not as much as we wanted.
YOHIO: I kind of died for a week after. But it was fun.
-What are your concert plans for the near future?
YOHIO: Well, the VisUnite app is being released soon. We’ll have a lot of gigs because of the release in October, November, December, and so on. We’re in the process of booking now.
-Are you excited?
YOHIO: Yeah. We’re trying to find the best kind of events to play at. I am excited.
JENZiiH: So am I.
tias: Me, too.
YOHIO: It’s been a while, and we’ve been doing so many other things. I really want to be on stage.
-How are you balancing school with everything else, JENZiiH and tias?
JENZiiH: Less sleep. That’s the best way to balance everything right now. It’s like school, then homework, then band-related stuff, and then sleep for two hours. I’m trying to find some kind of balance. It’s quite hard, but it’s manageable.
tias: School is only for like three hours. I think it’s not that hard. I can manage.
YOHIO: I don’t have school, so I don’t have that problem. But I have to do everything else. Since the label we’re signed to is my label, I need to do all the label work, the management work, go to meetings, plan meetings—both the boring and fun parts.
-Are you managing any other bands right now?
YOHIO: It’s just DISREIGN and myself right now. Kerbera is also on KEIOS, but I don’t manage them. In Sweden, I also have a pop artist named Oskar, but my dad is co-managing him right now. We’re working together. There are a lot of projects going on right now, but I try to manage.
JENZiiH: For me, it doesn’t feel like I’m living here yet.
tias: It kind of feels like we’re still visiting. The “home” part hasn’t settled in yet.
YOHIO: I think it’s going to take a while before it feels like home. For me the past few weeks, I’m still adjusting, but it comes suddenly, out of nowhere. When it feels normal to have the Japanese TV on, or having a phone call in Japanese, or writing what you’re going to do tomorrow, then you step back and think, “Wait, this isn’t normal for me.” (laughs) It’s slowly starting to sink in that we’re actually living here, but it’s only been a few months. Maybe it will feel like home next month.
tias: It still feels like we just got here. We do something pretty much every day, so the time just flies by.
YOHIO: Yeah, some things we did right when we got here feel like they happened a year ago, and others feel like they happened yesterday. Everything is just chaos.
-A good chaos or a bad chaos?
Everyone: A good chaos. (laughs)
YOHIO: That’s why I named my label KEIOS, because I like chaos.
-Has anything about moving here been more difficult than you thought?
JENZiiH: Some things are harder, but there are some things I found easier than I expected, like taking the bus. I thought I wouldn’t understand anything, so I refused to take the bus at first. I actually like taking the bus now. They have nice air conditioning.
Other than that, no. Everything is easier than I expected. But I’m quite pessimistic as a person, so maybe that’s why.
tias: I think everything was pretty easy to adjust to. I’ve been here for a month before, so I already knew most of it. YOHIO knows everything.
YOHIO: (laughs) I’m actually learning a lot since coming here, even though I’ve been here 16 or 17 times before. You’re always learning something. From a living perspective, though, it’s pretty easy. Supermarkets are accessible. Pre-made food is so cheap, and it has to be good because they have the obento culture. You wouldn’t buy pre-made food in Sweden. I think everyday life here is much easier and much more convenient.
The only thing that’s annoying is taking out the trash. You have to put out different types on different days, and people get mad if you mess up. (laughs)
From a business perspective, it’s very difficult. I’ve been doing business here since my solo career, but I’ve always had help from the label I was signed to at that point. Now I’m doing everything by myself. I actually read books every day now regarding Japanese business and mentality just to see if there’s something I can pick up. There’s still stuff that I need to be better at.
Just sitting in a distribution meeting completely in keigo (polite Japanese), for instance, can be very frustrating. Not because I don’t understand what they’re saying, but because a lot of the words and expressions are things I’ve never had the opportunity to hear or use before.
During the meeting, though, I look up the words, and then—ta da!—I learn them.
Since I want to build up KEIOS in Japan, I want to know everything about Japanese business culture.
-How long did you study Japanese before you felt comfortable in a Japanese business setting?
YOHIO: Well, I’ve been studying Japanese for 10 years now. The more I came to Japan, the more I felt confident. Just learning from textbooks drama and anime and stuff is not enough to get fluent in everyday language. It’s a good basis, but what you say and how you should behave when saying something is something you learn by being here. I’d say I’ve been developing most of my Japanese skills these past 4 years. Before that, it was just textbooks and going to Japan a couple of times. When I started to come here often, only being around Japanese people, that’s when you learn the most.
-On a slightly different note, you held the KEIOS Festival right before coming to Japan. What inspired to you to do that right before coming here? Did you plan it knowing you were going to come to Japan right after?
YOHIO: Yeah, we’d been planning to move here for over a year. The idea of the festival came to me several years ago, but I started feeling it was the right time around December of last year. I thought, “Let’s do it now. Let’s try it.”
Me and JENZiiH did a lot of the planning. My dad also helped us with planning because he’s planned big events before, and we haven’t. We’ve played at them before, but we’ve never arranged them. It’s very different. We learned a lot by doing it from the other side.
It was very fun to see all the bands get together. Everyone was very supportive of each other and friendly. It felt like we were able to connect all of the Scandinavian bands in a positive way. The fans loved it, too.
-Did you have a good turnout?
YOHIO: Yeah, I think it was very good for the first year of the festival. I think we want to do it again. Not next year, but maybe in a few years. I think we could pull it off again and do better because now we know how to do it. It feels good. I want to do it in Japan some time, too.
-You’ve been in the overseas visual kei scene for a while now. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as a “foreign visual kei” band?
JENZiiH: It has been quite hard. We’ve taken a lot of hate because of it. A lot of Western fans would say, “You can’t do this. You’re white.” But, in my opinion, visual kei is all about expressing yourself. It’s the same as other music, just with the visual aspect added.
YOHIO: We started with Seremedy about seven years ago, so we have been doing this for a while. We played at basically every convention there was in Sweden at that time. There was no problem among convention goers, but people from other countries on the Internet really, really hated us. But we never actually cared about it. We kept on going.
Then in 2011, we said we were going to tour in Japan. So we did. I booked Seremedy’s first Japan tour when I was 15. We got an eleven-gig tour in spring, and then we played a second tour in fall that same year. Then we played at V-Rock Fest at Saitama Super Arena as the opening act. That was pretty cool.
At that point, we were able to say, “We played right before GACKT at Saitama Super Arena. So, you can say whatever you want, but we don’t care.”
The criticism has been a struggle, especially in Sweden, where the genre doesn’t even exist. It’s gotten both better and worse since I made my solo debut when I was 16. They thought I was the biggest weeaboo that ever existed, but I didn’t care because I was on [Japanese] TV. I thought I’d made it.
That’s why JENZiiH and I started DISREIGN. Our music is much darker. We wanted to go back to basics.
JENZiiH: We’re much heavier than Seremedy. We thought it was time to go back to what we actually wanted to do.
YOHIO: Then we thought, “Let’s move to Japan where the genre actually exists.” I think we can make it here if we work hard for it. The visual scene is still weak. It was up for a while, but then it went down. If we stayed in Sweden and tried to help it rise again, I think it would be difficult because music overall in Scandinavia is going downhill.
tias: It’s all pop.
YOHIO: It’s Swedish pop and EDM. That’s all that can make it in Sweden right now. You can’t really make it in rock there.
JENZiiH: Even if you love to do rock in Sweden, there’s no profit in it. You have to pay a huge amount of money to do what you want.
YOHIO: We’re very passionate about making the visual kei scene bigger again. Not just our band – the whole scene. That’s why I decided to become the ambassador for VisUnite. The creator and I have that similar passion.
If we want to make the Western visual market bigger, though, we have to get bigger here [in Japan] first. We’re going to stir things up a bit here in the visual scene.
JENZiiH: Then we can be accepted by the Western fans.
YOHIO: Most Japanese people don’t think visual kei is exclusive to Japan. They think it’s a worldwide genre.
-What do you hope to accomplish with VisUnite? What do you think it can do for the visual kei scene?
YOHIO: I think it can connect fans and bands in a good way, since it’s profitable for both ends. If the fans are liking a band, they rise in the ranking. If the bands get high enough in the ranking, they can earn a spot in events and things.
The fans profit for it because the more they like, the more they can purchase in-app purchases (like more “likes”). They also rise in the fan ranking. They can earn gifts and discounts. So it’s very profitable for both ends. I think it has potential.
There are similar apps for idols called ouen apuri (support apps), so the system is already in place. This is the first for visual kei, though.
-Switching subjects a bit, what are some of your musical influences (both visual kei and non-visual kei bands)?
YOHIO: We all listen to a lot of different types of music. I listen to a lot of classical music – Bach, Vivaldi, Paganini. I’ve been playing classical piano since I was 6, so I love symphonic music. I love symphonic metal. That’s why I loved Versailles and Malice Mizer when I was younger. I also like The Faceless, an extreme metal band from America. I also like stuff like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
For the band, we focus more on keeping it heavy and dark, but also have catchy choruses.
It’s much more fun to be dark than bright because you can express much more with it. As a solo artist, I’m more pop-rock. I have a brighter appeal, I think. But it’s fun to do both.
tias: There are so many I like. In the visual scene, I really like DADAROMA.
YOHIO: I think they’re one of the best new bands in the scene. They have a very special atmosphere. They came out around the same time that we did. When we heard their first single, we thought, “That’s the kind of sound we want to go for.” So we all really like them.
JENZiiH: I really like visual kei from around 2006.
-What inspires your songs?
YOHIO: I think it’s different for each song, actually.
YOHIO: Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re doing and it just comes to be something that you didn’t expect, like our next single. All of its three songs were not planned at all.
JENZiiH: They’re just feelings.
YOHIO: They were just felt and then made. The title track, “Within the Void,” has so many different aspects and parts that it’s hard to classify it as one type of song.
JENZiiH: I would say the second song [Abyss of Veiled Truth] is very 2006 v-kei. It has that special feeling from that era.
The third song [新世界 (Shinsekai)] was written by JENZiiH. Most of the vocals are in Japanese.
JENZiiH: There are a lot of feelings in it.
tias: The chorus is really catchy.
JENZiiH: I think the song itself is really powerful.
YOHIO: Yeah, it is. I think that chorus is the one that’s going to stick in your mind.
Also, we owe an explanation for the very long postponement of this release. It’s a very technical issue. The songs are already recorded, mastered, and finished. The music video has also been finished months ago. Everything was done before we moved.
We haven’t released our singles physically before. People don’t buy CDs in the West. It’s very easy to do a digital release, but physical distribution is harder, especially when you’re a foreigner in Japan. It takes much longer. I’ve been going to a lot of meetings and comparing different methods of distribution. There’s been a lot of struggle to get this release out. We’ve found a way to do it now, though. Hopefully, it will be released in October. It will be released physically in Japan and digitally worldwide.
-Finally, could you give us a message for your fans and our readers at S-T.net?
tias: Sorry about the delayed single.
YOHIO: We’re struggling, but we will also have another announcement very soon. It’s the reason for our struggle the past few weeks. We will get out from it and we will come out stronger.
JENZiiH: Thanks for your support. We love you!
Originally published by Shattered Tranquility. Reprinted with permission.