DER ZIBET : legendary band willing to share personal stories

Interview | DER ZIBET : legendary band willing to share personal stories

Mandah 05 mars 2021 Mandah FRÉNOT Yoann CLOCHON

VerdamMnis had the privilege to meet with vocalist ISSAY and guitarist HIKARU at a rehearsal studio located in Tokyo in February 2021. In a friendly and warm atmosphere, DER ZIBET talked about very diverse topics such as the Goth music scene in Japan, their breakup, their reunion, their childhood, their love for French Pop, COVID-19 and more.

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— DER ZIBET was formed in 1984 and debuted in 1985. It is commonly said that the band was pioneer in the Goth music scene in Japan. For those who don’t know you, how would you describe DER ZIBET’s universe ?
ISSAY : When we just started playing together, we didn’t think about making post-punk/gothic music. It wasn’t our goal at all. We were just 5 young boys with different, very different, musical tastes getting together. The only common point we had musically-speaking was our love for film music.
HIKARU : Yes, exactly. Everyone’s musical preferences were all over the place. We didn’t come together because we liked post-punk or a certain type of rock. We came together because we thought that we’d be able to create something interesting if we played with these band members. As far as I am concerned, I loved and still do, French pop and film music. Our point of convergence was our love for music that accompanies movies.
ISSAY : But you know, I love a lot of bands from the gothic music scene. I adore SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES, JOY DIVISION and of course BAUHAUS. Actually, BAUHAUS may have had some sort of influence on me back in the day. I used to like their style, a lot. The gothic music scene is very interesting but it was not our goal to break into it when we started DER ZIBET. And, in the early 80’s in Japan, the movement wasn’t very present. At least, the term wasn’t used yet, it didn’t really exist. We called all the bands who were not mainstream, “underground”. The term was used to describe bands with very different musical styles. The only common point was the fact that they were not mainstream. There was no gothic movement per say in Japan yet.

— I see.
How does it feel to hear that you are the pioneers of the Goth scene in Japan ?

ISSAY : To be totally honest, I am not very surprised to hear that. Deep down, I understand why people tend to think that DER ZIBET belongs to this scene. But, I won’t ever say that we are the pioneers of any musical genre. It makes me happy though. For sure, yeah. Who wouldn’t be happy to hear that ? (smiles)

— What was your goal when you started DER ZIBET ?
ISSAY : Erm... What was it ? (laughs)
HIKARU : We didn’t have any, did we ? (laughs)
ISSAY : Actually, I do remember that at the very beginning, we tried our best to get noticed by a major record company. We really wanted to attract a well-known label. That was our goal. We said to one another: “OK guys, let’s concentrate on creating good musical pieces, let’s write interesting tracks so that we’ll be able to make our major debut”. This is what we reflected upon and decided together. You know, if an act moves to a major label from an independent, they are awarded greater opportunity for success.

— After a 37-year-career, what has become your goal ?
ISSAY : Hum... Our present goal is to do and make interesting or fun things, whether in terms of musical content or not. Now that we don’t belong to a major record company any longer, we want to enjoy our creativity and our deadline-free policy to the fullest. We don’t want to have any creative restrictions ever again. Back in the day, we were a bit focused on what people would have to say about our music. It’s not the case anymore. We do things are way, take it or leave it.

— HIKARU, do you agree with that ?
HIKARU : I do (laughs). What I love the most about the band at the time being is the simple fact of being able to write and compose music with the other guys in a pleasant atmosphere. I like what the band has become. The whole creative process is enjoyable. It’s really amazing to be able to keep releasing interesting albums together and all the more so since we all get along very well.

— You have been together for 3 decades, how has your relationship evolved ?
HIKARU : We had a 10-year break which actually had a positive impact on the band. It has brought all the members closer together. We finally patched things up and everything goes really smoothly and well. Nothing could be any better.
ISSAY : Yes, totally. Our relationship is far better now than it used to be before the band stopped its activities in 1996.

— Why did you decide to pause and what made you come back together ?
ISSAY : To be honest, things were awful during the few years before our hiatus. I was at loggerheads with HIKARU. We were at variance with one another. Both of our mindsets were in conflict and therefore, we agreed that we would not continue as a band.
HIKARU : We reconciled our differences and reunited thanks to our bass player HAL. He had a very serious accident. I thought he wouldn’t make it. He had to undertake a long-term rehabilitation program.
ISSAY : And when he got back on his feet, he called us. Actually, he called all the musicians he wanted to work with and all the members of DER ZIBET responded to the appeal and were willing to take the challenge. When we first jammed together, we thought that things were making sense. It just felt right. I clearly understood creating sounds together with these men was all we needed.
HIKARU : We didn’t see each other during the hiatus from 1996 to 2004. HAL had an accident and when he was finally able to play again, he got us together. We tried things here and there for about 2 years. We gave few concerts and decided to resume activities from that moment on.

— Do you see each other outside ?
HIKARU : Yeah, we do see each other outside of our work responsibilities but not for drinks because I quit. I have never had anything serious, I have never suffered from a serious illness and actually, that’s the reason why I thought it was high time to stop. I have exhausted my quota, I drank way too much in the past (laughs).
ISSAY : And that’s the reason why it’s become a bit annoying for me to see you (laughs).

—It’s courageous though (laughs).
Has your creative process changed over the years ?

ISSAY : It has. I used to hum melodies to the musicians who then would reproduce them with their respective instruments. HIKARU has now become the primary songwriter. He composes music at home, alone. He first writes songs that fit my vocal range and thus are easy for me to sing. Then, all the band members meet at a rehearsal studio where we spend time together jamming, trying things here and there. This is where I bring my own touch. We just keep practicing and testing things out until we reach common satisfaction.

— DER ZIBET’s albums are conceptual. How do you choose a concept ? What comes first – the idea of an album, or the music itself defines the idea as you start writing melodies ?
ISSAY : It depends on the situation. But it’s true, generally-speaking the band has a creative pattern : we meet up at a bar, we drink and discuss how the next album should sound like. This is how we put up the last album together, we came across the term 不条理 (fujouri) and thought it would be nice to take it as a starting point. This is also how the term 別世界 (bessekai) came to our minds when discussing the penultimate album. Generally-speaking we have these sorts of conversations at the very beginning of the creative process. This is how and when a concept emerges. But as I said, it’s not always the case. The opposite has happened before. It happened before that we composed all the songs of an album before deciding its concept and name. We have 2 different creative ways.
HIKARU : The songs, however, are created through an intuitive and spontaneous approach. We draw our inspiration from the very moment of creation, from what is around us. The artistic aspect of a song is always spontaneous.

— During your career your band changed different statuses, DER ZIBET had contracts both with major and indie labels. Did they impact your writing ?
HIKARU : I don’t think the different record companies we worked with, whether small or big, had any impact on our music. That being said, major labels have considerably more financial means to promote and distribute products. They have bigger power and therefore sometimes are able to increase the chances of greater success. They gave us the opportunity to record an album abroad. But, that’s about it. I don’t think it had any influence our music per say. There were also plenty of deadlines. Tons of deadlines ! We had a very tight schedule. We are way more free now, we can work at our own pace. Major labels and indie labels are not so different today though.
ISSAY : Hum, I think the fact that they asked us to make music in a way that is understandable and sometimes more accessible must have impacted our compositions. It’s a well-known fact that independent labels tend to be more open creatively. But other than that, I agree with you. The difference between major labels and indie labels was huge at the time. When we signed a contract with one of them, in the 1990’s, the difference was significant.

— I see.
ISSAY, what kind of singer would you classify yourself as ?

ISSAY : Gosh, that is a very difficult question (frowns). How would I classify myself as ? Well, I love Cabaret. Cabaret singing is the art of fronting a vocal performance in intimate venues. It’s challenging because you have to be a good performer. I’d like to think of myself as rock cabaret singer. I took vocal lessons in the past. It’s not the case anymore. I don’t take special care of my voice to be honest. I am just careful not to drink any strong alcohol before a concert. But, that’s about it (laughs).

— As a singer, you have 2 missions : writing lyrics and singing. Do you think your voice sound is more important than the lyrics ?
ISSAY : Both are very important to me. Performing is what gives the most pleasure and personal satisfaction. The stage is where I feel happy. And, in order to express myself properly, well-written lyrics are of extreme importance. If for some reason, the lyrics were botched, it would be impossible for me to sing them correctly. Much like a physical rejection, I wouldn’t have enough breath to sing them. Both are very important to me, really.

— HIKARU, how did your interest in music start ?
HIKARU : I started taking an interest in music thanks to the folk acoustic guitar. I took a class for about a year. I used to practice a lot and cover songs from the BEATLES. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about joining a band yet. I just loved playing the guitar alone, just for myself. I was about 13 years old. Then, my interest grew bigger and Jimmy PAGE became my favorite guitarist (LED ZEPPELIN). My favorite guitar player now is David GILMOUR (PINK FLOYD).

— You like French Pop, don’t you ? Does it have an impact on DER ZIBET’s sound ?
HIKARU : If my memory is correct, I started listening to French pop when I was around 10 years old. I saw Gilbert BÉCAUD on TV and loved it so much that I bought the single, it was the very first record I ever bought. I just love the musical arrangement of French pop. Recently, I listen to ZAZIE and LES RITA MITSOUKO which I had discovered through Apple Music. I just launch a playlist called “French List” and listen to the songs it plays. My music-writing may be influence by it somehow. I don’t really know what I bring to the other members but what I do know is what they bring in, their respective musical universe. We all love different music genres and thanks to these differences, I have been able to enjoy David BOWIE and BAUHAUS’ music. I didn’t really like them before (laughs).

— I see. You influence one another.
HIKARU : Yes and no. I always have an overall vision in my head of what a track might become when I write it. But once ISSAY sings and gives new input to the track, it always turns out very different from what I thought it would be, which I think, is quite mind-blowing and interesting. This is what ISSAY brings into the band, his worldview, his personal touch. When I send him a track, I never say anything, I never try to influence him. I always look forward to seeing what he can bring along. I am always surprised and satisfied with the results.
ISSAY : It’s exactly the same thing for me. I always look forward to receiving a track from HIKARU in my mail. I am always pleasantly surprised. I cherish these moments, these discovery moments. As soon as I hear a track, thanks to its atmosphere, I understand where I want to bring it and what to do with it. I always have a big picture in my head of what would be the final result

— What would like people to take away from listening to your music ?
ISSAY : There is no actual message. What I want people to take away from listening to our music is help. Music heals the soul. If our music helps people in anyway, I will be happily satisfied. There’s no real message though... But, I hope the lyrics I sing touch people’s hearts. I hope they make them feel different emotions. It’s not my place to tell others how they should feel or react to art. Any artistic work should be open to interpretation and appropriation. That being said, what I personally find interesting is when the audience tries to understand where an artist was at emotionally at the time of the creation. When people watch a painting, they try to figure out what were the artist’s emotions at the time it was created. They may feel differently. They may feel extreme opposite emotions but that’s not what matters. I just love the fact that there is a possibility of making people feel the same emotion as I did. This possibility is exciting !

— ISSAY, I know that you had a difficult relationship with your father who was extremely “masculine” and violent. You seem to be the exact opposite, playing around with gender stereotypes, appearing “feminine”. What’s your point of view on the matter ?
ISSAY : I never forced myself to be the exact opposite of this man. I have never tried to become his opposite, consciously. But it’s true that he did represent everything I did not want to be. I said to myself : “that, no way ! That is not what I want to become” (laughs). The nuance is pretty slight, yet important. I mean, I didn’t impose anything on myself. Despite this fact, growing older made me understand, or more precisely made me accept, some things regarding my father. Generally-speaking, I am delighted that I don’t resemble this man. As for my mother, who is the woman with whom my father remarried after the divorce with my biological mother, she is absolutely wonderful. I do humbly respect her. You know, despite not being her biological son, she raised me just like one, with unconditional love and support. She is a very respectful woman (bows). 

— Thank you for sharing this personal topic with us.
HIKARU, what kind of childhood did you have ?

HIKARU : I had a very normal childhood. I had a conflicting relationship with my parents when I was a teenager though. But isn’t it normal (laughs) ? I’ve never had anything serious. I mean, compared with ISSAY, I had it quite easy.

— Do your parents understand your career path ? Are they proud now ?
HIKARU : I don’t think my parents are particularly proud of me (laughs). They probably think that my life hasn’t been successful enough (laughs). I do remember asking them about my music but I don’t have any recollection of the answer they gave me. It’s probably not worth remembering. I think they didn’t really understand what we were about with the band.
ISSAY : They probably wished that we had more success as a band (laughs). But you know, I remember my mother once saying to me : “Wow, you are really doing your best at something important for you. I don’t really get it — your lifestyle, your music — but I do understand that you’re giving it all and that is amazingly remarkable”. It gives me complete satisfaction.

— Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. She does seem like a great mom.
Talking about childhood, HIKARU, you won the Young Film Festival in your younger years. Why did you eventually choose music over movie making ?

HIKARU : Actually, I started music first. Music is my very first love. The older I got, the stronger my interest for movies grew. So, I decided to give it a try and I eventually won a price by the NHK (smiles). I enjoyed it but something didn’t feel right. I thought it was too hard, especially the story-writing. The story needs to be creative and interesting and then, you need to ensure to put it into effect on screen. Plus, the editing part is dragging. It’s easier for me to create music.

— In your younger years with DER ZIBET, you went abroad to record one album. Who brought the idea to record “Garden” in London?
HIKARU : It was a great experience. It was the first time to go abroad as a band. It was an interesting journey strew with pitfalls (laughs). It wasn’t my first trip abroad. I had already been to Hawaii before. As for the recording, it was overall similar to Japan. In the future, I would love to record music in France since I love French Pop.
ISSAY : Yeah, it wasn’t a very peaceful trip (laughs). But, it was larger-than-life to be able to go abroad to record an album while young. Everything was new and exotic. As for the recording process, the dynamic rage of sound was different. The acoustic of the room was pretty bad, we had to remove the rug from the floor (laughs). This is something that never happens in Japan. The sound of the drums was very flat to my humble opinion.

— Oopsie…
Are there any foreign artists you would like to collaborate with ?

ISSAY : All of the artists I would have loved to collaborate with passed away, unfortunately... (laughs). You know what, recently I had a dream, which is a bit embarrassing to share but, the world was coming as one. The borders disappeared. All the countries around the world unified and merged to form one and only country. In order to celebrate this union, an anthem was needed. I don’t know why but David BOWIE and myself were chosen to create the song. Isn’t that amazing (laughs) ?!

— Wicked (laughs) !
On a more actual note, how has Corona impacted your life ?

ISSAY : The shows ! We had to cancel approximately 5 concerts. As for my private life, COVID-19 hasn’t had so much impact. Before the state of emergency was declared, I wouldn’t go out so much. Now, I just don’t go out at all (laughs). I love my place anyway, I love being at home. The only outings I have are the rehearsals with the band.
HIKARU : This year will be worse. We can’t even try to organize anything in advance. We don’t know what tomorrow will be made of. We can’t anticipate. We just have to wait and see... And that’s a bit troublesome. But hey, we are very looking forward to performing as guests at dieS’ upcoming no-audience show which will be broadcasting live on Internet. Finally, some action will take place.

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