Toshiya, bassist for Japanese alt rock phenomenon Dir en grey, isn’t interviewed very often, but we got a chance to catch up with him during their recent American tour and found him smart, thoughtful and refreshingly direct. Dark, weird, and frequently rather disturbing, Dir en grey’s unique amalgam of styles has earned them a rabid underground following all over the world. This is what Toshiya had to say about the band, how they function as a unit, and what his own contribution to the process is.
Kirsty: Recently it seems like you’ve been experimenting with slap bass. What brought on your interest in experimenting with other techniques? Are there any other styles you’d like to try?
Toshiya: Hmm, I’ve always had an interest in slap bass. But I never really planned on doing it. Lately… I felt like it was one way to play and started try to play that way. As for new techniques, right now, I’m not really thinking of any. But I would like to gather new techniques.
Kirsty: It seems that you only wrote maybe one song on the last album. Will you be writing more for the next album?
Toshiya: Though I am thinking of writing a couple songs, we all bring material and all five of us do it– it’s not like only one person contributes; everyone works together. It’s like that.
Kirsty: In the promotional picture that your management sent us, I noticed that you’re wearing a skirt. Why did you start doing that again?
Toshiya: From the last album, UROBOROS, when we released it, I felt like the past and the present connected within me somehow. Because of that, I wanted to look back at the past, review and renew it in my own kind of style in the present.
Kirsty: Are you thinking of not only in terms of visual style but also musical?
Toshiya: Yes, I think that. Next month in Japan we’ll be releasing a new single, and as part of that we’ll be re-releasing remixed versions of our old songs. And in that song from the past, it’s like we’re playing it as the five people we are now.
Kirsty: Are the old songs completely rearranged?
Toshiya: There’s one that’s completely rearranged. One more song–there are three in total; one completely new song and two old songs. Of the two older songs, one of them is completely rearranged yet keeping a shadow of the past. The other is where everyone changed their own part or phrase and made it work in one take.
Kirsty: A while back it seemed like you guys weren’t getting along very well, and you in particular have made allusions to that in interviews. Are you getting along better now?
Toshiya: Well, if you continue a band for a long time, it’s like a married couple…or, well, there are times when we act cold to each other and when we all get along more at times. We’ve cycled around that and right now we are all moving along well, especially as a band, we’re all moving toward the same direction. It’s going really well.
Kirsty: It’s often a complaint of bass players that no one takes them seriously or that they don’t get to have much say in how their bands evolve over time. Do you feel like you’re able to express yourself within the band and have an influence on its music and image? Does it feel like enough of a creative outlet for you?
Toshiya: I think it’s the same with everything – if you were to do everything by yourself, you’d be able to express yourself 100% to your liking. But since there are five of us we agree that it’s not going to be 100% by one person, and that working to get to 100% with the five of us is the best way of working. This is also related to my parts as bass. It’s not all 100% of the sound I want to input, but as the bassist and one of the five members of a band. I feel strongly that I want to contribute my bass part as some percentage of the 100% that five members produce.
Kirsty: You were in art school for a while, right? Is that something that you’ve maintained an interest in?
Toshiya: I can’t say that it’s not influencing my music. I think that we like the process of creating something by ourselves.
Kirsty: Does it have an influence over the visual imagery the band uses?
Toshiya: For that, all five of us have a discussion and decide together. Whether it be for the music or our looks. For us, Dir en grey, we move as a whole.
Kirsty: What kind of music do you personally listen to? Is that what you’ve always been into or has it evolved over time?
Toshiya: Since Japanese music was always nearby to me, I’d been listening to the Japanese music scene for a long time. As time went on, and I learned that there were other kinds of music from around the world, and then I started to listen to different sorts of music. But lately, there’s nothing in particular category that I listen to. I just leave my iPod on shuffle.
Kirsty: Sometimes when you’re playing in the West fans get a little wild and aggressive, how do you feel about that watching it from the stage?
Toshiya: During the show- if, for example, if there was a mosh pit starting or if everyone started getting hyped up – I’m the type of person who thinks that it’s fine like that. The music we make, we don’t even sing the lyrics in English, and singing them in Japanese, maybe it’s not reaching out to the fans. But on stage we try to use our actions as a way of expressing ourselves. And for the fans, I don’t mind if they express themselves the way they do but I’d just like for them, if possible, to not hurt themselves.
Kirsty: Your band has occasionally encountered some hostility when performing in the West and opening for American or British bands. What’s your approach to those kinds of situations? Do you get angry or frustrated or do you try to win people over?
Toshiya: I do get angry; But instead of trying to take in those hostile fans as new fans (for Dir en grey), I do my best to get our message across.
Kirsty: You yourself seem a bit more upbeat in general than your band’s image would suggest. Is it ever hard for you to behave in a way that’s in keeping with the band’s image?
Toshiya: If I were to say one or the other, I am… really gloomy. (Laughs) And to be seen as cheery would be my own way of battling against it. To have people think that I’m a happy person would be pretty lucky for me.
Kirsty: It’s not like you’re forcing yourself to be dark, right? You seem to be laughing in all your photos.
Toshiya: Nope, not at all. But, I feel like smiling is more approachable than having a scary face on.
Kirsty: Since we’re running out of time, final question. If and when the band breaks up, would you want to join another band or do something completely different?
Toshiya: Well… I think humans can do anything if they put their mind to it. Maybe it’s okay even if it’s not music. If I’m still able to express what I want to do, maybe that choice is fine.