Unity and change – interview with Miyavi
On October 9, Japan’s inimitable samurai guitarist Miyavi will take the stage at Budapest’s Barba Negra Music Club. The unique artist will be presenting the electrifying new tracks from his latest album THE OTHERS live. Before the start of the tour, we had a chance to talk with Miyavi about his new music, his ever-changing style and other recent activities.
You’re one of the few Japanese musicians known worldwide who also performs a lot outside of Japan. What does this all mean to you, as a person?
It means a lot to me, especially because of the fans who are really supportive. As for me, I’m always experimenting, improving and changing my style, but my fans are always there and they are really dear to me. It’s beyond a typical artist-fan relationship, because I try to be more like a real human being and show them all these new musical horizons. I think that’s my responsibility, and I’m really excited about that.
It is clear that one of your goals is constant change. We could see you throughout the years performing in Europe, and it’s always a unique experience. What have you prepared for your new tour, how will it be different than last time?
The main theme is more unity. When I made the album WHAT’S MY NAME? I was more into my own style, how I play the guitar. But recently I’ve been more interested in the relationship of how we can bond: between artist and fans, me and my audience. To be one. Especially if you consider that I’m Japanese so I live in a different country, but I play music to make others feel something, to share a moment together. It’s really special, and I want to keep creating such moments more and more, and make them stronger.
With my latest album THE OTHERS I just tried to make the melodies really pop, so that people can sing along more. I realized that it’s important to simplify the melody. Actually, it’s easier to make a melody complicated. To make it simple is a lot harder.
Speaking of your new album, it has a very distinct sound that’s a bit more organic than your previous self-titled release. Did you do anything differently this time while recording?
This time I changed guitars and started playing the Telecaster. It’s an electric guitar, unlike the semi-acoustic or acoustic-electric instruments I was playing before. For a while I was trying to avoid playing a typical electric guitar because I didn’t want to have a typical guitar sound. Now I realized that as long as I have my own style and my core identity, it doesn’t matter what kind of instrument it is. So in the end I picked the Telecaster. It has more bite to it.
The closing track of THE OTHERS is a cover version of a song by the Japanese electronic group Denki Groove. Why did you pick this track in particular?
The track itself was really popular in Japan a while ago. Also, I have great respect for the artist. Their stance and attitude is really cool. Even though they’re based in Tokyo, what they’re doing is global. It isn’t restricted by categories and it looks beyond the domestic labels. That is why I really respect them and why I chose that track.
Can we expect other cover songs or maybe collaborations from you in the future? For example, we could see you in a recent Instagram selfie with F.K.A. twigs where you mentioned you liked her music, so maybe that’s a good foundation for a possible collaboration?
Yeah, I’d love to collaborate with her sometime. She’s really sweet, artistic and innovative. I think I might do more collaborations with other vocalists/artists in the future, because that way I can spread the possibility of creation.
You’ve always had a very unique appearance and musical attitude. Who are your biggest inspirations?
It’s really hard to choose, because there are many young artists from over the world, from London to New York and beyond. There are really great singers. I currently enjoy artists like F.K.A. twigs or The Weeknd for example. There’s a whole new generation, and I really respect their attitude towards creation. It’s not only pop but also artistic, experimental, and innovative.
You’re quite innovative yourself with your signature guitar-slap technique. How did you develop that style?
There are tons of great players around the world, so as a Japanese person I wanted to have some sort of recognizable style, something Japanese. If I played typical Western rock, people probably wouldn’t listen to it, there would be no reason for them to do so. So I got an idea from shamisen, which is a kind of traditional Japanese guitar that is often featured in traditional Japanese plays like Kabuki and Noh. Playing the shamisen is not about the groove or the rhythm, but more about the moment and passion of just hitting the strings. That impact is everything. I thought it would be cool if I could mix that kind of feeling and attitude into the realms of modern Western culture, such as rock, jazz, funk or dance.
Much like your music, you as a creative person have also entered Western culture. It seems like you’re taking part more and more in cinema, evidenced by your role in the movie Unbroken, for instance. Was this a one-time-only occasion or would you like to take part in other movies in the future?
Yes, of course, I’d love to do more movies. That was a great experience that I also learnt many things from. I’d definitely be interested, but it depends on the role. In general, I always want to try more. I’ve been doing music, acting, fashion, whatever I can do as an art, as a form of creation. It’s all expression, and there’s nothing to restrict my passion towards it.
You’ve also been active in cinema on the musical spectrum. You recently rearranged and covered the classic Mission: Impossible theme for the Japanese release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. How did you get this opportunity?
When I was in Los Angeles, I met some people from Paramount Pictures and I got an offer from them. You know, especially with such an iconic theme it was kind of a mission for me too. The idea of mixing the classical feeling of the original theme with the modern beats of our generation came up right away when I got the offer. And this time I was able to work with my friend Mike Einziger from the band Incubus. I also had violinist Ann Marie Calhoun there, because to record the orchestration I needed somebody who knows how to do it. We worked at Hans Zimmer’s studio and that was quite a great experience, since Hans Zimmer is a part of the history of movie music, the history of human culture. It was a great vibe there, a truly special moment.
You’ve played gigs in Budapest numerous times now. Do you ever have a chance to go for a bit of sightseeing?
I don’t know, it always depends on the schedule, but I would love to. In general, it’s good to explore, especially in places where I’ve never been to. Europe and Hungary has so many beautiful places. You know, I can feel the history, the past and all that people created and achieved. So I really want to go and look around.
Lastly, what is your message to your fans in Hungary?
First of all, I really appreciate your fantastic support. I’m so happy to be back there. It’s not easy to make it all happen, but thanks to the people who are involved with the tour, the booking, and of course the fans who come to my shows, we can make it happen. I’m kind of feeling that this is the last tour for a while, because I’m thinking of focusing more on creation after this is over. I came to Europe last year, and now I’m coming this year too, so it’s quite a lot. For me, however, every single show is precious. I’ll try to do everything that I can and just enjoy myself. In the end, if you look at it, there are many serious issues in the world right now, you can see it in the news, but I still believe in the power of music and the positive ways it affects us. And we should appreciate that we can play music, we can enjoy music. Without peace we can’t do that. So it’s something I really appreciate, just enjoying the night and spending it with my audience.
Thank you to Miyavi for taking the time to talk with us, and to the kind staff at Wrasse Records and Deacon Communications for making this interview happen. Don’t forget, you can catch Miyavi in Budapest on October 9, at Barba Negra Music Club!
Main photo at the beginning of the article was taken by Yusuke Okada.