MIYAVI is a samurai guitarist, conquering the world for Japan with the only weapon he knows how to use: his guitar. But this visual kei idol turned CEO of a management company hasn’t always been his own feudal lord. Starting out in the short-lived band Due le Quartz, MIYAVI had to go through being just another struggling guitarist to a guitar ronin before he could set his sights on ruling Japan and lands overseas.
Before he launches his North American Circuit tour, MIYAVI made some time for an in-depth chat with purple SKY about the beginnings, music, business, and future of this fierce musical warrior.
pSKY: You just got back from Kyoto, right?
MIYAVI: Yeah yeah.
pSKY: You’re in the middle of your Japan tour. So how is that going so far?
MIYAVI: Everything’s going well. It’s been a while since I had a Japan tour like this. And actually, I’m feeling kind of different from the usual tour. I think in part because the environment and I have changed. You know, I just made my company and became independent. I have my family now. I have a daughter. So it feels kind of different from before when I had my usual tour. During this tour, I have a new style: only a drummer, keyboard player, and me on stage. So it feels brand new.
pSKY: Before you used to do all-out rock. The whole thing with rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums. A very traditional set. So why did you decide to take all of that away and do something new?
MIYAVI: It’s not that I just took it away. I’m just trying to be an original artist. This is one of the options. One of…
pSKY: One of many options?
MIYAVI: Not so many, but I tried to make an original style with beat boxers, Kavki Boiz. It was a good tour, but after that I realized that I should have made a more original style as a guitarist. So now there are only drums and keyboard. And mainly I only play with drums. Two players. Including me there are just two people on stage. So everything is going well. Even the audience in Japan. In my opinion Japanese fans are kind of quiet, quieter than fans overseas. But on this tour they’re so enthusiastic, because I’ve been playing some old songs with a new style.
pSKY: Do you think with your new style you’re gaining a different kind of fan? Maybe some artsy people or people who like that independent style? Maybe before you had those visual kei kinds of fans…
MIYAVI: I’m still visual kei.
pSKY: Yeah, but now you have visual kei fans and different fans.
MIYAVI: Yeah, of course I’m trying to make new fans. Even the people who don’t know what visual kei is, what MIYAVI is, it doesn’t matter. I want to reach out to the people who don’t know about me through my music. As a musician, it’s the most important thing to feel happy and to reach out to people who don’t know about me.
pSKY: How were you introduced to music? What is your first memory of music? Well, maybe not your first memory, but the first time you said that you wanted to do music.
MIYAVI: Actually, it didn’t all start with music. I wanted to be a professional soccer player. I quit because of an injury. I got injured, so I had to quit. So there was nothing to do. I was just doing some stupid stuff, like stealing something or whatever. I was fourteen or fifteen years old. But I found a way to play an instrument. I was having a conversation with my friends. I thought it was cool to be able to play some instruments. So I started playing guitar. That’s it. There’s no memorable moment. It was just natural. I just played the guitar. But I didn’t expect that I would be into playing the guitar so much. But I’m still playing, so that means I’m addicted.
pSKY: If you as a teenager had known you would be MIYAVI in the future, what would you have thought back then?
MIYAVI: Actually, I could imagine that I would be playing on stage when I first played guitar. I just touched the guitar and was like, “Ok.” I closed my eyes and I could imagine I was playing on stage.
pSKY: Do you remember what kind of guitar it was?
MIYAVI: Just a normal electric guitar I found in a store.
pSKY: It wasn’t a Gibson or something?
MIYAVI: No, cheaper. I just bought it by myself. It was so cheap. Nothing special. I really remember that moment.
pSKY: Now looking back to when you first joined a band, how do you think of yourself back then? For example when you were in Due le Quartz.
MIYAVI: I was young. Too young. I didn’t make the right decisions.
pSKY: What do you mean?
MIYAVI: I didn’t have knowledge or experiences. So I just did what I wanted to do without any consideration of the consequences. I was just doing what I wanted to do, instinctively. I didn’t have any concern. I just did it. I just joined the band because I wanted to play the guitar on stage. They were so nice. The rest of the members were so nice, so I decided to join them and play. It was when I was 17 years old when I came to Tokyo from Osaka. My friend had just died. A very good friend. He just died accidentally. I really respected him. We were hanging out a lot, but he was gone all of a sudden. I was in shock. I just wanted to run away from the usual day-to-day. So I came to Tokyo. Sooner or later I was planning on coming to Tokyo. I was just chilling. Then I met the members of Due le Quartz.
pSKY: What was your life like when you first came to Tokyo? Were you just living off whatever you could?
MIYAVI: Yeah, I was just playing guitar. And I was just getting on the train without paying. Stealing something. Sleeping outside. There was nothing. I was just looking for someplace that I could settle down. And then I found the place in the last band I had.
pSKY: After you did the band and you went to your solo career, what was the transition like from band to solo?
MIYAVI: I had a hard time letting my people know about it. Even they were really shocked at the fact that the band was breaking up. I was not a singer. I was playing guitar. It was really hard to do the recording, the concert, or whatever. I was just really having a hard time as a solo artist. It was really my first time to do everything. I was really anxious and nervous about everything. But I had no time to hesitate. I had to just move forward. Also, there was a lot of staff around me. I just had to get going.
pSKY: Kind of like “you snooze, you lose”?
MIYAVI: Yeah. I had no time to snooze.
pSKY: Did you ever consider joining another band?
MIYAVI: Yeah, actually I thought I had some ideas and some friends, some musicians, who invited me. They told me, “Why not join us?” I didn’t. I don’t know.
pSKY: So you just had it in your head that you had to be solo?
MIYAVI: Yeah, I didn’t want to belong to anybody. Because I thought it was really sensitive. It was really hard to make a good team relationship. I know it’s really hard to find appropriate members and players. It was really hard and I didn’t want to rush myself. So then there were just two options: just do it by myself or just snooze.
pSKY: You couldn’t become a salary man.
MIYAVI: (laughs) I didn’t want to be a normal salary man, some company worker. But either way, I had my fanbase, so I wanted to just do something for them.
pSKY: When did you discover that you wanted to sing as well?
MIYAVI: I didn’t decide anything. I had to do it. It just happened. I didn’t want to sing at all. But there’s no way I couldn’t. I just started. I thought I had to get the ball rolling. Before doing anything, I thought I couldn’t sing, but I just started. Even now as a singer, a solo artist, I have to be original.
pSKY: I think your voice is very original. I’m not trying to kiss your ass or anything, but comparing how you sing to 90% of the visual kei artists who sing, you sing down here in your chest. They all sing up in their noses. Is that your natural voice or did you have to train your voice?
MIYAVI: I’m still training my voice. I’m trying to sing naturally from my body. I don’t want to force myself to sing some particular way. It’s kind of natural, but I don’t want to be an ordinary, normal artist. Especially visual kei artist. There are some artists who influenced me.
pSKY: For example?
MIYAVI: Like X JAPAN, LUNA SEA. They’re revolutionary. Even if I’m doing a totally different thing, I respect them.
pSKY: Yeah, their vocals and guitars are completely different. Especially with X Japan, they do a lot of that nasally, high-pitched vocals and that power metal. Have you ever tried to cover an X Japan song?
MIYAVI: I sometimes sing a song that’s called “Crucify My Love.” I love that song.
pSKY: Can you hit the high notes?
MIYAVI: Not really. I don’t even try.
pSKY: Sometimes I think only women can sing those songs. Anyway, around the time you went solo, you started doing acting and modeling. How did that happen? Were you approached or did you want to do it?
MIYAVI: There were some occasions and opportunities. That’s it. I didn’t do it on purpose. It was on accident.
pSKY: It was an accidental modeling. Did you enjoy modeling?
MIYAVI: Yeah. Even now, if I’m offered, I would do it. I like it,just being on stage. I think I like entertaining. That’s it. I want to surprise people. I want to see people with surprised faces. I think that’s all.
MIYAVI: Yeah, if there are some opportunities.
pSKY: To see you at New York Fashion Week! That would be cool. So we spoke a couple minutes ago about gaining some new fans. How do you think you’re received overseas by some of the people who are not familiar with visual kei?
MIYAVI: I think it’s great. Of course I really appreciate the people who support me whether they’re familiar with visual kei or not. You know, as an artist, I’m happy to be able to receive good reactions from people who don’t know about me. It’s really good. Is that a good answer?
pSKY: No, it’s a bad answer! I just saw a list of all the wonderful places you went. When you went to Europe, South America, and North America, did you get a chance to talk to some of the fans?
MIYAVI: Actually, no. On stage we had some conversations. The reason is because I want to reach out to the people who are not in the typical music scene. Absolutely, I’ve been influenced by visual kei, but over the years, it’s kind of restricting me. I feel too hot. I want to get out. I want to express myself more.
pSKY: How do you “get out”? Do you lock yourself in a room and just compose music?
MIYAVI: Just being categorized as a visual kei artist. That’s why I’m trying to make some music that can reach out to others.
pSKY: A lot of your fans, unfortunately, cannot buy your music…
MIYAVI: That’s why I changed to make a new infrastructure. To be able to sell more, deliver my music CDs, DVDs, whatever, to the world. That’s why I just changed my record label and my company.
pSKY: So you’re setting up posts in each country to sell?
MIYAVI: Little by little. It’s not an easy job, but that’s what I’m trying to do.
pSKY: Unfortunately, with the music scene today, many people are introduced to artists or they get the music from illegal downloads. What do you think about illegal downloading?
MIYAVI: Of course it’s not a good thing. But it’s this age. This generation. Whether it’s good or not, it’s this generation. We have to deal with it as an artist, as a record company. Even a writer or magazine. But a good thing is a good thing. We create good stuff. If it’s worth it to buy, people buy it. I believe it. Someday soon, I think audiences will understand that not buying the products effects the creation.
pSKY: I’ve heard that a lot of artists quit the industry because they can’t afford it.
MIYAVI: That means that the music industry is becoming normal.
pSKY: What do you mean?
MIYAVI: Normal meaning economical. There’s been just too much money in the record label or whatever. It’s just becoming normal, I think.
pSKY: That’s a really good point. I never thought of that. Artists, especially in the US, live in giant mansions and they have really expensive cars, but they keep saying, “Oh, I’m losing money. Please buy my record.” And fans are saying, “Why? Why should I?”
MIYAVI: Yeah, they earn too much. That’s it. It should be that the talented people will deserve that. But so many people are doing the same thing. The successful people just copy other bands. The people who earn money are just copying. So I hope that the industry will become normal. I want to make good quality stuff.
pSKY: You kind of came out right before the downloading thing became really popular. So you can tell first-hand what it’s like before and after as a young artist.
MIYAVI: I’ve experienced before this generation came, but I don’t think I’ve been living through this affluent generation. I’m just used to it. There are other ways to make a living appropriately. It’s been hard.
pSKY: But it’s like, how are people going to know you if they don’t download? But it seems you have a good plan.
MIYAVI: If they don’t use money for CDs, they’re going to use money for something else. That means the amount of money hasn’t changed. If music is more attractive than any food or clothes or whatever, I think it’s ok.
pSKY: I’ve known people who don’t pay their electric bills because they buy too many CDs and DVDs. Not me, but I know people like that. But let’s move on from that. In 2007 you played at an anime convention with S.K.I.N. First of all, how do you feel about Japanese artists playing at these anime conventions?
MIYAVI: It’s cool. But I just don’t want to be categorized with these things. Of course, I’m not in any position to blame or criticize other artists, right? I just want to be original. That’s what I’m trying to do. So just appearing in some anime convention is good. The fans love Japanese culture. So if there is some opportunity, I would do it again. It’s a good thing that people overseas love Japanese culture, whether it’s cool or not. So I’m also happy to be there.
pSKY: You don’t feel like you’re put into the category of “Japan is anime and miscellaneous.” You feel like you may be “miscellaneous”?
MIYAVI: Oh no. I’m miscellaneous. If I’m in the miscellaneous category, I’m cool. I’m just trying to be MIYAVI. So Japanese is anime, MIYAVI, and miscellaneous. It depends on my originality. It’s a good thing. It’s a fact. What’s representing Japan is anime, Akihabara, and otaku, and some visual kei. Not music. Not true music.
pSKY: What do you mean?
MIYAVI: Just the culture. It’s rare. It’s just something that is rare or singular. You can’t see Japanese anime or otaku overseas. Not so easily, right?
pSKY: Well, America has its own.
MIYAVI: Yeah, I know.
pSKY: It’s not what Japan considers music. It’s what America thinks Japanese music is?
MIYAVI: There is no original Japanese music. Just enka or shamisen or traditional Japanese instruments. But as a musician, I want to make some original Japanese music. It’s not a bad thing that Americans or people overseas like Japanese culture as just anime or whatever.
pSKY: But you seem to have a really Japanesque, modern Japan style to your music. You’ve had shamisen in your songs and I’ve seen pictures of you in kimono. Why did you decide to go that route?
MIYAVI: When I had the first world tour, I was really kind of shocked because everybody was talking about me as Japanese, Japanese, Japanese. That I represent Japanese artists when I go overseas. So I thought I should be more responsible. I’m a Japanese artist and original. So that’s why I just mix it up. Current casual clothes and Japanese traditional. That’s all.
pSKY: So you have the crazy hair and then the really beautiful kimono. Or you have the really intense drums and then shamisen. Or something like that. You’re combining what’s cool in Japan now and what’s traditional.
MIYAVI: Yeah, close. What’s cool in the world and what’s traditional in Japan.
pSKY: That’s really interesting. I’ve seen a lot of artists try to do that, but they don’t follow through.
MIYAVI: It’s a pretty hard thing. Before I just mixed it up with kimono and some street style and beat boxing. But now I just made my costume with a kimono texture on a suit. I like it.
pSKY: Does your image play into your music at all? Or the other way around? You say you’re visual.
MIYAVI: For now I’m just playing the music, strumming the guitar as a samurai guitarist. I’m going overseas with a guitar instead of a sword. You know, like a samurai. That’s my weapon. Also, the way the samurai lives, I really respect that idea. I use the word samurai and I wear the costume. A new style samurai. But it doesn’t relate to each song. I’m making my new album as a samurai guitarist, focusing on my guitar.
pSKY: That’s interesting you equate your guitar with a weapon. In the West, you know what people call their guitars? They call it an axe.
MIYAVI: Oh, really?
pSKY: So it’s kind of international to equate your guitar with a weapon.
MIYAVI: Yeah, it’s a sword.
pSKY: A sword is more elegant than an axe. Especially with those Norwegian metal bands. So, you appeared alongside SUGIZO, YOSHIKI, and GACKT for S.K.I.N. How were you approached to join the band? I remember you were the last one to join…
Check back on June 7 to read the second half of MIYAVI – Samurai Guitarist and CEO part 2 (June 7, 2010 publish date).
-NORTH AMERICA CIRCUIT-
2010/6/10 サンディエゴ/San Diego, House of Blues
2010/6/12 ロサンゼルス/Los Angeles, Club Nokia Live
2010/6/13 アナハイム/Anaheim,The Grove of Anaheim
2010/6/15 サンフランシスコ/San Francisco,The Fillmore
2010/6/17 バンクーバー/Vancouver,Commodore Ballroom
2010/6/18 シアトル /Seattle,Showbox
2010/6/19 ポートランド/Portland,Roseland Theater
2010/6/23 シカゴ/Chicago,House of Blues
2010/6/24 トロント/Toronto ,Sound Academy
2010/6/25 ボストン/Boston,Wilbur Theatre
2010/6/27 ニューヨーク/N.Y.,The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza
2010/6/29 ワシントン/Washington,9:30 Club
2010/7/03 ダラス/Dallas,House of Blues
2010/7/04 ヒューストン/Houston,House of Blues