The Metal Crypt on Facebook  The Metal Crypt's YouTube Channel

Interviews Sigh

Interview with Mirai Kawashima

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: April 6, 2024


Sigh, formed in 1990, is one of the best known metal bands from Japan and probably the best known Japanese extreme metal band. They have released 12 studio albums and played several tours around the world during 34 years of existence. In the very early days, their roots were deeply in pure black metal, but over time they have taken many traditional Japanese music influences into the music which makes Sigh a very unique and original sounding band these days. In fact, there's no other band that sounds like Sigh and their twelfth studio album, Shiki, strengthens that fact even more.

On March 26, 2024, this legendary Japanese band arrived in Finland to play four shows with Finnish band Vermilia to support them for the first two dates and Turmion Kätilöt for the remaining two dates. The Metal Crypt managed to sneak in backstage and sit down with band frontman Mirai Kawashima for a short moment, who shared some interesting details from his early career up to the current times and what's in store for Sigh in the future.

Warm welcome to Finland, Mirai! As far as my calculations are concerned, this is your third time playing in Finland, right?

Mirai: Yes, it's been 11 years since the last time we played here. I thought we played a few years ago, but time flies, and I'm surprised it's been more than 10 years. As you said, we've been here twice. Personally, I came here on a business trip. This is the fourth time, personally, but as Sigh, this is the third time that we've played in Finland, I guess.

What expectations do you have regarding the Finnish crowd, your shows here in Finland, etc.? Sigh has a steady fanbase in our country according to the fact this show here in Helsinki is completely sold out.

Mirai: Oh, yes, because I know Finland is one of the biggest heavy metal countries, so it is great that we were able to sell out the capital of this heavy metal country. I'm sure they all must be very dedicated heavy metal fans. Actually, my expectations are huge!

You will play four shows here in Finland, and Finnish bands Vermilia and Turmion Kätilöt will work as supports acts. What do you know about those two bands?

Mirai: Because I work for a record label, I wrote the liner notes for Turmion Kätilöt's latest album.

Then, as for Vermilia, I just saw their soundcheck and the vocalist has a very, very strong voice. Really, I'm looking forward to seeing them, too.

3O YEARS OF EASTERN DARKNESS

In the fall of 2023, you did this "30 Years of Eastern Darkness" tour around Europe. Would you say it was by far the best tour that you have done in your career thus far?

Mirai: It was a great tour for us all in all, definitely. Probably not the best tour that we've done over the years, but it was definitely one of the best tours for us because some of the shows were sold out, and we played some festivals, too. We played two shows at the Damnation Festival in Manchester, England. One of the shows we played the Scorn Defeat album in its entirety on the second day, and it was the best of show for us. The reactions from the audience were outstanding. Usually, a tour has its ups and downs: some good moments, and then some bad experiences. That tour was definitely the best we have ever done. I was not sure how the turnout would be for all of these shows on that tour, but it was much better than we thought.

For the shows here in Finland, did you build up a special set list for all of your Finnish fans based on feedback from them, via social media channels?

Mirai: Actually, when we tour, we try to cover our whole career, because we have more than 30 years in the business. We try to play songs from the first album, Scorn Defeat, to the latest album, Shiki. We are going to play "Bring Back the Dead" from the Imaginary Sonicscape album, which we haven't played for more than 10 years now. That's going to be the highlight of this tour, I guess.

As you have recorded 12 studio albums so far, does that make it hard to pick the songs for the setlist, knowing that some fans may like this or that song a little bit better than some others?

Mirai: Yes, because it depends on when and where we play. For a tour like this, we try to play everything, from the black metal era to the latest one. When we play at black metal festivals, we try to play as much early stuff as possible. If we play at proggy festivals, we try to play the stuff from Imaginary Sonicscape as much as possible, so yes, it depends. Now it's very easy to play everything with our new members. They can play anything from any albums. In the past, some members complained, "I don't want to play this, I can't play that." We don't have those kinds of complaints now. We can play anything we want, and we can play anything the fans want to hear. It's very easy. Even if we play the stuff from the first album and the latest one back-to-back, I think it flows very well.

REMEMBERING YOUR ROOTS

Your latest album, titled Shiki, came out on Peaceville Records in August 2022, and has Japanese song titles. I think you've been asked this before, but why did you choose to have the song titles written in your native language for this album?

Mirai: I wanted to express my naked, straightforward feeling about my fear of death, so I had to use my own language so that it could be as naked as possible. If I use English, I don't think I can make straightforward expressions. I had to use Japanese for that album because of the theme.

Is it important to talk about Japanese mythology and folklore through the music that you create, letting people know who you are, who your ancestors were, and so on?

Mirai: Yes, I feel that more and more these days. I want to try to be true to my heritage.

Over the 34 years since the band's inception, you have developed your musical, "avant-garde black metal style" if you will, that defines what Sigh is all about. Do you think it's always important, even crucial, to express who you are and follow your vision and path, without caring what's trendy, or fashionable in today's metal music scene?

Mirai: Yes, because, at first, I never thought about mixing Japanese culture with heavy metal as far as music goes. I never tried to sound Japanese, especially in the early days, but I'm Japanese, I speak Japanese, I think everything in Japanese. I grew up listening to a lot of Japanese music, so I don't think it's possible to get away from the influences from Japanese culture or Japanese music, even if it's spontaneous, even if it's not intentional. I'm quite sure everything I did is connected to Japanese culture, even if it was spontaneous or not intentional. As far as Shiki goes, of course, I tried to mix the Japanese music culture into heavy metal. That was a very aware, intentional move. Either way, it is deeply connected to the Japanese culture, for sure.

You really cannot hide your DNA and where you are from, right?

Mirai: That's true. It is very strange to me. Probably 90% or 95% of Japanese bands are trying to sound like Western bands. They make a huge effort just to sound like somebody else. It's strange. If you express yourself, it has to be something different because you are a different person from anybody else. I admire that so many people can make such a huge effort to sound unoriginal. It's a big mystery to me, honestly.

Sigh's sound is very original and unique these days in my sincere opinion. Is this something that you always want to pay attention to, i.e., keeping your sound as original as possible?

Mirai: Yes, but I never try to be original. Originality in our music comes naturally, so we don't have to fake anything.

You just do what feels right in your soul and heart...

Mirai: Yes, I think that is a very natural thing. I don't want to make a huge effort to sound like somebody else at all, so I just do what I want.

MARKETING STRATEGIES

What do you think of branding or labeling that people tend to do in the music business and how bands are put under certain musical categories? Do you think that sometimes putting a band into a certain musician box may limit the musician's creativity?

Mirai: That's their marketing plan, I guess. People may say, "This band sounds like Metallica." It's easier for them to market because Metallica fans will buy the album. If this band sounds like nothing, well, how do you market it? It's very hard to imagine if the band sounds like nobody else. It's very hard for the label to promote it, and to market it. It's their natural choice. It's easier for them to say, "Hey, they sound like Metallica, they sound like Iron Maiden." It's much easier as far as the business goes.

As the cliché from Black Sabbath goes, you don't sell your soul for rock 'n' roll; you should always do your own thing straight from the heart and not because something's popular or trendy, right?

Mirai: Yes, indeed. Usually, you have to do what you want, but the labels have to pay for the band. It's a bit difficult in business or in art.

If you look back a little bit on the history of Sigh, what are some of the high points?

Mirai: Uh, I don't know. My personal highlight was probably meeting Cronos from Venom. That was the highlight for me here in Finland. Venom was the reason I started my own band and I never thought I would be able to meet Cronos in person. Also, I did a Venom cover band with Mantas on guitar. Yes, that was one of the highlights, too. Those things were great for me.

REMEMBERING EURONYMOUS

The band's debut album, Scorn Defeat, was released on Euronymous' legendary underground label Deathlike Silence Productions in 1993. I am curious to know what Euronymous was like back in the days when you were in touch with him through the letter-writing scene because back in those days, there was no Internet. Can you remember if he was a nice and understanding bloke to work with?

Mirai: I remember Euronymous was a very, very creative and interesting person, for sure. I preferred to talk with him on the phone. It was easier, because sending a letter took like a month to get a reply. I preferred to call him, calling his record store's number. I remember my mother was always complaining about the phone bill. It cost a lot. Now you can do everything for free on the Internet, but back then you had to pay a big bill to make an international call.

I used to call Euronymous once a month or something like that. He always had a new idea about his record label. He talked about a lot of black metal things. Once I called him and he said, "Don't talk about the black metal inner circle because ICP or Interpol might be bugging our phone." Of course, I didn't believe back then that Interpol would truly listen to our phone conversations. I didn't believe it then, but that might have been the case, looking back.

What do you remember from the early '90s when the only way to correspond with like-minded musicians was through letters?

Mirai: That was very exciting. We were dreaming back then, you know? Now you can listen to anything. Now you can watch any live concert from any band from all over the world. Some of those dreams were lost because in the '90s, it wasn't easy to watch live concerts from some death metal band, or underground black metal from Europe. The only thing you could do was imagine how they would look on the stage. It was very inconvenient, but I still miss those moments of dreaming.

Every day I looked forward to the postman coming because I used to trade tapes a lot. Yes, it was an exciting time. It's very hard for today's kids to imagine what it was like, but it was a fun time, for sure.

Let's jump back into current times for the last couple of questions. What kind of plans have you made for the later part of 2024? Will you focus on playing live as much as you can, or do you have plans to start composing new material for the band's next studio album?

Mirai: Actually, I can't say much about it, but right now we are recording some new stuff. It's new stuff, but not new stuff at the same time. Probably some announcement will be made in the very near future. Now we are going through the recording process. Then we are going to do some European dates for summer. Then after that maybe we'll start to make a real new album.

JAPANESE METAL MUSIC CULTURE NOW AND THEN

How do you see Sigh's place as a part of the Japanese metal music culture? Do Japanese metal fans give Sigh enough credit for all that you've done over the years to make the Japanese metal scene better known around the world?

Mirai: I don't know because the Japanese metal scene is very, very small, actually.

Oh, really?

Mirai: Yes. Of course, melodic black metal bands or melodic power metal bands are very, very huge like Helloween and Arch Enemy and bands like that. As far as extreme metal goes, it's just very small. Even if Cradle of Filth come to Japan, they have to play for maybe 300 or 400 people, so the crowds are very small for that type of extreme metal. You may think in Japan is a heavy metal heaven like Finland, but it's totally different. Heavy metal belongs to very, very small minorities in Japan these days.

As far as my understanding about Japanese metal fans and culture is concerned, it seems that they prefer more melodic styles like power metal, symphonic black metal, etc. Has this changed over the years?

Mirai: It never changes. For most of the heavy metal fans in Japan, heavy metal is the culture from the west, so they prefer to support the bands from the US or a band from Europe because it's the Western culture.

So, they kind of admire and plagiarize Western culture when it comes to metal music?

Mirai: Yes. Well, I understand them. It's true. It's the Western culture. It's not the Eastern culture, it's not the Japanese culture, so they prefer to listen to the bands from Europe or from the US. Of course, some fans do support our domestic bands, but there are not many of them here in Japan.

Somehow, gothic metal is less popular in Japan. I don't know. The Japanese fans prefer the fast melodic stuff like DragonForce, Helloween, Blind Guardian, Arch Enemy, and stuff like that. Those bands are very popular among metal fans in our country.

Well, that was all I had in mind for this pleasant conversation with you, Mirai, so thank you for your time and I wish you all the best with all of your dates here in Finland.

Mirai: Thank you very much.

Other information about Sigh on this site
Review: Imaginary Sonicscape
Review: Scorn Defeat
Review: Hangman's Hymn
Review: In Somniphobia
Review: In Somniphobia




The Metal Crypt - Crushing Posers Since 1999
Copyright  © 1999-2024, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt.  All Rights Reserved.