Interview with Shin from HeavensDust
HeavensDust frontman Shin tells us about his new solo project, his new EP and the impact of COVID on musicians in Japan.
Shin, the frontman of 'wagakki metal' band HeavensDust, started his solo career during the COVID-19 pandemic. JaME sat down with Shin on Zoom to discuss how the solo project got started, his new EP, and how the pandemic has affected him and other musicians in Japan.
Last time we spoke, in 2013, it was with HeavensDust. Since it’s our first conversation with you alone, can you tell us a little about how your solo project came about?
Shin: What happened was that about two years ago, our drummer KoREDS★ got cancer. He's doing fine right now but he had to go through a lot of treatment and everything. After that, he was hospitalized, and a few months after that, the COVID thing happened. So HeavensDust had to stop for a while, and we didn't know for how long this whole thing would go on for. I kept writing songs, but I couldn't see the other members, so I thought I could just release them as my solo project.
Compared to being in a band, what did you find felt different about being a solo artist?
Shin: I used to like hip-hop a lot, but HeavensDust is more about metal and rock so I was wanting to try out some of those hip-hop beats, so that’s different. I miss my bandmates, of course, but I also love writing music in another direction, so it's kind of fun.
Now that you've found another creative outlet, do you think it's going to influence your future work with the band?
Shin: Right before KoREDS★ got cancer, I got kind of tired of just screaming and shouting with HeavensDust, but after doing my solo work, I want to go back to that heavy metal music again (laughs). Music always evolves, and how I think and the music I listen to has changed a lot since I was a kid, so it’s always going to evolve.
How has COVID influenced the music scene in Japan as a whole, and yourself in particular?
Shin: In regards to the music scene in Japan, I guess it's kind of similar to the States and Europe and everywhere. We stopped playing live shows, and became more online. The musicians around me couldn't make money anymore and had to change jobs and everything, so that was really tough. I heard that Machine Gun Kelly did a show with a fully-packed stadium or something, so hopefully this COVID thing goes away soon.
As for me, it's kind of given me a new career, so that was kind of a good thing. I never tried making this kind of music before so it gave me a new feeling. So that was good. Other than that, the COVID thing was really tough for me and everyone else, but I tried to survive and keep going with my music.
We saw that you did an Instagram live event the other day. How was that?
Shin: Yeah, it was great. It's nice to see our fans. We can't meet in person or at shows, but you could tell that the fans really liked the music. It's not really a live show, but we performed live on a livestream. It was really fun. You don't really get to jam in the studio right now. It was also really fun jamming with KoREDS★.
Some bands have been doing gigs in venues without an audience. Have you thought about doing something similar, either solo or with HeavensDust?
Shin: I thought about doing it as a band, but taking KoREDS★ somewhere like Shinjuku is risky for him, so that wasn't really much in my head. As for my solo project, maybe this year or next year. I might put together a band and do a solo show, maybe.
COVID in Japan is tough but it's had some positive influences, like the acceptance of remote working and the shift away from having to get official documents stamped. Have any innovations come out of this situation in the music scene?
Shin: Yeah, like all the meetings are on Zoom, so things get done much faster, I guess. Before you had to go to one place, and after that, you have another meeting in that place, but now you can do more meetings with Zoom so that's much better. And yeah, I guess the stamping thing. I don't know if you have that in the States or Europe, but in Japan, we had to stamp everything. It's good that it went away.
Your solo EP Behind My Smile is coming out on June 2nd. Could you tell us a bit about what kind of record it will be?
Shin: It's kind of sad. It has a lot of sad songs but at the end, there's a positive message to the EP. The music itself is about the tough times I went through during the COVID situation, like business-wise, my personal life and everything. People told me that they saw my Instagram and said: "Damn, you live a happy life right now, you have a cute little baby, you're still doing your music."
But posting on social media is like a whole different thing. I try to post positive pictures or positive messages, but that's not the whole of my life. Of course, that's also related to other people. When you meet someone you smile and people tell you look happy, but everyone's struggling and fighting through their own lives, and that's what the message was all about for the EP.
If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger, so pain will ease with time. With this COVID thing, I know everyone's really struggling around the world but this pain will ease with time. That’s not just related to COVID. If you’re alive, all your pain will ease some day.
Uncommon Enemy is a collaboration with Lenne Hardt, the voice of MMA in Japan. That’s quite an interesting collaboration. Can you tell us a bit about how it came about?
Shin: We did a show for a charity event Lenne organized for 311, when the earthquake hit Japan. I don't know how she found me, but she messaged me and said that she loved our songs and wanted us to play at her event. I think that's how it started. We did a show together. Everyone knows her for her raspy, screaming voice, but she's an amazing singer.
She did a jazz song at that event and she just blew my mind, her voice is really strong. She wrote a lot of lyrics and she told me that if I wanted to do a collaboration, she was willing to do it so that's how it came about. Lenne wrote all the lyrics and I wrote all of the music.
How did the collaboration and recording work in this COVID era?
Shin: We actually did the recording at my house. She came, and I recorded, it was only me and her. And as for the songs, we just did it with email, sending data.
Your first track Scars Behind My Smile is an instrumental, and though The Pain Will Ease isn't instrumental, its lyrics are very minimal. Was that a deliberate choice, putting so much emphasis on instrumentals?
Shin: I like instrumental music. I've always loved making instrumental music. So, even for HeavensDust, when it's a full album, I would always write instrumentals as well.
Your lyrics are always in English and when we last spoke, you said because you grew up in an English-speaking environment, it was easier for you to express yourself in English. It’s now eight years later and you’re stuck in Japan with the closed borders. Do you feel like trying out writing in Japanese?
Shin: Yeah. I've gotta try it, I haven’t done it so far. (laughs) My English sucks right now, and my Japanese isn’t really good either. But I've gotta try it, it’s going to be a big challenge. (laughs)
You haven’t played a single show since the beginning of lockdown. Do you have any plans to in the foreseeable future? Anything overseas would be in the more distant future, right?
Shin: For Japan, hopefully by end of this year or maybe the beginning of next year for Japan. I would love to play overseas. I heard that they were welcoming Japanese people to Hawaii, but after COVID got worse, they stopped. Right now in Japan, the COVID situation is getting worse, so we'll see how it goes.
Are there any other future plans you can tell us about?
Shin: In the middle of May, we're going to shoot a music video for Uncommon Enemy with Lenne, and that’s going to be released in June. Right now, I’m making a collaboration with a Grammy-nominated artist. He’s an American guy. That's going to be pretty good.
Lastly, do you have a message for your overseas fans?
Shin: We're kind of surviving right now, so I really hope everyone keeps their hopes up and knows that this pain will ease someday. It's really tough right now and I also had some really tough times last year. So, I really hope everyone hangs in there. Don’t forget to have hope.
JaME would like to thank Shin for his time.
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