Interview Exclusive

Interview with Mirai Kawashima from Sigh

24/08/2022 2022-08-24 02:00:00 JaME Author: Ruchesko

Interview with Mirai Kawashima from Sigh

Sigh frontman and keyboardist Mirai Kawashima tells JaME how a fear of death and a medieval Japanese poem fueled the black metal band's forthcoming new album "Shiki".

© Sigh. All rights reserved.
Everyone faces their fears in their own way. Mirai Kawashima decided to write an album about his. In a characteristically forthright interview, the frontman and keyboardist of unorthodox black metal band Sigh told JaME how thanatophobia and a medieval poem by a like-minded writer helped to inspire the group’s twelfth full-length album, Shiki.

Shiki is the first Sigh album with an exclusively Japanese title, and your first release since Ghastly Funeral Theatre/Soshiki Gekijo to have songs with exclusively Japanese titles. Why did you decide to do this now?

Mirai Kawashima: I will explain it later, but the album's theme is my personal fears of aging and death. I wanted to express my feelings as honestly and straightforwardly as possible, and I needed to use my own language to achieve that. As for Ghastly Funeral Theatre, it was actually planned as a split album with Abigail at the very beginning, and we were talking about making it a very Japanese album by two bands that represent the Japanese black metal scene. Unfortunately, however, Abigail’s label back then didn't give the green light and it ended up being our own mini-album. That’s why the titles on it are in Japanese.

Shiki has a long list of possible translations. Was this ambiguity partly why you chose that title?

Mirai Kawashima: Yes, that was very important. Shiki can mean 'time to die', 'four seasons', 'colors', 'ceremony', 'morale', 'death ghoul', 'conducting an orchestra', etc. The first two are the main themes of the album, but all of these are more or less connected with what we’re doing. So I thought it’d be the perfect title for the album.

"Four seasons" and "time to die" were the meanings of Shiki highlighted in the write-up about the album. How have you tried to express these themes musically?

Mirai Kawashima: Now I am 52 and now death is a real threat. Unfortunately, some of my friends started dying and I just lost my dad last month. Of course, Sigh has been dealing with death from the very beginning, but to be honest, it felt like something fictional to me when I was 20 or 30. I knew I’d have to die some day, but still it was like a fantasy. But now it’s not. It’s a harsh reality I have to face sometime soon. This time, I wanted to express these fears as honestly and straightforwardly as possible.

And no, I didn’t have to try hard at all. Seriously, I was full of a fear of death when I wrote those songs, so they all came out very naturally. The album is very heavy and dark both musically and lyrically because that was exactly how I felt. To me, making an album was always like writing a story or making a movie, meaning it was rather fictional. But this time, it’s completely different. It’s my monologue and all I had to do was just to let out my own fear.

The press release mentions Shiki's concept and artwork were inspired by a traditional Japanese poem. Can you tell us about this poem?

Mirai Kawashima: It is one of the poems in 'Hyakunin-Isshu', which is a compilation of poems from around 800–900 years ago. The one that inspired me describes the scene where an old man watches the cherry blossoms blown off by the strong spring storm. He identifies with the petals in the wind, as he's senile and will die very soon himself. The cherry blossoms are very beautiful, but they're also a symbol of fragility to the Japanese people as they’re usually gone in four or five days. And when you’re old, watching the cherry blossoms, you tend to think how many more times in your life you'll get see this. I was amazed to see that somebody from 800–900 years ago felt exactly the same way as we do now. Science has drastically evolved in that time. We have the Internet, cellphones and so on, but still, we have to have a fear of death. It hasn’t changed at all.

Who was responsible for Shiki's artwork?

Mirai Kawashima: Obviously, the artwork is the visualization of the poem. The artwork was done by a guy named Christopher Catterall. I explained the details of the poem, and he did a great job. It perfectly describes the scene. And it’s beautiful and eerie at the same time. The perfect artwork for an album like Shiki.

Did you learn any new instruments or singing techniques for this album?

Mirai Kawashima: Yes, I practiced shakuhachi a lot. It’s a traditional Japanese instrument, and basically if you play flute, you can play shakuhachi, too. I’ve been into playing it for a few years and I finally used it a lot on Shiki. Also, I used some Asian singing technique for the first time, which you can hear in the middle of Fuyu ga kuru. It’s a quick exchange of a chest voice and a falsetto and it’s used in the traditional music in Iran, Japan, India and other countries.

Many fans were surprised to read Frédéric Leclercq and Mike Heller helped record Shiki in place of You Oshima and Junichi Harashima. How did they become involved?

Mirai Kawashima: I started writing the songs for this album in early 2020 and it was also the beginning of the pandemic. I didn’t think we’d be able to gather around to rehearse and record the album, so I asked Mike Hellerto play for us as I knew he had his own studio and could record everything at his place. Also, I'm now 52 and I'm not sure how many more albums I'll be able make in my life, so honestly, I must admit that I wanted to work with musicians with no technical limitations. I was pretty frustrated with this problem in the past, so I wanted to be free from that.

And actually You Oshima was supposed to record his guitar parts once Mike finished up his recording, but he started acting weirdly. He was extremely slow in answering emails and the files he sent me were really bad, so unfortunately, I had to fire him during the recording. I've known Fred for a long time as he often comes down to Japan and we hang out together whenever he’s here. Of course, he's a great guitarist, so he was the obvious choice when I found out You wasn't up to it. Thanks to both Mike and Fred, Shiki turned out to be a really great album. Also, I must mention that Junichi is still in the band, but You is not.

Shiki is notably heavy on solos. Do you compose these in advance, or are they improvised in the studio?

Mirai Kawashima: You should ask Fred about the guitar solos as I left it all up to him. But as far as my parts go, I prefer to improvise for Hammond solos. On the other hand, flute and shakuhachi solos were written beforehand. I can do improvisations for keyboards because I am a pianist, but for flutes and such, I'm not that good to be honest.

The Japanese release of Shiki will include the customary bonus tracks. How were these chosen?

Mirai Kawashima: Indeed, it will include the alternative version of Mayonaka no kaii, which has slightly different vocals, and the remix of Geshi no ato by David Harrow. David's worked with Psychic TV, Jah Wobble and artists like that. I’m a huge fan of the album Tantric Step he did under his Technova moniker and he did some remixes for Sigh in the past. I just found out recently that Helloween’s Walls of Jericho was done by him. He used to work at the studio where Helloween recorded it, and he was asked to program that intro. I didn’t know that he had had a connection with metal other than us!

Do you have any plans to tour overseas or domestically in the near future?

Mirai Kawashima: Yes, Sigh played at Brutal Assault in Czechia last week (August 10th) and in September, we're going to Mexico for the first time. We’re discussing the possible European dates for the rest of this year, so hopefully we can announce it sometime soon. Right now, the situation is really unstable with COVID and the war, and the airfares are insanely high, but we will find a way to make it happen.

Fans have been interpreting Shiki's title as a guarantee there'll be at least three more Sigh albums in the future. Is this the start of a new S-I-G-H cycle?

Mirai Kawashima: To be honest, I cannot say anything. Personally, I’ve never taken it as a cycle. Lately, I feel completely empty when an album is done. Shiki was completed in November of 2021, so it’s been nine months since then, but still I don’t have any plans or ideas for a next album. When I was 20-30, whenever an album was done, I wasn’t 100% satisfied with it and I was already full of new ideas for the next. Now, I'm completely satisfied with how Shiki has turned out and I don’t see any points that could've been better. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. I just don’t have any drive to start work on new material right now.

Finally, do you have a message for JaME's readers?

Mirai Kawashima: When I started Sigh, I never thought I’d be still in a band when I was 30 because back then, even Slayer and Venom were in their 20s. It wasn’t easy to picture an extreme metal band older than 30. But now I am 52 and have been wondering what the point is in making an extreme metal album when you’re 50. Thrash metal was born as music for young people. So what can you do when you’re 50? Shiki may be an answer to my own question. This is an album which only the 50 year-old me can make. I don’t think I could have made this album when I was 20, 30 or even 40.

JaME would like to thank Mirai Kawashima, Sigh and For The Lost for this interview opportunity.

Shiki is available for pre-order now on CD, vinyl and digital platforms here via Peaceville Records. The music video for SATSUI, one of the songs featured on the release, can be viewed below.

 Pre-order "Shiki" from Peaceville Records  Read our review of "Shiki"

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