Dir En Grey
By: Mike Mascia
When you think about heavy metal and hardcore, you don’t think of vocals that are easily understood. The beauty of music is its universality; no matter what language it speaks, it’s still powerful as long as you can feel it. Metal ignites passion in the feelings and thoughts that fuel our everyday lives.
This is exactly what Dir En Grey does. The Japanese band does not speak a word of English, but you would never know that from the attention its live shows have been receiving in the States. Having just finished the Family Values tour with Korn, Stone Sour and the Deftones—and now co-headlining a U.S. tour with the Deftones—Dir En Grey is bringing a new style of heavy that combines Japanese culture with good old-fashioned anger. With today's current over-saturation of generic metal, the sound of something fairly different sticks out like a sore thumb. This, combined with the common sound of old-school Korn and Deftones riffs, is what will make the ears of the genre's fans curious about this band.
In the group's hometown of Osaka, Japan, metal is not a usual musical choice for a band. When the group formed in 1997, pop dominated the market and venues for metal were hard to find, so Dir En Grey had to start from scratch—even more so than other bands usually do. The group expanded into China, Taiwan, South Korea and parts of Europe to gain a fan base, following a similar career path to international powerhouse Rammstein.
In concert, Dir En Grey surpasses its performance on CD. The band's live show is a dark and full thrashing all over the stage. Lead singer Kyo conjures flashbacks of GG Allin with his self-mutilation, shedding blood throughout the set list. It makes you wonder, Can this angry, bloody mess of international anger be our youth's next influence? Will young Americans scream Japanese while cutting themselves onstage? Probably not, but Dir En Grey is still pretty damn cool. In an e-mail interview with guitarist Kaoru, he let us in a bit on what makes his group tick.
Blistering: When researching your band's name we found a site that said Dir En Grey loosely translates to "into the grey." Is that the meaning? And if so, why did you choose this name?
Kaoru: We have never thought of the meaning of our band name as being “inside the grey.” At the time we chose the band name, it had some meaning but right now it doesn’t express the band anymore, so it has come to not mean anything specific. We chose the band name because it sounded right, and it also reflects an image that probably doesn’t exist elsewhere.
Blistering: Does your music have a theme?
Kaoru: We have expressed people’s emotions that exist deep inside people’s heart. Some people might think that our songs are all about violence, but if you are listening carefully you will find out that [our] songs also portray the delicate and weak side of people.
Blistering: Originally you guys were part of the visual kei movement in Japan. Would that be comparable to U.S. glam rock? What did the movement bring to the music scene?
Kaoru: When we were growing up around [the] late '80s and early '90s, visual kei was influenced by glam music. When visual kei became a huge hit, people started seeing it as a form of entertainment and not as being rock. The darker, more extreme image from before is lost, and now people see it as being a genre that appeals to teenage girls.
Blistering: How is the music scene in Japan? Is the popularity of metal and hard rock as big as it is in the States?
Kaoru: In Japan, metal or hard rock is not so popular. However, when metal festivals are held thousands of people will flock to the venue, so I guess that there are many core fans that like metal or hard rock from back in the day. There are many metal and hard rock bands in Japan but the Japanese media do not do coverage on these bands, making it impossible to gain information on these bands in the mainstream market. The bands that are covered by the media are usually those controlled by big industries.
Blistering: Is it hard to get a break? Are there a lot of venues to play?
Kaoru: There are many bands in Japan, and there are various venues with different capacities from really small clubs to extremely large halls. I think that it is difficult to capture an opportunity regardless of where you are.
Blistering: Your newest release, "The Marrow Of A Bone," has many diverse styles mixed into the heavy surface. Who are your biggest influences in music?
Kaoru: Each band member has his own influences but as Dir En Grey, we don’t have anyone in particular.
Blistering: How did you hook up with the Family Values tour?
Kaoru: During our showcase tour in March of 2006, one of the agents of Korn came to see our show. Later, we got an offer from Korn. We were really surprised, but it was a great privilege to be able to join the tour. I am very grateful to Korn and all the bands and crew members who were on the Family Value tour for giving us this opportunity.
Blistering: What would you say to those people who call Dir En Grey the wildcard of the tour, as Rammstein was the foreign band on an earlier Family Values tour?
Kaoru: That may be true. I heard that with us, it was the first time they actually asked a band they have never met before to join them on the tour.
Blistering: I can’t wait to see you tour with the Deftones. Did you build a relationship through Family Values to make this tour happen?
Kaoru: When we were on the Family Values tour, the members of Deftones did say, “Let’s tour together sometime!” to us, but we never imagined that it would actually happen!
Blistering: Kyo does a lot of self-mutilation onstage during the live show. Is there any influence from GG Allin? What started self-mutilation for the live show?
Kaoru: I think that that has much to do with him really getting into the live show, but I have never asked him personally about this so I am not so sure about this.
Blistering: Japan has brought us some of the best videogames; are you guys gamers? What do you guys do in your spare time?
Kaoru: When I have free time, I play videogames or watch movies. Recently, I often watch American TV dramas like “24” and “Prison Break."
Blistering: If you weren’t in Dir En Grey, what would you be doing?
Kaoru: I cannot imagine that at all, but obviously I’d be doing something else.
Blistering: What’s your most meaningful tattoo?
Kaoru: All of the tattoos that I have each have their own meaning to me, but that is not something I can tell you.