Coming together around 1996/97, eclectic Japanese five piece Gonin-Ish have finally received a world wide release for their second album Naishikyo-Sekai through Season of Mist Records. Initially released in Japan in 2005 the album blends Progressive and Death Metal styles with a hint of Jazz, Fusion and a whole lot more. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Steven Reid recently caught up with piano and synth player Masashi Momota and brings this complete interview.
SoT: Hi Masashi, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Gonin-Ish will probably be a new name for the majority of our readers; could you give us a brief history of the band please?
Masahi: Hello metal heads! I'm Masashi Momota, the leader, main composer & keyboardist who likes to play piano like a guitar. Nice to meet you! Our members are female vocal and guitar who uses brutal growls to angelic clean singing, piano & synth, lead guitar, bass and drums, and the style of our sound is like a labyrinth of progressive metal. It means not just a style of progressive (death) metal; we are trying to integrate elements from 70's to 00's all genres.
Gonin-ish was established in 1997. Then we started to make a demo tape. In 2000, we got a deal with a Japanese indie label and released our first album "Gonin-ish". It became a very long seller item here in Japan, but it's out of stock now. In 2002, we released a single CD "Muge no Hito" . It was an experiment for our second album with new members. In 2005, we made a contract with Japanese CD shop. Then….. Season of Mist gave us a big chance to introduce gonin-ish!
SoT: Naishikyo-Sekai has an impressive mix of styles throughout it, how would you describe your music and what different musical influences do the band members bring to the songs?
Masahi: I wanted to make future-proof music. Considering this, I referred to "Nintendo Music" to construct instrumental parts. Many people and wide range of age know game music, and can feel every scene by the music. Also, as you can guess, I was influenced by prog rock, metal, soundtrack and experimental music. From this background, I aimed to describe many scenes in one song. As the result, this method became a basement of our music.
When I write music, I use the computer without thinking for playing, and write all of the instrumental parts. After this, Anoji breathes life into a song with her voice. Then we start to copy the song. We have to practice very hard for gigs. On recording, playing would be more serious to describe my image, and I demand our members to play exactly. So I was named "drill sergeant"! (laughs)
SoT: When I first heard the album I had to check the credits to see how many people sang lead vocals in the band and was amazed and impressed to find there was only one. Your vocalist Anoji Matsuoka manages to sound like at least three distinctly different voices. Can you tell us a bit about her and her approach to singing?
Masahi: When I first handed her my demo, she starts to add all parts of voices. It's just a breathing life. Her background is from 80's pop and death & slash metal. Actually, she was not a singer when she joined. She was a guitarist. Shortly after she joined, I asked to hear her sing as a challenge! At that time, she did not have a distinct style as a vocalist, and tried many styles of singing. This experience made her style, I think. The approach fit our band sound.
SoT: Some people may have an issue with your lyrics not being in English, however I feel the way they are sung is one of the strongest aspects of the album. Why did you decide to have the lyrics in an ancient Japanese dialect that even people from your home land barely understand?
Masahi: It connects to our concept words "invisible awe". When you listen to mother's tale in childhood, did not you feel something in your mind? Also when you go into the darkness, don't you feel an existence of something? I wanted to enhance those feelings with using non-understandable lyrics. Incomprehensible words make awe and interest. I don't care if listeners understand everything or not. Just feel something, and make tales in each listener's mind. It's an imagination game.
SoT: It took around three years for Naishikyo-Sekai to be released outside Japan, do Japanese bands find it quite hard to gain worldwide releases for their music these days, or were there other issues that Gonin-Ish came across?
Masahi: There was no issues, basically just my laziness! Actually, I didn't hurry to go outside because I had believed that I could make the "future-proof music". Also I was thinking that time will come definitely!
SoT: Is there a strong Japanese music scene for bands like yourself?
Masahi: Unfortunately, metal music such as in the 80's and progressive/hard rock in the 70's were past movements here in Japan. These days, pop artists are almost considered like demigods! However, some true listeners here are bored of that scene and accept our music. Looking around Japanese scene, our band style is certainly stand-alone. Nobody plays like us.
SoT: Your self titled debut album was released in 2000 are there any plans to release it outside Japan?
Masahi: It's out of stock now….. I really want to re-release it, if someone would help us. However, I believe that the time will come in the future.
SoT: It's been nine years since the debut was released, is there a reason why the band have only released two albums so far, is it down to the complexity of the music or do you guys have other projects outside of Gonin-Ish?
Masahi: I think many member changes are one of the reasons. From the start to now, only I and Anoji were original members. When someone left the band, we had to find new members and had to train them hard to play complicated songs. And more, other projects are another reason. Actually all of our members, including me, have other projects or bands. Myself personally, I have a home studio for recording, so many recording / mastering projects come to me…. But my laziness is the biggest problem!
SoT: I imagine a Gonin-Ish gig would be a pretty intense experience, how often do you play live in Japan and what sort of show do you put on?
Masahi: In Japan, we had been played almost monthly, but now we play when offers comes. We are not a big band in Japan compared with other major artists, so we always have gigs with other bands as an event, and time would be limited in 30 to 60 minutes per gig. Therefore, looking around other bands styles, we always choose songs what we would play. Our songs have many aspects, such as heavy, calm, progressive or avant-garde. So the theme of the gig changes every time..
SoT: So what's next? Are there plans to gig outside of Japan, or will the band be heading back into the studio for album number three?
Masahi: Now I'm writing demo songs for our 3rd album. It's almost 50% finished. On writing songs, complicated or straight songs are easy, however to integrate both is very difficult. This is also why our albums take many years to complete.
SoT: Thanks for answering the questions Masashi, I really think that Naishikyo-Sekai is an excellent, challenging album and that it deserves the wider audience that this worldwide release will give it.
Masahi: Thank you very much! To all Sea of Tranquility readers- please check our myspace (www.myspace.com/goninish) , and check out our songs and movie. I'm sure that it will be a new gate for your music life! Thank you again!
(Click here to read our review of Naishikyo-Sekai)