Interview : Sigh – English

Mirai Kawashima, thinking head of Japanese AvantGarde Black Metal band Sigh, answered my questions about Shiki, their new album.

Shiki review

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Hello and first of all, thank you very much for your time! Could you please introduce yourself and the band Sigh without using the usual “Metal” labels?
Mirai Mawashima (vocals/instruments): My name is Mirai Kawashima and I’m in charge of vocals, flute, synths, Shakuhachi etc… for Sigh. And Sigh does not play Hip Hop.

Do you remember where does the name Sigh come from, and what is its link with the music you play?
Mirai: Actually it was a joke. Our first drummer, Kazuki, was in love with a girl named Saiko back then, so we just wanted to make fun of him naming the band Psycho, which is the same pronunciation with Saiko. But the name was already taken, we arrange it a bit and made it Sigh.

Your thirteenth album, Shiki, is about to come out, how do you feel about it?
Mirai: Actually this is our 12th album excluding Ghastly Funeral Theatre, which was an EP. It is great that the album is finally coming out but to be honest, I do not care about what people think of it at all as this is a very personal album. If you do not like it, it is none of my business. This shows how I am feeling right now and this may not be something to please somebody.

How could you sum the album Shiki with only three words?
Mirai: Death is certain.

As always, the album is very rich and surprising, how does the composition process happen? Was it different from your previous releases?
Mirai: Yes, it was quite different. In the early days, I was composing the songs by playing guitar myself, but from around Ghastly Funeral Theatre era, somehow keyboards became may main tool to compose. But this time, I got back to the roots, namely I played guitar myself to write those songs. So probably this time the songs are more guitar oriented than the past few albums.

Is there a concept behind Shiki? I noticed the album begins and ends with the same tone, could you please explain this too?
Mirai: I won’t call Shiki a concept album, but the main theme is my personal fear of death. Now I am 52 and definitely now death became something very real. Sigh have been dealing with death, but when you’re 20, it is nothing but a fantasy. Of course you could die any day, but it won’t be easy to feel it when you are younger. But once you get old, things are different. Some of your friends start dying and you have to lose your parents. All of a sudden, death becomes a harsh reality. This time I wanted to express my fear of getting old/fear of death as honestly and straightforwardly as possible. Yes, the intro and the outro have something common. The intro is exactly the description of death while the outro is kind of a salvation.

Is it easy for you to melt all your influences together? How do you manage to allow a place to each instrument?
Mirai: It’s very simple. I always program the songs on MIDI and keep listening to see if it flows well enough. If not, I’ll change the arrangement. I’ll do it until I am 100% satisfied with the arrangement. So there is no formula for this. I only have to rely on my ears.

About voices, how do you decide which vocal technique to use?
Mirai: It’s the same thing as the arrangement. I just try something I think is the best and keep listening to it to see if it is the best for real. There are so many trials and errors until the songs are finalized.

What are your inspirations about lyrics? Whether it is music, books, movies, or anything else.
Mirai: As far as Shiki goes, there were no inspirations from outside. They all are about how I feel inside. This is about how I fear death. This is about how I feel sad about having to get old.

You decided to unveil the songs Mayonaka No Kaii and Satsui to present the album, why did you pick those ones?
Mirai: Obviously because Mayonaka No Kaii is my favorite song on the album. It’s got everything from great guitar solo to Hammond solo, flute solo, Shakuhachi solo, vocoder, throat singing etc… And although it’s just 5 min, it’s got so many sceneries. I love how it turned out. Also this song is off topic and it is based on my personal strange experience. Long story short, I experienced midnight twice in one night. You can read the details at the end of the video or in the booklet of the album. Costin did a great video for this one. He perfectly visualized my eerie experienced. He’s genius. On the other hand, Satsui is rather a simpler song, so I thought it’d be nice to show the contrast between those 2 songs beforehand.

I definitely cannot pick my favorite song, because they all have their own touch, between quietness, mystery and raw violence. Which song was the easiest one to create for you?
Mirai: Probably the easiest one was Kuroi Kage. It was the first track I wrote for the album. At first, I was thinking of making an album in the vein of Scorn Defeat, so probably you can feel that kind of vibe in this song. All the riffs of the song came out pretty quick. Of course I change the arrangement many times though. There was no Japanese feel at all in the very beginning, and I was feeling something was missing in this song until I came up to the idea to add some Japanese instruments to it.

What can you tell me about the artwork, and the guidelines you had?
Mirai: The artwork is based on the old Japanese poem from 800 – 900 years ago. It describes the scene where an old man watches the cherry blossoms being blown off by the strong Spring storm. In Japan, cherry blossoms are the symbol of fragility as they are very beautiful but they will go away very quick. It implies that your heyday is short. The old man in the poem identifies the petals in the wind with himself, who has to die very soon. I was impressed with the poem as I thought it was very intriguing that somebody from 800 – 900 years ago had exactly the same feeling as we do now. Our lives drastically changed over 800 – 900 years. Now we have the Internet, AI etc., but fear of getting old/fear of death never changes.

Since 2020, Covid-19 crisis fucked a lot of things up, how did you face the situation as a band? Did it have an impact on the album?
Mirai: Obviously Shiki is a spawn of Covid-19. Without pandemic, this album would not have been born. I started writing the songs for this in the beginning of 2020, and you know it was also the start of pandemic. And I didn’t think we’d be able to go into the music studio to rehearse or record an album with the situations like that, and that’s why I asked Mike Heller to play drums for us. I knew he had his own studio and could record everything at his own place. Well, I must admit that also: I wanted to work with musicians with no technical limitations, though. But anyway I can say Covid-19 was a positive driver for us.

Do you have plans for the band’s future?
Mirai: We’ll play in Mexico for the first time this September. Also now we’re talking about some dates in Europe for the rest of this year. So keep an eye on us.

Do you think you still improve yourself as a musician?
Mirai: Definitely yes. I still take voice training and I always try to learn some new instruments. 

What led you to the Metal universe back in time? What was the very first album you ever bought?
Mirai: Well, back in the 80s, Heavy Metal belonged to the mainstream, so it wasn’t nothing unusual to be a Metal fan. The very first album I bought was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. Before that, I was using so-called vinyl rental shops. I was a kid and I didn’t have much money, it wasn’t easy to actually buy the albums first.

The band only played once in France, it was at Hellfest back in 2010. Would you like to play in France again? Do you know and like some French Metal bands?
Mirai: Of course we’d love to come back any time we can. I love a lot of French bands from the early days such as Sortilege, ADX, Blaspheme, Trust etc… Also Alcest are good friends of ours. And of course Fred from Kreator, who played guitar and bass for Shiki is from France.

What can you tell me about the Metal scene in Japan?
Mirai: Actually I know nothing. Of course I know and respect the veterans like Abigail, Sabbat, Boris, Genocide etc…, but I know nothing about the younger bands. It’s not easy to keep up with the scene when you’re over 50.

The only show Sigh played in 2022 so far is Brutal Assault, how was it? How do you feel when you play on stage?
Mirai: The show at Brutal Assault was really good. This was our first show with the new line-up. The reactions were great. Definitely Brutal Assault is our favorite European festival. Whenever I’m onstage, I feel just excited. Nothing else. I never feel nervous or anything.

What if I ask you to compare Sigh’s music with a dish? Which one and why?
Mirai: Pasta, curry or ramen. Pasta came from Italy and was mixed with the Japanese cuisine and the Japanese pasta was born. The same for curry and ramen. Curry came from India and Ramen came from China and they all were mixed with the Japanese cuisine and something new was born.

Are there any musicians or bands you would like to collaborate with? Whether it is for one song, an album…
Mirai: Oh yeah, it’d be cool to work with Tom G. Warrior.

Last question: which bands would you love to tour (or play for only one show) with? I let you create a tour (or bill) with Sigh as opener and three other bands.
Mirai: Probably Celtic Frost and Voivod. The influences from those 2 bands are huge. Now Celtic Frost is gone, so it will not happen though.

That was the last question for me, so thank you very much for your time and your music, last words are yours!
Mirai: I have been wondering what is the point in making an extreme Metal album when you are 50 because it was born as music for young people. I believe Shiki may be my answer to that question of mine. I wouldn’t be able to make an album like this when I was 30 or even I was 40. This is the album which only 50-year-old me could make. I don’t know how younger people feel about this album, but this is my very honest expression.

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