The allure of the grave: an interview with Mirai Kawashima of Sigh

"I might already be dead when you read this."

Sigh is one of the most important names to have emerged during the formative years of what we now call extreme metal during the late 80’s- early 90’s. Both a product of and a direct reaction against the musical climate of Japan, everything they put out is unique and interesting. This interview was conducted by email with mastermind Mirai Kawashima and definitely reads as such, but that’s just sadly the limitations of this kind of interview. Nevertheless, Mirai still is candid about the recent lineup changes in the band and the making of their latest album, Graveward.

Where you right now, and what are you doing? "Of course I am typing the answers in front of my PC, but I might already be dead when you read this."

Graveward, your latest album, seems to be centred around themes of death and mortality, from where did you draw inspiration while creating this album? "Now I am 45 and obviously death is not a fairytale any more. Every year someone you know dies when you're 45. I could die any day. Of course anyone could die any day, but when you're over 40, you feel that the probability is much higher than when you're 20. So what I am doing is just facing reality. I'm drawing inspiration from what I am facing".

Graveward has a much more obvious metal influence than your last album had. Why did you decide to go in this direction? "At first I was planning to dedicate this album to the old Italian zombie movies and fill this with vintage keyboards. The trigger was a little chat with Fabio Frizzi, who composed the great soundtracks to movies like The Beyond. The final result is much more symphonic than the first plan, but I believe still you can feel the atmosphere of the zombie movies in the songs. The "metal feel" probably attributes to the new guitarist. He is by far a better guitarist than the old one, so we could let him play as he liked."

During the recording process, you had a little bit of lineup turmoil. What exactly happened with your last guitarist? "We had to ask him to leave because he obviously lost his passion for music. We were aware that something was strange with him for the past few years, and the last straw was that the guitar files he sent to me during the recording of Graveward, which were completely out of tune. Then we found out that he was chasing a pre-adolescent underground self-claimed idol group who had 10 fans or so and spending all his money and time on that crap. He went to their concert with the Sigh shirt on and showed his guitar to the 10-year-old little girls pretending he was a rock star or something. Being over 40 and having to act like that is VERY sad, but in the end it's his choice. It's his life. It was all right if he still kept his passion towards music even if his life is fucked up. Playing in a band is nothing mandatory. If he cannot devote himself 100% to a band, he should leave. It's the best choice for everybody, him, us and the fans."

What qualities has new guitarist You Oshima brought to the band? "He brought a lot of things to Sigh. Not only that he's a great guitarist but he's really cool as a person. What is great about him that is that he one hundred per cent dedicates himself to music. We should have asked him to join us much earlier."

Sigh has always had a reputation for not making the same record twice. What is it that drives you to seek new forms of musical expression? "We always try to make an album that tops what we did in the past, which is the biggest reason that we don't make the same record twice. I really do not think we can make an Imaginary Sonicscape Part 2 that tops the original. The same for Scorn Defeat Part 2. If I'd think that we could do the better version of Imaginary Sonicscape, we would do that. We just don't want the typical inferior sequel trap."

I know that along with classical music, 80’s thrash metal was one of the biggest influences on you musically. What was it like when you first discovered that form of music? "I clearly remember when I heard Slayer's first album for the first time. I seriously thought that the songs were so fast that I couldn't tell the difference between them. Now probably nobody thinks the songs on Show No Mercy were super-fast, but back then I was totally blown away by their speed. Thrash metal quickly became my life itself. I skipped lunch to save money to buy thrash metal LPs and I didn't listen to anything but thrash metal for a while. Even if the album I bought wasn't up to par with my expectation, I had to keep listening to it until I had enough money to buy the next LP. I looked into everything from the lyrics, photos and thanks list. It was a real fun."

I don’t know too much about the Japanese music industry, but what I have heard makes it sound very strict in terms of what artists get support from labels. Was it tough to be making extreme music in Japan at the time Sigh first started? "When we started up Sigh, we had no connection to the industry or anybody, so we had to do everything by ourselves. But we never thought it was tough because we were not an ambitious band at all. Extreme metal was very small back in the early 90s here in Japan, and no Japanese extreme metal band had an album out worldwide, so we never thought we'd be able to release a full-length album and we never thought we'd survive this long. We recorded demos ourselves, sent them to the labels ourselves and booked the gigs ourselves. We have built a strong connection with people who truly love music without kissing some crappy commercial magazine's ass. That's what we are proud of."

What records or bands are you currently listening to at the moment? "These days I've been listening to the gems of 80s US metal such as Manilla Road, Warlord, Slauter Xtroyes, Cirith Ungol, Savage Grace, Destructor, Agent Steel, Brocas Helm, Omen, and so on."

What are your plans for the rest of the year? "We'll go to Europe twice this summer and play with Venom Inc. and Watain here in Japan. I have already started collecting some ideas for a new album, so we might start working on it later this year. I am not sure about that though. We might take some rest instead."