Mr. Nagasawa, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
Please introduce yourself.
I make my living as a music journalist. Basically, I deal with all genres. Lately I’ve been focusing on idols, but I still do a lot of visual kei too.
I’ve written for various magazines and websites, and I also write news as requested by record makers/labels/artists (for a fee) and distribute that to various web outlets myself. I’m always accepting work.
I also have my own music website, vues.jp (I don’t understand English, so please contact me in Japanese only).
Could you tell us which magazines you worked in the past, and about your job as a writer?
I’ve worked for so many since starting as a writer that I’m not sure I even remember (laughs).
I still work for magazines, but the only visual kei one is Cure. I’ve occasionally worked for idol magazines, such as BIG ONE GIRL. Besides that, I occasionally write for magazines and free-papers when asked, but as far as I’m concerned I don’t do much print work right now. (I’m sure there are still writers who work mainly for print magazines though.)
My job as a writer is basically to do interviews and live reports for clients (editors of magazines and web journals) when they ask “we’d like you to cover ●●.” I personally don’t do many, but some writers also do CD reviews and analysis articles.
Additionally, in my case I also distribute news to various websites, so the publishers/labels/artists personally ask me to write news articles for distribution. So I write news articles for the web, as well as live reports and interview articles.
Did you have any duties for magazines outside of writing?
I didn't do anything in particular, because my basic style is to do interviews when I'm asked to do them. I wasn't even involved in the editorial work myself, so I didn’t have to do that either.
However, I was in charge of the indie page for 3~4 years after the launch of visual kei magazine called Vicious. I was free to cover the bands I wanted to interview, to gather all the news by myself, and to publish the information I received.
Well, that's about it.
When you first started interviewing bands, did you find it challenging? Was there a point at which you felt “I’m good at this”?
I don't remember exactly how I felt, but I remember that I had never done an interview before (I had just started doing it professionally), so I had a very hard time.
But I’m sure it was fun because I found it rewarding. My career as a music writer is about 30 years old, and I still find interviewing difficult, and fun.
The difficult part is taking in what the other person is saying, understanding it, and throwing back questions; that exchange doesn’t always work. Even with the same artist, if the content you hear isn’t what you expected, the feelings you want to convey will change, and it’s hard to know where you’re going until you start—there’s a certain tension in that every time.
(For example, sometimes you might interpret something wrong, or they don’t understand what you ask so they respond absurdly, or what you expect to hear doesn’t match the answer, and the interview just doesn’t go well.)
What do you think makes a “good” interview or live report? Is there something that you strive to convey about the subject when you’re writing?
When it comes to live reports, I try to watch as much of the live as possible, and then type the feelings I had at the time on my computer. In other words, it's as if I'm putting into words the feelings I was feeling at the time, so it has a sense of presence and rawness to it.
When I take notes, I write down as many phrases as I can, and then I replay the live performance in my mind and put into words how I felt.
When interviewing people, I try to understand what they want to convey through the songs and musical works. You can't tell if that interpretation is right or wrong without listening.
If the piece is a critique or analysis that doesn’t involve talking with the other party, I can use my own (subjective) thoughts. But I think the role of an interviewer is to convey what the other person wants to say in a different way than they actually say it. So, whether my interpretation is right or wrong, I try to immediately understand what the other person is saying and pursue the meaning of the words more and more deeply.
An interview is not a debate, but a way to understand the other person's feelings and put them into words. That's what I try to do.
Do you have a favorite interview?
Hmmm, nobody comes to my mind. I'm not saying that bands didn't impress me—many bands have strongly impressed me... but somehow nobody comes to mind (laugh).
However, I do remember that I had to wait four hours for an interview once, and then they gave the message that they wanted to postpone the interview. (I won't say who!)
Are there any topics that you feel are “off limits” when interviewing a band?
Often they tell me in advance “I'd appreciate if you avoid questions about this topic.” Besides that, it's not my job to discover scandals or gossip, so even if I'm aware of such things I won't mention them.
If, after an interview, they ask me to leave a part out, I won't mention it. I'm very flexible about that, it's good to be flexible.
You’ve interviewed many kinds of artists. Do you take different considerations when interviewing a visual kei artist, vs an indie rock artist, vs an idol artist?
It’s all the same. Since I’m interviewing people, nothing really changes. Of course, the questions you ask in terms of music will be different, however the roots are the same.
How did you become a visual kei band writer? Could you tell us how you got interested in visual bands rather than pop, punk, or rock?
In my case, I’m not a “writer who specializes in visual kei,” but a “writer who also covers visual kei.” The reason that I got involved with so many is that in the 90s I got involved with magazines like SHOXX and Vicious.
At the time, I also organized events as a hobby, and often gathered visual kei bands at them. So since I had a lot of connections with indie acts, I was often asked to cover young bands.
For a time, all of the indie band information and interviews in Vicious were done by myself (except in the later half), so I was a source of information about visual kei bands.
During that time when I was covering many visual kei bands, I was also covering pop and rock music outside of visual kei, so it’s not as if I rejected other genres.
However, the music of visual kei bands of the 90s excited me. Positive punk, beat rock, punk, metal, industrial... I was really drawn to the fact that all of these bands with different musicalities had something in common: they wore makeup.
I’ve heard many people say they were inspired by X JAPAN or LUNA SEA, but for myself I would say EX-ANS, D'ERLANGER, (early) L'Arc~en~Ciel, D≒SIRE. There are many others. Back in the 90s, I had a lot of favorite bands—but I can’t say them all here.
Please tell us more about your start covering visual bands. Do you like visual kei?
It was after getting involved with a magazine called SHOXX that I started to cover a lot of visual kei bands. The first one was... I don’t remember, honestly, but it was for a magazine called Arena37℃—maybe AURA (アウラ) or COLOR.
I... like visual kei bands... or rather, liked... maybe?
I’m still involved with vkei bands for work, and of course there are good ones. But the prospect of changing my life doesn’t excite me as it once did.
The reason I was attracted to visual kei bands was because I was excited by their music. Visual kei music of the 90s was different from mainstream Japanese music at the time. It had not only a rock vibe, but a good sense of melody; and moreover, slightly sad melodies, sad lyrics that described deep feelings—it was inspiring to me, someone who likes indie music.
Visual kei bands from the 2010s onward all sound similar. The [current] music that resonates with me... honestly, I can’t think of anything (but that’s just me).
However do I cover visual kei bands because we’re compatible? Because we have similar feelings? Because it’s easy, I want to continue doing it for a much longer time.
Of course, I think there’s still a lot of good music out there. It’s just that it doesn’t make my chest pound; but I recognize that there are many people whose hearts do resonate with it, and many people who support it.
What I use as the standard for musicality of visual kei is EX-ANS. Their worldview drew me into visual kei and made me like it. It’s aesthetic and wistful, and full of heartache, but also has a rock impulse that makes you feel heated. They were the starting point for me to get into visual kei, and so I think the standard of visual kei for me is their style of music.
Could you tell us a little bit about your hobby as a live event organizer? How did you come to be involved in that?
As for events, I started them because I was thinking “instead of looking up schedules and trying to figure out how to see all of these bands, it would be easier to just see them all at one event..”
I didn't start with anyone in particular, nor did I learn from anyone: I was self-taught. But I didn’t know anything about instruments, so I left that part to the band people and the livehouse. I gathered bands I wanted to see and rented various venues to organize events.
Initially, [the events] weren’t for visual kei but regular indie rock bands, and I ended up becoming a writer partly because of my deep connections to those bands.
Before the term “visual kei” was even born, visual kei events were called okeshou kei [Ed.: お化粧系, “makeup style”] or kurofuku kei [Ed.: 黒服系, “black clothing style”] in Japan, and were organized based on the general idea that “people in this genre are interesting.”
About the terms okeshou kei (お化粧系), kurofuku kei (黒服系), and visual kei (ビジュアル系): at the time, did you feel any difference between these three phrases?
Back then, there wasn't a clear phrase to describe it, so I think the expressions “okeshou kei” (makeup style), “kurofuku kei” (black clothing style), and “visual kei” (visual style) were born as words that clearly conveyed what it was. Out of those, I’m sure “visual kei” took off because it described the scene so clearly.
Also, “VISUAL SHOCK”—a phrase derived from hide—was being used often, so the term “visual kei” may have gained a lot of strength due to that phrase’s impact.
[Ed.: Please see the JROCK NEWS interview with Seiichi Hoshiko, who founded SHOXX, for more information about the coining of “visual kei.”]
When visual kei became the accepted name for those types of bands, did you view it as a “new genre” at the time?
Maybe visual kei became a “new genre” at the time of its birth. Originally, it was not a musical genre, it was a scene where people who were wearing makeup gathered together.
At the time, music lovers in general thought of visual kei as “a bunch of guys who aren’t good at music and wear makeup to be popular with girls.” Other than those inclined to the genre, they hated it at face value and judged it even without listening to it.
There were some bands in the visual kei scene who were attracted to outside music scenes, but I don’t think they cared about that, and rather just enjoyed competing with each other among themselves.
So in the 90's, visual kei was a genre which was disliked by the mainstream: a genre that was oppressed, bullied, and ridiculed by those who didn’t like it. But the people inside didn't care about that kind of outside atmosphere, so visual kei grew into its own musical culture, and it was the people overseas who recognized it.
Even now there are so many people who still don't recognize it as a genre, or make fun of it. Both the artist and the audience have their own complexes. That's why there are people who make silly remarks like “I graduated from visual kei.”
Well, in terms of general recognition, it started when the TV show BREAK OUT became a hot topic and visual kei bands became widely known in the community.
As someone who wrote about visual and non-visual bands, what do you feel makes a band “visual kei” as opposed to “glam” (for example)?
Since they were similar musically, I wonder if they weren’t perceived particularly differently? Well, I don't know.
Back then in the visual kei industry, I never mentioned that I also wrote for any other genre. And outside of the vkei industry I never mentioned that I also was covering visual kei bands. The reason I never mentioned it was that nobody was asking anyway, so I didn’t have to say it.
However, when non-vkei fans made ridiculous comments about visual kei, I didn't argue with them; I just ignored them. But I do remember visual kei as being a genre in which you couldn't openly say “I like it.”
By the way, you could lump makeup metal and glam rock under visual kei if you wanted to. But in Japan, we didn't really see it that way. I’ve always thought of glam, metal, and visual kei as being from different worlds.
Of course, there were bands that crossed the boundaries of genres.
I think the most important criteria for being labeled as a visual kei band was coming from the family tree of EXTASY RECORDS, Free-Will, and DANGER CRUE. Those were the starting points of visual kei in the first place, right?
How do you feel about bands who seemed to be visual kei but say that they aren’t?
For myself, LUNA SEA, L'Arc~en~Ciel, and GLAY are visual kei bands. If they say “that’s not true,” I’ll just accept it. But when a fan of the band says “I think they’re visual kei,” well that’s okay too. There’s no point saying “that’s a lie” to bands who claim to have left the genre.
You once participated in an interview with myuu, in which SHAZNA was referred to as a “master of visual kei.” Why do you think that they're less known overseas?
There is no doubt that it was SHAZNA who spread the recognition of visual kei to the general public in Japan. Through the TV program BREAK OUT, they became a hot topic as one of the so-called “visual kei's four heavenly kings.”
SHAZNA's music was catchy pop, and vocalist IZAM portrayed a “womanly” image, both of which made it easy to convey an impression of visual kei in a palatable way. Their activities spread visual kei all over Japan—if you look at that time alone, SHAZNA was better than X JAPAN at getting people with zero knowledge of visual kei to recognize the genre.
But maybe some visual fans are just shitty and don't recognize SHAZNA's existence. SHAZNA is an essential part of the visual kei scene.
By the way, SHAZNA is back in action. I don't know if people think of them as purely visual kei because they have female members, but I think it's visual kei. Personally, I don't think gender matters for visual kei.
[Ed.: SHAZNA announced a revival, but have postponed activity as of the time of writing.]
Do you think the “soft visual” genre, which was popular in the 90s, has disappeared?
It's not that there aren't any of those bands, but I think they're not noticed because most people these days want bands with over-the-top visuals.
Earlier, you mentioned “sad lyrics” as something that was attractive about visual kei bands. Is it possible that visual kei is attractive to those who have some kind of internal strife?
If you’re a person who doesn’t want to feel overly cheerful, I think [visual kei] is a great choice. Not everyone is a so-called “party person” who’s looking for something “happy” and cheerful.
Sometimes it feels better to share sadness, so in times of heartache, it might be encouraging to listen to someone who’s gone through the same pain.
In the case of visual kei bands, I think the music can be very relatable to those who have negative feelings, as the sound is also dark and heavy and the songs often deal with sadness, despair, suffering, wistfulness. Visual kei can also have the effect of making you feel melancholy or sad, so I think it’s suitable for people who want to feel sadness in their chest.
Are there any new bands that you see changing the scene?
I honestly don't know because I haven't done much research lately. But there's a revitalized loud-leaning scene, and bands who have strong YouTube presences, so I'm sure there are influential new bands out there—I just don't know who they are.
Although COVID-19 has hit the music industry hard, do you think that something positive might be born from it?
Right now, everyone is looking for new performance styles and new ways to communicate with fans. Therefore, positive things are constantly being born.
Now that there are live streaming live shows, there are more opportunities now for people overseas to see visual kei bands live than before. I don't know how it's going to play out, but I think we'll see more of that.
Why do you think visual kei has persisted, despite being a niche genre?
I think it's strong because it's so niche. It was, and still is. VK was a genre that was and still is viewed by Japanese music fans with a prejudiced eye.
Especially in the 90s, visual kei was seen as a “creepy” genre by the average music fan. Even for those who loved the scene, or the bands in it, it was hard to openly say “I like visual kei.”
And because of that, visual kei didn't intersect with other scenes, but rather interacted with itself and those who loved the scene, and thus evolved in its own unique way. Like the animals of the Galapagos Islands, visual kei was unaffected by other music scenes and trends.
Visual kei doesn't depend on trends (although vkei musicians are of course sensitive to wider musical trends), but rather evolves based on its own ingenuity and the people who enthusiastically support it.
This cultivating of a culture between people who like each other and distances themselves from prejudiced outsiders, it has resulted in a scene which has a unique spot in Japanese culture. It was people abroad who really notice this appeal.
Even today, Japanese fans still view the scene with prejudice, and so it keeps evolving within its own world. Maybe that's why it's continued for so long.
Finally, please tell us a little more about Vues and your mission with it.
Vues is a website stocked with news articles that I write and distribute through national music media channels. In other words, I create an article and then share it on various news sites, and my own site. The purpose is to promote myself like “I write these kinds of articles,” and to keep the client happy by publishing the article across as many media outlets as possible.
Therefore, any articles sent to me which are created by other people such as manufacturers, producers and artists themselves, I don't publish them to my own website. I don’t publish articles which are written by other people.
However, if you want me to write and to publish your news in the Japanese music media (even if your band is from overseas!), you pay me a fee (exact amount to be discussed), and I'll publish the news in various media channels and on Vues. (However, there is no guarantee on how many news websites the article will be published on. I can’t give a specific number, and if you don’t know why, then you shouldn't be doing any business.)
To make a request, please contact me (in Japanese only). I am open to any work related to music/entertainment such as interviews, live reports, reviews, news articles, and any other kind of writings.
Thank you very much.
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