Not too many bands define the term, “cult band,” like Japan’s SIGH. Born in April of 1990, the band started off playing traditional black metal and then blossomed into a true musical force with classic cult albums such as Hail Horror Hail and Scenario IV: Dread Dreams. Uncredited by the informed, SIGH were one of the first pioneers who combined multiple genres of music (classical, jazz, rock, blues, psychedelia, doom, etc.) into their off the wall and totally unique metal sound. After paying their dues on several labels, the band found a true home in The End Records and released their over-the-top classical/black metal album, Hangman’s Hymn, as well as a VENOM tribute album. APESHIT spoke to mainman Mirai Kawashima during their recent U.S. tour to give our readers a glimpse into one of underground metal’s most unique bands.
APESHIT: You just started the tour. How was the show in San Diego last night?
Mirai: It was good. The turnout was decent. The audience was very enthusiastic. It was a good start for the tour.
APESHIT: Even though ZIMMERS HOLE had to drop off the tour…
Mirai: Yeah, it’s a pity.
APESHIT: How excited are you guys to finally do a full U.S. tour?
Mirai: Yes, we played in the U.S. several times but this tour is the first time. We are really excited.
APESHIT: I was really disappointed when you came for Imaginary Sonicscape and it was only the East Coast.
Mirai: Yeah, we toured with KHANATE and Stephen from [inaudible] set up the shows. It was hard for us to take a longer vacation [from work] so we just toured the East Coast. It was a cool tour.
APESHIT: You just released your tribute to VENOM. I know you guys are big VENOM fans.
Mirai: Yes, we are.
APESHIT: How long have you guys had the idea to record a VENOM tribute album?
Mirai: Actually, we never thought of doing a tribute [album]. Back in the 90’s, there was a cassette called A Tribute to Venom. It was just live recording because we usually play VENOM covers live so we just made a live recording. Actually, we never had the idea to do that [make a studio tribute album] for a long time.
APESHIT: I guess the big news for that release is that Mika is singing.
APESHIT: Is she going to be having a lot of involvement with the vocals for the next album?
Mirai: Yes. For the next album, maybe half the vocals will be taken care of by Mika. This album, the VENOM tribute, she did 100% because it’s like a Garage Days from METALLICA. So I played bass, Satoshi played drums, Junichi played drums too, and Mika did the vocals.
APESHIT: Was it hard to pick out a final list of songs to record?
Mirai: Well, actually we can play so many VENOM tracks so we just went into the studio and jammed and got the best [tracks].
APESHIT: I want to talk about Hangman’s Hymn. I think it’s a really powerful album. It seems more direct and uniform than the previously albums.
Mirai: Yes, yes.
APESHIT: What was your vision and concept for the album?
Mirai: Yeah, the biggest different this time is that we limited our influences, just strictly classical music and heavy metal/thrash metal. On the previous albums, there was jazz, rock, everything. But this time, we just picked classical music and thrash metal so it’s a big difference. We had been thinking of doing like this with no slow tracks, doomy tracks. But it was very hard to do that without losing the identity of SIGH because being varied is one of the biggest identities for SIGH.
For Hangman’s Hymn, it contains 10 tracks but they can be taken as a one hour track so the tracks are connected musically, lyrically. We accomplished an album with a strong SIGH color.
APESHIT: There are so many layers and parts to the songs. Was it really stressful to put that together?
Mirai: No, for that album I started from Track 1 to Track 10, in the song order. So it was pretty much planned. This album went pretty well. We usually take much more time to write and arrange the tracks but this time, somehow, everything came out quickly and easily. I came up with lots of ideas. Everything was very smooth.
APESHIT: You have announced that you guys are working on the new album, Scenes from Hell. Can you give us any new details about what to expect?
Mirai: It’s not that much different from Hangman’s Hymn. The direction is pretty close but this time we’re going to use real orchestral instruments. We’re going to use a string quartet, trombone, trumpet, tuba so everything will be much more powerful and vivid than Hangman’s Hymn because most of the orchestra was programmed or MIDI. This time we’re going to use real instruments. Also, the songs are a bit longer, a bit more complicated, a bit more varied than Hangman’s Hymn. More darker, more sinister.
APESHIT: Diehard SIGH fans know that you’ve had problems with record labels in the past. I read an old interview with you where I think you said that the band has never received a royalty check from Cacophonous Records. Is that still true?
Mirai: No, received some but they stopped sending royalty checks. The last royalty check was like 2002. Since then we get nothing but still they claim the rights to the albums. We’ve been trying very hard [to get the right to the albums back]. Even Steve [Joh (Century Media)] tried to work it out. Now The End have been working. Somehow they are very [inaudible]. Even DIMMU BORGIR can’t get back the rights to their first album. They’ve got lots of money but still, they can’t work it out. Somehow Cacophonous is very strong about this whole thing.
APESHIT: I thought that Gallows Gallery was originally supposed to come out on Century Media.
APESHIT: I read the press release saying that they didn’t like some lyrics.
Mirai: Actually, the original statement was that we tried to put a “sonic weapon” on the album that could be hazardous to your health. But it was a joke. Somehow somebody [at Century Media] misunderstood it as having Nazi lyrics but it was false. It was simple — Century Media wanted us to do a much more black metal album. Gallows Gallery was very far from black metal so we agreed to leave them and sign to another label. Switching labels can be very lame so we just came up with the joke about the “sonic weapon.” It was just a joke and I didn’t think that people would actually believe it. Somehow it became the center of attention for Gallows Gallery but it was just a joke.
APESHIT: I read that you experienced dizziness and migraine headaches while working on the Gallows Gallery and had to be hospitalized. Is that true?
Mirai: Yeah, I had some health problems. I had to be hospitalized but it had nothing to do with recording or anything.
APESHIT: The End Records is going to release a reissue of Imaginary Sonicscape.
Mirai: Oh yeah!
APESHIT: Can you tell me what fans can expect on it?
Mirai: The reissue is going to be as originally planned. There is a track called, “Voices,” which was not on the album on Century Media because they thought the album could be too long. So we cut out “Voices” and shortened “Bring Back the Dead.” There is also a Japanese bonus track called “Born Condemned Criminal.” So there will be “Voices,” “Bring Back the Dead” (the extended version), and the Japanese bonus track. It will be about 78 minutes. James Murphy is going to remaster it.
APESHIT: Is it going to be the same exact artwork?
Mirai: Yeah, because of the contract with Century Media.
APESHIT: If you look at the extreme music today, there are so many bands mixing different genres together, even if it’s only a few genres, and have become famous for it. However, I think SIGH were one of the first bands to really start this, pioneer this and really do it in a good way. Now when you see all these bands, what do you think of it?
Mirai: I think it’s good but we never mixed genres just to sound weird or anything. It’s not our purpose or intention at all. We had the vision, just like when you want to express some horror, there are so many ways you can do it. You can do it with computers, solo piano, you can do it with orchestra, just so many ways. And we just choose the best way to express our world. As a result, it’s sometimes very varied and eclectic. But writing a good song has to come first. “Weird for weird’s sake” is not what we want. If you want to write a good song and want to mix genres, I think it’s cool.
APESHIT: You used to play bass and sing live and now you’ve been playing keyboards and singing for a while now. What made you decide to switch?
Mirai: Well, I’m more a keyboardist than bassist. When we recorded Gallows Gallery, we recorded with a new drummer, Junichi. Satoshi (bass) is a good drummer but he is better at playing more slower, doomy stuff like BLACK SABBATH. So he was not cut out for playing some faster tracks like on Gallows Gallery or Hangman’s Hymn so we recruited Junichi. Actually, Satoshi is a bassist more than a drummer. I’m a keyboardist so Satoshi plays the bass much better than I do. Switching the instruments was the best for us so now we have the strongest line up now.
APESHIT: That’s good.
APESHIT: SIGH has survived for a long time in the underground, and have never been the trendiest band. How have you guys survived all the way to this point?
Mirai: I don’t know. [laughs]. One thing is for sure is that it’s thanks to Euronymous (MAYHEM) because in the early 90’s so many people were enthusiastic about death metal from Florida and people did not care about 80’s thrash metal. We were heavily influenced by the 80’s music. So Euronymous was the only guy who was interested in signing us. Then we were on Deathlike Silence Productions. Because we were on Euronymous‘ label, people thought we could be something decent because Euronymous was proof of good music or something. We really thank him. If he had not been interested in us, we probably would have ended up as a demo band and disbanded.
APESHIT: Euronymous is a very important figure. But there’s too much propaganda or media-type of writing of writing about him. What was he really like from what you guys know?
Mirai: Unfortunately, I could not meet him in person but I talked to him on the phone quite often. He was very intelligent. But talking to him was very very interesting because it’s like, “Don’t talk about church burning because international police might be tapping this phone.” It was very hard to tell if it was true or not because most people do not have their phones tapped. Also, there was no internet or anything back then so it was very hard to tell if they were burning down the churches was real. I know everything was real now. He was very intelligent. He always came up with new ideas for his label.