Musicians Kouki (D=OUT) and HIZAKI (Versailles, Jupiter) rocked Nekocon 24, held from November 5-7 in Hampton, VA. After a hectic weekend of autograph sessions, a Q&A panel, and no less than three live concerts, they took the time to sit down with us.
For HIZAKI, it was the first time he’d been able to leave Japan in three years, and 10 years since he’d been to America. As for Kouki, after two years of canceled appearances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was finally time to make his US debut.
Join us as we discuss their experience playing live in America, their backgrounds, and their philosophies of visual kei.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with us today, even when you’re so busy. To start, please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Kouki: This is the vocalist of D=OUT, Kouki.
HIZAKI: This is HIZAKI, guitarist of Versailles and Jupiter.
If you could describe the music of “D=OUT” and “HIZAKI” in one word or phrase, what would it be?
HIZAKI: Baroque metal.
Kouki: I’d have to say it’s “traditional Japanese rock”.
When did the two of you first meet?
HIZAKI: We met about 20 years ago.
Wow, you guys have known each other for a long time!
Both of you seem to have very different musical styles. For example, D=OUT has a strong traditional Japanese influence, and HIZAKI has a strong symphonic metal influence. With such a contrast in style, how did you end up performing together at Nekocon?
Kouki: Yes, as you said, we’re musically very different. But earlier, when I was invited to come overseas, I was asked if I knew any other visual kei artists I’d like to bring along as support members. I wanted someone with a lot of overseas experience. The first person who came to mind for me was HIZAKI, so I reached out to him. I thought for sure it wasn’t going to happen, but it worked out, so we were really lucky [laughs]!
I’m glad it worked out. HIZAKI, how long did it take to learn D=OUT songs?
HIZAKI: About a week [laughs].
You’re a genius. How were they different from Jupiter’s or Versailles’ compositions?
HIZAKI: Of course, in the bands that I play in, there are parts of my guitar work that are totally different. What was particularly difficult is that D=OUT’s songs are made to be played by two twin guitarists. So, I had to arrange the guitar composition to match the backing track while performing live as the sole guitarist. That was especially difficult.
How did you approach D=OUT’s song style?
HIZAKI: Well, when I play shows in Japan I perform differently. This time I wanted to play in a way that would appeal to American audiences. So, that was the approach I took.
On a different note, D=OUT was supposed to make its US debut at Nekocon in 2020 but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kouki, how did it feel to be able to perform in the US finally?
Kouki: I’m definitely planning to come back next year [laughs]. D=OUT mostly tours in Japan and Asia, right? So compared to Japan and other Asian countries, what impressed me the most was that during the concerts, the audience expressed purely how much they were enjoying us and the music. The fact that they returned their feelings to us so strongly made these concerts in America very important to me.
Kouki, promoting Japanese culture to the world seems very important to you. I understand you play the Tsugaru shamisen and perform enka solo. What made you take such a profound interest in traditional Japanese culture?
Kouki: When I was little, my parents listened to a lot of Showa-era pop music and enka, so I was probably interested in it since then.
The depth of Japanese culture is in the details. After all, when I perform traditional Japanese dance, there’s no real depth to just throwing and catching a paper fan. You really need to memorize the small details and learn them well to give meaning to your performance. Otherwise, it’s shallow. You can’t convey the meaning. Those things are really important to me. It’s the same with playing the Tsugaru shamisen.
Is there anything like, something you absolutely want readers to know about Japanese culture?
HIZAKI: I really want people to know about visual kei. If they’re reading this then they’re probably already aware, but there are so many interesting things about the genre. I’d love for people to expand their scope and explore it more.
Kouki: Of course, there’s a lot I’d like people to know about. There’s the food, anime, and music—there’s so much I’d like for people to know about Japan. It has its own special culture, so I’d like it if more people would enjoy it.
Although both of your styles differ, visual kei seems very important to you. What is your opinion on the future of visual kei?
HIZAKI: In Japan, visual kei is reaching the position of a subculture. There are many people who like visual kei. Visual kei is about truly valuing beautiful things, so I hope it will never disappear.
Kouki: Regarding visual kei, a lot of people are very passionate about it and giving it their all. I’m very proud to be in visual kei, it’s not embarrassing at all. I’d like to keep pushing it forward as a genre.
There are so many boring people now, who take it too seriously. Back in our day, I had a lot of surprising memories, like with our senpai for example. There are no more people like that crazy person. There were people with a more human personality.
So anyway, I’d like for visual kei to keep progressing, and become a genre that can take on other genres.
I feel like you addressed this a bit in the previous question, but what can be done to ensure visual kei doesn’t fade away?
HIZAKI: My way of doing visual kei is to present beautiful things. There’s no way someone could hate beautiful things. So, my solution is to just keep putting out more and more beautiful things. It’s a romantic act—like when a man gives a woman a rose, of course, the woman will be happy. Even if someone is really shy, over time those things can make them open up.
Kouki: There are many who care about how others view them. However, I really want to express myself as I am, and live freely. I want to embody those ideals and encourage the fans watching my performance. That’s what I call visual kei. In that way, I hope that I will be able to freely express my individuality through music and that the listener receives the message.
2022 marks the 15th anniversary for both Versailles and D=OUT. What future projects can we look forward to?
HIZAKI: For things in the near future, Versailles will go on a world tour in 2023. It still hasn’t been decided if we will come to America, so please let us know if you want us to come.
Kouki: As for me, I don’t have anything planned yet. I always just do what I want to do. I move freely.
What about your solo enka project?
Kouki: Oh! I’m actually recording something now. It should be released next year.
And HIZAKI, what about your solo project?
HIZAKI: In 2023, all three of my bands Jupiter, Versailles, and HIZAKI grace project will release an album. So if anyone would like to invite us somewhere to an event, you can have your choice of the three bands! Please get in touch.
Of course, we can’t ignore that we are meeting at an anime convention. So as a fun last question, if you could cover any anime song, which would it be and why?
HIZAKI: At this event, we covered Gurenge from Demon Slayer, a popular anime in Japan. It was fun, but I don’t really know many anime songs. As for anything else, I’d have to do some research and figure it out.
Kouki: My favorite manga is Kingdom. Do you know Kingdom?
Sorry, I just know the name.
Kouki: Seriously? [Laughs] Kingdom is so good. Ok then, I’d cover a song from One Piece or Dragon Ball. Those types of adventure series seem popular with American audiences.
Thanks so much for doing this interview with us, even during this busy time. In closing, please leave a message for our readers around the world.
HIZAKI: I wasn’t able to leave Japan for about three years, so coming here made me really happy. It had also been about 10 years since I last came to America. It’s really difficult for a Japanese artist to tour in America, as there’s so much to consider. But one day, I want to perform a live tour in all 50 US states!
Kouki: In this convenient day and age, there are a lot of ways we can connect with each other on social media. So, the distance doesn’t feel so significant. Even if we can’t meet in person, there are many ways to reach out to me or find me. So please feel free to do so!
If you haven’t already, be sure to read our live report covering D=OUT and HIZAKI’s concerts at Nekocon 2022! You can also see a digest of the concerts from Chaotic Harmony below.
JROCK NEWS thanks Chaotic Harmony Imports for making this interview possible.