"Forget everything you've heard about Japanese rock"

November 2014

Japanese experimental psychedelic rock band rhivs (it rhymes with 'hives') formed in Osaka in October 2012, and after a faltering start with lead vocalist Yoshis leaving then returning, quickly found their feet, wrote more material and started gigging regularly and generating the kind of audience reactions most bands would die for.

Aside from saying they're influenced by all forms of rock music from the 1980s to the present, they've found themselves incorporating elements of electropop, industrial, metal, even 60s psychedelia into their writing. The resulting heady melange creates what they quite reasonably describe as 'a chaos between reality and unreality'. Forget everything you've heard, or think you know, about Japanese rock. These guys are not just re-writing the rules - they've thrown the rule book away.

In their first ever English language interview, rhivs talk exclusively to dsoaudio.com about their fragile journey so far, their eclectic musical backgrounds and influences, and their global manifesto for tearing down the boundaries of rock music. Rob Dyer asked the questions. Yoshis (lead vocals and guitar) and Nono-kj (synths and backing vocals) gave the insightful answers.

[Japanese translation by Yuko]

rhivs promoQ: For those who have never heard rhivs, how would you describe the sort of audience/following you have? Who do you think rhivs will appeal to? 

Yoshis: Our music is alternative, progressive rock, electronic pop, heavy and also psychedelic. However, we don't like to be categorized. Therefore, it is difficult to answer to this question. We feel that our fans are someone who are looking for something new and exciting, so we could say that our music appeals to people like that.

Nono-kj: We think our music particularly appeals to someone who likes rock music. We make riffs which become the core of each track first, then add more.

Q: Where does the name rhivs come from? What does it mean? 

YoshiS: Originally, the band were formed to play only one gig. However, after the gig we couldn't forget the chemistry we created and started to become a proper band. rhivs is made up word and stands for live, document, proof of existence = live.

Q: How did the band form and what has the journey been like so far? 

Nono-kj: We were formed after we met in a venue. Our journey has been very fragile such as climbing up stairs made of glass, we believe that there is a certain goal after such a dangerous journey. Of course, we are still in the middle of climbing the stairs.

Yoshis: I searched band members and wrote songs to perform only one gig in two months time. However, when I played five tracks I wrote in three days in front of the members, they were so inspired and something was certainly changed, it was a miracle. We performed the gig and that was it, none of us couldn't forget about rhivs, and started to gather again to perform as rhivs officially. 

rhivs promo

This happened in January 2013. I can't imagine what will happen in the future but it is full of excitement and possibility. In fact, I still can't believe we are interviewed by someone like you and believe there will be more encounters like this.

Q: Most of the band are in their mid-thirties and Yoshis you are in your forties. Do you all have a lot of experience with previous bands?

Nono-kj: Each of us have different backgrounds, such as progressive rock, jazz, fusion, rock and classical music. Therefore, all of us have different taste in music (some are the same) and we get catharsis by listening to different types of music. I think we will become a band like 'as if someone who paints who has no background in painting turns out a masterpiece'. 

Q: Which artists from the past do you think have directly influenced you to write – and why? 

Yoshis: David Bowie has great sense of songwriting and it's also original. I can say I am very influenced by his sense which no other musicians have. I also think Placebo is great band. 

Nono-kj: When it comes to songwriting, 'U2' and 'Depeche Mode' are an influence as their sound represents UK rock music, although there may be pros and cons regarding them. I have been listening to Hurts a lot. 

Q: Your live performances are energetic and theatrical – do you think that's important to set yourselves apart from all the other rock bands out there or does that come naturally? 

Yoshis: I love watching movies. I have been watching many since I was a child, and now since being in the band. I watch thrillers, Sci-Fi, violent and even love stories. I think I am being myself on the stage, and these influences lead to a theatrical performance. No definition is needed for any rock band. As we are living in a entertainment world which has a lot of potential, it is natural thing that you want to make something out of your imagination. 

Nono-kj: As music is invisible and in order to deliver what we try to achieve in our music to our audience, appealing visually such as performance or projection is very important. 

rhivs promoQ: The visual presentation of your music, from the artwork to your releases, to your promotional videos and band photos is striking and high quality. Who is responsible for this side of the band? It seems you put a lot of value and therefore effort into presenting your music? 

Yoshis: I am in charge of the band's artwork, photos and promo videos. To express and spread our music, those images are based on 'artistic and decadent impact' and 'chaos between reality and unreality'. I believe that what a rock band shows is total 'art', not just 'music', therefore, I try to put great emphasis. Even on one picture as this means 'to express' to me. 

Nono-kj: I agree. I believe that it is important to express our band in this way but not to put the emphasis on visual presentation alone. 

Q: You declared a manifesto of wanting to push the boundaries of what is generically called 'Rock Music'. Why the desire to push the genre? 

Nono-kj: What we are producing is 'various creations - mainly music'. There is no genre as I think what most important thing is the originality which will be born from nothing. Our theme is always the genre is 'rhivs'. 

Yoshis: As a rock musician I am not interested in genre in terms of music. However, as a performer, I always would want to be a pioneer and originator. I also believe that all five of us have the possibility to become a pioneer and that's where my belief that we can push the boundary of the genre comes from. 

Q: For me Acid Love on your second EP, rhiVirus,is your strongest and most distinctive track to date, blending a variety of your stylistic influences, but to me ends up sounding most like a form of neo-psychedelic rock. Any chance of more songwriting in this direction? 

rhivs promoYoshis: I really like Acid Love. As you describe, this track is mixed with many different influences. It is also very unique, as you never expect that the impact which is made by the synthesizer at the beginning will lead into a light guitar riff, do you? The rhythm is also great.In terms of songwriting, I always try to pursue creating something original, so this direction still might be continued. 

Nono-kj: I would like you to listen to some new tracks which we have just started playing live. We will probably release a new, our third, maxi single at the end of this year. 

Q: On that EP all the songs are sung in English but other songs of yours are sung in Japanese. What's the plan gong forward - do you plan to sing in English only, Japanese only, or switch between both languages? 

Yoshis: To me, the lyrics are not so important when making song. Because to express a story with limited words won't be perfect and imaginative (of course there is a exceptional case). And especially Japanese language is lacking melody. I feel that atmosphere and feeling is more important than touching lyrics. So as Noko-kj said, I will keep choosing words and melody based on what comes on my mind.

Nono-kj: I think it's OK to use any language when I feel it's necessary, but it is certain that Japanese language is not really musical. 

Q: You clearly want to make an impact outside of Japan. What would you like to achieve? 

Yoshis/Nono-kj: A main act at festival overseas, where we would like to put on a great live performance. 

rhivs promoQ: You've said that you hope to incorporate more melody into future songwriting. Why this idea? Would that be a stylistic change from what you've already produced? 

Yoshis: I sometimes think I want to create catchy phrase like you can't help singing. However, I also would love to believe that I can be a vocalist who is very original and no-one can copy, not just melody though. Different to the sporting world, [when it comes to music] I am not interested in any rock melody which only appeals to your own country as it is too hopeless. 

Nono-kj: Some of our tracks are psychedelic, and melody is the most important thing for any great songs. However, we are keeping in mind giving impact to audiences who come to see us for the first time, so we tend to place importance in band sound when making songs. We would like to incorporate more melody into our songwriting when we know it is the right time. 

Q: Do you intend to release an album next year? If so, will it contain all new material or include some of what has already appeared on your singles? 

Yoshis: We have released first and second singles (both include three tracks) so far. We plan to launch our third maxi single when we play in Taiwan in December, then release it officially in January 2015. It will contain all new material. Although we are not sure when we can release an album yet, when the time comes, we hope that it will be something like a masterpiece and people can identify the music is made by rhivs. Of could we will include new material. We'd like you to have the CD and ask your friends and readers: 'Are you looking for something exciting?'

See also:
rhivs on dsoaudio: Music Reviews | YouTube

Official rhivs website: www.rhivs.com