Coronavirus

How Visual-kei Vet KAMIJO Changed New Single, 'Persona Grata,' in Response to Pandemic: Interview

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Takaaki Henmi

KAMIJO

Japanese visual-kei artist KAMIJO dropped "Persona Grata," the third and final installment of his PERSONA series of singles at the end of April. The release follows "TEMPLE -Blood sucking for praying-" and "Symbol of The Dragon," both featuring historic figures from European and American history reimagined as protagonists of an epic vampire-themed saga that paints the ugly side of human nature.

Now that his trilogy has reached its conclusion, Billboard Japan caught up with the veteran singer-songwriter who elaborated on the theme of his latest single -- which he says is linked in some ways to the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc around the world -- and his thoughts on his upcoming new album and 25th anniversary memorial concert, both formerly slated for July but currently put on hold due to the pandemic.

What did you want to convey through this work?

The first and second singles in this trilogy and last year's tour were all leading up to this third single and the album in the works, so I wanted it to be a kind of response to what I've been doing for the past year, and also serve as a guide to what is to come. Specifically speaking, everything beyond Episode XI in the scenario was written while also dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic, and there were parts that had to be changed because of that.

So, the postponement of your tour had an effect on your recording?

A lot of things influenced it, but "Persona Grata" is a song I've been performing live since my tour last summer, and the entire project had originated from it, so I've always wanted to deliver it as soon as possible.

What is the essence of the storyline in "Persona Grata"?

One of the meanings of "persona grata" is "a diplomat who is acceptable to the government to which they are sent," as in deeming someone who came from outside as acceptable or welcome. I used it as the title of my work to mean something much bigger in scale, as "someone who gives human beings words that should be accepted." In my story, the Count of St. Germain fits both definitions, so I asked Ms. Ayami Kojima to illustrate him for the main visual.

In a very large sense, I wanted to depict things like human greed in this work, and also to question what we should do to overcome such things. But what I wanted to depict when I first completed this song and how I want to convey it now have changed. I actually re-recorded the vocals for "Persona Grata" at the end of March. Everyone including myself felt all kinds of things around the end of March 2020, and I wanted to sing it over again to put my current feeling into it, to make sure that it did some good for the world since I was going to put it out.

Do you mean you infused the song with more emotion than when you first wrote it because of what's going on in the world now?

In my story, friend and foe definitely exist, but my way of thinking is that people who represent both the "right" and "wrong" sides ultimately have their respective standpoints. Both sides could be "right" when it's one against one, but when it's one against many, the many could become "wrong." We're currently battling an invisible foe called the coronavirus, but it seemed to me that such "things we can't see" or the chaotic side of human nature exist within ensembles of people as well, so that was something I wanted to emphasize in the retake.

In this age of excessive information, we face various situations where we must decide what is the most important thing that needs to be done, and those kinds of "choices" are what this song expresses in a dramatic way, and I'm hoping it could give people courage in these times.

You've depicted timeless tales since you were a member of the visual-kei band LAREINE. What led you to raise the issue of "how people should be" in your recent projects?

I want my music to properly exist in the current times that my fans and I live in, and figured that my stories had to be like what they are or they couldn't exist in the way I wanted. The themes I want to convey are things like "longing for eternity," such as "I want to sing forever," and these messages are so large in scale that they're difficult to convey. After trial and error of attempting to express what I want in a tangible way, I reached this way of depicting how we perceive reality when something from the past appears in our modern-day society.

What can we expect from your new album, PERSONA?

It'll be a continuation of "Persona Grata," while also encompassing it in a greater sense. I'm currently still working on it, with the underlying theme of how we interpret "right" and "wrong" changes according to the way people's consciousness come together as a mass, whether it's one against one, one against many, or many against many.

I'm hoping the album can collaborate with my fans to take on the questions presented at the end of the story of "Persona Grata."

What do you have in store for your 25th anniversary Memorial Concert 2020 -PERSONA-?

You know what, I haven't performed live since last October. I'm looking so forward to performing in front of my fans, I can't wait to really feel alive in that concert environment, as I'm sure my fans do, too.I also want to think of my new album as my "memorial album" and am trying to create something that reflects my 25 years in music. It's my 25th anniversary, and I feel that looking back is necessary too, so I've got a lot of things like that planned for this year as well.

And please let me say one last thing: Those of us who make music have always been supported by everyone out there, and right now as we're all forced to stay put, I'm hoping our music can be a source of strength for everyone. I look forward to seeing everyone again at concerts, with smiles on our faces. I also would like to extend my condolences to those who have lost their lives, and hope that everyone who has fallen ill will recover as soon as they can. I hope my music can be of some support while everyone makes their lives even better than it was before.

Interview by Junko Arasawa

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