FOCUS // kirye: a new sound from the Japanese math rock underground

The Japanese math rock scene, with all its influence and charm, has always been just slightly out of reach for the Western audience. Sure, some of the most influential math rock bands of all time are here, such as toe and LITE. Bands like tricot have been able to transcend the ‘too weird for radio’ stonewalls and get exposure on more mainstream music platforms. Rising stars, such as paranoid void have completed successful US tour. By and large, however, the scene remains wily and elusive, and these higher-end successes are mere teasers of what the country offers.

So when a new band comes along, sporting all the licks and flair of the Japanese math rock contemporaries, it’s hard not to prick one’s ears as a budding outsider. We’ve been avid supporters of Japanese math rock since our inception (also, check this out for a nice ‘who’s who’), and if a band in the region makes their presence known, we are almost certain to listen. Such was the case with kirye, a five-piece with a penchant for discordant bursts of punk energy laid between pop ballads.

I reached out to the band get their take on songwriting, band names, influences, and the interplay between instrumentation and vocals.

Nice to meet you! First, congrats for releasing the 1st mini album! Is it the first release for you?

[Vmgf, guitarist] Hi, it’s great to meet you! Thanks for interviewing us. Before Netami, we released a few singles on music streaming services, and some music videos on video streaming sites. Netami is all of those singles remixed and remastered (very scrupulously) as well as a previously unreleased song. The new versions of the previously released songs are much better, so definitely listen to the album version! 

Kirye’s sounds are very complex and dense. I read that you started as an instrumental band. Was vocalist Shuri a big influence on the band?

[Vmgf] It might be a bit unusual, but it’s actually the other way around. We had instrumental songs with these complicated, math rock-style phrases, but if you go back to when I was writing them I was really thinking more along the lines of a song with vocals. 

Even though I was working with two guitars, drums, and bass for instrumentation, I wanted to write songs that would leave an impression, that people would remember, that would kind of constantly be stuck in your head. So the songs all started out comparatively simple and easy to understand.

The two instrumental songs on this album, ‘Mamou’ and ‘At Amakusa’, are the first songs we ever played as a band (although At Amakusa was actually originally for a previous band I was in called Ishiki No Nai Kuranke). Anyway, I think you can really see the impact of those songs being our starting point.

The really complicated stuff came from our bassist Norishio though, who kind of changed the flavor of our music single-handedly. Somehow he managed to combine the original melodic, maybe sort of charming atmosphere and these insane, million-note parts into a song that is complicated and difficult to play, but somehow catchy and easy to listen to – Helix.

With all of that said though, Shuri’s timing joining the band was perfect. She has this elegant but powerful voice that we were able to incorporate into our sound to really push us up to a new level.

Kirye’s 1st mini album sounds a lot like COgeNdshE I find, you have beautiful pop melodies with high range vocals, but also use this almost powerviolence sound as well. How do you make songs?

[Vmgf] So for the songs on Netami there were two songwriters, me and Norishio, and we both did the songwriting using music production software.

I don’t know any music theory or whatever, so I don’t really have a very good idea of what I’m doing a lot of the time, but a lot of the time I’ll have some arpeggiated guitar going, then bring everyone together on a unison part to help shape the structure of the song. Regardless of whether it’s an instrumental or vocal song, I always write the main melody last to make sure that the song supporting the melody is as high-quality and high-impact as possible.

On the other hand, Norishio is pretty much my polar opposite. He put a lot of effort into studying music theory, so he knows how to use stuff like key changes, odd time signatures, and polyrhythms really effectively in his songs. He writes out the guitar and bass parts in notation, then asks OINU to handle the drums. The two of them always have Guitar Pro open on a laptop and are talking about what would work for the drums while they’re going through the sheet music.

They’re not on Netami, but the other three band members have actually written songs as well, so we don’t really have a set structure for songwriting, it’s just sort of all over the place. There’s also someone in the band who, instead of writing out sheet music, just scribbles note names down and hands it over. No one can ever read it haha.

I heard the band’s name Kirye is random letters chosen by the members ?

[Vmgf] That is a true story. There was about a year when it was just me and OINU and we talked about what the band name should be the whole time, but never really found anything we could both agree on. 

Before Norishio joined, we had “The Beautiful Giant” playing bass, but even after Davis joined that was still the state of things. Eventually, we got our first gig and said “Alright, time to do this, we’ve gotta pick a name”, so as a last resort we had each member say a letter out loud and we would try to combine them into a name.

We were sitting on the second floor of the Ten-i (the ramen shop) in Ikebukuro. If I remember right, the letters were K/R/Y/E, and someone pointed out that you can read that as Kirye. OINU and I jinxed each other when we said “Yea, not bad.” So we were Kirye from that point on.
The previous candidates were…interesting, but I think that’s another story.

[Davis, guitar] I actually remember that day really well, my stomach was hurting. If I remember right it actually wasn’t K/R/Y/E though; I think we were using Kana (a phonetic way of writing/describing Japanese). So I think there was actually an extra syllable that got thrown away. I’m pretty sure I picked Ki though, so it wasn’t mine. We didn’t decide how to spell the name at the ramen place, so early on it seemed like we had a different spelling every time we wrote it (Kirie, Kyrie, Kyrye, Kirye), but eventually we settled on Kirye.

[OINU, drums] I just found an old memo between Vmgf and myself, and there are a bunch of suggestions from Vmgf like “The Global Tomato Division”, “The Man From Planet McDonald’s”, “Shining Pervert Punch”, “Apartment Investment Frappachino”, “The Guy Wearing Cabbage has Already Said Goodnight”, “Quinoa, the Fool, and Heave-Ho”, and “DJ Modern Poo”… 

It is hard because we are in the Covid-19 pandemic, but do you have any plans for a showcase? And, please let me know if you have some changes in the circumstances.

[Vmgf] We do actually have a gig coming up! On November 1st, we’re playing at Shimokitazawa Daisy Bar. It’s not completely decided yet, but we’re also planning on playing at Shonan Bit in December. Probably.
Covid-19 preventing us from playing live was obviously tough, but we did our best to make the best of things and look at it as an opportunity to focus on recording.

Honestly, it’s probably because of that positive approach that we were able to get Netami put together, along with a solid chunk of a second EP.
It seems like a lot of bands are searching for something to replace live gigs with right now, but I think from the beginning we’ve always been a band that emphasized creating content like albums and music videos, so we’ll probably hold on to that sort of thinking moving forward. So, we’ll probably limit it to one show a month at most for a while.

Please let me know something from members, about the band, genres, music for making your album, influenced by, and etc.

[Vmgf] I got into music through hard rock. When I was in high school, I listened to B’z and Guns N’ Roses so much it might’ve made me a little insane. I’d say that’s where my melodic roots are. From that, I got into metal, especially bands that really emphasized being heavy. KoRn, System of a Down, Arch Enemy, etc. I found out about Post Rock in college, and bands that emphasized being unique were what really drew me in. People in the Box, Haisuinonasa, Hachijuhachi Kasyo Junrei, that sort of thing.

[OINU] My favorite genres are metal, metalcore, anime/game music, choral music, and soundtracks. When I was in middle school I was completely obsessed with metal, especially melodic speed metal, death metal, and black metal, to the point that I would listen through tons of it while I slept. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Belphegor and Pantheon I. As a drummer, I try to emulate Aquiles Priester from Angra and learn a lot of his stuff.

Besides that, when I was 17 I covered SIAM SHADE, which got me interested in music that managed to be catchy without giving up being technical, and that’s part of what defines my musicianship even now. I found out about LIGHT BRINGER through Ryu5150, and School Food Punishment is definitely an influence as well. I’m not entirely sure why, but about since I turned 20 I’ve gotten really into choral music and soundtracks (maybe I’m trying to cleanse my heart). Most recently, it’s been a lot of Rin Toshite Jigure and Yosei Teikoku.

[Davis] Up until and through a lot of high school, I listened to a lot of classic rock, grunge, indie, and prog rock, but somehow when I was a junior or senior I stumbled upon Toe’s most famous album, The Book About My Idle Plot On A Vague Anxiety. From that point onward I got really into emo and math rock. Tons of stuff like American Football, Chinese Football, Pretty Girl, Invalids, Ghosts and Vodka, Tricot, Uchu Conbini, and Tiny Moving Parts. I just absolutely loved it. I also went to music school for college, so I got to study some stuff like jazz, minimalism, and various classical traditions, as well as being introduced to a lot of electronic and avant garde stuff. I love artists like Tokyo Shiokoji, Phillip Glass, and Steve Reich for minimalism, and a lot of newer jazz people like Robert Glasper, Snarky Puppy, and Tigran Hamasyan

[shuri, vocal] Rock and anime songs are my strongest influences.
I did cheerleading in middle school, so I heard a lot of western music through that, particularly rock bands like Good Charlette, The Offspring, Sum41, and Green Day. I also remember the first time I heard Paramore I was totally blown away. Hayley Williams, the vocalist, was so cool, and strong, and interesting. I got into emo and screamo in the 2000s, and when I was 17 I fell in love with the 80s electro-pop sound.

Also, when I was in middle school my brother showed me a bunch of anime songs and Japanese rock bands. I got pretty obsessed with Nana Mizuki, LiSA, Kishidakyodan and the Akeboshi Rockets, and School Food Punishment, and actually still listen to them.

[Norishio, bass] The stuff I listen to normally has a progressive and post rock sound. The DADGAD tuning, chords, and tapping techniques I use in my songwriting are really heavily influenced by artists like Uchu Conbini, Owane, and Plini. In terms of how I write my songs, I refer to Polyphia a lot; I’ll come up with a loop for one part, then try different inflections to see how the feeling changes. It’s hard to shorten things down.

Many fans from overseas like post-rock and math-rock bands in Japan, or Asia. Do you have any plans for expanding overseas?

Yea, of course! It’s easy to get foriegn listeners these days, so the hurdle of getting popular overseas has definitely been lowered compared to the past. Actually, for some reason there are less comments in Japanese on our Youtube videos than other languages!

We actually had one or two people order our album from overseas which made us really happy. The first order was from England, and it was my first time shipping overseas so I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I ended up spending 2200 yen. Even though the CD was 1500 yen.

When Covid-19 is under control and we’ve got a little more momentum, we definitely want to try a tour outside of Japan! 

You can grab kirye’s new mini-album ‘Netami’ on their Bandcamp page, and keep up to date with their movements on Twitter.

This article has been translated from a Japenese interview