Interview by Alessandra CognettaHere we are for another feature from overseas in our series of interviews with female-fronted Japanese bands. This time we move from Tokyo to the south of the country, specifically Osaka. Shiori is the lead singer of Eleanor, a gothic/melancholic metal band that will surely remind you of the Dutch act The Gathering. But there’s much more than that in their music and we had Shiori as our guide to get to know more about Eleanor and their latest release, “Breathe Life Into The Essence”, with in-depth analysis of the songs, the emotions the cultural influences and the people behind the music. You only have to scroll down and read! Hello and welcome to Femme Metal, Shiori! We’re glad to have another Japanese band on our webzine. So, how are you and how’s Eleanor doing right now? Your latest album, “Breathe Life Into The Essence”, has been released not long ago, what feedback did you get from the press and from your fans?
Hello. I’m the singer of Eleanor, Shiori. Thank you for the opportunity, and I would like to express my feelings of honor at being interviewed. As for the new album, we have been introduced by magazine reviews, radio programs etc., and through various sources of media we have been receiving favorable receptions from not only our fans, but also listeners who have never heard of us before, and I feel very happy about this. It could be due to the fact that before the release we posted free test plays from the album, and made the PV accessible, so that as many people as possible would have the chance to know a little bit about us.“Breathe Life Into The Essence” comes four years after the release of your first album. What happened in these four years and how did this long pause away from studio recordings help or improve your relationship with songwriting?
The making of the second album began from the act of first putting a stop to the currentof our activities, and taking a second look into ourselves. The songs on the second album I think have increased in scale, compared to before. We do call ourselves a melancholic gothic metal band, but many songs take a widely altered course from what would be expected from the gothic metal genre. If we had not stopped the flow after the release of the first, we most possibly might have ended up making an album on the same track as before.I’ve also read that Eleanor had a one-year hiatus before your “rebirth” in 2012. What led to the changes in the line-up and what new elements did you bring in after this process?
From about a year to a year and a half, we put a halt to all activities, and put this period of time into use to personally practice and train until the day arrived when we would again preform on stage. During this period our lead guitarist Kazushi left us. This withdrawal was not because of a dispute or difference in musical opinions, but simply because his schedule did not fit with us, and meeting together became difficult. He is presently playing in a bluesy rock band that he leads.
In Kazushi’s stead, Nao joined us. He is also playing as the guitarist in the dark core band INSENSE, bringing with him a heavy sound into the band Eleanor. He is a man all covered up with too many tattoos. At the same time as Nao, Jet Rumi joined us as a chorus singer. On stage she also does parts like the tambourine and percussion. She stands out, and at lives there are many customers that come particularly to watch her.One of your biggest musical influences is without a doubt the Dutch band The Gathering. Why did their music have such a strong impact on you? What other artists inspired you and is there anyone from Japan in that list?
Until encountering THE GATHERING, I was constantly searching for my ideal type of music and band style. When I first listened to them, I was completely knocked out by their overwhelming skill at singing, expressiveness, and music that holds in abundance a certain sorrow. Among female vocals in the gothic metal genre, you commonly find so called soprano vocals, and symphonic styles, but these just never seemed to appeal to me. Besides the above band, there are not any musicians that I can say in particular had an influence on me, but perhaps I did receive inspiration from famous Japanese singers like Miyuki Nakajima and Junko Ohashi. They are both singers that have an emotional and impressive way of singing.Eleanor hails from Osaka and it’s the first band from Osaka we have the pleasure to feature here. So what I’d like to ask you, Shiori, is: how is the Osaka music scene different from Tokyo and the rest of Japan in general? What are some peculiar elements that Osaka brings forward from its music and culture to the rest of the country?
It’s a privilege to be the first band from Osaka that you feature. Thanks a lot. As you know, Japan is a very small country. Its center is Tokyo, and since various people from all regions of the country gather, the music population in Tokyo is abundant, the genres are innumerable, and you would probably get a restless, unsettled impression from the music scene there. The popularities constantly change, and to go against the flow you may find difficult.
On the other hand, although Osaka is also quite big, it is a region which I believe has established a unique culture and style. I get the impression that it is a place that more than anything puts weight on originality, without being swayed by the general flow. If you were able to find originality in our music, it could be due to the influence this area has on us. Among Japanese bands that are known throughout the world, LOUDNESS is a band from Osaka. Also bands like BOREDOMS, and the grind core band S.O.B. went abroad after originating in Osaka.Let’s focus our attention on the album for a while, now. I have read the commentary you and Ippei wrote, as main lyricist and composer respectively, for each track and it was really interesting to get to know about all the emotions and details the two of you based the songs on. One of my favorites is “Prayer”, which features a special guest: Koh, vocalist from the fellow Japanese band Bellfast. The lyrics are also based on a novel. What novel was it and how is it related to the choice of having a guest musician on the song?
The novel is called “1Q84”, by the famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Inside the story there are two main characters, one male, and the other female, so I thought it best to feature a male vocalist. I wrote the lyrics while imagining what the heroine must have been feeling inside of the act. Since it is a very exciting and dramatic story, I wanted to express that world through singing, and if possible with a male guest vocalist with both uniqueness and ability. You can read commentaries on all tracks in English at http://eleanorjapan.com/english, so please do if you have the chance.
Koh is the singer of a folk, Viking metal style band, and also manages a site called “castle of pagan”, a very important one in the metal circle in Japan. I was always aware of his presence, and always looked up to his band, so it was quite an opportunity to be able to feature together with him.“Mourning” is another track that caught my attention: in the commentary, Ippei writes that he imagined his own passing away while composing it. How did you relate to such a complicated and “strong” subject as a singer and a songwriter?
I’m really glad you liked it. Thank you so much. When the track was finished, I was told that the theme was a funeral procession, and naturally intended to write lyrics relating to this. Since I picked abstract words, there could be times were you find it hard to understand, depending on the reader. In fact, I’m afraid even Ippei at first seemed to find it difficult to understand.
Since the subject is such a heavy one, and the song in itself is very dramatic, it is a very difficult song to sing the intended way. We will perform this song on stage for countless times, so I feel I must work hard to express the vastness of the song, and the image included in the lyrics.
“Fatal Movement”, instead “can be said to symbolize the present Eleanor” and is also the first song from the new album to get a music video. How is the striking imagery presented in the video to be interpreted?
The video turned out to be of much value, since it has not just slide pictures and the lyrics, but it is a motion picture. According to the PV creator, the imagery was made by expanding the impression received from the track, and the meaning of the lyrics.
There is a scene were my form falls apart, and turns into bones, and here I sing “the story I portray ~ are empty and astray” (like a false image.). I think it is an attempt to express the change from reality to illusion, and personally it is my favorite scene.I’ve picked my favourites, so now I’d like to know from you what is the song you enjoyed the most bringing to life and performing on stage (and for what reasons, of course).
It’s very difficult to compare between the tracks, but I can say that it is probably “Fatal Movement”. Since it was the first song to be completed, we had already performed the song several times at lives before the recording was done. Every time we perform this song, I can feel that the other members play more and more with a personal attachment for the song, and bring the song to life each with their own interpretation of it in mind. Also, the heavy part at the ending of the song is a climatic point of oneness with the audience which is always quite a moment of sensation.I wonder, all the lyrics from “Breathe Life Into The Essence” are in Japanese, but you also provide a lot of material in English, from the subtitles on the video for “Fatal Movement” to the press release I was able to read before writing this interview. How is this duality of language perceived by Japanese artists? How do these two aspects balance in a band’s activity?
In this album, we intend to balance the linguistic aspect on the Japanese side. This is because it is possible by doing so to bring feelings in a natural way into the words. However, by tilting the scales completely there would be too many points where lack of understanding between us and the people around the world outside of Japan remain. We always want to keep an open stance. The subtitles on the PV were done as a means to make it possible to gain an idea of the world I keep in my imagination, and the words I use to express it. Metal bands that sing in Japanese are actually rare in Japan. Other Japanese artists may therefore perceive us to be a curiosity in this sense.Now that we’ve gone through some more intricate questions I guess it’s time to discuss some trivia. What brought you to music, Shiori? Why did you decide to pursue a career as a singer?
To tell you the truth I was at first a terrible singer, really a miserable sight that you couldn’t bear for even a second. I had no power of voice, my pitch was unstable, and I was just not in a state to be able to perform in front of anyone at all. But I just loved to sing, and knew from the bottom of my heart that this is all I want! I just had to believe this while training myself, gaining experience by performing lives, and overcoming the sometimes unbearable feelings of frustration and wretchedness, while always working myself towards that goal.You also have a very original singing style, something I’ve rarely heard from female vocalists in recent times. What is it influenced from and how did you develop it?
The way I sing is not influenced by anyone in particular, nor have I ever tried to copy someone’s style. Since more than anything, to be able to sing on the average level was my primary goal. If you found my singing style to be original, that’s something to be very happy about. I still want to advance a long way, and become a singer that can touch the hearts of as many as possible, and until then the only thing I can do is strive for it. Thank you though.Eleanor is currently on tour in Japan. Do you have any plans or ideas you’d like to work on besides that.
To perform at a bigger stage and country outside of Japan, is one aim we are after. Presently, we are negotiating to participate in a festival of female vocals upcoming in Europe. You may have felt that our music has an inclining towards the gothic metal style of Finland, and we are interested, and would very much like to know and try out, what kind of reaction we would receive at the base of this kind of music.We have unfortunately reached the end of the interview, Shiori. Thank you so much again for giving us this opportunity, we wish Eleanor all the best! You can leave a message to fans and readers below.
Overcoming the boundaries of countries and languages, and being able to connect like this, has been and is a very valuable experience for us. If by any chance you think that you would like to watch our live at your home country, please feel free to invite us any time! We will fly over with a lot of burning hearts, and cool sounds packed along with us. Thank you again so much for today. We wish you all the best too! That was eleanor! If you are interested, please visit our site at http://eleanorjapan.com . It is mainly in Japanese, but there is an English page, where you can also purchase CDs.