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Interview: Ningen-Isu

Ningen-Isu (人間椅子) are 18 albums into a distinguished 27 year career. Their newest release, 無頼豊饒, is another ode to old hard rockin’ heroes, simplified down to the style’s strongest elements and filtered through a Japanese aesthetic. It’s a neat synthesis of both East and West, recapturing the gallops and soul-lassoing grooves of proto-metal and heavy prog while paying homage to the rich traditions of Japanese culture. The trio have built a career by warmly embracing the virtues and winking vices of their influences, testing how those unique qualities can cross over and form a loving whole. Not surprisingly, after 27 years, they’ve figured that out.

So why hadn’t I heard of them before this year?

I don’t mean that as a slight since many icons and legends have eluded my ears and will continue to do so until we can crack the code for the 1,000 hour day. (Enter Rod Serling/The Wishmaster/grinning plutocrat. . . ) But it’s still a little dismaying because Ningen-Isu are absolutely in my wheelhouse. Trad tunes plus a cool concept (each member takes on a different look, etc.) plus lyrical themes pulled from classic literature? Hi, you’ve earned a new diehard. And there is something about Ningen-Isu that compels their fanbase to go that extra mile. Just look at their Facebook, littered with mementos sent by obsessives. Seems like you’re either in the dark or creating fan art.

Naturally, I wanted to know more. I had to know more. I reached out to Ningen-Isu through email and asked them about their origins, influences, and why people connect with them so deeply.

— Ian Chainey

Can you introduce the band members and their roles?

Shinji Wajima, guitar and vocals. Born on 25th of December in 1965.
Ken-ichi Suzuki, bass and vocals. Born on 11th of March in 1966.
Nobu Nakajima, drums and vocals. Born on 20th of September in 1966.

How did the band come together?

Mr. Wajima answers,
Suzuki and I have been friends since we were junior high school students. There were very few people who listened to rock music of US and UK in Aomori Pref. where we lived. Though we went to a different junior high school, we came to know each other because we listened to almost same kind of rock music of UK and US. We went to same high school and we got a band together. The band was origin of Ningen-Isu. Then we kicked our band into gear when we were college students. At that time, we copied so many songs of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and so on. We thought we wanted to make original songs which were like that kind of British hard rock bands. But I couldn’t write the lyrics in English as intended. I thought we couldn’t surpass the British hard rock bands if we only followed their concepts. So we decided the band’s concept was to write the lyrics in Japanese and make the band name in Japanese. Ningen-Isu was formed at that time.

When was the first time you realized metal was your creative calling? Do you remember the artist that first inspired you?

Mr. Wajima answers,
It was when I was 12 years old and I first listened to the Beatles. It was when I was 14 years old and I first listened to Led Zeppelin that I realized electric guitar is the greatest musical instruments and hard riffs are very hot!

Mr. Suzuki answers,
I first listened to the Kiss album when I was 13 years old. And I first listened to Black Sabbath when I was 15 years old. They inspired me a lot!

Mr. Nakajima answers,
I first listened to the Kiss album and Bay City Rollers album when I was 11 years old at my friend’s big brother’s room secretly. I could never forget the impact of listening them.

Why do you play? Is it a creative release? Is it to create the music you’ve always wanted to hear?

Mr. Wajima answers,
I keep on creating the music I have always wanted to listen for myself. Our music includes radical messages and we keep on performing from the bottom of our soul. I believe the style of hard rock is simple and strong. I have not played only for the release.

Mr. Suzuki answers,
I enjoyed a lot playing Wajima’s original songs when we were students. I also wrote some songs and play. Now I am doing the same thing.

Mr. Nakjima answers,
Of course, I keep on playing the music I have always wanted to listen for myself. It is my life to play the drums. Our music is the thing that we can leave behind after I pass away.

As you’ve gotten older, has the creative process changed at all or has it remained the same?

Mr. Wajima answers,
Now I keep same passion and motivation when I started the band. Though I have had really bad time with getting tired of daily life, I just overcome. These days I have more passion than before. It’s because I have established the methodology to send our music clearly to the audience or listeners.

Mr. Suzuki answers,
The creative process has not changed at all. That is when we gather at rehearsal studio, I play cool riffs that come to my mind and make them compositions.

Mr. Nakjima answers,
It has remained the same. I just love to play. Yeah!!

With the rise of the internet, have you noticed that you’ve gained a more global following? Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?

Mr. Wajima answers,
It is very grateful for us that the internet has become widespread. I feel our fans have been gradually increasing with the rise of the internet and I am glad that we are interviewed from overseas like this time.

You have an intensely passionate fanbase. Why do you think your works resonant so deeply with people?

Mr. Wajima answers,
We have kept on making music influenced by the real cool hard rock music like Black Sabbath, etc. and we want to add certain originality as Japanese.

We continue to have the same policy from the beginning of Ningen-Isu: We only want to emulate the British or American famous hard rock band and don’t want to become known and famous. We have been making music with several messages which are psychotic, a sense of discomfort to reality, anxiety to freedom, vision of next coming era and so on. We think hard rock music can express these messages more than the other genres of music.

We have not played and made music which float along with the flow of time. That means we want to keep our faith and don’t want to tell a lie.

I believe that kind of pureness must be welcomed by listeners.

The band takes its name from a Rampo Edoghawa story. What other Japanese authors would you recommend?

Mr. Wajima answers,
We wanted to name our band something weird and evil like Black Sabbath in Japanese. So we thought we should take our band name from a Rampo who is a gothic and mystery novelist in Japan and also is very influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. That is the origin of Ningen-Isu.

About the Japanese Authors,
Kyuusaku Yumeno who was a contemporary gothic author of Rampo Edoghawa who wrote thrilling works though he is not so famous as Rampo.

I especially recommend to the people overseas Junichirou Tanizaki. His works describe the aesthetics of Japan very well.

Kenji Miyazawa is the author I personally respect. I think his works describe religious feelings like Tolstoy which most Japanese don’t feel in that way.

The works of Ryunosuke Akutagawa are just perfect. They are written with a concise style and good old Japan is still alive in them.

The works of Yukio Mishima seem very dense. I think there is no author as he who stuck to the aesthetic of Japan and Japanese.

The authors I mentioned above are just a part of Japanese authors. There are many more gifted Japanese authors same as so many authors exist in the world.

And so are many gifted musicians are existed all over the world!

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