Interview with guitarist Nobukata Kawai and vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa
By Ben Sailer
Few bands with roots in hardcore are fortunate enough to release more than a handful of records before calling it a day. Even fewer overcome the kinds of lineup shifts that Envy experienced shortly after touring on their 2015 album, Atheist’s Cornea. Indeed, when vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa departed in early 2016, it appeared that the influential, Tokyo-based, post-everything screamo band’s nearly-three-decade career was coming to an end. For a moment, it looked that way to the remaining members, too.
Flash forward to the present, and it almost seems like a miracle that Envy are not only still together, but able to take time to discuss their new record, The Fallen Crimson (out now via Temporary Residence). With Fukagawa rejoining in 2018—and new members yOshi (guitar), Yoshimitsu Taki (guitar), and Hiroki Watanabe (drums) replacing founding guitarist Masahiro Tobita and drummer Dairoku Seti—the album marks a triumphant return for one of heavy music’s most innovative and forward-thinking acts.
New Noise caught up with Fukagawa and guitarist Nobukata Kawai via email to talk about how a night at the bar brought the band back from the brink of implosion, how they approached writing The Fallen Crimson with their revamped lineup, and what’s next to come.
Despite this being your first full-length album in five years, it sounds as though you’ve gone through considerable changes since the release of Atheist’s Cornea. Can you elaborate on the personal and creative challenges your band collectively faced in that time which led to some members choosing to move on? Or, would you prefer to keep those stories private?
Nobukata Kawai (guitar): When Tetsu [Fukagawa, vocals] left the band, I was thinking whether to continue Envy or not. But I already had a music festival called After Hours, organized by Taka from Mono, Robin from Downy, and myself at that time. I gave a phone call to Taka, telling him, “I can’t continue anymore, and Envy can’t play.” Taka responded, “Never quit; there is no future of Japan without Envy.”
I decided to continue Envy with the remaining four, without Tetsu. It was January 2016. We invited guest vocals to our shows to have them sing Tetsu’s part and at the same time continued writing music. I even took the microphone, writing the lyrics and singing them. However, my voice totally didn’t match Envy’s music, and I encountered the vocoder effects pedal. When I was about to get the feeling of how to sort out a new style of Envy with this vocoder pedal, two members decided to leave the band for multiple reasons, and I guess the loss of interest in the music was one of the reasons.
And then, it was me and the bass player Naka [Manabu Nakagawa] left. I called Naka out for a drink, and it was the first time for me to call him out since we formed the band. At that time, I told Naka, “It might be the time to end the whole thing,” and he replied, “Leave if you wish; I will keep Envy continuing.” If I didn’t hear those words, I think Envy would be dead for good.
Regarding song composition, it was more tough, and I suffered not to be able to play music. Each member had their own reason for leaving the band, and it’s their choice of freedom. None of us are wrong, and I shouldn’t talk about other people’s reasons. I have a stronger trust and relationship with Tetsu, and I think that is enough to be said. Tetsu is the only vocalist for Envy.
How did you come to add new members Yoshimitsu Taki, yOshi, and Hiroki Watanabe?
Kawai: Naka trusted me on this part. I decided everything by my instinct and gave a phone call to each of the new members. For a couple of years, the main news was about members leaving the band, so I didn’t want to make mistakes in selecting the new members, so I really took it deliberately.
However, as mentioned above, I decided by my instinct. Rocky, our new drummer, was supporting Envy from 2015, so it was an easy decision for us and him to join the band. Regarding the guitars, yOshi and I used to have a big fight, and for Taki, I didn’t have a close relationship with him, so I had to start [by] talking with them. I first gave them a phone call, and I remember they were surprised about being asked to join Envy, but once we jammed together, it blew my mind, and I instantly decided this was going to be the new lineup.
The new three members and the three original members have a ten-year age gap, but our feelings toward music are at the same level, and we respect each other a lot. The band is totally highly motivated. yOshi is a man who has a wide view and a clear vision toward everything. His participation has brought a lot of smoothness in production and communication. Musically, he is in charge of the backing guitar but is an essential, important part, and really talented.
I asked Taki to join the band because he is an amazing guitar player, but more than that, he has a perfect ear pitch and can play multiple instruments: drums, piano, violin, and other string instruments. He was definitely playing the main role of editing and mixing the album. Rocky is a guy who is always honest and fully pitching towards music all the time, and he dedicates all his time to get prepared. I really like that attitude.
This is the first album Envy have released with your new lineup. How, if at all, did playing with Yoshimitsu, yOshi, and Hiroki change your writing process, and how did it feel to be in the studio together? It sounds immediately familiar as an Envy album, which is impressive given that much change among members.
Kawai: The song-composing process hasn’t changed for 25 years. I come up with the ideas and give it a simple shape. I might make a simple demo, or tell the members the image of the song by playing the riff at the studio. Either way, it will be incomplete when it is submitted to the members. I believe it’s easier for the members to speak up if the song is incomplete. Envy is not a band just to make songs I like. I make the start, and that is my job.
Most of the riffs are made to be impressive, so it doesn’t take too much time to complete. The role and responsibility among the new lineup is very explicit, so the song process is literally three times faster than before. I let each member decide what riffs to play after I convey the scene I see, the emotions I express in the songs, and the vague image of the sound. I communicate with the members a lot, especially when the image is totally different from what I expect, but that rarely happens, and everyone does their job. There are various riffs that exceeded my imagination, and I even changed my riffs or song structure to align with those riffs.
The three new members give me a lot of ideas while I am struggling to come up with an idea, and they have contributed a lot to [writing] this album within a tight schedule. As long as Tetsu sings on our songs, it will always be Envy, and I believe that can’t change! Taki composed “Marginalized Thread,” “Eternal Memories and Reincarnation,” and “Memories and the Limit.” yOshi can also compose songs, so we are thinking of writing new songs from his riffs as well. Of course, I am willing to be challenged more than ever to keep up Envy, so people won’t call us a legacy band.
When you started writing for this record, was there a particular sound or direction you were consciously attempting to achieve?
Kawai: The initial impulse was important, as if we were writing our first album. We wanted to write about our daily life, encountering, parting, stuffing all our emotions directly, as if we were writing a diary. A lot of people say that this album has a lot of variations. In other words, it makes me feel like they are telling me there is no other band in the world who has such a big swing and needs to calm down!
The word “genre” does not mean anything to us, and rather it is clean tone, high-gain tone, blast beat, D-beat, ambient, hardcore—as long as it is good and has passion, we want to express it. All we wanted to do is to write a damn beautiful album.
There’s a triumphant and almost upbeat feel throughout much of this album. Is this indicative of a desire to push past difficulties and produce something that reflected having overcome adversity?
Kawai: I’m glad to hear that you felt that way. Each song has a different emotion toward it, but “Dawn and Gaze,” which is the first song we wrote with the new line-up, and “HIKARI,” which has a riff that was created during the previous line-up, reflect overcoming adversity.
Can you tell me the inspiration behind the title The Fallen Crimson?
Tetsu Fukagawa (vocals): The title The Fallen Crimson was decided when all lyrics were written and vocals were finished recording. It actually came from a lyric which I wrote previously, and a translator I really trust translated it from Japanese to English, which I really liked and decided to use it as the title. The theme of the title is about living and eventually returning to nature.
Were there any particular lyrical themes that emerged while writing this record?
Fukagawa: The theme as a whole was about death (including life and living) when I was writing the lyrics. But each of the lyrics has its own theme, and all of it comes from my internal world and feelings, or the surroundings around me, issues or incidents that happen around me, family and so forth. The lyrics are a reflection of myself.
Few hardcore bands last for nearly 30 years, all while progressing their sound. What keeps you interested in creating music with Envy?
Kawai: It’s a difficult question to answer, but for me, to make difference among songs and discover new expression. I try not to listen to other people’s music. Within this long journey, I intentionally tried to listen to music, but eventually, those musical inspirations begin to disturb me while I write songs.
So, for a couple of years, I intentionally avoided listening to other music. Most of the inspiration comes from our daily life, which turns into a motivation to change these emotions into songs.
We live on a small island, so if we don’t pursue originality, no one will pick us up when we are compared to other bands around the world. In that sense, I can confidently say that The Fallen Crimson is our music.
How much touring for this record should fans around the world expect?
Kawai: Scheduling arrangements are really difficult, but we are starting to organize domestic and overseas tours. We have attempted to organize a U.S. tour many times, but there are lot of points that we need to cover that are not easy at all. U.S. law is a huge barrier for a Japanese band that can’t tour very long, so we are trying to sort this out. We will definitely go back to the U.S., and that will be a promise.
Is there anything else about the record you’d like listeners to know?
Kawai: I am confident to tell everyone that this album kicks ass. I will be delighted if you can listen to it. However, the best part of Envy is the live show, so if we come near by your town, please come over. We hope to see you soon. Thank you for reading.
The Fallen Crimson is out now via Temporary Residence and available on Envy’s Bandcamp page.