In 2016, the dynamic crashing crescendos and heart-on-sleeve emoting that Japan’s Envy has wound into a luxurious and baroque brand of scream-y and progressive post-hardcore was almost stone-silenced after the departure of frontman Tetsuya Fukagawa. Two more nails were pounded into the coffin when guitarist Masahiro Tabita and drummer Dairoku Seki also submitted their walking papers. Having 60 percent of the band’s original lineup heave-ho within the course of a few months following 25 non-stop years was obviously a defeating prospect for remaining members, guitarist Nobukata Kawai and bassist Manabu Nakagawa.
But, the pair hammer-clawed the nails which threatened to vacuum seal the lid on the band’s prolific career and got a new lineup together, even going so far as to play shows with various fill-in vocalists before Fukagawa decided life without his life’s work and chief creative outlet was a more powerful pull than a few petty disagreements. Once the half-new members, half-original members lineup was solidified, the Tokyo terrors quickly got to work on what would become their seventh album, The Fallen Crimson. They then hit the road like there was no tomorrow because Envy came as close to having no tomorrow as one could imagine and dagnabit if they weren’t going to cherish those moments and do whatever in their power to make sure they never got close to the edge of that cliff again.
Following tours of Japan and Europe at the tail end of 2019 and the always stressful “holidaze” season, Kawai (and for one instance, Fukagawa) sat down and responded to our questions, informing us what it’s like to have your favourite thing almost go up in smoke, the multiple significances of April 1st and how the draining of his wallet was a sign of good things to come.
Check out the music video for “A step in the morning glow“ off of The Fallen Crimson:
Why did Tetsuya leave the band in 2016? The timing of it, leaving on April Fool’s 2016, returning April Fool’s 2018, makes it all seem like an elaborate prank, but that doesn’t seem like something an established band would do at any point in its career. So, what’s the real story?
Nobukata Kawai: “When you continue playing in a band for 25 years, there are moments of conflict and disagreements between each other. It’s not about who is right or wrong. Temporarily, we chose different roads, but now we have a stronger relationship than ever and that is all that matters. Regarding the timing when Tetsuya left, we decided to announce Tetsuya’s departure on April 1st because it is the first day of the fiscal year in Japan and it meant a lot to us to have a new start. When we had the new lineup in the beginning of 2018, I really wanted to play a gig as soon as possible, but most of the venues were already booked. However, there was a canceled gig at a venue we sometimes play at and it was coincidentally on April 1st. If we didn’t play that day, we had to wait until summer, which I didn’t want to happen. I actually felt some kind of destiny toward this. However, there was no intention to deceive anyone at all.“
In the two years when Tetsuya was out of the band, what was the band doing in the time you didn’t have a singer? You had (new guitarist) yOshi in there at some point, but I don’t think you ever had a full-time frontman.
Kawai: “There was no new vocalist. The remaining four (of us) tried to sort out a direction where I tried to do the vocals, but it didn’t fit. Vocals cannot be accomplished only by hard work. My voice didn’t match the songs I composed. yOshi was singing in other bands like Cleaner, Black Line Fever and Killie, but he joined when Tetsuya came back so he wasn’t the substitute. While Tetsuya was out of the band, we invited some guest vocalists to sing our sets and it was fun, but there were also criticism saying it was like an ‘Envy karaoke tournament.“
When you look back on everything that happened, how close did Envy come to breaking up?
Kawai: “An inch from the edge of the cliff. If someone poked, the band was dead.“
Envy’s latest album The Fallen Crimson is due out February 7th, via Temporary Residence Limited:
What brought Tetsuya back into the band?
Kawai: “Tetsuya was out for a walk and he coincidentally bumped into Taka (Takaakira Goto) and Yoda (Hideki ‘Yoda‘ Suematsu) from Mono and they all had a drink together. Taka then called me, asking if I wanted to meet with Tetsuya. I thought about it a while and decided to meet him after two years and talk with him one-to-one. Me and Tetsuya have been playing in the same band for more than 25 years and we know each other well. We didn’t even talk a lot about Envy. I went to meet Tetsuya, not because I wanted him to come back to the band, but he just came back naturally.“
At the same time, why did Masahiro and Dairoku both leave around the same time, especially considering the return of Tetsuya?
Kawai: “A lot of people ask the same question, but before Tetsuya returned to the band, Masahiro and Dairoku already left the band. Tetsuya returned after those two members’ departure. I understand that it looks like that because the announcement timing was coincidentally the same, but the truth is, no. After Masahiro and Dairoku left the band, it was only me and Manabu. At that time, we were both on the tip of the cliff, but we decided to continue and here we are with the new lineup. Dairoku is playing drums in Storm of Void, Masahiro is supporting Mouse on the Keys on guitar and being active with his solo projects. Although we meet less and less than before, the time I spent with them is gold and I wish them the best.“
In that case, can you introduce us to the new guys in the band and explain why you decided to go with three people to replace two guys who left?
Kawai: “yOshi (guitar) plays bass in killie, Yoshimitsu Taki (guitar) plays guitar in 9mm Parabellum Bullet, and (drummer) Hiroki ’Rocky’ Watanabe plays the drums in Heaven in Her Arms. Regarding the change in the number of members, I didn’t want the previous or new members to be compared directly to each other and, moreover, I wanted to express precisely what I always had in mind: three guitars. Most of the songs I write had an image of three guitars and when you have two Telecasters, it is better to have a humbucker backing guitar to supplement and filling the layers to make it sound stronger and beautiful at the same time.“
When all this lineup upheaval settled, did there feel like there was a new energy and excitement in the band? Did that make writing and recording the new album a different experience?
Kawai: “The current band is in good condition. Every member is looking forward to the future of Envy. All of us are enjoying the process without unnecessary tension during shows or production.“
How long did it take to write The Fallen Crimson?
Kawai: “If we count the two songs from the Alnair in August EP, it will be a year, but we actually started to work on it in the spring of 2019. We were all busy but we composed two songs before Hellfest 2019, then composed seven songs in two months after we came back from Hellfest. The song composition speed was unbelievable. It felt like the song was already done before we started. We even composed some songs in two or three hours. I believe our members all have their own motivations going into this album, but for me, it’s the people who encouraged me during the hard times when Envy stopped playing, like my family and friends and my daughter who gave me a letter motivated me a lot. The composition of this album didn’t take much time, but if I count the days when Envy stopped and when I was working on the songs alone at my house, it was definitely a hard time for me.“
How did having three guitars in the band change the writing process for the new album? Was it easier or more difficult for everyone to not only contribute to the music but also find space for everyone’s playing in the final mix?
Kawai: “I bring the idea of the song and we arrange it together. The process hasn’t changed from the past. All the basic composition process is done in the studio and we don’t exchange online files to compose music. If someone has a better idea or riff, we will built it in and rearrange the song. As written above, the arrangements were really quick, but creating the phrases and riffs took a lot of time, which required a lot of pressure too.“
“A faint new world“ is the latest music video to be released from Envy.
The new album sounds like the broadest sounding Envy album ever, like there are fewer boundaries placed as more influences and elements are added to your approach. Was that a deliberate move? If so, was it rooted in the fact that the events of the past couple of years show how fragile things are and how quickly everything can be taken away from you?
Kawai: “I agree on how diverse the songs are, but we didn’t intentionally make this album to be this way. We’ve been working as if we were writing a diary based on the various feelings in life, encounters, partings and the inevitable experiences of living. There was no concept. I can’t write an album only with the feeling of anger and sadness anymore and I don’t want to. Some people tell us to go back to the state of the past of Envy, but that is not possible and it is something that other bands should do. I would like to be honest with all my feelings when I am playing music.“
All things considered, would you say you played and wrote this album like it could be your last? Is that also how you’re approaching the energy and focus you’re putting into touring and live shows?
Kawai: “No, I had no such intention when I was writing these songs. I do acknowledge that the day will come someday, but it is not this one. I actually wrote as if it was our first album. Regarding live shows and tours, once we play a shitty show, it takes a lot of effort and time to recover, so we always focus on doing the best performance ever. Therefore, we prepare the best for our fans.“
Who’s the guest vocalist on “Rhythm?”
Kawai: “The vocalist is named Achico and she sings in a band called Ropes. I knew that she had a beautiful voice from the beginning, but I’d never met with her before. So, I contacted her through a common friend and sent the song, asking if she would like to sing for us and she instantly said 'Yes!’”
What does the title of the new album refer to and what is the significance/story behind you choosing to call it The Fallen Crimson?
Tetsuya Fukagawa: “The theme of The Fallen Crimson is mainly about death, including life, when I was writing the lyrics. However, each song has its own theme and I wrote about my world inside me or varieties of themes that surround my life. The title itself means living a life and eventually returning to nature.“
Check out the album trailer that was released for The Fallen Crimson:
How would you characterise The Fallen Crimson against your previous albums? As its creators, what stands out for you as most different about the album?
Kawai: “This is not a concept album. We kept our initial impulse and ideas to be priority and threw them in. It was a collective process and I believe it was the fastest production in the history of Envy. Taki is a genius and can do everything. He can write songs, arrange songs, record/mix, etc. He especially played a big role in the song arrangements. yOshi and Rocky prepared a lot for the rehearsal and recording, so everything went smoothly. yOshi can speak English and he’s bright, so he’s in charge of the release management and communicating with the label overseas, giving us ideas on how to release and promote the album. Of course, me, Manabu and Tetsuya did a lot of work for this release too. Every one of us can take leadership and respect each other for what we do, so it brings a lot of synergy within the band.“
Was there anything agreed or decided upon that was going to be done differently with Envy in order to avoid having major problems in the coming future? Do you have plans for touring differently, changing the band’s business approach, doing personal relationships differently, etc. in order to keep the band alive and stronger?
Kawai: “We don’t have any specific rules of any kind, but we always keep respect as a priority within the band. Contrary to Western culture, it is really strict in Japan to respect your elders, no matter what, which makes it hard to have a flat relationship a lot of times. So, I focused on establishing an environment where the new members, who are ten years younger than the original members, can speak up easily. (One night) we went out drinking until the morning, spoke our peace, listened to each other and that was good. And not surprisingly, all my money was gone as well. What a good start for the band!“
With everything that has happened for Envy in the last two to three years, what would you say have been the most powerful lessons you’ve learned not just about music and the band, but how important music and the band are to your personal and creative lives?
Kawai: “We’ve been playing music for a long time, but Envy is not an occupation for us. All of us have jobs and we are not doing Envy to make money. Besides, it is nearly impossible to make money with such music style and attitude in Japan. However, we also don’t consider Envy a hobby. It is a very important part of our lifestyle and also a testimony to its existence. During the stagnation period, I had time to think about a lot of things. From this experience, personally, I decided to focus on what I think and feel is the best for Envy. I truly wanted to write and play music for the people who want and need our music. I am not saying we want to be some sort of idol, but I want to face music with honesty.
My attitude toward music hasn’t changed since my 20s and I take music more seriously than ever. I experienced a time without music during the stagnation of Envy and I never want that to happen again. I realized how important Envy and music are to me. I want to spend a meaningful time with our new lineup, leaving no regrets behind.“