Kiwamu Kai – A sneak peek behind the scenes of Starwave Records

During the European tour in April of last year, we already got to sit down with Kiwamu for an interview regarding the tour and the activities of BLOOD at that time. But as mentioned in that interview, Kiwamu is probably just as known for his activities as the owner of not one, but two record labels in Japan: Darkest Labyrinth (which focuses more on the darker, gothic projects) and Starwave Records (which is primarily for ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) projects).

Anyway, since we couldn’t really get into the interesting world of a record label owner we had to postpone that to another interview, which -you’ve guessed it- is this one.

So let’s not waste any time and…

 

Let’s start!

I’ve already introduced you in the short introduction to this interview, and if readers think that wasn’t enough: please refer to the interview with BLOOD, since right now we want to dive in head-first with some rapid-fire style of questions.
You’ve only started Starwave Records roughly two years ago now, but which acts joined this label first?

Kiwamu: When I first started Starwave Records about two years ago, LIX. (who have now changed the name of their band to “lix”) and Luzmelt were actually the first two bands to join the label. I released their very first CDs through my label in February of 2010.

So lix and Luzmelt have been the first to join Starwave Records, but which band you work with has been on the labels the longest?
Kiwamu: Before I created Starwave Records I helped SUICIDE ALI release their very first mini-album titled “Sarau Fue to Yakusoku”. This mini-album was released in March of 2008, and since then they have released ten other titles and have been part of two label-compilations released by my label. I’ve been working with them for four years now.

We’ve spoken a bit about Starwave Records, but marlee is actually signed to your other label, Darkest Labyrinth. Despite that there isn’t that much information about them out there, how did their collaboration with you came to be?
Kiwamu: marlee have worked by themselves for a few years, but during that time I was occasionally talking with the band leader, SEN. He made a remix for one of my projects and I really like his work. So I decided to offer my help to them by inviting them to my label so they could release their materials through me. Their dream was to be able to perform in foreign countries, and this month I’ve finally been able to make that come true for them. I managed to book a performance for them all the way in Canada, and the show went really well!

 

The ups and downs

Not everything that is released through your label is from a band that signed with you full time, is it? Can you please tell me about your collaboration with XodiacK?
Kiwamu: That’s right. With XodiacK I actually had a one-shot contract that entailed releasing only one single through my label. After that they’ve continued to work by themselves, but it has been pretty silent on that front hasn’t it? Unfortunately I don’t know the real reason behind the pause of their activities, so I can’t tell you anything more about that either.

Kiwamu – The man behind Darkest Labyrinth and Starwave Records.

Of course bands and members have had their ups and downs, and recently we’ve seen Luzmelt struggle quite badly with their lineup and eventually disbanding because of it. Of course it’s difficult to form a band and find the right people for it, but as a label owner, what advice do you have for everyone who is dreaming about starting their own band?
Kiwamu: Usually these things happen because of the “traditional bad way of forming bands” here in Japan. A lot of bands find their members through session bands, where they play covers of songs made by other, successful bands. If fans come to see their shows they will start thinking about turning their session band into a full time band.
As a session band they play covers of songs that the fans know and love, because they’re from successful bands. When the same lineup comes to the stage with their original works it is a completely different story. To be able to survive in the music scene they need good songs, a good live show, a good relationship between members and a whole lot of patience and perseverance.
More often than not, the members of these bands will start getting thoughts like “When we were a cover band it was easy to get fans, but it’s so hard in an original band. But it’s not because of me, the other members are bad, but not me.” Because of this “cheap mindset” members will start leaving the band sooner than later.
This happens a lot in the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) scene. There are a lot of young bands who disband or pause their activities relatively quickly after launching their project, causing most projects to disband in about six months to a year on average. By giving up so quickly you won’t learn anything from the band and the mistakes you’ve made.
With Luzmelt in particular, I’ve worked with them for about a year before they decided to leave my label. Yet, vocalist yuhma often came back to ask me a lot of questions about all kinds of things. They couldn’t work very well by themselves, and that’s why they eventually disbanded earlier this year.

THE SOUND BEE HD is probably one of the first projects that come to people’s mind when talking about your labels, and vocalist DAISUKE was actually in a major label band before. How did your collaboration with them happen? Since he does have quite a career to his name, what made Starwave Records the perfect fit for THE SOUND BEE HD?
Kiwamu: I started talking with THE SOUND BEE HD about three years ago now. And yes, you’re absolutely right. Vocalist DAISUKE was in the band “Media Youth”, which was a big name in the Japanese ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) scene. Big enough for the band to have performed in the Nippon Budokan, which is the dream of many, many artists. This alone makes him the one person with the biggest career signed to my label.
After Media Youth disbanded, DAISUKE formed THE SOUND BEE HD. He wanted to release their CD, but he had no idea how to go about this. Another one of his dreams was to be able to go to foreign countries and play shows there, and of course to release CDs periodically.
It actually took one year of talking and preparations before I could release their new album “Hachi”, which came after a long silence since the release before that was a self-released album, seven years ago! After their third album they released two CDs through my label every year.

 

A personal touch

To finish off the list of questions about specific artists, I would like to ask about your very own band, BLOOD. Shortly after the European tour vocalist Hayato announced his departure from the band. Does this mean that BLOOD is going to stop activities again, or will you start your search for a new vocalist again?
Kiwamu: We’ve had some auditions to find new members, but at this very moment we’re still looking at the results of those. The thing is, if I am the one writing the songs they will still sound like BLOOD, regardless of the vocalist singing the words. But at the same time I am not really focusing on BLOOD’s activities that much because I feel a sense of fulfilment in my labels’ activities. If I can’t find a new singer for BLOOD, I will work extra hard for my two labels instead.

Kiwamu – The man behind Darkest Labyrinth and Starwave Records.

As a label owner you work with a lot of different people who each have their own personality. I’m sure some of them are funnier or easier to work with than others, but who do you personally think deserves the title of “the craziest”?
Kiwamu: On stage some of the members might look pretty crazy, but in real life these “crazy members” are actually very normal and serious people. I’m sure there are some foreign fans who might think that I am pretty crazy based on what they’ve seen me do on stage, but that’s just what I am like there, lol. In real life I’m completely different, you’ve seen this yourself during the European tour earlier this year!

During this interview we’ve looked at the past quite a lot, haven’t we? Let’s look towards the future: what is the future of Darkest Labyrinth and Starwave Records like in your eyes?
Kiwamu: Earlier in this interview I’ve explained you the reason for the “short life” in the ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei) scene. I really, really don’t like that. I will support every single band signed to my label forever.
Every single band has their own hopes, dreams and goals, and by supporting them forever I hope I can be of at least some help to them to reach those goals!

Since a lot of the artists signed to your label have dreams of performing in foreign countries, and we’ve seen quite a few of them in Europe in the recent years, can we look forward to more of them coming to Europe anytime soon as well?
Kiwamu: lix will be going to Sweden in September of this year. This month they have been playing shows in Canada, and they were going very well for as far as I know. So I am convinced the show in Sweden will be going well too.
And for you, the fans, if you want the bands signed to my labels to come to your country or city for live shows, please push your local promoters by informing them about the bands and my labels! Who knows, you might see one of my artists near you sooner than later!

 

Extra information

When dealing with a subject like this, it’s actually very difficult to limit yourself and not go absolutely nuts with a whole bookwork of questions. So for the theme of this interview we’ve decided to go for the artist route rather than the technical route, just so we wouldn’t be talking for hours and hours on end.

Maybe we can take a more technical route in the next interview, because as a fan you of course see a completely different side of the music scene than what you see as a promoter, or a label owner or even a journalist (who, spoiler alert, occasionally get more than a sneak peek behind the scenes and into the lives of the artists themselves)…

I hope you enjoyed this interview, since it was quite a different style and topic than we usually cover here on Arlequin Magazine. I personally enjoyed it a lot, but what about you guys? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and maybe we can do another interview like this again in the future!

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