Tune Glue 014: Daijiro Nakagawa (Jyocho)
An interview with the Jyocho guitarist and songwriter Daijiro Nakagawa
Daijiro Nakagawa is the guitarist and principal songwriter in Kyoto-based math-rock quintet Jyocho, and he approaches his craft like an architect, constructing towering, technically complex pop tunes that would topple under less virtuosic supervision. Though the band’s latest record, Let’s Promise to be Happy, shares compositional vocabulary with brutal prog bands like Hella or Tera Melos, its resulting sound is soothing and reflective—shifting time signatures and machine-gun riffage blunted by folk-pop instrumentation. Jude Noel spoke with the musician on April 7, 2022 via Zoom about his obsession with Midwest emo, his work writing anime ending songs, and his side gig running a coffee shop.
Jude Noel: I wanted to start things off by asking about your new solo EP, Loop Lullaby. There are definitely some similarities between the way you write solo material and for the band, but how are things different when working by yourself?
Daijiro Nakagawa: For this title, this time around, there wasn’t so much of a difference as there were similarities. However, my first album [2019’s In My Opinion] was entirely based in acoustic playing—I didn’t have to think about extra instrumentation that might be played by other members. This new record was made upon the request of the Japanese corporation Zurich, who wanted me to create something with a mellow, slow sort of mood. Tunes like “Utakata” and “RiverSong” especially have that sort of atmosphere. Compared to writing for Jyocho as a main composer, I experienced the same sort of process, but the main difference I could point out would be the extensive use of guitar loops, background noise, and some added computing in the process. The ornaments could be the difference, but in terms of genre, it has a lot of similarities.
Something I appreciated about the latest Jyocho album, Let’s Promise To Be Happy, was its brevity. I feel like I could listen to it on repeat because the album’s made of a few very good songs that flow together seamlessly. Why do Jyocho records tend to be on the short side?
The fact that the album itself is a bit compact is actually the result rather than the intention of the original. Where it came from is that there were two songs in particular that were important to the record. One of the songs, “All the Same,” was the ending theme for an anime, and another was for a commercial. So, the album was conceptualized around these two tracks. This is a bit off topic, but the concept of this album was the question of how to become happy, how to seek happiness. When I thought about it, there were a lot of obstacles in the way, and I reached the conclusion that I shouldn’t be influenced by the opinions of others. In order to do that, you need to have your opinions and what you want mapped out clearly and specifically. If you’re clear about that, you can get more freedom and liberty—there’s freedom in knowing what you want.
You mentioned writing the song for the anime series [Banished from the Hero’s Party]. How were you approached by the studio to write the track? Jyocho also produced an ending song for Junji Ito Collection in 2019. How do you approach making music for TV?
I was approached by Nippon Columbia—sort of the father of my label, No Big Deal Records. I had been particularly interested in this field—writing songs for anime—since I last experienced it, so I accepted. I really love working with animation, but in the process, one of the things I try not to do is lose my instincts as Jyocho. I’m focused on the symbiosis between the band and the anime.
Before Jyocho, you were the guitarist in Uchu Conbini between 2012 and 2015. Even then, your songwriting was entrenched in the math-rock genre, but since forming Jyocho, the style’s developed into something a bit more folk-inspired and mellow. How did you initially get into math rock, and how did that develop into the Jyocho sound?
My first experience with math rock was the time I saw these two Japanese bands, Tipographica and Zazen Boys, who were, back then, really progressive. I was stunned by their expressions and how freely they played. I was also influenced by four bands outside of Japan: Make Believe, Owls, American Football, and Algernon Cadwallader. Those aren’t quite math rock, but they were who I was into in my earlier years. Later, I got into bands like Hella, Giraffes? Giraffes!, and Tera Melos.
As far as Jyocho becoming more acoustic goes, I was first initiated into music by my father, learning how to play fingerstyle. Later on, as I grew up, I sort of incorporated all those styles—my origins—into my writing.
I read that you produced demo versions of the Jyocho songs by yourself on your laptop before introducing them to the band. How do you construct the songs? Do you have an image of what you’re going for in your head before starting?
It depends on the situation. There were multiple approaches, but the most basic way of writing for me was sitting down with the acoustic guitar and singing along, then building the instrumentation around that. And sometimes, as you mention, I use a DAW to lay down the piano, the other vocals and the core chords. I wish the ideas kind of fell down onto my head, but they usually come from smaller ideas, which I expand on, taking a journey from there.
I loved the remix of Porter Robinson’s “Look at the Sky” that you released in 2019. I also saw that Jyocho was originally slated to appear at his Secret Sky Festival last year. How did the two of you get in contact?
We first got in contact when Porter Robinson added one of Jyocho’s songs onto his playlist a few years back. I really wanted to show my gratitude and sent a direct message through the internet. He answered back, and ever since then, we’ve followed each other on social media. The festival appearance wasn’t able to happen due to the global social circumstances, but we’re still eager to cooperate musically. In that journey, as a personal ambition, I wanted to learn how to do remixes on my own. So I got Porter Robinson to send the stems and created the track you mentioned. He messaged back and told me how much he liked it. Our relationship is centered almost entirely around music, but we’ve had a lot of back and forth showing mutual respect, and we’re looking for new opportunities to work in the future.
I read in another interview that you’re a big coffee enthusiast and actually own a café, if I’m not mistaken. I’d like to know more about that, and your ideal coffee-drinking atmosphere.
I don’t want to disclose too much information about the café itself (laughs), but when Uchu Conbini broke up, I came to think that I’d like to challenge myself, and I decided I’d grow my own business. My conclusion was to run a café. Pursuing the music and running the business go into the same vector for me. As far as atmosphere goes, while a lot of people might say, you know, you want to drink hot coffee with a beautiful landscape view or drink an iced coffee when you’re warmed up while out camping, a lot of times when I’m drinking it is when I’m wanting to concentrate. The moment itself is refreshing. Not sure if it’s ideal, but it’s what I drink it for. And I love the moment in time I spend actually brewing it for myself.
How did the members of Jyocho meet? What do they individually bring to your initial demos when they’re recording the final draft of a song?
After Uchu Conbini broke up, I was really concerned about whether I should continue pursuing music, because I still had the choice of going back to my business with the coffee shop. I was also a bit interested in being a songwriter as a sort of back end, not as a performer. But then, after all, I decided that I should go back to being a member of a band. Particularly, I wanted to play with the actual people that I loved—people I could engage with on a more personal level. For example, Sindee, who plays bass, was a long time friend since I was doing my former band. He was in a group called Sunday Morning Bell. We were almost like brothers, like American “bros,” So I wanted to gather people who I loved and found musically unique.
After I write the demo and write all of the parts for each member, I imagine what it might land on. But they each arrange these parts, and their groove is usually different. When you play an instrument, you develop your own habits within rhythm. It’s not exactly like the computer lines. These personal habits and grooves make the songs end up greater than I had initially imagined.
I was curious about your background in music. How did you develop your extremely technical guitaristry?
When I started playing guitar, I was in about ninth grade in junior high. That’s the third year in junior high in the Japanese educational system. I was influenced by my father and brother as I mentioned earlier, and that’s how I really initially started playing. It was more of a hobby though. At that time I was more focused on this club team at school. I was really passionate about tennis. You can imagine how crazy the Japanese club teams can be. Training is really hard, and when I reached my final year of high school, I was always playing guitar as a diversion. That became a routine of sorts. It really took off after the club team ended and I joined university. At first, musically, I was interested in funk thanks to my brother and folk thanks to my father. After that, I got into punk, J-rock, and math rock, but my style really focused around acoustic sounds, and I was really stunned by two styles in particular: fingerstyle and the tapping technique. The major ones were Kotaro Oshio and Michael Hedges. Those two really influenced me to learn tapping on acoustic guitar. My sense of melody and harmony came from Pierre Bensusan and Masaaki Kishibe.
I wanted to ask one last question about the visuals that accompany Jyocho’s work. How did the surreal, dreamy imagery come about?
It goes back to the concept of the band itself. We really prioritize the concept of yen—the circular. Visually, everything sort of looks rounded. If you really look carefully, you can separate the latest album’s visuals into two halves—the “All the Same” single cover and the “Gather the Lights” single cover.
Jyocho’s Let’s Promise to be Happy and Daijiro Nakagaw’s Loop Lullaby are out now on No Big Deal Records.
Thank you for reading the fourteenth issue of Tune Glue. Find your own rhythm.
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