An interview with Jun Konagaya of GRIM
This interview, which I believe is the first ever English one with Jun Konagaya, the man behind Grim and White Hospital, was conducted right after Grim’s first appearance overseas, a double concert at the Will To Power: Electronics II festival in Mannheim, on the 17th and 18th of June, 2016. For a live report, photos and videos of the performance click here.
But before I get to the actual Q&A, I would like to say thanks the people at Tesco Organisation, who helped to arrange this and to Takahiko Yokoyama, who was translating for us and eventually became an active part of the interview.
What were your main influences around the time you started to make music yourself?
Mostly European industrial acts like Whitehouse, but my biggest favorite was SPK‘s early, punk rockish era. Especially one of their early, single-only tracks, called No More.
Talking about SPK: in their later releases they started to incorporate traditional music influences, just as you did, even though you use traditional influences in a very different way.
Yes, I like to play music that is not refined. For me it must have a raw, native feeling. Of course, I use machines and electric equipment, but beside that I also need the physical part and the raw voice in my music.
Actually your singing style always reminded me to Tibetan singing…
Oh yes, I really like the traditional folk music from Tibet!
Beside the Western influences, like SPK and so on, were you also influenced by Japanese acts as well in those early days?
Maybe no direct influence, but around ’82-’84 I tried to buy every independently released Japanese record, so I was familiar with that scene.
Were you in any other bands before White Hospital?
No, no, that was the first band that I was in.
What was the philosophy behind Grim, the solo project you started after White Hospital disbanded?
For both bands I wanted to do something different, something that sets them apart from what other people were doing. For example, while I really like to listen to punk music, I would never play it myself. However, punk rock can become more aggressive and distorted, so I took those elements and used them in White Hospital and Grim.
Why did you decide to go on a very long break after the ’80s?
I was doing tenkoku, which is a Chinese way of carving seals, so it is just that my interest shifted from music towards tenkoku and I was mostly doing that during the break.
And why did you decide to start over?
Before the re-release of all the old Grim material I bought and old Yamaha synthesizer and started to write new pieces, or more like… melodies with it. But at the time I wasn’t thinking about releasing these on CD. However after the re-releases were launched I changed my mind and actually started to make new material based on these melodies. Especially because the re-releases were never really a priority for me, as I prefer to always go forward and do new stuff.
Since you resumed activity, you released new material both as Grim and under your own name. What are the main differences between these releases?
I already released some organ based music back in the ’80s on Message (a Grim 12″ EP from 1987) and I kept on doing new pieces, however I wanted to set these apart from Grim, so I decided to release these under my own name and on my own label, Eskimo.
Your most recent album was released on Tesco, who also organized this festival, so how did you get in touch with them?
Oh, actually it was because of him! *Points at Takahiko Yokoyama, our translator*
Takahiko Yokoyama: Yes, maybe it was me *laughs*. Because I have known Tesco for over ten years, as I invited Genocide Organ to Japan. At first they asked me to invite Grim to this show and he said, OK, let’s do it, so that’s how it started.
Is the new Grim album, Orgasm, that was released just now, on the festival’s first day, any different from your previous ones?
Before this one, I used to compose everything by myself, but Orgasm is divided to two parts that were done in different ways. One was recorded by myself, but the other part was recorded live in the studio, with the other members.
So, Grim is becoming more like a band?
No, we can’t say that Grim is becoming a band, as I do not want to fix Grim to something. I am composing new pieces all the time and when I think that everything fits well together I start thinking about releasing it as Grim. No matter how it was made, with band or live or otherwise.
Who were the other musicians that worked on the album?
The guitarist, Daisuke Maekawa is a friend of mine, and the drummer, Yusuke Owada (who was not playing with them in Mannheim) as well, and we had Linekraft (Masahiko Okubo) on metal percussion. I met him when I was invited to play at a small festival in Tokyo, where he also played and we talked to each other there and Linekraft ended up joining Grim.
And who was the girl who was singing tonight during the second night’s show?
She is a very young girl called Remo, who is a solo performer, but sometimes also plays with a band. I think she has a lot of energy, much more than most girls. I got to know her through her live performance and she asked me to bring her to Germany to perform with us. She said that she will pay her own flight, so it convinced me that her dedication to Grim and her musical activity is real. And she did a really great performance tonight.
Yes, she was truly amazing! (You can check out one of her solo performances here.)
And she is still very young, so she can improve even more!
Who do you usually play with in Japan and do you consider yourself a part of any music scene?
First of all I rarely play live in Japan. I am usually invited to play by Linekraft, but when someone else invites me, I usually accept as well, so I am not a part of a specific scene.
Now, after the two shows at the festival, do you see any difference between the audiences in Japan and Europe?
They are definitely different. Maybe it has something to do with their character or the nationality… Actually, as I mentioned, I do not have much live experience, but in Japan, we do not have that many people for concerts and I don’t really know how I should spread my ideas through live performances there. But actually Takahiko insisted and always tried to convince me, to play in Europe, because he thought that I would do better here, than in Japan. So, now I am here.
Both night’s performances were recorded on video, so are there any plans to release the recordings?
Not right now, but maybe later at some point, we will release it either on CD or DVD. But I am note yet sure about it.
And my last question is something that’s been bugging me for quite some time. With White Hospital, you had two releases, one was an album, called Holocaust, while the other one was a 7″ called We Wish You Are Merry X’mas. Such different concepts. And anyways, how did you come up with the idea to release a xmas single?
They are both coming from human life. Holocaust is man-made, but xmas is also man-made. The title itself seems to be very different, but actually even xmas became something you can not enjoy. Like holocaust. Because they are both man-made. So basically they are the same.