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Every now and then, Aristocrazia brings you something quite different from the bands we usually talk about. Necronomidol are a Japanese idol group which stands out for their unique sound inspired by dark and extreme genres. Today we are going to know them better through Ricky Wilson, their producer.
Welcome on Aristocrazia Webzine, how are you doing?
Ricky: Great, thanks — really appreciate your patience while I took the time to get the answers for this interview together as well as for reaching out to us.
I would start giving our readers an introduction of your group and its members, so please tell us who Necronomidol are and how it was born.
I started on the planning for the group around the beginning of 2014. I'd worked with some idol groups in my previous job and through that become a fan of the underground idol scene in Tokyo. I didn't want to stay on the sidelines, though, and eventually decided I wanted to make the leap into starting my own group. I spent a few months getting things rolling with the website, first few songs, ideas for stage costumes etc and then began casting for members around February of that year. From there we spent a few months whittling down the candidates and potential members until we had our debut live on June 30th, 2014. We started out with four members: Risaki Kakizaki, Sari, Ruu Aoi and Seira Henmi. We rolled with those four members for the first six months or so and then around the end of 2014 Seira left due to responsibilities with her family and school and Hotaru Tsukumo joined. Things started getting very busy around January of 2015 and as the pace ramped up Ruu also had to leave around April since the group's schedule wasn't meshing well with her school requirements. We went a month or so with three members and then around the end of May Hina Yotsuyu and Karen Kusaka joined bringing us up to five members total.
From music to appearance, everything about you makes it immediately clear that this is not a typical idol unit. What is the concept behind Necronomidol?
One of the best elements of the current underground idol scene in Japan is that idol groups no longer have to follow a set aesthetic or even musical genre. I actually don't dislike the more traditional style idol groups at all — some of them are really great — but from the start I wanted to do something different. Necronomidol theme, boiled down to one word, is darkness and that gives us a lot to work with. I love J-horror movies as well as old Japanese horror comics so there is a lot of influence from there and I was also brought up on old b-grade VHS horror movies so there's quite a bit of that involved as well. You can see that in the outfits — the original outfits were based off Japanese shrine maiden attire, which is very common in J-horror movies. We then moved to a sort of Taisho-era school uniform look which hearkens back to the manga of Suehiro Maruo as well as Teito Monogatari. Of course the name is a portmanteau of H.P. Lovecraft's "Necronomicon" along with "idol" and I try to bring a lot of subtle H.P.L. influences in there. We haven't actually used the word Cthulhu in any of our songs or materials yet though [laughs].
Your musical style lies mostly between Extreme Metal and dark Electronic music, creating a quite gloomy atmosphere. How do you write your songs? How does your composition process work?
One big difference between an idol group and a band is that, in almost all cases, idol groups don't write their own songs. We're fortunate to have been able to collaborate with a lot of great composers for our songs — Dan Terminus, Al-Kamar, Kazuma Hashida of Hakoniwa No Shitsunaigaku, Azusa Iwanaga, SLF!!, etc. Generally what we'll do is get in touch with a composer with an theme or rough idea for a song that we think they'd be a good fit for. Usually just a mood or an overall concept — "shoegazey post black with acoustic guitar" or "upbeat dark retro-synth", something like that. Some of the composers will include a vocal melody with the track and other times we'll do all the vocals on our side. Usually in those cases I'll work together with Kakizaki to come up with a good vocal part. She has a great ear for melodies and can also help rework things when they might be difficult to perform live (we do all of our vocals live as opposed to pre-recorded). Then I'll write the first draft of the lyrics and usually go over those with Sari since she's excellent with words and is also good at fixing my sometimes less-than-stellar Japanese. After that we'll run through the song a few times with all the members and generally set it to choreography soon after.
In the few songs you made you already showed many different sides of Necronomidol: some songs are totally Black Metal, other ones are darkwave; there are also songs which blend these two styles, while others include even other genres such as Heavy Metal. How would you describe your music?
One great thing about idol groups is that it's almost always the theme of the group, rather than the genre of music, that brings it all together. So as long as the songs fit thematically you can have a pretty wide range of styles and genres. One thing I definitely wanted to start off with when I started the group was some Black Metal versions of Japanese lullabies. I'd still like to do more of those in the future too. But I also wanted to do some bleak, oppressive pop so darkwave was another natural fit. I'm a huge fan of NWOBHM and D-Beat so I wanted to include some songs like that when we had the chance and also some witch house inspired stuff. Being able to put together cohesive live sets, albums, singles that span a number of genres and influences is one of the strongest elements of idol groups so I definitely wanted to include a ton of different genres that I personally thought were cool and underexplored. To be honest I can't stand Metalcore or Crossover Brostep so while there are a lot of idol groups going that direction that was something I made a conscious decision to stay away from.
Most people are used to listen to this kind of music with harsh or distorted vocals, but the presence of the girls here makes the music still unsettling, but in a very different way. How did you get the idea of putting idols and extreme music together?
Part of it really comes down to the members you have and their own individual strengths. There are a ton of great female-fronted Hardcore bands in Japan that rely on harsh vocals (Disgunder, Conga Fury, No Value, Anadorei, etc) but none of the members we brought together initially really had a background in that kind of singing and, rather than force something like that and make a cheap copy I'd much rather build the songs themselves around the members' strengths. Once we'd established that overall style the members themselves grew into it and it became part of the identity of Necronomidol. I really like how we can pair the harsh, grinding backing music with the undistorted vocals of the members — I think it creates a nice balance and depth to the overall sound.
On the other hand, idols are often believed to be all about the kawaii stuff; of course you have somehow cute elements too, but the music genres you play influenced your appearance as well. How do you see yourselves in the idol world? What is your place in this scene?
There's currently a growing trend in the idol scene towards what are called "loud idols" — basically groups that have a focus on more Metal based songs and vocals. We play with a lot of these groups but, to be honest, I don't really think Necronomidol fits into that category. We do have Metal songs and are far from the traditional image of idols but I'd like to see us making our own path. I see us as more of the overall dark horse — we don't quite fit into any of the current scenes or molds perfectly but we can also play a ton of different events and with different kinds of bands or groups. We've played with Punk bands, Hardcore bands, Metal bands, EDM groups, avant-garde theater troupes, etc. The last thing I want to see is for us to be pigeonholed into playing the same type of shows with the same groups every week — I always want to be on the lookout for new scenes or shows we can break into.
Another common idea is that idols are just J-Pop singers and dancers. Necronomidol surely defy this rule not only through their sound and look, but also with a sort of "do it yourself" attitude which is quite common among independent and underground artists. Do you believe that a group like yours can reach the mainstream at least in Japan, even with this kind of music and attitude? Or maybe the question should be another: do you even plan to go mainstream someday?
We definitely try to keep a DIY aesthetic to everything we do — I grew up on Punk music and I still feel kind of weird thinking about selling CDs or working to play bigger venues. To be honest when I started the group I didn't even really care about any of that — I initially thought it would be enough to just play shows with some interesting groups, work with cool artists and make new music. But as I went forward I learned that an idol group you can be anything but stagnant. You always have to be moving forward. So while I don't think we're ever going to go mainstream (I certainly hope not) I do want to keep moving forward if for no other reason than to be able to do more interesting projects and work with even more creators. There are a ton of artists I'd love to work with for album jackets or merch, a ton of composers and songwriters I'd love to work with on new tracks and so, so many bands and groups I'd like to play with. I have no interest in watering down any elements of Necronomidol to appeal to the mainstream but on the other hand I'd love to further distill what really defines Necronomidol to make it even more potent in the future…
You recently did your anniversary show, which probably means that concerts are an important aspect of Necronomidol. Since most of our readers are no lucky enough to be in Japan and attend your live shows, can you tell us how you organise them and how they are?
Idol groups in Japan play a lot of shows — like, a lot. Leading up to the anniversary show we were doing more than twenty shows a month for a while there (some groups play double that!). After the anniversary we made a decision to cut down on the overall number of shows and focus on new songs, new choreography, etc. but even with that we ended up doing thirtheen in July. Most of those shows are organized by either event producers or the producers of other idol groups-bands and sometimes by the venues themselves. LOFT, where we had our anniversary show, was kind enough to invite us to play shows with such awesome bands as Cocobat and Vampillia, which were amazing! We also do a monthly show that we put on ourselves at the venue Earthdom which usually hosts Hardcore-Thrashcore shows. I love being able to play shows with bands like Donbyakusho and Saigan Terror who you would normally never see on the same stage as an idol group.
In some songs you worked with Al-Kamar, who is also known for his own Black Metal/Shoegaze project. Will Necronomidol collaborate with other artists in the future?
Of course! We just unveiled a new song, "Sarnath", by SLF!! (the amazing DJ and track creator behind "The Lady Spade") and have a new song coming up by the mysterious Hyakunengyo which should be amazing. We have plans to collaborate with other artists as well in the near future, but I can't make any definite announcements right at the moment…
Do you have any friends among other idol units? How are relationships among idols of different groups?
Definitely, there are quite a few groups that we play out with regularly and have great relationships with. Personally I really, really love playing with Saibou Kanojo and Parallel Japan — their songs are amazing, their performances are stellar and the people involved in both groups are all incredible. We're also really good friends with Rhymeberry even though our musical genres and styles couldn't be further apart. The members of Necronomidol also hang out with other groups members on their days off too and we'll do things like play the birthday celebration shows (a big part of idol culture) for groups that the members are friends with.
And how is your relationship with your supporters? What do you think of your audience?
We've got an amazing group of fans — it's so awesome to set up a show that is a little weird or out there and instead of having people complain about it seeing them being genuinely excited to see or experience something new. To be completely honest usually when I'm making decisions about the aesthetics of the group or the direction we're going to go musically I just go with my gut. I don't really worry about what will or won't be popular — moreso what I think would be the most interesting or original way to proceed. I'm so thankful that our fans support us through that!
Let's take a look to the whole idol scene. Things have always been changing and recently a new form of idols which are not just "cute girls singing and dancing" has been established. Famous acts like BiS and Babymetal had an important role in this, but there are surely many underground units which have interesting ideas. Which are the positive and the negative sides of the idol world? What would you like to change about it and what did you actually change with your own unit?
One of the best parts about being an idol unit is that you don't have to be tied down to any particular genre — as long as the overall theme of the unit stays strong you can basically play whatever you want. That's one of the things that made BiS so great — they went from Punk to Digital Hardcore to Pop to something almost approaching Metal but still kept the overall structure of the unit strong. Just like any other genre, though, it's not uncommon to see ideas stagnate and groups relying on the same old standards to push units. There's a big emphasis on units growing and becoming more popular — it's not seen as cool by really anyone for an idol unit to be just holding the line. So that means groups often take shortcuts and end up doing things musically or aesthetically that aren't necessarily interesting or original but will be popular. I don't know if we've really been able to change much yet since we're still getting started but I'd love to see the idol framework become even more open and pave the way for more weird, dark idol units to come in the future.
When Babymetal became famous among metalheads, some of them thought it was just a joke, while others enjoyed their music. Necronomidol is really different from them, so how do you think the Metal audience will consider your group?
The thing I hope most is that when we do a Back Metal song guys who are into Black Metal will think it's cool and if we do a Prog Metal or Death Metal or Thrash Metal song or whatever the fans of those particular genres will be into it. I love Metal but I think for Metal to work well it's got to tread a really fine line — it's a genre where it's very easy to get things wrong and end up looking stupid. So whenever we do a Metal song I find myself spending way more time in the studio for the instrumentation, more time on the lyrics, more time on everything really because I want to make sure it's just right. We totally scrapped and re-recorded the first take of "Lamina Maledictum" for the new single because I was listening to the vocals and just didn't think they had enough power.
Being a webzine mostly about Metal and alternative music, we would like to know which are the bands that led you to make this kind of music. So, what are your favorite bands and which are the ones that influence Necronomidol's sound?
If we're talking about Metal the stuff I find myself listening to the most overall is probably old Motörhead and Manowar, Emperor, Bal-Sagoth, Gamma Ray, Disfear, Kvelertak, Darkspace… kind of all over the place. I've been listening to a lot of Sisters Of Mercy and Clan Of Xymox lately since it's really close to what we're doing with Necroma (dark, dancey, Eighties synths, etc). I've loved Balzac since I was a teenager too so there's definitely some influence from there as well as old Eighties Goth-Punk crossover stuff like the Damned or 45 Grave.
Which are your plans for the future? New releases, live shows or anything else?
We've got our fourth single, "Exitium", coming out on September 30th and will probably be able to squeeze a live DVD release from the second one-man show in June out around November. Then we've got our next big solo show on December 14th at WWW in Shibuya. Those are kind of the big goalposts for this year. We're also heading to Taiwan for our first international show next week!
What do the members like about being members of Necronomidol?
The basic consensus when I asked the girls was that they liked playing out — the shows are the most fun for them. They also really like that we can play with bands that most idol units don't get a chance to play with — Donbyakusho, Strawberry Song Orchestra, Foxpill Cult, Wakusei Abnormal, etc.
What are the members' dreams as idols? What would you like to achieve with this group?
Again, general consensus but they really want to do a world tour or play more shows overseas. We've got Taiwan coming up but we'd love to do something in the West — United States or Europe — soon!
I think we can end the interview here. Thank you very much for your time, you can leave one last message for our readers.
Necronomidol has a lot in store for the end of 2015 but 2016 is when things are going to start getting really interesting — hopefully we'll have a chance to come meet you guys all in person soon!