Interview with Nagasawa Tomonori

Please introduce yourself.

I make my living as a music journalist. Basically, I deal with all genres. Lately I’ve been focusing on idols, but I still do a lot of visual kei too.

I’ve written for various magazines and websites, and I also write news as requested by record makers/labels/artists (for a fee) and distribute that to various web outlets myself. I’m always accepting work.

I also have my own music website, (I don’t understand English, so please contact me in Japanese only).

Could you tell us how you started to cover visual bands? Do you like visual bands as well? What is the characteristic of the visual band’s?

It was after getting involved with a magazine called SHOXX that I started to cover a lot of visual kei bands. The first one was… I don’t remember, honestly, but it was for a magazine called Arena37°, maybe AURA or COLOR.

I… like visual kei bands… or rather, liked… maybe?

I’m still involved with vkei bands for work, and of course there are good ones. But the prospect of changing my life doesn’t excite me as it once did.

The reason I was attracted to visual kei bands was because I was excited by their music. Visual kei music of the 90s was different from mainstream Japanese music at the time. It not only had a rock vibe, but a good sense of melody; and moreover, slightly sad melodies, sad lyrics that describe deep feelings–it was inspiring for me as someone who likes indie music.

Visual kei bands from the 2010s onward all sound similar. The music that resonates with me… honestly, I can’t think of anything (but that’s just me).

However do I cover visual kei bands because we’re compatible? Because we have similar feelings? Because it’s easy, I want to continue doing it for a much longer time.

Of course, I think there’s still a lot of good music out there. It’s just that it doesn’t make my chest pound; but I recognize that there are many people whose hearts do resonate with it, and many people who support it.

What I use as the standard for musicality of visual kei is EX-ANS. Their worldview drew me into visual kei and made me like it. It’s aesthetic and wistful, and full of heartache, but also has a rock impulse that makes you feel heated. They were the starting point for me to get into visual kei, and so I think the standard of visual kei for me is their style of music.

Could you tell us which magazines you worked in the past? Also, please tell us a little more about your job as a writer. Do you still work for magazines?

I’ve worked for so many since starting as a writer that I’m not sure I even remember (laughs).

I still work for magazines, but the only visual kei one is Cure. I’ve occasionally worked for idol magazines, such as BIG ONE GIRL. Besides that, I occasionally write for magazines and free-papers when asked, but as far as I’m concerned I don’t do much print work right now. (I’m sure there are still writers who work mainly for print magazines though.)

My job as a writer is basically to do interviews and live reports for clients (editors of magazines and web journals) when they ask “we’d like you to cover ●●.” I personally don’t do many, but some writers also do CD reviews and analysis articles.

Additionally, in my case I also distribute news to various websites, so the publishers/labels/artists personally ask me to write news articles for distribution. So I write news articles for the web, as well as live reports and interview articles.

What made you want to become a visual kei band writer? Could you tell us how you got interested in visual bands rather than only pop, punk and rock bands?

In my case, I’m not a “writer who specializes in visual kei,” but a “writer who also covers visual kei.” The reason that I got involved with so many is that in the 90s I got involved with magazines like SHOXX and VICIOUS.

At the time, I also organized events as a hobby, and often gathered visual kei bands at them. So since I had a lot of connections with indie acts, I was often asked to cover young bands.

For a time all of the indie band information and interviews in VICIOUS was done by myself (except in the later half), so for a time I was a source of information about visual kei bands.

During that time when I was covering many visual kei bands, I was also covering pop and rock music outside of visual kei, so it’s not as if I rejected other genres.

However, the music of visual kei bands of the 90s excited me. Positive punk, beat rock, punk, metal, industrial… I was really drawn to the fact that all of these bands with different musicalities had something in common: they wore makeup.

I’ve heard many people say they were inspired by X JAPAN or LUNA SEA, but for myself I would say EX-ANS, D’ERLANGER, (early) L’Arc~en~Ciel, D≒SIRE. There are many others. Back in the 90s, I had a lot of favorite bands–but I can’t say them all here.

When you first started interviewing bands, did you find it challenging? Was there a point at which you felt “I’m good at this”?

I don’t remember exactly how I felt, but I remember that I had never done an interview before (I had just started doing it professionally), so I had a very hard time.

But I’m sure it was fun because I found it rewarding. My career as a music writer is about 30 years old, and I still find interviewing difficult, and fun.

The difficult part is taking in what the other person is saying, understanding it, and throwing back questions; that exchange doesn’t always work. Even with the same artist, if the content you hear isn’t what you expected, the feelings you want to convey will change, and it’s hard to know where you’re going until you start–there’s a certain tension in that every time.

(For example, sometimes you might interpret something wrong, or they don’t understand what you ask so they respond absurdly, or what you expect to hear doesn’t match the answer, and the interview just doesn’t go well.)

It’s interesting that you mention “sad lyrics” as something that was attractive about visual kei bands. Is it possible that visual kei is attractive to those who have some kind of internal strife?

If you’re a person who doesn’t want to feel overly cheerful, I think [visual kei] is a great choice. Not everyone is a so-called “party person” who’s looking for something “happy” and cheerful.

Sometimes it feels better to share sadness, so in times of heartache, it might be encouraging to listen to someone who’s gone through the same pain.

In the case of visual kei bands, I think the music can be very relatable to those who have negative feelings, as the sound is also dark and heavy and the songs often deal with sadness, despair, suffering, wistfulness. Visual kei can also have the effect of making you feel melancholy or sad, so I think it’s suitable for people who want to feel sadness in their chest.

What do you think makes a “good” interview or live report? Is there something that you strive to convey about the subject when you’re writing?

When it comes to live reports, I try to watch as much of the live as possible, and then type the feelings I had at the time on my computer. In other words, it’s as if I’m putting into words the feelings I was feeling at the time, so it has a sense of presence and rawness to it.

When I take notes, I write down as many phrases as I can, and then I replay the live performance in my mind and put into words how I felt.

When interviewing people, I try to understand what they want to convey through the songs and musical works. You can’t tell if that interpretation is right or wrong without listening to it.

If the piece is a critique or analysis that doesn’t involve talking with the other party, I can use my own (subjective) thoughts. But I think the role of an interview is to convey what the other person wants to say in a different way then they actually say it. So, whether my interpretation is right or wrong, I try to immediately understand what the other person is saying and pursue the meaning of the words more and more deeply.

An interview is not a debate, but a way to understand the other person’s feelings and put them into words. That’s what I try to do.

Could you tell us a little bit about your hobby as a live event organizer? How did you come to be involved in that?

As for events, I started them because I was thinking “instead of looking up schedules and trying to figure out how to see all of these bands, it would be easier to just see them all at one event…”

I didn’t start with anyone in particular, nor did I learn from anyone; I was self-taught. But I didn’t know anything about instruments, so I left that part to the band people and the livehouse. I gathered bands I wanted to see and rented various venues to organize events.

Initially, [the events] weren’t visual kei but regular indie rock bands, and I ended up becoming a writer partly because of my deep connections to those bands.

Before the term “visual kei” was even born, visual kei events were called okeshou kei [Ed.: お化粧系, “makeup style”] or kurofuku kei [Ed.: 黒服系, “black clothing style”] in Japan, and were organized based on the general idea that “people in this genre are interesting.”

About the terms okeshou kei (お化粧系), (kurofuku kei) 黒服系, and visual kei (ビジュアル系): at the time, did you feel any difference between these three words? Or were they simply alternate phrases for the same concept?

Back then, there wasn’t a clear word to describe it, so I think the expressions “okeshou kei” (makeup style), “kurofuku kei” (black clothing style), and “visual kei” (visual style) were born as words that clearly conveyed what it was. Out of those, I’m sure “visual kei” took off because it described the scene so clearly.

Also, “VISUAL SHOCK”–a phrase derived from HIDE–was being used often, so the term “visual kei” may have gained a lot of strength due to that phrase’s impact.

When visual kei (ビジュアル系) became the accepted name for those types of bands, did you view this as a “new genre” at the time?

Maybe visual kei became a “new genre” at the time of its birth. Originally, it was not a musical genre, it was a visual area where people who were wearing makeup gathered together. 

At the time, music lovers in general thought of visual kei as “a bunch of guys who aren’t good at music and wear makeup to be popular with girls.” Other than those inclined to the genre, they hated it at face value and judged it even without listening to it.

There were some bands in the visual kei scene who were attracted to outside music scenes, but I don’t think they cared about that, and rather just enjoyed competing with each other amongst their own scenes.

So in the 90’s, visual kei was a genre which was disliked by the mainstream; a genre that was oppressed, bullied, and ridiculed by those who didn’t like it.

But the people inside didn’t care about that kind of outside atmosphere, so visual kei grew into its own musical culture, and it was the people overseas who recognized it.

Even now there are so many people who still don’t recognize it as a genre, or make fun of it. Both the artist and the audience have their own complexes. That’s why there are people who make silly remarks like “I graduated from visual kei.”

Well, in terms of general recognition, it started when the TV show “BREAK OUT” became a hot topic and visual kei bands became widely known in the community.

Since you wrote about both visual kei and non-visual kei bands at the time, what did you feel made a band “visual kei” as opposed to just “glam rock” (for example)? Was visual kei just a marketing gimmick?

Since they were similar musically, I wonder if they weren’t perceived particularly differently? Well, I don’t know.

Back then in the visual kei industry, I never mentioned that I also wrote for any other genre. And outside of the vkei industry I never mentioned that I also was covering visual kei bands.

The reason I never mentioned it was that nobody was asking anyway, so I didn’t have to say it.

However, when non-vkei-fans were making ridiculous comments about visual kei, I didn’t argue with them; I just ignored them. But I do remember visual kei as being a genre in which you couldn’t openly say “I like it.”

By the way, you could lump makeup metal and glam rock under visual kei if you wanted to. But in Japan, we didn’t really see it that way. I’ve always thought of glam, metal, and visual kei as being from different worlds.

Of course, there were bands that crossed the boundaries of genres.

I think the most important criteria for being labeled as a visual kei band was coming from the family tree of Extasy Records, Free-Will, and Danger Crue. Those were the starting points of visual kei in the first place, right?

How do you feel about bands who seemed to be visual kei but say that they aren’t?

For myself, LUNA SEA, L’Arc~en~Ciel, and GLAY are visual kei bands. If they say “that’s not true,” I’ll just accept it. But when a fan of the band says “I think they’re visual kei,” well that’s okay too. There’s no point saying “that’s a lie” to bands who claim to have left the genre.

You’ve interviewed many kinds of artists. Do you take different considerations when interviewing a visual kei artist, vs an indie rock artist, vs an idol artist, for example?

It’s all the same. Since I’m interviewing people, nothing really changes. Of course, the questions you ask in terms of music will be different, however the roots are the same. 

In an old interview on, I’ve read that “SHAZNA” is the master of visual kei. However (overseas) people don’t seem to agree with that. Because nowadays people mostly mention XJAPAN, MALICE MIZER, DIR EN GREY and THE GAZETTE. So did people forget about “SHAZNA”?

There is no doubt that it was SHAZNA who spread the recognition of Visual Kei to the general public in Japan. Through a program called “BREAK OUT”, he became a hot topic as one of the four visual kings.

In particular, SHAZNA is pop and catchy, because IZAM, the vocalist, his image was like a “woman” , he conveyed the impression of Visual Kei to the world in a way that was easy to understand for everybody and so visual Kei spread all over Japan and got recognition.

If you look at that time alone, SHAZNA was better than X JAPAN at getting people’s hearts who had ZERO knowledge of Visual Kei to also recognize it.

But I guess it’s just because visual kei fans just don’t want to recognize SHAZNA’s existence. However when we are talking about Visual Kei, SHAZNA’s existence is actually crucial.

By the way, now SHAZNA is back in action. I don’t know if people think of them as purely Visual Kei because they have female members, but if they think it’s Visual Kei, that’s fine. To me it doesn’t matter if a band contains female or male persons or whenever it’s a male or female style type of band, it’s still Visual Kei.  

(Shazna’s new album actually should have been released last year in March, however even until today it’s postponed)

Nowadays “visual kei” is a little bit “the same”. Beautiful “visuals” but bands don’t seem to pull out good songs such as “Dir en Grey” and later “The Gazette” did in the past. Or is there any good new band around who is currently changing visual kei? 

I honestly don’t know because lately I haven’t looked into it in detail. But the loud-leaning scene has been revitalized, and there are many people on YouTube who are introducing bands with strong habits, so I’m sure there are people out there, just who they are we don’t know.

It’s not that there aren’t any of those bands, but I think nowadays people want bands which have much stronger make-up. Also, people seem to want to support such sloppy make-up bands. I wonder if a band-man started to play in a band because they like sloppy make-up or because sloppy make-up makes them more popular.

Which band you love(d) to interview the most? And what’s the reason? 

Hmmm, nobody comes to my mind. I’m not saying that bands didn’t impress me, many bands have strongly impressed me… but somehow nobody plops up right now in my mind (laugh).

However I do remember that I had to wait 4 hours for an interview and then they gave the message that they wanted to postpone the interview. (I’m not saying who they were)

Did you have any duties for magazines outside of writing? For example, were you involved with choosing appearing artists?

I didn’t do anything in particular, because my basic style is to do interviews when I’m asked to do them. I wasn’t even involved in the editorial work myself, so I didn’t have to do that either.

However, for a short period of time,I was in charge of the indie page for 3-4 years after the launch of visual kei magazine called VICIOUS.  I was free to cover the bands I wanted to interview, to gather all the news by myself, and to publish the information I received.

Well, that’s about it.

Are there any topics that you feel are “off limits” when interviewing a band? For example, it seems that some don’t like talking about their past.

Often they told me in advance;
I would be glad if you won’t ask questions about this topic.” 
Beside that it’s not my job to discover scandals and things like that which aren’t liked. Even if I’m aware of such things, I won’t ask or mention anything about it.  Also it can happen, if you did do an interview that they would ask “please don’t include this part” in such case I also will try to not mention it.We gotta be flexible, it’s good to be flexible.  

Why do you think visual kei has persisted, despite being a niche genre?

I think it’s good because it’s a niche. It was, and still is. Among Japanese music fans, visual kei is a genre that is still viewed with a prejudiced eye. Especially in the 1990s, music fans in general saw Visual Kei as a “weird” entity.

There was also an atmosphere in which people who liked Visual Kei bands and their scenes had a hard time saying, “I like Visual Kei, I love Visual Kei. 

That’s why we didn’t even try to engage with other scenes, we just stimulated each other among the people who liked those scenes and they evolved on their own. 

Just as the animals of the Calapagos Islands, they were not influenced by the rest of the music scene. If we evolve with our own ingenuity and creativity without being influenced by trends, we will be able to make the best use of our skills, (although the actual band members were sensitive to the trends in the music scene) people who like it will support it enthusiastically. 

As a result of fostering a culture between people who like each other and distancing themselves from the eyes of other prejudices, the visual kei scene has developed into a music culture unique to Japan. 

However the people from abroad were the ones who noticed its appeal. 

Even now, among Japanese music fans, Visual Kei is still viewed with a prejudiced eye.

So we’re still evolving within our own world. Maybe that’s why it’s been in favor for so long.

Although the coronavirus has hit the music industry hard, do you think that something positive might be born from it?

Right now, everyone is looking for new performance styles and new ways to communicate with fans. 

Therefore, positive things are always born.

Now that there are more live streaming live shows, there are more opportunities for people overseas to see visual kei bands live than before.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I think it’s going to increase.

Lastly, please tell us a little more about and your mission with it, and how people can contact you for work?

Vues is a site that stocks news stories which I’m creating and distributing for the national music media. In other words; Once I created an article I’ll share it on various news sites, and then I also share it on my own site as well. The purpose of this project is to promote “I’m writing an article like this“, and the client would be happy if I could publish the article in as many media as possible.

Therefore, all the articles I receive which are created by other people such as manufacturers, producers and artists themselves, I do not publish those articles to my own website, since I don’t publish articles which are written by other people.

However, if you want me to write and to publish your news in the Japanese music media (even if your band is from overseas), you can pay me a fee (We discuss the exact amount with you) And I will publish your news in various media in Japan, as well on vues. However there is no guarantee on how many news websites the article will be published on. I can’t give you a specific number, and if you don’t know why, then you shouldn’t be doing any business. 

To make a request, please contact me (please in Japanese only). I am open to any work related to music (entertainment) such as interviews, live reports, reviews, news articles, and any other kind of writings.

Thank you very much.

Thank you very much too for this this wonderful interview.

Translation: Ryu & vkgy John
Coordination: Ryu