Since forming in 2012, DYGL (pronounced: Dayglo) have already collaborated with one of their long-time idols: Albert Hammond Jr (The Strokes) produced their 2017 debut album, Say Goodbye To Memory Den. From Tokyo to LA to New York, the band now find themselves three-quarters of the way through a year-long London residency, where they have been drawing inspiration for their anticipated follow-up, Songs of Innocence & Experience. The title taken from the works of English Romantic poet William Blake, this record is an ode to the free spirit of the ‘60s and a self-professed exploration of ‘contradiction’ - and contradictions there are aplenty: four boys from Tokyo, inspired by English poetry and American rock, who look back six decades in order to push their sound forward.
Jade Danielle Smith captures the beauty in such contradiction. Under the camera’s gaze, Nobuki Akiyama (vocals/guitar), Yosuke Shimonaka (lead guitar), Yotaro Kachi (bass) and Kohei Kamoto (drums) disrupt expectations and take up the unique space that London left waiting for them. Becky Seager match the band’s musical aspirations by crafting a retro aesthetic with a modern twist. Through their new album, produced by Rory Attwell and mastered at Abbey Road, DYGL subvert typical boundaries of genre by experimenting with a sound that is at once more gritty and softer: yet another beautiful contradiction.
What is the story behind the name DYGL?
Nobuki: We actually started the band with the name 'De Nada' which means "you’re welcome" in Spanish - for no particular reason - we just liked it. Eventually, we found ‘Dayglo’ which is a fluorescent pigment company. Actually, we tried to change the name again to ‘Leather’ and we did that for three months, but it felt so weird. We wanted something a little ambiguous.
Who are you?
Nobuki: I am quite a realist but at the same time I am a dreamer. I am so many contradictions: I grew up in a Christian church but now I am living this rock and roll life. I am really into words, not just lyrics but words, and I am also so obsessed with melody, beats, and the music.
Yosuke: I am a guy from a suburban area in Japan and I like a peaceful life. Although I am still touring and playing around the world, my dream is actually to lead a very quiet life. I originally studied the guitar just to play; I didn’t want to write a song or anything like that, but I ended up playing and making this music. Now I’m in a band, and I like playing the guitar, so I’ll keep going. That’s my life.
Yotaro: Me? I’m just a guy from Japan! That’s it. And I like taking photos.
Nobuki: He’s really obsessed with The Smiths.
Yotaro: Used to be!
Kohei: That’s so hard. I guess I am trying to find myself in DYGL’s music; my identity. We're constantly trying new things with our music, so maybe I see myself as DYGL?
What makes you happy?
Nobuki: When I feel free. In Japanese society there are so many individual rules that we have to follow. That’s why I feel quite the opposite: I want to have no rules. It’s why I started this kind of music because rock music is quite freeing.
Yosuke: Just playing the guitar and staying at home with the people I love.
Yotaro: When I feel like I am living my own life.
Kohei: When life is quiet and chilled.
What do you like about each other?
Nobuki: I don’t know how to describe it in English - but we live in the same layer? We share the same perspective on life and music in terms of what we like and also what we hate. Sometimes you meet people in high school with whom you can talk physically but you can’t talk with real meaning. But I feel really comfortable talking about anything with these guys because they understand what I am saying.
Your new album Songs of Innocence & Experience is inspired by the work of English poet William Blake. How did that connection come about?
Nobuki: I actually came up with the name after mixing. We didn’t have a specific theme for the album when we started, but then I remembered a poetry book by William Blake called Songs of Innocence and of Experience and I thought that was a beautiful title. I only remembered one or two poems, so I read it again and found so many common things between his poetry and our music. Again, there are so many contradictions, which I tried to keep in our album too. There is innocence and experience; life and death; joy and sadness. There are also other connections: there is one poem about the River Thames and I actually wrote so many lyrics at the café by the River Thames.
You said that you weren’t sure of the album's themes before you started making it?
Nobuki: We had some concepts we wanted to use, like '60s rock music and psychedelic vibes. We are quite inspired by the Beatles and the Kinks and were also talking about Donovan. Because again, we really like that free spirit. Nowadays it’s like, this music is pop, this music is indie, this music is hip-hop, but in the '60s they were free to experiment. I am more into the spirit itself, not just the sound. I think that is the theme: the spirit of the '60s.
My favourite track on the record is Don't You Wanna Dance In This Heaven?. What are yours?
Nobuki: I quite like As She Knows because we had so many struggles with that - we thought we couldn’t do it, but we did!
Yosuke: I like all the songs but if I had to choose, it would be the first song, Hard to Love. We had a very long process to the current version of the song.
Yotaro: It depends on how I am feeling! Although, I agree with Yosuke. The previous version of that song was a B-side on our second single, Bad Kicks. That was so different, but this version is really good.
Kohei: I like Only You. That song is quite different from what we usually do so it’s kind of new and fresh to me.
Who of you is the biggest romantic?
Yosuke: I’ve never seen anyone in this band be romantic because we are boys; we don’t show our romance to each other!
Nobuki: I feel like I am quite romantic…
Yosuke: Everyone is romantic, they just don’t show it!
Nobuki: Yeah - we all have it in us, but we pretend to be normal. We pretend to be bored, but really we are all living in a romantic world.
Who is the most in touch with their emotional side?
Yosuke: I think we all have very strong feelings and emotions. When we started, we had a very hard punk-ish rock band so everyone would go crazy in the live shows. At the time, Yotaro was in a different band but he was very intense on the stage too.
Nobuki: He was the craziest at that time!
Yotaro: I wasn’t!
Yosuke: You don’t remember! Then we shared the same flat for a year, but even before that, we went to the same university so I think we have become quite similar. But it’s hard to compare personalities; we are all different but deep down we kind of share the same feelings. I don’t know, what does everyone else think?
Nobuki: It’s kind of the same as I said earlier: living in the same layer. We understand each other.
How does Songs of Innocence & Experience compare with previous DYGL releases? How has your sound evolved since your debut album Say Goodbye to Memory Den?
Kohei: With the last album we didn’t have much time to think about each song. We had help from our producer, but with this one, we could give more effort to our arrangements, so I think that made a huge difference.
Nobuki: Last album we had nine days to record and mix 14 songs. This time we had one month and a half for 10 songs including mixing. So we had more time to experiment.
What does your writing process look like?
Nobuki: It’s been changing a lot.
Yosuke: We are trying new styles. On our first album, Nobuki wrote all the songs and all the parts: drums, guitar, bass - and after, we listened to the demo and created arrangements. But on this album, everyone contributed, and after making the demo, we went to the studio to try new things.
You cite the likes of The Libertines, The View and Suede as key inspirations. What attracts you to Britpop and UK’s underground guitar scene?
British rock music is quite colourful to me and solid and tight. American music is a little more abstract and wild, but actually, we are quite influenced by both.
Yosuke: Britpop is very catchy. Personally, I like listening to music from the musician’s point of view. So when I listen, I listen to the production. Although, when I was in high school, I only listened to the melodies, so I still have that mind. Catchy melodies are really important.
Kohei: I really like how British rock music changes but has the same spirit. American music is constantly changing and trying to do new things, but British rock keeps the spirit alive.
Besides other music artists, what inspires you?
Nobuki: Poetry is a big influence on me. But also, here in London, there are so many museums and amazing things, and sometimes they’re even free. So we like to check out exhibitions - photography and art. Recently, we went to Nan Goldin’s exhibition at Tate Modern. To be honest, anything can be inspiring. Just being in London; everything is new and fresh.
Yosuke: Film is a huge thing for me. It has amazing visuals and good songs; film has everything! I think it’s impossible for any artist to avoid the influence of film.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge of ‘crossing over’ to an international audience?
Nobuki: It’s quite hard to speak on-stage. This kind of skill is quite different from Japanese culture. Film is quite easy for us to understand; music is quite easy for us to understand, but comedy is the most difficult thing to understand. A big skill on-stage is being able to speak to the crowd and gauge with the mood of the audience. It’s different from a normal conversation.
What does masculinity mean to you?
Yosuke: I think in Japan: to be quiet and tough at the same time, in a cool way. But in a bad way: hitting and drinking hard.
Nobuki: Yeah, there is such a big drinking culture in Japan. We also have a polite/formal language and a normal language. When you are in school, you need to speak the ‘polite’ language to guys who are just one year older. There is a specific order. Sometimes this is okay - it’s just part of the culture - but sometimes it’s like all the older guys are forcing younger guys to do things, especially in junior high: bullying and this kind of masculinity is a big thing. There are so many young kids who commit suicide as a result of this… Yeah, this is a really big topic. You need to translate this into Japanese so we can publish it!
That’s actually one of the reasons I moved away from Japan. There are so many good things but bullying and suicide are really becoming a social problem. What do you think about masculinity in the UK?
Well, this is something we really like to dissect at Boys By Girls. I can only speak from my experience of the world as a female, but there seems to be more conversation more than ever around ideas of gender roles.
Nobuki: In Japan, there are still so many gaps. In Japan, it looks normal on the surface, but there are these kinds of rules that dictate that women must be cute or charming to be liked by guys. And also, there are really, really few female politicians. This rate is crazy low compared to Western countries. So yeah: masculinity is quite terrible in Japan at the moment. I hope it’s going to change.
What are your thoughts on mental health?
Nobuki: I heard it’s around 4000-5000 suicides in the UK every year, but in Japan, now 20,000 people kill themselves every year. It used to be 30,000 every year, it’s gone down, but it is still four times that of Britain. It is labelled as a really weird thing to go to a mental clinic or therapist. People should be more open about their mental problems.
Yosuke: If you have bad mental health you need to talk about it with someone who can be trusted. We need to help each other and find someone who can open your mind. Though I think it is getting really hard to find someone you can trust and that might be because of social media. I have some friends who are struggling with mental health but talking about it with each other really helps. It’s simple but it’s the best solution.
What are your dream venues/cities to play?
Nobuki: I’d like to play at the 100 Club once. I’d also really like to play Glastonbury.
Yosuke: I want to play Moth Club because it’s shiny haha. It looks great!
Yotaro: I’d like to play in Italy.
Kohei: I want to go somewhere I haven’t been. I’d like to go to Africa to play music, I’ve never been there before.
How are English audiences compared to American audiences?
Nobuki: Our last gig was at The Old Blue Last. The crowd was really cool and they were really into our music. Sometimes I find in London people enjoy drinking but don’t care too much about the music - like at football stadiums, sometimes they are just fighting and not watching the actual football.
Yosuke: They know how to enjoy themselves.
Nobuki: But Japanese audiences are the biggest difference. Japanese ones are quite polite and shy. They just stand still and don’t talk much before the show. Just before we go on-stage, we take a look at the audience and they are standing still - it’s so scary! It makes us so nervous. In London, they are chatting and it’s more chilled.
Yosuke: The funny thing is that Japanese audiences don’t look like they are having fun during the show, but after the show, I’ll check Twitter and everyone is saying how amazing it was. I’m like, who the f**k is this, I couldn’t see them in the audience!
What message would you like listeners to take away from the album?
Nobuki: Just have fun. We really try to make proper pop music - influenced by so many things - but it’s rock music as popular music. We want to make proper pop music that you can sing along to, and have fun with. Not thinking about it too much. We need simplicity in society. Everything is too complicated nowadays. We want people to have some space to enjoy things like music.
Yosuke: Yeah. We worked so hard with the new album, but I want everyone to just have fun.
Yotaro: It’s really nice if we can cheer people up.
Kohei: I want people to have fun and listen to all of the songs, not just a few songs. Everyone has Spotify now, so they can choose which songs to listen to, but I'd like them to listen to the whole album.
Nobuki: Yes, listen to the whole album!