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Interview: JYOCHO's Daijiro Nakagawa Talks About Composing Songs for Junji Ito and Banished From the Hero's Party

by Richard Eisenbeis,

If you've seen either of the Junji Ito anthology anime or either season of Banished from the Hero's Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside, you've heard the music of JYOCHO's Daijirō Nakagawa. Recently, Anime News Network sat down with him to talk about his band, their evolution, and what it's like to compose anime theme songs.

Many bands start together from a group of friends or are put together by a record label. JYOCHO, on the other hand, came together naturally, bit by bit. “I initially started JYOCHO as a way to release my own music, starting in 2016,” Nakagawa began. “From the second release, I had a few more people join me, including current bassist sindee and flutist Yuuki Hayashi. Together, we made our second release. I also started thinking about performing live at that point. Slowly, we started adding more members so that JYOCHO could hold live performances. Currently, we have five members.”

According to Nakagawa, each member brings something special to the band. “I make all the songs and am the composer. I also assign roles to the others, so they know what they should be practicing on their own. I direct the whole group musically.”

“Our bassist sindee is a real ideas person. He brings a lot of ideas for live shows, MC segments, arrangements, and so on. Our drummer, Kojiro Yamazaki, is a great communicator, so he highlights all of our opinions and acts as a bridge between us, bringing us together. […] Vocalist Netako Nekota is a positive mood maker, she keeps us upbeat. [...] Hayashi, meanwhile, is very good at driving cars—like for long distances,” Nakagawa joked. “She also has a background performing in an orchestra, so that experience and knowledge helps all of us a lot.”

In many ways, JYOCHO is quite different from the bands that Nakagawa has been a part of in the past. “JYOCHO is the most complex musically,” Nakagawa explained. “The band is very aligned, and we are all moving in the same direction. Our goals can be much more ambitious since we are on the same page.”

Of course, that doesn't mean the band hasn't struggled with some issues—the most prominent being location. “For a while, we were living quite far from one another. That made it very hard for all of us to coordinate,” Nakagawa told me.

This hurdle, however, led to a band centered around self-reliance and self-discipline. “We don't come together and do rehearsals constantly. Rather, we all practice separately. Each of us is in our own world, practicing our own parts. Then we get together and do an eight-hour studio rehearsal together,” Nakagawa continued. “If we have a tour coming up, we do full run-throughs several times—where we are all together for hours and hours—going over the show. But until then, we are practicing on our own.”

While the band is often slotted into the “math rock” genre by listeners due to their songs' complex composition, this isn't by design. “From my perspective,” Nakagawa explained, “JYOCHO is freedom. Freedom musically. Maybe a bit of progressive, a bit of rock…just being able to make beautiful music. My roots are much more coming from a style of finger-picking guitar—or even progressive rock—in the mold of King Crimson. But I like math rock too… though I can't define what it is, so I wouldn't describe what we do as such.”

Currently, JYOCHO has produced two albums and more than a few additional singles. Four of these songs are anime theme songs: one for each Junji Ito anime anthology (“A Parallel Universe” and “As the God's Say”) and one for each season of Banished from the Hero's Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside (“All the Same” and “Guide and Devote”). To start with, we talked about Nakagawa's general experience when it comes to writing anime theme songs.

“When I start creating a song for an anime, I always read the original material, such as the manga, if it is available. In general, I don't speak with the director directly—though we might get feedback or advice through the label on what the anime side is thinking of or hoping for.” Nakagawa said, breaking it down further. “I keep it very simple when composing for anime. I like to move quickly and to have a lot of freedom for what I'm putting together.”

“When the anime [production] side asks JYOCHO for an anime song, they know what they are getting from us aurally. They have probably been told that it will be a bit musically complex and maybe strange,” Nakagawa laughed. But we don't see much pushback, so we can create any song that we would like.”

Junji Ito
At first glance, JYOCHO's complex-yet-easy-going music doesn't seem to fit what one would expect to hear attached to a horror anime penned by Junji Ito. However, Nakagawa feels that they are a perfect fit. “Junji Ito does make horror, but it's surreal, a little funny and weird. It's not just straight dark horror,” Nakagawa explained. “Writing a straightforward scary or dark song could have been on the table, but a lot of Japanese horror movies and other works have a funny element to them, too. [...] With that in mind, I decided to compose the song with a brighter tone. I set it against Ito's horror aspect to make it more mysterious—more impactful and weirder. That was a conscious choice.”

Junji Ito even reached out to the band on Twitter to let them know he enjoyed their song for his first anime anthology. So when it came time to put out their second Junji Ito-inspired song, Nakagawa had a request for the master of Japanese horror. “I wanted Ito to draw JYOCHO. I thought it would be amazing. I reached out to him on Twitter and told him I'd love for him to draw us. And he did!” The result was something far more wholesome than Nakagawa expected. “I figured Ito would draw us with half our faces missing or something unsettling like that—his typical style. But when the illustration came, it was just so beautiful. I was surprised and moved to see it. We had no requests for changes. It was perfect.”

As for JYOCHO's other pair of anime songs, the first from Banished From The Hero's Party was inspired by what was happening in the real world at the time. “It was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic—the height of COVID days. I was thinking of composing a song to make people feel better, even inspire them.” Nakagawa continued, “I thought about what I could give to people listening, more than the anime itself. It was about that period for me.”

This is not the case, however, for the second season's song, the recently released “Guide and Devote.” “For the second song, I started watching the series,” Nakagawa told me. “[So this song] reflects the story of the anime—and its worldview—much more [than the first].”

Looking to the future, I wondered if there were any anime Nakagawa dreams of composing a song for. His answer was immediate: “Baki the Grappler. I've been a fan of this series for a long time. You might guess that I would want to make a technical, JYOCHO-style song for this series, but I think some ambient noise music could be really interesting in this context.”

I also couldn't help but ask if we would get a new JYOCHO song with the anime adaptation of Junji Ito's Uzumaki later this year. “It's a secret,” Nakagawa laughed. “I do respect Uzumaki as a work. I think it's great.”

In closing, Nakagawa had some words for why he and the rest of the band love their foreign fans. “In Japan, most live shows are somewhat quiet. The audience is very focused and listening. It can get wild, but most times, it is on the quiet side. Overseas audiences are much more vocal, energetic, and heated. We've been talking about how excited we are to perform overseas again. It has been a little while. We can't wait, and we want our fans to stay tuned.”

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