Fan of Sikth? Thought so. That means you’ve probably already heard of Cyclamen, the dazzling (currently) one man project from the mind of Hayato Imanishi’s, with past members ranging from Olly Steele of Monuments to Duncan Lee of Ever and guest performances from the likes of Mikee Smith, Travis Orbin and many more astoundingly brilliant artists. If you haven’t heard of Cyclamen, I suggest you go to Bandcamp, buy the latest EP ‘Memories Voices’, get yourself a bottle of Asahi and read this interview! Enjoy!
Q 1 : Hey Hayato, thanks for finding the time to take this interview! Can you provide us with some background information? How did you start off as a musician?
Ans : Cyclamen first started off as a bedroom recording project back in 2008 in Reading, UK. It basically was due to my frustration from the fact that I wasn’t able to write certain things, because playing that wasn’t possible by the band which I was in back then. Since it was a solo recording project I didn’t have to worry about what’s been played so I could write music much more freely. In June I had pleasure of working with Mikee (ex-SikTh) on “Sleep Street”, which brought a lot of attention to Cyclamen. And since then, it’s become a steady process of gaining reputation slowly really.
Q 2 : When you say that you weren’t able to write certain things, was it because the genre of the band restricted it or was it because your members simply didn’t like your riffs? What was the name of the band?
Ans : Haha, the band was called Pink Widow; it was a bit of everything really it was 4 piece band, so we had to mainly write music in a ‘one guitar’ format. Then there were issues of what each member was capable of playing and on top of that we had a quite varied idea of what we should sound like. So you can probably imagine how frustrating it would as the main writer of the band. Most of the songs ended up as product of compromising and I don’t think they ever grew to its full potential really. Most of them anyways.
Q 3 : Since your writing is very similar to bands like that of SikTh, I guess it’s safe to say your band members weren’t exactly Sikth fans right?
Ans : They were, actually apart from one maybe. The drummer discovered SikTh at a very early stage, and he got me into them. I first didn’t really like SikTh to be fair, I loved The Dillinger Escape Plan but I found Sikth a little too quirky at first. But then after about 5 years I started to love them.
Q 4 : Okay so more about Cyclamen right now. Apart from SikTh, who do you think mainly influences the sound of Cyclamen?
Ans : Envy, is probably a lot stronger influence than SikTh to be fair. People just don’t know them. And a lot of Studio Ghibli music influence. I think a lot of people hear a Japanese melodic element in my music but then again, a lot of people don’t know their music very well. A lot of people who listen to Cyclamen usually listen to ‘djent’ so I can understand why they don’t know these artists, but Cyclamen has many obvious references that you can spot really, if you have an open minded attitude and listen to a broader kind of music. But technical metal and post-rock are by far two of the strongest influences I’d say.
Q 5 : Yeah that’s true. There’s rarely any ‘djent’ in Cyclamen’s music despite the oversaturation of the metal scene with it. What has kept you away from using djent on a wider basis in your songs?
Ans : Haha, I once made very bad mistake of calling a song “Djent! Djent!” when Djent was just starting to get popular. I never thought it would be a big thing at that time so I guess that made me consciously avoid that sound more. Although since Cyclamen’s first release “Dreamers”, it never sounded like Djent anyways. Also, the characteristic of Djent sound lies in amp modelers like Line6 POD or AxeFx and I really don’t like them so it makes Cyclamen sound a lot different from a typical Djent metal band. For me, a good guitar sound has to come from a valve amp, and played with a 6 string guitar (my hands are too small for any bigger guitar, plus 6 strings provide more than enough a creative palette for me) and that goes against Djent trend.
Q 6 : Nowadays, to most guitarists, owning a POD or an AxeFx is probably similar to winning a million dollars in a lottery. What’s the cause for your difference in opinions?
Ans : I just don’t like how they respond, and how it takes away any characteristic of the guitars. Guitars are like humans, every single one of them are different and they have characters. If you plug them into an AxeFx or POD it takes all that away and they all come out with the same sound and to me it’s really sad. Also they both have extremely strong compression so it hides all the subtle dynamics in your playing. It helps guitarists to sound good when you don’t play notes properly but since my music has Post-rock elements, dynamics and subtle nuances is very important and you can’t express any of that with an AxeFx or POD.
Q 7 : As you have stated earlier, to play post rock, dynamics and subtle nuances are very important. To pull them off, one needs to be an accomplished guitarist. Did you ever receive any formal guitar training?
Ans : I had a year of a guitar lessons when I was at high school, but nothing to do with metal or any technical aspects. The teacher hated many notes. But then he taught me how to hold a pick and to think about weight of every single note, which I think, was important thing to learn. It’s easy to play many notes, but hard to make sure every note is meaningful when it comes to composition. Apart from that I’m self taught. Oh and I had one “lesson” with Pin from SikTh, but that was basically 4 hours of talk haha.
Q 8 : Is there any specific method you use for writing Cyclamen songs? Did you ever learn music theory?
Ans : No music theory for sure because for me, it’s all about writing whatever sounds right. As for the method of writing, for something very technical, I normally use Guitar Pro to write. If you pick up a guitar and try to write you naturally stick to what you know best, ending up using same notes, same technique etc. By not having the guitar in hand it allows you to write something that may not be easy to play without putting some effort and it really makes you focus on what sounds good, rather than what’s easy to play. You can always compromise later if they are impossible to play. For more atmospheric post rock stuff it’s all about getting one riff that sounds good, and I just put lots of layers. Mainly concentrating on how you build up dynamic throughout the song. You can’t do that well with GuitarPro as all dynamics are lost in that program.
Q 9 : Now, going back to your latest release, Memories,Voices, was there any concept behind this album?
Ans : Not really. Apart from that, I wanted to make a release that required possibly less patience than Senjyu. I am proud of what I did with Senjyu, but I appreciate that for people who aren’t familiar with slow build ups it’s hard to listen to. Because some of the songs in the album are dedicated to be a part of one big build up. So if you take just one song and listen to it, it doesn’t make much sense. You have to listen to the songs before and after the current one to make sense of it for first time. So I wanted to make a release that’s somewhat easier to listen, but still captures the essence of Cyclamen. And also since last year I’ve working a lot on my singing, since I felt that it was the weakest part of my music skills. So I wanted to challenge myself with something more melodic, which required me to push myself harder. I now feel comfortable with my singing – It’s nothing spectacular, but good enough not to let songs down I think.
Q 10 : So Senjyu more or less has a concept behind it right? What about the split EP with Haunted Shores?
Ans : Yeah Senjyu is based on one big story I came up with. So it has a story line. The songs are intended to be the “soundtracks” of the important scenes. As for Haunted Shores split, no theme really. That was time when Olly and Duncan joined the band and I wanted to see how recording would turn out as a band, so I just chose 2 songs that was most suitable for the line up at the time.
Q 11 : So you didn’t really have to make any new songs for the Haunted Shores split?
Ans : Nah, ‘It’s There’ was originally called ‘Happy Sunday Drive’, which I released as demo and I also had ‘Let Go’ out as demo as well. But I thought these two had some room for improvement and both were fairly accessible to metalheads so I thought it would work out ok.
Q 12 : So, now that you have worked with members from Monuments, Sikth, Travis Orbin, Daniel Tompkins and many other amazing musicians, how does all this feel at the end of the day?
Ans : I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to work with so many talented artists and I’m truly honoured to have worked with them. I almost feel undeserving of it too haha. But I think it’s been mostly mutually beneficial for all cases. They got some few fans through me, I had some new fans through them. At least I’d like to think so! I hope to get to collaborate with many other musicians – Even though I do a lot of things alone it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like collaborating. But to be truthful it’s very rare that you meet someone with amazing skill and professional attitude. It’s often not worth it trying to work with them because it’s too much of hard work haha.
Q 13 : You had said earlier that Senjyu was based on a story you made. What was the story?
Ans : It’s about a guy who “lives” forever, but by that it means that he just exists permanently throughout everything so he has managed to see many rounds of the universe forming and collapsing, and that enabled him to learn pretty much about all parallel scenarios of the universe. It starts with song “Mother”, when he first remembers having a mother taking care of him but since he exists permanently he outlives parents and never finds someone who he feels he can truly related to, and he becomes “The Seeker”, to find this person he can truly relate to. However he has no luck finding one and this desire becomes his “Thirst” and he becomes super violent but then he meets Senjyu, a girl, and finds “hope” in his life. Senjyu comes from the name of a Buddha who, with a thousand arms and a thousand eyes, saves every living creature on the earth. So Senjyu is like a saviour of the main guy. Senjyu then becomes his “Comfort”. That’s the first half of the album. Then from “With Our Hands”, it’s about this revolutionist who comes to the conclusion that the world has to be totally destroyed in order to become his Utopia and he goes for “Grand Annihilation”. In the process Senjyu dies and the protagonist becomes “Devoid” of any feeling. The revolutionist is a sort of a villain, although he is convinced that he is doing this for the world’s good. The protagonist finally unleashes his wrath, full of anger; on the revolutionist (“Hellrise”) and gets his revenge “Revenge (of the Geeks)”(This song was written way before this story concept came out, so the title was a bit random). However, he then realises that Revenge has done nothing to fulfill his need for Senjyu and think backs to her and comes to term with the fact she’s gone and his feeling is reflected in “Full Moon Night”.
Q 14 : Can you tell us about the equipment you used for recording the Cyclamen tracks? What software did you use?
Ans : For Senjyu, I used Blackstar HT-5 and Joe-X guitarworks guitar. Joe-X has super unique sound, but I think it suits Cyclamen, and it’s pretty versatile. For Memories, Voices, I used a HT-20 and my custom made ESP. No pedals since I think shortest signal path is the best tone. But for the reverb I used Eventide Space on Fx loop. That’s one pedal I really like using with an amp. If you use reverb after recording, it just doesn’t quite do the same thing. I don’t think I used any other effects in Memories, Voices – I don’t remember much about Senjyu, apart from using Ring Modulator in “Hope”. Software is Logic Pro for Senjyu, but Logic Express for Memories, Voices.
Q 15 : So the new EP consists of 5 tracks two of which are named Memories and Voices. Is there any reason you decided to name the album after these two tracks?
Ans : They were the two songs that came to mind first, but lyrically, also the most important of the 5. Memories is about my passion towards music, and what I leave behind as musician, and Voices is having courage to express what you feel – in my case using music as a medium. So these two songs together kind of summarises my decision to live my life as musician one focused on my initiative, other focused on what I’d achieve. Memories, Voices is a lot more abstract piece than Senjyu for sure. So it’s left quite open. I mean it’s an EP for a reason.
Q 16 : Was it difficult releasing the album without any label or PR? Is getting signed one of your objectives now?
Ans : When I released Senjyu, I had help from Hold Tight! PR, who are basically Basick Records and I managed to keep some contacts. So it was a bit easier this time. And no, getting signed has never been my objective. Mainly because I want income from selling music online and don’t really want to be touring. I am married, and also by my nature like to be at home (I am a bit of typical Japanese nerd who likes to stay in my own room haha) so getting signed just doesn’t make sense if I wanted to making a living out as musician. It’s not really difficult releasing an album thanks to the power of the internet. Moreover, I had studied Computer Science at University so I am pretty used to technology so it has been quite an easy process to do all this.
Q 17 : How many copies has Memories, Voices sold so far? What about Senjyu? What’s the highest amount anybody has paid for them on Bandcamp?
Ans : For Memories, Voices about 100 something downloads on Bandcamp so far I think – I won’t know about iTunes sales for few months. Someone paid me $12! And many of them over $5, so it’s actually turning out to be at least double the amount of money really, since the album is listed for 2 dollars on Bandcamp. I am so grateful for Cyclamen listeners for their generous support. For Senjyu, not entirely sure but I had to reprint the album, so probably with physical copies and downloads together the number ranges from somewhere between 500 and 1000 I think. It’s still selling a couple or so downloads per week so it’s hard to tell really.
Q 18 : Why did you have to reprint the album?
Ans : I gave about 150 for PR, then other 350 were sold pretty much so I ran out. It’s hard to sell experimental music like Cyclamen to people, especially because of extreme diversity of the style. So if I can sell somewhere between 500 and 1000 copies/downloads that’s a great success to me. I’d love to be able to say I sell thousands of records but that requires much bigger money to invest into PR and I need to have connections in the industry, which I don’t have: So I stick to running everything myself, on my own so that I can realistically live my life as a full time musician.
Q 19 : So you are a full time musician?
Ans : Yeah I am, with some occasional freelance web work by the side. It’s hard to pay all the bills on music alone, but the combination of the web work and music together, along with living my life extremely cheap (In Thailand everything is much cheaper), I can just about manage it haha. Plus I used to work as full time web developer, I still have some savings from that, although there really isn’t much left now. At least I’ve come to a sort of break even before it totally ran out!
Q 20 : At times do you feel that you need to go back to getting a full time job?
Ans : Nah. I’d much rather live poor than being miserable working for something I don’t love. Occasional web work is enough to get me the money I need when I really need it. I am fortunate enough to have quite a steady flow of jobs through that.
Q 21 : What is your advice out to the artists out there struggling to make a living off music?
Ans : Work hard. Seriously, dedicate every waking moment of free time to it. That’s the only way. If you have time to waste on Facebook (apart from promotion purposes) or watching TV or games there is no chance you’d manage to make living out of being musician. Unless you are lucky to be picked up by an amazing management/label. But that will mean you don’t live your life in freedom any more. If you work hard, and put work to where it counts, someone will notice you eventually. So be intelligent, and think every day about what can take you to the next step. Don’t be poor; always have enough money to invest into your music if an amazing opportunity comes. If you smoke, give up, don’t drink unnecessarily or spend money on something you know it’s a waste. Pretty boring really. No sex, drugs or rock’n’roll, but that’s the only way I can see this life working.
Fan Questions :
Q 22 : From Jace Dominguez : How was your experience helping out with the Thai flood relief effort? How did the entire experience influence you to write the Withyouathome track You Are Never Alone Here?
Ans : Ah nice, Withyouathome is something I haven’t mentioned much – it’s a whole new experience really. As much as I love metal, it gives you a lot less opportunity to be creative about how you conduct yourself as an artist. Having started Withyouathome, I feel there is more opportunity for me to translate what I do in my life into my music. I mean you can ask people to donate money for metal tracks, but you know it’s not as effective as if you were releasing something which is easier listening. And a metal musician still tends to stick to a “tough guy” image and volunteer work just doesn’t make you look tough does it? In a way a “don’t give a shit” image is more important. So It was nice to be able to express my feeling towards Thai flood experience through music that way. It was unique experience to help Thailand really – it’s not even my home country, even though it’s becoming my second home pretty much. While I felt there was great satisfaction in helping people, it wasn’t quite the same as when I tried to help Japan, where my root is. Still, I gained lots of experience, and it was very rewarding.
Q 23 : From Ritush Saraf: Cyclamen at a point in time consisted of a full live band with members like Ed Newman, Duncan Lee, Nano Sigo and Olly Steele. What happened now?
Ans : Olly plays in Monuments, which I think is much more fitting band for him to be in, so check them out! They’ve just got a new vocalist and we should be hearing the new recording pretty soon! As for Nano, he’s got a number of things going on. He released his solo EP a while ago, and plays sax in a band, then playing metal every now and then. Ed, he’s a long friend of mine, he was in Pink Widow too. I don’t think he’s doing much with music at the moment, which is shame. I am sure if there is opportunity he’ll pick up the bass or drums again. As for Duncan, he has his own drum school, which was the reason why he left the band in the first place. So he’s been pretty busy with that I think. As far as I know he had injured his back recently and he’s been off playing the drum. I hope he’s recovered, if not he will very soon!
Q 24 : From Aravind Goenka : I’ve been trying to figure out what’s in the background of the cover art of Memories, Voices for a while now(without any luck). Can you please explain?
Ans : Haha, they’re samples (you know these animals dipped under an alcohol kinda thing) of centipedes I saw at Harvard Museum. I thought they were fitting objects since they’ve been kept in their physical form from the time when they were alive. And that fits into the concept of “Memories” to some extent.
Q 25 : Okay so thats all the questions I have for you Hayato! Thanks for taking off your valuable time to do this interview! Is there anything you would like to add?
Ans : Thank you so much to everyone who has taken time to listen to any of my music – and I can never thank you enough for the generous support you have given me over the years. I hope you keep enjoying my music and keep enjoying what I write!