15 minutes with... Miyavi

The rock star on the 'Unbroken' controversy and the launch of his new album

15 minutes with... Miyavi

Miyavi was already an international rock star when Angelina Jolie flew to Tokyo to convince him to be in her next movie. The 33 year-old Osaka native, who is known both for his solo albums and as a member of supergroup S.K.I.N., hesitated before accepting her offer: ‘It was a risk. I didn’t have any real experience as an actor and it was a really controversial story. I knew it could ruin my music career.’

The risk paid off. Miyavi’s performance as sadistic prison guard The Bird in ‘Unbroken’, released Stateside in December 2014, was widely praised. ‘I knew the more evil I was, the better the story would be,’ he says. The film, coupled with a move to Los Angeles, helped Miyavi rise to major celebrity status. He found himself at countless award shows and afterparties; Ellen Degeneres personally requested him as a guest on her talk show.

But although Miyavi’s career reached new heights, he struggled with his move to the US. ‘The atmosphere was so different,’ he says. ‘I had no capacity to handle everything in English. I lost my confidence.’ He toured the world but couldn’t get a car or apartment in the US: ‘I had no credibility.’ So he decided to focus on what he knows best. ‘When I first moved to Tokyo at 17, the guitar was the only thing that allowed me to be myself. Music saved me.’

Miyavi began work on his new album, ‘The Others’, with award-winning R&B producer team Drew and Shannon. ‘They blew me away,’ he says of their first writing session. ‘Music is their life. It wasn’t about signing a contract, booking a studio, then making music. They were writing lyrics over dinner.’ Miyavi recorded the album in Nashville, and he says he felt a spiritual connection to Music City USA: ‘It was like rehab. Everyone in Nashville is so musical. Even the waiter at the restaurant was a better singer than me.’ [Laughs]

‘The Others’ is Miyavi’s most diverse album yet. While his signature sing along anthems are represented (‘Into the Red’ and ‘Let Go’), they give way to atmospheric funk (‘Come Alive’ and ‘Unite’) and electro metal (‘Odyssey’ and ‘The Others’). He also traded his Taylor guitar for a Telecaster: ‘Before, I was trying hard to be distinct. I didn’t want the typical guitar sound, even if it sounded good. Now I’m a little more relaxed.’

The album features plenty of Miyavi’s trademark slap-guitar style, but the standout track is R&B tune ‘Alien Girl’. Listening to Miyavi talk about Angelina Jolie, we have to wonder if the song wasn’t inspired by her. He says: ‘She’s so passionate and determined in her work. She has a mission to make the world better. It’s like she’s not human; she’s come from outside of the planet to heal this world.’

‘Unbroken’ has caused an outcry in Japan because of its portrayal of the country’s wartime atrocities, and has yet to find a distributor here. But Miyavi has strong words for those Japanese netizens who criticised the film before even seeing it: ‘Nobody hates Germany after watching “Schindler’s List”. Everyone knows that’s the past and they overcame it. Nobody hates Japan after seeing “Unbroken”. I’m getting positive comments from all over the world.’

Miyavi has no regrets about accepting the role or moving to LA. He’s already looking forward to the next challenge. ‘None of my fans thought I’d be acting in a film, especially speaking English,’ he says. ‘I want to prove to them that everything is possible. I try to show my fans improvement, achievement and excitement. I want to give fans that positive energy.’

'The Others' is out on April 15. Miyavi's 'We Are The Others' tour runs from April 30 in Hiroshima to May 16 at Studio Coast in Tokyo. For more info, visit myv382tokyo.com or follow Miyavi on Twitter at @miyavi_official

This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Time Out Tokyo magazine.

By Leslie Lee III
Photo by Manabu Morooka
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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