“From doing shows across the world now, we’ve realised that, living in Japan, there’s more need to look around,” begins DYGL singer and guitarist Nobuki Akiyama. “When we went to New York, we made some friends, but we found that only two or three people even knew The Libertines out there! But we live on an island, and the underground music scene isn’t very big, so we need to look outside it.”
Formed in Tokyo at one of the city’s regular after-college music clubs dubbed ‘The Circle’, DYGL (pronounced ‘Dayglo’) might have begun via a hometown tradition, but it’s in this cross-continental, wide-reaching approach that they’ve truly found their place.
Meeting back in 2012, the group started as a trio, with guitarist Yosuke Shimonaka and drummer Kohei Kamoto bonding over their Circle’s noise and avant garde leanings. “When we started it was quite punk, without any melodies – just playing hard and shouting,” laughs the singer. “It wasn’t really based on our influences.” Those influences, however, had always tended towards the UK and US’ alternative guitar scenes. Nobuki cites Britpop and grunge, as well as formative 00s bands like The Strokes and Pete’n’Carl’s aforementioned Libertines as key inspirations; by the time that bassist Yotaro Kachi joined a couple of years later, the quartet had begun to take those ideas and run with them.
Graduating from the Circle but still remaining together, the band soon realised that, in order to progress past the Japanese alt scene that they describe as “cool, but still really small”; they would need to physically move beyond it. And so, spurred on by a love of cult garage label Burger Records and the gaggle of rock’n’rollers associated with them, DYGL upped sticks to LA. “We didn’t have any contacts out there, we didn’t have any record label, we were doing everything ourselves,” explains Nobuki. “But eventually we started making friends, and when we went to New York, we found we had some kind of connection with [The Strokes’ guitarist] Albert Hammond Jr through a mutual friend who was working for him in Japan. He introduced us and Albert ended up recording our first album.”
If it sounds like something of a fairy-tale – band grow up listening to their hero, move to the other side of the world and become friends – then it’s one only made more surreal by the events that occurred within. “[Albert] was this weird guy; he’s quite chill, but then sometimes he acts like a teenager, watching ‘Trainspotting’ or some kind of weird stuff while we were recording,” laughs the singer. “He’ll be playing basketball, and then suddenly he’ll really focus on recording and be really professional. He has so many aspects in the same character.” But while sitting in a New York studio with an indie icon might have been on none of the quartet’s predicted to-do lists, it did yield 2017 debut Say Goodbye To Memory Den – a record full of infectious, earworm hooks and doe-eyed jangles that set them on a bigger path, with tours across Asia, Europe and beyond soon following.
Then came time to consider its follow-up. But, as the age-old ‘difficult second album’ trope suggests, sometimes this process is easier said than done. “After spending time with the [debut] and playing shows, I started realising that I still needed to explore more of myself and to express more personality than on that first album,” says Nobuki. “We were supposed to record a year ago, but we wanted it to be a big move from that album so we decided to postpone because we weren’t ready.”
Instead, realising that they needed to “change the environment”, the band flew to London, where they’ve been based for the best part of a year now. Immediately settling into the rhythm of the city, the move began to yield results and quickly the seeds of what would become second album Songs of Innocence & Experience began to sow.
“The album title is quoted by the title of the poetry book by William Blake ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ because I felt some connection between his work and my lyrics,” explains Nobuki. “The songs on this album are a personal questioning and contradiction in this life or world, rather than presenting a specific answer. Maybe it’s about coming of age; maybe it’s more than that. It’s quite related to personal feelings.”
Like their debut, the record retains the 60s influences that have littered themselves across guitar music ever since, but it also succeeds in DYGL’s aim of expanding their palette. Fusing in their love of hip-hop beats and ambient sounds, their follow-up is a more experimental, more fleshed out thing.
Even more notably, Nobuki’s lyrics and concepts this time round have found their own, important niche. The appeal, he explains, of that Blake reference is in the “contradiction” it suggests. “The [ideas] are connected to each other, but there’s conflict, which is what I wanted for this album,” he says. “I grew up in a Christian church, but now I’m doing this rock’n’roll thing. It’s indie music, but I’m inspired by other things. I’m living in England, but I’m from an Asian country. I’m a man, but I’m quite feminine. There are all these contradictions happening within me, and I wanted to express that in the album.”
This idea of battling societal norms, especially those prescribed by the strict Japanese culture he grew up in, is something that writes itself all over new single ‘Spit It Out’. A garage-infused fuzzy belter, its immediacy belies a more serious message at its heart. “’Spit It Out’ stands for the idea of saying whatever you want. In Japan, so many people have started to be more conservative over these past few years” the frontman explains. “Talking about politics and sexuality and these kind of things is sometimes offensive to Japanese society, so people try to be quiet but it’s really stressful for everyone. These lyrics are based on that: to say what you want to say if you think it’s important.”
Forthcoming single ‘Don’t You Want To Dance In This Heaven’ also tackles an element of this repression, specifically relating to the country’s archaic Fuieho law, which, until 2015, forbid people from dancing after midnight. “The government thought that clubs and venues might be promoting drugs and other things, so they banned dancing,” he shrugs, with an understandably frustrated look. “It’s a symbol of our society – the law has changed now, but only recently.”
Meanwhile closing the album is the beautifully delicate ‘Behind The Sun’ and it’s moving influences offer a rippling effect across the whole album, as Nobuki explains, “There’s a lyric in ‘Behind The Sun’, “If I could swim across the stars to fly to what awaits me behind the sun”. In my vision I have an image like floating in outer space alone with no sound around, so we asked the designer (Jordanne Chant) to make the artwork related to that. It’s the airship flying in front of the sun, a bit emotionlessly, but still a bit sadly secret.”
Continuing he says, “In this album I think I felt both sides of life, pure innocence and some kind of broken unreasonable experience. It could be quite depressing and sad, but at the same time there’s some cheerful, fun melodies, some passions and anger, and some comforting silence. I think it’s all connected and has a meaning to each other, like our lives itself. It’s not like looking for the answer; it’s more like singing some contradiction and questions as it is like some abstract drawings. But I hope it could be still giving people who listen to it some energy and passions for music, and for their lives.”
Recorded with former Test Icicle-turned-production-whizz Rory Atwell across various studios from Wales to London, via a special day at Abbey Road, Songs of Innocence & Experience is an album that takes up the dual mantle of making an overt statement, but never at the expense of keeping it dancing. For DYGL, however, the two ideas are kind of the same thing. “Do want you want to do, say what you want to say and try and make a change. If people can do it over here, then maybe we can do it in Japan,” says Nobuki.
With a fanbase rapidly accruing across the continents, and Asian and US tours already looming over the coming months, DYGL are already making borders seem as outdated as those killjoy laws.