Japanese metal solo project Esprit D’Air – led by award-winning producer and composer Kai – are on the cusp of releasing a fresh version of the first song Kai ever produced.
The track Shizuku was initially used on Harmonix’s Rock Band 3 for Xbox 360 but has been reworked to include Australian producer Misstiq on synthesizers and will be released on February 10.
Kai caught up with HEAVY to answer a series of questions about the song and more.
HEAVY: Esprit D’Air will release your new song Shizuku on February 10. Tell us more about the song musically.
KAI: It was the first song that I ever composed when I was still in school 13 years ago. A musician friend of mine described it as having some sort of Dragonforce energy, a ‘youthful’ sound and fire, but matured into a sophisticated piece of music.
Shizuku is actually a re-recording of the first and only J-Rock song on Harmonix’s Rock Band 3 which came out on Xbox360. Why choose an existing song to re-record and release?
Although it was a song I made so many years ago, I think the song still holds up today. Our following has also increased so much over the past few years, so most of our new fans will not be familiar with this song. The idea is to give this old song new life and meaning. It’s also perfect timing with it being re-released onto the newer Rock Band 4 video game for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year. It still is the only song in the J-Rock genre category in that game!
You feature Australian producer Misstiq on synthesizers on the track. Why bring her in to play, and what did she bring to the song?
I discovered her work on Ollie Winiberg’s Heavy Hooks podcast when Ollie interviewed her, and he played our song Leviathan on the show. At this point, I had already completed the re-recording of ‘Shizuku’ with just the regular instrumentals and my own synths. I was moderately satisfied with my recording, but I think I felt a little jaded by the song as we had played it for so many years in the same way with the same arrangement. I was very impressed with what she was creating in her own collaborative works but also her work ‘spicing up’ existing metal tracks.
So, I reached out to Misstiq about possibly collaborating together, to add her own spin to the song with new synths and FX Incidentally, she was touring in her band Earth Caller with Within Destruction in Europe last year, so I went to see her and the band, and we got to meet and have a quick chat about the song too. I had a thought of giving her a whole piano solo section just before the final chorus and it just sounds so beautiful. Misstiq was ecstatic about the collaboration, and in the end, she said that this is one of her favorite collaborations ever. I am so glad that we have worked together on this—such a cool person and inspiration!
How is this version different from the original?
First of all, the original in 2012 did not include my vocals. As you know, Esprit D’Air disbanded in 2013 and I took over as the vocalist and solo artist from 2016, so the vocals will be one of the major differences. The second difference is the addition of new synths by Misstiq, a brand new piano solo section. Thirdly, I think we took it further with more modern production values.
Shizuku is also the first song you ever produced back in 2010, so it must have been an interesting process for you to revisit music you made 13 years ago.
Yeah! It is one that means a lot to me. When I was re-creating it, I did not have to reference the original track at all. I put together all the parts of the song, almost exactly how it was before and just making it sound bigger and better than before.
Did you notice how much you have changed or grown as a musician in that period?
I think that my composition and songwriting has matured. One thing that has always been constant though is attempting to think outside of the box, free of judgement, and ego when it comes to creating music. I think that’s what makes Esprit D’Air sound unique and tries not to replicate another band.
The animated music video for Shizuku tells an interesting story. Run us through it.
So, I think the inspiration behind this was a mix of Rurouni Kenshin with the character design, Akira, with the cyberpunk and Neo Tokyo world, and Final Fantasy VII (when Cloud escapes the Shinra building in his Hardy-Daytona motorcycle). The project was also inspired by fan Andrew Ley from Manchester, UK, who did a fan art piece for me, parodying Akira.
The story was directed by Paulo EG & Patrick Aguadiza Malalo-an (who were recommended by my friend RinRin from Perth, Australia). It’s a simple action story set in a city overrun by mech drones and an evil mastermind of the city. The song, ‘Shizuku’ is essentially about betrayal, so you will see me literally getting stabbed in the back by my own sword. We left the ending in mystery, so we could possibly have a sequel. Who knows?
You released your second album Oceans earlier last year. How was it received?
That album, Oceans, entered the Official UK Charts for several weeks in 2022. I did not expect it to go that far – one week in the charts, awesome, but seven weeks?! That’s crazy. It ended up peaking at #8 in Rock and Metal Albums, and it was #18 for one week across all genres of music in the Official Top 100 Album Downloads Chart. We must have sold thousands and thousands of physicals and downloads, and it’s been streamed millions of times. I have a feeling that during the tour we’re doing in the UK in February, that it might re-enter the charts too.
So many people have told me we have really upped our game with this album! It’s going to be a very hard one to top from now on.
You collaborated with Ben Christo (The Sisters Of Mercy) and Ryo Kinoshita (formerly of Crystal Lake) on that album. Is that something you will explore further in the future?
Yes, I would love to work with both of them again. I am taking Ben Christo on tour with me in his independent band Diamond Black, and they’re just about to release their next single too. It was such a great experience working with both of them, both masterminds at what they do.
Esprit D’Air has basically been your own solo project since 2016. What is the reason for keeping it as a solo project rather than working with other musicians?
The process is just so much easier as a solo project. One person, one vision. When you’re in a band, you have to involve politics. Who leads the band? Are our goals the same? Is this guitar riff too ‘generic’ for us? Are we finished with this section of the song? Some people will see it as a hobby and nothing else. Some will have different visions for the project and the sound that we are looking to produce.
In a solo project, you don’t have to deal with those things. You are either fully into the project or not.
It makes so much more sense financially too. When you have a 4 or 5-piece band, you have to split the earnings between everyone, and everybody (usually) has to take part in financing it. Doing it as a solo project allows me to do the project full-time, take the full risk, and not have to burden other people by having them put their own money into the project, especially when they don’t actually want to invest into the project and just see it as a hobby.
My touring musicians I work with also prefer it this way and it works around their lifestyle. For example, my touring drummer Jan-Vincent Velazco is involved with several bands and projects as a session musician—he recorded in Gus G’s latest album, as well as projects like , and Diamond Black. He prefers not to be involved with the business side of things, he just learns the songs and plays them live. It keeps things simple!
You do everything from recording to producing yourself. Does it make it easier or harder not having other people to bounce ideas off during that process?
Believe me, it is hard, and it is time-consuming, but at the same time, I love it and I really like seeing my vision in my art come to life. Don’t get me wrong, I also love collaborating, which I have been doing more of, and I like being able to bounce off ideas with other band members.
For the Oceans album, I also cannot take full credit for it. Whilst most of it is me, I had some help having ideas sent back and forth to some of my live members—Yusuke, Takeshi, Ryoma and Vincent. I would ask for their opinions on some songs or invite them to help with it. Takeshi produced our ballad Sazanami. It was refreshing to do a slow song because most of the Esprit D’Air songs are very uptempo. So, it really does help have people to bounce ideas off, always, and I will be doing more of that for future songs.
You have a run of shows coming up in the UK. Tell us about them.
Almost every single show is sold out. York and London sold out months in advance. Cardiff, Newcastle, and Birmingham all have less than 40 tickets left. The crazy thing is, this is a self-promoted tour. I didn’t involve an agency or promoter. I have been working hard doing this myself, contacting the venues, setting up the marketing, designing the poster, and going as far as visiting the cities to put those posters up. It has been a great success, and we might even see the Oceans album return to the Official Charts that week.
As mentioned earlier, your last album Oceans came out almost 12 months ago. How far advanced are you with the next one?
I haven’t started with the new album yet. The Oceans album has been taking up a lot of my time – we were touring it last year, and now we are touring it again this year. In order for me to focus on writing a new album, I need to be in a state of peace where I am doing nothing except writing the album. Right now, a lot of my energy is spent on the upcoming tour and other creative activities like social media.
What can fans of Esprit D’Air expect from the next album when you do start writing it?
The first word I will say is—patience. The next album is not something that I will not rush with because I cannot force creativity. My mind has been on trying to put together the best tour possible. Once my mind is clear and free from the stress, I will begin writing the new album.
What touring plans do you have for the rest of 2023?
None yet. I had some dates pencilled, but not confirmed yet. I am weighing up whether I should continue touring the album, or rest and focus on more creative activities like writing new songs. I would LOVE to do both, but as a one-man-band, I need to prioritise! Having said that, the shows cannot be stopped, so I will plan something to announce later this year once I have made a decision.