Hayato Imanishi (Cyclamen, Withyouathome) Interview (12 June 2022)

Published: August 02, 2022


During the early ‘10s I went through a phase of listening to a lot of tech-metal, but there was one band in particular that really apprehended my intrigue. That band was Cyclamen, masterminded by one man, Hayato Imanishi. What impressed me back then and even more to this day, is that he lives his life on pushing boundaries for both himself and the music he makes; for a guy that can shred on the guitar with ferocious virtuosity, it’s somewhat refreshing to hear him humbly talk about always improving. Between 2010 and 2015, Cyclamen became a driving force in the scene, with extensive touring and steadfast recorded output – all managed solely by Hayato while he organised events for bands like Dillinger Escape Plan in Japan. However, after Amida’s release in 2018, things got steadily quieter. This year Hayato announced that he was going to sell the ownership of all his works, including the much-revered Cyclamen tracks that have been released over the years.

After reading the post with a small amount of shock, I reached out for an interview, not just to get a better understanding of why he was selling the rights to his labours, but just on where the band is at this point, and where Hayato intends to go artistically moving forward. After kindly accepting, I caught up with him while he was back in Japan helping his sister, to talk about the music industry’s business model, getting a buzz from complete autonomy, writing music, and why he’s selling the ownership of his songs.


Let’s talk about Cyclamen for a little bit. Back in the day I was a massive fan of the band, and you posted something recently which made me want to go through Cyclamen’s discography again; and after hearing it all I think it’s held up really well. The level of musicianship on those records still blows me away now. What are your overall feelings of the band today and what you’ve accomplished?  

Cyclamen is not a normal band where all the members come in and share the responsibility. Cyclamen started off as a solo project where it was just me, and I decided on what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, but when I introduced new members, it was hard for me to find that balance of distributing more responsibility to them, simply because there were certain things I could only do – an example being, I was the only member who could speak fluent English, and Cyclamen had an international following. To this day I’m still trying to find that balance, and it’s hard to find that level of harmony where everyone can be happy and feel like they’re a part of the band. It’s an issue that’s been with me forever, but when Covid-19 hit, it gave me time to reflect on the band dynamics. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, but hopefully I will find the sweet spot.

My biggest achievement is that Cyclamen have managed to do almost everything we set out to do. We’ve never had a record label or any real support from anyone else, but we’ve toured with Protest the Hero, and I arranged gigs for Dillinger Escape Plan, Sikth, and other bands I really enjoy. So, in that sense, if we wanted to do something we just did it. I’m proud of the fact that I’m not relying on other people and that I can do it myself, because for a lot of people they focus too much on “oh, I don’t have a label, or I don’t have enough money”, and I get that, it is hard, and even I haven’t done everything I wanted to do, you know? I’d like to organise an event for Meshuggah or System of a Down, but they’re just way too high for the budget I have, or I don’t have the appropriate connections to make it happen. But for the most part, for anything within or a little above my capability, I try and push through to achieve my goals.

Since you said Cyclamen centres around you, what is the recording process like?

It depends on some releases, but because we don’t have a big budget to record albums, most of the material is recorded by me. For Amida the drums are partially recorded by Toshiya, our drummer, but due to time constraints there wasn’t enough time to record whole songs, so we’d record a couple of songs and take his drum samples and program what wasn’t done. Senjyu was solely recorded by me because it wasn’t even the same line up, that was when I was living in the UK and Olly Steele from Monuments was in Cyclamen, and Boris Le Gal from Betraying the Martyrs helped out with the Haunted Shores EP.

Obviously, you’re an incredible guitar player, but I remember before Ashura you wanted to knuckle down on improving your vocals, letting Takashi take the reins in the guitar department so you could master your vocal work. At the time of Amida’s release, I remember being a bit bummed out by the serene disposition of the record, in comparison to the apoplectic approaches of Senjyu and Ashura. In hindsight, with the likes of Memories, Voices all in as well, the band’s discography has a very organic progression to it that I fully appreciate now. Over time, did pushing your vocal abilities make the band more inclined to be melodic and post-rock driven than tech-metal?

Essentially Senjyu, Ashura and Amida are the names of three Japanese Budda statues, so I always intended to make three radically different sounding albums. Cyclamen’s name comes from ‘Hanakotoba’, which is the Japanese version of ‘language of flowers’, and the interesting thing about Cyclamen was that if you change the colour, you change the meaning. So red would present envy, white purity, etc, etc. But for Senjyu I didn’t know if I’d have the motivation in the future to continue making music, and I didn’t want to restrict myself, so I just threw in every genre of music I liked (laughs); so that’s why Senjyu is all over the place tonally.

With Ashura I always intended to make a really heavy record, and Amida was always intended to be a melodic album. Because Senjyu was so well received I just put every technical idea I had into Ashura, like twin guitars that are playing completely different things on the left side and the right, which really messes up your stereo hearing. After that, I wanted to do the melodic album last, because I knew my voice wasn’t strong enough and I needed more time to work on it.


After Ashura came out in 2013, we didn’t get Amida until 2018 because Cyclamen stopped making albums and instead focused on producing EPs. What was the strategy behind that?

I just didn’t have the time to write, I was so busy all the time. When I compare that to the days of writing that Haunted Shores EP. I can get a quick turn-around writing songs, and back then I was working full-time and writing and recording the songs over the weekend, and I was doing that for about a year, but during that time I had a stable routine that allowed me to do it. When it came to managing the band and playing live, it just took up so much of my time, because of the extensive prepping that goes into playing this kind of tech-metal live.

I remember seeing you here in the UK in 2014 at a little pub in Preston. The level of energy you guys brought to that gig was something I hadn’t seen, and haven’t seen since. Do you prefer playing shows or recording and producing music?

I’m a typical Otaku (laughs). Like I said before; I like having a routine, and playing in a live setting throws all that out of the window. I mean, I love meeting fans and new people, and there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from playing shows, but at the same time, there’s a lot of cost and sacrifice that goes with playing live. If it was just a case of going to a show and playing, I’d be fine with that, but like that UK tour in particular, there was so much work that went into it. We were doing everything ourselves, renting the cars, driving everywhere, setting up and packing down our gear, looking for hotels and places to sleep. All these little things consolidated creates a pretty large amount of stress. So overall, I’d rather be at home producing. Also, recording music, you can just take your time and get the most perfect take you have in your mind; when it comes to playing live there are so many factors that can hinder what you have in your mind.

During the ‘10s you were insanely busy with Cyclamen, Withyouathome, your label, Realising Media, and organising events in Japan for other bands, as well as touring the world yourself with Cyclamen. How did you manage to find the time? It must have been pretty stressful.  

I think a lot of it falls down to the fact that I get bored easily and end up moving on to doing different things. Like when you learn new things, the learning curve is steep but once you get to the top, progress is slow and you feel like you’re not growing as a person or learning as much, and I like that steep learning curve when it comes to learning new things. So, in a way, if I didn’t enjoy that aspect of learning, I’d have probably stuck to the traditional musician’s path a bit more and not done everything myself. But that’s just the way I am, I can’t wait for things so I end up learning and doing them myself. Back when I was living in the UK, I was a full-time web developer so I had a decent income, and if I had a musician or vocalist I admired, I’d ask them to play on one of my songs. One of the first Cyclamen songs I’d written, I paid Mikee from Sikth to do the vocals on it.

When I moved to Thailand, the cost of living is significantly cheaper than the UK or Japan, so I had 7 days a week to focus on my music, but because I moved there, I couldn’t see the bands I liked live, so it became a case of “how can I get them to me?” (laughs). For example, the Sikth reunion, I wanted to see them so I looked into getting them to Japan and in the end, they accepted, so I got to see them. Basically, if I wanted to do a cool music video or some artwork, if I couldn’t find anybody to do it, I’d learn and do it myself.

Recently you began selling ownership of all your life’s work on your Realising Media label – including Cyclamen tracks – to fans, which is a very unusual thing to do. What led you to make this decision?

The main problem that I have with the current business model is that it’s based on numbers – CD sales, streaming, ticket sales – and the reach of that band/artist. If you look at art, like a Leonardo Da Vinci piece, or a Pablo Picasso piece, it’s just one investor who loves the artwork and will pay a lump sum to own it. In essence, it doesn’t have to be liked by very many people in the market for it to have value, you know? And I see that with music. I think that there should be a way for music to be valued in this way, even if only a few people see value in it, and the way of selling ownership of my music was the closest to that. When you paint something, you take it to a gallery or you sell it personally to someone for a lump sum, and I see it as that person buying it can utilise the piece a number of ways as well: they can invest it, sell it on, or just enjoy it for what it is. And once it’s left the artist’s hand it’s up to the consumer to decide what to do with it. For some, not knowing what is going to happen to their piece of music is a scary thought, but lately I think it’s a liberating idea where you write a song and you don’t have to worry about it once it’s finished.

So currently, I have the songs set at $500, which is what I can make on them from streaming over 5 years or something – easily in fact. But the bottom line is that I just want to make a song and be done with it; selling it wasn’t something I enjoyed. During the Covid lockdowns I was weighing up what aspects of music I actually enjoyed, and separating myself from the parts that I don’t; and the parts outside of the parameters of making music are where I don’t have it in me anymore. I just want the music to be heard in its purest form, and I think it’s difficult, because since The Beatles, music has been intertwined with fashion and trends, and to me these things are technically separate entities.

I don’t have any objections to the current model and how people use it, it’s a good way of measuring the value of music – through Instagram and Facebook, etc – but I just think there’s a lot of other ways of valuing music, and creators should have the option to sell their creation with a business model that suits their needs. Whether this will be a good idea, I won’t know yet. I’ve got interest in ownership of some of my songs already, but this business model doesn’t exist and it’s going to take time to get off the ground. If it works, I can tell people this is a viable option, if it doesn’t then I can at least say I tried, you know?


You’ve recently released a bunch of new Cyclamen tracks, but even these songs are up for sale. So, for the entirety of Cyclamen’s existence, writing albums, EPs and songs, is this the business model moving forward?

I think so. You have to try the model out for a few years, and if it doesn’t work and I eventually need the money from music again, I might go back to the existing model that works. This year really made me take a step back and think about what I enjoy doing and what I don’t, and I’m more certain on those points now; and that means taking my focus away from the managerial aspects of music and putting emphasis on the music’s creation. I’m at a place now where I just want to make music, especially with my vocals massively improving – now there are loads of ideas I want to try, and discovering where my voice will fit into all these styles of music I enjoy. It boils down to freedom, and the bottom line is that I want to keep making music.

That’s an interesting point; I got to know a well-known pop star in Thailand, but he was so dry about his music. He was very business oriented and would work the music around what sold more. His music is very upbeat and happy, but he doesn’t think he’s a particularly happy person, either. Music to him wasn’t a particularly happy thing, it is a means to an end. And there’s nothing wrong with that, he just sees it as his job. But at the same time, that isn’t how I want to think of my music as being. So a lot of things here and there made me focus on what I find fun about the music.

What is the future for Cyclamen?

I don’t know. I’m just writing loads of songs. Right now, in Japan, I’m planning on taking a week or two break in a cottage in the mountains, really secluded and on my own. It’s actually the same place I wrote Senjyu, and I stayed there for two months without seeing or talking to anyone besides the shop owner near the cottage. And that was a really enjoyable time for me, because I only thought about the music and I did whatever I wanted without worrying about things. Like, with the presence of someone else in the same room, be it my wife or a band member, that can have an effect on the music: if they look weary for instance I will stop playing, so that they can go to sleep. Small things like that can really affect the writing process, where you’re ready and you want to make music and get down to it but you can’t quite get into the zone as you would if you were isolated. So, at this moment in time, I’m really going back to my roots and finding myself – rethinking and searching for how I want to make music in the future. One thing is for sure though, there are a lot of things I want to experiment with and a lot of new tools, including my voice, to experiment with. However, my aim for this year is solely to enjoy music and making music, and everything else is secondary.

That’s great, I’m really looking forward to what you can come up with.

The other thing I keep thinking of, is that an album is a part of the traditional business model, so I’m not really sure if making an album makes any sense with the ownership model, because I’ll be selling one song at a time. I think first, before considering making an album, I’m going to make singles in disparate styles and see what I get from that.

Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you. This has been a very good way of reflecting, so thank you for the opportunity.

Follow Hayato and his various projects here: Hayato ImanishiCyclamenWithyouathome.


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