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X Marks the Spot: An Interview with Yoshiki (of X Japan)

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    You’ve probably never heard of them. But like everything else in Japan, they’re huge. Recently, Consequence of Sound had the humbling opportunity to sit down and talk with the one of the most influential musicians/composers in Japanese history, Yoshiki Hayashi. We discussed everything from Queen to being lost in translation, but mainly the present and future state of his legendary rock outfit, X Japan.

    Currently, the band is out on their first ever U.S tour. Although the dates are few and limited to only seven cities, it’s a pretty big deal for the Japanese export. So, if you get the chance to experience X Japan’s raw combination of speed metal and drama rock, you’d be wise to take it. Their live show is truly a sight to see…and hear.

    Your music has been described as Guns N’ Roses-meets Queen-meets The Matrix. Which of these, if any, do you feel best describes X Japan?

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    [Laughs] Wow, that is such a compliment. I’d say Queen is the closest. Although, at the same time, we have the elements to create something heavy like Slipknot or something fast as well.

    With your first ever U.S tour currently underway, do you feel that in order for the music and/or legacy of X Japan to be solidified, you have to be successful in America?

    I mean, coming to the U.S. or going outside of Japan. has always been our dream. [Laughs] So, we just want to make our dream come true.

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    [Laughs] Okay, I can respect that. [pause] With modern, popular rock music in the States being sort of watered down in some aspects, and the members of X Japan being such talented musicians and composers, how does it feel to be put in that same genre or realm as these other individuals, even though you’re far more talented? I’m looking at you, Nickelback.

    Rock music has been kind of on the back-burner in the industry, so if we can become a small stimulus to support the scene in America, then that’d be great.

    Well, I hope you guys do it because it needs it really bad.

    [Laughs] I mean, we have the whole package, even the rock-drama as well.

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    With the new album slated for release early next year, how has it been getting back in the studio with the band and working on new material?

    It’s actually been interesting. At the beginning of our reunion (we reunited about two years ago), it was kind of hard because one of our guitarists, Hide, had passed away 12 years ago. And at the same time, our singer and I had been apart for a long time as well. I didn’t even speak to him for like seven or eight years straight, so this whole thing has been very sensitive and fragile. But after we made the first song, we realized how great all of our members are, so then we just kept recording more and more songs. I think we are just growing. We’re not trying to come back just to do a reunion tour, but we feel like we’re evolving from old X Japan to new X Japan.

    With you living in Los Angeles, how did the recording process work for this album? Was the entire band present in LA for the creation of it or was it more of a material exchange across waters, to where you would send them one thing and they would send something back?

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    Exactly. So, 10 years ago, we could not do it, but these days we can connect the studios together. There are a few second delays, but we do the recording simultaneously in both countries. So, we don’t have to fly all the time.

    The upcoming album is pretty unique from those of the past, in that it features many songs made famous by the band over the years with the lyrics translated into English. Were the vocals the only parts that were re-recorded, or were the instruments re-recorded and re-engineered as well?

    With the old songs, we pretty much just re-did the vocals. The instruments, I’d say, stayed about 90 percent the same.

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    Were there any temptations to maybe add or change something in a song with the various parts of the instruments, or were you trying to stay as true to the song as possible, with the only changes being made to the vocals?

    We are doing a few minor changes actually, but nothing that noticeable.

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    I know the new album is set for release sometime early next year, so how close is it to being complete?

    [Laughs] I would say 90 percent done. We wanted to try to finish it before this North American tour was done, but we’re probably going to have to finish it afterwords.

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    On the band’s press release, you have a quote that reads, “I don’t know if we are going to end up being successful or not, but what I do know is that music breaks down barriers, and it doesn’t matter what country the music comes from. Good music is universal.” Now, I agree with you 100% when you say that, but don’t you feel that translating these songs into English might take away from the music for your fans and the connections that they have made with these original recordings?

    Good question. Umm, well, interesting. We do have the Japanese version as well anyway, so we’re just creating another version. I mean, ideally, I would love to create like 10 different versions in 10 different languages. [Laughs] But, I don’t see that being very realistic. It’s just creating a different version, so people can understand the lyrics completely. And if someone is really into it, they can listen to the Japanese version as well.

    Typically, when you’re translating from language to language, there’s a lot of content and meaning that can be lost in the words. Did you have that happen with your lyrics or was it a smooth experience?

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    For some of the songs, we had to almost re-write everything. They have the same message, but it was not easy.

    I could only imagine. It’s quite a task.

    [Laughs] Right.

    The band’s present U.S tour is only seven cities long, so are there any plans to add more dates for an extended North American tour once the album is actually released?

    This tour is kind of like a showcase. We’re just experimenting and seeing how it goes in America. So, if this tour goes well, we are also planning on touring Europe early next year. Then, we’re going to try to come back here for a larger scale North American tour.

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    With Europe, is it a similar situation as with the United States, or does Europe tend to have more of a following from what you’ve seen?

    I have only been to Paris and England. When I was in Paris, it was for a convention (the Japan Expo), and about 8,000 people showed up for our small show, which was an acoustic show. You never know until you start touring though. But there are some followers there, too.

    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    [Laughs] I think 8,000 fans are pretty good for a small show, so I think you guys will be fine.

    [Laughs] Yeah.

    With the pieces of the band finally coming back together since the break-up, is this tour/new album a last hurrah for X Japan, in that it’s the right way for the group to go out with a true reunion and an accompanying international tour, or is this the beginning of something new?

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    Hopefully, the beginning of something new.

    I know it’s a difficult question, especially since the future is unknown. [Laughs] I was just curious.

    I hope something big happens. [Laughs] I don’t know.

    Having such an expansive catalog of music that you’ve written and composed over the years, whether with X Japan or through solo conception, what one song stands out to you as the culmination point of your career? Do you feel as if you’ve written your masterpiece yet?

    Well, it’s hard to say. I like the song “Jade”. It’s going to be our first single. But I keep writing because I feel that I have not accomplished or written a song that makes me feel like “that was it.” I haven’t composed a song that has fully satisfied me yet.

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    Do you feel that that song will come in the form of your side-projects, where you compose classical music, or do you feel it will surface in an X Japan song?

    Umm, good question. I don’t know. To me, right now, I’ve been writing X Japan songs, so maybe X Japan. [Laughs]

    X Japan continues their U.S. tour as they head to Chicago on Wednesday, October 6th, where they’ll perform at the Riviera Theater. Interested? Be sure to snag some tickets!

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