Yoshiki, X Japan
Our concert is like a film, taking you on a journey.”
©2014 Eric van den Brulle
Yoshiki has held many roles, from musician to radio DJ to collaborator with Hello Kitty. But he remains most famous as the drummer, pianist, and leader of X Japan, a legendary heavy metal band that helped found the popular visual kei genre. On October 11, X Japan will perform at Madison Square Garden.
On October 11, X Japan will perform at Madison Square Garden, four years after the band first performed in NYC. What kind of show should audiences expect?
The Roseland Ballroom show in 2010 was very organic. We had laser lighting but otherwise pretty much a plain stage. But this time we are bringing the full production from Japan: drum riser, drums moving, and pyrotechnics.
This year marks X Japan’s 25th anniversary since its major debut and 20th since its US debut. You have both long-term loyal fans and new fans. How do you approach both?
I don’t play differently for Japanese or overseas fans. I play like there’s no tomorrow.
X Japan is known for its heavy metal sound and beautiful ballads. What do you like about performing such different kinds of music?
I grew up playing classical piano and rock drums, so I love both. Some people think it’s strange that I’m playing hard on the drums, and the next moment I’m playing a classical tune, just going back and forth. Our concert is like a film, taking you on a journey.
We had a lot of drama in X Japan. We have anger, pain, happiness, and sadness, and we combine everything to express all those feelings through music and our performance.
Do you find any surprising similarities between heavy metal and ballads?
I just played my Classical World Tour. Even though I was just playing piano, some piano playing can be very aggressive, such as in the song “Art of Life.” During the classical tour I played that song very violently. When I’m playing drums, the song can be very gentle.
Usually, I express the softer side of me through piano and the aggressive side through drums.
X Japan is often considered a founder of visual kei in the 1980s. Would you describe what “visual kei” is to those who are not familiar with the term? What was it like when visual kei was new?
If you said the words visual kei, people might think it’s very flamboyant, flashy-looking. It’s very different from hair metal. We have new wave and punk influences. Visual kei is more like a spirit to me. Fashion meets music and freedom of what you can express.
When people cannot define what something is, they start attacking us. People couldn’t figure out what we are, like we play super fast and super heavy but dress like anime characters, then sometimes we play soft music. A very famous magazine critic asked, “Why don’t you dye your hair all black?” We didn’t go that way.
We might be one of the inventors of visual kei, but newer generation bands keep carrying that spirit. I have to thank them for doing this.
You also organize music and fashion events, such as Asia Girls Explosion. Do you think your visual kei history has any influence on your interest in fashion?
Fashion and music—you cannot separate those two. Even if you’re wearing trashed jeans, that’s fashion. It was natural for me to produce that kind of fashion show.
You are very active in your own projects. In 2012, you composed the theme song for the 69th Golden Globe Awards. How did it come to you? Looking back, what was your experience writing the theme?
I was invited to go to the Golden Globe Awards and became friends with some of the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. One day, one of the members asked me if I would be interested in composing the theme song for the Golden Globes. I was like, “What?”
I have a background in classical music and I organized a song for the reigning Emperor of Japan, but I’m also a rock musician, so I understand both the prestigious and rock ‘n’ roll sides. The Golden Globes are kind of a party. They have a big round table and people drinking.
It was a challenge. I had to think about the tempo because all those actors are walking to the stage. I wrote three different songs: something super mellow, something hard, and something in the middle. Eventually, I found a direction.
You are multi-talented and there are so many possibilities and directions to go. What are you interested in most right now?
Music, music, music! It’s always been like this. Everything else is a hobby, but I like to create music that can touch people’s hearts.
You have been doing a great deal of charity work for nearly 20 years, such as by founding Yoshiki Foundation America in 2010 and using it to raise money for victims of the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. What draws you to charity work?
I lost my father when I was 10 years old, then I was a very depressed kid. When the Kobe earthquake happened, over 20 years ago, our band donated pianos to every school damaged by the earthquake. Eventually I decided to create my own foundation because I understand the pain, especially for children.
You live and work in Los Angeles these days. What are the differences between living in Japan and America?
In America I can walk down the street without being recognized. In Japan, the food is amazing. But these days I travel a lot. I’ve been to so many countries so many times. I almost feel like I live all over Earth.
Many Chopsticks NY magazine readers are Japanese culture fans and want to visit Japan. Would you recommend any place or things to do there to our readers?
It can be kind of cliché, but Kyoto is amazing. You can tell why this place was the capital of Japan a long time ago. It’s really beautiful.
This issue of Chopsticks NY will feature Japanese sake and shochu. I know you have a wine brand, but do you like sake and shochu as well? Is there any specific sake/shochu brand you like?
I really like red wine. When I eat sushi or something like that, I drink sake and shochu too. Imo shochu is made of sweet potatoes—I like that, too.
Right now I’m doing a special diet for Madison Square Garden, so I don’t eat carbohydrates at all. I don’t drink sake or eat sushi. I’m going to have those the next day after Madison Square Garden!
—— Interview by Victoria Goldenberg
Yoshiki was born in Chiba and began playing the piano at age 4. In 1982, he formed the band X, later renamed X Japan, whose major-label debut album Blue Blood debuted at number 6 on the Oricon charts in 1989. Although X Japan broke up in 1997, they reunited in 2007, using video and audio recordings to include deceased guitarist Hide in their concerts. Yoshiki is frequently active in many solo musical and business projects, including film scoring and fashion merchandising. He has released 3 solo classical albums since 1993.
Yoshiki in New York Comic Con
In 2010, he started a comic book series, Blood Red Dragon, with Stan Lee and Todd McFarlane, which stars himself. He, alongside with Lee, will do a panel announcing thier new project about the series on October 10, a day before the X Japan concert.
X Japan Concert at Madison Square Garden
X Japan will return to New York for the first time since 2010 and perform at MSG for the first time in their 25 years career.
Fans swarmed the X Japan mini concert at Otakon 2014 in August.