Archive for the ‘ Journalism ’ Category

Interview: Yoshiki’s new ways to express himself


Picture courtesy of YSK Entertainment

Call him dedicated or call him reckless. You would probably be correct either way. X Japan drummer, pianist and band leader Yoshiki severely damaged his neck due to his intense drumming style to the point that he needed neck surgery. In fact, since the last time I sat down with Yoshiki, he had surgery again, this time to replace a disc in his neck with an artificial alternative. While he appears to be more conscious of the health risks of his playing style than ever, he is also driven to pick up drumming again. If only to promote the new X Japan album, that he has been working on for years now.

It feels weird. I had neck surgery several years ago, but then they carved a bone to make a little space between the bones“, Yoshiki explains his most recent surgery. “This time, a disc in my neck was completely worn out, so they had to put plastic and metal into my neck. It was a big operation. Last time, they went through the back of my neck. This time, they went through the front. They had to pull the vocal cords aside and place the artificial disc. It’s a pretty intense surgery.
Is it a definitive thing or did the doctor give you an estimation of when you can play again?
The way I play drums is not good for my health. Period. That’s what my doctor said. So I just have to find a way to play drums the healthy way. There are some things I have to focus on. First off: headbanging is bad. At some point, people have to stop doing that. I guess I have reached the epitome. It brought me to this position: I had two neck surgeries. So we have to find a different way to express ourselves. Not only the artists, also the audience. Otherwise, we’re all going to have neck surgery in the end.
What’s your physical therapy like these days?
It is focused on building muscles in my neck. My nervous system is already damaged though. Luckily, my motor skills are still fine, so I can move my hands. But because of the nerve damage, I can’t really feel anything properly anymore. There’s always a burning sensation in my hand. It’s very uncomfortable. A terrible feeling. So I just have to find a different way to express myself. Without headbanging.
Does your situation impact your compositions at all, in the sense that you adapt what you write to what you can play?
Fortunately, I finished every single drum track for the upcoming album before surgery. But as of now, I can’t play drums. That’s what the doctor said: no more drums. The way I play drums is just too much, but I’m trying to find a way to go back to the stage as a drummer. Then I’ll play as hard as I can, as soon as I can. But believe it or not: the day after the surgery, I was already in the studio. There are things I can still do. Some editing, for instance.
Ever since we started working on the album, I haven’t really stopped. Even when we were doing the Wembley show back in March; I was in London doing some interviews and preparing for the concert, but I also booked a recording studio and I was also working on the new album. And I thought about it, since I’m in Europe now, to see if I had some extra time. I would like to keep recording. But my schedule is really tight, so I couldn’t do it this time.

Picky

Yoshiki already addressed the elephant in the room himself: the new X Japan album, their first studio album since the 1996 release ‘Dahlia’. “Pretty much all tracking is done. There is one more song I need to play piano to and I’m just adding a last touch, by means of sound effects or guitar effects or something like that. Vocal tracking is done, even the strings – we have recorded an orchestra – are done. So now I just have to find the time to go back to the studio and finish it. I’m trying to have it done by the end of this year.
Is the oldest material still up to your own quality standards after so much time?
Good question… I think so. I mean, I like it. It’s really hard for me to say I like the songs, because I’m super picky, but I think this album is going to be amazing.
Have you found the right label for the release of this album yet?
Most likely it will be Sony Records. Worldwide. I think the whole world will get it at the same time.
Is Extasy Records (Yoshiki’s own label, originally founded to release X Japan’s albums) still active at all?
Yes and no. As of now, I’m planning on producing artists, but I just have to concentrate on finishing X Japan’s album before I do any other things. Also, I have so much promotion and so many interviews to do for the ‘We Are X’ film, so I’m trying to find the time. I always have people looking for artists. Actually, I get a demo pretty much every day. Sometimes I’m really overwhelmed by what I hear. But it’s so hard for me to find the time to even produce now. So unless it is someone extremely good… Well, even then I would probably introduce them to some label or something.

Interest

If the documentary ‘We Are X’, which is in theaters now, shows anything, it is that the Japanese music industry is something that is almost impossible to imagine for westerners. There are superstars in Japan that hardly anyone in the west has ever heard of. Yoshiki does note an increase in interest in X Japan now that the movie is out: “The added interest is great, but we dit not make this film for that kind of purpose.
A lot of Japanese bands make a very clear distinction between their indie days and their major days. You have been in both situations. Are the differences really that big?
I don’t know. Of course, during our indies era, we had no director, no producers, no label telling us what to do. It was all about us. When we signed to a label, suddenly there were a lot of people telling us what to do. And sometimes that was great advice, sometimes it was not. But basically it is still you. You are making this music, so in essence, I don’t think it’s not that different.
Are there any projects you are working on at the moment?
I’ve been working with Marilyn Manson on a project of the two of us, but first I need the finish the new X Japan album. Also I’m working on a new classical album. Piano and a symphony orchestra, something like that.
Would you ever consider making a follow-up to ‘We Are X’?
I don’t know. We’re always filming, so there’s always enough material and there’s always a chance that there will be something else. But as of now, we are trying finish recording our new album. If anything comes out, it will definitely be after our new album. I’m pretty sure it will be released next spring.
Can I hold you to that?
Yes.

Dutch readers can watch ‘We Are X’ on Picl.

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Coverstory and loads of other interviews in Gitarist


Triggerfinger frontman Ruben Block graces the cover of Gitarist this month. Their brand new album ‘Colossus’ is of course the reason why we put him on the cover. I am glad to say that I am the one who provided the interview. It was fun talking with Ruben about the recordings of the album as well as his vast collection of interesting guitars, amplifiers and effects. This Belgian trio is one of the friendliest, most polite groups I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing and if you are at all interested in them, I would strongly recommend getting this month’s issue of Gitarist in order to read all about them.

That is not all though.  I also went to the North Sea Jazz festival for the magazine in early July. I had the opportunity to speak with six musicians from five wildly different acts there. Wolfgang Muthspiel is probably the most traditionally jazzy, although this Austrian guitarist also has a lot of classical influences. Eivind Aarset from Norway is a big name in modern guitar jazz and a friendly guy with whom I enjoyed talking about his playing and his enormous number of effects. Jon Herington has been playing with Steely Dan for eighteen years and gave me a lot of interesting insights in his other musical endeavors. Then there are the Dutch artists. Jeangu Macrooy overwhelmed me with his amazing debut album ‘High On You’ earlier this year and I had the chance to speak with him and his lead guitarist Gijs Batelaan at the festival, while I have already known Estelle Stijkel for many years due to her involvement with The Jacks. She was at North Sea Jazz to accompany Kovacs at a show that was possibly the most pleasant surprise of the weekend.

And that’s just what I contributed, along the reviews section that includes a big review on the amazing new album by For All We Know, the solo project of Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie. There is also a big special about playing slide guitar, which also includes former Urban Dance Squad guitarist René van Barneveld and the amazing young blues/rock/prog guitarist Leif de Leeuw. My colleage Patrick spoke to Diablo Blvd. about their new album and there’s loads of new gear to discover. That will get you through the month!

Steven Wilson talking about his new record in Gitarist


My contributions to this month’s issue of Gitarist are relatively limited in number, but still interesting. First and foremost, I had a very pleasant conversation with prog rock legend Steven Wilson about his new album ‘To The Bone’. It is surprisingly low-key and poppy, considering the way his last few releases sound, but that does not make it any less interesting. If anything, it makes a better interview subject for sure. There is also a short interview with the young “psychedelic grunge” quartet Mantra from Haarlem, whose debut EP impressed me enough to want to give them some more attention. And there is a handful of reviews, of course.

In addition, I can really recommend reading the interview with The Black Keys’ frontman Dan Auerbach and the feature about the availability of rosewood. In combination with the gear reviews and the practical lessons for guitarists, there is no reason to leave this issue on the shelves if you have any interest in the instrument. It is in stores now.

Iced Earth and more interviews in Gitarist


If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be interviewing Iced Earth main man Jon Schaffer someday, I would go insane. I was an Iced Earth fan to the point of obsession and although I have come to think about Schaffer in a more moderate light these days, it was great to sit down with him and discuss some developments surrounding the band with him for about an hour. A portion of this conversation can be read in this month’s issue of Gitarist, which should be in stores by now. We have been discussing the new Iced Earth album ‘Incorruptible’, his inimitable rhythm guitar style, sounds and equipment as well as running the band. I was pleasantly surprised by his honesty and self-criticism, resulting in what I think is a very interesting article.

As for my other contributions, I have interviewed guitarist Jan Wouter Oostenrijk about his brand new ‘We Are Connected’, an album heavily influenced by Middle Eastern and North African music, for which he modified his guitar to be able to play the quarter tones common in music from that part of the world. Naturally, we talk in-depth about this “quarter tone guitar” as well. What else is a guitar magazine for? In addition, there is an interview I had with Dutch session guitarist extraordinaire Age Kat about ‘Rhythm, Space & Time’, an album based around his guitar playing.

I wrote a handful of reviews as well, while my colleague Patrick Lamberts talked to upcoming djent and progmetal guitarists Plini, Sithu Aye and Jakub Zyteki. There is also an extensive feature about the Stratocaster that Robbie Robertson used at The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ concert as well as loads and loads of gear reviews. There’s even a short interview with Michael Schenker, who I consider one of the finest guitarists in the world. So if you are interested in guitars, there is no excuse to not check it out. You can do so right now!

My Eric Bibb interview in Gitarist


It has been in stores a while already, but I would still like to inform you about this month’s issue of Gitarist. I have had a very nice interview with Eric Bibb about the recordings of his fantastic new album ‘Migration Blues’ and the concept behind the record. It was a very pleasant and insightful interview and on top of that, Bibb is a very kind guy. I am also happy that Gitarist used one of the photos I took of him at his show at De Flux in Zaandam.

There is plenty more to enjoy. Tons of gear and album reviews for instance. Or more practically: a 10 page chord special. It is in stores now, so enjoy it while it still is!

Interview: Tomoyasu Hotei wants to create something extraordinary

Recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to interview legendary Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei. What follows is a translation of the article I have written in Dutch for The Sushi Times. Should you be proficient at Dutch, I would strongly recommend you to read the original arctile.

In Japan, Tomoyasu Hotei reached a legendary status at quite a young age due to his work with the massively popular Boøwy. After that band split up in the late eighties, he worked with superstars like Iggy Pop, Rammstein guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe and his hero David Bowie and recently, he decided to pursue his international ambitions by relocating to London. In April, he will tour through Europe.

Since I moved to London, I learned why Japan is described as ‘the Far East’“, the 55 year old guitarist says. “Japan is very well organized, very safe and the food is great, but everything is executed within the country. People tend to look only inward. I have dreamt to explore the outside world, but one day I realized that you have to be based outside of Japan to seize that opportunity. Luck will not come to you; you have to approach it. You may have some access to the outside world through the internet, but if you are looking for a more authentic experience, you have to live and breathe on the same ground that you want to approach. I feel convinced that I have made the right decision.
Hotei has already taken note of the conveniences of living in the west. “If you want to fly from Japan to the Netherlands, it takes twelve hours“, he states. “But from London, it only takes two hours. That itself makes me feel that I’m closer to the rest of the world. Also, it’s the best way to learn a language; way better than learning it at school. True, it is very cold and miserable during the winter, but summer is heaven! If I had stayed in Japan, I may not have had this opportunity to play to Dutch people.

Visual consciousness

In the early eighties, Boøwy stood out due to their approach that was influenced – both musically and aesthetically – by new wave, glamrock and post-punk. “Even before the term “visual kei” was created, I was always conscious about visuals“, he explains. “Perhaps we were the original visual kei band? X Japan, Buck-Tick and Miyavi weren’t yet established back then. Back in those days, I had spiky hair with heavy make-up, guaranteed to catch people’s attention in the streets!
I am a huge fan of David Bowie and have been influenced by his music throughout my career. But he was inspired by kabuki. He used visual techniques to create unusual atmospheres on stage. I too wanted to created something extraordinary and by wearing make-up, I felt like I had another identity. I thought by adding some fantasy to rock music, it would create more depth in the music.
My visual consciousness hasn’t changed and I still care about artwork and stage plots. However, because I have now ‘matured’, I can’t do anything too crazy anymore; I am nervous that my daughter won’t talk to me anymore if I did, haha!

Trust

Japan seems to have a bigger market for “strange” bands. Hotei seems to notice this as well. “You can’t find a band like Babymetal in Europe“, he thinks aloud. “And the music market in Japan is dominated by domestic bands who make up something like ninety percent of the total market. Perhaps it is more competitive there; people have to be experimental and make it original. In Europe, I think there are distinctive genres of music. Therefore, my impression of the music audience there is something like jazz fans who will not be interested in rock and metal fans who are not interested in techno.
My audience in Japan is very special. There’s a level of trust we have built over the years. To those who are not familiar with my audience and see 10,000 people singing and dancing along with my performance, it is almost like a cult group. That makes me a preacher! The size of my crowds in Europe and the USA is relatively small, but I genuinely enjoy playing in such an intimate setting. It is so raw; it reminded me of when I started thirty five years ago. I can feel the grip on the people as they are up on their feet and that means I’m doing something right. Also, it’s great to see Japanese people in the audience; it makes me feel at home, away from home.
I think this is still a trial period, but those people who may not be familiar with me, trust me, you will get your money’s worth! I am always eager to share my music with people who have no clue who I am or have never heard my music before. I want to show my ability to entertain them with a danceable guitar sound and performance. I am confident that my live performance is the most effective way to describe myself. Once you see my performance, people will see how unique I am.

In April, Hotei will tour through Europe for about a week and a half. During this tour, he will play in the Netherlands twice and in Belgium once. “I love Amsterdam“, he states enthusiastically. “I thoroughly enjoy my last year’s visit. For those who were there last year, I can guarantee this year’s show will be even better. I have a slightly different band this year, bringing my longstanding drummer from New York, Zac Alford, who some may know from his work with Bowie, and my keyboard player Okuno from Tokyo, as well as my old friend and musical collaborator Noko. It’s a truly international band!

Recognize

I’ve released over twenty studio albums as a solo artist“, Hotei says. “Which is a lot! I know now for a fact that the Japanese market is very quick to move from one album to the next. In Japan, you release an album followed by fifty plus shows each time. It was actually my routine. My international debut ‘Strangers’ was released in October 2015 and I have just started writing for my second international album in February. ‘Strangers’ is a great album, but I’m committed to making a “greater” album.
My inspiration is based on my guitar. It is an endless journey; the potential is infinite. That’s the beauty of the guitar, I think. I have always been persistent to create guitar sounds that people will recognize as my sound. I’m now discovering digital technology and have been using a digital amp lately. But ultimately, I think it’s not the equipment that makes my sound so unique, I think it is coming from my playing style.

The list of artists that Hotei has worked with is enormous. Are there any people left on his wishlist? “I consider myself against the luckiest in the world to have performed with David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Roxy Music“, he smiles. “Also, it was a great honor to collaborate with Iggy Pop, Brian Setzer and Zucchero from Italy. If I may blow my own horn, I was able to grab these great collaboration opportunities because I am a very skilfull guitarist. I am very flexible and I enjoy making singers feel very comfortable.
My door is always open to more opportunities. Not just with legendary artists, but also talented upcoming new artists. My guitar riffs are very catchy, so perhaps I can collaborate with hiphop artists too. I’d love to have the chance to play with Beyoncé! I’m very interested in St. Vincent’s music too. What about a great artist from the Netherlands? Maybe you can introduce me!

Navarone, Drive Like Maria and more in Gitarist


Those of you who want to know more about the most recent Album of the Week, but prefer to get their information from the musicians involved should look no further than this month’s issue of Gitarist. I didn’t just interview Navarone’s guitarists, but the entire band about the creation of ‘Oscillation’. It’s a special album that deserves a lot of attention from everyone. Also, I spoke extensively with Drive Like Maria’s Nitzan Hoffmann about their new album ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’, another great rock album from the Benelux. I can only say that the year has started out great in that respect.

Furthermore, we have interviews with Eric Johnson about his new acoustic record and new blues prodigy Aaron Keylock. There’s a big feature about mini pedals and we have loads of gear and cd reviews. I can’t see a reason not to rush to the store and buy it unless you already have a subscription.