Posts Tagged ‘ Japan ’

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!


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!


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!


Album of the Week 45-2014: Anthem – Absolute World

While many old school Heavy Metal bands had an enormous identity crisis in the nineties due to the rise of Alt-Rock and – in this case – Visual Kei, Naoto Shibata did the right thing; he put his band Anthem to rest until new artistic and business opportunities presented themselves. The result: Anthem exclusively released solid, quality Heavy Metal records throughout their career. ‘Absolute World’ is one more piece of evidence proving that the band can still make fantastic records over three decades into their carreer. In fact, it is on par with ‘Immortal’ and ‘Black Empire’ as the band’s best post-reunion albums.

Iconic singer Eizo Sakamoto left the band after the album’s predecessor ‘Burning Oath’. His replacement – for the second time in Anthem history – is Yukio Morikawa, who has obviously aged since he last worked with the band on ‘Domestic Booty’, but still has a set of pipes many young singers can be jealous of. Admittedly, I sometimes miss Sakamoto’s primal energy, but Morikawa’s performance on the album is stellar. In addition, Isamu Tamaru became the band’s full time drummer, after replacing Hiro Homma during his injury.

However, what counts in the end are the songs and Shibata has once again written a collection of fantastic Heavy Metal and Power Metal tracks. Throughout recent years, many keyboards carrying the main melodies crept through Anthem’s songs, but ‘Absolute World’ is very much a guitar riff driven album. Opening track ‘Shine On’ misleads you for a second, but turns into a fantastic Power Metal track – as well as the most logical first single – with a couple of fantastic melodies courtesy of Morikawa.  Furthermore, there’s an awesome 2 minute Speed Metal track in the shape of ‘Destroy The Boredom’, as well as the blazing ‘Stranger’ with its fantastic chorus and the driving ‘Pain’.

From the moment he joined, guitarist Akio Shimizu quickly became an important part of the band. His contributions here include his usual instrumental track (‘Absolute Figure’) and the more traditional Power Metal tracks ‘Edge Of Time’ and ‘In The Chaos’, which both build upon strong riff work and fantastic choruses with spirited performances by Morikawa. Shimizu also throws around some of the sickest guitar solos in contemporary Metal, most notably on the brooding midtempo masterpiece of a track ‘Sailing’ and the closing triplet riff monster ‘Run With The Flash’. Shibata himself, meanwhile, has an incredible bass sound.

In the end, the only bad thing about ‘Absolute World’ is that no European or American label has the balls to release an album that has mostly Japanese lyrics and therefore, the album is quite expensive. That and the fact that ‘Love Of Hell’ is about a minute and a half longer than it should be. But those are just minor complaints that in no way ruin the enjoyment of one of the best old fashioned Heavy Metal records in recent times. Not even the financial aspect. It helps that Shibata isn’t only a great riff writer, he’s a great songwriter with a bunch of fantastic musicians around him. If that doesn’t make a fantastic Metal album, I don’t know what does.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Chaos’, ‘Sailing’, ‘Destroy The Boredom’

We get it, Loudness…

Back in the mid-eighties, Loudness broke through internationally with an awesome record by the title of ‘Thunder In The East’, their first to feature English lyrics exclusively (if you don’t count the “English edition” of ‘Disillusion’). Its album cover looks like this:

Then, halfway through the first decade of this century, came an album called ‘Breaking The Taboo’. This heavy monster – though not exactly their best effort songwriting-wise – was graced by this cover:

And earlier this month saw the release of their twenty-sixth record ‘The Sun Will Rise Again’. And if you haven’t spotted the pattern yet that I’m trying to point out, let me present to you the cover of that album:

We get it, Loudness. You’re Japanese. I just wish I was there when the album cover was presented to the executives at Universal Music Japan. These guys must have crapped themselves, because I can’t think of any way how three albums with strikingly similar cover artworks are going to be easy to market in any way. Then again, I’m not a businessman, as I have proven many times throughout my life, so maybe I’m overlooking something.

‘The Sun Will Rise Again’, by the way, is the first Loudness record since 2008’s ‘Metal Mad’ that isn’t actually better than its predecessor. And mind you; this is a band consistently churning out albums on an almost yearly basis. Of course, this is master guitarist Akira Takasaki and his crew, so there’s still a handful of enjoyable songs – ‘Never Ending Fire’, ‘Mortality’ and the title track – but after the consistently improving level of songwriting as shown on the last four albums, the album comes off as sort of a letdown.

It’s not bad, it’s just a little stale and tired. The playing is tight – of course, the band consists of downright amazing musicians – and while Minoru Niihara’s voice is rapidly deteriorating – the man’s not getting any younger – you’ve got to appreciate his spirit and dedication. However, ‘The Greatest Ever Heavy Metal’, as one of the songs is called, this is not. Loudness has done so many things that are so much better to know that.


Album of the Week 25-2014: Luna Sea – Image

Nothing about reviewing Luna Sea is more difficult than describing their style. Sure, their music fits the Rock idiom, but their guitar sound is too clean to call them a Hard Rock band, the song structures are too progressive and their playing too technically demanding for Punk, Ryuichi’s vocals have an undeniable Japanese Pop flair and while the New Wave and Post Punk influences are apparent, the rhythms tend to rock a little too hard for that category as well. Whatever you choose to call this though, it is good music characterized by strong melodies and a wide range of moods and atmosphere.

What helps is that Luna Sea has three good songwriters with equal input in the band. Bassist J’s compositions are probably least alien to western ears due to his obvious fascination with the American alternative scene, while rhythm guitarist Inoran’s works often have a Balkan-like flavor due to his extensive use of accented chords on the afterbeat. Lead guitarist and violinist Sugizo has a somewhat more experimental approach, generally resulting in the more progressive songs of the quintet. These aren’t strict divisions though; ocassionally the approaches mix with great results.

More importantly, ‘Image’ is full of moments where the amazing songwriting and fantastic performances complement each other. Opening track ‘Déjàvu’, for instance, has quite a light Rock feel with breezy melodies, but they still get their power from the rhythm section, particlarly Shinya’s solid drumming. Not many bands succeed in marrying the melodic sensibilities of Pop with the brute force of Rock, but Luna Sea does just that seemingly effortlessly all throughout the album.

Highlighting the album is probably its fantastic title track. With the ideal merger of Inoran’s acoustic and Sugizo’s electric guitars, the fantastic bass parts courtesy of J and Ryuichi’s vocals mainly staying in their lower, soothing register, this song has something of a Japanese Billy Idol-vibe, although Idol’s rebellious vibe is traded for dreamy melancholy. It’s hard not to get carried away. Another masterpiece is the progressive ‘Search For Reason’, where heavier sections lead by an oddly timed Black Sabbath-ish riff alternate with calmer, haunting passages. Once again: brilliantly written, expertly executed. There’s a little something for everyone here though; ‘Moon’ is for the dreamers, ‘Symptom’ for the violent and ‘Wish’ for those who need to be cheered up.

All this, combined with its fantastic production, makes ‘Image’ a must for everyone who likes good Rock music. Also, with Luna Sea being a household name of Japan’s famed Visual Kei scene – though they later prove to take the musical side of it more seriously by ditching most of their visual attire – all of the artwork looks nothing short of fantastic. It’s the last piece to make this perfect as a total product. Luna Sea’s music may sound bit strange upon first listen, because it’s hard to categorize, but once it makes sense, mastepieces like ‘Image’ and 1994’s ‘Mother’ are likely to return to your music player on a regular basis.

Recommended tracks: ‘Image’, ‘Search For Reason’, ‘Déjàvu’, ‘Mechanical Dance’