X Japan's Yoshiki on Lollapalooza, Hide, and Taking Over America with Japanese Rock
I'm riding in an elevator up to the highest floors of Chicago's Ritz Carlton with publicist Heidi Ellen Robinson-Fitzgerald. For a sweet lady, she represents some hard-hitting acts including Slayer, Anthrax, and even the legendary producer Rick Rubin. Today I will not be meeting any of them. No, instead she will introduce me to her latest client: Yoshiki, the heart of X Japan.
Jonathan McNamara X Japan moments before playing Lollapalooza 2010. Left to right: Pata, Heath, Yoshiki, Toshi, and Sugizo.
She tries to prep me for my interview by explaining that Yoshiki is terribly reluctant to talk too favorably about himself and I have a hard time believing her. I know what the man has achieved! We're talking 21 million albums sold with X Japan. He was asked by the Japanese emperor to compose a song celebrating the ten year anniversary of his reign. He has composed Japan's best-selling classical album and he did it with George Martin; the same producer who worked with this little band from Liverpool you might have heard of on albums like Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.
Now he and the rest of X Japan are mounting the strongest attempt by a Japanese band to capture the American audience ever; starting with a main stage performance at Lollapalooza tomorrow afternoon and followed up by a new album almost entirely in English and a North American tour.
So humble? Yeah, I wasn't buying it when she told me nor when we walked into his palatial suite complete with a baby grand piano.
Then Yoshiki descended a spiral stair case from the master bedroom and started speaking to me with his disarmingly timid nature about his motivations for taking on the world with X Japan, where it all began, where it fell apart, and where he hopes it might end up.
New Times: How does it feel to know you're about to play the largest show a Japanese and has ever played in this country?
Yoshiki: Exciting. Very, very exciting. Yeah.
NT: Just about every time I've seen a Japanese band play in the U.S. they've done so at tiny venues; never something like this. I imagine other Japanese bands are very envious.
Y: That's right. Also we are performing on the main stage.
NT: Will you have the normal amount of pyrotechnics or will they be scaled back?
Y: We're not the headliner, so we don't have that much things going on, but we do have some pyrotechnics and some lighting. We had to fight for it though.
NT: How did X Japan manage to get on the Lollapalooza bill this year?
Y: I know Mark Geiger. Actually, he is my agent. Our agent. He is one of the Lollapalooza founders. Also I've been talking to a few people in my entertainment life. Attorneys...all those people and asking "How should we debut in America? Should we start doing clubs or some small venues with a couple thousand people?" Then someone said, "If you can get into a festival, that might be the most interesting and shocking way to introduce X Japan." We started talking about Coachella and then Lollapalooza, the two biggest ones. By the time we started talking about it, Coachella was already happening, so...then let's do Lollapalooza. Mark and I started talking about it and he said he's in. We're in.
NT: How have the American fans reacted to news of the Lollapalooza show, the new X Japan album, and the tour?
Y: Well, I think they are very excited. And then...to me our fans are not normal. The relationship between our band and our fans is a little more than normal artists' fans. They're so passionate. I don't know...they just really care about us. I do too. It's vice-versa. Same feeling. It's like, I don't feel like I'm just doing Lollapalooza or this big show...festival by ourselves as a band. I feel almost like we're doing it with everybody together. Let's rock the place with us. You're part of our X Japan family. It's like a festival or a show. No matter what you do on the stage, a great performance or technically whatever...we're going to create the show together. That's X Japan's concept from the get go. Our thing. So we create the show together. Tomorrow's show is going to be the same thing. Let's rock the place together.
NT: Were you surprised to find out that you have as many fans in the U.S. as you do?
Y: A few years ago, yes. I couldn't believe...like that's another reason we got reunited. I mean, Toshi, the vocalist and I...we didn't talk for seven or eight years after the broke up. But then we started talking about...the beginning was just fixing our friendship first. Then we talked about...even Toshi found out, "You know we have fans all over the world now." Yeah, I said, it's very strange in a good way. Our music spread. While we were not doing anything. So then let's do that again!
The hardest part was doing it again without Hide, the deceased member. We found out our fans are here, outside of Japan, in America as well and at the same time, they are really supportive.
NT: How so?
Y: I dunno, the message I got through Myspace before or...I just did a Twitter thing. I just tweeted and I got tons of messages. Of course I can not read everything, but some of them are just so amazingly touching. It's like almost we are doing the music because of people supporting us. We are basically nothing without our fans anyway, so...
NT: How does it feel to be reunited after ten years?
Y: I feel like I'm still dreaming. When we broke up, I thought everything was over. Then especially right after we broke up, Hide died (the band's former lead guitarist passed away in May of 1998). So, I never even thought about...didn't even think twice that we can reunite. So, I still feel like when I wake up tomorrow morning, it will be a dream. It's so unreal. And now we're performing Lollapalooza, it's just...I feel like I'm dreaming.