Home > Interviews, J-Pop, J-Rock, Music > Interview: Yoshiki – Rock Star And Co-Founder Of X Japan

Interview: Yoshiki – Rock Star And Co-Founder Of X Japan

“My philosophy is anything is possible, nothing can stop me!” – Yoshiki

Yoshiki Grammy MuseumBorn on 20th November 1965, the immensely talented classically trained musician Yoshiki is one of Japan’s most formidable superstars. In 1982 he co-founded the visual kei pioneering super rock group X Japan (originally called X) who have sold 30 million records and have played sell-out tours all across the world, including the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome an incredible record-breaking 18 times. As a soloist Yoshiki has composed music for film as well as penning the official theme song for the Golden Globes. His crossover into classical music has led to the release of three albums to date the latest, Yoshiki Classical (released in 2013), debut at number one on the iTunes Classical Music Chart in over ten countries. As an iconic figure and brand within pop culture his image and name appears everywhere from mobile headphones to a Hello Kitty range called Yoshkitty, from a line of clothing and  Jewellery to Yoshiki wines. Not to mention he’s been immortalised in the comic book Blood Red Dragon (2011 – 2012) created by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. Adored by millions, Yoshiki is about to embark on a world tour where he will present a flamboyant spectacle of classical music with all the glitzy trimmings of a rock concert.

Diverse Japan is honoured and delighted Yoshiki has taken time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his early beginnings as a rock star and his crossover into the world of classical music and shares his heartfelt thoughts on close friend X Japan guitarist Hide who died in 1998.

Interview took place on Monday,  24th March 2014.

Interviewer: Spencer Lloyd Peet (Editor)

Your roots are in classical music, so what made you want to become a rock star?

OK, this is a long story but I will try to keep it short. I started doing classical piano when I was 4-years-old; my parents bought me a piano and I was only playing classical music. And then when I was 10-years-old my father died – he committed suicide – so the same year my mother bought me a drum set. I was really depressed and angry so I started banging on my drum set to release the feeling. So that’s how I started to get into rock.

And the idea of becoming a rock star appealed to you more than classical music at that time?

I don’t know I was like… I needed both styles of music to even survive at that moment. Even when I was 4-years-old I kinda knew I wanted to be a musician. And then when I was doing drums a few years later I was kinda determined to say, “OK, I’m going to be a rock star.” Actually when I was in Junior High School and High School both were very strict schools, you cannot die your hair nor have long hair, I mean, you can’t even touch your ear sometimes, you know. It was very strict school. So I told them… ah teacher asked, you know, “what do you want to be” and I said rock star. And the teacher said, “Be serious”. And I said “I am serious. I want to be a rock star”. So that’s how I started.

X Japan

X Japan

X Japan is considered one of the pioneers of Visual Kei. What acts were the initial inspirations behind the group’s music and what inspired the flamboyant look?

OK, so I liked Kiss, actually their’s was the first album I bought when I was 10-years-old. Also I liked David Bowie and Heavy Metal. So um, I just combined everything, all those elements. There was nobody in the world at that time doing that sort of thing, so that turned into visual kei.

Why did you decide to move away from the heavier songs to write softer power ballads like ‘Endless Rain’ and ‘Forever Love’?

Well, one day when we were preparing for the recording of the first album, I was just playing on the piano and a PR person from Sony Records said, “What is that?” I said, “Oh, I’m just playing around for the sake of it.” He said, “Put that one into your album.” I said, “Can I?” because all the others were pretty much heavy songs, and he said, “I think you can”, so I said “OK, that’s great”, you know. It had a very different atmosphere, you know, it wasn’t like I was trying to combine those two elements.

When you compose a song do you think visually or is it an auditory process?

Mmm, good question. Um, I would say it’s a combination of both. I write in like a kind of picture. Also, when I compose a song I just use the musical score.

How has the loss of your friend and guitarist Hide affected and inspired your life and work and how will you be honouring his memory on 2nd May for the 17th Anniversary of his death?

Right, um… Hide was such a big part of my life. Even though, you know, I’m the leader of the band X Japan, he was like, how do you say, taking care of me. He thought about everything very constructively, he thought about everything logically, whereas I was just thinking more like instinct.

So it was a good balance between the pair of you?

I know. He was a great friend of mine as well. So when I lost him I was just… I was just lost.

Must have seemed like losing your father again?

Yes, exactly. Actually he was kinda like my mother. When we were on one of our tours we went to a restaurant and ordered fish and it had tons of bones, so he took out those bones from the fish for me. So, yeah, he was a great guy. So every May I think about Hide, I mean not only in May, I think about him all of the time. But I try to think of everything positively so when I’m doing my world tours I can spread his legacy, you know.

Yoshiki - Hide

X Japan guitarist Hide (b: 1964 – d: 1998)

You’ve worked with legendary Queen drummer Roger Taylor whom you collaborated with on the song ‘Foreign Sand’. Whose idea was it that you two should get together and what came first, your music or Roger’s lyrics?

OK, so I met Roger Taylor in Los Angeles, he was living in Los Angeles then. He and I had a mutual friend. Actually we met at my friend’s house. We started talking about collaborating. I wrote the music first and then I sent it to him [Roger] and he did the lyrics later. At the beginning we didn’t have any plans to release a record, but maybe we could do something together. I had a recording studio in Los Angeles and he came to my studio and we recorded it.

How did your collaboration with Sir George Martin on your classical album Eternal Melody come about and did you discuss The Beatles with him during the time you were working together?

It was recommended by my management. I first worked with Sir George Martin a long time ago, that was for the first Eternal Melody album. I asked him how the Beatles recorded, what it was like working with the Beatles. He was kinda like, you know, some kind of a hero, so I was like whoa (laughs!). He was very inspirational. I also learnt some orchestration things from him. It was an amazing experience.


Yoshiki Classical (2013) – Co-produced by Sir George Martin

Did you have any doubts about making the crossover from rock to classical music in terms of releasing records?

Yes. Um, part of the reason I’m doing the classical tour at the moment is that I would like to spread the beauty of classical music to a rock audience and pop audience as well, and also vice versa; someone who’s a lover of classical music to appreciate that this is the rock of the future. I’d like to bridge those two genres, because I have a classical and rock background, I’d like to do that.

You once said that even when you are playing the drums classical music flows through you. What did you mean by this exactly?

OK, because I grew up on classical music at such a young age classical music is part of my body, it’s a part of me. So even when I’m playing drums I think about melody. You know, when a drummer plays the drums he thinks about the beat, but I kinda think about melodies, so my drums, to me, are actually singing, same with my piano – I always think of the melody.

Have you come across any snobbery or negativity within the world of classical music, either in Japan or the West, especially in regards to your unorthodox appearance and the way you present your music?

Yes, but I wouldn’t say negativity as such, I don’t think that word would be right but, you know, all those classical musicians went through very hard education, so they have a lot of pride. Somebody like me showing up with a flashy look… a rock star playing blah blah blah… that might be hard for them to except sometimes. When I composed the theme song for World Expo 2005, I had to conduct a 108-piece orchestra. Um, it was not easy. But in the end everything worked out. In the classical world it’s only a few people that get upset by this.

Who are among your favourite composers?

Well of course I like Mozart, Beethoven. I like Rachmaninoff a lot, Tchaikovsky. I may even play one of Tchaikovsky’stunes at one of my concerts. I like Chopin; I may even play Chopin too.

Venues like the Royal Festival Hall in London are vastly different to say big Arena’s like the O2. Are you hoping fans will come dressed as they would if it was one of your rock concerts or do you want there to be a dress code that is more suitable for classical music venues?

I would say dress however you want. I mean, that’s kinda like our style. We want to break every single rule. I want my classical concert to be as flashy as one of my rock concerts. You wanna scream, scream (laughs). There will be songs where the audience will be more quiet. But in general, you can do anything.

Are you surprised by the huge success you’re having with your classical work?

Yes. I was not expecting todo the world tour. I just released the album [Yoshiki Classical] to see… actually it was more like my diary or something because I had written some songs with piano content, but then I had enough songs and then I just released it. I was not expecting to do a world tour, but I am doing this.

You’ve got an outstanding sense for business and showed signs of your entrepreneurial skills early on in your career by setting up your own record label Extasy Records back in 1986. You must be incredibly self motivated. Where does this self belief and determination come from?

Well at that time there was no record company going to release our album, so I thought I would release it myself. The thing is my philosophy is anything is possible, nothing can stop me. If I wanna do something or there’s no format for what I want to do then I will create a new format – just do it. When I went through my father’s death, I had no fear pretty much.

Have you ever had to reluctantly compromise your art for the sake of commercialism?

Good question. I would say never. I would say I did everything for artistic reasons. But sometimes you have to find some kind of line, a fine line. I’ve always done things from the artistic side.

Yoshiki - Grammy Museum

You are the first Asian artist to be honored with an exhibition by The Grammy Museum. How does it make you feel to be seen as such an important figure within popular culture?

Well, I’m like how do I even deserve this, you know. I feel like I’m still one of those rock kids. But it’s because of my fans, they are always supporting me. My fans have put me in this position; I just have to thank all my fans.

What do you have planned for the foreseeable future? Do you hope to build upon your success as a classical recording artist and are there any new projects regarding your rock music?

For me to keep my emotional balance I have to do both, because I have a very aggressive side and a very mellow side. I would say 50/50 or 60/40 more for rock.

What message would you like to give to your fans?

I don’t know how to thank you guys. Because of my fans I keep going on and on. You’re my strength. Music is my life, but you are equally important to me. So thank you so much.

Thank you Yoshiki san. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

The pleasure’s mine. Thank you.

For dates and ticket information for Yoshiki Classical World Tour click here.

Yoshiki Official Website

Official Facebook Page

Special thanks to The Outside Organisation Ltd

Related Posts:

The Grammy Museum Unveils X Japan Founder Member Yoshiki Exhibit And World Tour Announced



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