When Jrock Revolution visited Tokyo at the end of September, we had a chance to sit down with SUGIZO. He talked extensively about his life, his music, his beliefs, and LUNA SEA.
The interview took place on a sunny Friday afternoon at a hotel in Tokyo. SUGIZO spoke in both English and Japanese — answering over half the questions in English.
Be sure to also check the JRR Playlist for a special message from SUGIZO!
Even though you’ve traveled across Asia for LUNA SEA, your experience with Jrock Revolution was the first time you performed in America. What was that experience like for you, can you tell us how you felt?
SUGIZO: My experience? I think, in these two years, I’ve known about this situation — we have so many fans in each country. But I had no idea about the magnitude of the American fans’ power, and energy. It was so huge! I didn’t know. A few years ago, I toured throughout Asia (with LUNA SEA); in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan. I think Seoul might also be a very big market for us.
So you were very moved by the American fans’ energy. Were you very surprised?
SUGIZO: Yes, very surprised — it’s very great for now. But, I think it’s very natural for it to happen, because music has no borders, no walls. And I also think while we have very big problem in regards to language, I believe music needs no language. Music is our language. Of course at first it’s very big on hand, big problem (language), big surprise for me, but I think it’s very natural.
Do you really believe that the type of world you envision, united with music, can become a reality?
SUGIZO: It is very important for me. I think almost all musicians have this dream, you know, that music can unite the world. I don’t know — it’s a very natural problem for me.
And what did you think about Jrock Revolution?
SUGIZO: I thought it was very natural, very natural, because for a very long time, Japanese people, Japanese music fans, wanted to be like American musicians, European musicians, they’ve been big heroes for us, for a long time. Perhaps now, we no longer have intercultural wars between countries, because I think so many American young people love Japanese things, and so many European people love Japanese things, and so many Japanese people love Chinese things. You know, this situation–this mixed situation is very nice for music and peace. It’s very revolutionary for culture, and culture is a very important, very important element for peace, and of course politics — it’s a very important relationship. Jrock Revolution is very nice, very beautiful for this century.
At Jrock Revolution, many American fans were exposed to you for the first time. If you were to introduce yourself to these new fans, what would you say to introduce yourself?
SUGIZO: That’s difficult. It’s like a self introduction. My name is SUGIZO. *Everyone laughs* My first professional band is called LUNA SEA. I was LUNA SEA’s composer and guitarist and violinist. My parents were also musicians, classical musicians, and when I was a child, I had to play violin, and had to study classical music theory.
Your father forced you to?
SUGIZO: It was very hard, because he was very hard on me, very serious. Usually I was crying and playing, crying and playing, and sometimes my father hit me, so, it was a very, very big problem for me at that time. And of course I hated music, I seriously hated music. Until I was maybe ten, eleven, twelve years old, I remembered that as a child I hated music. I couldn’t find my favorite music, I couldn’t find my favorite composer. I think when I was ten or eleven years old, I was awakened to music.
My first favorite composers were Beethoven and Bartok, also Bach. And also, I loved so much great cinema music, so many soundtracks. My father made so many soundtrack tapes, so it’s my favorite. I think, in a way, soundtracks are for my life. And when I was eleven years old, I started to play trumpet too. Actually it was my fathe’s trumpet. I think that was at the beginning of junior high school. But I loved trumpet. My image of violin was a very weak one – something for women, for rich men. The violin’s image was too much for me, but trumpet’s image was very good, more, you know–dirty. For example, during the 1950s through 1970s, trumpet was very nice instrument for bad boys, like guitar or keyboard, because the image was very nice. When I was a junior high school student, I got into Y.M.O. I had a picture of Y.M.O. and JAPAN, and David Bowie, the London punk scene. That was my base for rock’n’roll.
What kind of a person would you say you were?
SUGIZO: Very selfish. Very stubborn. Very violent. Maybe until I was 26 or 27, I was a very bad guy; very heavy drinker, and usually fighting, because I hated so many people, I hated humans. Maybe I had many problems in my heart.
What kind of a person would you say you are now?
SUGIZO: I think, and I hope I’ve changed. Of course now, I love people, I love humans. I love this planet. Of course, I need peace, true peace. And I think maybe it is music’s meaning, the purpose of music for any musician. At first, almost all musicians are very selfish, stubborn. At first, almost every musician‚Äôs purpose is just to ‚dream my dream. We want to be richer; we want to be more famous, we want more, be winners, for our life, for our community, for our country. But I think this isn’t the real purpose for music, for art, almost all musicians.
I believe in the power of music.
We’ve noticed that you use a lot of religious imagery in much of your artwork. For example, your official site has the tree of life and the flower of life from the Kabbalah on it. Do you practice any religion?
SUGIZO: I don’t practice, but I love to read, and I like so many religions. Of course, Buddhism, Christianity, Kabbalah, Judaism. I don’t really try to study the religions, but I enjoy reading about them. I like feeling the teachings of each religion. I think the teachings, though in different styles, actually lead to one important thing.
In 2009, LUNA SEA’s 20 year anniversary is coming up. So you’ve been in music for almost twenty years now. That’s a really long time for anybody to be in the music business. Can you talk a little bit about each of your projects, and what they each mean to you?
SUGIZO: Twenty years is definitely not a long time. The artists I like have been in business for over forty, sixty years. It’s only been twenty years. Also, ever since I was a child, I have been doing music, so it doesn’t feel like twenty years at all. I’m now 38, so I feel like I have been doing it for 35 years.
Every project was very important to me. Every project to me was musically… This is a difficult question, I’ve never been asked this. Each project was like a footprint, the crystallization of my soul.
For example, LUNA SEA is my most important project, like school. Of course, I’m a student of music for life. LUNA SEA is most important — like school. The FLARE was very important too, for awakening my mind and soul. SPANK YOUR JUICE was very fun for me. *Laugh*
Why did you name your band SPANK YOUR JUICE? First SPANK YOUR JUICE, then SHAG!
SUGIZO: *Laughing* I think I need sexual power in my life. I need, you know, I need sexual lust, sexual trance, I need it. SHAG is the best name. So many of my foreign friends say "SHAG is so cool."
As for S.K.I.N. we’re planning. We want to make S.K.I.N., S.K.I.N.
So, on December 24th, a big thing is happening, right? It’s been about 7 years now since the last time you performed in LUNA SEA. How do you feel about being a part of LUNA SEA again?
SUGIZO: It’s a very natural process for us. We didn’t try to go against anything, and were just going with the flow, letting it happen the way it should, and this is what came about. First of all, just like all you know, Japanese rock music is gaining recognition throughout the world, but actually in Japan, it is still not that big of a scene. So it’s like, we want everyone to be able to participate in this scene, and make it bigger. And we believe that the resurrection of LUNA SEA would definitely be a source of power for that.
Second of all, there is almost no rock scene in Japan right now. There is almost no scene in Japan right now to help Japanese rock music grow big. Most of the artists can only depend on TV, media, magazines. A lot of them only make things that TV and magazine journalists will like. In order to become big and popular, they make music to please the big guys, and that is not real rock music. I think LUNA SEA is probably the last real rock band of Japan (that didn’t conform to industry ideals.) There were many great bands before LUNA SEA, such as X and BOOWY. Real rock’n’roll is to do what you feel like doing and convey what you want to convey, and that is how you became big. That was the way, taken for granted. But there are so many forces that come into play now, and if you don’t succumb to them, you won’t be able to become big. I really hate that. That’s why I feel that LUNA SEA is the last rock band to come out of Japan. And since we have not been around for seven years, we want to use this chance to break into that scene, and break that kind of dogma that dominates the industry. That is how I feel.
LUNA SEA definitely has that type of influence. The FLARE was great, too.
SUGIZO: Though, I think The FLARE couldn’t really succeed. ‘Cause I mean, I talk of big success, I think we should’ve been a big success, and of course we wanted to keep it natural; a true artistic soul, but now the Japanese scene is very difficult; almost impossible. Because we really wanted to break in this scene, we really worked hard producing music for The FLARE, but even though we did, we were unable to succeed because the scene would not allow it to happen that way.
In an interview with Guitar Lab last year, you said you wanted to share things about your life that concern you, things that trouble you, and things that you want to change, and put it in your music to share with the world. So, can you tell us how you do that?
SUGIZO: It just happens so that I am a musician. Even if I wasn’t, I think I would still be very concerned with those issues of the world. But since I happen to be a musician, I am able to convey that message through my music to a large crowd on stage. I feel very fortunate to be in this position. I feel that it would be a waste if I don’t try to convey some sort of message, when I am able to stand in front of tens of thousands of people.
As for the process, of course I think lyrics are very important, but sound is most important. The sound of the beat of the earth, the sound that makes you feel the power of the nature, and the sound of the energy of the cosmos, I try to mix all that into the melody. The vibrations of the soul connects and is conveyed through the music. I want to make music using that power. Lyrics come last.
So, for an issue like global warming, how do you feel about it?
SUGIZO: I think even if everyone just changes one thing about the way they live, it could make a really big difference. Such as the way one throws trash–of course, buying a hybrid car would be great but it’s not easily achievable. But I think if everyone just changes a little part, it would make such a big difference.
For example, I would bring my own water bottle, my own chopsticks, and try not to make too much trash, or use too much electricity. Since making music uses up a lot of electricity, I try not to use electricity during other times. Little things like that.
I remember there was a blog you wrote a few years ago; actually it was during the summer, it was really hot, and you tried to not have the air conditioning on, in your car *laugh*
SUGIZO: It was really difficult, of course, saving electricity; but I think doing it is very important– how to use it. And most importantly, food. Food and drinks. I used to drink so much and not finish it, and eat so much and leave a lot of food uneaten and just toss it all afterwards. But now I really hate throwing away drinks or food. It’s a really bad thing.
It’s very difficult. Usually I think that, for example, a lot of Japanese and American people really throw away a lot of uneaten food. I really hate that. Just think, with all that food, a whole African country could be fed. I especially avoid eating beef, although I don’t like any meat, because for a cow to grow big enough to be slaughtered and become beef, tons of corn are used to feed the cow. 10 people have to go hungry for the food that goes to a cow. If people don’t stop eating beef, the ozone layer will be destroyed, that’s why I don’t eat beef.
Many of your fans look up to you and support you because of the many different campaigns you participate in. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re involved in now?
SUGIZO: Next month, I’m doing a show with GreenPeace. It concerns a very important problem for the ocean. (Whaling.) Right now, Rokkasho’s problem is the most important thing to me, because it’s not well known yet.
There are a lot of forces trying to suppress the knowledge of Rokkasho; Rokkasho and the Sellafield nuclear plant in England, and other similar types of plants. They are causing a lot of damage to the environment, but the problem is not well known at all. Global warming has become well known, in America too, but problems like Rokkasho, currently only a few people are aware of it, such as my mentor, Sakamoto Ryuichi, and myself. We are trying to make it more well known, but I think it deserves much more awareness. Right now we need foreign countries such as America to bring up the issues of Japan, to raise awareness, which I think is a very odd situation for Japan.
Speaking of Sakamoto Ryuichi, he was one of your big idols. So, you had the chance to work with him, and some of your other idols, such as Mick Karn.
SUGIZO: Mick is like my family. Hmm‚ really, at first, I thought, "One day I ever get to do solo work, I’d like to have him (Mick) play for me, and also Sakamoto Ryuichi." That was my dream when I was young. When I was in LUNA SEA. Before I knew it, we became good friends.
Is there anyone else you’d like to work with?
SUGIZO: Almost all my favorite musicians died.
What about David Bowie?
SUGIZO: Of course David Bowie is my big idol. One day, I want to audition for his tour support guitarist. It’s my big dream.
My friend, he’s very famous guitarist in Japan, Hotei Tomoyasu (BOOWY), also wants to. *laugh* Maybe I think he’s first and I’m second. *laugh* If David Bowie wants a Japanese support guitarist, maybe I think first priority would be Hotei, he’s my good friend, senpai. I think guitar-wise he is the best.
So you’re a huge fan of Star Wars, The Matrix, and many other movies. You also read a lot of different books. What is your favorite type of movie, and what type of stories speak to you?
SUGIZO: Hmm… I like sci-fi. I love sci-fi. I like futuristic, spiritual stories. I just don’t like love stories. *laugh* Sometimes I like comedy. And political movies. But, I don’t like war movies. Last year, or this year, I don’t remember, I saw Letters From Iwojima, it’s a very nice, big, huge movie. But, I never want to see it again, it’s too heavy. Of course it’s a very good movie but its energy is very negative. I think almost all war movies are very negative. So, I don’t like war movies.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always like the cosmos. I don‚Äôt know why, but I really liked it. Now I know, I think it’s because my roots are from a different planet. That’s why I think liking the cosmos was a natural thing for me. Another thing I like about the science fiction is, although I haven’t read any recently, in the science fiction genre, there are spiritual, religious, love, war, politics, different topics and elements that make up the science fiction genre. That’s why I like it.
You also like very avant garde things, right?
SUGIZO: I love avant-garde music; for example, generally it’s contemporary music. In classical, my favorite composer is Steve Reich. He is a very very famous, contemporary, minimal musician, like John Cage, Edward Weiss. I think, twentieth century’s most important music style is contemporary avant-garde music. For Jazz, I think Miles Davis’ music is very contemporary, even avant-garde. When he started make that type of jazz, his style was very, new, after avant-garde. He’s a very important inspiration for me.
It’s interesting to consider that you were influenced by American writers and Western bands, so as a Japanese artist, there are now a lot of Americans and Westerners being influenced by you. How do you feel about that?
SUGIZO: I think it’s a great situation. Just like I said before, I think it is natural for it to happen. For example, in the worlds of art and movies, for many years the Japanese and the western world have already been crossed. In recent years, Japanese anime has become the most advanced culture in foreign countries. Finally, Japanese rock music has reached that level. For example, Japanese classical musicians have already been active in the world for many years with success, the same is true for Japanese jazz musicians. There weren’t many rock musicians, though the time is now ripe for that.
What is your most memorable Jrock Revolution experience?
SUGIZO: During that time, the Star Wars Convention was taking place and I went. It was really fun.
Of course, I only appeared at Jrock Revolution during Miyavi’s performance, but besides that I went to the Star Wars Convention everyday. On the second day of the live I also went before the concert. I had a lot of fun.
Not too long after that, you went to perform with S.K.I.N. at Anime Expo. When Gackt introduced you, he said "Two years ago I hated this guy but now he‚Äôs my best friend." A lot of people thought that was really funny. So, what’s your side of the story?
SUGIZO: *Laugh* Gackt? Now he’s my good friend. Definitely. When we met first time, we were fighting. I don’t know why. *Laugh* I didn’t like him at first, and he didn’t like me either. But now he’s my best friend.
In your career, you worked with so many people, Japanese and western. Is there really a difference between working with Japanese and western musicians?
SUGIZO: The difference is just language. Just language, that’s it.
So, right now, you are also in SHAG and S.T.K.
SUGIZO: I love SHAG!
Can you tell us a little bit about that?
SUGIZO: SHAG came about during a period where I had the need to express my desire for avant-garde. I felt bad if I couldn’t allow that feeling to explode.
SHAG is more…funky. The rhythm is very important. For S.T.K., an ambient feeling is most important. It’s very important. In S.T.K., I just play violin. SHAG is guitar, violin, percussion. S.T.K. is very good for mobility. Sometimes, I want to play very far away, like in the mountains or in nature, so, I can go anywhere with any kind of transportation such as the train or airplane, since I only have to carry a violin. Whenever there is a nature event, festival, or spiritual related events, I can easily participate with a violin, whereas with SHAG, I would need to bring the whole guitar set up and go by a van, which makes it difficult. That’s the difference. The fun thing with SHAG is, the beginning of SHAG was about ten years ago, when DJ Krush, Mick Karn, and I did jam sessions and improvisation.
Do you have any desires to establish yourself overseas or do you plan on staying more in Japan?
SUGIZO: Of course I want to, but I am not really dead set on having to do it. I would like to go with the flow and let it come naturally.
What is the one thing you want most right now?
SUGIZO: Most right now? Umm, world peace.
End global warming? Save the trees?
SUGIZO: Yeah. The first one is probably impossible. Well, this is a very serious problem for me. *Pause* I want to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. For about 15 years, no matter how I sleep I always wake up tired. I really just want a great night’s sleep.
Yeah, I need deep sleep.
You usually go to bed really late though, right? I remember there was this one blog you wrote, and it said, "I just got home," and it was 6:00 in the morning in Japan.
SUGIZO: Yes, yes exactly. Usually so.
Would you like to give a message to your fans?
SUGIZO: I think it is great that finally, in the twentieth-first century, the national boundaries for music and art do not matter anymore, or they have disappeared. I think it will be great if in the future, people in the world can communicate even more through art and music. I feel very honored to be able to work with a powerful music country such as America in trying to make this happen. I would like to help this feeling grow, and let it be all over the world.
SUGIZO appears courtesy of Sweet Child Entertainment
Photo and Interview by Kuri
Translation and Transcription by Christina