Shortly after LUNA SEA’s triumphant return to the Tokyo Dome in December, Jrock Revolution had the opportunity to sit down with SUGIZO to talk about LUNA SEA’s reunion, his newly released album, SPIRITUARISE, and his goals for 2008.
JRR: It’s been seven years since you last played in Tokyo Dome. What was it like playing in the dome with LUNA SEA again, and what did it mean to you?
SUGIZO: I think it was very natural for me. In a good sense, it felt just like it always was. It felt as if the gap of seven years did not exist. The dome was also just like before, and was fun to play in.
JRR: How did it feel to be a part of LUNA SEA again after such a long time?
SUGIZO: All of us did solo work, and all of us have evolved as musicians. We’ve each sung on our own projects, produced, and acted as the front man; hence it was very meaningful to be a part of the band again. We had thought it was easier to be one part of the band, and not have all the responsibility of being the front man, but in order to present LUNA SEA, we had to use our potential to the fullest, to make sure the performance was at its highest level. It was difficult.
JRR: What was your favorite experience from the concert?
SUGIZO: There were several moments that I enjoyed. I guess if I was to pick one, it’d be the opening. No wait that’s not it. (Laughs) The opening was very intense, and I shuddered, because it felt like we were going into battle. But it was very holy. It was one of my favorite moments. The other one was during “BREATHE.” It was a very different situation, but both were my favorites. It’s hard to choose.
JRR: When the tickets for the concert sold out in less than five minutes, how did that make you feel?
SUGIZO: I thought, “Oh crap!” (Laughs) This was a one-night event, so it was very important. In terms of a business point of view, it should have been a three-night event. But LUNA SEA’s aesthetics took precedence over business, so it was only one night.
JRR: At the concert, RYUICHI said “Itsuka dokoka no sora no shita de mata aou” (“Let’s meet again under the sky, some time, somewhere”) Does this mean we have a chance to see LUNA SEA again?
SUGIZO: I don’t know. (Smiles.)
JRR: How did you prepare for the live?
SUGIZO: Of course I needed to practice guitar. I also needed muscle training, and martial arts training, because I have to run around a lot for LUNA SEA and I had to toughen up in order to be able to do that.
JRR: Did you remember all the music for LUNA SEA?
SUGIZO: Almost all. I think my brain doesn’t remember, but my body and my fingers seemed to remember. I think it’s the same for every one of us. At first, when we each practiced individually, we all had phrases which we had forgotten; but at our first rehearsal together, it just came back naturally to us and we remembered almost all the songs.
JRR: We noticed that the songs sounded a little bit different. Did you re-arrange them?
SUGIZO: A little bit.
JRR: Also RYUICHI’s voice sounded different.
SUGIZO: Vocals are the most sensitive part for music; of course he has gotten older, but his voice has gotten better and deeper in my opinion. Of course he couldn’t sing as if he was still in his twenties; now he’s in his mid-thirties, but I think his voice is very good. In regards to arrangements, there was very little need to change anything. In working with our old music, there are more things possible with our musical skills now. For some parts, we’d think it sounds better this way, the groove is cooler that way, etc, our taste for certain things have changed. But fundamentally the arrangement did not need to be changed. When we were in our twenties recording those songs, producing those songs, we used our abilities to their max, so there were very few things that needed to be changed, and I’m quite proud of that.
JRR: Your image in LUNA SEA was similar to your image for S.K.I.N., but your image for The FLARE was completely different. In The FLARE you looked very natural, with little make up and simpler clothes, but for LUNA SEA and S.K.I.N. you have much more make up and more elaborate costumes. Is there a reason for the different images? Is there a specific image that you want to project?
SUGIZO: Of course there’s a reason. The most important thing is the feel of the music, and then the performance onstage.
JRR: LUNA SEA is known to be the “band that brings on the storm.” Are you one of the causes?
SUGIZO: No, I think I am “hare-otoko” (sunny man, guy who brings good weather), but they say I either bring good weather or extreme disastrous weather. (Laughs)
JRR: We noticed the Tree of Life tattoo on your right arm, when did you get it?
SUGIZO: Autumn this year (2007).
JRR: Did it hurt?
SUGIZO: Yes of course. (Ed. Note: The Tree of Life, otherwise known as Sephirot, is a very important symbol for SUGIZO.)
JRR: Recently you released your new album, SPIRITUARISE. As the first solo release after many years, can you tell us about the story of SPIRITUARISE, how did you come up with the idea, and how long did it take you to finish this album?
SUGIZO: Five years ago, we started with the idea of the album being a collection of remixes. At the beginning everything was going smoothly, but then there were problems and we were forced to stop the project. A few years passed — finally I met JUNO REACTOR and was able to start the project again. I am very happy and satisfied with the quality of the resulting project.
JRR: SPIRITUARISE is an interesting title for an album. Could you explain the meaning behind it?
SUGIZO: At first, “RISE” is the title of one of my songs, and this album contains a remix of “RISE.” Usually another name is given to the album for promotional purposes, so I started thinking of words ending with “rise,” and decided that SPIRITUARISE sounded cool and befitting, although the spelling is wrong.
JRR: Besides the name, another interesting aspect is the album cover. Could you tell us about the symbolism of the cover?
SUGIZO: I like the cover very much. The cover is of a Jewish symbol, but the power is not limited just to Judaism. The Flower of Life, the Tree of Life, they both mean the “universe,” which is very important for me. I want to transcend religion and ethnicity and present a unified way of thinking and ideals. Sephirot, the Flower of Life and the Tree of Life all are very meaningful in a cosmic way. I want to stay that way so I wanted the album cover to be as such. In the future [my way of thinking/direction] will remain the same, and my website SUGIZO.com is also made in such way.
JRR: SPIRITUARISE is your first album released under your new record label, SEPHIROT. Could you tell us about the label? Is it just for yourself, or do you intend to produce other artists as well?
SUGIZO: It’s a little bit different from before. I have a very good partner for this label, he is the manager of JUNO REACTOR. I trust his skills. In truth, I just want to make music, for my spiritual purposes. But the last ten years, I had to do a lot of things for my label and production company, and sometimes I even had to coordinate and plan things. Right now I just want to make music for myself, that’s why I needed a good partner. My partner is a good organizer, and has many good ideas. I think it is a very good situation, by combining his and my skills, we have a bright future.
JRR: Another thing interesting about the release of SPIRITUARISE is its release party, SECOND LIFE. What was that like?
SUGIZO: Yes, SECOND LIFE was very nice. It was my partner’s idea.
JRR: What was your character like?
SUGIZO: Like a prince. (Laughs) Not the musician PRINCE. Like a young nobleman. My friend designed my costume, hairstyle, and my guitar, and I just played.
JRR: Was it fun?
SUGIZO: Yes, very.
JRR: A lot of the new technologies allow artists to express themselves in different ways. What are your feelings about Myspace, SECOND LIFE, etc?
SUGIZO: I think they are good, because usually I like new discoveries and playthings, and it’s fun to combine those new things with my music.
JRR: Technology has also allowed not just the exchange of ideas but also material. In regards to a lot of the industry and artists having issues with piracy and sharing, most of your fans overseas became your fans by finding your music online and downloading it, and that’s how your fan base grew. How do you feel about that?
SUGIZO: Of course it is great to have people around the world listen to my music, but there are also many problems associated with that. Right now it’s not set up so that we can sell CDs easily overseas, but we have thought about it and are in the process of planning.
Another thing is, it is difficult to do it on your own; you need someone working with you on the same level, have the same purpose. Unfortunately, right now Sweet Child (management company) is not very interested in the overseas market, even though I urge them to explore the international market. My other partner, the manager of JUNO REACTOR, understands my decision. I am trying to convince Sweet Child to extend to the international market, and not just limit ourselves to the Japanese market.
JRR: How is it different to make a remix album and to make an album of original songs?
SUGIZO: It’s completely different. An original album is like a newborn baby, a new life. A remix album is like a cyborg. (Laughs) It’s very interesting, and a very different approach.
JRR: Are there any particular releases that really managed to capture the spirit of the song or even make it better?
SUGIZO: Probably “DO FUNK DANCE.” The mixer of the song is a great trance artist, Sine6. He was able to capture the spirit and the pop-ness of the original song. But I think all the songs have been remixed very nicely.
JRR: How did you meet the artists that worked on SPIRITUARISE?
SUGIZO: We did lives together, or other artists introduced them to me. The usual.
JRR: What do you feel about psychedelic trance, and how does it express your message differently than rock?
SUGIZO: I think the JUNO REACTOR sound is very rock. Maybe, I think, we have the same roots in music. For example, Ben Watkins (JUNO REACTOR) loves DAVID BOWIE, Led Zeppelin, and PINK FLOYD. We can share musical feelings. I’m just a rock guitarist, and he’s just a techno musician, but having common grounds is very important, and it is easy for us to work on different music genres.
JRR: Do you want to make more psychedelic trance music?
SUGIZO: Yes. I think I liked psychedelic trance until ten, fifteen years ago. But when I was in my early-twenties, I didn’t really know what psychedelic trance was. I knew the feeling, however, was electric, and it was a sound for space, the universe. I don’t know, but as LUNA SEA, we knew [that feeling].
JRR: It is easy to imagine SPIRITUARISE being played at a dance club. We noticed that during BREATHE, you were dancing a lot. Do you like to dance? What kind of clubs do you go to?
SUGIZO: I love drum and bass clubs, abstract hip-hop, of course, psychedelic trance. House is so-so. But now, I love club music, but I don’t like clubs, because they smell bad, too smoky. I like the sound and atmosphere but I cannot stand the smell [of smoke].
JRR: During the performance you also came out with a whip. Why was that? We were surprised because you are such a promoter of peace.
SUGIZO: Isn’t the whip peaceful?
To a person who is an M [masochistic], that’s what they want. I’m S [sadomasochistic] so…
JRR: We know that you are a supporter of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize; how does that make you feel?
SUGIZO: I think it’s brilliant.
JRR: If you had a chance to meet him, what would you say to him?
SUGIZO: (Pauses) “Hello.”
I respect Al Gore very much.
JRR: In November, you participated in a Green Peace project. Could you tell us about it?
SUGIZO: I respect Green Peace’s work very much. The head of the Japanese Green Peace organization is Hoshikawa Jun, and I respect him very much. He’s a very good writer and I like his work. I met him through Green Peace, but I was already very familiar with his writing. I’m always glad to learn things from him. The topic this time was ocean. I love the sea a lot, so to be able to do something, even just play music, makes me feel happy.
JRR: Last time when we interviewed you, you talked a little bit about SHAG and S.T.K. Are you still doing the projects?
JRR: How did you come up with the idea for both of them?
SUGIZO: I wanted to make albums for both of them. It’s nice to make music that’s not for business. They’re almost like… my hobby? No, not exactly, but somewhere to release my desire for music, my desire for experimenting.
JRR: How did you start either projects?
SUGIZO: For SHAG, ten years ago, I created my own event called “Abstract Day.” It was my first step, my first approach to improvising. After “Abstract Day,” improvising became a very important approach to my music, and I need it. It’s like a place for me to practice and train myself. SHAG is my first improvise jam band, it does not belong in a category, and there are no rules to it. I wanted to play something that’s pure improvise.
S.T.K. is, with my partner TETRA, he’s very important. S.T.K. is basically his idea, I just play the violin and sing. S.T.K. is very mobile. For example, sometimes when I want to play deep in the mountains or out in the sea, strange places or in nature, it’d be hard to bring guitar because of all the other equipment I would need. But violin is easy to carry so it’s great.
JRR: Many of your projects start with “S,” is there a reason?
SUGIZO: No there’s no meaning. It’s coincidence.
JRR: How did you come up with the name SUGIZO?
SUGIZO: I think I’ve said this many times; it’s just a nickname. I think SHINYA’s the one that gave me the name.
JRR: So, now, we want to ask a few “fun” questions for the fans. If you were to pick a word that starts with “S” to describe yourself, what would it be?
SUGIZO: Hmm… That’s a difficult question. Like “sexy?”
I don’t think I’m sexy. Maybe “spiritual?”
JRR: You are an avid movie lover; are there any movies that you would like to watch?
SUGIZO: Blade Runner Final Cut. It’s brilliant. Definitely my favorite.
JRR: We know you’re a big fan of STAR WARS and STAR TREK. If you could be a character from either one, who would you like to be?
SUGIZO: (Laughs.) Spock and Darth Vader.
SUGIZO: I don’t know why. They’re my heroes.
JRR: “Live long and prosper;” what does the phrase mean to you?
SUGIZO: Love, peace, and respect.
JRR: Why do you like Darth Vader so much?
SUGIZO: I don’t know why. He’s been my hero since when I was little. I wanted to be him. I wanted to have his force.
JRR: You have a statue of Hans Solo in your studio. Where did you get that?
SUGIZO: I don’t remember. The quality is very nice though. I just said to my staff “Right now! Get me Hans Solo!” and they said “Yes sir, boss!”
JRR: So in your last interview, you told us that when you were little, you listened to a lot of soundtracks because of your father’s influence. What’s your opinion on John Williams’ composition for STAR WARS?
SUGIZO: I think it’s very great. Of course, John Williams is one of the greatest cinematic music composers. I think he’s probably the first orchestral composer that I listened to. THE PLANET is still my favorite orchestration music. I think that’s where his roots are.
JRR: If you were to produce the soundtrack for a movie, which artists would you pick?
SUGIZO: I’d make the music myself. How it sounds will depend on the movie, of course, but I probably will not use orchestra, because using orchestra as soundtrack is very popular so there’s no need for me to do that. There are a lot of great composers who are good at doing orchestra music, and I don’t think I can exceed their abilities so. Of course I like orchestra music a lot.
JRR: Is it very different to write music for rock and for orchestra?
SUGIZO: It’s very different; but recently I’ve discovered some similarities. Back in LUNA SEA days, I realized that the arrangements for our music could be easily turned into orchestra.
JRR: When you arrange, do you do the arrangement for each instrument in a defined order?
SUGIZO: It depends on the situation.
JRR: What about a song like “LOVE SONG?”
SUGIZO: Acoustic guitar was first. And then the ending part. I worked on those two first. Then there was the guitar. The acoustic guitar was first, then vocal line, then the band arrangement. Guitar solo was last. I think each of the LUNA SEA songs and my solo songs can be converted to orchestral music.
JRR: For The FLARE, did you write all the music and just have YUNA write the lyrics?
SUGIZO: Yes, I arranged for all the songs I wrote. The melody line depended on the song. YUNA wrote the melody for his songs, and I wrote the melody for my songs. The FLARE was very heavy work for me. YUNA and I were too different career-wise, and it was difficult to keep the balance. But the songs were very nice.
JRR: If you could make a soundtrack for your life, what artist would you choose to put on the soundtrack?
SUGIZO: You ask questions that are difficult to answer! I don’t know. Definitely JUNO REACTOR, and RYUICHI SAKAMOTO, and my favorite composer STEVE REICH, STRAVINSKY, the contemporary composer, BARTOK. STRAVINSKY’s ballet music is very famous, also his musical.
JRR: When you went to New York last fall, you visited MILES DAVIS’ grave. Could you tell us about that experience?
SUGIZO: Last time I went to New York and visited his grave, it was a very brilliant experience for me. I felt that I touched his soul and his feelings. It was a brilliant experience. I felt his voice and his sound. It was one of the most amazing moments in my life.
JRR: What are your hopes and aspirations for 2008?
SUGIZO: I want to work on my solo project and work on an original album, and perhaps the S.K.I.N. album.
JRR: So there will be an album for S.K.I.N.?
SUGIZO: I don’t know yet, but of course all of us want to make an album for S.K.I.N.
JRR: If there will be a Jrock Revolution 2 in 2008, would you like to be a part of it?
SUGIZO: Of course, if I have a chance, I’d like to play.
JRR: If you could pick any city for JRR 2, where would you like it to be held at?
SUGIZO: New York.
JRR: If you could sum up 2007, what word or sentence would it be?
SUGIZO: Busy. (laughs) This year was very important to me. There were the three projects: S.K.I.N., JUNO REACTOR, and LUNA SEA, I can’t choose just one.
JRR: Do you have a new year’s resolution?
SUGIZO: I want to make more music and compose more, because this year was not a year of composing for me; the most important thing this year was being on stage. Composing and performing are very different; both are very important, but now I want to compose more beautiful songs.
JRR: You are always on a mission; right now, what is your mission?
SUGIZO: Rokkasho. We are making a focus group for it, and I want to let more people know the importance of the problem, and also global warming. Another thing is the Iraq War, and North Korea. I’d like to find a way to present those issues via my music.
Since this interview took place, SUGIZO has been very visible in the music scene – participating in X Japan’s successful three-night reunion in March and returning to the stage once more with LUNA SEA at Ajinomoto Stadium for hide Memorial Summit in May.
He’s also carried out his New Year’s resolution and has immersed himself in composing more music for eager fans that haven’t heard any of his solo work since 2003.
Look forward to more SUGIZO coming to you soon, right here on Jrock Revolution.
Interview by Kuri and Jimmie
Translated by Christina and Hibara
SUGIZO appears courtesy of Sweet Child