In a long phone interview, the Japanese legand talks about the tsunami in Japan, his life in LA, and his devoted fans
Not many artists can get away with single-name eponymy: Madonna, Cher, BoA, and maybe Robyn are a few who come to mind. But to most of the Eastern world — and increasingly, the Western Hemisphere as well — X Japan drummer/prog-metal mastermind Yoshiki resonates with the same ubiquity. For just shy of three decades, the 45-year-old multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, radio host, and fashion mogul has packed enormous stadiums like the Tokyo Dome nearly 20 times; sold more than 30 million albums worldwide with X Japan; drawn the admiration of hard-rock luminaries like ex-Guns N’ Roses/Cult stickman Matt Sorum; contributed to the scores of global blockbuster films such as Saw IV; and most recently, debuted his clothing line with fashion designer JayFR — Yoshikimono — at a massive event dubbed Asia Girls Explosion.
Yoshiki and X Japan made some of the ’80s’ most blistering, melodic speed metal, quickly developing into a prog-fusion powerhouse. Yoshiki also opened his audiences up to the many ballads he composed, which became as much a signature of X’s later output as double-time percussion and crisp guitar harmonies.
As X fans are no doubt aware, tensions between childhood friends Yoshiki and co-founding X member/vocalist Toshi came to a head by the late ‘90s, causing the band’s hiatus in 1997. The stasis was compounded by guitarist Hide’s tragic death one year later, as well as Yoshiki’s various health issues from years of performing and touring.
But after 15 years of silence, X Japan was on the verge of releasing a new studio album – its first in English for North American distribution — in 2011. A massive North American tour was planned along with the release, the first of its kind for the Asian icons.
Then, in an unfathomable turn of events, just as the new album’s lead single, “Jade,” was to be released, coastal Japan was devastated by a historic 8.9 earthquake and its subsequent tsunami. Yoshiki was in Tokyo at the time, panicking as he tried to reach his mother (she was safe) and generally scrambling for information and ways to help.
As a result, the soft-spoken mega-star and I conducted two separate conversations. One took place very early in March, with Yoshiki speaking via phone from his home in Los Angeles, California. We discussed X Japan reuniting, the emotional and physical toll of performing, and how he surfaced from a self-described “dark ocean” by healing wounds between himself and Toshi. Back then, he was a man prepared and excited to reward X Japan’s loyal fans, and at last fulfill X Japan’s destiny as an undisputed, worldwide monster of rock.
A few weeks later, Yoshiki called me from Los Angeles. The earthquake and tsunamis’ collective devastation, along with concerns over the ongoing nuclear-contamination crisis, had become his raison d’être. The release of “Jade” was on hold while X Japan’s leader set up fundraising and awareness initiatives through his namesake Yoshiki Foundation by auctioning off items such as his famous crystal piano. All funds from auctioned items and all donations go directly to the Red Cross in Japan.
Yoshiki, despite so many setbacks in his personal life and the tragedy that recently befell his homeland, remains dedicated to healing and redemption. And in our nearly month-long dialog, he conveyed the struggle to overcome adversity and the triumphant power of music, offering insight on both the efforts to help Japan and the future of his seminal band.
– Kenny Herzog
It must have been very emotional and complicated to have this disaster happen just as X Japan reunion was fully activated. Was it difficult to stop everything and make the earthquake recovery effort your priority?
We’re gonna keep going. We just put off the single release, but that’s nothing compared to what’s going on in Japan. So I’m going to do 50 percent charity work, 50 percent keep going with X Japan and everything else for the time being.
Do you feel any extra responsibility as a global ambassador for the efforts in Japan?
I don’t know if I’d call it responsibility. It’s more like I’d like to do it. It’s some kind of natural thing. This kind of situation, what should I do? Just listen to my heart. Also, just watching TV and the Interent about this disaster made me so depressed. All I can do is cry. So when I start planning a lot of charity things, it made me feel a little more positive.
So do you think proceeds from the upcoming X Japan tour will go toward that cause?
Yes, I’ve been thinking about that. I’m planning on doing that as well.
Does that make it easier to think about moving forward with the band?
I’d like to donate as much as possible. At the same time, raise more awareness. Even though some people think Japan’s rich and a very strong country, we are also very vulnerable and fragile. I’m still trying to digest in my head what’s going on. I feel like when I wake up, everything was just a dream, or some kind of movie, but it’s happening in real life.