Decadence and Its Immortality
Morrie (Creature Creature) X Sakurai Atsushi (BUCK-TICK)
Ongaku to Hito
Text by Ishii Eriko
Photographs by Kasai Chikashi
Hair & Make-up by Araki Hisako (Octbre), Okazai Kaori (Fat’s Berry)
Styling by Kobayashi Junko
I think my desire to immortalise myself is very strong（Morrie）
My fascination for it gets turned into song. I can sing about it numerous times, over and over（Sakurai）
Well, I don’t suppose you need any explanation. I hope you’d read each and every word of this interview carefully and thoroughly. Transitioning from DEAD END to a solo artist, the claws of solitude have left scars on Morrie and after 11 years, he has returned to the scene with Creature Creature. Today, it’s him and Sakurai Atsushi of BUCK-TICK; a band who has just embarked on its 21st year of activity. The God of Gothic and the Demon King of Decadence. This is where they meet.
―― What was it like when the both of you first met?
Morrie (M): Well, we debuted in the same period, and we were signed with the same record company, weren’t we? But if we’re talking about when we properly met, [it was that] one time when he asked us onto a radio show. That was the very first time, wasn’t it?
Sakurai Atsushi (S): You’re right. Because early on, we 5 in BUCK-TICK hosted a radio show and we were told that we could ask anyone we liked to be our guest on the show. But in fact, when Morrie-san and JOE-san came I got soooo excited that I ended up saying something rude.
M: Really? What did you say?
S: Oh, no, no, if you’ve forgotten then it’s perfectly fine (smiles). It didn’t [come out] right. On the inside, I was thinking, “That wasn’t what I meant at all, but for some reason, what I said came out different.”
M: Hahaha. But I don’t have any bad memories [of that occasion] at all. I remember that scenario well. Sakurai-kun, and also Yuta was speaking too, right? The other three didn’t say a word.
S: Because we were about to end it, that program (smiles).
M: And when I went solo and released my second album, I was once again asked to appear on a radio show as a guest.
S: Yes, yes, I remember that. We were asked to be guests on NACK-5’s radio show and spoke about it together.
M: And we started meeting after that? I think.
S: After that…… No, we once bumped into each other at a bar¹ somewhere. But whatever it is, that was already ten plus years ago.
M: Yeah. Anyway, firstly, I actually didn’t say thank you to Sakurai-kun, did I? When I released my solo best of album² last year, Sakurai-kun sent me a piece of writing².
S: No, no, no, it’s ridiculous (smiles).
M: I was simply amazed by that. He wrote something along the lines of “Even now, I want you to sing” and that made me so happy. Hearing that Sakurai-kun listened to DEAD END and my solo work, it’s surprising, isn’t it?
S: Ah, really? No, but I quite………… Well, I like [it] (smiles). I like [it] a lot!
M: Hahaha! But speaking of BUCK-TICK, Sakurai-kun has Sakurai-kun’s own world, doesn’t he? There’s an unshakeable Sakurai World.
―― That’s just like Morrie-san too. I think that both of your lyrics are pioneers in Japan’s gothic rock music, which leads me to wonder how you established such a worldview around 20 years ago when there was no one who came before you.
M: Hmm…… What was it like back then? I read a lot of horror and sci-fi, and the images I got from those came out vividly, I think. Also, when I was young, how do I put this…… There are also times when my impulsiveness comes out in full force, like the desire to destroy everything. So, it’s an impulse, and it’s also all intuition, isn’t it?
S: It’s the same for me. It’s not as if I was influenced by someone with my lyrics. In the beginning, I had a look at all sorts of lyrics from different people, but in the end, it’s not something that is mine. So, I’m with Morrie-san; it’s intuition. Just, intuition.
―― Both of your lyrics have an especially significant “what happened” kind of unexplainable and fantastical aspect in them too.
M: In my case, at least, well, they’re abstract so it can’t be helped that people think like this, but my lyrics are all material.
―― Ah, really?
M: Yeah. Like having had a hell of an argument with my wife (all laughing). That’s what they start from. When I listen to the music over and over, keywords or words that will turn into lyrics will pop up in my head. During those moments, if I’m right in the middle of, say, a very heated argument with my wife, these [life] events would naturally come out through my own filter. That’s why, no matter how fantastical it may appear, the process of writing it is pretty close to everyday life. That’s the norm, isn’t it? Then again…… I’ve never had such a conversation with other vocalists before, to begin with (smiles).
S: That’s true (smiles). But I’m like that too.
―― Do you consciously work on eliminating as many realistic³ words as possible during the songwriting process?
S: No, there’s none of that, is there? Besides, working in realistic³ words can make things interesting too. It’s not as if I’m looking to use words that no one knows.
M: For me, the ideal is have the song end in what sounds like meaningless chanting. Because even if lyrics do not exist, it’ll make the music sound good. But when it comes to Japanese music, I often get let down by the lyrics even though the melody is pretty good. That’s, well, probably because of preferences, though. But on the other hand, I do want to hear about the current trends in Japan.
―― Hmm, I guess these days, most of them are the types who vent about their worries and distress.
M: Vent their worries? Huuh. And what do these people do after venting?
―― They vent, and then move forward; something like that, I suppose.
M: Aren’t they rather positive, then?
S: Nfufufufu. Yes.
M: Well, I guess I get it but…… I don’t know, isn’t that a happy ending after all (lol).
S: It seems that this is preferred, isn’t it? I suppose if [the message of] “but let’s do our best anyway” isn’t in there, no one will listen [to the songs] (smiles).
M: It’s always been that way, right? That’s how we all pandered [to people]. But personally, I prefer unhappy endings. Always have.
S: Ah, I’m with you on that. That’s true.
M: Be it movies or novels, I love unhappy endings where there’s absolutely no way to turn things around in the end. That’s perfectly my type of thing. Because when things conclude with a happy ending, it’s so blindingly white that it feels like I’m being told a lie. This [perception] is like an instinct which has been cultivated in me ever since I was a child. A sensitivity. This is just how it is. And yet the world seeks happiness and salvation⁶ from someplace else, doesn’t it? Of course, I, too, have my own forms of relief⁶, but to close things off with a “let’s do our best”――
S: Makes you say, “I want a refund!,” doesn’t it?
M: Sure does. Sakurai-kun’s lyrics, too, can be said to be of both Eros and Thanatos⁴, but the Thanatos side is most certainly stronger. Because the deathwish⁵ dominates. I believe that it’s definitely right that these grotesque parts, and this cardinal lust for aggression comes out when you compose. Because it is Thanatos that is the root of humanity. But while it’s fine to turn your aggression towards the outside world, if you over do it and reach your limits, that energy will flip around and turn on you. And it’s rough when that desire for aggression comes back to you, isn’t it? You’ll become self-destructive and start attacking yourself. You’d lose the ability to say that the world is bad and start to believe that you’re the one to blame. When you wind up in that position, death is definitely the only thing that lies ahead of you, so there’s no other choice except to die. At such a moment, how do you survive without resorting to suicide―― Using this as an extreme case, that’s the problem here.
―― The word “死 (death)” often appears in both of your lyrics, but I don’t see it as a simply affirmation of death. I get the feeling that that’s not all there is. That there’s something else.
M: …… That there’s something else behind death?
S: …… I think there’s nothing else (soft smile). But I think it’s still good to play with that as a word. It may be inappropriate to say we’re playing with it, but there’s a sweetness to it, isn’t there? A sweetness that the word itself possesses, or something.
M: Because words are just words, aren’t they? It’s not as if you’d die just by saying “death”.
S: But if you were to take it seriously, I guess it would be excessively dark and lurid. That’s why I sometimes want to give it a more romantic expression.
M: Sakurai-kun, you sometimes get your own form of relief⁶ too, don’t you? Especially in your solo work. Like Ai no Wakusei⁷ where the songs can come across as very positive depending on how you look at it.
S: That’s true. There’s a part of the salvation⁶ that I dare say was left behind. It got me thinking that you’d have to do something like this once to find your balance.
M: That’s what happens eventually, right? Like I’ve said earlier, if you keep going in the cycle of destroying those around you or yourself, all that awaits you is death. It’s easy to say, “I don’t care if I die,” but that’s too simplistic a thought. In the end, the things that will save you in each phase of your life are out there somewhere, aren’t they?
―― Even so, why is that salvation⁶ tied to the word “death”?
M: Probably, well, this goes back to what I’ve said about deathwish earlier, but I suppose there’s a part of me that wants to immortalise it after all. Even though [the base idea is] an everyday event, I make it more abstract, and try to immortalise myself by making it generic. I believe Sakurai-kun’s tendencies are of this type too.
S: Yeah (nods).
M: I definitely turn things abstract because I want to eliminate the stench of normalcy. Wanting to immortalise myself like this is a desire that I think is very strong in me.
―― Immortalise…… That’s a very fitting word.
M: And that’s what deathwish is. This is what Thanatos is all about. The indifference towards ephemeral things and the desire to immortalise oneself as one is.
S: Ahh. I can’t say it as well as Morrie-san can, though. But I believe…… My fascination for it does get turned into song after all. I can sing about it numerous times, over and over. I suppose that’s what immortality is. It’s either wanting to die continuously, or just once is too good to be true (smiles).
M: It can be interpreted in a few different ways, right? I love Souseki’s Kokoro⁸ myself and I often read it, but everytime I read the line, “Why did Sensei kill himself?”, I’d find myself pondering it over. Then, I’d read it a few years later and again wonder, “Why did Sensei kill himself?” It’s as if I’ve made it my life’s work to figure it out each time I read it.
M: Everyone is free to interpret it for themselves too. It’s not like I know what Souseki was thinking anyway. But I suppose it’s a compelling novel that makes the reader want to look deeper into it, isn’t it? That’s why I think it’s up to each person to interpret our expressions their own way as long as they enjoy it and feel that it makes their lives feel a little more meaningful.
―― Since you’ve mentioned the words life and lifework, I’ve got a mundane question, but what is Morrie-san’s daily routine living in New York?
M: My daily routine? It depends on the time of the year but…… Well, in these recent few months I’ve been busy recording. But if we’re excluding that and talking about my normal routine, then, well, I’d have breakfast with my wife. Together. I’d be the one preparing it, though.
S: Oh, wow. In a pretty methodical way?
M: Mm… Well, there are things that are done methodically and those that aren’t, though. But Japanese are more particular, after all. Compared to them; they’re more crude (smiles). For example, we’d prepare tea for breakfast and I’m the sort of person who would do it properly, like measuring how long the tea should be steeped and so on. Adjust the time depending on the tea leaves. But Americans don’t do such things. They don’t even time it.
S: Your precious tea leaves! (Smiles)
M: Exactly (smiles). Wouldn’t you want to enjoy it at its best flavour? So that’s why I have to do it.
―― May I just ask, well, earlier, you said that you can’t bring yourself to like happy endings, right? While I do understand that, personally, I want to think of marriage itself as something that is happy in the end.
M: Mm, that’s true.
S: Yeah. I understand.
―― So, at that, it gets me wondering, how do you manage those sensibilities of yours while actually living married lives in real life?
M: Balance, I guess?…… Hmm, well, simply put, I guess it’s something like staying together even while [we’re] going back and forth through unhappy warzones⁹.
S: I believe it’s expected that anyone would hope for their family’s happiness, right? But my personal sensibilities, whether we’re talking about movies or novels or even music, they’re basically dark and revolve around sadness and pain, so even if I leave it alone, I’d end up going in that direction anyway. I think it’s alright for your personal life to be completely separate from the things you like, like, I’ve always liked DEAD END and liked Morrie-san, that has never changed and has nothing at all to do with being married or not.
M: In the end, every person definitely has something that is irreplaceable to them, right? As you gain [life] experience, you’d come to know what suits you and they will naturally become a part of you too. I suppose that’s why our expression styles turned out like this. The world of BUCK-TICK has grown richer and richer because they have consistently been putting out new works, and while that is only of course, I think it’s something that deserves a lot of admiration too.
S: …… Thank you (soft smile).
¹ The word used here was 飲み屋 (nomiya) instead of バー (baa) which is the standard word used to specifically indicate a bar. On the other hand, 飲み屋 is used to refer to an establishment which mainly serves alcoholic beverages. In other words, they may not have necessarily met in a bar but I translated it as “bar” for flow and easy understanding.
² Morrie released his solo best of album, Ectoplasm in 2005 which contained a comment from Sakurai Atsushi in the album’s booklet. A translation of the comment can be read here.
³ Note that realistic words refer to vocabulary that reminds one of reality.
⁴ I believe the reference here is in relation to Sigmund Freud’s psychological theory that a person’s instincts fall into one of two categories: the Eros category or the Thanatos category. In Greek mythology, Eros is the god of love, and Thanatos is the god of death, making them opposite of one another which thus, according to Freud, represent the polar opposite instincts that lie within each of us. In his theory, people will instinctively choose life or death when making decisions.
Decisions based on life instincts represent Eros. These are decisions driven by pleasure, sexuality, love, procreation, and the need to get along with others. People with life instincts emit positive energy into the world and often display emotions of love, happiness, and affection.
On the other hand, the death instinct is represented by Thanatos, the god of death. Death instincts include aggression, anger, and violence. Death instincts can be related to both homicide and suicide. Someone driven by death instincts may cause self-harm, engage in risky behavior, or become violent with someone.
⁵ Also part of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the deathwish is the drive towards death and destruction, often expressed through behaviors such as aggression, repetition compulsion, and self-destructiveness.
⁶ Here, relief or salvation both refer to the same word “救い (sukui)”, which, as a noun, refers to things that give people a sense of relief or reassurance.
⁷ The only solo album released by Sakurai Atsushi on 23 June 2004.
⁸ Kokoro (こゝろ) is a novel by the Japanese author Natsume Sōseki. It was first published in 1914 in serial form in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. While the title literally means “heart”, the word contains shades of meaning, and can be translated as “the heart of things” or “feeling”.
⁹ 修羅場 (shuraba) has a variety of meanings depending on the context. The word originates from Hindu mythology as the place where two Gods – Asura and Indra – fought, and hence caused carnage and bloodshed. The word has since been used to describe battlefields and other dreadful scenes of the like. Possible translations of the word can go from “bloodbath” to “battlefield”, from “scene of carnage” to “shambles” to “sheer hell”, or even simply “drama”.