JAPAN Tribute Extravaganza!!
Ongaku to Hito
Interview & Photos ー Ichikawa Tetsushi
Fujii Maki ＋ RYUICHI (LUNA SEA),
Ishida Shokichi (Scudelia Electro), kyo,
Morioka Ken ＋ ISSAY(DER ZIBET)
SUGIZO (LUNA SEA),
Tsuchiya Masami and KEN
I don’t think it quite matters what kind of a band JAPAN was at this point――
Huh, is the producer allowed to say such an irresponsible thing? This beautiful “bullied” British band is the epitome of the “righteousness” of individualism and escapism which they expressed, but even if they don’t entirely agree with that, there are many active Japanese musicians who follow the band and just about everyone has listened to their music. Such is their “large” presence.
A “tribute album”, in the first place, is supposed to be a compilation of covers done by musicians paying homage to their great predecessors but what I aimed for was actually something else. This “closed” Japanese music scene where the boundaries between record companies and bands are too strong is so boring that I wanted to create a place where musicians could present their work more freely as they pleased, and this is what I really wanted to do through JAPAN.
And so, a number of unusual combinations like “RYUICHI ＋ Fujii Maki”, and “KEN ＋ Tamura Naomi”, and “ISSAY ＋ Morioka Ken” were formed and fresh “by-products” like a first solo work, or a first involvement as vocals were brought to life one after another. That’s right, if everyone has fun working together, we’ll be able to realise interesting things, won’t we? There were a lot of “big names” who were, unfortunately, unable to participate due to scheduling conflicts, so with that in mind, we’ve done this big special feature called, “The Great Rock Game.” Read it, listen to it, buy it (smiles).
LIFE IN TOKYO – a tribute to JAPAN
(Releasing 4 September 1996 / BMG Victor)
ISSAY ＋ Morioka Ken
The “Older Brother” and “Younger Brother”
―― Alright then, the first performance by the “Sworn Brothers of Decadence Tag Team” in 12 years――
Morioka (M): ISSAY-san changed, hasn’t he? He’s turned somewhat more masculine, it’s a nice touch. Lately, I’ve just been struggling and crying every night.
ISSAY (I): You just have to laugh that sort of thing off, you know? If you can’t laugh at your own unmanly self―― That’s how I protect myself in that area. Don’t you know? I’m a sissy man! (Wry smile)
M: Ohh, there it is (smiles).
I: And after that, it’s all about how you turn it into an art form (smiles).
―― You guys, you’ve got a weird relationship.
I: We’re bosom friends ♡.
―― …… Now that I think of it, this is the first official interview for Moriken¹ after Soft Ballet’s disbandment, isn’t it? I’m sorry this is the project that the interview is for.
M: No, don’t be (smiles). Anyway, I thought of wanting to say something classy like, “My goal is to win a Grammy,” or something like that.
I: Where’s the class in that statement (smiles).
M: … Sorry.
―― Don’t you apologise either (smiles). What were the two of you like back then?
M: Back when I first met him, I thought ISSAY-san was scary.
I: I was always freaking out, wasn’t I?
M: But I’ve recently come to understand that state of mind very well.
―― Oh, come on. How old were you?
I: Probably 16? It was around the time when you just went from being a freshman in high school to a sophomore, right? I’m 5 years older than you so I guess I was about 21.
M: But I had so much fun when I performed with ISSAY-san’s band, and in some part that was an eye-opener for me too.
―― What did it open your eyes to?
M: After that, I started writing music, so I’m really grateful for it.
I: I was just making up music a lot as I went along (smiles).
M: You were really helpful to me.
I: Ah, I’m glad~, I’m happy that I’m alive~ (smiles).
―― What kind of teenager were you back then?
M: I was studying at the piano department of the College of Music², but I was a gloomy teenager who loved JAPAN and Kraftwerk.
M: That’s right. So, I became extroverted in Soft Ballet, well, as a way to put myself out there in the world―― I became an outgoing man at our live shows.
―― You say “outgoing”, but I feel like you’re just a guy dancing weird (smiles).
M: (Smiles) I only became like this because while we were performing at live houses, my body remembered this as the way to capture the audience, that’s all.
―― So it’s just a means to an end.
M: Pretty much…… But, besides, letting myself go like that, isn’t it a sort of release too? Ah, will it turn into something negative for Soft Ballet if I say such things…… It’s okay, right?
―― You’re overly concerned (smiles).
I: He indeed was an introverted teenager, though. But I thought he was a kid with an amazing aesthetic sense.
―― By the way, what sort of music did you make in that band?
I: A mix of punk and glam and electro-pop done badly (bursts out laughing).
M: Uh, but when I heard it for the first time―― Well, I’m always conceited (lol), so I thought, “Ah, if I work hard, I’d be able to play all sorts [of music] too,” and then I kept working hard at home making tapes and so on.
―― You were a pure and earnest teenager.
I: He was very earnest. When I told him we were going to perform live, you know, he suddenly showed up with bright red hair. I was like, “Hey, wait a minute, is your high school okay with that?” (smiles). That was the moment when I first realised that this guy was actually very extreme (smiles).
―― (Smiles) So, an introverted kid who does crazy things once he makes his mind up about it, or a bullied kid swinging both his arms in tears as a self-destructive final attack.
M: Yes, yes, exactly!
M: I think fans of rock music are basically like that, or me, at least (smiles). You know, I was super popular [in school] in the beginning (wry smile). I was often top of the class be it in grades or piano, but people eventually got tired of me and I ended up getting bullied. They started to make fun of me. And that’s despite the fact that it was all girls in school. It was like this in junior high too…… I was bullied. If I coiffed my hair neatly, they’d keep tousling it up and all that (wry smile). Even though I’d say, “Stop it―!”
―― And that’s when listening to JAPAN’s Quiet Life³ saved you.
M: Yeah, that it did.
―― Well, then how did this time’s tag team come about?
I: When I heard about [this project] I immediately said, “I want to play with Ken-chan.”
―― And the song you did was my choice; Fall In Love With Me. The ultimate song of self-pity! Perfect for you two!
I: I was set up (smiles).
M: When I read the lyrics, I found myself muttering, “Whaat?” I was wondering whether this song was selected because of its lyrics (bursts out laughing dryly).
―― The song itself was well-received. It was being praised with phrases like, “the 80s strikes back,” and “electro-goth,” and so on.
I: Yaay (smiles).
M: Hahahahaha. Me, I’m afraid of what I’ve created so I haven’t actually listened to it, though.
M: I, well, after [Soft Ballet’s] disbandment, I’ve been at home with my child, and children start gaining a sort of awareness when they’re around 3, right? And what I’ve recently come to feel strongly, well, it’s a no-brainer, but when I realised, “be it animals or humans, we’re all connected,” I started to feel like something in me started to die at the same time―― Ah, sorry (wry smile).
I: (Smiles) It’s okay, it’s fine.
M: The sense that…… I have to get it out as soon as possible, it’s really very important. For example, if the sense of seeing a glass of beer as a mere “glass of beer” turns into the sense of seeing it as “a glass of liquid made from wheat”, your one-sided sensibility will die off. And that gives me a tremendous amount of fear.
―― With getting married and having children, the pressure of cultivating that primal instinctive bond and keeping up familial responsibilities is an attack on the “individual”. Perhaps it’s an unfathomable fear of that.
M: Ahh, perhaps that’s it.
I: Maybe that’s what it means.
―― If that’s the case, then the only thing left to do is to flee! The great escapism!!!!
I: For me, that’s how it’s always been.
―― The trinity of escapism, victimhood, and an impulse to express oneself, isn’t it?
M: Hahaha. Ahー I see.
―― It’s as if you’ve realised that you’re looking at a child and thinking, “How cute,” and immediately you start mourning, “Oh, shit! I’m turning into a regular person~~!” (wry smile). Then, you’d thrust yourself into a state of impatience and grind with the compulsion that “I have to perform to death!” in what little time you have left.
M: Yes, that’s exactly it. It was like this for me before I produced by solo work (← Questions) when I was still in Soft Ballet. I suppose it’s because I was just playing [with music] at home all the time when I suddenly thought, “Ahh, something’s dying. Ahh, this is bad. Ahh, I have to do something,” and plunged myself into writing all sorts of phrases. Before I knew it, I’ve written about 50 pages. Then, I thought, “Ah, that’s right. I have to go on my journey of enlightenment. I have to save the world and humanity through music.” So submitted those to the record company and said, “This is the kind of music I want to do for my solo.”
―― Wow (smiles). The director who read that must’ve been miserable too. Such an intense and powerful desire to run away.
―― You do love JAPAN after all.
M: But it’s definitely still there. So I guess it’s because I don’t understand it myself, but I do think that it’s probably healthy to continue doing this until I eventually figure it out.
―― I definitely agree. Don’t worry about this or that; if you’ve got a growing desire to escape from things, then don’t hesitate and just go! That’s all you can do!
I: I don’t call that “escapism”, I call it “a battle”.
M: Yeah, that’s a battle, isn’t it?
―― ISSAY is excellent. Because he’s been living his whoーle life with the singular notion of, “I want to run away.” (smiles).
M: Excellent (wry smile). But for me, when he let me listen to Kirigirisu⁴, I read the lyrics and thought, “Isn’t this kind of irresponsible?” (smiles).
I: (Smiles) But that’s because I’m a grasshopper⁵.
M: I did find myself thinking, “ISSAY-kun, what do I do to feel better!⁶” (lol).
¹ Morioka Ken’s nickname.
² To be exact, it was the Toho College of Music-affiliated Toho Senior High School’s Piano Major program.
³ The third studio album by English new wave band Japan released on 20 December 1979.
⁴ Released on 23 March 1996, Kirigirisu (meaning grasshopper) is Der Zibet’s 12th studio album.
⁵ This is in reference to Aesop’s Fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper where the ant is supposed to represent a hardworking individual or someone who plans for the future versus the grasshopper which represents a lazy idler, or someone who doesn’t plan for the future. To note, ISSAY has described himself elsewhere as someone who doesn’t plan for the future lol.
⁶ I’m actually kind of confused about this line since it only mentions ISSAY and has no other punctuation to help with distinguishing what the subject/direction is.
So here’s the original text for your own interpretation: “ISSAY君元気になってどうしてくれるのよ！”