Sakurai Atsushi (B-T) ＋ ISSAY (Der Zibet)
“Aesthetic” & “Aesthetic”
Ongaku to Hito
Interview = Ichikawa Tetsushi
Photos = Kitajima Akira
ISSAY, the aesthetician “who has no choice but to only go around in circles in a blind alley” from the “forefathers of the resurgence of Japan’s aesthetic-kei rock” Der Zibet who debuted in 1985. Sakurai Atsushi, the aesthetician “who is in complete self-denial, who loses himself anyway” from the “band who are the first from Japan’s aesthetic-kei rock to conquer the whole country” B-T who debuted in 1987. This is the first time that an interview is being held with both men together.
Imperceptibly, we have transitioned into a status quo where the movement of visual-kei, also known as maquillage-kei, aesthetic-kei, or Japanese decadence-kei, has become the prevailing trend in Japan’s rock scene. This can be analysed from a variety of perspectives but I believe the one thing that can be said for sure, is that the nucleus of this movement is the “great desire to escape”. Because they hate looking at reality, they search for a haven, “anywhere that isn’t here”, and they scrupulously hide their selves deep inside of them. It is in this peaceful Japan where those known as “hippies” are born in the hotbed of moratoriums. And without a doubt, the beacon for these people are Der Zibet and B-T. That said, let’s head into this esteemed interview of “emotional dependence”, something that appears to be rather befitting of these two.
ーー The realisation of this interview was an unfinished project of mine back when I was employed with a certain music magazine, so even as we’re doing this now, I’m somewhat embarrassed.
ISSAY (I): Hahahahaha.
ーー Shall we start with a few perfunctory questions?
I: Like about the history regarding the formation of B-T and Der Zibet?
Sakurai (S): Hahahahaha.
ーー Oh, please. I’ve already had enough of those topics.
I: Or our first encounters with music? (lol)
ーー (Ignores) So when did Sakurai come to know of Der Zibet?
S: Probably when I was about 19 or 20. When I first came over to Tokyo and lived together with a friend in a rented apartment, someone lent me a tape and I listened to it.
ーー Was it their 1st album “VIOLETTER BALL”?
S: Yeah. When I listened to it, I thought “it’s nice”. Then it just happened that when I was passing by Eggman in Shibuya…… I think “Der Zibet Live” was written outside. I began to wonder what they were like and I thought that it was a good chance to find out so it was there that I saw them for the first time……
ーー I believe that was when Der Zibet was at the peak of their decadence, right?
I: Yeah. Those around me kept telling me to cut it out (lol).
S: Come to think of it, ISSAY-san was singing with a mask in hand.
I: Really?…… That’s horrible! (lol)
ーー Wahahaha. Was that the kind of live it was?
I: I didn’t think that I was doing that much pantomiming already though, at that time.
ーー What kind of hairstyle did he have?
S: Same as now, I think. Yeah, like that.
I: Was it black? I think it might’ve been red though. Either red or green.
ーー (Lol) Isn’t this guy so out of place?
S: No…… I think he’s good looking though……
I: I’m so happy! (lol)
ーー Hahahaha. Did you listen to Der Zibet after that too?
S: After that…… I started out as an amateur band with B-T too…… And I think that was when I haven’t yet become the vocalist……
ーー Ah, the legendary Sakurai Atsushi drummer era.
I: Eh, you were a drummer!?
I: I had no idea at all (lol).
S: After that, we were going around on tour during our indies period when we were at Nagoya’s ELL and I watched Der Zibet’s video that was being played there, and again I thought that he looked so good. Then, as we were going home from our tour, among our few fans (lol) were some who liked Der Zibet too, and I received that VHS from them. So, then I kept on watching it.
I: Don’t keep watching it! (lol)
Sakurai「I looked at ISSAY-san with feelings akin to that of a girl’s adoration for a boy」
ーー What about Der Zibet does Sakurai like? Don’t worry about it, please be frank.
S: Mm… It made me perform as a vocalist, and also ISSAY-san was good looking.
I: (Lol) Ohh, you.
S: It’s not only the singing, how do I put this…… When he’s performing on stage, there’s something extra there that leaves a very strong impression.
I: Ah, I guess I did that. Like sitting on the stepladder and singing, or carrying a huge clock.
ーー (Lol) Like entering the stage with a candle in hand?
I: It’s not a candle! A hand lantern. All four of us wore black coats and came on stage with hand lanterns.
ーー It was as avant-garde as it could be, wasn’t it?
I: Now that I think about it, I guess that was Japanese Gothic (lol).
ーー Is he getting embarrassed, this man?
I: No no no (lol). Well, I’m not embarrassed about having done that before. But, y’know, when talking about it face-to-face…… Isn’t it the same kind of embarrassment you feel when someone brings out a photo from your high school days and says “We went on a picnic together back then, didn’t we”? It’s awkward.
ーー So, Sakurai-san, perhaps you felt that you shared certain commonalities with Der Zibet?
S: …… Hmm…… How should I say this, the feelings of a boy’s poetry was what I felt. Like the feelings of a girl who admires a boy who has his own world? Yes, I guess it could’ve been from the perspective of a girl. Or should I say that it’s something like a father complex.
ーー Come to think of it, as an expressionist, Sakurai-san has a complex where you lack a “perspective to call your own”, right?
S: Perhaps I still can’t express myself in words but I’ve yet to arrive at that point, so, with ISSAY-san in front of me, as someone who has already attained that……
ーー And so, you admire him with the heart of a maiden, and furthermore, you look at him as a father… You’re another troublesome one, aren’t you (lol).
S: (Lol) With feelings of envy.
ISSAY「London was where I watched B-T’s live for the first time」
ーーThe first time that ISSAY saw B-T was in 1988 in London, wasn’t it? When the both of you were in a foreign land for recording with Der Zibet for “GARDEN” and B-T for “TABOO”…
I: That was when I saw your live.
S: Ah, that’s right.
ーー I suppose younger readers might be unaware of this conversation topic.
I: But, y’know, the first time that we met was at Meguro’s Rokumeikan, when there was a public recording for a TV program… SION and Der Zibet and B-T were filming on the same day, and when I went into the dressing rooms, we became acquainted there.
S: (Shy smile) Oh, that’s right, I remember that.
ーー Oh, really? Was that during your debut days, for B-T?
S: Yes, right after we debuted.
ーー So, when you went into the dressing rooms, there were a group of boys with their hair up.
I: Yes, that’s right. They were really great kids (lol). Atsushi and Imai (Hisashi) were quiet but the two rhythm players (= Ani & U-ta) were very earnestly saying “We’re B-T”. So I said something like “Ah, hello” (lol)
ーー Sakurai said nothing?
I: He said, “I’ve watched your live once before”.
S: (Shy smile) Is that so?
ーー Ah, well, in those days, Sakurai was someone who wouldn’t talk at all… I think it was right before their debut, but when I had an interview with B-T, Sakurai & Hoshino (Hidehiko) were the super silent squadron, y’know? Maybe because their hair was standing (lol).
S: (Lol) Argh… We were useless fellows.
I: But the even more silent one was Imai (LOL).
ーー Anyway, about your witnessing of B-T’s live in London.
I: A message from Atsushi came into my answering machine, something like “I heard that you’re going to London for recording in the same period of time, so, if we can, let’s meet”.
ーー Sakurai, why, are you embarrassed?
S: No no no (lol).
ーー You’re blushing like a young girl (lol).
S: ………………… (lol).
I: Hahahaha. Then he said that B-T will be performing a live there, so I said “Let’s go let’s go” and I went to watch them with the other band members.
ーー You probably couldn’t say this till now, but performing a live in London was tough, wasn’t it?
S: It sure was tough. But, well, it’s like we did it with a roar then left though. I figured that I couldn’t do it if I was sober I don’t have any recollection of it though (lol).
ーー So, before the performance started you drank up like hell (lol).
ーー How reckless (lol). Were Der Zibet the only Japanese in the audience?
S: There were a few others who looked like exchange students.
ーー Isn’t it more embarrassing when there are Japanese around?
S: That’s true. But they were right in front (lol).
I: Yes yes, y’know, I thought that they might’ve especially come all the way from Japan for this. I thought, “B-T is so amazing” (lol).
ーー What were your thoughts about the live performance itself?
I: They sure gave their all (lol). They were really fired up. The ending, I think, that was terrific. It went like, ‘gyadooon gyadooon!’. Like, “Ohhh, they’re doing it” (lol).
S: Pretty much like an athlete, that (lol).
I: “Listen up, you lot! You bastard!” Something like that.
S: We might’ve been thought of as horrible people (lol).
I: No, not at all, I didn’t get any bad vibes. You were interacting with a smile too, and you even did an MC and stuff.
I: Speaking in English became bothersome halfway, so he ended up speaking in Japanese though (lol).
ーー Whaaaat (lol). There’s no way a guy who barely even speaks for an MC in Japan can do that over there, right.
S: Right? That was impossible.
ーー But this is a nostalgic topic, isn’t it?
I: But I remember the events of those days quite clearly.
S: I remember them too. I was so happy when you came into the dressing room too.
ーー Now that I think about it, that was the one and only time that both B-T and Der Zibet recorded overseas, right.
I: Because for us, when we go over there, we end up creating dark works, don’t we (lol). But you see, “GARDEN” was criticised for being too dark, yet when we listened to it in London, it sounded normal. You wouldn’t have thought that it was dark at all.
S: That’s true, isn’t it? It didn’t seem like our “TABOO” met Ichikawa-san’s expectations either though (lol).
ーー But when I went to London, as soon as I arrived it felt ominous though? You really have to know yourself very well as an artist.
I: It fit well with my predisposition, didn’t it? For sure. I enjoyed myself, being in London. Was it not that way for you?
S: Ah, mentally it indeed was really comfortable.
ISSAY「Shall we have a takoyaki party next time?」
ーー But Sakurai’s been to Hawaii for vacation before though (lol).
S: It was far more arduous there (lol). There was something like a ridiculous, compulsive idea that it would be a waste if I didn’t go out…… (lol).
I: Ah, I know I know! (Lol). So, you went out?
S: I went out.
I: Swam in the sea?
S: I did (lol).
I: Ain’t that nice~, you went swimming in the sea~ (lol).
I: Next time, let’s go, it’ll be fun. Let’s go let’s go (lol). Y’know, last summer was also my first time going to the beach in 15 years (lol).
S: What kind of fun are you talking about (lol).
ーー Swimming in the sea in with a decadent stature (lol).
I: After that, we met when our paths crossed a number of times. I think I was going returning from a tour stop in Nagoya, but anyway, we were pumping gas at a highway rest stop, you see (lol) when a bunch of guys with long hair came towards us. Just as I thought, “Huh? I think I’ve seen them before”, the bassist said, “We’re B-T!” (lol). Then, Atsushi came up from behind with this suuuper embarrassed look on his face (lol).
I: I was like, “It’s Atsushii～!” (lol). There was also that time at Peter Murphy’s concert, and we also met outside Nakano Sunplaza, didn’t we?
S: You remember it all so well, don’t you?
ーー Probably because there were so few incidents since you live withered lives like retired old men (lol).
I: That’s true (lol). There aren’t many things that move my heart, y’know. But, you see, when I meet Atsushi, I lose my composure for a moment, like “It’s Atsushiiii～～～～～”.
I: Atsushi is a homebody too, right?
S: Though it’s nice to head out of Tokyo, isn’t it, just getting into the car and speeding away. But until I actually get out, it’s exhausting.
ーー This guy, he probably basks in bliss when he goes into his own room (lol), despite that he may simply be idling around.
S: But, you see, there aren’t any outsiders (lol).
I: It’s tiring, isn’t it? Heading out.
S: Yeah, it’s tiring. I wonder why.
I: Because there are other people other than yourself (lol).
S: Hahahaha. A hundred percent, full marks (lol).
I: Thank you (lol).
S: Even though I’m at this age, I still get shy or scared. For example, I want to go to Tokyu Hands but I can’t, and so on (lol).
I: I can’t go either (lol).
ーー What would Sakurai go to Hands for?
S: A light bulb burnt out so I headed there to get one. It’s a special one, you see. In the end, someone else went and bought it for me (lol).
I: Right? Right? It’s the same for me.
ーー These guys are useless (lol).
I: You know, there was also the time when I wanted a takoyaki set so much that I asked my manager to go buy it for me.
S: Ah, I bought one too. It’s the Tokyu Hands one, right? (lol).
I: Ah, really? Shall we have a takoyaki party next time, just the two of us (lol).
S: Let’s, let’s (lol).
I: A dark, decadent takoyaki party (lol).
ーー While listening to Sisters of Mercy.
ーー I’ll join in too. So, the song “Masquerade”, that the both of you sang together on in Der Zibet’s “Shishunki II (思春期II)”, it’s turned out to be a “decadence master-disciple duet”.
I: Wasn’t Ichikawa the one who planned it (lol). But it was so much fun, wasn’t it, that (lol). I think the finished product was interesting too.
ーー To think that both of your voice qualities would sound that similar.
I: Right (lol)? But y’know, even for myself, there are a number of areas where I can’t tell whether it’s me singing or Atsushi singing.
S: We’ve been told that a lot, haven’t we?
I: It was surprising, wasn’t it? But, y’know, when you listen to how Atsushi usually sings, it’s different, isn’t it? That’s probably the result of us happening to be absorbed with the same parts of the artistic style, right?
ISSAY「Y’know, in the past, we were branded as pop-rock」
Sakurai「That was the case for us too (lol)」
ーー By the way, I’ve been wondering, what does ISSAY think of what B-T does?
I: I haven’t listened to all of everything they have so I don’t quite know, but I think it’s interesting. Isn’t it odd? There isn’t anyone else who has gone major making such music, is there? And that’s why I’m very happy about it, furthermore, it’s rather well received. I think that it’s a really wonderful thing. Y’know, ever since came into the scene, I’ve always been thinking to myself, “So this made it to a major label, huh. How different” (lol). Despite that they do quite a lot of crude things, y’know.
ーー I think Victor’s different too, for some unknown reason, they’ve got so many weird sounding “amateurs” who don’t know the basics with instruments. If it was any other recording company, they would’ve been struck off.
I: That is indeed unusual.
S: I think so too (lol).
ーー For me, very frankly speaking, until now, I still can’t help but think that it’s weird that for some strange reason, B-T sells well.
I: Well, for me, I kind of understand. I think that the way that their melodies are easy to catch is a strong point after all. I don’t think that there’s any need to persistently stick to that, but I guess it’s probably got something to do with how large the acceptability factor of their music is. Their lyrics are really sordid, and they had their hair in this style, but I think their melodies were very lively, weren’t they? That really struck me hard, y’know, when they started out.
ーー So, if Der Zibet too debuted 4 years later than when you did, you might’ve been sellable too.
I: Hahahaha. Well, maybe, I guess, don’t you think so? (Lol).
ーー But, you know, I think that B-T contributed greatly to this movement of this “weird sounding” aesthetic-kei or visual-kei or British-kei becoming widely accepted in Japan. Especially when you consider how aesthetic-kei is prospering right now.
I: I do think so too. He’s different, this Atsushi.
S: (Lol) No no, if not for ISSAY-san I wouldn’t be here.
ーー You guys, you’re unearthly. But it feels like there are fewer and fewer loveable “aesthetic fools” around.
S: Because fashion comes first.
ーー Yeah. That’s despite that stylers are popping up one after another, be it among amateurs or indies or major labels.
I: Hahahahaha. Styler (lol).
S: (Lol) What’s that, those ‘stylers’?
ーー Hm? It’s a term that refers to people with style.
S: Hahahaha. What an amazing expression.
ーー I think the underground aesthetics scene centred at Shinjuku back in the mid-80s had some really fine fools, didn’t it?
I: It had that, it did. I wonder how’s Genet.
ーー (Lol) There weren’t any bands who thought “We will sell!” just by spending on production and advertising when going major.
I: You’re right. But that’s because they had power.
ーー But that underground power, even though it’s a good quality to have, isn’t there a depressing history of bands getting criticised just because their values are different from the priorities of major labels?
I: But, y’know, this world, isn’t that how it’s just turned out to be?
ーー Then again, Der Zibet’s existence is an anomaly in all of that… Because even as ISSAY’s “aesthetic that simply goes round and round in a blind alley” stands out, you take your music rather seriously too.
I: Even that is unusual though, isn’t it (lol). But y’know, in those days, we were beaten on quite a lot. During the days of our first album, we were being labelled as pop-rock. If your music is even a little bit melodious, you’d be immediately have that plastered on you.
S: That was the case for us too (lol).
ーー But there aren’t any fools around now. Doesn’t that feel like such a pity? Because rock is something that is being sustained by fools, after all, you know? Like with improvements in expressions and performances and all.
I: But, well……
ーー It’s a case of “as long as I can survive”, right?
I: That’s what it is (lol).
ーー Lastly, there’s something I want to ask. ISSAY’s solo album production project is supposedly progressing in secret but is Sakurai Atsushi in any way duty-bound to take part in it?
I: Hahahahaha. Will you do it for me?
S: If you’ll have me!